Another year, another collection of ghost stories to add a little eerie fun to the holidays.
Biblioasis and illustrator Seth’s offerings this year are a little on the tamer side than in year’s past, but still provide a nice, creepy reprieve from all the holly and jolly of the holidays. Seth’s black and white illustrations provide a delicious sense for foreboding and unease to these tales of the dearly departed.
Ranging from 50-80 pages, these pocket-sized stories are easy to consume and could easily be read aloud to friends and family as part of an evening’s festivities. Or, they are delightful to simply curl up on a couch with, with a blanket and a cup of tea and read all three in one sitting.
This year’s stories are:
The Dead and the Countess by Gertrude Atherton
The creepiest of this year’s offerings is also the oldest, having been published in 1905.
A small town in northwestern France is (for better or worse) ushered into a more modern era as tracks are laid for a steam train. While the rich in town see this as a boon of commerce, a local priest fears that the loud shrieks of the train and it’s rumbling wheels will shake the earth and wake the dead. While he does everything in his power to keep the dead asleep, he misses his nightly holy water ministrations to see to the passing of the local countess, whose dying wish was to be upon one of the trains out of town, or at least hear the train for eternity. Upon his return, the dead have awoken—trapped in their graves underground, wondering why God has forsaken them. “All the earth beneath him was filled with lamentation. They wailed for mercy, for peace, for rest; they cursed the foul fiend who had shattered the locks of death; and among the voices of men and children, the priest distinguished the quavering notes of his aged predecessor; not cursing, but praying with bitter entreaty.” (39-40) It is now up to the priest to find a way to calm his dead, but can he? How does the living calm the dead? And does the countess truly wish to spend her afterlife listening to the howling of the train?
The Dead and the Countess is a tale that posits the question of what would happen if the dead awoke in their graves, alone and trapped. What would that do to a person? This short, haunting tale is definitely worth checking out.
The Corner Shop by Lady Asquith
Our second oldest tale, having been published in 1926 is a good, old-fashioned ghost story, told in a letter after the narrator’s death, as the narrator was “not wishing to be bothered by well-meaning Research Societies.” (13) during his life. But now that he has passed, he wishes for those who are entrusted to his worldly possessions to know the story.
Peter Wood, our narrator is a freshly minted lawyer, wondering how he would pay for next month’s rent. As he walks through town, bored and chilled by the blustery night, he comes upon an antiques shop run by a pair of sisters. He strikes up a friendship with the women, is charmed by their warm, clean and well-run antiques shop. A week later he finds himself walking by, again on a cold, rainy night and decides to stop in, only this time the shop is dark and foreboding, manned by an old man who unnerves the narrator. “On my first visit I had, you may remember, been surprised by the uncharacteristic cleanliness of the place. The queer fancy now struck me that this old man was like an accumulation of all the dust one might have expected to find distributed over such premises, In truth, he looked scarcely more solid than a mere conglomeration of dust and cobwebs that might be dispersed at a breath of a touch. (22-23) Peter decided to make a small purchase and selects a small frog ornament, which is sold to him for a suspiciously good price. The man who sold it to him seems excited that Peter should have selected that particular piece. What is it about the frog that has the man excited? What exactly did Peter just purchase?
When I think of old-school ghost stories, The Corner Shop fits into that category very nicely. It has a few nice twists and turns, as well as the traditional trappings of a ghost story. Seth’s illustrations complement the story nicely. If you are looking for a story that falls on the milder side of creepy, this is a great one to pick up.
A Visit by Shirley Jackson
Our newest tale, being published posthumously in 1968 is true “Haunted House” story.
Young Margaret, on summer vacation from school is invited to stay at her best friend Carla’s home for the holidays. The house is massive, and full of tapestries, and other art, all depicting the mighty house. Room after room sits empty of life, but full of treasures and art, all reflecting the home and the people who lived (or lived) there. A tower stands over the house, which intrigues Margaret, but every time she brings up the tower, Carla changes the subject.
Carla tells Margaret repeatedly about how much fun they will have once her brother is home from the military. When the brother finally arrives, he is accompanied by a young man named Paul, who befriends Margaret and the two become very close. But not everything is at it seems. As the summer vacation wears on, tensions emerge between the friends. The tower looms over Margaret and the house is still revealing new room after new room and with it, secrets of the past. Something isn’t right here.
This story is the longest of the three, coming in at 80 pages, but it packs a punch. There are secrets here to unravel, and a host of characters who may or may not be who they seem. It’s a great read, and Seth’s illustrations, especially that of an upside-down tower lend the story an uneasy feeling, which is quite enjoyable.
As stated before, these three stories do fall on the milder side of scary. Far milder than past offerings like Bernard Capes’s An Eddy on the Floor or The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance by M.R. James. If you like your ghost stories a little lighter, these three do the trick. All in all, I am quite happy with this year’s offerings and they will be going on my bookshelf for future holiday seasons.
The Dead and the Countess
by Gertrude Atherton
Biblioasis, 2022, $9.50 CAD, 54 pages.
The Corner Shop
by Lady Asquith
Biblioasis, 2022, $9.50 CAD, 65 pages.
by Shirley Jackson
Biblioasis, 2022, $9.50 CAD, 89 pages.
Lindsey Childs is the Assistant Editor and Book Reviews Editor for Prairie Fire. She normally edits the book reviews, but occasionally snags a book off of her overflowing ‘to be reviewed’ bookcase and does a review herself.