Monday, November 1, 2010

They faced each other through a fraction of eternity

I finished (well finished again) Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories, a collection of ghost stories compiled by Dahl.  I didn't actually read all of the stories in the second half.  There were a couple I tried to read and just kept putting the book down.  And then I remembered if I don't want to read it I don't have to so I moved onto the next one.  For the most part, Dahl picked out some great, creepy stories but we can't all have the same taste.  And there were a couple great ones in the second half such as the 3 stories below. 

"Ringing the Changes" by Robert Aikman
This is one of the longer stories in the collection and that time is taken to set the scene.  This is probably the most unsettling story because for the majority of the story you and the main characters, know something is wrong but you can't tell why.  People are behaving strangely but when you try to figure out what exactly is so strange you can easily come up with plausible, non-threatening explanations.  And the bells that are constantly ringing, so loudly the characters can hardly hear anything else.  The tension and the eerie feeling builds and builds until it finally comes to a scary culmination.  

The other thing I liked about this story is the fact that it's a turn of the century zombie story.  I though zombies were a more modern creation, at least in terms of making it into horror stories that don't take place in Haiti (thank you NatGeo Zombie Documentary).  These aren't the same brain-eating zombies but "the dead are awake" (139, emphasis mine).
**End Spoilers**

"The Ghost of a Hand" by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
This is the story to read late at night while you're alone.  There's a disembodied hand that is constantly knocking on doors, tapping on window panes, running its hand along the wall, perhaps to find a point of entrance.  The ghostly presence is more often heard than seen, which means every little sound made me jump.  I expected to see a fat white hand up against the window.  I think the best horror stories are the ones where you are so completely pulled into the story that you start to see it around you.  

"The Sweeper" by A.M. Burrage
Death takes on so many different forms throughout literature but the purpose is always the same.  I wish we could have seen more of the woman death was waiting for, Miss Ludgate.  She's a wealthy old woman described as "rich enough to be indifferent, but old enough to be crotchety" (162).  I wish we could have seen more of her but the story is told from a young woman who joins the household, mostly to keep Miss Ludgate company and to help with all of the beggars that stop by the property.  Miss Ludgate may be stingy with her money when it comes to the monthly bills, but she never turns away a beggar looking for a handout.  The story isn't particularly scary like the other 2 I mentioned.  Instead it's just a good story with interesting characters, told well.

The title quote comes from this story and I enjoy Burrage's style. This is the same author that wrote my favorite story from this collection, "Playmates", which I mentioned in myprevious post.

I feel like I started the whole reading-Halloween stories late, so I'll probably stick to this genre for a few more books. Especially if I happen to pick up The Haunting of Hill House sometime soon. And of course I think I'll re-read World War Z soon because I decided I've been sleeping too well recently and should probably break up the night with some ridiculous not-scary-when-I'm-awake nightmares.

Title quote from page 175.

Aikman, Robert. "Ringing the Changes." Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York. 1983.

Burrage, A. M. "The Sweeper." Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York. 1983.

Sheridan Le Fanu, J. "The Ghost of a Hand." Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York. 1983.