Haunted

November 2, 2019

My childhood home in rural Tennessee was built in the late 1800s and was, to put it mildly, rundown when my family moved in. It was the kind of place a real estate agent might describe as having “good bones.” And in its state of neglect, critters had moved in. There were mice in the cupboards, squirrels in the attic, and even once a rat snake draped casually across a doorframe. Many of the bumps in the night that frightened me were animal rather than spirit in nature. To be fair, I don’t remember the place looking like a house of horrors. I was too young, and by the time I really started forming memories, my parents had turned the place into a lovely albeit unique place to grow up. But odd, unexplainable phenomena never went away.

I remember voices one afternoon, high-pitched and staccato, coming from our downstairs hallway. Not words, more like giggles and shrieks. They suggested children playing some sort of game, hide-and-seek maybe or simply tag. I was in my bedroom, around nine or ten years old, and at first, I froze. I called out to them, but when I received no response, I crept toward the bannister and peered over. Empty. Completely empty. A few decades have passed, yet I can still remember the chill I felt as I realized that I was alone. Intrepid – or foolhardy – I went exploring, but no matter how many closets I opened or curtains I peeked behind, I couldn’t find the source of the noises, now fled. This mystery didn’t derail my day, though I did spend the rest of it pausing from time to time, straining to hear the laughter again. It didn’t derail my day because strange occurrences happened regularly, and I’d learned to live with ghosts.

Erica Wright
The Perks of Living in a Haunted House

(Erica Wright’s latest novel is Famous in Cedarville. Her poetry collections are All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned, and Instructions for Killing the Jackal. She is the poetry editor at Guernica Magazine.)

Anxiety: A Ghost Story

October 31, 2019

We have got to talk about the kids
in all those Goosebumps books.
For example,
if your family vacation
is to an amusement park
called HORRORLAND,
and your station wagon explodes
in the parking lot upon arrival,
maybe
shrugging it off,
buying an extra large popcorn,
and heading straight for
The Deadly Doom Slide
is not your best possible
course of action.

Or,
if you steal a weird camera
from your creepy neighbour’s basement
and every picture you take
shows bad things happening,
like decapitation
and Tofurkey,
and then all the bad things
from the pictures
start happening,
Stop Taking Pictures.

Or,
if you move into your new house
and there are a bunch of small children already living in your bedroom
that your parents cannot see,
maybe,
don’t just grab a juice box
and go play in the cemetery
that
is
in
your
backyard.

Or,
when I tell you of the ghosts
that live inside my body;
When I tell you
I have a cemetery in my backyard
and in my front yard
and in my bedroom;
When I tell you
trauma is a steep slide
you cannot see the bottom of,
that my anxiety is a camera
that shows everyone I love as bones,
when I tell you
panic is a stubborn phantom,
she will grab hold of me
and not let go for months–
this is the part of the story
when everyone is telling you to run.

To love me
is to love a haunted house–
it’s fun to visit once a year,
but no one wants to live there,
and when you say,
“Tell me about the bad days,”
it sounds like all the neighbourhood kids daring each other to ring the doorbell,
you love me
like the family walking through Horrorland holding hands–
You are not stupid,
or careless,
or even brave,
you’ve just never seen
the close-up of a haunting.

Darling,
this love will not cure me.
And this love will not scrape
the blood from the baseboards,
but it will turn all the lights on,
it will bring basil
back from the farmer’s market
and it will plant it in every windowsill,
it is the kind of love
that gives me goosebumps,
when you say to the ghosts,
“If you’re staying,
then you better make room,”
and we kiss against the walls
that tonight are not shaking,
so we turn the music up
and we dance to Miles Davis,
and you say,
“My god,
this house.
The way that it stands
even on the months
that no one goes into
or comes out of it.”

How reckless, the way that I love
like the first chapter of a ghost story.
Like the gentlest hand
reaching out of a grave.

Brenna Twohy

The Demon Lover

October 31, 2019

What unites ghost stories and folksong? A Venn diagram of the two would surely put love and death in the centre. Robert Aickman wrote in the introduction to The 3rd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories that the eerie tale fulfils our “need to escape, at least occasionally, from a mechanistic world, ever more definable, ever more predictable, and, therefore, ever more unsatisfying and frustrating.”

The traditional song, often set in a vague and archaic time, can be equally attractive to those who wish to escape the prosaic world. However, the folk song and the ghost story do not ignore the stuff of life. Instead, they transform it into art that captivates our attention while making us engage with the problems of our humanity.

A case in point is that of “The Demon Lover”. This ballad, which dates back to 1685 and has since become part of the corpus of traditional song in Britain, Ireland and North America, tells of a woman whose lover returns from sea only to find her married to another man. The old flame re-pledges his love, telling her that he turned down a king’s daughter for her sake. He promises her wealth and persuades her to leave her husband and young children, and they sail off in one of his seven ships. When at sea, however, he either reveals his true identity (supernatural) or their intended destination (Hell) and, with that, the ship sinks.

This ballad speaks of the dangers posed to lovers by the strength of romantic bonds, the way that love can be a gateway to danger and dissolution if not handled with care, and the return of spirits (emotional or literal) to make their claims upon, or take advantage of, our humanity. These themes have been constants in the horror and ghost story traditions for at least two centuries.

Love, especially its more physical expression, has tended to be the preserve of the vampire in popular culture and literature. However, while the vampire desires our life force, the ghost desires us in our entirety. The vampire lover, like Le Fanu’s Carmilla or Stoker’s Dracula, comes either out of nowhere or from somewhere “out there”. Ghosts, on the other hand, come out of our past, from intimate spaces, or even out of our thoughts. They come to take us back with them, or at least to ensure that no one else can have us.

Lewis Hurst
‘Well met, well met, my own true love’: Five Demon Lovers

supernatural impressions

October 31, 2019

We had been put in the mood for ghosts, that evening, after an excellent dinner at our old friend Culwin’s, by a tale of Fred Murchard’s — the narrative of a strange personal visitation.

Seen through the haze of our cigars, and by the drowsy gleam of a coal fire, Culwin’s library, with its oak walls and dark old bindings, made a good setting for such evocations; and ghostly experiences at first hand being, after Murchard’s brilliant opening, the only kind acceptable to us, we proceeded to take stock of our group and tax each member for a contribution. There were eight of us, and seven contrived, in a manner more or less adequate, to fulfil the condition imposed.  It surprised us all to find that we could muster such a show of supernatural impressions,  for none of us, excepting Murchard himself and young Phil Frenham — whose story was the slightest of the lot — had the habit of sending our souls into the invisible. So that, on the whole, we had every reason to be proud of our seven “exhibits,” and none of us would have dreamed of expecting an eighth from our host.

Edith Wharton
The Eyes

Did you know –

October 31, 2019

Venice was my last island. A dream outside of time. It was the only place where I felt the waters formed a barrier between me and the world, protecting me from human stupidity.

Something in me was broken. I’d lost my appetite for love, along with all the rest. Sometimes when you can’t change your life, you try to change your look: I swapped my black dresses for colourful clothes and hacked off my long dark curls.

I was another person on the outside – only on the outside. Walking past a mirror, I found my reflection strange, but on the inside I still wore black and would often smooth my phantom curls.
Life had made me more and more withdrawn.

I had come here to escape my demons.

Nadine Monfils
The Red Dress

The house called the dead

October 28, 2019

The ghost boy was the colour of bone, of gossamer spider web, of salt trails of dried tears. He still had his shape, his outline. No one had said his name in thirty years, even though he’d scarred the house with it, carved onto a tree in the garden, scratched into the paint under the outdoor kitchen. Scars unseen, name unspoken. The house had stood for close to a century, waking to kiss the sea breeze decades before, still standing when the red dirt roads had hardened to dark tarmac and the state had stolen the sea from it.

The house called the dead onto itself,  and so the boy persisted, him and the others, outnumbering the living. Walls skinned with the colour of the ocean meeting the sky, a driveway of parched and cracked stone, girded with the garishness of bougainvillea and the shyness of orchids. The newest owners had furnished the house with a television screen the same size as a car door, computers in every room, tiny bulbs the size of candles with the glare of lighthouses; ripped out the old worm-eaten flooring in favour of inky Burmese teak. Now, you can do that, strip a house down to the bone, flay the walls from it and pull tiles like teeth. But the marrow of the house remained, so the living never stayed and the dead never left.

On the thirtieth anniversary of his death, a new ghost came to the house.

L Chan
The sound of his voice like the colour of salt

Ghost

October 27, 2019

You know how sometimes as you fall asleep your body will abruptly jerk you awake? Well, that’s because a ghost has just finished having sex with you.

Realism is conservative

October 26, 2019

We live in uncertain times. We have always lived in uncertain times. I think what makes the weird inherently attractive is that it speaks to a part of us that knows, consciously or not, that the rules we play by, the realities we choose to agree to and normalize, have cracks in them. Increasingly, I think that putting realist modes and non-realistic modes at opposite ends of the spectrum does a disservice to both. Realism is conservative in that it tells us what we believe is real is in fact real. But it isn’t. It’s also consensual, questionable, open to interpretation, and often ignorant of other, competing narratives. We are in a moment when the consensus is beginning to shift. Non-realist modes seem to help us get a handle on this faster because they teach us the consensus was never absolute to begin with. People were excluded, people dissented. This breakdown is enjoyable at some level even as it’s also frightening. It means elements of our lives which we lacked the ability or will to question suddenly seem disputable, something we can fight back against. Breakdown gives us an opportunity to see what lies beneath, for better or worse. Increasingly what strikes me as strange about Lovecraft’s fiction is the sense that once the monstrous is encountered, the only options are madness, forgetting or death. And that in its own way is a conservative way of thinking: there are many more options. Resistance, recuperation, remembering, rebirth. This is the energy that comes from the collapse of the consensus — the possibility of change.

Helen Marshall
Interview with David Davis 15th November 2017