Even in Winter, you are not safe. Stay indoors, attend your hearths. Try to keep the night at bay by the telling of your tongue. Remember your kin, honour your ancestors. For at this time the dead begin to stir, riding upon hallowed and familiar roads, galloping through villages and wastes, flying through the forests of the mind. Such raids are reminders that the past is not a dead thing, but may return, like a hunter, to follow us for a time.

Ari Berk and William Spytma
The Wild Hunt

On the surface, I was calm: in secret, without really admitting it, I was waiting for something. Her return? How could I have been waiting for that? We all know that we are material creatures, subject to the laws of physiology and physics, and not even the power of all our feelings combined can defeat those laws. All we can do is detest them. The age-old faith of lovers and poets in the power of love, stronger than death, that finis vitae sed non amoris, is a lie, useless and not even funny. So must one be resigned to being a clock that measures the passage of time, now out of order, now repaired, and whose mechanism generates despair and love as soon as its maker sets it going? Are we to grow used to the idea that every man relives ancient torments, which are all the more profound because they grow comic with repetition? That human existence should repeat itself, well and good, but that it should repeat itself like a hackneyed tune, or a record a drunkard keeps playing as he feeds coins into the jukebox…

Must I go on living here then, among the objects we both had touched, in the air she had breathed? In the name of what? In the hope of her return? I hoped for nothing. And yet I lived in expectation. Since she had gone, that was all that remained. I did not know what achievements, what mockery, even what tortures still awaited me. I knew nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.

Stanisław Lem
Solaris

Chasing Ghosts

June 18, 2020

I saw you turn a corner,

But when I followed you were gone,

Then I thought I heard you call me,

But when I turned, there was no one
.

I saw you go into a shop,

I heard the bell above its door,

But when I went inside the shop,

There was no one in the store.

 

I thought I saw you at a picture show;

The film was an old romance,

But when I touched your shoulder,

I was greeted by a strangers glance.

 

I looked up from my coffee cup,

I was in a small café,

I had thought I heard you speaking,

But your voice was far away.

 

I see you everywhere I go,

I’m so lonely and so lost,

But I never will stop searching,

Though I know I’m chasing ghosts.

 

Ambrose Harte

The typical (M R) James ghost story kicks off when someone discovers an old manuscript or a valuable or rare book, often with a religious connection or theme. Having seemingly set up a scene of remarkable dustiness, it turns out that evil resides in the pages, or lurking behind a dark corner of a church, waiting to manifest itself and reduce the unfortunate antiquarian to a wreck. (“Canon Alberic’s ScrapBook”, the first story in the collection, in which a drawing of a demon comes to life, is a good example of this, and an early collection of James’s stories was called Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.) You have to wonder what it was in James that inspired him to do this. He knew what he was talking about when he described the business of going through ancient collections, and he grew up in an ecclesiastical environment, so knew an apse from a chasuble; but why he found fear in these elements is something of a mystery in itself. It certainly adds to the plausibility of the stories, however, and their wide and enduring popularity. It also takes quite a talent to get a shiver from, say, an unconventional dating of a prayer-book, as he does in “The Uncommon Prayer-Book”. HP Lovecraft, who was probably about as far in temperament as you could get from James, wrote a long essay on supernatural fiction in which he described James as “a literary weird fictionist of the very first rank”, and in Darryl Jones’s introduction to Collected Ghost Stories we are given a vignette of how James came to sharpen his craft – by telling his stories after the Christmas service at King’s College, Cambridge (where he was provost) to an audience of uneasy fellows. Who might also, I was surprised to learn, have been uneasy at James’s fondness for the card game “animal grab”, which descended into impromptu wrestling bouts that would leave his opponents with “torn clothes” and “nailscored hands”.

Nicholas Lezard
Collected Ghost Stories by MR James – review
The Guardian, Tuesday 1st October 2013

Where we go for sweet chestnuts
on Market Drayton road by Chetwynd Firs,
that’s the lay-by
where uncle used to overnight.

He drove a Morris flatbed
in the fifties, down from Liverpool.
In winter-dark, he’d haul
the wheel over, bump off tarmac.
Heave up the handbrake.
Light a fag, uncork his thermos,
unfold his Mirror, spread a rug.

While in the big house Madam Pigott
died again in childbed.
Lop the root to save the branch
said Squire, and shrugged
but their babe died too.
She walks, and walks, her babe in arms.

Uncle used to see her, pale as bones,
lilting through the trees. She’d lay
her thin cheek on his lorry door.

But uncle told me nothing was as bad
after the desert war.

Jean Atkin

Memory

May 31, 2020

Memory is simply another name for ghosts.

memories and dreams

May 12, 2020

…we chase after ghosts and spirits and are left holding only memories and dreams. It’s not that we want what we can’t have; it’s that we’ve held all we could want and then had to watch it slip away.

Charles de Lint
Moonlight & Vines

I will tell you a story of the strangest thing that ever happened to me.

When I was teaching in Cambridge I had a great friend called Bill Farrar. Bill and I were like brothers. I thought the world of him. One day I got a phone call from Bill and with great courage, he said, ‘I’ve been told I have six weeks left to live, will you come over and see me before I go?’ I said, ‘Of course I will.’ For the next six weeks, I drove from Cardiff to Cambridge to spend the weekends with Bill. Then I got a call from Bill’s village priest, Ian, who said that he was very sorry, but Bill had passed over. One of his last requests had been for me to conduct the funeral service in the village church. I said, ‘Yes, of courseI will’. Father Ian said, ‘Come over on Thursday night. Stay with me in the rectory; we’ll do the service together on Friday morning.’ Now I am not psychic at all, my feet are very much on the ground, very much a Harley Davidson rider, but while we arranged the service, I saw Bill. The last time I had seen him alive he weighed six stone, but he was healthy again, back in his 20’s, and he gave me a great big smile. I could feel the happiness coming off him; it was like sunlight. He said to me, ‘Tell Ian, Juliana was absolutely right.’ And then he was gone.

Ian had seen and heard nothing. I felt if I told him what I had seen then he was going to think that I was coming off the wall, but if this were the other way around, Bill would have done it for me, no question. I took a deep breath and said, ‘Ian I am sorry if this sounds strange, but I have just seen Bill. He looked young again; he was radiant, and he asked me to tell you, Juliana was absolutely right.’ Ian nearly fell off his chair. He said, ‘You can’t have known that.’ He went on to explain that during the last 20 minutes of Bill’s life he had told him the story of Lady Juliana of Norwich, who had been a saint. Everyone thought she had become ill when she seemed to be about to faint. She had recovered herself and explained that she had just seen heaven. Everyone there was ecstatic with happiness, and all was well. Ian and I prepared the rest of the funeral service with great joy brought by Bill’s message. When you have an experience like that, you take more of an interest in mysteries and the supernatural.

Lionel Fanthorpe
TALKING TO LIONEL FANTHORPE
WALES ARTS REVIEW 24th April 2020

we won’t let go

April 19, 2020

Ghosts don’t haunt us. That’s not how it works. They’re present among us because we won’t let go of them.

Sue Grafton
A is for ALibi

I did not want to see it

April 14, 2020

If I went out to the passage now, I would, perhaps, see it for myself — see what shape, whose form, what nature of thing this was. But I did not want to see it, and less still did I want it to touch me. I had made it more horrible, making it invisible, by turning on the lights.

Dorothy Macardle
The Uninvited