Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen; author of some dozen tales long and short, in which the elements of hidden horror and brooding fright attain an almost incomparable substance and realistic acuteness…His powerful horror-material of the ’nineties and earlier nineteen-hundreds stands alone in its class, and marks a distinct epoch in the history of this literary form.

H P Lovecraft
Supernatural Horror in Literature

Both dead girls and ghosts already have your number. But a dead girl won’t call you. A ghost doesn’t have to call.

The ghost is soul lingerie. You can see right through her. She slips through your fingers.

The dead girl is all bawdy. A dead girl is real. Heavy. Sooner or later, no matter how strong you are, your arms will tire, and you will have to let go. And the dead girl will say, I told you so.

You have to try hard, work harder, scrub and pray and do all sorts of things to get rid of a ghost (depending on, of course, who she is and why she’s there).

Dead girls leave you. They’ve already left. Dead girls are past tense. You had good times. You made time. The time of your life. Once upon a time.

Ghosts are timeless. A ghost can be right here right now. But with dead girls, the biological clock is always ticking.

Science may try and assert that there’s no such thing as ghosts. That may be true. However, sooner or later, half of the global population will be dead girls. Or already is.

The most important difference between dead girls and ghosts — perhaps the only one you need to know — is this: The dead girl still has a heart.

Daphne Gottlieb

an ancient power captured

December 3, 2019

After all, I’m the horror writer; it’s why the editors of this publication have asked me to conduct this interview. I’m supposed to judge the veracity of Sarah’s footage and, assuming I accept it as true, trace its connections to Lost in the Dark, explain the ways in which the fiction refracts the facts. It’s a favourite critical activity, isn’t it? Especially when it comes to the fantastic, demonstrating how it’s only the stuff of daily life, after all. The vampire is our repressed eroticism, the werewolf our unreasoning rage. The film Sarah has shown me, though, isn’t the material of daily life. I don’t know what it is, because to tell you the truth, I’m more of a sceptic than a believer these days. Strange as it sounds, it’s one of the reasons I love to write about the supernatural. The stories I tell offer me the opportunity to indulge a sense of the numinous I find all too lacking in the world around me. But this movie…I can’t help inventing a story to explain it, something to do with an ancient power captured, brought to a remote location, and imprisoned there. Those dead men at the entrance, maybe they were there as a sacrifice, a way to bind whatever was in that nameless woman to the mine. The stuff inside the tunnels, the caves beyond, was that evidence of someone or someone’s tending to the woman, worshipping her? And Isabelle Router, her experience underground — was the movie she cowrote an act of devotion to something that found her in the dark? I half remember the line from Yeats about entertaining a drowsy emperor.

None of it makes any sense; it’s all constructed with playing cards, waiting for a sneeze to collapse it.

John Langan
Lost in the Dark

someone lives
in apartment four.
I know it because I’ve heard her fucking.
packages with her name appear
and disappear off the porch.
one whole week her snow boots were left
drying by the vents.
she likes to time her fucking,
ensuring it begins twenty to forty minutes
after I have fallen asleep, and lasts
until I have contemplated setting a small fire
both to force an evacuation (and a presumptive end
to the fucking) but also
in retaliation for the reminder
my own bed has never been
such a showy symphony.
I know she lives there
despite never having seen her;
the same way I know
the promise “nothing will change
between us” has been
quietly and unceremoniously broken.
saying we have not become
strangers by the distance
does as much good as saying
apartment four is empty.
(believe me, I know about the word empty
and the many meanings it can bear.)
there is no one to blame for this
but the both of us. I never put
my boots by the vents and now
it’s April and they are dripping wet

Brenna Twohy

There are some people who belong to the land of the dead and some who belong to the land of the living. And there are some who stand between the two, keeping open the door. These are the artists, dreamers, philosophers and mystics. They are strange people who tell of strange things. We must be patient with them. I myself, in my humble way, stand between these two worlds. I make the pastries. I wait. We all have our roles, as I believe you do.

Reggie Oliver
Flowers of the Sea

Ghost

November 19, 2019

She was a ghost to him now, and yet he could sense her everywhere around him.

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