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Tag: short stories

“The Haunting of Esther Cox” by William Meikle

After an attempted rape, a young woman is haunted and possessed by a malevolent poltergeist until she finds a way to free herself from it.

This story is told in alternating diary entries, by Esther Cox and by her brother-in-law Daniel Teed. We get a somewhat fractured and incomplete account of what happens as Esther is first troubled by unexplained rapping sounds, then assaulted by flying objects and unexplained fires. She is taken advantage of by charlatans who try to capitalize on the haunting on the era’s spiritualist circuit (the story takes place in 1878-1879 in rural Nova Scotia), and in the end is able to liberate herself only by embracing the fire that has tormented her.

The story is inspired by the “Great Amherst Mystery,” a poltergeist case made famous by Walter Hubble’s book “The Haunted House: A True Ghost Story.”

“Crawlspace Oracle” by Richard Gavin

A woman has dinner with an old acquaintance who has gained a reputation for financial wizardry, hoping to get some advice for how to invest some money her husband has recently acquired. The acquaintance takes her to a grotesque mannequin cum radio receiver that she insists has been her family’s advisor in all matters for three generations and locks her into a basement room with it. When the woman emerges three days later she finds that she has been transformed herself into some sort of oracle channeling the arcane messages of the idol, and is pressed into service dispensing unintelligible answers to an endless stream of supplicants.

This is another story from Gavin’s “grotesquerie” collection, and it might be even more disturbing than the last. It leans into the squalor and neglect of the acquaintance’s home, and the grotesqueness of the idol, and wraps it all in a story with nothing but nightmare logic.

“In This Twilight” by Simon Strantzas

A young woman meets an itinerant young man in a deserted bus station and tries to avoid conversation with him. When he gets on the same bus as her, and waxes rhapsodic about the wonders of darkness, she shares a terrible story from her past, which helps her to integrate the good and the horrible in that trauma.

Strantzas was recommended to me as a writer working a similar vein to Robert Aickman, and this story is certainly Aickman-like in many ways. It inhabits interstitial spaces – the deserted bus station, the dark bus with its windows turned to mirrors, the protagonist’s feeling of being caught between home and college, past and present. While it’s never explicitly “weird” or supernatural, there’s a strange dread to the story that seems to be more than just the protagonist’s understandable discomfort about this strange man who may or may not be stalking her with the intention of extracting a dark story from her. The man’s name is always “Charlie Hand” – never “Charlie”, never “Hand” – which put me in mind of “Arnold Friend” from Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”; while Charlie Hand is never overtly menacing, there’s something more than a little disquieting about him.

“Napier’s Constant” by ArLynn Leiber Presser

This is a fun and lighthearted take on the theory of multiverses and the end of the universe, set at a wedding where a “virtuous but not sober uncle” has fallen asleep on the eponymous character’s shoulder as he contemplates whether to succumb to his fiancee’s marriage proposal ultimatum and imagines the multiverses of their happiness as he too drifts into sleep. It’s not exactly dense with ideas, but it’s playful and enjoys its characters and its language – good for a quick morning read.

I selected this from the latest issue of “Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet,” always good for a story or two.

“Scold’s Bridle: A Cruelty” by Richard Gavin

Well, this is a grim little story to read with my morning coffee …

Richard Gavin - "grotesquerie"A down-on-his-luck blacksmith is approached to create a medieval torture device; the requester is a teacher, who claims that it’s going to be an educational tool. The blacksmith is wary, but needs the money, and goes about making the device with some gusto, adding a few details of his own. The mask haunts him, though, and he goes to the teacher’s house to discover how it has been put to use.

This is a brief story, almost a fable with its scant characterization and sketchy details, but it successfully explores the sense of culpability the blacksmith feels and provides some jarring jolts; I would recommend this for fans of Robert Aikman and Brian Evenson, and also as maybe the second or third story of the day rather than the first.

I chose this from Gavin’s “grotesquerie” collection (the title of the collection was fair warning, I suppose, but it’s one I’ve been nibbling at for a while).

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