Review of Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas

hauntingsSomewhere out there in Facebook land, in one of the many groups to which I belong, I came across a post that was advertising a free book!  We indie authors are forced to give away books from time to time order to gain exposure. The title grabbed me right away: Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas.  Now how can a haunted house guy like me pass on this? I couldn’t.  So I downloaded it, read it, overall I liked it, and now I’m reviewing it.  Thus, the authors’ giveaway campaign has bared some fruit.  Not that my review equates to an orchard of apples or anything.  At least, put me down as one single peach!

As with other anthologies, there are some stories that I prefer over others. But I’m not going to delve into the nitty-gritties of my individual preferences. They are purely subjective and would negate from the fact that all these stories have their strengths. Like the three legs of a tripod, they have a solid-enough structure to support the novel as a whole.  And it doesn’t matter so much that these legs aren’t examples of the most innovative feats in engineering!  They are standard legs, standard stories – but they do their job.  Perhaps they can use a bit of polishing here and there (another round of editing). But as an indie author myself; I know how difficult editing can be (especially when you can’t afford a professional).

What I would like to do is: very briefly, I will summarize each story and then itemize the elements that stand out; the story components that have made a lasting impression on my memory.

First there is The Haunting of Monroe House by Olivia Harlowe.  A pregnant couple rents a house in the country. Is it haunted, or is there something about Sam’s pregnancy that is making everything so – strange? Here are the things that stand out – the peacocks, that scary closet, those wall-scratching noises, the farmer and his wife; an interesting couple indeed; characters well written.

Second there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Violet Archer. Colin inherits a lodge house that is the taboo of the town. No one will go near it. Except a young woman named Juno.  Together, Colin and Juno explore the strange happenings that are going on at Briarwood Lodge.  Here are the things that stand out – The attic window,  the corridors, that circle of chairs, the poltergeist-style activity. Oh, and how the house can, at will, lock its inhabitants inside!

Third, there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Mason Graves. Tom and Rebecca move into a new home. Tom is spooked by the stories surrounding the history of the house. Rebecca dismisses them as myths.  Who is correct?  Here are the things that stand out – Tom’s journey into the crawlspace, the mystery surrounding the original owners of the house, and the weird old lady that stalks the house.

All in all, this is a fun read.  Perhaps there will be more haunted house tales to come from this trio?   There is a website that hints at this, although it is a bit empty at the moment.

http://hauntedhousenovels.com/

Also, Violet Archer has many creepy short stories (each several paragraphs long) at her blog

https://violetarcher.com/blog/

Enjoy!

Review of The Haunted Doll’s House

dollhouse Ready for a bonus Christmas Ghost story review?

Toward the end of my article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses, I wrote a preview concerning up and coming reviews of Christmas related haunted house stories. I was to review A Strange Christmas Game by J.H. Riddell and Smee by A.M. Burrage. I have fulfilled those commitments. But the Christmas/holiday season continues to roll along, so I said to myself, “By golly, I have time for one more!” I then discovered how much I enjoy talking to myself, so I continued on with the conversation I was having with yours truly, and I said, “I would be remiss if I do not at least touch on the work of M.R James, after all his name is synonymous with The Christmas Ghost story.”

Unfortunately, this touch amounts to a small nudge, because I am not actually reviewing his writing. Rather, I am reviewing a short film that is based on one of his stories. The film is The Haunted Doll’s House by Stephen Gray, and an interesting film it is!

Christmas festivities are usually not the subjects of M.R. James’s ghost stories. But, they were stories that to were read out loud on Christmas Eve. This is an old English tradition, and you can read about it here.

The Haunted Doll’s House has nothing to do with Christmas. Unless, one thinks of a doll house as a Christmas gift for a young girl, but this is a bit of a stretch. According to literature.wikia.com,  it was first published in 1923 for the magazine Empire review, it later became part of anthology titled “A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories”

Now fast forward ninety years to 2013, and we have Stephen Gray’s film version of the classic story. (I’m sure there were other incarnations somewhere in the ninety years, but oh well to them.)

According to www.thin-ghost.org,  this film was made with “no budget.”  It is minimalism at its finest!  There is live action along with some creepily effective animation.

All I’m going to say about this plot it this: a man purchases an antique dollhouse. The dollhouse is haunted. Want more details? Watch the film.

How does this film stack against James’s original story? I don’t know. I still haven’t read anything from M.R. James. That is my bad and I promise I will do so soon.

For now, enjoy the film. Watch it here:

http://www.thin-ghost.org/dollhouse


 

Betcha thought I forgot about the third Christmas promise I made! I didn’t.  In addition to promising Christmas Ghost story reviews, I said that I would write my own Christmas Ghost Story. And I have. But now I’m checking it twice. I want to make sure it’s both scary and nice!   It will be up soon!

Review of Smee (A Christmas Ghost Story By A.M. Burrage)

smeeGoosebumps! (Uh…what?)  You heard me. Goosebumps!  (I don’t get it). These little shits crawled all over my skin as I read this delightful tale. And when I listened to an audio arrangement of the story, with creepy sound effects and all, these bumps honked like a mudda’ goose!

The story I am referring to is “Smee” by A.M Burrage, which was originally published as part of a collection in the book Someone in the Room, 1931.

(To  read it online. Check out  http://www.scaryforkids.com/smee/ )

(To listen to the story, check out this narration from David Lewis Richardson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muJyiMMAfTk )

(Was it really so scary that if caused goosebumps?) Well, it was scary. Scarier than some, less scary than others. (Was it, I don’t know, touching?) Well, people touched a ghost now and then, it that’s what you mean. (What I mean is, “What’s with the goosebumps?!”).  The overall concept of this story gave them to me!  Twelve friends playing a hide-and-seek type game inside a huge, dark house, and then suddenly – there is this mysterious thirteenth player that hides with them!  This description alone should be enough to tickle a whole assortment of inner senses.  But then there’s more.  To complete the story is to witness multiple rounds of this game; numerous chilling adventures to court your most precious fancies.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve.  It is a story within a story.  Tony Jackson is forced to explain to his friends why he wishes not to partake in their post-dinner, hide-and-seek game. To explain his hesitancy, he relays a story of a Christmas Eve past, where, after dining, he and eleven friends play a game called “Smee!,” which is similar to hide-and-seek.  The name is based on the phonetic similarities to the phrase “It’s me!” One person per game bares the title “Smee.” No one knows the identity of “Smee” except for the one that chooses the card that assigns that person the title.   “Smee” then hides and the others seek. When a seeker encounters another player, s/he calls out “Smee?” If the other player replies with “Smee!”, the seeker moves on.  When the real “Smee” is found, s/he is silent when asked about his/her identity. The finder then joins Smee in hiding and waits. Soon, all the players except for one will be hiding with Smee.  The last player to find “Smee” (and the rest of the party) is the loser.

Poor Jackson had a frightening experience playing that game on that particular Christmas Eve.  It just so happened that a ghost had joined in the game!

At the beginning of every game, the one who is “Smee” leaves the group to hide. Now, wouldn’t the players see the one who leaves? If they were not witnesses to “Smee’s” departure, wouldn’t they still be able to deduce the identity of the absent player by process of elimination? In order for this game to work, the house had to be pretty damn dark so that no one can see each other!  And so it is in this tale. Also, the house has to be big. Once again, the house in the story meets the requirements.  There are many hiding places in the numerous rooms and corridors. The host warns that, due to certain constructional patterns, some of the areas in the house can lead to danger if one is not careful, especially when roaming around in the dark. Now, isn’t this just the perfect setting and situation to add such haunting delights?

Let me refer back to the article I wrote several days ago, Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses. In the article, while borrowing from other sources, I describe the setting of a Christmas Haunted House.  I rephrase a section of Keith Lee Moris’s article:

 “Winter’s ability to capture our imagination is at its strongest precisely when we are the farthest slightly removed from its more harmful elements.”

Then I go on to say (in my words):

Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.

In other words, A Christmas ghost story with a haunted house usually begins in a warm house where a festive party is taking place. This party distracts the characters from the darkest elements of winter – in the beginning. But as the story unfolds, the harshness of the season creeps inside (symbolically), often in the form of a ghost.

Stories of ghosts invading Christmas celebrations are perhaps reflective of our ancient ancestors’ struggle against the forces of nature at winter solstice.

In my article, I argue:

 During the festive solstice celebrations, the lingering darkness and the bitter cold continued exert their powers.  These forces surrounded their fragile, festival fires, where the celebrants sought warmth and light.

Soon the fires would be extinguished. But the darkness and the cold temperatures would remain. 

“Smee” certainly deals with the “dangers of darkness” theme.  Here we have a group of  smee-coverfriends celebrating Christmas – a holiday known for its colorful lights. They have already dined and are feeling quite cheerful. They then test their fragile bubble of festivity by eliminating the light. They find themselves in darkness, which is always present underneath the light. And with the darkness comes frightening entities.

There is very little mention of the weather in this story.  We truly don’t know if “the weather outside is frightful.”   However, during the game, one of the players mentions that she would rather play a quiet game beside the fire where it is warm. So to a small extent, cold temperatures contribute to the overall sense of gloom.

“Smee” offers the ultimate Christmas haunted house. It is dutifully dark and sprawling with passages. Complying with the archetypal Christmas ghost story irony, the frightful exploration of the house is all part of a jovial, holiday game.  “Oh what they find is frightful, but the story is so delightful.”  Yes it is! Turn on your Christmas/holiday lights, shut off all other lighting and listen to this story.  It will be fun!

Review of A Strange Christmas Game

strangechristmasgame2

Folks, we have approached a milestone.   This will be the first piece of ghostly literature for which I have listened to a narrator speak the story to me.  I followed along with the text on a website as an audio file played on.  The story is “A Strange Christmas Game” by J.H. Riddell, (a.k.a. Charlotte Riddell) 1863. You too can read and/or listen to this story.  Just click on the link below and listen and listen as famed author and storyteller Michael Whitehouse narrates the story narrates the story.

http://www.vaultofghastlytales.com/2015/12/a-strange-christmas-games-by-j-h-riddell.html

I found several versions of the telling on the internet, each varying in wording. I wasn’t sure which was the best, most true to the original source, etc. But in the end I paid it no mind and just settled on a version that is hosted by www.vaultofghastlytales.com

Followers of my blog, surely by now you have read my recent article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses? Here is in excerpt from that article:

“Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.

People of days past used to tell ghosts during the cold winter. Winter was perceived as dark, dreary and scary. At Christmas Eve gatherings, celebrants would eat, drink and be merry. They would play games. And… they would tell ghost stories. Ghost stories are fun when one is beside a warm fire and in the accompaniment of family and friends; feeling all warm and cozy, while the threat of winter rages outside their windows.  A story of a Christmas Haunted House takes advantage of the characters’ fragile coziness. They are feeling festive and carefree, just like the real life folks that gather around a fire to hill a grisly take. But the doom and gloom of winter invades their celebration in the form of ghosts. Their gathering is soon invaded my scary phantoms.

Does “A Strange Christmas Game” meet these criteria? I say – Mostly.

In the tale, brother and sister inherit a manor, Martingdale, which is supposedly haunted. strangechristmasgameMany years ago, original owner Jeremy Lester is playing cards with his friend on Christmas Eve. The clock strikes midnight, Lester’s guest leaves to go home. Out against the brutal elements of winter he wanders, but it is Jeremy that is never heard from again!

Has the winter doom invaded Lester’s home and whooshed him away?  Not exactly. When one reads further into the story, a different situation arises. But at this point, the story teases us with the “wintertime ghostly home-invader” scenario. However, it does address the Christmas ghost story theme of “game time gone ghostly.”

For sure, the dreariness of winter plays out symbolically within the story – within the house.  For instance, here is an excerpt from the book that points to this:

Altogether, Martingdale seemed dreary enough, and the ghost stories we had laughed at while sunshine flooded the rooms became less unreal when we had nothing but blazing fires and wax candles to dispel the gloom.

When summer ends and winter begins, brother and sister hear footsteps in the night, along with other strange noises. Is this the doings of the spirit of Jeremy Lester?  Read or listen to the story and find out for yourself. But one thing for certain – their home is haunted by ghosts that invade on Christmas Eve. However, the ghosts are not interrupting any Christmas festivities. Brother and Sister have been a wee bit too scared to be concentrating on Christmas.

Another thing to note; at the story’s climax, a snowstorm breaks out.  There hasn’t been such a storm for forty one years. –The last winter storm occurrs on the same night that Jeremy Lester disappears – on Christmas Eve.

This is a fun story. And it mostly meets my Christmas Haunted House criteria. Now, by all means, J. H. Riddell was under no obligation to adhere to the dictates of my half-baked analysis of Christmas haunted houses in literature. Afterall, I came up with them one hundred and fifty years or more after this story was published (with the help of others of course!)

I hope you give this tale a listen, a read, or both.  It’s a perfect story to ingest on a cold, winter’s evening.

FORAY at the HAUNTED HOUSE

This is a very good haunted house story. Therefore, I reblog. Please read and enjoy!

GrannyMoon's Morning Feast

FORAY at the HAUNTED HOUSE

33HAUNTED MAGICK

Everyone was terrified

As they turned as white as a Ghost!

A Spirit had been summoned who lived in the time of yesterday to come back from the Shadows into the light of today

We called out to the Spirit

Show yourself…

As a feeling of cold filled the room we saw the presence of a Woman
◼
The invited Guests arrived right on time to the Haunted House at the stroke of Midnight

As they well knew that any late arrivals would not be able to enter in for just as the clock finished its strokes the sound of locking bolts began to seal them into the Haunted House

A light night supper was served in the parlour with lots of fresh fruit ~ an assortment of cheeses ~ chilled shrimp ~ and of course 100 year…

View original post 727 more words

Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses

christmas-ghost-story-3December is no time to give up the ghost! Quite the contrary! Rather, it is time to embrace the Christmas “spirit.”  This would be not the spirit of peace and good will toward men (although that spirit is kind of sweet, you have to admit!). Instead, I’m referring to you average, run of the mill specter that haunts the Christmas ghost story. Yes there are such ghostly tales. Surely you’ve heard the Christmas song sung by Andy Williams, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?”  Well check out this verse:

There’ll be parties for hosting Marshmallows for toasting And caroling out in the snow There’ll be scary ghost stories And tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.

Yes, Christmas is the season for ghost stories. At least it was back in them olden days. Colin Fleming in his article Ghosts on the Nog  goes so far as to call such a tale “The classic English Christmas ghost story”. Perhaps the most famous of them all is Charles Dickens’ 1943 classic novella A Christmas Carol, with Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

Well, now that I’ve established that the Christmas ghost not only exists but is also, in fact traditional, I’m going to go a step further. I’m going to make a case for the literary existence of “The Christmas Haunted House”.  I have not yet seen that term coined in any articles or literature, but I argue that certain traditions and ghost story telling rituals have given way to such a concept.  What is a Christmas haunted house?  I’ll try to answer that question. To do so, I must first delve into an historical analysis of ghosts, stories, Christmases and dark winters. So a delving I will go, laughing all the way, HA HA HA HA!

In the article Ghost Stories for Christmas at hypnogoira.com, Jim Moon reminds us of the various rituals that took place during the Germanic Yule and Roman Saturnalia festivals, and how some of the rituals of the ancient winter solstice later became associated with Christmas celebrations. There were fires and festivals to commemorate the shortest day of the year. Shortest day = darkest day.   Dark day? Hmm. Maybe “commemorate” is not the most appropriate word to use in this context.  Perhaps “offset” it a better choice. Yes.  The idea was to combat the darkness with lights. They would even go so far as to bring trees inside their homes and light them up. (Later to be known as the Christmas/Holiday Tree).  Although there is no evidence for the postulates put forth in the upcoming quote from the article, Moon presents the idea that winter stories of the supernatural originated during these ancient winter holidays.

Now it is assumed that during such ancient festivities, stories were told of gods and monsters which explained why the days would grow so dark, and our telling of ghost stories is an echo of these spiritual and religious recitations and rituals

Think about this. In the days before electricity, in the days of agrarian homesteads, resources aimed at warding off the cold and darkness were limited (at least when compared to today’s standards). Thus, “the dark” and “the cold” were pretty ominous things. Even during the festive solstice celebrations, the lingering darkness and the bitter cold continued exert their powers.  These forces surrounded their fragile, festival fires, where the celebrants sought warmth and light.

Soon the fires would be extinguished. But the darkness and the cold temperatures would remain. (These are my words. Remember them – for I will come back to them later when I discuss The Christmas Haunted House.)

 

Thus, it seems only natural that these environmental conditions would extract some scary stories from the imaginations of the people of that day. Hence we have the term “winter’s tale”.

Keith Lee Moris mentions Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” in his 2014 article from the Independent.  Written in 1611, one of Shakespeare’s characters says, “A sad tale’s best for winter. I have one / of sprites and goblins.” Also of note is the book Saducismus Triumphatus . Referring back to Moon’s article, this book, written in 1681,  argues that  witches and spirits do in fact exist. That’s nice and stuff, but the reason I bring it up has to do with a fitting quote from the book. The quote is also referenced in Moon’s article. “These are not winter’s tales!”

In defending the legitimacy of magical witchcraft, the author uses the term “winter’s tales” to differentiate between fiction and what he proposes to be fact ( the witches). Thus, “winter’s tales” are similar to “Old wives’s tales”, or stories made up to explain a certain set of phenomenon. So what we learn from these two sources is that by the 17th century, the idea of a “Winter’s Tale” was common parlance, and it can be defined as a made-up story about dark, dismal and horrific topics.

By the Victorian Era, The ancient Yule traditions had merged with the Christian holiday customs, and “winter’s tales” evolved into Christmas ghost stories. Whereas societies of the 19th century were in a better position than ancient pagan societies to alleviate some of the harshness of dark winters, Victorian winters were still problematic. Moris mentions in his article that winter was the season that claimed the most lives. Antibiotics were not yet available and winters were very deadly.  Counteracting this wintertime misfortune was the joyous celebrations of Christmas. Gifts, dinners, drinks, games and….ghost stories!

Returning to the Ghosts on the Nog article, Fleming implies that author M. R James is the christmas-ghost-story-6-m-r-jamesmaster of the Christmas Ghost story. His ghost stories were published in the early to mid 1900s.  Though the stories were not about Christmas, they were written to be read on Christmas Eve. In fact, James read these stories to his colleagues and favored students by candlelight on the eve of Christmas. He even went so far as to describe the proper Christmas Eve ghost story-telling environment.  Guests should be well fed, full of eggnog, perhaps a little drunk.  It will be cold outside, but it will be warm beside the fireplace. Participants should be releasing their inner child. They should be ready to have fun and dispense with disbelief. They should try to scare one another with their ghost stories.

Let’s throw another “James” into the Frey. A few months ago, I reviewed Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.  This is actually a story within a story. It begins in a setting similar to what M.R James described. (It’s tough “keeping up with the Jameses”) Friends are partying on Christmas Eve. They settle down, and one of the partiers begins the ghost story. The story is The “Turn of the Screw”.

Moris has an interesting observation in his article. He states:

“Winter’s ability to capture our imagination is at its strongest precisely when we are the farthest removed from its more harmful elements”

christmas-ghost-story4He goes on to cite examples, such as being “curled up” on a soft chair, besides a fire, all warm and cozy, while reading a ghost story. This protective environment is much like the setting of the Christmas Eve party that offers the activity of telling ghost stories. I’ll even go further and say this example applies to the pagan days or yore with their fireside tales.

BUT, (now this is a “big but” here) can you recall what I had asked for you to remember, further back in the article? In case you have forgotten, here it is again:

Soon the fires would be extinguished. But the darkness and the cold temperatures would remain.

I disagree slightly with Moris’s winter tale observation, and this disagreement is reflected in those sentences I had asked you to commit to memory. I might change Moris’s wording a bit. Here I go.

“Winter’s ability to capture our imagination is at its strongest precisely when we are the farthest slightly removed from its more harmful elements.”

I believe that winter’s effect on our imaginations is enhanced when its harmful elements are still near us. Imagine reading a scary book or hearing a ghost story while the dark night can be seen just outside the window, or the howling winds are to be heard underneath the crackle of the fire. Nature’s brutal elements are right there on the other side of the house’s walls. So close!  That, for me, makes for a creatively frightful situation. The recipients of the ghost story are safe – temporarily.  The fact that winter’s mighty roar is happening just outside adds to the “fun” tension. Perhaps the term “warmly vulnerable” is appropriate. The darkness and the cold temperatures are always there, just like they had remained with our pagan friends from a long time ago, with or without the fire.

One can expand on this situation and make it all the scarier. I shall be “the one” and expand I will! Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.

Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven hints at this. Though not a Christmas tale, the events of the poem occur on a dreary December evening. The protagonist is safe inside his chamber, except…(he asks) “Who’s that knocking at my chamber door?”  Death is wanting in!

Before this season is over, I will be reviewing two Christmas ghost stories that may contain these house haunting story elements, both of which are listed in Fleming’s article. The first is J. H. Riddell’s story “A Strange Christmas Game” – 1863. From the article:

 “…we have that idea of play again, only now it is the ghosts who are trying their hands at sport. Cards, as it were. A brother and sister have recently taken possession of a house willed to them, and the demise of their benefactor plays out like some horrible, woebegone mummer’s act.”

The second is “Smee” by A.M. Burrage – 1931. Again, from the article:

At this party, we’re playing a form of hide-and-seek in which the seeker advances upon the hider and says, “It’s me,” which, uttered quickly and breathlessly enough, becomes smee. It’s Christmas Eve, this is a big old rambling house, but one tiny problem: there’s an extra player who does not number among the guests.

 

Finally, I will be offering a Christmas Eve ghost story of my own. I believe it meets my critera for a Chistmas Haunted House tale. It surely contains a threat from the outside that wants in. However, there will be a twist. I will post this story here at the blog

Well, Happy Holiday’s everyone. As you prepare your homes for Christmas, don’t forget to invite the ghosts inside. They are definitely part of the Christmas tradition, and your homes will be ever so delightfully haunted during this “most wonderful time of the year.”