A Spooky Interlude: Halloween 2017
Today is Halloween! To celebrate, we’ve compiled some of our contributors’ favourite scary stories. We've found the full text for most of these online and provided links. Enjoy!
Colin Waters (Vagabond Voices Poetry Editor)
Halloween is my favourite time of the year. You watch horror films, read spooky short stories, eat lots of sweets, and, unlike Christmas, you don't bankrupt yourself – what's not to like? If you're looking for a creepy tale to get you in the mood, try Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows", which was HP Lovecraft's favourite ghost story. Two men on a rowing holiday in Germany find themselves trapped overnight on an island where, soon enough, they find themselves beset by forces beyond their ken. The story conjures an oppressive atmosphere which our heroes cannot escape, only describe as they wait for the sun to rise once more.
The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes: I remember my mum reading this to me in dramatic whispers from a big book of stories and poems I had as a child – the highwayman came riding— riding—riding – and it both thrilled and terrified me. I would go back to it again and again for its rhyme, repetition, the suspense and the purple moor with all its ghostly wind and moonlight!
When I was a wean my grandfather told me a scary story which he claimed happened in the East End of Glasgow, in Duke Street near to Parkhead Cross when he was a little boy – this was just before WWI. There was a house which no tenant would stay in for very long. People who moved in said that they'd see a big black dog with red eyes and then shortly after they felt invisible hands tightly gripping them around their throat choking them so that they couldn't breathe. All the tenants had to flee the house or they felt that they'd be killed.
The landlord refused to believe that there was anything wrong and so in order to prove that the house wasn't haunted he decided to stay there himself for a week or so to put the stories to rest. He settled the front room and lit a candle in order to read. All was quiet. Then just about midnight there was a knock at the front door which opened onto the street. He opened the door to find a policeman standing there.
"Just checking that all is well," said the polis. "I thought that this property was supposed to be empty."
The landlord explained that some tenants had told him that the house was haunted, so he was staying there to prove them wrong.
"Ah right," said the polis. "Och and you'll be fine then, with that dug of yours to protect you."
The landlord looked behind him, and there sitting in the lobby was a big black dug with red piercing eyes.
The landlord fled.
That story scared the bejeezus out of me when I was young!
Mari Meel (Saat) (The Saviour of Lasnamäe)
This is not a ghost story but a real one from my grandmother's youth, at the end of the nineteenth century.
My grandmother grew up in an Estonian fishing village on Dago Island. Back then, in Estonian villages during summertime, young boys and girls were in the habit of sleeping in outbuildings (also called stores) on their family’s property – there was more space and less parental supervision.
Most farms had at least seven outbuildings, and it was common for young women to sleep in the one that stored textiles. So, one summer my grandmother and her sister moved into a newly built outbuilding that stored all kinds of clothing and textiles. But they could not sleep there: every time they began to doze off, somebody would shake them awake saying, "Leena, Leena, wake up..." or "Liisu, Liisu, wake up."
When they told their parents about this, their mother tried to sleep there herself, also without success. Finally, their father said, "There is nothing to do – the store is built in the way of ghosts."
And so they broke down the outbuilding and rebuilt it elsewhere in their yard. After that, all was peaceful.
Stewart Ennis (Blessed Assurance, The Monster and Mary Shelley (both forthcoming in 2018))
I've always been a big fan of the ghost stories of M.R. James. Years ago the BBC often used to adapt them for their Ghost Stories for Christmas series. "Whistle and I'll Come To You My Lad" was a favourite. Never have rumpled bedclothes been so terrifying. But really it was the East Anglia landscape that was the star of many of these tales and which made them so atmospheric and so .... haunting.
You can also watch the film adaptation on YouTube.
Mark Mechan (Cover Artist, Red Axe Design)
I must have been around the age of seven or eight when my eldest sister read W.W. Jacobs’s "The Monkey's Paw" to me and my other two siblings. What better age to have an indelible impression made on you by this classic horror story? By the time my own children were reaching that same age I was impatient to slip the book from my shelf and deliver to them that same gift: a fireside-bred knot of fear in the pit of their stomachs.
It's the early 1900s. An old soldier recounts tales of his travels in India, while visiting an elderly couple and their adult son. He has in his keep a withered paw which has had a spell placed on it by an old fakir: three wishes granted to three men who may possess it. Which in anyone's book sounds too good to be true. Which of course, is exactly the case.
In trying to destroy the talisman, the old sergeant reluctantly passes it on to his friends with the warning that whatever they may wish for will carry inevitable consequences. Throughout this short story Jacobs is brilliant in his use of mere suggestion to bring about fear:
“And has anybody else wished?” persisted the old lady.
“The first man had his three wishes. Yes,” was the reply, “I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That's how I got the paw.”
Not a bad hook. And a less than subtle indicator of what may lie ahead for the unfortunate family – or indeed anyone who is less than careful in what they wish … for they may just get it.
Incidentally, if you have time, this reading of it by John Lithgow is tremendous fun (starts at 28.20 or so). He's so theatrical, it's brilliant.
We hope you enjoyed this spooky interlude. We'd like to wish you a Happy Halloween, but, as the last story shows, we must be careful what we wish for!