A Ghost Story: “Is There Anybody There”

I’ve read, just this morning, a “ghost story” by an author I’d never heard of before, England’s Kim Newman (below).


The story was part of a collection titled “Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead.” It’s a book I started last October but have pretty much left alone since then, waiting patiently for another October to roll around.


***Spoiler Alert***
If you’d like to read the story yourself, the book may be found on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Haunts-Reliquaries-Dead-Stephen-Jones/dp/1569759847 (the kindle version is “only” $9.99)

The premise of the story “Is There Anybody There?” was unique to me and, I thought, brilliant. It is set in the early 1920s, where we meet “Madame Irena,” a spiritualist/medium who is involved in a Ouija board “session” with one of her sitters. One might think this story would be headed toward a “fraudulent medium getting her just rewards from beyond” theme, but that is not the case here for, you see, Madame Irena (aka Irene Dobson) does have the power to communicate with spirits and “presences.” As Newman explains:

“She was no fraud, relying on conjuring tricks, but her understanding of the world beyond the veil was very different from that which she wished her sitters to have. All spirits could be made to do what she wished them to do. If they thought themselves grown beyond hurt, they were sorely in error.”

Make no mistake about it, though, she is in this line of business for the money and for personal gain. The presence she encounters in this session, however, is somehow different from all those other spirits of the departed she has contacted. Identifying himself only as “MSTRMND,” he uses a slightly different method to spell out strange answers on the Ouija board, eschewing moving the pointer toward the “Yes” or “No” on the board, he instead compels them to move it to simply the letter “Y” or “N” as if he were using some abbreviated form of communication, YKWIM?? No, it’s not that he’s “texting” either, but he is clearly using some shorthand form of communication of a more modern time…

You can probably guess where this is leading. MSTRMND is really “Boyd,” a 21st-century internet hacker and predator (though the latter may be too strong of a word), trolling for “victims.” Somehow, his chat room messages are ending up being transmitted across time to the ouija board in Madame Irena’s parlor! Who will be “reeled in” by the other, though, and what methods will be used? The duel between these two animates the second half of this great story.


(above: a Ouija Board complete with pointer. The pointer is called a “planchette.”)

What about you? Are you familiar with this author? Have you ever “played” with a Ouija board? You can tell me…


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