“Party Talk” – a ghost story by John Gaskin

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It’s October and time to read some ghost stories. I was quite fortunate in my first choice. I still had a handful of stories remaining unread in my collection, “Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead,” which features many great, scary stories. Some of those I’ve posted about before are linked below (my favorites were “Is There Anybody There” and “City of Dreams”)

Grandfather’s Teeth and Grandmother’s Slippers

Is There Anybody In There?

City of Dreams

The Door

Our narrator in the story is a party guest and writer of ghost stories. He allows himself to be trapped into a conversation with an old lady at the party who, reclining on an old-style chaise longue tells him, “Sit down. I have a tale you must hear.”

She relates a story from her youth where she, after committing an indiscretion with a youthful gardener, is shuttled off to live with an aunt, out of the way and out of the view of public shame. She is kept busy with many tasks, one of which is planting some roses amongst some old graves near the transept of the local church. During her shallow excavations, she unhappily discovers she has uncovered several bone fragments. She stores them behind the old tombstone of one Elenor Ward. She learns from a young rector that Elenor was a victim of a local knave also known for getting other young girls “in trouble.” The young ward walks her partway home to her aunt’s residence (“Toburn Hall” – described by the author as being “large and untenanted by youth or laughter”). On the remainder of the walk, she notices a discomfort in her boot and when reaching home is shocked to find the suspected “pebble” to in reality be a tooth from among the bones she had unintentionally disturbed. She resolves to return it to rest with the others the next day and places it on a mantelpiece in her bedroom. This, predictably, sets up a night of terror that completes the story of the old party guest.

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(photo from http://julieannchristian.wordpress.com/)

Gaskin’s not done with us yet, though, as a further, added twist left me with not a few goosebumps on my arms this Friday morning…

I highly recommend this story and the book which includes it. It may be found for sale at amazon.com  or Barnes and Noble

Author Gaskin lives in Northumberland in the U.K. And is also the author of a story collection called The Long Retreating Day: Tales of Twilight and Borderlands, which I may want to check out now that I’ve read this story.

This post is also written in conjunction with the R.I.P. VIII Challenge.

Will YOU be reading any ghost stories this month? What are your plans?

(below: a “chaise longue” perfect seating for a ghost story, wouldn’t you say?)

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The Long Rain by Ray Bradbury

This post is published in conjunction with the R.I.P. VIII Challenge (R.I.P. = “Readers Imbibing Peril)

“Too much of anything – even a good thing – is not necessarily a good thing.” (I forget where I heard or read that – maybe in many places.)

Water is essential to life. All of the searches by astronomers for exosolar planets that might harbor life focus on the “Goldilocks Zone” where a planet’s proximity to the sun – and thus its temperature – make water in its liquid form a possibility. In spite of that, we have been reminded even just this week in the national news of flooding in the Boulder, Colorado area, that too much water can be a bad thing. A very bad thing indeed.

(From USA Today: Some of the destruction in the Boulder area.)

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Too much water is the predicament facing the four characters in Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Long Rain. They’ve crash landed on the planet Venus which, in this story anyway, has already been colonized to some degree by Earthmen. The problem with Venus, though, is that it never stops raining there. The entire human colonization consists of some 120 “sun domes,” where an artificial – and dry! – environment is maintained. The challenge for our crash landed crew: can they find their way to one of the sun domes before the rain drives them crazy. Plagued by the inability to sleep or rest, limited rations, a compass rendered unreliable by an electrical storm, and almost crushing despair, their survival seems an unlikely proposition.

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I don’t think the story is available anywhere on line (not that I could find, anyway), but any used book store worth its salt probably has several copies in stock of Bradbury’s acclaimed collection, “The Illustrated Man,” which contains The Long Rain. I have been working my way through my copy of The Illustrated Man for awhile now. There was also a 1969 movie adaptation which featured several of the stories in the collection, including this one. Reviews are mixed regarding the merit of this film, however. It also features the story, The Veldt, from this collection, which was part of my 2013 short story reading project. My post about that story is here if you’d like to take a look.

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The story was first published in a 1950 edition of Planet Stories magazine under a different title (“The Death Rain“). I couldn’t find the exact issue which featured this story, but pictured below is a cover of another one that also featured Bradbury.

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What is your favorite Bradbury story or novel? (Wouldn’t it have been great to grow up in an era rich with all these pulp magazines full of fantastic tales?)

(Below: A beaming Ray Bradbury…)

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“The People of the Pit” by A. Merritt

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(this post is presented in conjunction with the R.I.P. VIII Reading Challenge)

There was once a great age of pulp horror and science fiction magazines here in the United States. Though that age is now long gone, I do often run across one of its revenants in my reading – particularly my short story reading. I encountered such a one yesterday in my early morning, pre-work reading ritual. I scanned the titles of my anthology “The Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Tales” and stopped on A. Merritt’s story “The People of the Pit.” I had heard neither of this story nor this author, but I plunged “downward” nonetheless.

“The land of the Hand Mountain was accursed they said.”

Our narrator, Frank, and his companion, Anderson, are prospecting in the far north. They have specifically in their sights a region of the “lost five peaks,” from which legend said that “gold streams out like putty from a clenched fist.” They were unable to induce any Indians to go with them, though, because of the region’s cursed reputation.

Making camp one night, the prospectors witness strange lights (not the known aurora) and hear odd sounds seemingly emanating from the peaks.

“From the North and high overhead came a whispering. It was not the rustling of the aurora, that rushing, crackling sound like the ghost of winds that blew at creation racing through the skeleton leaves of trees that sheltered Lilith. It was a whispering that held a demand.”

Not long after, they see what appears to be a four-legged creature emerging from the surrounding wilderness and approaching their camp. As it grows nearer, they realize it’s a man – a crawling man. The man has been crawling so long and far that his hands are grotesquely bent and “worn to the bone.” That matters little to the man, a fugitive with a band of yellow metal around his waist that trails a small chain. He is just happy to be finally out of reach of his “pursuers.” Beside the campfire, he relates his story…

He, too, was searching for the five peaks but had the misfortune of approaching them from the opposite direction, discovering on his route the ruins of the gates of an ancient city and a road leading toward the five peaks. Passing through the gates he related that:

“Before me was – sheer space! Imagine the Grand Canyon five times as wide with the bottom dropped out. This is what I was looking into. It was like peeping over the edge of a cleft world down into the infinity where the planets roll! On the far side stood the five peaks. They looked like a gigantic warning hand stretched up into the sky. The lip of the abyss curved away on each side of me.”

The man also discovers that there are steps(!) carved into the side walls of the pit and decides to explore downward…

The rest of the story I’ll leave you to discover for yourself (links below). I will say that I was less impressed with Merritt’s descriptive prose regarding the pit and its “inhabitants” than I was of his relating of the “natural” world above it. There were also a few distracting references in the story to an apparent mythology of which I knew nothing, but was perhaps expected to by the author(?) Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story, and its set up (narrator camping in the north is visited by a mysterious stranger) is coincidentally very similar to the Jack London story “A Relic of the Pliocene” which I also read recently.

(below: From Librarything – the cover of the 1918 issue of All-Story Weekly magazine that contained the first publication of “The People of the Pit”)

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Listen to it here:

Or, better yet, read it here:

What about you? Have you ever heard of A. (Abraham) Merritt? (pictured below) In my quick, fly-by research I learned his writing is rumored to have greatly influenced the tv show “Lost.” He was also a world traveler who had reputedly accumulated over 5,000 books on the occult. In short, a perfect author to read for R.I.P. VIII! 🙂

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Challenge Accepted!

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Okay, I’ve caved in and will be participating in a reading challenge. I am cheating a bit, though, since I would have likely met the requirements anyway by my normal reading patterns. I guess I didn’t need to admit that, did I? 🙂

Anyway, it’s the “R.I.P. VIII” challenge. RIP standing for “readers imbibing peril”(!) I love it! There are various levels of participation, but I – not surprisingly – have selected the “Peril of the Short Story” option. In September and October I will read and post about several (maybe more 😉 …) short stories in the “Mystery, Suspense, Triller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, and Supernatural” genres. You are welcome to join me in this challenge – if you dare! Here is a link to the host site.

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And now I’m off to pick out some stories for this. As always, I will happily accept recommendations from readers and fellow citizens of Bibliophilopolis…