The 16th Book Of Great Ghost Stories Selected by R. Chetwynd-Hayes (Fontana 1980)
Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book - M. R. James Mariners - Terry Tapp Beyond The Red Door - Kenneth Hill The Story Of Medhans Lea - E. and H. Heron Just For The Record - Patricia Moynehan The Cook's Room - Pansy Pakenham Norton Camp - William Charlton The Prescription - Marjorie Bowen The Rock Garden - Heather Vineham Brickett Bottom - Amyas Northcote The Swan - Pamela Hansford Johnson The Children and the Apple Tree - Meg Buxton The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall - John Kendrick Bangs Destination Glen Doll - A. Scupham She Walks On Dry Land - R. Chetwynd-Hayes
These Recent Reading notes are from 1995-96 and are a briefer than I'd like these days, but maybe they'll jog someone into improving on them. I think the Terry Tap Mariners story is the one about the surgeon who becomes obsessed with the visions of primitive amputations?
I decided to leave my recommendations here, though possibly I'd make different choices these days.
Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book by M R James: An antiquarian on holiday in France buys a book dating from the 17th century, bound in human skin. The book contains a terrifying illustration of a demon which appears to have been drawn "from the life". The unforgettable climax of the story is reached when the demon's hand is mistaken for a rag on the edge of the desk.
Mariners by Terry Tapp: An American tourist looking for a home in England is captivated by the sight of Mariners, a house built in the shape of a sailing ship, its parts mainly comprised of the parts of wrecked ships. He finds that he has a greater affinity with the ship than he suspected.
Beyond the Red Door by Kenneth Hill: A slight piece about an unusually late shift.
The Story of Medhans Lea by E and H Heron: Around the turn of the century, Nare-Jones and some drinking companions move into his new house in the country. A statuette is found, faces appear at the window, and the occupants of the house say things like "Seems odd, don't yer know!" Dated but just about readable nonsense.
Just for the Record by Patricia Moynehan is an agreeably contemporary story about a young woman haunted by the ghost of a disk jockey, who is determined that his tapes shan't fall into the wrong hands.
The Cook's Room by Pansy Pakenham: A delicate story about a love that crosses social classes, and death itself.
Norton Camp by William Charlton is about a jinxed airforce base, which has had more than its share of fatalities. The time-twisting ending is an added bonus to this very grim little piece.
The Prescription by Marjorie Bowen is a deliberately old-fashioned piece, which opens with a fashionable party complete with medium - Mrs Mahogany - and seance, attended by the sceptical Dr Dilke. During the middle of the night the doctor is awakened by a young man who takes him to the side of a dying woman. The piece is nicely atmospheric.
The Rock Garden by Heather Vineham: Melanie's Aunt Phyllis has been dominated by her housekeeper all her life; the housekeeper even stops her building a rock garden. When Melanie inherits the house, she finds that she has also inherited the housekeeper. But the stern warning "Bramble, bracken, ivy, rue, never shall the dead pass through" is not enough to stop her building the rock garden.
Brickett Bottom by Amyas Northcote: The Reverend Maydew and his daughters Alice and Maggie go on holiday to Overbury, where neighbours are few but pleasant walks abound throughout the surrounding countryside. Then one day they notice the charming old redbrick house nestling in a corner of Brickett Bottom.
The Swan by Pamela Hansford Johnson: A stylish and chilly piece in which a child is the central figure, and no more should be said... Recommended.
The Children and the Apple Tree by Meg Buxton: After two ill-fated marriages, Martin seeks seclusion in a cottage on the Cornish coast. His solitude is only disturbed by the appearance of two children, who play beneath the branches of an old apple tree behind the cottage. A quiet and thoughtful story, beautifully written. Recommended.
The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall by John Kendrick Bangs: Every Christmas Eve the Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall haunts the room which was hers in life, drenching everything and everyone around her. If the room happens to be empty, she seeks out the master of the house and drenches him instead. Entertaining and memorable.
Destination Glen Doll by A Scupham: On their way to a weekend's climbing in the Glen Doll area, two young men give a lift to a hitch-hiker, a climber also headed for Glen Doll. The climbers are then presented with a series of dreams or premonitions and apparitions glimpsed through whirling snow. A story with a powerful atmosphere, but somehow not adding up to a satisfying conclusion.
She Walks On Dry Land by R Chetwynd-Hayes: The editor's own contribution is a Regency period piece. A dashing earl and his servant enter a coastal village, and request beds for the night. They are denied shelter on the grounds that, when a stranger sleeps in the village, a vengeful ghost rises out of the sea whose appearance is such that men who look her in the face go mad, and drown themselves through fear. Corny but chilly
"What are you going to do now, Quatermass?"[br][br]"Start again."
Heather Vineham - The Rock Garden: “Take away the blest protectors and the dead will walk again. The black death will be back in Little Hallerton.”
Melanie inherits Briar Cottage and immediately makes plans to remove the ‘weeds’ from the rockery, despite the pleadings of the aged servant, Sarah, who came part and parcel with the property as dictated by Aunt Phyllis’s will. Why does Sarah feel so strongly about the issue? In the 17th century, Alice Newcombe had a roll of cloth sent in from plague-ridden London from which her wedding dress was to be fashioned. Her intended, Mr. Carstairs, was one of those struck down as the disease ravaged the community. When, years later, Alice again walked up the aisle, Carstairs came for her. And now the unheedful Melanie sets to work on the garden …
Pansy Pakenham - The Cook's Room: The late James Maxwell-Smith of Terncote Manor had two passions in life - detective fiction and his French cook, Elise. When he died, his bereaved lover moved home across the channel. A guest in her old attic room has a nasty experience involving a bed, the marble bust of James and the ghost of Elise who has just committed suicide (!)
Kenneth Hill - Beyond The Red Door: Two security guards are patrolling the burnt out shell of the computer room where three men were killed in an explosion. Nobody bothered to inform the dead men who carry on their Friday night shift regardless.
William Charlton - Norton Camp: Build during World War II, the Army base in the Ogley Hills has had a bad history dating from 1941 when German bombers killed five-hundred plus in one raid. Now the 19th Regiment have been posted there and for Private Debenham in particular the experience convinces him that fighting in the leech-infested swamps of Malaysia is preferable to tracking phantoms.
Terry Tapp - Mariners: New Teignton, Devon. To commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada, a retired naval Officer built his home as "a precise facsimile of a Galleon". Now, four-hundred years later, it's prospective new owner the retired American surgeon Dr. Gareth Vanglor learns that there's such a thing as doing a job too perfectly. As Mariners comes under siege from a ghostly English fleet, he's taken below decks to witness a succession of crude and gruesome amputations.
John Kendrick Bangs - The Water Ghost Of Harrowby Hall: The cadaverous, dripping, seaweed-festooned spectre of a young maiden saturates the haunted chamber for one hour every Christmas Eve. The latest Oglethorpe decides that enough is enough and hits on a fiendish plan to rid himself of her ladyship for good.
Marjorie Bowen - The Prescription: Verall Hall, Bucks. Christmas at Mrs. Janey's and the hostess arranges for Mrs. Mahogany the famous medium to have one of her turns by way of amusement for the guests. It's all breathtakingly dull stuff which is why the party react with scepticism when the medium goes into one, uttering cries of "Murder!" and describing in detail the demise of a young woman who's been administered a lethal dose of arsenic, location unknown but nearby.
As Mrs. Mahogany departs she encounters latecomer Dr. Dilke. "You're very psychic, aren't you?" she states and so it proves when, that night, he's aroused from his bed and ushered aboard an ancient coach by a man desperate to save his dying wife. Dr. Dilke recognises a case of poisoning when he sees it and writes a prescription although he's a hundred years too late to save her life.
R. Chetwynd-Hayes - She Walks On Dry Land: "Let a stranger spend but one night within the boundaries of this village, then, sir - she comes up from the sea and walks on dry land."
So warns Elder Josiah Woodward in this companion piece to Markland The Hunter and he knows what he's talking about. RCH and brevity were estranged for years but there's not a word wasted in She Walks On Dry Land and the story is all the better for it. Set in Denham, East Anglia in 1810, it sees Charles Devereaux, Fourth Earl of Montcalm, blow in at The Limping Sailor with his manservant Patrick and demand rooms for the night. This upsets the locals, for reasons already specified, although the drowned girl is only a threat to outsiders. Should such a one see her face, than they run screaming to the sea and drown themselves. Charles is too stubborn to listen.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty. - Christine Campbell Thomson