In honor of the season, I’m slipping in Ghostly, a new collection of ghost stories edited by Audrey Niffenegger. The stories are quite varied, some rather old, some new, some eerie, some funny. I have only read one of them before, “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury. This story, strictly speaking, is more science fiction but works well as a ghost story. It is certainly haunting.
My favorite story in this collection is a subtle one by Edith Wharton, “Pomegranate Seed.” Charlotte Ashby has married a widower who was understood to be under his previous wife’s thumb. Charlotte begins to notice that he regularly receives letters addressed in a faint handwriting. These letters distress him and give him headaches. She finally realizes they are from an unexpected source.
I also liked “The Beckoning Fair One” by Oliver Onions. In this story Paul Oleron leases the first floor of an old ruined house and finds it occupied. He becomes obsessed with this occupant, who is jealous of his friend Elsie. The result is murder.
“They” by Rudyard Kipling is a story inspired by the early death of Kipling’s daughter. While taking a random drive in the country, the narrator meets a blind lady with a house full of elusive children. The narrator can see them, but it turns out, not everyone can.
“The July Ghost” by A. S. Byatt, has a similar theme. A distressed young man tells a story at a party about his practical landlady. A silent young boy appears often while he is sitting in the garden. It takes him a while to realize that the boy is the landlady’s dead son, whom she yearns to see but cannot. This sad story was also inspired by the death of a child.
“The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link is a newer story about two young girls who are left home with a babysitter by their neglectful father. Although very young, the babysitter lived in the house quite some time ago.
Several of the stories are humorous, the most successful of which is “Honeysuckle Cottage” by P. G. Wodehouse. James Rodman, author of noir crime stories, is bequeathed money and a house by his aunt, the author of sentimental love stories, provided he stay in the house for six months. Rodman discovers, to his horror, that the house is haunted, not by an individual but by a sickly sentimentality that affects everyone who enters it.
Another funny story is “Laura” by Saki. A dying society woman with a sense of mischief says that she would like to come back as an otter and admits she has let out the chickens her husband is so obsessed with and trampled his favorite flowers. After the funeral, which everyone finds irksome because it interferes with important social engagements, an otter begins breaking into the chicken coop and dragging the chickens through the flower garden.
For the most part, I found these stories entertaining and unusual. Niffenegger has included one of her own as well as illustrations and a short introduction before each story. The stories will certainly add atmosphere to your Halloween.
The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories
A Christmas Carol
This House Is Haunted