There is the British tradition of creepy stories at this time of year, as exemplified by most of M.R. James’s output, and I can more or less hang Occasional Lapses of Service on that hook. I suspect James would probably chastise me slightly for stepping away from one of his very useful guidelines in the writing of ghost stories, one which I generally cling to pretty firmly– but it’s not really a ghost story either, so I will nod my head in admission of the departure without feeling that I’ve actually strayed from the path.
It is also not a traditional Christmas story in most other senses of the that phrase, even though there is a passing reference to carol singing. It is, however, presented only days ahead of Christmas, and is meant as a gift to the world in general.
And now, as last year, it’s time to get seasonal liver damage through the fat and alcohol content of egg nog, and cuddle my son while we decide if that noise on the roof is a reindeer, a lead-footed squirrel (of which we’ve many in the neighbourhood), or something else entirely. Wæs hæil, everyone!
There also isn’t, at least on the part of the teller, horror. My hair remained unwhitened. My flesh barely crept at all. But there is a lingering sense of having something happen which, dismissive sceptics be damned, satisfies Occam’s razor most readily by saying, “It was a ghost.” Which, for someone who enjoys writing this sort of story, is kind of neat.
A new Current Story up today, “All the Old Familiar Faces.” The inspiration for it was rattling around in my head for years, coming from a passing thought of Ellie Arroway towards the end of Contact, of which I will say the movie is good, but if you don’t read the book, you’re missing a large quantity of good stuff. There’s no requirement to know the novel to enjoy the story, and indeed even if you know the novel you may well not recognize the bit that stuck in my head.
I’ll also say that my use of the tag “ghost” on this entry is extremely broad application of the term. I very nearly didn’t use it at all.
With the exception of one anomalous year, I have never travelled at Christmas; I have enjoyed the luxury of living in the same city as my immediate family nearly my whole life. This is not to say that I don’t want to travel, and indeed would travel a lot if means were at hand. Since they’re not, I have to do my travelling in my imagination most of the time.
For example, there’s a bit of a framing device in the new Current Story, The Healing Power of Crystals, which suggests a trip to England undertaken by me and my wife. Flummery, alas– she’s never been to Blighty, apart from a brief layover in Heathrow nearly twenty years ago (a frustration which still occasionally sets her quivering). When we do go, I say with unfounded optimism, I hope any of our stops offer anything near this sort of entertainment.
To those who find themselves wondering why this story isn’t particularly Christmas-flavoured, I offer this defence: M.R. James’s stuff wasn’t often seasonally thematic either.
The new Current Story has given me a lot of trouble. Reticence is the third title I’ve hung on it, and while it’s the best so far I’m still not quite settled on it. It also is so quiet in its approach that I feel a qualm hanging the label Horror on it, but it really doesn’t agree with anything else. It’s more or less a ghost story, and definitely a story about haunting.
There is also a fairly open-ended game attached to this story. To do homage to one of my psychopathies, I’m going to give away a fountain pen to the first person to comment on this post who can identify the four literary references I’m making in the story. It’s not a very grand pen, but I like it enough myself to want to see it used more (I’ve got rather a lot of pens, and this one gets neglected in the crowd), and it comes in its original packaging so you can believe it’s brand new. It’s also probably less reward than the work attached to it justifies, as a couple of the references involved are pretty obscure.
So, those inclined to a free pen, get your thinking caps on. Name the authors and works I’m referencing, and remember that as on Jeopardy, a nearly correct answer may help another contestant. Unlike Jeopardy, the answer can be in the form of a statement, although question form will be admitted.
To comment, you have to tell the comment mechanism your email address. That’s how I’ll contact you. Please don’t put your address, email or otherwise in the comment; strange people may pester you. Date stamps on comments will be considered authoritative; first correct answer is the only winner.