Category Archives: Charles Dickens

Christmas River Ghost by Paula Cappa

Christmas River Ghost    by Paula Cappa

A Christmas Tale,  Thursday,  December 7, 2017

Merry Christmas to my readers and followers. I give you a free short story by yours truly (flash-fiction, 12-minute read). Snuggle in with a cup of hot spiced cider, a Christmas cookie, and the Christmas River Ghost.

 

 

They come—through the icy wind, between the naked trees, walking the bridge, by Eagle Hill River. On Christmas Eve, I come home to call the old time back. Holly wreaths, tea and sugar, apple cakes, a partridge in a pear tree. And a peacock hung dead with its speckled feathers in the pantry. ‘ Take the peacock, break its neck.’  That I remember with a shiver.

Tonight there is the good news of snow falling, the dark village sleeping beneath giant snow drops everywhere as I make my way through Main Street. The church steeple chimes do not sound yet, as it is not midnight. My mind calls up pixies and elves, the ringing of sleigh bells across the sky.

The house waits for me, shabby with the grief of those passed on. Spending Christmas alone has its virtue, my sister Annabella used to say, whose heart was ever open to charity’s claims and gift-giving. She would know about such solitude; she had spent many a Christmas alone. Too many times, my fault.

A Christmas Eve supper will sooth me: ham and apricots, a fresh biscuit, a glass of warm red wine with a cinnamon stick. The crabbed and wrinkled Scrooge breaks into my thoughts. Maybe I would read a few pages of Dickens. Remind myself of the miserly and cold-hearted man.

Snow pelts arrows at me as I stumble up the hill to the front path. I ring the doorbell just for fun, announcing my arrival to no one. Maybe Annabella will hear it. That is, if her spirit still lives here. Christmas ghosts are common, I’m told. Christmas miracles and all that—the arrival of the holy babe makes a holy night. If true, her presence would certainly reside in the kitchen especially. Her lilac perfume and the green ribbons in her light brown tresses every Christmas day. I can see her at the stove, blue eyes sparkling, her cheeks flushed with the holiday excitement. Home is such a magnet. In the front hall I nearly expect to hear her laughter just one more time.

The kitchen is the same as when I was a girl. Oak table by the frost-crazed window panes. That ancient curly-legged cast iron stove that spouted smoke at the ceiling. A white cupboard, open-shelved where pies would cool and tempt.

‘ Rose, take the peacock, break its neck, cut its throat.’

Again I shiver. “Time to make Christmas.” I warm the kitchen with Annabella’s boiling copper kettle and make a pot of orange tea in her china teapot trimmed in holly. I set my slice of ham, three apricots, and biscuit into the oven. The red wine steams with the cinnamon stick on the stovetop. The savory aroma is exactly as Annabella used to make it. In the library, I stack logs and kindling in the hearth as she did every Christmas when I was a child. Nothing like a roaring fire to set things right. For I must set things right tonight.

As I recline in the giant armchair, I decide against reading Dickens. No need for Scrooge now, nor the reminder of being arrogant and vain and stingy.  My tight-fisted hand at the grindstone. Is this really me? I’m done with all that. Music will serve. I find Annabella’s old Christmas records. Sleigh bells ring … are you listening … walking in a winter wonderland.

‘ We cut its throat. Flay him, skin him, feathers and skin altogether.’ I squeeze my eyes shut to blink away the raw images. Such exquisite turquoise- and purple-eyed quills. Peacocks are perfect everlasting beauties. I shoot my vision out the side window. Through the snow, I see the old ice house still stands by the bridge. And that marvelous sledding hill that Annabella and I rode, sisters hanging on to each other at every curve. Veering right, veering left, flying high. I never minded numb fingertips.

‘ Draw him down tight. Keep the neck whole. Mind the dripping blood now.’  My breath catches in my chest like an ice block. I down the wine and head to the kitchen to check the ham. I set out my Christmas supper on the oak table and sit down. Later on we’ll conspire … as we dream by the fire … walking in a winter wonderland. The biscuit is oozing with melted butter. The ham juicy and tender. I add a dash of salt and pepper.

‘ Brine the bird with salt, sugar, a palmful of peppercorns.’ Annabella’s words repeat in my head. She always basted the peacock with beaten eggs and honey.   ‘To keep the meat moist and tender.’ And she never believed the folklore that peacocks were bad luck or evil-eyed spirits. ‘ Pure as snow,’ she was certain.

‘ Let’s roast him high as if he is sitting up alive—just like a king.’

Every Christmas she would carry the bird on a silver platter on her shoulder to the table. The breast dripped with golden gravy. Annabella dressed it with the tail feathers struck out in a wild plumage of color. Before we ate it, as was usual from our childhood days, we made the peacock vow of immortality, an honor to the bird’s ‘ love and beauty forevermore.’

Forevermore, Annabella’s favorite word to shout out every Christmas.

“Annabella? Are you here with me tonight? Please be here with me tonight.”

Silence at Christmas time can be unnerving. I listen closely for a moment. “Annabella?”

Words float into my mind.  ‘ Rose, remember the flocks in the woods. Remember the dancing peacocks when you were a little girl.’

I gaze out to the vast woods and recall the giant birds’ studded tails, how they twirled their feathers into violet hues. I would practically swim in those exuberant colors, getting lost in them. What loud calls they made, like urgent church bells. Each peacock seemed to walk alone, though, on his own path. I always wondered why. Still, I loved the luster in their eyes as I greeted them good morning and good night each day.

‘ Remember, Rose. The bridge. Our favorite spot by the river.’

Maybe Christmas ghosts are real. If I could be granted just one moment with her. One moment to say just two words. Within minutes I bundle up, hat to boots, and slosh out. Leaving tracks behind me in the snow, uphill toward the sledding hill, I stop at the foot of the bridge. The river is churning slowly with ice patches. Through the snowfall, on the far side, I see a tangle of shadows, pointed shapes, hot-blue barrel chests, and streaming colorful threads. Dark is present. I am not afraid of the dark. I walk across the bridge and stop midway. Only the soft sounds of the snowflakes surround me. And then I see them. The flocks. Hundreds of all-seeing eyes stare straight at me. The woods are full of peacocks, their plumage unfurled and radiant, just like when I was a girl. My heart shivers.

One by one they turn away from me and walk through the trees on their separate paths. No Annabella appears. Nor will she. I know that now. There is no such thing as a ghost. No extra moments to be given. No words allowed to mend the past. Too many years now since the river swallowed Annabella that Christmas morning. Her canoe overturned; her body never found. I should have been here.

We live. We die. Only the peacock’s flesh does not decay when it dies, Annabella used to say. ‘ They live on for all of us, these forgiving souls of wisdom.’

A single peacock comes forward from the woods now. He mounts the bridge where I stand. With his beak lifted, he trails a dusty green aura behind him. Regal beyond words. True blue, he holds all the secrets in his vibrancy. I so envy him.

The snow stops. The peacock curls his soft feathers around me and I smell his meaty flesh. He flaps his wings and cries out as if laughing at life. He follows me back to the house, just like when I was a kid. Peacocks are such gifts. “Goodnight, lovely peacock. Goodnight.”

Christmas chimes ring out from the church steeple. Midnight, holy night. His wings flare, his tail swings generously, rocking the darkness. He perches himself up on the backyard fence rail, letting his feathers drip down like tresses.

Inside the house, I sit in the armchair by the window. Does he know I’m watching him? The shifting iridescence of his colors in the sudden moonlight saturate my thoughts. Alone on my own path, I drift off to sleep in the chair. Were it not for the church chimes ringing in the holy babe on Christmas morn, I might not have woken from such a deep sleep. Scrambling to my feet, I look out the window to the fence. Gone. His claw prints are tracks leading back to Eagle Hill River.

There, in the pure white snow he had shed his full plumage. A wild fan of green-rimmed, blue-eyed feathers are glistening in the Christmas sun—standing upright, alive like a king.

“Forevermore,” I say aloud. “Forevermore, Annabella.”

 

 

 

 

 

In medieval times, peacock was served for the Christmas feast. The bird would be skinned, roasted whole and then redressed in its feathers to look as if it was still alive. Its beak was gilded with gold leaf and a piece of cloth soaked in spirits was inserted into the beak and set alight. It would be served by the highest lady of the house.

 

 

By many accounts, it is well known that the iridescence in the peacocks’ colors represent the reality of the spiritual world rather than the imaginary world. In Christianity, peacocks are a common motif representing eternal life, the peacocks’ feathered eyes symbolizing the all-seeing eye of God. 

Fra Angelico’s Nativity with a peacock on the stable roof.

 

 

Friends, do leave me a comment. This is my newest short story and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or, ask me a question, let me know if you would recommend this story to friends, or if you’re so inspired, write me a quick review. 

 

 

 

 

Christmas River Ghost. Copyright © 2017 by Paula Cappa.

All Rights Reserved. 

 

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Charles Dickens’ The Haunted House

The Haunted House (in two chapters) by Charles Dickens (1859)

Tuesday’s Tale of Ghosts    November 21, 2017

Have you ever thought of early morning as the most ghostly time? Dickens creates a spooky yarn in this odd story: a hooded woman with an owl, a one-eyed tramp named Joby, and a haunted house in the full of autumn. Perfect for a Thanksgiving ghostly read. Lively, Victorian,  spooky storytelling, and compelling in this portmanteau style story.

“A house that was shunned by the village, to which my eye was guided by a church spire some half a mile off—a house that nobody would take.  And the natural inference was, that it had the reputation of being a haunted house.”

So, our narrator gets his sister and friends to spend the night and discover the ghosts within.  The thing about this story is that Dickens co-wrote it with five collaborators (Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins among them), for his weekly series in All the Year Round. The book has 8 chapters and each written by a different author.

The chapters in the book are the following: “The Mortals in the House” (Charles Dickens); “The Ghost in the Clock Room” (Hesba Stretton); “The Ghost in the Double Room” (George Augustus Sala); “The Ghost in the Picture Room” (Adelaide Anne Procter); “The Ghost in the Cupboard Room”  (Wilkie Collins); “The Ghost in Master B’s Room” (Charles Dickens); “The Ghost in the Garden Room” (Elizabeth Gaskell); “The Ghost in the Corner Room” (Charles Dickens).

 

You can read Dickens’ two chapters  The Mortals in the House  and The Ghost in Master B’s Room here:

 

 

Read Dickens’ two chapters at Gutenberg.org

Listen to the audio (1 hour) on YouTube.com.  

Check out the full book on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

“An idea, like a ghost … must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”  Charles Dickens

Biographical highlight:  A Dinner at Popular Walk was Dickens’s first published story. It appeared in the Monthly Magazine in December 1833.  He adopted the soon to be famous pseudonym Boz. Dickens’s first book, a collection of stories titled Sketches by Boz, was published in 1836.

Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free reading. This is a compendium of over 200 short stories by more than 100 famous storytellers of mystery, supernatural, ghost stories,  suspense, crime, sci-fi, and ‘quiet horror.’ Follow or sign up to join me in reading two short stories every month. Comments are welcome.

 

Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Kirkus Mystery & Thrillers Reviews

Books & Such    Bibliophilica   NewYorkerFictionOnline

 Lovecraft Ezine   Parlor of Horror

HorrorNews.net   Fangoria.com   

Slattery’s Art of Horror Magazine   Chuck Windig’s Terrible Minds

HorrorAddicts.net     Horror Novel Reviews    HorrorSociety.com     

Monster Librarian      HorrorTalk.com 

 Rob Around Books      The Story Reading Ape Blog

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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An Unspeakable Menace

The Master of Rampling Gate   by Anne Rice (1982)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   July 8, 2014

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“No ghost would ever dare to trouble Rampling Gate.”

So says the blind housekeeper Mrs. Blessington to Julie and Richard, who have inherited this old estate from their father. The year is 1888 and Rampling Gate is an enchanting mansion in the countryside outside of London. The father claims there is an “unspeakable horror” within the house and upon his death, the house must be torn down. Julie and Richard go to visit the house. But Julie falls in love with the estate and … a thrilling young intruder.

 

annerice“Dazed, I watched him come towards me; the room darkened, and I felt his cool silken hands on my face … I was standing before him, and I looked up into his eyes.

“ ‘Something of menace, unspeakable menace’, I whispered, backing away.”

Are you salivating yet? If you know Anne Rice’s prolific work, you can guess that this gothic short story is likely a five-star rating. And it is. This short fiction is tightly written with high drama. It’s a 30-minute read, imaginative, atmospheric, and yes, you will feel haunted. Originally, this story was published as a “Vook,” part book and part video. Isn’t technology fun? You can find it on Amazon as a vook.

As you know, this blog functions mainly as a dead authors society for its weekly short fiction features, but when I come across a current author’s short story that really grabs me I want to share it.

ANNE RICEHere’s what Anne Rice has to say about one of our greatest writers, Charles Dickens:

“I claim Dickens as a mentor. He’s my teacher. He’s one of my driving forces. Dickens is a very underrated writer at the moment. Everyone in his time admired him, but I think right now he’s not spoken of enough.”

 

 

To read the short story, download the PDF  at SecondaryWorlds.com: Scroll down to “rice.pdf”

http://secondaryworlds.com/documents/

The audio is here at YouTube and read by Gigi Mareau–lovely!

 

Visit Anne Rice’s web site at http://www.annerice.com/

 

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I wouldn’t mind a comment if you like having some current authors’ short stories from time to time. I like to offer you free shorts but often, because of copyright issues, they are not usually free links.

Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Bibliophilica.com

Horror Novel Reviews   Hell Horror    HorrorPalace

HorrorSociety.com

 Monster Librarian  Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

 Lovecraft Ezine      Rob Around Books    The Story Reading Ape Blog

     The Gothic Wanderer   Sirens Call Publications  The Fussy Librarian

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed

 

Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free Tales of Terror classic Authors.

 

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Night Terror in a Bleak Autumn

The Dream-Woman by Wilkie Collins (From Queen of Hearts) (1855)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror    April 29, 2014

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OldEngland-vol2-p223-InnAtCharmouth-262x200A bleak autumn arrives.

Isaac Scatchard, a man of thirty-eight years, has been walking all day through the countryside and comes upon a small inn. He takes a room. The landlord happily closes and fastens the windows and doors, bids him a good night’s sleep. The unsnuffed candle burns down to issue a dull light as Isaac drifts off.

A strange shivering comes upon him.

 

“Between the foot of his bed and the closed door there stood a woman with a knife in her hand, looking at him.

He was stricken speechless with terror …”

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We have three narrators who tell this story of Isaac Scatchard in The Dream-Woman. We begin with a physician who is traveling with a lame horse and in need of a hostler, so he stops at an inn. We meet the landlord of the inn who tells us about poor old Isaac Scatchard, a hollowed, wrinkled man with grizzled hair—a man who sleeps only by the light of day. The physician wonders if there is  something wrong with Isaac’s brain that prevents the man from normal night sleeping.  He decides he must investigate. But investigate Isaac or the power of dreams?

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imagesThe full story is told by Isaac’s mother, Mrs. Scatchard, in Chapter Three. She tells us that Isaac’s apparent nightmare of this dream-woman occurred at the precise time and date of Isaac’s birthday at 2 a.m. Superstitious dread or warning? What happens to Isaac? Does he dream of this woman again who tries to stab him?

Like Isaac, you might believe that dreams have power. And you might believe that the elements of dreams are not so frothy as to disappear upon waking. Is there a reality in dreams? Maybe  of prophecy? Or maybe the dream reality is more like destiny?

 

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I adore dream elements in fiction and Wilkie Collins’ The Dream-Woman is a haunting story. You know this author from The Woman in White, The Moonstone; Frozen Deep is his most famous play that he co-wrote with Charles Dickens in 1857.  Collins was known for creating female characters that often showed a masculine side. He is certainly revered for his narrative power in this story. If you’ve ever heard the literary term “sensation genre,” this is the man who started it all.

Collins is one of many writers who uses dreams in stories. There is some speculation that Collins may have had such a dream as Isaac had. Robert Louis Stevenson was said to have based Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on a dream; Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto came from a dream;  Stephen King found the story of Salem’s Lot in a dream. Everyone knows that Mary Shelley claimed the idea for Frankenstein happened during a dream. I did the same with my novel Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural: I dreamed of a woman alone by the sea and ruled by her nightmares of persistent demon. Was I haunted by a winged creature in my own bedroom? Many nights!

I do believe that dreams contain eerie presences and that they have the power to perform a function in our lives. For Isaac Scatchard, the dream operates on both sides of the shadow.

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(William)_Wilkie_Collins_by_Rudolph_LehmannThere are several versions of The Dream-Woman by Wilkie Collins. This version here is  Brother Morgan’s Story of the Dream-Woman  from Queen of Hearts by Wilkie Collins:  Read the text at Ebooks.Adelaide.edu

 

Another version is subtitled A Mystery in Four Narratives and begins with the narrative (a longer version) told by the character Percy Fairbanks at ReadBooksOnline.net 

 

Or, you can listen to this version in audio, which has four parts on YouTube

 

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Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Bibliophilica.com

Horror Novel Reviews   Hell Horror    HorrorPalace

HorrorSociety.com

 Monster Librarian  Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

 Lovecraft Ezine      Rob Around Books    The Story Reading Ape Blog

     The Gothic Wanderer   Sirens Call Publications  The Fussy Librarian

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed

 

 

 

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Talk of Ghosts

To Be Read At Dusk  by Charles Dickens (1852)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   April 8, 2014

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display_imageDusk: darkness rises, light fades. What hides in the approaching subtle shadows? If you’re a reader of ghost stories, this is certainly a Dickens’ story to explore — being haunted and not just by a ghost, but by the conjuring of words that triple play on your imagination. If you’re a writer of ghost stories, this is certainly a Dickens’ story to examine — for art and craft. To Be Read At Dusk is not one of Dickens’ more popular stories, and I seemed to have dug it up as if the story itself were a ghost unwilling to come forward. I read the story once, then listened to the audio version, then read it again along with the audio. And there is something in that power of three encounters with this ghost story that it kept growing for me, redelivering itself.

Charles Dickens uses simile (likeness, comparing one thing with another: she is as brave as a lion) throughout this story in supernatural  and symbolic ways. The story is literally constructed with likenesses all over the place—which is the key to the mystery.

Our story opens on top of a mountain in Switzerland with five (5, make no mistake) couriers (German, Swiss, Neapolitan, and Genoese) chatting as they sit on a bench … “looking at the remote heights, stained by the setting sun as if a mighty quantity of red wine had been broached upon the mountain top, and had not yet had time to sink into the snow.”

Our narrator is sitting on another bench nearby listening to the couriers chat. He makes a point “… also like them, looking at the reddened snow, and at the lonely shed hard by, where the bodies of belated travellers, dug out of it, slowly wither away, knowing no corruption in that cold region.

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Bodies? Buried under the snow? Might that red wine be like blood images by the light of the setting sun? What happens when the sun sets?

Two of the couriers each tell a ghost story. One of an English bride who dreams of a dark threatening face. The other story is of twin brothers and death. As the story unfolds, you’ll hear the ongoing debate among the couriers of what is a ghost, what is like a ghost, and what is not a ghost. Phantoms, premonitions, and doppelgangers abound, but something else announces itself. The ending is so subtle you might well miss what it’s like to be a ghost.

 

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Read Dickens’ To Be Read At Dusk at Online-Literature.

 

Listen to the audio at Librivox Recording

 

 

 

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And if you are still up for more of Dickens, his essay, Night Walks (1861) is a spooky stroll through the London streets at midnight. We forget that Dickens didn’t just write fiction. Sleepless nights, what he calls “houselessness” reflects his observations that I found vivid and chilling, and oh do I ever wish I might have walked the streets of London in the 1860s.

 

Read Night Walks at ReadBookOnline.net

 

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Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Bibliophilica.com

Horror Novel Reviews   Hell Horror    HorrorPalace

HorrorSociety.com

 Monster Librarian  Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

 Lovecraft Ezine      Rob Around Books    The Story Reading Ape Blog

     The Gothic Wanderer   Sirens Call Publications  The Fussy Librarian

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed

ShelfAwareness.com

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Art Credits:

Winter Night in the Mountains,  by  Harald Oskar Sohlberg

Snowy Hut,  by Caspar David Friedrich

 

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Captain Murderer by Dickens, Forgotten Tale of Old

Captain Murderer by Charles Dickens

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror,   December 11, 2012 

Captain Murderer is a short story written by Charles Dickens (1000 words, flash fiction before flash was trendy–Dickens was so cool!) and was published in All the Year Round, A Weekly Journal in 1860.  During this Christmas season, we often talk about a Dickens’ Christmas and read or watch A Christmas Carol, delighting in the ghosts of the past. Captain Murderer is  not as popular a story as A Christmas Carol, but definitely fits into the realm of Tales of Terror. And this one is an especially forgotten tale of old.

This wretched character, the Captain, has immense wealth, is an offshoot of the Bluebeard family, and likes to show off his coach driven by a pack of glorious milk-white steeds. But Captain Murderer has a sinister preoccupation with matrimony. His horrific appetite for young brides opens this story when he gives his new wife a golden rolling pin and a silver pie board. He instructs her to bake him a pie. Seems harmless enough, right?

“Dear Captain Murderer, what pie is this to be?” his wife, of exactly one month after the wedding day, asks as she turns up her laced-silk sleeves.

“A meat pie,” the captain replies.

A meat pie? Captain Murderer, known for his ever-sharp teeth that he has professionally filed regularly, has a gruesome secret suggestion for the meat filling. His bride rolls out the crust, curls it into the baking pan and as she looks up into the looking glass, she sees the Captain cutting her head off.

Whack!

Can you imagine the view in that mirror? I’ll let Dickens reveal in his own creepy style about the baking and eating, the subsequent brides who met similar destinies, and the rather juicy ending. But I will add one note: dessert is a sweet revenge.

You can read Dickens’ Captain Murderer at the link below. For myself, I don’t think I shall look at another meat pie quite the same ever again.

Don’t hesitate to comment! I would love to hear from you.

http://www.shortstoryarchive.com/d/captain_murderer.html

TUESDAY’S  TALE OF TERROR will appear weekly.

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