Category Archives: phantoms

Horror-Struck in Benchurch

The Judge’s House  by Bram Stoker (1891)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror    August 27, 2013

You’ve heard the old saying, At the darkest hour comes the light. In Bram Stoker’s The Judge’s House, that blackest hour has all the power. I want you to meet Malcolm Malcolmson. Say it aloud, low and throaty. Malcolm Malcolmson. Even the name has a haunting tone. He is a scholar, young, strong, a bit unsociable but determined to find a “quiet” place to dive into his beloved studies. Quiet is probably putting it mildly; he really wants isolation, a desolate location to learn the mysteries of Mathematical Tripos, Harmonical Progression, Permutations and Combinations, and Elliptic Functions.


Most of us can’t identify what these studies are exactly, but it sounds very ambitious. While we can admire Malcolm, we are also immediately intrigued when he comes upon an unoccupied old rambling, heavy-built house of the Jacobean style, with heavy gables and windows in the small town of Benchurch.

Thinking haunted house, are you? Not quite. This is a story about the power of darkness, a darkness so diabolical that I doubt you’ll be able to stop reading until you reach the conclusion.

Our young Malcolm settles into the house with all his textbooks. Mrs. Dempster, the charwoman, provides meals and housekeeping. But Mrs. Dempster has her own reluctance about the house and especially the screens in the dining room … ‘things,’ that put their heads round the sides, or over the top, and look on me!

Do rats, mice, and beetles offend you? Would a grisly rope attached to the roof’s alarm bell hanging down in the corner of the dining room make you feel uneasy—especially if it creaks? What about portraits on the wall covered so thickly with dust you can’t see the faces … yet.

Close to the hearth is a great high-backed carved oak chair, with a mysterious something seated upon it … with baleful eyes.  In the evenings, while Malcolm is buried within the pages of his mathematical rationalizations (and this is important because we all know that mathematical thinking does not have any power to battle the supernatural), the scampering and little screeches begin.


Stoker keeps his narrative moving by bringing the lens in closer and closer to build a foreboding tension. However, I found The Judge’s House to be extra mysterious when I stretched out on my sofa, turned the lights low, and listened this short story by LibriVox Recordings. There’s a magnetic quality in Stoker’s prose—the pacing and descriptions are truly evocative for a suspenseful read-aloud.

Read the short story at Gaslight (45-minute read)

Listen to the LibriVox Recording at YouTube

More of Bram Stoker short stories are at Bram


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Filed under classic horror stories, fiction, ghost stories, horror, horror blogs, literature, mysteries, phantoms, quiet horror, Reading Fiction, short stories, soft horror, supernatural, suspense, tales of terror

That Other Evil

The Return of Andrew Bentley  by August W. Derleth and Mark Schorer (1933)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   June 18, 2013


May I invite you in … to listen. Can you hear the peet peet from the nighthawk? Can you recognize the gasping and gurgling cries from the river? What’s that movement in the shadowy distance of the trees? A caped, dark and hunched creature flattens itself against the vaulted doors of your uncle’s gravesite. Gleaming white fingers spread out.

You dash to your uncle’s vault. Who would dare tamper with the dead? Who!

Uncle Amos is a dabbler of the dark arts and a believer … of evil demons lured to earth by man’s ignorance, of souls isolated in space, and of an ever-present evil wrath. Uncle Amos lives in the rustic village of Sac Prairie, in an old homestead on the banks of the Wisconsin River, until his sudden death, at which time his nephew, Ellis, inherits house and properties—and must agree to the old man’s single demand.

Uncle Amos instructs Ellis, “Let no day go by during which you do not examine the vault behind the house. My body will lie there, and the vault will be sealed. If at any time you discover that someone has been tampering, you will find written instructions for your further procedure in my library desk.”

Written instructions. This is where it really gets good. The Return of Andrew Bentley is not just a ghost story as you might expect. This is quite a thrilling story with young Ellis struggling to protect his dead uncle’s body, maintain his own sanity and safety, and avoid dipping himself into the blackest of arts.

I wish I could provide you with a direct link to the actual short story, but I could not locate a single online read anywhere, which means the copyright is not in public domain.

I did locate a video from Boris Karloff’s Thriller Theater made in 1961, vintage black-and-white and with a bit of melodrama that is so charming of that time, complete with sinister organ music. The script is written by the talented and famous Richard Matheson. And you might enjoy some of the amazing outdoor photography with horse and carriage scenes.

If you want to read this short story (I found my copy in an old anthology from 1941), 25 Modern Stories of Mystery and Imagination, Editor Phil Stong, Garden City Publishing Co., Inc. The story is also in Famous Ghost Stories by Editor Christopher Cerf, published by Vintage NY.  Both books are on or try your local library.

Watch the video here at Karloff’s Thriller Theater:

And I found this commentary by Peter Enfantino and John Scoleri that might be an interesting addition to your evening with The Return of Andrew Bentley.

A quick word about the author August Derleth who collaborated with Mark Schorer to write this shortie. Derleth, a prolific and versatile writer (over 3000 works published in 350 magazines) co-founded  Arkham House, publisher of Lovecraft’s stories, Blackwood’s and others. Some of his literary influences were not only Lovecraft but also Thoreau, Emerson, A.C. Doyle, and Robert Frost. Derleth invented the term “Cthulhu Mythos” for Lovecraft’s fictional universe.

Art Credit: A Thriller A Day Blogspot.

NOTE:  Just in case you missed this announcement, my supernatural novel, The Dazzling Darkness won Joel Friedlander’s Ebook Cover Award for Fiction, cover designer Gina Casey. Many thanks to  Gina for an award-winning cover.

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Remains of the Dead

The Damned Thing  by Ambrose Bierce (1893)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   May 7, 2013

[May is National Short Story Month. We are reading a short story every day to celebrate (Well, honestly, I do that anyway. I love reading shorties; I love writing shorties.). Please join the movement and read, review, comment, blog, post on Facebook, and tweet about short stories.]

By the light of a tallow candle … 

A corpse, a book, a coroner, insects whizzing in the trees, strange cries of night birds, and an assembly of local mountain men, The Damned Thing presents one question. What or who killed this man?

The dead man is Hugh Morgan, a hunter. We know very little of the circumstances of his death except that it happened in a field of wild oats, and something tore him to shreds.

Ambrose Bierce is a clever writer and likes to use his wit and sarcasm to bite the reader. There is something of the familiar old campfire tale here where the woodsy noises made you jump and the flickering firelight shoot out shadows with horns and claws. Lovecraft was said to have liked The Damned Thing so much that it inspired him to write The Colour Out of Space.

Bierce’s story is a short one (3000 words), but executed in four segments, has a curious scientific aspect and plays with the old adage, “seeing is believing.” Or in this case, not seeing is believing.

A man though naked may be in rags.

Meet William Harker, a young fiction writer, and the last man to see Hugh Morgan alive.

Read it at Readbookonline:

I found a narration of The Damned Thing on YouTube.  Turn down the lights, open the windows to let in the sounds and dark colors of the night and listen …

And since it’s National Short Story Month, I’ll include a second short story for you: Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space—science fiction, moody, and atmospheric. Lovecraft considered this story to be his finest.

The opening line is certainly one of the best ever written …

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.

Read it here at the H.P. Lovecraft site:

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Behold, the Phantom Mirror

In the Mirror by Valery Brussof (Bryusov), 1918

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   March 19, 2013

Look in a mirror. What do you see besides your own reflection? A hypnotic pair of eyes staring back or a deep magnetic attraction? Let’s say this reflection holds a secret, a consciousness inside the expanse of glass.  Might there be an apparition there? A rival? Phantoms?

In the Mirror was written by little known author Valery Brussof (1873-1924), Russian poet, writer, and scholar, embracer of Bolshevism, and leader in the Russian symbolist movement during the Silver Age. He is remembered for his horror novel The Fiery Angel, a 16th-century romantic drama about the passionate Renata and her sexual and spiritual occult practices.

While superstitions and folklore abound about mirrors bringing bad luck or telling the future, Brussof doesn’t go that route. We are clearly in the present harsh light of reality. He writes this story with subtle atmospheric technique, as we are dragged into the mysterious abyss of a reflected and fragmented universe.

Vanity is a favorite sin. And so it is with our character, a daring woman of beauty who loves mirrors but weeps and trembles as she discovers the mirror’s truthful depths.

We are in December, the winter dawn, when a confrontation manifests between this woman and the image she finds inside her mirror. Consciousness is a strange energy—pale, half dead, a burning-icy feeling that may very well breathe darkness into the soul.

“Come hither!”

Read In the Mirror here curled up in a gloomy corner with moonlight bending the window glass, maybe a flute of potato vodka at hand and a bit of zakuska (delicate meat-filled pastries). Escape with Valery Brussof.

I’d love for you to leave a comment. Stop back next Tuesday for another Tale of Terror.

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The Phantom Coach. Is Death a passenger, or is it our dark consciousness?

The Phantom Coach by Amelia B. Edwards

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   January 29, 2013

Do we really believe in spirits of the dead lingering here among us, or do we only play with this idea in fiction—where it’s safe to accept it? If we read some of the modern paranormal investigations where ghosts are verified by EMF meters and electronic voice phenomena, even digital night photography, many people are not convinced ghosts exists. Skeptics are necessary if not endearing votes. But even personal experiences carry doubts of what might be convincing reality. Let me ask, are you a believer that spirits of the dead can haunt us here, or are you a skeptic?

The Phantom Coach (1864, written some 150 years ago) by Amelia Edwards is a story that addresses this question in a subtle but chilling way.

Meet our narrator, James Murray. He’s out in the dead of winter (pardon the pun), grouse hunting. Bitter cold, a gathering darkness, and a sudden heavy snowfall warn him to head home to his lovely bride expecting him by dusk. But inside the ominous snowfall, winds, and nightfall, James loses his way on the “bleak wide moor.”

James recalls stories of lost travelers, wearied out and found dead in the snow. Fear mounts as the dark cold and isolation threaten him. Is death near? As fate would have it, he meets a servant man, Jacob, with a lantern who guides him to his master’s farmhouse not too far away.

The master of the farmhouse is an odd sort, living pathetically alone for twenty-three years among flour-sacks and lumber, hundreds of old books, a telescope, jars of chemicals and microscopes, maps, and an ornately carved organ of medieval saints and devils. The two men dine on a meager supper and like a good host, the master invites James to chat with him by the fireside.

The master speaks of the soul, dead spirits and powers, prophecy, and supernatural appearances of ghosts. The brooding mood affects James, and he thinks this man somewhat of a sage, both scientific and philosophical. The sage is a true believer in the scientific cause and effect of dead spirits, and for that he was ridiculed by the skeptics and cast out of all respectable society, to be forgotten by all.

James finds this man’s despair quite sad, however declines to pronounce his own opinion on the phenomena of the dead. At last, the snow abates. The night sky clears. James takes the sage’s advice to catch the midnight mail coach at the crossroads not too far away.

Anxious to rush home to his bride who is likely sick with worry by now, and after a glass of whiskey, James walks the long miles in the icy cold, keeping an eye out for the signpost at the cross-road but does not come upon it. Has he lost his way again? Alas, the midnight mail coach appears with four steaming grey horses. When it stops for him, James boards with much gratitude and settles into his seat with three men who neither speak nor stir, “with the dank dews of the grave upon them.”

What happens to poor James now? Where does this coach bring him? Does he believe what he experiences on this fateful ride through the wintry woods?

I read this nostalgic story in an old book from my local library, Great Ghost Stories, edited by Herbert Van Thal, illustrated by Edward Pagram, Hill and Wang, Inc., NY publishers. The book has pen & ink illustrations. I felt like a little kid again, turning the thick pages by hand, examining the pictures and running my fingertips over them as if the scenes would grow bigger by touching them. With this digital age of books on Kindle, Nook, and computer screens, reading the old books can be a much more tactile experience, deepening the imagination of the story.

The author Amelia B. Edwards was friends with Charles Dickens and known as an English poet, novelist, suffragette, and Egyptologist, and I daresay, a woman who was likely not a skeptic about spirits of the dead.

And what of our James? Is the phantom coach a supernatural reality? Or born of suggestion? Or an experience from the dark of the consciousness?

Read it here online:

And if you’d like a film version to watch, try this on YouTube (7 minutes) by Richard Mansfield. This is an artistic black-and-white performance, done in shadow puppetry.

Do leave a comment … are you a believer or a skeptic?

And stop by next Tuesday for another Tale of Terror.


Filed under fiction, ghost stories, Ghosts, horror, paranormal, phantoms, short stories, supernatural, tales of terror