Sunday, February 08, 2009

Ghost Stories


I don't believe in ghosts now, but I did when I was little. I was a sucker for "true" ghost stories I read in books. By day I'd find them spooky and thrilling. At night I'd be petrified. What if, I wondered, just thinking about ghosts will summon one to my bedroom? When the sun rose, I was back to reading ghost stories.
Here's the scariest one I remember:
It took place in a junk shop in (or near) Brighton, England. A book lover hears there's lots of old books in the basement and goes down to check them out. He finds an old kitchen and a zillion books. He starts reading and loses track of time when...
"Suddenly he saw something move. He looked up. Across the room stood the back of a woman. She seemed to be working at the sink.
"Who are you?" he shouted. "Who are you? What do you want?"
She turned and looked at him. She looked like she'd been dead for years. Her eyes were empty sockets. Her cheeks were rotting holes. It was the ugliest thing he'd ever seen...*"

He throws his book. It goes through her. She vanishes. He dashes up the steps.
Upstairs he meets the land lady, who can't believe the shopkeeper let someone down there after dark. It's the ghost of a murdered woman, she explains. Her husband killed her...
"cut her up, and buried her under the sink... ...I met it once on the basement steps. It went right through me and left a chill that didn't go away for weeks!"

It was the grand slam of a ghost stories. A scary ghost! A murdered woman! A chopped up body! A chill that woudn't go away for weeks! Scary!

Two thoughts in retrospect:
  • The story is well told. The ghost doesn't just pop out and go "boo!" First we see a mysterious woman (Who's this?), then we discover she looks hideous (yikes!), then we discover stuff goes through her (!) and then she vanishes. Then we get a gruesome explanation (Her husband did what!?) plus the blow off detail of the landlady having the ghost walk through her.
  • This story was in a book aimed at school aged kids. How on earth did a story that included a guy chopping up his wife end up in a kids book?

*It's been almost 30 years since I've read it but I remember most of the words.

23 comments:

Linda said...

beautiful illo!

stray said...

It really is: lovely colors and shapes.

Namowal said...

Thanks Linda, Stray!
The ghost story book had an illustration too, but it was a bit more disturbing.

Sally said...

This may be your most beautiful illustration ever. It took my breath away. I remember certain ghost stories vividly too. We used to spend a week each summer on Pawley's Island in South Carolina where the Gray Lady was a famous ghost, appearing right before hurricanes.

Namowal said...

Thanks, Sally,
Little did I know back then that this gruesome story would yield artwork deemed "beautiful".
I've never been a big believer in subliminal suggestion, but the "texture" used in this picture is lines from Keats Grecian Urn poem (over rated IMHO).
Ever noticed that So. California doesn't have any good ghost legends? A few places are supposed to be haunted, but I've yet to hear anything memorable or dramatic.

Sally said...

Interesting about So. Cal. There's a legendary ghost at the rancho in Calabasas, but it seemed a little too preserved as part of the historical monument.

booda baby said...

I couldn't read your ghost story because ... well, one never knows.

I was so excited about a new Ouija board friends gave me and I hauled it back to our pretty little village in England, thinking everyone would have great fun.

NOOOOO way. They refused to play with me and essentially said: You mess with ghosts, they'll mess with you.

And the stories - true, every one of them and told by perfectly reasonable people - started spilling. There was even a ghost in our local (pub) and you could be the biggest skeptic in the world and you'd still have to admit that at the ODDEST times, a strange scent appeared in one place, accompanied by a very cold pocket. Eeeeeeeeeek.

Namowal said...

Hi Boodababy,
Skeptic that I am, I have to admit that if someone asked me to spend the night in the basement where the ghost allegedly appeared I'd say "no thanks!"

stray said...

I was always too scared of ghost stories.

Anonymous said...

Are you really shocked that such a thing ended up in a children's story? Children's stories used to be much, much worse than they are now. Now we coddle children. Whoopy.

Namowal said...

Hi Anon,
You have a point that traditional kid stories - fairy tales and nursery rhymes are in fact quite violent. Heads are chopped off, eyes are pecked out, Hansel pushes the witch into the oven etc...
For some reason, they never freaked me out the way the ghost story did. Maybe it was because the fairy tales didn't take place in everyday life. Maybe the ghost of the chopped-up murdered girl would have been less frighting if she appeared, say, in the Giant's castle in the sky or an enchanted forest.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I've just been doing a search for something about that story of the naked, murdered woman in the Brighton basement, as I read it too whenI was a teenager and it terrified me so much it's one of the few I remember (I used to read hundreds of ghost stories then). The thing I'm trying to find out is which book was it in? Do you remember? I'm afraid I can't, I had lots of such books. I would love to locate it again....
Thanks Alison

Namowal (Jennifer Bourne) said...

Hi Alison,
I first heard of the story in one of those cheap paperbacks aimed at teens and preteens.
A few years later I found a 1950s era library book with a similar story. From google book search results, I'm pretty sure it's from Ghosts over England by Robert Thruston Hopkins"
They only let you look tiny chunks of the book (nevermind that it's been out of print for decades), but I was able to get this detail (page 31)
"Some years ago," said McColl, "I heard of a hoard of old books which had been stored beneath an old junk shop in Brighton. ... Inside the alcove was a huge stone sink ... it looked something like an ancient stone coffin...

“...Once more I turned to sort out the books, and as I turned to place a volume in my case I saw something standing in front of the ancient sink which gave me the fright of my life.. It was a woman, or rather the bulbous outline of one and she appeared to be almost naked. There was something most propellant about her. Her face- how could I describe it? It was the face of a corpse. Her limbs were blotched and swollen…
"I stammered out, 'What do you want?'"
[the excerpt stops here, but for about 12 bucks you can
buy a used copy from Amazon. Or maybe it's still in some public libraries. Good luck!

Namowal (Jennifer Bourne) said...

Or it may have been "Fifty Great Ghost Stories" by John Canning: google snippit view has a glimpse of a very similar story (book guy, creepy basement, ghost-was-murdered down there etc...)

It's newer (if out of print) but there's lots of used ones for sale.

Namowal (Jennifer Bourne) said...

Update

I found a similar anecdote here:
One of my uncles was an antiquarian book dealer in Brighton and he visited an old Sussex manor to value some books. As he was looking at the collection in the cellar a woman appeared. She watched him for a while, apparently interested in what he was doing, and then vanished; he knew she was a ghost. He returned to the manor on several occasions hoping to find out more about her but she never reappeared."
No zombie features or melodrama about murder, but we still have Brighton, antiquarian, books, basement and lady ghosts. Perhaps the story was first reported this way, only to be embellished with gruesome details later on?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Namowal that's great. Since my post I also found another book it was in was Ghosts of Sussex by Judy Middleton, also available on Amazon.
Now, I have to tell you why I was researching it. My friend and I do a podcast of true ghost stories, one each month, we get stories sent from all over the world to publish. Well, a few weeks ago we were sent this story by a lady in Brighton, who actually knew the guy this experience happened to in the 1950s. She told the story as he told it to her. Well we have now released that on our podcast last nigh. I was researching it as I was sure I had heard it before many years ago, but it was then great to get a close hand version from the source. If anyone wants to hear the story told in full, it is the last story on Podcast no 17, which you can access via this web page: http://ghostpod.co.uk/preview.html
Really a very disturbing tale!!
Alison

Anonymous said...

Thank you Namowal that's great. Since my post I also found another book it was in was Ghosts of Sussex by Judy Middleton, also available on Amazon.
Now, I have to tell you why I was researching it. My friend does a free podcast of true ghost stories, she gets stories sent from all over the world to publish. A few weeks ago she was sent this story by a lady in Brighton, who actually knew the guy this experience happened to in the 1950s. She told the story as he told it to her, and it has now been released on the podcast last night. I was researching it as I was sure I had heard it before many years ago & was curious to compare, but it was then great to get a close hand version from the source. If anyone wants to hear the story told in full, it is the last story on Podcast no 17, which you can access via this web page: http://ghostpod.co.uk/preview.html
Really a very disturbing tale!!
Alison

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the duplicate, added that again as it didn't turn up on my screen... plus to edit a few things... Alison

Alison said...

Thanks for the link you put, I have just bought it, I'd be fascinated to see it again and compare with what we had sent to us. This lady it came from said the incident happened in Upper Rock Gardens in Brighton, and that the man was a friend of her father's, that she was a teenager when she heard it from him and it really disturbed her. She doesn't say his name though and gives him a pseudonymn of "John". She said in her email that he told the story often and it wound up published in a magazine of some sort and then a book. - Alison

Namowal (Jennifer Bourne) said...
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Namowal (Jennifer Bourne) said...

Just returned from listening to the podcast. A lot of the details of the story were as I remembered it: the should-have-known better kid who let guy downstairs, the feet of the pedestrians in the window, the guy going up the stairs two steps at a time, the owner saying the ghost had gone through her and left a chill...
Other parts are different- the drip, drip, drip of the sink (which is porcelain here, and not stone), the owner hearing the ghost flopping around in the basement. Spooky stuff! :)

Alison said...
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Alison said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.