The Symbolism of The Vampire

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There is a quote by Ivan Phillips from his 2013 article, saying the figure of the vampire has

…drifted and shifted through the pages of newspapers, travel journals, novels, poems, comics and plays for 300 years.

Yet we have seen that the vampire, or something like it, has haunted European fears for far longer than that. We saw a tale from Germany of mortals being visited as far back as 745 AD and archaeological evidence from England and Ireland going back to the 8th Century.

It seems to me that there could be two explanations for this pervasive fascination and fear of the vampire. The first is that they are real.  And if they are real they are not the hunky sparkly type that teenage girls and some older ladies long to kiss, but awful demonic things that stink of corruption.

Or, they represent some kind of archetype.  I have discussed elsewhere that I’m a convert to the idea of Jungian archetypes.  In a nutshell, these are recurrent motifs and symbols, and in fact behaviours motivated by these symbols, that arise out of instincts coded deep in our DNA.  For example birds builds nests and a baby roots for the nipple, and myself  as a little boy, I was fascinated by the women in my mother’s underwear catalogue without knowing why.  So vampires, a fear of the bloodsucking dead, may represent some kind of archetypical image.

If we look at the symbolism of the vampire, we see that it represents whatever idea the writer of that particular article is predisposed to give it. If he’s a Marxist, then the vampire is a symbol of voracious capitalism, if she’s a teacher of Women’s Studies, it may represent the young girl’s fear  and fascination of the sexuality of the male, if a Freudian, then sex or cigars.

The Hunger

Who ever heard of a fat vampire? I think there is a comic novel about one.  But vampires are generally thin, often skeletal – think of Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu, and we have seen elsewhere that they chew in their graves, chew their shrouds, chew their beards, chew their own flesh and eventually chew their way on out to go and feed from the living.  I think we can say therefore that vampires are pretty hungry.

 Vampire Sex

I think hunger trips over relatively easy into sexual desire, which is also a kind of hunger.  So we see vampires transitioning from dirty dead things to elegant gentlemen in dinner suits, such as Bela Lugosi, to sexy dandies such as Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire, into thoroughly modern moody teenage hunks in the Twilight saga.  We know what hunger those guys are suffering , and we know what fruits you girls intend to give them.

It’s still about corporeal desire.  But of course voracious hunger and gluttony and unbridled sexual desire are things we shun in polite society. We don’t want to see either of these things going on when we go out for a meal.  Yuk.

The vampire’s bite on the jugular is a love bite.

Blood was thought to be the essence of life. After all, when someone bled out, he died.  So, vampires are hungry for life.  Eating food is also hunger for life and eating most food ends another life. I say to my vegetarian daughters that even when they eat plants, they are ending the plants’ life.

Being a vampire represents a hunger for life, but in some way the vampire’s burning hunger can never be quenched.  Ann Rice’s books often talk about the vampire’s hunger and the need to go and get more blood as strong as if he needed crystal meth.

Without wishing to profane the sacrament, we note that in Christianity, the central act is to drink the Saviour’s blood and thus be given eternal life.  I think this is a replaying of the same archetype that we see in the vampire myth in darker form.  In Dracula,  Dracula makes Mina drink his blood saying that she shall become flesh of flesh and blood of his blood.  Again, some echo of the Eucharist perhaps

Other Symbols Related to the Vampire

There are lots of other interesting features that have grown up about vampires. We saw from the archaeology that attempts were made to reduce their mobility. They had bricks stuffed in their mouths to stop them chewing their way out of the coffin.  In some German folklore they had scarfs tied around their mouths for the same reason. They had metal spikes thrust through them and sickles and staples holding them to the ground. They had their legs broken and were bound with rope.

Heads were frequently chopped off and put elsewhere, either between their legs, or removed from the rest of the cadaver.  I guess this is simply so they couldn’t see and find their way around!

They were buried upside down to fool them into going down into the ground instead of coming up into the world.  Related to this is the messing around with their leg bones, putting right in place of left et cetera.  Though this would have the practical effect of hindering their movement, there is also the idea of reversal and doing things backwards, which is also associated with evil.

Vampires cast no reflection. Is this because they are not real, or because they are already reflections of us? You will be familiar with the psychoanalytical concept of projection. Sins, guilt and other despicable things we do make us feel too bad to own them ourselves, so we project them out onto the other guy and say it’s him that is evil.  For example, the tendency to blame foreigners and other groups for all our woes, is a projection.  It is related to the Jungian archetype called the Shadow. This dark figure represents all the wickedness we cannot bear to admit to. The Shadow pops up in our dreams and literature and I guess he’d be the one responsible for all that sex and gluttony.

The idea that they cannot enter without being invited in, is another strange idea. As we know from the films, we peasants can deck our homes with crucifixes (a four armed symbol of completeness according to Jung) and garlic (a preservative against corruption) and the darned critters can’t get in.  But there is something about the protective power of hospitality maybe? Hospitality was a sacred duty to our ancestors, and the rules of hospitality were very strong. For example, you couldn’t kill your sworn enemy if he was your guest.  Of course, once you invite Dracula in, he can do what he wants to you, so maybe it isn’t as simple as the sacredness of hospitality.

Maybe it’s something about being tricked by the monster as Eve was by the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. His weasel words and honey tongue (forked as it is) are the very can opener of deceit.  There is a deep distrust in our society of those who polish their words.   Hence this rough draft 😉

My Final Thought.

I noted above that the central motif of the vampire story is a hunger for life.  In a previous post, I compared this with the Buddhist idea that the tragedy of human life is caused by desire.  The craving for individual life creates our hungry ghost.  As long as we crave life we are cursed to dwell in the night. When we give up desire, we can enter into the light.

 

 

 

 

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The Kit-Bag by Algernon Blackwood (A Christmas Ghost Story)

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When the words ‘Not Guilty’ sounded through the crowded courtroom thatdark December afternoon, Arthur Wilbraham, the great criminal KC, andleader for the triumphant defence, was represented by his junior; butJohnson, his private secretary, carried the verdict across to hischambers like lightning.

‘It’s what we expected, I think,’ said the barrister, without emotion;’and, personally, I am glad the case is over.’ There was no particular sign of pleasure that his defence of John Turk, the murderer, on a plea of insanity, had been successful, for no doubt he felt, as everybody who had watched the case felt, that no man had ever better deserved the gallows.

‘I’m glad too,’ said Johnson. He had sat in the court for ten days watching the face of the man who had carried out with callous detail one of the most brutal and cold-blooded murders of recent years.

 

Be counsel glanced up at his secretary. They were more than employer andemployed; for family and other reasons, they were friends. ‘Ah, Iremember; yes,’ he said with a kind smile, ‘and you want to get away forChristmas? You’re going to skate and ski in the Alps, aren’t you? If Iwas your age I’d come with you.’

 

Johnson laughed shortly. He was a young man of twenty-six, with adelicate face like a girl’s. ‘I can catch the morning boat now,’ he said;’but that’s not the reason I’m glad the trial is over. I’m glad it’s overbecause I’ve seen the last of that man’s dreadful face. It positivelyhaunted me. Bat white skin, with the black hair brushed low over theforehead, is a thing I shall never forget, and the description of the waythe dismembered body was crammed and packed with lime into that–‘

 

‘Don’t dwell on it, my dear fellow,’ interrupted the other, looking athim curiously out of his keen eyes, ‘don’t think about it. Such pictureshave a trick of coming back when one least wants them.’ He paused amoment. ‘Now go,’ he added presently, ‘and enjoy your holiday. I shallwant all your energy for my Parliamentary work when you get back. Anddon’t break your neck skiing.’

 

Johnson shook hands and took his leave. At the door he turned suddenly.

‘I knew there was something I wanted to ask you,’ he said. ‘Would you mind lending me one of your kit-bags? It’s too late to get one tonight,and I leave in the morning before the shops are open.’

‘Of course; I’ll send Henry over with it to your rooms. You shall have it the moment I get home.’

‘I promise to take great care of it,’ said Johnson gratefully, delighted to think that within thirty hours he would be nearing the brilliant sunshine of the high Alps in winter. But the thought of that criminal court was like an evil dream in his mind.

 

He dined at his club and went on to Bloomsbury, where he occupied the topfloor in one of those old, gaunt houses in which the rooms are large andlofty. The floor below his own was vacant and unfurnished, and below thatwere other lodgers whom he did not know. It was cheerless, and he lookedforward heartily to a change. The night was even more cheerless: it wasmiserable, and few people were about. A cold, sleety rain was drivingdown the streets before the keenest east wind he had ever felt. It howleddismally among the big, gloomy houses of the great squares, and when hereached his rooms he heard it whistling and shouting over the world ofblack roofs beyond his windows.

 

In the hall he met his landlady, shading a candle from the draughts withher thin hand. ‘This come by a man from Mr Wilbr’im’s, sir.’

 

She pointed to what was evidently the kit-bag, and Johnson thanked herand took it upstairs with him. ‘I shall be going abroad in the morningfor ten days, Mrs Monks,’ he said. ‘I’ll leave an address for letters.’

‘And I hope you’ll ‘ave a merry Christmas, sir,’ she said, in a raucous,wheezy voice that suggested spirits, ‘and better weather than this.’

‘I hope so too,’ replied her lodger, shuddering a little as the wind went roaring down the street outside.

When he got upstairs he heard the sleet volleying against the windowpanes. He put his kettle on to make a cup of hot coffee, and then set about putting a few things in order for his absence. ‘And now I must pack–such as my packing is,’ he laughed to himself, and set to work at once.

He liked the packing, for it brought the snow mountains so vividly before him, and made him forget the unpleasant scenes of the past ten days. Besides, it was not elaborate in nature. His friend had lent him the very thing–a stout canvas kit-bag, sack-shaped, with holes round the neck for the brass bar and padlock. It was a bit shapeless, true, and not much to look at, but its capacity was unlimited, and there was no need to pack carefully. He shoved in his waterproof coat, his fur cap and gloves,his skates and climbing boots, his sweaters, snow-boots, and ear-caps;and then on the top of these he piled his woollen shirts and underwear,his thick socks, puttees, and knickerbockers. The dress suit came next,in case the hotel people dressed for dinner, and then, thinking of thebest way to pack his white shirts, he paused a moment to reflect. ‘Bat’s the worst of these kit-bags,’ he mused vaguely, standing in the centre of the sitting-room, where he had come to fetch some string

It was after ten o’clock. A furious gust of wind rattled the windows as though to hurry him up, and he thought with pity of the poor Londoners whose Christmas would be spent in such a climate, whilst he was skimming over snowy slopes in bright sunshine, and dancing in the evening with rosy-checked girls–Ah! that reminded him; he must put in his dancing-pumps and evening socks. He crossed over from his sitting-room to the cupboard on the landing where he kept his linen.

And as he did so he heard someone coming softly up the stairs.

He stood still a moment on the landing to listen. It was Mrs Monks’sstep, he thought; she must he coming up with the last post. But then thesteps ceased suddenly, and he heard no more. They were at least twoflights down, and he came to the conclusion they were too heavy to bethose of his bibulous landlady. No doubt they belonged to a late lodgerwho had mistaken his floor. He went into his bedroom and packed his pumps and dress-shirts as best he could.

Be kit-bag by this time was two-thirds full, and stood upright on its own base like a sack of flour. For the first time he noticed that it was old and dirty, the canvas faded and worn, and that it had obviously been subjected to rather rough treatment. It was not a very nice bag to have sent him–certainly not a new one, or one that his chief valued. He gave the matter a passing thought, and went on with his packing. Once or twice, however, he caught himself wondering who it could have been wandering down below, for Mrs Monks had not come up with letters, and the floor was empty and unfurnished. From time to time, moreover, he was almost certain he heard a soft tread of someone padding about over the bare boards–cautiously, stealthily, as silently as possible–and,further, that the sounds had been lately coming distinctly nearer.

 

For the first time in his life he began to feel a little creepy. Then, asthough to emphasize this feeling, an odd thing happened: as he left thebedroom, having, just packed his recalcitrant white shirts, he noticedthat the top of the kit-bag lopped over towards him with an extraordinaryresemblance to a human face. Be camas fell into a fold like a nose andforehead, and the brass rings for the padlock just filled the position ofthe eyes. A shadow–or was it a travel stain? for he could not tellexactly–looked like hair. It gave him rather a turn, for it was soabsurdly, so outrageously, like the face of John Turk the murderer.

He laughed, and went into the front room, where the light was stronger.

‘That horrid case has got on my mind,’ he thought; ‘I shall be glad of a change of scene and air.’ In the sitting-room, however, he was notpleased to hear again that stealthy tread upon the stairs, and to realizethat it was much closer than before, as well as unmistakably real. Andthis time he got up and went out to see who it could be creeping about onthe upper staircase at so late an hour.

But the sound ceased; there was no one visible on the stairs. He went to the floor below, not without trepidation, and turned on the electric light to make sure that no one was hiding in the empty rooms of the unoccupied suite. There was not a stick of furniture large enough to hidea dog. Then he called over the banisters to Mrs Monks, but there was noanswer, and his voice echoed down into the dark vault of the house, andwas lost in the roar of the gale that howled outside. Everyone was in bed and asleep–everyone except himself and the owner of this soft and stealthy tread.

‘My absurd imagination, I suppose,’ he thought. ‘It must have been thewind after all, although–it seemed so _very_ real and close, I thought.’He went back to his packing. It was by this time getting on towardsmidnight. He drank his coffee up and lit another pipe–the last before turning in.

It is difficult to say exactly at what point fear begins, when the causes of that fear are not plainly before the eyes. Impressions gather on the surface of the mind, film by film, as ice gathers upon the surface of still water, but often so lightly that they claim no definite recognition from the consciousness. Then a point is reached where the accumulatedimpressions become a definite emotion, and the mind realizes thatsomething has happened. With something of a start, Johnson suddenly recognized that he felt nervous–oddly nervous; also, that for some time past the causes of this feeling had been gathering slowly in has mind,but that he had only just reached the point where he was forced to acknowledge them.

It was a singular and curious malaise that had come over him, and he hardly knew what to make of it. He felt as though he were doing somethingthat was strongly objected to by another person, another person,moreover, who had some right to object. It was a most disturbing and disagreeable feeling, not unlike the persistent promptings of conscience:almost, in fact, as if he were doing something he knew to be wrong. Yet,though he searched vigorously and honestly in his mind, he could nowhere lay his finger upon the secret of this growing uneasiness, and it perplexed him. More, it distressed and frightened him.

‘Pure nerves, I suppose,’ he said aloud with a forced laugh. ‘Mountainair will cure all that! Ah,’ he added, still speaking to himself, ‘andthat reminds me–my snow-glasses.’

He was standing by the door of the bedroom during this brief soliloquy,and as he passed quickly towards the sitting-room to fetch them from the cupboard he saw out of the corner of his eye the indistinct outline of a figure standing on the stairs, a few feet from the top. It was someone in a stooping position, with one hand on the banisters, and the face peering up towards the landing. And at the same moment he heard a shuffling footstep. The person who had been creeping about below all this time had at last come up to his own floor. Who in the world could it be? And whatin the name of Heaven did he want?

Johnson caught his breath sharply and stood stock still. Then, after afew seconds’ hesitation, he found his courage, and turned to investigate.Be stairs, he saw to his utter amazement, were empty; there was no one.He felt a series of cold shivers run over him, and something about themuscles of his legs gave a little and grew weak. For the space of several minutes he peered steadily into the shadows that congregated about the top of the staircase where he had seen the figure, and then he walked fast–almost ran, in fact–into the light of the front room; but hardly had he passed inside the doorway when he heard someone come up the stairs behind him with a quick bound and go swiftly into his bedroom. It was a heavy, but at the same time a stealthy footstep–the tread of somebody who did not wish to be seen. And it was at this precise moment that the nervousness he had hitherto experienced leaped the boundary line, and entered the state of fear, almost of acute, unreasoning fear. Before itturned into terror there was a further boundary to cross, and beyond thatagain lay the region of pure horror. Johnson’s position was an unenviable one.

By Jove! That was someone on the stairs, then,’ he muttered, his flesh crawling all over; ‘and whoever it was has now gone into my bedroom.’ His delicate, pale face turned absolutely white, and for some minutes he hardly knew what to think or do. Then he realized intuitively that delayonly set a premium upon fear; and he crossed the landing boldly and wentstraight into the other room, where, a few seconds before, the steps haddisappeared.

‘Who’s there? Is that you, Mrs Monks?’ he called aloud, as he went, and heard the first half of his words echo down the empty stairs, while the second half fell dead against the curtains in a room that apparently held no other human figure than his own.

‘Who’s there?’ he called again, in a voice unnecessarily loud and that only just held firm. ‘What do you want here?’

The curtains swayed very slightly, and, as he saw it, his heart felt as if it almost missed a beat; yet he dashed forward and drew them aside with a rush. A window, streaming with rain, was all that met his gaze. He continued his search, but in vain; the cupboards held nothing but rows of clothes, hanging motionless; and under the bed there was no sign of anyone hiding. He stepped backwards into the middle of the room, and, as he did so, something all but tripped him up. Turning with a sudden springof alarm he saw–the kit-bag.

‘Odd!’ he thought. ‘That’s not where I left it!’ A few moments before ithad surely been on his right, between the bed and the bath; he did notremember having moved it. It was very curious. What in the world was the matter with everything? Were all his senses gone queer? A terrific gust of wind tore at the windows, dashing the sleet against the glass with the force of small gunshot, and then fled away howling dismally over the waste of Bloomsbury roofs. A sudden vision of the Channel next day rose in his mind and recalled him sharply to realities.

There’s no one here at any rate; that’s quite clear!’ he exclaimed aloud.Yet at the time he uttered them he knew perfectly well that his words were not true and that he did not believe them himself. He felt exactly as though someone was hiding close about him, watching all his movements,trying to hinder his packing in some way. ‘And two of my senses,’ he added, keeping up the pretence, ‘have played me the most absurd tricks:the steps I heard and the figure I saw were both entirely imaginary.’

He went hack to the front room, poked the fire into a blaze, and sat down before it to think. What impressed him more than anything else was the fact that the kit-bag was no longer where he had left at. It had beendragged nearer to the door.

What happened afterwards that night happened, of course, to a man already excited by fear, and was perceived by a mind that had not the full and proper control, therefore, of the senses. Outwardly, Johson remained calmand master of himself to the end, pretending to the very last thateverything he witnessed had a natural explanation, or was merelydelusions of his tired nerves. But inwardly, in his very heart, he knew all along that someone had been hiding downstairs in the empty suite when he came in, that this person had watched his opportunity and then stealthily made his way up to the bedroom, and that all he saw and heard afterwards, from the moving of the kit-bag to–well, to the other things this story has to tell–were caused directly by the presence of this invisible person.

And it was here, just when he most desired to keep his mind and thoughts controlled, that the vivid pictures received day after day upon the mental plates exposed in the courtroom of the Old Bailey, came strongly to light and developed themselves in the dark room of his inner vision.Unpleasant, haunting memories have a way of coming to life again just when the mind least desires them–in the silent watches of the night, on sleepless pillows, during the lonely hours spent by sick and dying beds.And so now, in the same way, Johnson saw nothing but the dreadful face of John Turk, the murderer, lowering at him from every corner of his mental field of vision; the white skin, the evil eyes, and the fringe of black hair low over the forehead. All the pictures of those ten days in court crowded back into his mind unbidden, and very vivid.

‘This is all rubbish and nerves,’ he exclaimed at length, springing with sudden energy from his chair. ‘I shall finish my packing and go to bed.I’m overwrought, overtired. No doubt, at this rate I shall hear steps andthings all night!’

But his face was deadly white all the same. He snatched up his field-glasses and walked across to the bedroom, humming a music-hall song as he went–a trifle too loud to be natural; and the instant he crossed the threshold and stood within the room something turned cold about his heart, and he felt that every hair on his head stood up.

The kit-bag lay close in front of him, several feet nearer to the door than he had left it, and just over its crumpled top he saw a head and face slowly sinking down out of sight as though someone were crouching behind it to hide, and at the same moment a sound like a long-drawn sigh was distinctly audible in the still air about him between the gusts of the storm outside.

Johnson had more courage and will-power than the girlish indecision of his face indicated; but at first such a wave of terror came over him that for some seconds he could do nothing but stand and stare. A violent trembling ran down his back and legs, and he was conscious of a foolish,almost a hysterical, impulse to scream aloud. That sigh seemed in his very ear, and the air still quivered with it. It was unmistakably a human sigh.

‘Who’s there?’ he said at length, finding his voice; but thought he meant to speak with loud decision, the tones came out instead in a faint whisper, for he had partly lost the control of his tongue and lips.

He stepped forward, so that he could see all round and over the kit-bag.Of course there was nothing there, nothing but the faded carpet and the bulging canvas sides. He put out his hands and threw open the mouth ofthe sack where it had fallen over, being only three parts full, and thenhe saw for the first time that round the inside, some six inches from thetop, there ran a broad smear of dull crimson. It was an old and faded blood stain. He uttered a scream, and drew hack his hands as if they hadbeen burnt. At the same moment the kit-bag gave a faint, but unmistakable, lurch forward towards the door.

Johnson collapsed backwards, searching with his hands for the support o something solid, and the door, being further behind him than he realized,received his weight just in time to prevent his falling, and shut to with a resounding bang. At the same moment the swinging of his left armaccidentally touched the electric switch, and the light in the room wentout.

It was an awkward and disagreeable predicament, and if Johnson had not been possessed of real pluck he might have done all manner of foolish things. As it was, however, he pulled himself together, and gropedfuriously for the little brass knob to turn the light on again. But the rapid closing of the door had set the coats hanging on it a-swinging, and his fingers became entangled in a confusion of sleeves and pockets, so that it was some moments before he found the switch. And in those few moments of bewilderment and terror two things happened that sent him beyond recall over the boundary into the region of genuine horror–he distinctly heard the kit-bag shuffling heavily across the floor in jerks,and close in front of his face sounded once again the sigh of a human being.

In his anguished efforts to find the brass button on the wall he nearly scraped the nails from his fingers, but even then, in those frenzied moments of alarm–so swift and alert are the impressions of a mind keyed-up by a vivid emotion–he had time to realize that he dreaded there turn of the light, and that it might be better for him to stay hidden in the merciful screen of darkness. It was but the impulse of a moment,however, and before he had time to act upon it he had yielded automatically to the original desire, and the room was flooded again with light.

But the second instinct had been right. It would have been better for himto have stayed in the shelter of the kind darkness. For there, closebefore him, bending over the half-packed kit-bag, clear as life in themerciless glare of the electric light, stood the figure of John Turk, themurderer. Not three feet from him the man stood, the fringe of black hairmarked plainly against the pallor of the forehead, the whole horriblepresentment of the scoundrel, as vivid as he had seen him day after dayin the Old Bailey, when he stood there in the dock, cynical and callous,under the very shadow of the gallows.

In a flash Johnson realized what it all meant: the dirty and much-used bag; the smear of crimson within the top; the dreadful stretched condition of the bulging sides. He remembered how the victim’s body had been stuffed into a canvas bag for burial, the ghastly, dismembered fragments forced with lime into this very bag; and the bag itself produced as evidence–it all came back to him as clear as day…

Very softly and stealthily his hand groped behind him for the handle of the door, but before he could actually turn it the very thing that he most of all dreaded came about, and John Turk lifted his devil’s face and looked at him. At the same moment, that heavy sigh passed through the air of the room, formulated somehow into words: It’s my bag. And I want it.’

Johnson just remembered clawing the door open, and then falling in a heap upon the floor of the landing, as he tried frantically to make his way into the front room.

He remained unconscious for a long time, and it was still dark when he opened his eyes and realized that he was lying, stiff and bruised, on the cold boards. Then the memory of what he had seen rushed back into his mind, and he promptly fainted again. When he woke the second time the wintry dawn was just beginning to peep in at the windows, painting the stairs a cheerless, dismal grey, and he managed to crawl into the front room, and cover himself with an overcoat in the armchair, where at lengthen fell asleep.

A great clamour woke him. He recognized Mrs Monk’s voice, loud and voluble.

‘What! You aren’t been to bed, sir! Are you ill, or has anything ‘appened? And there’s an urgent gentleman to see you, though it ain’t seven o’clock yet, and–‘

‘Who is it?’ he stammered. ‘I’m all right, thanks. Fell asleep in my chair, I suppose.’

‘Someone from Mr Wilb’rim’s, and he says he ought to see you quick before you go abroad, and I told him–‘

‘Show him up, please, at once,’ said Johnson, whose head was whirling, and his mind were still full of dreadful visions.

Mr Wilbraham’s man came in with many apologies, and explained briefly and quickly that an absurd mistake had been made, and that the wrong kit bag had been sent over the night before.

‘Henry somehow got hold of the one that came over from the courtroom, and Mr Wilbraham only discovered it when he saw his own lying in his room, and asked why it had not gone to you,’ the man said.

‘Oh!’ said Johnson stupidly.

‘And he must have brought you the one from the murder case instead, sir, I’m afraid,’ the man continued, without the ghost of an expression on his face. ‘The one John Turk packed the dead both in. Mr Wilbraham’s awful upset about it, sir, and told me to come over first thing this morning with the right one, as you were leaving by the boat.’

He pointed to a clean-looking kit bag on the floor, which he had just brought. ‘And I was to bring the other one back, sir,’ he added casually.

For some minutes, Johnson could not find his voice. At last, he pointed in the direction of his bedroom. ‘Perhaps you would kindly unpack it for me. Just empty the things out on the floor.’

The man disappeared into the other room, and was gone for five minutes. Johnson heard the shifting to and fro of the bag, and the rattle of the skates and boots being unpacked.

‘Thank you, sir,’ the man said, returning with the bag folded over his arm. ‘And can I do anything more to help you, sir?’

‘What is it?’ asked Johnson, seeing that he still had something he wished to say.

The man shuffled and looked mysterious. ‘Beg pardon, sir, but knowing your interest in the Turk case, I thought you’d maybe like to know what’s happened–‘

‘Yes.’

‘John Turk killed himself last night with poison immediately on getting his release, and he left a note for Mr Wilbraham saying as he’d be much obliged if they’d have him put away, same as the woman he murdered, in the old kit-hag.’

‘What time–did he do it?’ asked Johnson.

‘Ten o’clock last night, sir, the warder says.’

 

 

 

 

Between the Lights by E F Benson (A Christmas Ghost Story)

christmas-tree

Between the Lights

The day had been one unceasing fall of snow from sunrise until the gradual withdrawal of the vague white light outside indicated that the sun had set again. But as usual at this hospitable and delightful house of Everard Chandler where I often spent Christmas, and was spending it now, there had been no lack of entertainment, and the hours had passed with a rapidity that had surprised us. A short billiard tournament had filled up the time between breakfast and lunch, with Badminton and the morning papers for those who were temporarily not engaged, while afterwards, the interval till tea-time had been occupied by the majority of the party in a huge game of hide-and-seek all over the house, barring the billiard-room, which was sanctuary for any who desired peace. But few had done that; the enchantment of Christmas, I must suppose, had, like some spell, made children of us again, and it was with palsied terror and trembling misgivings that we had tip-toed up and down the dim passages, from any corner of which some wild screaming form might dart out on us. Then, wearied with exercise and emotion, we had assembled again for tea in the hall, a room of shadows and panels on which the light from the wide open fireplace, where there burned a divine mixture of peat and logs, flickered and grew bright again on the walls. Then, as was proper, ghost-stories, for the narration of which the electric light was put out, so that the listeners might conjecture anything they pleased to be lurking in the corners, succeeded, and we vied with each other in blood, bones, skeletons, armour and shrieks. I had, just given my contribution, and was reflecting with some complacency that probably the worst was now known, when Everard, who had not yet administered to the horror of his guests, spoke. He was sitting opposite me in the full blaze of the fire, looking, after the illness he had gone through during the autumn, still rather pale and delicate. All the same he had been among the boldest and best in the exploration of dark places that afternoon, and the look on his face now rather startled me.

“No, I don’t mind that sort of thing,” he said. “The paraphernalia of ghosts has become somehow rather hackneyed, and when I hear of screams and skeletons I feel I am on familiar ground, and can at least hide my head under the bed-clothes.”

“Ah, but the bed-clothes were twitched away by my skeleton,” said I, in self-defence.

“I know, but I don’t even mind that. Why, there are seven, eight skeletons in this room now, covered with blood and skin and other horrors. No, the nightmares of one’s childhood were the really frightening things, because they were vague. There was the true atmosphere of horror about them because one didn’t know what one feared. Now if one could recapture that–”

Mrs. Chandler got quickly out of her seat.

“Oh, Everard,” she said, “surely you don’t wish to recapture it again. I should have thought once was enough.”

This was enchanting. A chorus of invitation asked him to proceed: the real true ghost-story first-hand, which was what seemed to be indicated, was too precious a thing to lose.

Everard laughed. “No, dear, I don’t want to recapture it again at all,” he said to his wife.

Then to us: “But really the–well, the nightmare perhaps, to which I was referring, is of the vaguest and most unsatisfactory kind. It has no apparatus about it at all. You will probably all say that it was nothing, and wonder why I was frightened. But I was; it frightened me out of my wits. And I only just saw something, without being able to swear what it was, and heard something which might have been a falling stone.”

“Anyhow, tell us about the falling stone,” said I.

There was a stir of movement about the circle round the fire, and the movement was not of purely physical order. It was as if–this is only what I personally felt–it was as if the childish gaiety of the hours we had passed that day was suddenly withdrawn; we had jested on certain subjects, we had played hide-and-seek with all the power of earnestness that was in us. But now–so it seemed to me–there was going to be real hide-and-seek, real terrors were going to lurk in dark corners, or if not real terrors, terrors so convincing as to assume the garb of reality, were going to pounce on us. And Mrs. Chandler’s exclamation as she sat down again, “Oh, Everard, won’t it excite you?” tended in any case to excite us. The room still remained in dubious darkness except for the sudden lights disclosed on the walls by the leaping flames on the hearth, and there was wide field for conjecture as to what might lurk in the dim corners. Everard, moreover, who had been sitting in bright light before, was banished by the extinction of some flaming log into the shadows. A voice alone spoke to us, as he sat back in his low chair, a voice rather slow but very distinct.

“Last year,” he said, “on the twenty-fourth of December, we were down here, as usual, Amy and I, for Christmas. Several of you who are here now were here then. Three or four of you at least.”

I was one of these, but like the others kept silence, for the identification, so it seemed to me, was not asked for. And he went on again without a pause.

“Those of you who were here then,” he said, “and are here now, will remember how very warm it was this day year. You will remember, too, that we played croquet that day on the lawn. It was perhaps a little cold for croquet, and we played it rather in order to be able to say–with sound evidence to back the statement–that we had done so.”

Then he turned and addressed the whole little circle.

“We played ties of half-games,” he said, “just as we have played billiards to-day, and it was certainly as warm on the lawn then as it was in the billiard-room this morning directly after breakfast, while to-day I should not wonder if there was three feet of snow outside. More, probably; listen.”

A sudden draught fluted in the chimney, and the fire flared up as the current of air caught it.

The wind also drove the snow against the windows, and as he said, “Listen,” we heard a soft scurry of the falling flakes against the panes, like the soft tread of many little people who stepped lightly, but with the persistence of multitudes who were flocking to some rendezvous. Hundreds of little feet seemed to be gathering outside; only the glass kept them out. And of the eight skeletons present four or five, anyhow, turned and looked at the windows. These were small-paned, with leaden bars. On the leaden bars little heaps of snow had accumulated, but there was nothing else to be seen.

“Yes, last Christmas Eve was very warm and sunny,” went on Everard. “We had had no frost that autumn, and a temerarious dahlia was still in flower. I have always thought that it must have been mad.”

He paused a moment.

“And I wonder if I were not mad too,” he added.

No one interrupted him; there was something arresting, I must suppose, in what he was saying; it chimed in anyhow with the hide-and-seek, with the suggestions of the lonely snow.

Mrs. Chandler had sat down again, but I heard her stir in her chair. But never was there a gay party so reduced as we had been in the last five minutes. Instead of laughing at ourselves for playing silly games, we were all taking a serious game seriously.

“Anyhow, I was sitting out,” he said to me, “while you and my wife played your half-game of croquet. Then it struck me that it was not so warm as I had supposed, because quite suddenly I shivered. And shivering I looked up. But I did not see you and her playing croquet at all. I saw something which had no relation to you and her–at least I hope not.”

Now the angler lands his fish, the stalker kills his stag, and the speaker holds his audience.

And as the fish is gaffed, and as the stag is shot, so were we held. There was no getting away till he had finished with us.

“You all know the croquet lawn,” he said, “and how it is bounded all round by a flower border with a brick wall behind it, through which, you will remember, there is only one gate.

“Well, I looked up and saw that the lawn–I could for one moment see it was still a lawn–was shrinking, and the walls closing in upon it. As they closed in too, they grew higher, and simultaneously the light began to fade and be sucked from the sky, till it grew quite dark overhead and only a glimmer of light came in through the gate.

“There was, as I told you, a dahlia in flower that day, and as this dreadful darkness and bewilderment came over me, I remember that my eyes sought it in a kind of despair, holding on, as it were, to any familiar object. But it was no longer a dahlia, and for the red of its petals I saw only the red of some feeble firelight. And at that moment the hallucination was complete. I was no longer sitting on the lawn watching croquet, but I was in a low-roofed room, something like a cattle-shed, but round. Close above my head, though I was sitting down, ran rafters from wall to wall. It was nearly dark, but a little light came in from the door opposite to me, which seemed to lead into a passage that communicated with the exterior of the place. Little, however, of the wholesome air came into this dreadful den; the atmosphere was oppressive and foul beyond all telling, it was as if for years it had been the place of some human menagerie, and for those years had been uncleaned and unsweetened by the winds of heaven. Yet that oppressiveness was nothing to the awful horror of the place from the view of the spirit. Some dreadful atmosphere of crime and abomination dwelt heavy in it, its denizens, whoever they were, were scarce human, so it seemed to me, and though men and women, were akin more to the beasts of the field. And in addition there was present to me some sense of the weight of years; I had been taken and thrust down into some epoch of dim antiquity.”

He paused a moment, and the fire on the hearth leaped up for a second and then died down again. But in that gleam I saw that all faces were turned to Everard, and that all wore some look of dreadful expectancy. Certainly I felt it myself, and waited in a sort of shrinking horror for what was coming.

“As I told you,” he continued, “where there had been that unseasonable dahlia, there now burned a dim firelight, and my eyes were drawn there. Shapes were gathered round it; what they were I could not at first see. Then perhaps my eyes got more accustomed to the dusk, or the fire burned better, for I perceived that they were of human form, but very small, for when one rose with a horrible chattering, to his feet, his head was still some inches off the low roof. He was dressed in a sort of shirt that came to his knees, but his arms were bare and covered with hair.

“Then the gesticulation and chattering increased, and I knew that they were talking about me, for they kept pointing in my direction. At that my horror suddenly deepened, for I became aware that I was powerless and could not move hand or foot; a helpless, nightmare impotence had possession of me. I could not lift a finger or turn my head. And in the paralysis of that fear I tried to scream, but not a sound could I utter.

“All this I suppose took place with the instantaneousness of a dream, for at once, and without transition, the whole thing had vanished, and I was back on the lawn again, while the stroke for which my wife was aiming was still unplayed. But my face was dripping with perspiration, and I was trembling all over.

“Now you may all say that I had fallen asleep, and had a sudden nightmare. That may be so; but I was conscious of no sense of sleepiness before, and I was conscious of none afterwards. It was as if someone had held a book before me, whisked the pages open for a second and closed them again.”

Somebody, I don’t know who, got up from his chair with a sudden movement that made me start, and turned on the electric light. I do not mind confessing that I was rather glad of this.

Everard laughed.

“Really I feel like Hamlet in the play-scene,” he said, “and as if there was a guilty uncle present. Shall I go on?”

I don’t think anyone replied, and he went on.

“Well, let us say for the moment that it was not a dream exactly, but a hallucination.

“Whichever it was, in any case it haunted me; for months, I think, it was never quite out of my mind, but lingered somewhere in the dusk of consciousness, sometimes sleeping quietly, so to speak, but sometimes stirring in its sleep. It was no good my telling myself that I was disquieting myself in vain, for it was as if something had actually entered into my very soul, as if some seed of horror had been planted there. And as the weeks went on the seed began to sprout, so that I could no longer even tell myself that that vision had been a moment’s disorderment only. I can’t say that it actually affected my health. I did not, as far as I know, sleep or eat insufficiently, but morning after morning I used to wake, not gradually and through pleasant dozings into full consciousness, but with absolute suddenness, and find myself plunged in an abyss of despair.

“Often too, eating or drinking, I used to pause and wonder if it was worth while.

“Eventually, I told two people about my trouble, hoping that perhaps the mere communication would help matters, hoping also, but very distantly, that though I could not believe at present that digestion or the obscurities of the nervous system were at fault, a doctor by some simple dose might convince me of it. In other words I told my wife, who laughed at me, and my doctor, who laughed also, and assured me that my health was quite unnecessarily robust.

“At the same time he suggested that change of air and scene does wonders for the delusions that exist merely in the imagination. He also told me, in answer to a direct question, that he would stake his reputation on the certainty that I was not going mad.

“Well, we went up to London as usual for the season, and though nothing whatever occurred to remind me in any way of that single moment on Christmas Eve, the reminding was seen to all right, the moment itself took care of that, for instead of fading as is the way of sleeping or waking dreams, it grew every day more vivid, and ate, so to speak, like some corrosive acid into my mind, etching itself there. And to London succeeded Scotland.

“I took last year for the first time a small forest up in Sutherland, called Glen Callan, very remote and wild, but affording excellent stalking. It was not far from the sea, and the gillies used always to warn me to carry a compass on the hill, because sea-mists were liable to come up with frightful rapidity, and there was always a danger of being caught by one, and of having perhaps to wait hours till it cleared again. This at first I always used to do, but, as everyone knows, any precaution that one takes which continues to be unjustified gets gradually relaxed, and at the end of a few weeks, since the weather had been uniformly clear, it was natural that, as often as not, my compass remained at home.

“One day the stalk took me on to a part of my ground that I had seldom been on before, a very high table-land on the limit of my forest, which went down very steeply on one side to a loch that lay below it, and on the other, by gentler gradations, to the river that came from the loch, six miles below which stood the lodge. The wind had necessitated our climbing up–or so my stalker had insisted–not by the easier way, but up the crags from the loch. I had argued the point with him for it seemed to me that it was impossible that the deer could get our scent if we went by the more natural path, but he still held to his opinion; and therefore, since after all this was his part of the job, I yielded. A dreadful climb we had of it, over big boulders with deep holes in between, masked by clumps of heather, so that a wary eye and a prodding stick were necessary for each step if one wished to avoid broken bones. Adders also literally swarmed in the heather; we must have seen a dozen at least on our way up, and adders are a beast for which I have no manner of use. But a couple of hours saw us to the top, only to find that the stalker had been utterly at fault, and that the deer must quite infallibly have got wind of us, if they had remained in the place where we last saw them. That, when we could spy the ground again, we saw had happened; in any case they had gone. The man insisted the wind had changed, a palpably stupid excuse, and I wondered at that moment what other reason he had–for reason I felt sure there must be–for not wishing to take what would clearly now have been a better route. But this piece of bad management did not spoil our luck, for within an hour we had spied more deer, and about two o’clock I got a shot, killing a heavy stag. Then sitting on the heather I ate lunch, and enjoyed a well-earned bask and smoke in the sun. The pony meantime had been saddled with the stag, and was plodding homewards.

“The morning had been extraordinarily warm, with a little wind blowing off the sea, which lay a few miles off sparkling beneath a blue haze, and all morning in spite of our abominable climb I had had an extreme sense of peace, so much so that several times I had probed my mind, so to speak, to find if the horror still lingered there. But I could scarcely get any response from it.

“Never since Christmas had I been so free of fear, and it was with a great sense of repose, both physical and spiritual, that I lay looking up into the blue sky, watching my smoke-whorls curl slowly away into nothingness. But I was not allowed to take my ease long, for Sandy came and begged that I would move. The weather had changed, he said, the wind had shifted again, and he wanted me to be off this high ground and on the path again as soon as possible, because it looked to him as if a sea-mist would presently come up.”

“‘And yon’s a bad place to get down in the mist,’ he added, nodding towards the crags we had come up.

“I looked at the man in amazement, for to our right lay a gentle slope down on to the river, and there was now no possible reason for again tackling those hideous rocks up which we had climbed this morning. More than ever I was sure he had some secret reason for not wishing to go the obvious way. But about one thing he was certainly right, the mist was coming up from the sea, and I felt in my pocket for the compass, and found I had forgotten to bring it.

“Then there followed a curious scene which lost us time that we could really ill afford to waste, I insisting on going down by the way that common sense directed, he imploring me to take his word for it that the crags were the better way. Eventually, I marched off to the easier descent, and told him not to argue any more but follow. What annoyed me about him was that he would only give the most senseless reasons for preferring the crags. There were mossy places, he said, on the way I wished to go, a thing patently false, since the summer had been one spell of unbroken weather; or it was longer, also obviously untrue; or there were so many vipers about.

“But seeing that none of these arguments produced any effect, at last he desisted, and came after me in silence.

“We were not yet half down when the mist was upon us, shooting up from the valley like the broken water of a wave, and in three minutes we were enveloped in a cloud of fog so thick that we could barely see a dozen yards in front of us. It was therefore another cause for self-congratulation that we were not now, as we should otherwise have been, precariously clambering on the face of those crags up which we had come with such difficulty in the morning, and as I rather prided myself on my powers of generalship in the matter of direction, I continued leading, feeling sure that before long we should strike the track by the river. More than all, the absolute freedom from fear elated me; since Christmas I had not known the instinctive joy of that; I felt like a schoolboy home for the holidays. But the mist grew thicker and thicker, and whether it was that real rain-clouds had formed above it, or that it was of an extraordinary density itself, I got wetter in the next hour than I have ever been before or since. The wet seemed to penetrate the skin, and chill the very bones. And still there was no sign of the track for which I was making.

“Behind me, muttering to himself, followed the stalker, but his arguments and protestations were dumb, and it seemed as if he kept close to me, as if afraid.

“Now there are many unpleasant companions in this world; I would not, for instance, care to be on the hill with a drunkard or a maniac, but worse than either, I think, is a frightened man, because his trouble is infectious, and, insensibly. I began to be afraid of being frightened too.

“From that it is but a short step to fear. Other perplexities too beset us. At one time we seemed to be walking on flat ground, at another I felt sure we were climbing again, whereas all the time we ought to have been descending, unless we had missed the way very badly indeed. Also, for the month was October, it was beginning to get dark, and it was with a sense of relief that I remembered that the full moon would rise soon after sunset. But it had grown very much colder, and soon, instead of rain, we found we were walking through a steady fall of snow.

“Things were pretty bad, but then for the moment they seemed to mend, for, far away to the left, I suddenly heard the brawling of the river. It should, it is true, have been straight in front of me and we were perhaps a mile out of our way, but this was better than the blind wandering of the last hour, and turning to the left, I walked towards it. But before I had gone a hundred yards, I heard a sudden choked cry behind me, and just saw Sandy’s form flying as if in terror of pursuit, into the mists. I called to him, but got no reply, and heard only the spurned stones of his running.

“What had frightened him I had no idea, but certainly with his disappearance, the infection of his fear disappeared also, and I went on, I may almost say, with gaiety. On the moment, however, I saw a sudden well-defined blackness in front of me, and before I knew what I was doing I was half stumbling, half walking up a very steep grass slope.

“During the last few minutes the wind had got up, and the driving snow was peculiarly uncomfortable, but there had been a certain consolation in thinking that the wind would soon disperse these mists, and I had nothing more than a moonlight walk home. But as I paused on this slope, I became aware of two things, one, that the blackness in front of me was very close, the other that, whatever it was, it sheltered me from the snow. So I climbed on a dozen yards into its friendly shelter, for it seemed to me to be friendly.

“A wall some twelve feet high crowned the slope, and exactly where I struck it there was a hole in it, or door rather, through which a little light appeared. Wondering at this I pushed on, bending down, for the passage was very low, and in a dozen yards came out on the other side.

“Just as I did this the sky suddenly grew lighter, the wind, I suppose, having dispersed the mists, and the moon, though not yet visible through the flying skirts of cloud, made sufficient illumination.

“I was in a circular enclosure, and above me there projected from the walls some four feet from the ground, broken stones which must have been intended to support a floor. Then simultaneously two things occurred.

“The whole of my nine months’ terror came back to me, for I saw that the vision in the garden was fulfilled, and at the same moment I saw stealing towards me a little figure as of a man, but only about three foot six in height. That my eyes told me; my ears told me that he stumbled on a stone; my nostrils told me that the air I breathed was of an overpowering foulness, and my soul told me that it was sick unto death. I think I tried to scream, but could not; I know I tried to move and could not. And it crept closer.

“Then I suppose the terror which held me spellbound so spurred me that I must move, for next moment I heard a cry break from my lips, and was stumbling through the passage. I made one leap of it down the grass slope, and ran as I hope never to have to run again. What direction I took I did not pause to consider, so long as I put distance between me and that place. Luck, however, favoured me, and before long I struck the track by the river, and an hour afterwards reached the lodge.

“Next day I developed a chill, and as you know pneumonia laid me on my back for six weeks.

“Well, that is my story, and there are many explanations. You may say that I fell asleep on the lawn, and was reminded of that by finding myself, under discouraging circumstances, in an old Picts’ castle, where a sheep or a goat that, like myself, had taken shelter from the storm, was moving about. Yes, there are hundreds of ways in which you may explain it. But the coincidence was an odd one, and those who believe in second sight might find an instance of their hobby in it.”

“And that is all?” I asked.

“Yes, it was nearly too much for me. I think the dressing-bell has sounded.”

Glastonbury Tor Ghost

The Curious Fortean

I know I’ve been writing about ghosts a lot recently but I thought this one had to be documented. A good friend of mine that I do a lot of exploring and investigating with got in touch with me yesterday to tell me that he had had a possible sighting of something whilst walking his dog on the morning of December 7th on the steep slopes of Glastonbury Tor. Being a local he is no stranger to the Tor and the many legends that surround it.

He told me that at around 8:15am he was ascending the Tor with Ben his dog, and about half way up he had to take a rest as he was feeling a little out of breath. Those of you who have ever been up there will understand that its a good trek especially at that time of day. It was then he noticed a…

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