Ghostly stories, p.1
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       Ghostly: Stories, p.1
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           Audrey Niffenegger
Ghostly: Stories


  ALSO BY AUDREY NIFFENEGGER

  The Time Traveler’s Wife

  Her Fearful Symmetry

  The Three Incestuous Sisters

  The Adventuress

  The Night Bookmobile

  Raven Girl

  PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF CANADA

  Introductory material and illustrations copyright © 2015 Audrey Niffenegger

  Published by arrangement with Vintage Books, one of the publishers in The Random House Group Ltd.

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Published in 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto, and simultaneously in the United Kingdom by Vintage Classics, an imprint of Vintage, a division of Penguin Random House UK, London. Distributed in Canada by Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.

  www.penguinrandomhouse.ca

  Alfred A. Knopf Canada and colophon are registered trademarks.

  Knopf Canada gratefully acknowledges permission to reprint copyright material as follows:

  Audrey Niffenegger: ‘Secret Life, With Cats’, first published in the Chicago Tribune in 2006. Copyright © Audrey Niffenegger 2006.

  P. G. Wodehouse: ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’, first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1925.

  Copyright by the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate.

  Neil Gaiman: ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’, first published in Impossible Monsters in 2013.

  Copyright © Neil Gaiman 2013.

  A. M. Burrage: ‘Playmates’, first published in Some Ghost Stories in 1927.

  Copyright by the Estate of A. M. Burrage.

  A. S. Byatt: ‘The July Ghost’, first published in Firebird I in 1982. Copyright © A. S. Byatt 1982.

  Kelly Link: ‘The Specialist’s Hat’, first published in Event Horizon in 1998 and reprinted in Kelly Link’s Strange Things Happen (Small Beer Press) and Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters (Viking).

  Copyright © Kelly Link 1998. Permission granted by the author.

  Amy Giacalone: ‘Tiny Ghosts’, first published in this collection. Copyright © Amy Giacalone 2015.

  Rebecca Curtis: ‘The Pink House’, first published in The New Yorker in 2014.

  Copyright © Rebecca Curtis 2014, used by permission of The Wylie Agency (UK) Limited.

  Ray Bradbury: ‘August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains’, first published in Collier’s magazine in 1950. Copyright © Ray Bradbury 1950.

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Ghostly / Audrey Niffenegger.

  Short stories, selected and with introductions by Audrey Niffenegger.

  Includes illustrations and one story by Niffenegger.

  ISBN 978-0-345-81031-1

  eBook ISBN 978-0-345-81033-5

  1. Ghost stories. I. Niffenegger, Audrey, editor, illustrator, author

  PN6120.95.G45G46 2015 823’.0873308 C2015-902294-0

  Cover illustration by Audrey Niffenegger

  v3.1

  CONTENTS

  Cover

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Introduction

  ‘The Black Cat’ by Edgar Allan Poe

  ‘Secret Life, With Cats’ by Audrey Niffenegger

  ‘Pomegranate Seed’ by Edith Wharton

  ‘The Beckoning Fair One’ by Oliver Onions

  ‘The Mezzotint’ by M. R. James

  ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’ by P. G. Wodehouse

  ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’ by Neil Gaiman

  ‘They’ by Rudyard Kipling

  ‘Playmates’ by A. M. Burrage

  ‘The July Ghost’ by A. S. Byatt

  ‘Laura’ by Saki

  ‘The Open Window’ by Saki

  ‘The Specialist’s Hat’ by Kelly Link

  ‘Tiny Ghosts’ by Amy Giacalone

  ‘The Pink House’ by Rebecca Curtis

  ‘August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains’ by Ray Bradbury

  About the Author

  INTRODUCTION

  Dead is the most alone you can be.

  We all wonder about death, but we don’t understand it. Ghost stories are speculations, little experiments in death. We try it on for size – it never quite fits. Good, we say, it’s nothing to do with us, this death. But what about that other death over there: what’s that one about? There are always new deaths to marvel at, deaths that create a shiver of pleasure because they are not ours, not yet.

  Ghost stories are a literature of loneliness and longing. Ghost stories can be violent, grotesque, thrilling, repulsive. But the quieter, more desperate stories resonate more intensely. They are powered by grief and loss, separation and finality. Death is a mystery, comfort is scarce, but we will play with our bereavements, we will invent little amusements that explode with sorrow, thus we will armour ourselves against inevitable loss.

  The ghost story transcends time and culture; tales of ghosts and haunted places reverberate through the literatures of ancient Greece and Rome, the Old Testament, the One Thousand and One Nights. The Tale of Genji includes harrowing ghost stories. Ghosts pervade Shakespeare’s plays and John Donne’s poetry. The wrongness of the ghost is the same across cultures: something is seriously out of place.

  The stories in this collection are English and American and range across more than 170 years. They are not diverse or representative; they are only stories I have chosen because I like them, and what I like about them is their intimacy, their off-kilter matter-of-factness and their vivid evocations of order disrupted, sudden awful knowledge, the human condition as cosmic joke. There are stories here that show their age; in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘They’ there is a complacent acceptance of colonial mores that is jarring to modern hearts and minds. Yet the story’s main concern – lost children and grieving parents – is still relevant and powerful. Some of the stories portray antediluvian attitudes towards women, but we can see around the prejudices of these characters and their very badness is what calls forth the ghosts that will punish the malefactors.

  Houses, lovers, children, cats: things that are frequently haunted. There are plenty of ghost stories that feature strange ghosts haunting public places, but for this book I have chosen more domestic ghosts, particular ghosts haunting their own families, friends or small objects. Houses, lovers, children, cats: they are so close to us, so familiar and everyday, that they can be more frightening because they were once innocent and beloved.

  Houses contain us, we live our lives in them, and it is not surprising that they might continue to shelter us after we die. We are attached to our homes, perhaps so much that we cannot leave, even though we are dead. A haunted house has an emptiness that is filled by the inappropriate or unnatural. A house can lose its soul, a house can go bad. Houses can be monuments to personality, we inflict our tastes upon them, but they can afflict us with their perversity in return. Ghosts can be like vermin – pests to be driven away or exterminated. We are anxious about our houses. Even the most conciliatory, helpful house can become supernaturally burdensome.

  Haunting equals attachment equals an odd kind of love, even if that love is unwanted or is unpleasant or dangerous to the loved one. We grieve, but eventually we assert our independence from the dead. A ghost story is often a story of grief gone awry. We let our longing bring our beloved dead back to us, where they should not be. Ghosts are not very comforting. Their companionship does not sate our loneliness. We have to turn back to the company of the living, or di
e.

  Children make excellent ghosts: their stolen, unlived lives echo after they are gone. We are haunted by the ghosts of children who grow up and by those who do not. Children often don’t know danger when they see it, and they can be dangerous in their innocence. Children don’t differentiate very firmly between possible and impossible. They have empty places in their knowledge of the world that allow pretend to be real, and ghosts can inhabit this emptiness.

  Cats are like ghosts. They live with us, but they have their own secretive agendas. Cats are uncanny. They can be provoking, but also glamorous. They seem to know things. They seem slightly out of time. We project emotion onto them, they love us inscrutably, if at all. They have a keen sense of retribution. Cats see us and judge us.

  It is not necessary to believe in ghosts to appreciate a good ghost story. We all believe in death. What happens after that is up for grabs, blank space haunted by artists and prophets. We enjoy teasing ourselves with possible afterlives. But if we allow the past to haunt us, or keep our gazes fixed on imaginary future heavens or hells, we fail to pay attention to the present. To be haunted is to turn away from the liveliness of our lives. We become a little dead to ourselves if we pine too much for the dead.

  Ghosts are excessive, they persist when they should go away. Ghosts are wanting, they are missing something. We bring ghosts upon ourselves. We stumble onto them, other people’s ghosts. They linger. They are like hungry cats – if we feed them, they might make themselves at home. These stories are diversions, but also warnings. Be kind to your cat, disobey the babysitter, do not open mail from dead ladies, pay attention to the seemingly insignificant. Don’t get carried away when redecorating your home.

  Be kind. Pay attention. Don’t get carried away. It sounds reasonable and boring. But in books we can make as many vicarious mistakes as we care to, so go ahead: turn the page and let yourself be haunted.

  ‘THE BLACK CAT’

  EDGAR ALLAN POE (AMERICAN, 1809–1849)

  First published in the 19 August 1843 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.

  Edgar Allan Poe is the greatest American master of the uncanny, and The Black Cat is the quintessential Poe story, gleefully perverse, driven by guilt and revenge. It is especially satisfying to consider the cat as an agent of justice and scourge of bullies. Poe is known to have owned a black cat.

  THE BLACK CAT

  Edgar Allan Poe

  For the most wild yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not – and very surely do I not dream. But tomorrow I die, and today I would unburden my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified – have tortured – have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but horror – to many they will seem less terrible than baroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the commonplace – some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.

  From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and, in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.

  I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We had birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.

  This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise. Not that she was ever serious upon this point – and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be remembered.

  Pluto – this was the cat’s name – was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.

  Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my general temperament and character – through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance – had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them. For Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog, when, by accident, or through affection, they came in my way. But my disease grew upon me – for what disease is like Alcohol! – and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and consequently somewhat peevish – even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper.

  One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat pocket a penknife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.

  When reason returned with the morning – when I had slept off the fumes of the night’s debauch – I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.

  In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer appeared to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart – one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a stupid action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself – to off
er violence to its own nature – to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only – that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cold blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; – hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; – hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; – hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin – a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it – if such a thing were possible – even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.

  On the night of the day on which this most cruel deed was done, I was aroused from sleep by the cry of fire. The curtains of my bed were in flames. The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration. The destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.

  I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detailing a chain of facts – and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect. On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with one exception, had fallen in. This exception was found in a compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house, and against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here, in great measure, resisted the action of the fire – a fact which I attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a dense crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a particular portion of it with very minute and eager attention. The words ‘strange!’ ‘singular!’ and other similar expressions, excited my curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven in bas-relief upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat. The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvellous. There was a rope about the animal’s neck.

 
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