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Horrid Phantoms

Felicity Cloake

There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and
other good comfortable things all the time, for we are
telling Winter Stories – Ghost Stories, or more shame
for us. 
– Charles Dickens, ‘A Christmas Tree’


  1. And so bifel that, longe er it were day, 
    This man mette in his bed, ther as he lay 
    How that his felawe gan upon hym calle, 
    And seyde, – allas! for in an oxes stalle 
    This nyght I shal be mordred ther I lye. 
    Now help me, deere brother, or I dye. 
    In alle haste com to me! – he sayde. 
    ... Thus twies in his slepyng dremed hee;
    And atte thridde tyme yet his felawe 
    Cam, as hym thoughte, and seide, – I am now slawe. 
    Bihood my bloody woundes depe and wyde!  
    … And truste wel, his dreem he foond ful trewe. 
    – Chaucer, ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’

  2. I was suddenly aroused by a sound like that of the rustling of a silken gown, and the tapping of a pair of high-heeled shoes, as if a woman were walking in the apartment. Ere I could draw the curtain to see what the matter was, the figure of a little woman passed between the bed and the fire. The back of this form was turned to me, and I could observe, from the shoulders and neck, it was that of an old woman, whose dress was an old-fashioned gown... I thought the intrusion singular enough, but never harboured for a moment the idea that what I saw was anything more than the mortal form of some old woman about the establishment, who had a fancy to dress like her grandmother…

    Under this persuasion I moved myself in bed and coughed a little, to make the intruder sensible of my being in possession of the premises. She turned slowly round, but gracious Heaven! my lord, what a countenance did she display to me! There was no longer any question what she was, or any thought of her being a living being. Upon a face which wore the fixed features of a corpse, were imprinted the traces of the vilest and most hideous passions which had animated her while she lived. The body of some atrocious criminal seemed to have been given up from the grave, and the soul restored from the penal fire, in order to form, for a space, a union with the ancient accomplice of its guilt. I started up in bed, and sat upright, supporting myself on my palms, as I gazed on this horrible spectre … under the eyes, and as it seemed, almost in the grasp of an incarnation of an evil spirit, all firmness forsook me, all manhood melted from me like wax in the furnace, and I felt my hair individually bristle. The current of my life-blood ceased to flow, and I sank back in a swoon, as very a victim to panic terror as ever was a village girl or a child of ten-years-old. 
    – Sir Walter Scott, ‘The Tapestried Chamber’

  3. ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ asked Mr Mulliner abruptly. 
    I weighed the question thoughtfully. I was a little surprised, for nothing in our previous conversation had suggested the topic.
    ‘Well,’ I replied, ‘I don’t like them, if that’s what you mean. I was once butted by one as a child.’ 
    ‘Ghosts. Not goats.’
    – PG Wodehouse, ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’

  4. Hatty would never believe the real explanation of his clothes, and Tom chose what he thought was a shorter counter-argument: ‘Do you know I could put my hand through you – now – just as if you weren’t there?’ Hatty laughed.
    ‘I could – I could!’ shouted Tom.
    She pointed at him: ‘You’re a ghost!’
    In a passion, Tom hit her a blow upon the outstretched wrist. There was a great force of will as well as of muscle behind the blow, and his hand went right through – not quite as through thin air, for Tom felt a something, and Hatty snatched back her wrist and nursed it in her other hand. She looked as if she might cry, but that could not have been for any pain, for the sensation had not been strong enough. 
    In a wild defence of herself, Hatty still goaded him: ‘Your hand didn’t go through my wrist; my wrist went through your hand! You’re a ghost, with a cruel, ghostly hand!’
    ‘Do you hear me?’ Tom shouted. ‘You’re a ghost, and I’ve proved it! You’re dead and gone and a ghost!’ 
    – Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden

  5. You may be sure the gentlemen whom he left lost no time in gathering round the engraving. There was the house, as before, under the waning moon and the drifting clouds. The window that had been open was shut, and the figure was once more on the lawn: but not this time crawling cautiously on hands and knees. Now it was erect and stepping swiftly, with long strides, towards the front of the picture. The moon was behind it, and the black drapery hung down over its face so that only hints of that could be seen, and what was visible made the spectators profoundly thankful that they could see no more than a white dome-like forehead and a few straggling hairs. The head was bent down, and the arms were tightly clasped over an object which could be dimly seen and identified as a child, whether dead or living it was not possible to say.
    – MR James, ‘The Mezzotint’

  6. Emma Saxon was in the wood-path now. She walked on steadily, and I followed at the same pace, till we passed out of the gates and reached the high-road. Then she struck across the open fields to the village. By this time the ground was white, and as she climbed the slope of a bare hill ahead of me I noticed that she left no foot-prints behind her. At sight of that, my heart shrivelled up within me, and my knees were water. Somehow, it was worse here than indoors. She made the whole countryside seem lonely as the grave, with none but us two in it, and no help in the wide world.
    – Edith Wharton, ‘The Looking Glass’

  7. [Morris] was on the floor, half sitting and half lying, slumped against the wall: his stumpy legs were spread out, and his fingers playing with his fly buttons. When Colette stepped back she trampled straight over him. As usual she didn’t notice. But Morris did. ‘Fucking stuck-up cow,’ he said, as Colette went out. ‘White-faced fucking freak. She’s like a bloody ghoul. Where did you get her, gel, a churchyard?’ Under her breath Alison swore back at him. In their five years as partners, he’d never accepted Colette; time meant little to Morris. ‘What would you know about churchyards?’ she asked him. ‘I bet you never had a Christian burial. Concrete boots and a dip in the river, considering the people you mixed with. Or maybe you were sawn up with your own saw?’
    – Hilary Mantel, Beyond Black

  8. My reading lantern, which had been placed in the upper berth, was suddenly extinguished… The ship rolled heavily, and the curtain of the upper berth swung far out into the state-room and back again. I rose quickly from my seat on the edge of the bed, and the captain at the same moment started to his feet with a loud cry of surprise. I had turned with the intention of taking down the lantern to examine it, when I heard his exclamation, and immediately afterwards his call for help. I sprang towards him. He was wrestling with all his might with the brass loop of the port. It seemed to turn against his hands in spite of all his efforts. I caught up my cane, a heavy oak stick I always used to carry, and thrust it through the ring and bore on it with all my strength. But the strong wood snapped suddenly and I fell upon the couch. When I rose again the port was wide open, and the captain was standing with his back against the door, pale to the lips.
    ‘There is something in that berth!’ he cried, in a strange voice, his eyes almost starting from his head. ‘Hold the door, while I look – it shall not escape us, whatever it is!’
    – F Marion Crawford, ‘The Upper Berth’

  9. There’s a ghost down in the hall
    There’s a ghoul upon the bed
    There’s something in the walls
    There’s blood up on the stairs
    And it’s floating through the room
    And there’s nothing I can see
    And I know that that’s the truth
    Because now it’s on to me…
    – Michael Jackson, ‘Ghosts’