Saturday, 17 November 2018

Issue 39 now available

Supernatural Tales 39

Go here for the print-on-demand issue.

New stories by Eloise C.C. Shepherd, Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin, Margaret Karmazin, Jon Barron, Chloe N.Clark, Rosalie Parker, and Danielle Davis. Cover photo by Sam Dawson.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

'The Woman in the Moon'

Tracy Fahey's story in Uncertainties III is a poetic, powerful account of what may be a mental breakdown. Certainly the final lines imply that the female narrator has suffered so much, lost so much, that she has been driven to extreme measures. But along the way the story is beautifully told, blending various ideas about the power of moonlight with a poignant account of very human loss.

I continue to be impressed by the sheer diversity of the stories Lynda E. Rucker has selected. Here is a tale that might be classed as fantasy, horror, or even 'straight' crime. But what makes it work is that it's a good story regardless of genre, packing a lot of effective imagery into a handful of pages. Every paragraph seems shot through with the colourless light of the moon, haunting and strange.

More from this anthology soon, I hope.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

'It Could Be Cancer'

"Sorry about your balls."

Not a line you will find in the works of Montague Rhodes James, but pithy and effective.

Ralph Robert Moore's contribution to Uncertainties III is a remarkable story of what's sometimes termed the crisis of masculinity. It begins with Philip, a regular guy, taking a piss and discovering a lump on the side of one ball. This leads indirectly to him punching a housemate in the face, having to move out and live alone, and then encountering his dead daughter.

The nameless little girl, who offers some adult insights with a suitably grow-up vocabulary, cheers up Philip with a silly dance - her version of the Twist. Philip does not question her presence, perhaps because he is already punch-drunk from his cancer scare. Instead he talks to her, and listens to her.

This is obviously not a conventional ghost story. I have no real idea about the nature of the little girl who enlivens Philip's bleak and troubled existence, except that only he can see her. It does not really matter if she is 'there' in some sense beyond the obvious. But her help seems to make a difference, as Philip starts dating a co-worker, applies for promotion, and seems to on track to a better life.

As you might expect, this is not a cheerful story with a Disney 'ghost girl helps unhappy man' vibe. Far from it. The ending is a punch in the gut. I 'm not sure I understand this story, but artistically it works well. Perhaps that's what matters.

More on this impressive anthology soon.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Older than Dracula?

Varney the Vampire or the Feast of Blood.jpg

Over at The Conversation is an interesting item on English vampires. Or, more precisely, genuine folk belief (with some official endorsement) in the undead. As we know, however, when people claim that 'vampires' exist anywhere, definitions become a bit baggy.

The author, literature lecturer Sam George, draws the usual link between Byron and Polidori's story 'The Vampyre'. What she does not say, unfortunately, is that this led to a string of imitative penny dreadful vampire storie, often published anonymously (as Polidori's story was, originally). Among these tales was ''Varney the Vampire: or, The Feast of Blood', serialised 1845-7. 

In 1894 Augustus Hare published an account of a supposedly real vampire occurrence. The Vampire of Croglin Grange is cited in the Conversation piece, though the dates seem to differ with other accounts. And, as people have pointed out, it does read like a pastiche of earlier vampire fictions, particularly a scene in which the vampire picks the glass from a window pane to access his victim's home. Varney did exactly the same thing.
Both Varney and the Croglin Vampire stories mention a vampire forcing their way into a heroine’s bedroom by removing a small pane of glass. The vampires each release the catches on the door and wrap the girls hair around their bony fingers. Then the vampires tilt the girls neck, plunge their teeth into her; a gush of blood and a sucking noise follows.
I think George is on firmer ground with the Buckinghamshire 'vampire' that was suppressed by a saint, no less. St Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, was told the corpse in question should be dug up and burned. Instead he laid an absolution on the un-decayed corpse, which was put to rest. These medieval legends concerning saints are not remotely reliable, of course, but it's interesting to see that there was a tradition of the dead walking and praying on the living in the 12th century.

I also like the story of the Cumbrian village of Renwick, supposedly terrified by a bat-like monster that emerged from the foundations of a church at some point in the remote past. People of Renwick became known as 'Bats'. There was even a punk band called the Renwick Bats. Even more suggestive is the sheer number of broken and burnt human remains found in the deserted Yorkshire village of Wharram Percy. Some think they are evidence of cannabilism, others suggest that around 100 bodies were mutilated to stop the dead from rising.

I suppose what all this proves is that the Dracula story crystallised fictional character and folk beliefs into a very commercial form of vampire, complete with suitably exotic folklore. This eclipsed the kind of the folklore that helped inspire M.R. James, whose ghosts often seem to be radically modified versions of the deceased. The 'ghosts' in 'The Mezzotint', 'Wailing Well', 'Martin's Close' and other stories are not ethereal enough to be conventional Victorian spooks. Like Dracula, they give a bit more substance to supernatural menace.