Tis the season to get spooky fa la-la-la la-la la-la-AAAAAAARGH. Now call me old fashioned, but there’s nothing nicer than curling up with a ghostly short story in front of a fire.
Traditionally, in Britain, ghost stories are a Christmas activity, with those morbid Victorians telling their most chilling tales whilst roasting chestnuts on an open fire (so the song goes), and if the BBC doesn’t show a ghost story drama over the festive period, it fucking ruins Christmas for us.
BUT, we also love reading chilling tales throughout October, or "Goth Christmas" as we like to call it, so we’ve pulled together our favorite nightmare-fuelled-historical-spectral tales from masters of the craft. Don’t blame us if you have to sleep with the light on.
1. "The Signalman" by Charles Dickens, 1886
Now, we’re all familiar with Dickens in some capacity. Arguably, he created the most well-known ghost story in the Western World with A Christmas Carol, that story of curmudgeonly old bellend Ebenezer Scrooge and his journey to becoming less of a bellend when he’s visited by three Christmas ghosts. Everyone knows this story; even the Muppets have a version of it.
Dickens himself liked a good ghost story and had a keen interest in all kinds of supernatural shiz. So no surprise that he’d have a go at writing ghostly tales himself. "The Signalman" was published in 1866 as a Christmas short story for part of a collection entitled Mugby Junction.
If you’re new to ghost stories, I’d start with this one. It’s a short and unsettling read about a train enthusiast who decides to go have a chat with a signalman; back in those days, train signalling was done by human hand. Our narrator finds a confused and terrified signalman who is being haunted by a spectre that foreshadows some seriously shitty events.
2. "Pomegranate Seed" by Edith Wharton, 1931
Edith Wharton is queen of the ghost story genre; she’s incredible at creating suspense and malevolence from totally mundane settings. She’s got three amazing collections of spooky tales we highly recommend AND she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921, being the first lady to receive the honor!
"Pomegranate Seed" might actually be our favourite ghost story of all time. This tale is horrifying, there is a real layer of malice to the entire story, and you keep hoping for a happy ending to this one. LET LOVE WIN!
It centres round the newlywed Mrs. Charlotte Ashby and her hubby Kenneth. He was a widower, and his dead wife Elsie decides she has unfinished business with Kenneth. She starts communicating with him through ghostly letters. It only gets worse from there.
3. "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs, 1902
First published in 1902 as a short story in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, this a brilliant and well-known spooky story was written by William Wymark Jacobs, who was known for his humorous writing. Laurel and Hardy did a film, Our Relations, based off one of his funny stories, "The Money Box."
Now, our boy Will released a series of spooky and funny stories called The Lady of the Barge. This story was included in that anthology. Honestly, this story shits me right up. It still makes me recoil in horror reading it, and those of you who like your ghost stories with a bit of necromancy shoved in will enjoy this.
The White family have a visit from their old mate, who’s a Sargent-Major in the army. He’s had a tour of India and seems to have come back a broken man. The White family press him for all the juicy details, and he hands over a manky-looking, mummified monkey's paw and tells them it grants wishes. That’s when all shit hits the fan and stuff gets proper creepy.
4. "The Nature Of The Evidence" by May Sinclair, 1923
May Sinclair knows how to do psychosexual horror. She was fascinated by Freud and was a member of the Society of Psychical Research, which conducted scientific studies into supernatural events. We’re imagining a sort of Victorian ghostbusters.
May released two collections of ghost stories: Uncanny Stories, which this unsettling and sessyful tale is in, and The Intercessor and Other Stories. Both have got some seriously scary stuff in, but "The Nature of Evidence" is the one that makes us need to sleep with the light on.
It’s basically a sexier version of Rebecca, but with an actual ghost. Our narrator has been gently coaxing juicy details of an X-rated ghostly encounter from his mate Edward Marston, who’s being haunted by the ghost of his first wife Rosamund. His new wife Pauline doesn’t live up to Rosamund’s standards… and Rosamund lets the bitch know it!
5. "The Phantom Rickshaw" by Rudyard Kipling, 1885
Now Mr. Kipling (not the cake dude) is a well-loved author; he gave us The Jungle Book, for feck's sake! He’s famous for his short stories and is seen to have reinvented their popularity during his lifetime. Considering he wrote lots of lovely stories for kids, this short story is pretty bollocking creepy. This ghost story is one with a message at its core, this message is: "DON’T BE A SHITTY DUDE!"
Falling into the "MEN ARE TERRIBLE" category, our dickhead narrator Jack strings along a married woman he’s been having an affair with, and when he’s done with her, tells her she’s uggo and he hates her, so could she just piss off please?
Poor lass is heartbroken and she dies. BUT then, our girl gets her spooky groove back. She decides to teach this fuckboi a lesson and haunts the shiz out of him.
These tales are mostly available to read online, or you can get them on your Kindle, because they’re fecking ancient. But if you want to sink your teeth into more modern collections, we heartily recommend Ghostly, a collection of spooky short stories pulled together by Audrey Niffenegger; "Pomegranate Seed" is included in that one.
The Folio Society also has an INCREDIBLE collection of ghost stories in their aptly named Folio Book of Ghost Stories. It looks gorgeous and boasts an excellent selection including "The Signalman" and "The Monkey’s Paw."
Happy reading, folks!
This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.
Top photo: Beetlejuice
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Written by Natasha Tidd, Sara Westrop, and Helen Antrobus, F Yeah History is dedicated to unearthing history that's just too good for history class. From historic hangover cures to unsung historic heroes, all told with a healthy does of gifs and somewhat terrible jokes, it's history...just not as you know it. Follow F Yeah History on FYeahHistory.com and on Twitter @F_yeah_history.