Monday, November 14, 2022

The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson

NIGHT TERRORS: THE GHOST STORIES OF E. F. BENSON (2012) constitutes a collection of over fifty works by a classic early-twentieth-century author. It includes fiction from many different subcategories of horror, naturally. However, among them you'll find his vintage vampire stories.

"The Face" introduces a happily married woman who has suffered a pair of recurring dreams for many years. In the first, she approaches the graveyard of a ruined church on a cliff above the sea. In the second, the true nightmare, she reaches the cemetery, where she confronts the leering face of a man who declares he will come for her soon. Shortly after the most recent return of the dreams, she stumbles upon the man's portrait, two hundred years old, in an art gallery. Her health begins to decline. A seaside vacation to repair her shattered nerves, ironically, brings her to the cemetery of her nightmares, which holds the ominous man's grave. Our last glimpse of her shows her walking with the strange man, whose disinterred body is later found after a storm and landslide, perfectly undecayed.

In "The Thing in the Hall," seances and an experiment with hypnosis conjure an elemental, a creature like a large slug that first appears as a shadow and then grows more substantial. Its victims are found dead with their throats slashed.

Another slug-like elemental stalks in the better-known story "Negotium Perambulans." It haunts the vicinity of a house whose impious builder had constructed it from the materials of a church he destroyed. The current church contains a panel depicting "the figure of a robed priest holding up a cross, with which he faced a terrible creature like a gigantic slug." The narrator, however, inclines to the belief that the loathesome entity is a naturally evolved, material creature. It leaves its victims "skin and bones as if every drop of blood had been sucked out." The description of the thing itself provides as gruesome an image of stomach-turning horror as one could hope to find in classic supernatural fiction.

"And No Bird Sings" features a patch of woodland that drains life-energy from living creatures. The bloodthirsty dead woman in "The Room in the Tower" preys on her victims, guests in the titular room, through the medium of her portrait.

The title character of Benson's best-known vampire story, the often reprinted "Mrs. Amworth," stands out from most such creatures by her gregarious, forthright, down-to-earth personality. Far from shunning daylight, she loves the outdoors and gardening. First a living vampire (perhaps hereditary), she rises as a typical undead after she's accidentally killed. The narrator's best friend, a retired professor of physiology with an interest in the occult, plays the Van Helsing role, with the narrator as a Watson-like representative of the audience.

In addition to these tales of vampirism, the NIGHT TERRORS collection includes numerous acclaimed classic stories of terror (e.g., "How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery," "Caterpillars," and "The Wishing-Well," among others) as well as more obscure pieces seldom or never found in anthologies.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

No comments: