AVAILABLE ON KINDLE
STORIES IN THIS ANTHOLOGY
The Upper Berth
The Haunted and the Haunters: Or the House and the Brain
The Gateway Of The Monster
The Midnight Express
The Yellow Sign
The Empty House
Christmas Eve On A Haunted Hulk
The Dead Valley
The Strange High House In The Mist
My dad was a voracious and very eclectic reader; and from my first awareness I was surrounded by -- and most importantly encouraged by example to read -- books of all sorts. Most in our home were moldy old junk-shop hard-backs, dusty and musty, their covers tattered, gnawed by rodents; their brittle and time-yellowed pages often perforated by... yes, book-worms do exist, and they're not the stereotypical nerds in high-water pants and 'Potter glasses.
Squashed spiders, as well as other small, long-deceased life-forms -- not to mention interesting objects, ranging from pressed flowers and passionate love-letters, to Model-T Ford repair receipts, newspaper clippings about the Titanic, faded photographs of kids who looked like The Little Rascals, and locks of hair (presumably human) -- were also often found inside like Paleozoic Cracker-Jack prizes.
By around age five -- when it became my dad's opinion that I could cross a street by myself without too much danger of being splattered by a truck -- I was making frequent forays to one particular junk-shop about three blocks from home. I was usually equipped with a quarter -- earned from domestic chores -- which was then sufficient to purchase five hard-cover books... unless they were, in the proprietor's opinion, "too big for just a nickel" and/or "maybe worth something."
I have described that shop, as well as its owner, in my novel, Six Out Seven... though much more accurately in the Kindle edition, because its print-edition editor thought it politically-incorrect and insisted those scenes, as well as the character, be altered. For those unwilling to invest $5 USD, or are by inclination adverse or indifferent to the nature of that novel, here's a short description:
The dusty front window was cracked, held together by plywood patches, and displayed the usual crappy collection of tarnished trumpets, cheap and often inoperative switch-blades, and obsolete, sprung, and rusty tools. The shop's interior was dark and dank, and smelled like a million discarded dreams. A single small bulb dangled from wires, its yellow glow casting weirdly shaped shadows among the tottering labyrinth of shelves filling the high-ceilinged room. Things suspended from strings stirred and swayed whenever anyone entered. A saxophone's shadow hovered like a prehistoric lizard-bat. The cash register counter was shrouded in darkness as if the old proprietor -- the perfect model for an evil old wizard, complete with long gray beard -- had no use for light. Like Gandalf, he looked like he knew too much... too many dark things.
In the uttermost gloom at the rear of that shop -- the darkness seemingly more annoyed than alleviated by a 25-watt bulb -- funereally shrouded in dust and cobwebs, were ramshackle rough plank book shelves reaching from the creaky board floor to the almost indiscernible ceiling. There was a rickety step-ladder to access the upper regions -- two-thirds of which, at my early age, were otherwise out of reach -- and, being a chubby boy, that ladder was most ill-disposed toward me. Nor did our relationship improve as the years went by.
But while I can't say that the proprietor and I ever really became friends, at least after a year or so I wouldn't look up from perusing a book to find a face like a bearded skull peering at me through a gap in the shelves to see if I was stealing something.
The atmosphere was appropriate, for many of those rat-gnawed, worm-eaten tomes contained ghostly stories and tales of terror from the Victorian Age. And many others, though a bit more modern, were written by authors either born or living during Victorian times. Where the proprietor got his stock was a question I never dared ask -- those books always smelled of deep places and dirt -- but I can't recall any book in that shop published later than World War II.
Of course, there were other genres... my favorites in those being seafaring tales, and early 20th century "adventure stories for boys." (Perhaps a Foreward to a future anthology.) But my quintets of books from that shop usually included at least one volume of something eerily supernatural and preferably nightmare provoking.
Most of what I read between the ages of five and thirteen was, for many years after, buried away somewhere in my mind; and only a very scary passage, grisly description, shocking sentence, or spine-chilling line of dialog unearthed itself from time to time. Moreover, I forgot -- or at least could not remember (which are two different things) -- the titles of many of those tales; and it's only been in recent years, and mostly thanks to the Internet, that I've been able to dig them up and affirm (or not) if they were indeed as frightening as youthful memory served.
Most of them are.
In offering this anthology it is not my hope to make much money, but rather to share what for me was a significant and, I think, very rewarding life-experience.
To the best of my research, the copyrights of these stories have expired, making them Public Domain... at least in the U.S.A. Indeed, most may be currently found on the Web and read or downloaded free.
I suppose, then, a logical question would be, why should anyone want to pay for this anthology?
Aside from stubbornly clinging (despite much evidence to the contrary) to the belief that a few decent people still think a living author deserves to be paid for their work -- even if, in this case, that work is merely compiling, copyediting and formatting the work of authors long dead -- one reason, I hope, is that my readers are interested in what I think makes a great and scary ghost tale.
Another reason is that I have tried to present the stories here as closely as I could to their original, first-published incarnations -- as I as a kid read most of them -- rather than simply copy them from later reprints, recent anthologies, or Internet sites.
In regard to later publishings, I discovered as a kid that sometimes reprints of vintage literature may have typographical errors. Reprints may also have been abridged or subtly edited for length... and, sometimes these days, bowdlerized. And occasionally... inexplicably... words, descriptions, passages, and sometimes entire paragraphs, have been altered, omitted and/or rearranged. Before digital scanners, actual human beings had to read and retype all text from books, magazines and other formats so they could be reprinted. Often these were underpaid, overworked, and sometimes not the most literate people, who made spelling errors, omissions and typos that weren’t caught and corrected by copyeditors (also often underpaid and overworked) before the new text was published.
I’ve also found reprints in which it seems as if someone -- I will assume with the best of intentions -- has tried to modernize (or perhaps “Americanize”) archaic expressions, spellings and terms... possibly in hope of making them more comprehensible to "Proletarian" and/or younger readers.
I first encountered this as a kid when required to read a ghost story, Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons, (good in its classic kids' story style, but lacking any mature horror to actually tingle my scare-seasoned spine) in a fourth grade school Reader. I had already read the original version in one of my junk-shop books, and it annoyed me that someone was apparently trying to insult my intelligence by removing or replacing what they seemed to regard as “big words" and/or "old-fashioned terms" (such as “door jamb") that I -- a mere American public school cretin -- couldn’t possibly understand. (Or would be too lazy to look up in a dictionary.)
I presented this argument to my teacher -- though not in the most diplomatic way -- which resulted in fifteen minutes of solitary out in the hall.
Regarding Internet incarnations of these stories, the quality, format, and integrity vary. Scanning devices make mistakes; and many people who've scanned and republished these stories online seem to have picked whatever book, magazine or anthology was convenient for the purpose, and in many cases have only reproduced later reprints with text omissions, abridgments, typos, and/or bowdlerized passages.
A reminder in regard to copyright: although the stories themselves are Public Domain, the presentation, compilation and formatting -- not to mention this Foreward -- in this anthology are mine.
For those who might be interested, I have tried my hand at a Victorian style ghost story with my novel, Drawing From Life... also available on Kindle.
While I can't resurrect the atmosphere in which I first read these stories, either while perusing them in the dank and dark of that creepy old shop, or alone in my room in the dead of night in a spooky old Victorian house, nor conjure up the graveyard smell of those dusty, decomposing books; still I picture a modern-day me, face lit by the spectral glow of a screen, using my own imagination -- as opposed to being "told" what to see, how I should feel, and having my senses manipulated by a movie or video game -- discovering the shivers and frights of these thirteen scariest classic ghost tales.
Jess Mowry - 2015