50 Ghost Stories by Robert H. Weinberg
The ghost story is the oldest type of supernatural tale and thus the one closest to the European oral storytelling tradition. Initially, it was meant to be brief, the better to deliver its thrills to captivated listeners before the tenuous air of suspense had time to dissipate. Although contemporary ghost fiction sometimes run to novel length, the short-short ghost story continues to entertain readers around the world. The proof can be found in 50 Ghost Stories, which brings together more than one-and-a-half centuries of compact ghost stories.
A sampling of the contents shows just how widespread the short-short ghost story's appeal is. The earliest (although by no means the first published), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's 'The Ghost and the Bone-Setter,' dates from 1838 and the most recent, Donald R. Burleson's 'The Pedicab,' was written especially for this volume. Although most these stories were published originally in Great Britain or the United states, Guy Boothby's 'A Strange Goldfield' first appeared in Australia while Stefan Grabinski's 'The Grey Room' (originally published in Poland) and Lafcadio Hearn's 'A Dead Secret' (written by an American expatriate living in Japan) suggest the familiarity of the form in non-English-speaking countries. Writers who attempted the short-short ghost story include those whose names are synonymous with super natural fiction (M. R. James, Ramsey Campbell), renowned figures in the literary mainstream (0. Henry, Oscar Wilde) and even authors who professed disdain for the traditional frights of supernatural horror fiction (H. P. Lovecraft).
Part of the reason for this popularity is the great amount of latitude possible within the short-short ghost story's narrow confines. Writers have used the form to explore a variety of human emotions and behaviors: avarice (Renier Wyers's 'Attorney for the Damned,' August Derleth's 'Pacific 421'), revenge (Thorp McClusky's 'Black Gold', H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Terrible Old Man'), jealousy (Steve Rasnic Tem's 'Daddy', constancy of character (Fred Chappell's 'Miss Prue', Baldwin's 'How He Left the Hotel'), obligation to duty H.F. Arnold's 'Night Wire'), honor (Ambrose Bierce's 'The 'Stranger', Edith Nesbit's 'John Charrington's Wedding'), love (H. Warner Munn's 'A Sprig of Rosemary', Darrell Schweitzer's 'Clocks'), infidelity (Mary E. Braddon's 'The Cold Embrace') and family relationships (Al Sarrantonio's 'Two').
The short-short ghost story has been used both to deliver reassurance of an afterlife (S.B. Hurst's 'The Splendid Lie', Will Charles Oursler's 'Mandolm') and to frighten with the horrors beyond the grave (Jessica Amanda Salmonson's 'Harmless Ghosts'). The ghosts themselves can appear in a variety of forms, ranging from figments of memory (Nina Kiriki Hoffman's 'Coming Home', Robert Sampson's 'Relationships'), to inanimate objects imbued with personality (O. Henry's 'The Furnished Room', A.V. Milyer's 'Mordecai's Pipe'), fragments (W.C. Morrow's 'The Haunted Burglar'), premonitions (Vincent O'Sullivan's 'The Burned House', Arthur Gray's 'The True History of Anthony Ffryar'), unfulfilled opportunities and expectations (Bernard Cape's 'A Ghost-Child') and projections of the haunted's personality (Clark Ashton Smith's 'Thirteen Phantasms'). They can also be put to a variety of uses: comedy (Saki's 'The Soul of Laploshka'), social satire (Barry Malzberg's 'Away'), moral instruction (Richard Middleton's 'On the Brighton Road') and subjects for both stream of consciousness narrative (Alan Brennert's 'Ghost Story') and prose poems (Alfred I. Tooke's 'The Ghosts at Haddonle-Green').
As far as readers are concerned, though, probably the most attractive quality of the short-short ghost story is that it uses a minimum of elements to evoke a powerful response. Just as it is possible to be scared by what you don't see, so is it possible to be haunted long after by this briefest of encounters with the supernatural. Fear comes in all shapes and sizes and although these ghosts are small, they will loom large in your memory.
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