Saturday, 30 November 2013

Country Lanes After Dark.

I gave myself the pleasure of settling by the fire with a mug of hot coffee tonight, shortly after returning from a chilly perambulation around the lanes of the Shire. There being nothing of interest on the TV, I picked up my copy of The Ghost Stories of MR James and read – for the umpteenth time – probably his most celebrated story, Casting the Runes.

‘Three months are allowed,’ said Mr Dunning’s diary on April 23rd, just as the late Mr Harrington’s diary had been annotated on June 18th. On the night of September 18th, poor Mr Harrington had died in mysterious circumstances. It seems he must have been menaced by some creature or other on a country lane at night, for he had shinned up a tree, fallen out of it, and broken his neck. Mr Dunning was, in consequence, a worried man.

It seemed appropriate that I read such a story. There is a spot on Mill Lane, you see, which is lit by the security light on the wall of the metal fabrication sheds. You turn your torch off at that point because it’s redundant, but beyond it the view is opaque. Pure darkness. You turn your torch back on, and before you stands a creature a little bigger than a large bear standing upright. Its ears are tall and pointed, two fangs curl upwards from its lower jaw, and its eyes hold you with the power of unassailable malice. You blink and it’s gone, so you continue on your way, smiling at your predilection for self-spooking.

It’s why I had fun writing occult short stories for eight years, and Mill Lane does seem uncommonly populated by imagined night demons these days. Church Lane, on the hand, I avoid after dark, since I’m more than half convinced that the creepy copse plays host to something that is more than the stuff of mere imagination.

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