Ghosts and More Tales of the Supernatural (ed. Kristine Lowe-Martin)

Front cover of Ghosts and More Tales of the Supernatural (ed. Kristine Lowe-Martin)Blending classic supernatural tropes, humour, chills, and a variety of characters in different proportions, these tales are likely to provide fans of spooky stories with a pleasing evening or three.

This anthology contains 15 ghost stories and other short tales of the paranormal in a variety of styles, each written by a members of the Blackwater Literary Society.

  • ‘Sleepover’ by Chuck Hocter: After years of jokingly blaming a friendly ghost for missing items and lights being left on, one night of strangeness makes a mother wonder if there is something darker in the house. Hocter skillfully blends brief references to common family experiences with specific moments in this family’s life, creating empathy and depth without making the reader wait. The plot is a classic ghost trope of a protagonist knowing something odd is happening but struggling to comprehend exactly what. Hocter maintains this lack of defintive explaination to the end: depending on reader preference, this might make the ending feel like it is too abrupt or provide a pleasing sense of lingering uncertainty.

  • ‘Eternity Can Wait’ by Chanda K. Zimmerman: After her death, Caroline passed the time by checking on her cats and her old house; but as days pass and life moves on without her she starts to wonder if there is more to the afterlife than being a disembodied observer. Zimmerman crafts a protagonist who was neither utterly certain death is the end nor utterly certain of a particular afterlife, providing an engaging insight into how that lack of fanaticism might be both an advantage and an obstacle when faced with eternity. The cosy style of the prose both supports this mellow introspection and adds interesting human nuances that prevent this just being the protagonist wrestling with ennui.

  • ‘Moving On’ by John Hanford: When Steve’s unit are caught in an ambush in Vietnam, most of them are killed; a veteran’s support group offers him a way to move forward but might require a commitment he can’t find in himself. Based on Hanford’s own military experiences, the story is told in a clipped and straightforward but not unengaging style. While readers familiar with ghost stories might well guess the twist before it arrives, the plot could fit more than one classic trope so this is not certain; the characters are also sympathetic—if prickly from trauma—meaning that readers who do guess correctly can still enjoy how that story unfolds for these characters.

  • ‘Visitings’ by James Henry Taylor: When Brody arrives home to the strong smell of cat urine from a pet he doesn’t own, he assumes there’s a mundane explaination; however, as other strangenesses occur, he realises something ghostly has taken an interest in him. Taylor balances calm and emotion, skepticism and openess, creating a protagonist who neither flies into incoherent terror of supernatural assault at the first oddity nor remains dogmatically certain nothing odd could be happening in the face of strong evidence; while Brody’s resulting perspective does not defy possiblity and is certainly accessible, depending on reader preference, it might seem a little too reasonable.

  • ‘Loving Ghosts’ by R.M. Kinder: Having seen ghosts all her life, Naomi keeps quiet out of politeness for others but doesn’t shun them when alone; however, when her best friend decides to leave town, something darker looms. In contrast with the classic ghost story, Kinder creates a protagonist who is so familiar with spirits that they are merely another part of life, some perhaps even sort of friends; this shifts the focus away from what a single ghost might want to the broader question of how much a human’s attitude to the supernatural might shape their interaction with spirits.

  • ‘FIN’ by Chuck Hocter: Not even the apocalypse can spare Harold Watson from neighbours trying to involve themselves in his life under cover of borrowing something. While Hocter opens with a jokey take on the classic “last man on Earth” trope—in that Harold is the only man rather than only human—the story’s tone is serious, juxtaposing the sometimes almost tedious mundanity of what has survived the cataclysm with the subtle dread of a world that is not the one that was. Neither bumbling fool nor glorious hero, Harold is a sympathetic and appositely average protagonist.

  • ‘The Unkindest Cut’ by James Henry Taylor: Art Baker runs a small sideshow whose largest attraction is a hen that can dance; however, he is good with cards, so when a smartly dressed visitor challenges him to cut the deck for an item of great value, Art decides to humour him. Taylor sympathetically blends the classic US tropes of small time hustlers and gambling with the devil, creating a story that is both familiar and flavoured with characterful nuances. The twists and the ending have a pleasing consistency without succumbing to predictability.

  • ‘A Life Denied’ by John Hanford: When Greg Siefert meets his doppelganger in a lift, he is certain the threat is real; however, all the evidence of his stalker seems to disappear whenever he tries to prove they exist. Hanford skillfully writes the line between confirming everything and ruling out nothing, narrowing the truth to a few—different but terrible—possibilities but leaving it to the reader to determine which they ultimately believe. While perhaps only readers with bipolar disorder will know if the portrayal is accurate, Greg is consistently portrayed as a protagonist who has the condition rather than one who is defined by the condition.

  • ‘The Fourth Floor’ by R.M. Kinder: When an unknown man taps the door of Martha Flanahan’s office, she assumes it’s just the janitor ignoring department procedure; but some subtle oddness draws her to investigate. Kinder’s protagonist is a English professor who is currently teaching The Turn of the Screw as an exceptional example of a story that accepts multiple interpretations; this echoing of a ghost story within a ghost story both adds plausibility to the protagonist’s decision to go toward the uncertain even when nervous and challenges any belief the reader might have that they understand what is happening better than the protagonist.`

  • ‘Seeing Is Believing’ by Chanda K. Zimmerman: Dr Blacker’s attempts to convince his new patient that he can help her get over her husband’s death are made harder when he starts signs she might be haunted. Zimmerman smoothly inverts the classic tale of someone trying to convince a doctor that they aren’t hallucinating, portraying a doctor struggling to cope with a patient who is too certain nothing is odd. While Zimmerman shows Blacker’s turmoil, the story wittingly evokes whimsy rather than terror.

  • ‘The Tunnel’ by Chuck Hocter: The first night in his new home, John is certain he witnesses a train crash; however, next morning he discovers the tracks were taken away years earlier. Hoctor presents a classic ghost story, quickly setting aside any question the reader might have over whether something supernatural is happening to focus on the unravelling of what created the manifestation and how the living face encountering it. Although it is among the longer stories in the anthology, Hocter’s prose flows smoothly enough it might not feel like it.

  • ‘The Boy with No Name’ by John Hanford: For Marilyn Huber, going to Grandparents’ Day at school seems a step toward normality after her husband’s death; until she meets a young boy who claims she is his grandmother then disappears. While Hanford’s story can be read purely as an engaging unravelling of a supernatural mystery, it also powerfully displays that someone can both want an explanation for what happened and emotional support for the fact that it happened, and that the ways of providing help for these needs can be quite different.

  • ‘Bringing Them Home’ by R.M. Kinder: After his mother tells him pets can’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls, Tim sneaks off to the vet’s to find their ghosts. Kinder captures the simpler perspective of a child without becoming simplistic, portraying a world that the reader might not believe is true but could well wish was. While this story is very short it has a complete arc; thus readers are likely to find the brevity avoids the sweetness becoming mawkish rather than leaving them feeling dropped just as things were starting to get interesting.

  • ‘Margie and Sadie’ by James Henry Taylor: To Margie, Sadie the doll is a person; and so when she dies she deserves a funeral. Taylor’s prose evokes the intensity of childhood, both in terms of emotion and belief, showing the reader Margie’s world without judging it. As with many ghost stories, this one does not end with a single unarguable truth but it does end with an emotional resolution.

  • ‘Night Guardian’ by Chanda K. Zimmerman: While his mistress sleeps upstairs, a cat seeks to help a young ghost. While the question of whether an animal’s inner life is accurately protrayed might be impossible to answer and any anthropomorphising of pets might be too cutesy for some readers, Zimmerman’s narrative voice feels cosy rather than comical or childish. Zimmerman’s choice to simply treat ghosts as existing both allows greater narrative space to focus on the bringing of comfort and avoids the potential cognative dissonance of asking a reader to accept cats have complex personalities and perspectives like our own but doubt whether humans are more than biological machines.

As is not unexpected of works all written by a single group, the tone and plot of each story shares something of the classic spooky fireside tale rather than any being an outlier of visceral body horror, psychological torment, or rampant farce. Thus readers who love some of the stories are likely to at worst not dislike any of the others.

However, while there is this overall unity, each of the five contributors displays not only differences from the style and focus of the others but a distinctness between their own works; therefore, even readers who binge the anthology are unlikely to be overwhelmed by a sense of sameness.

With the way a reader experiences a collection influenced not only by contrasts of length, theme, tone, and so forth between stories but also by whether they read it in a single session, or take breaks during or between stories, a perfect rather than good ordering potentially does not exist. However, the editors choice to intermix contributors rather than group their stories subtly increases the diversity of having multiple authors.

The one aspect of ordering that potentially does stand out is the grouping of the stories with a significant non-human aspect at the end. Depending on reader preference, this might flavour the ending in one direction or another.

Overall, I enjoyed all the stories in this anthology. I recommend it to readers seeking a pleasing variety of paranormal tales.

I received a free copy from one of the contributors with a request for a fair review.


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