Pseudopod 375: The Signalman

by Charles Dickens.

“The Signal-Man” was first published as part of the Mugby Junction collection in the 1866 Christmas edition of ALL THE YEAR ROUND. It is The Doctor’s favorite Dickens story and has been adapted many times in many formats, including a radio drama version by Ye Olde Editor when he was in college.

CHARLES DICKENS (1812-1870) surely needs no introduction so let’s talk a little bit about his relationship to the horror genre. Nearly everything Dickens wrote contains elements of the grotesque – exaggeration (used for both comic and chilling effects) was one of the devices most natural to him. He had a steady interest in the supernatural, albeit with reservations. Several of his stories make fun of spiritualism (“The Lawyer & The Ghost”, “The Haunted House”, “Well-Authenticated Rappings”) but Dickens thought ghost stories were especially appropriate for the Christmas season and encouraged other writers to produce ghost stories for the holidays including Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins. Dickens first and best ghost story was “A Christmas Carol” (1843), which was an enormous success, and later tales include “The Haunted Man & The Ghost’s Bargain” (1848) (an allegory) and “The Trial For Murder” (1865), along with this one. In THE UNCOMMERCIAL TRAVELER (1860) he wrote that the horror stories told to him in childhood by his nurse had had a lasting effect – “If we all knew our own minds (in a more enlarged sense than the popular acceptation of that phrase), I suspect we should find our nurses responsible for most of the dark corners we are forced to go back to against our will.”

Your reader – Ian Stuart – is a writer/performer living in York. He has done work for the BBC and Manx Radio, as well as audiobooks, historical guides and promotional videos. He is also a storyteller/guide for The Ghost Trail of York, taking tourists round the city and telling them some of its darker secrets. You can read more about his poetry and his dog, Digby, on his blog, The Top Banana. If you wish to contact Ian about v/o work of any kind , you can get in touch with him on Twitter at @yorkwriter99. His greatest boast is that he is the father of a famous son.

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This was a lonesome post to occupy (I said), and it had riveted my attention when I looked down from up yonder. A visitor was a rarity, I should suppose; not an unwelcome rarity, I hoped? In me, he merely saw a man who had been shut up within narrow limits all his life, and who, being at last set free, had a newly-awakened interest in these great works. To such purpose I spoke to him; but I am far from sure of the terms I used, for, besides that I am not happy in opening any conversation, there was something in the man that daunted me.

He directed a most curious look towards the red light near the tunnel’s mouth, and looked all about it, as if something were missing from it, and then looked at me.

That light was part of his charge? Was it not?

He answered in a low voice: “Don’t you know it is?”

The monstrous thought came into my mind as I perused the fixed eyes and the saturnine face, that this was a spirit, not a man. I have speculated since, whether there may have been infection in his mind.

In my turn, I stepped back. But in making the action, I detected in his eyes some latent fear of me. This put the monstrous thought to flight.

“You look at me,” I said, forcing a smile, “as if you had a dread of me.”

“I was doubtful,” he returned, “whether I had seen you before.”

“Where?”

He pointed to the red light he had looked at.

“There?” I said.

Intently watchful of me, he replied (but without sound), Yes.

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