Pseudopod 275: Wailing Well

by M.R. James

One of the masters of ghost story writing – he codified the subgenre of “the antiquarian ghost story”. Click the link under his name to read more. Almost all of his works are now in the public domain. This tale was written in 1927 to be read ’round the campfire to Scouts at their summer camp. It can be read online here

“Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo.… Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage. Another requisite, in my opinion, is that the ghost should be malevolent or odious: amiable and helpful apparitions are all very well in fairy tales or in local legends, but I have no use for them in a fictitious ghost story.'”

Your reader this week is David Moore – click his name to visit his Livejournal page. David works for Solaris and Abaddon Books, reads stories for DARK FICTION audio magazine (check out some stories he’s narrated here, here & here)
and has a story coming up in the April 4th released anthology PANDEMONIUM: STORIES IN THE SMOKE, in which Charles Dickens is given the genre treatment. He has earned the gentle ministrations of our tentacles and our unending gratitude for a late-game save!

“‘I don’t know as there’s anything much wrong with the water,’ said the shepherd. ‘All I know is, my old dog wouldn’t go through that field, let alone me or anyone else that’s got a morsel of brains in their heads.’

‘More fool them,’ said Stanley Judkins, at once rudely and ungrammatically. ‘Who ever took any harm going there?’ he added.

‘Three women and a man,’ said the shepherd gravely. ‘Now just you listen to me. I know these ’ere parts and you don’t, and I can tell you this much: for these ten years last past there ain’t been a sheep fed in that field, nor a crop raised off of it — and it’s good land, too. You can pretty well see from here what a state it’s got into with brambles and suckers and trash of all kinds. You’ve got a glass, young gentleman,’ he said to Wilfred Pipsqueak, ‘you can tell with that anyway.’

‘Yes,’ said Wilfred, ‘but I see there’s tracks in it. Someone must go through it sometimes.’

‘Tracks!’ said the shepherd. ‘I believe you I see four tracks: three women and a man.’

‘What d’you mean, three women and a man?’ said Stanley, turning over for the first time and looking at the shepherd (he had been talking with his back to him till this moment: he was an ill-mannered boy).

‘Mean? Why, what I says: three women and a man.’

‘Who are they?’ asked Algernon. ‘Why do they go there?’

‘There’s some p’r’aps could tell you who they was,’ said the shepherd, ‘but it was afore my time they come by their end. And why they goes there still is more than the children of men can tell: except I’ve heard they was all bad ‘uns when they was alive.””