The Ghost Quartet

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9780765312518: The Ghost Quartet

Do you believe in ghosts?

You will after reading these original short novels from four of today’s best writers of the fantastic.

Brian Lumley, a Grand Master of Horror and author of the popular Necroscope series, opens the collection with the tense “A Place of Waiting.” The moors of Devon, England, are home to many ghosts, but none as fearsome as the red-eyed specter that refuses to accept his death. His only chance of release, however, comes at a terrible cost.

Orson Scott Card puts a new spin on one of literature’s most famous ghosts in “Hamlet’s Father.” What if the former King of Denmark was not killed by his treacherous brother for his crown, but by someone entirely unexpected as punishment for the darkest of crimes? Would his troubled son still seek revenge?

The patrons of an Edinburgh tavern are introduced to a beverage with an unusual history in “The Haunted Single Malt” by Marvin Kaye, a clever and spooky story about ghost stories and the people who love them.

Tanith Lee offers “Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata,” a chilling tale set in an alternate Russia. When a poor man is rescued from certain death by hospitable strangers, he discovers that he is not a guest in their haunted tenement building--he is a prisoner destined to become a sacrifice.  

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About the Author:

MARVIN KAYE is the author and editor of more than forty books. He lives in New York, New York.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

I sit here by our swimming pool, with one eye on my son in the water and the other on the seagulls lazily drifting, circling on high. Actually they're not just drifting; they're climbing on thermals off the nearby fields, spiraling up to a certain height from which they know they can set off south across the bay on their long evening glide to Brixham to meet the fishing boats coming in to harbour. And never once having beaten a wing across all those miles, just gliding, they'll be there in plenty of time to beg for sprats as the fish are unloaded.

It's instinct with those birds; they've been doing it for so long that now they don't even think about it, they just do it. It's like at ant-flying time, or flying-ant time, if you prefer: those two or three of the hottest days of summer when all of a sudden the ant queens make up their minds to .y and establish new hives or whatever ant nesting sites are called. Yes, for the gulls know all about that, too.

The crying of gulls: plaintive, sometimes painful, often annoying, especially when they're flight-training their young. But this time of year-well you can always tell when it's ant-flying time. Because that's just about the only time when the seagulls are silent. And you won't see a one in the sky until the queen ants stream up in their thousands from all the Devon gardens, all at the same time-like spawning corals under the full moon-as if some telepathic message had gone out into an ant aether, telling them, "It's time! It's time!"

Time for the seagulls, too. For suddenly, out of nowhere, the sky is full of them. And their silence is because they're eating. Eating ants, yes. And I amuse myself by imagining that the gulls have learned how to interpret ant telepathy, when in all probability it's only a matter of timing and temperature: Ma Nature as opposed to insect (or avian) ESP.

And yet . . . there are stranger things in heaven and earth- and between the two-and I no longer rule out anything . . .

My son cries out, gasps, gurgles, and shrieks . . . but only with joy, thank God, as I spring from my deck chair! Only with joy-the sheer enjoyment of the shallow end of the pool. Not that it's shallow enough (it's well out of his depth in fact, for he's only two and a half), but he's wearing his water-wings and his splashing and chortling alone should have told me that all was well.

Except I wasn't doing my duty as I should have been; I was paying too much attention to the seagulls. And well-

-Well, call it paranoia if you like. But I watch little Jimmy like a hawk when he is in the water, and I've considered having the pool filled in. But his mother says no, that's just silly, and whatever it was that I think happened to me out on the moors that time, I shouldn't let it interfere with living our lives to the fullest. And anyway she loves our pool, and so does little Jimmy, and so would I, except . . .

Only three weeks ago a small child drowned in just such a pool right here in Torquay, less than a mile away. And to me- especially to me-that was a lot more than a tragic, if simple, accident. It was a beginning, not an end. The beginning of something that can never end, not until there are no more swimming pools. And even then it won't be the end for some poor, unfortunate little mite.

But you don't understand, right? And you never will until you know the full story. So first let me get little Jimmy out of the pool, dried, and into the house, into his mother's care, and then I'll tell you all about it . . .

Have you ever wondered about haunted houses? Usually very old houses, perhaps Victorian or older still? Well, probably not, because in this modern technological society of ours we're not much given to considering such unscientific things. And first, of course, you would have to believe in ghosts: the departed, or not quite departed, revenants of folks dead and long since buried. But if so, if you have wondered, then you might also have begun to wonder why it's these old houses which are most haunted, and only very rarely new ones.

And, on the same subject, how many so-called old wives' tales have you heard, ghost stories, literally, about misted country crossroads where spectral figures are suddenly caught in a vehicle's headlights, lurching from the hedgerows at midnight, screaming their silent screams with their ragged hands held out before them? Well, let me tell you: such stories are legion! And now I know why.

But me, I didn't believe in ghosts. Not then, anyway . . .

My mother died in hospital here in Torbay some four and a half years ago. And incidentally, I'm glad about that; not about her dying, no, of course not, but that she did it in hospital. These days lots of people die in hospital, which is natural enough.

Anyway, it hit me really badly, more so because I had only recently lost someone else: my wife, when we'd divorced simply because we no longer belonged together. It had taken us eleven years to find that out: the fact that right from the start, we hadn't really belonged together. But while our parting was mutually acceptable and even expedient, still it was painful. And I would like to think it hurt both of us, for I certainly felt it: a wrenching inside, like some small but improbably necessary organ was no longer in there, that it was missing, torn or fallen out. And at the time I'd thought that was the end of it; what was missing was gone forever; I wouldn't find anyone else and there would be no family, no son to look up to me as I had looked up to my father. A feeling of . . . I don't know, discontinuity?

But I had still had my mother-for a little while, anyway. My poor dear Ma.

Now, with all this talk of ghosts and death and whatnot, don't anyone take it that I was some kind of odd, sickly mother's-boy sort of fellow like Norman Bates, the motel keeper in that Hitchcock .lm. No, for that couldn't be further from the truth. But after my father had died (also in hospital, for they had both been heavy smokers) it had been my Ma who had sort of clung to me . . . quite the other way round, you see? Living not too far away, she had quickly come to rely on me. And no, that didn't play a part in our divorce. In fact by then it had made no difference at all; our minds were already made up, Patsy's and mine.

Anyway, Patsy got our house-we'd agreed on that, too-for it had made perfectly good sense that I should go and live with Ma. Then, when it was her time (oh my Good Lord, as if we had been anticipating it!) her house would come to me. And so Patsy's and my needs both would be catered for, at least insofar as we wouldn't suffer for a roof over our heads . . .

Ma painted, and I like to think I inherited something of her not inconsiderable talent. In fact, that was how I made a living: my work was on show in a studio in Exeter where I was one of a small but mainly respected coterie of local artists, with a somewhat smaller, widespread band of dedicated, affluent collectors. I thank my lucky stars for affluent collectors! And so, with the addition of the interest on monies willed to me by my father, I had always managed to eke out a living of sorts.

Ma painted, yes, and always she looked for the inspiration of drama. The more dramatic her subject, the finer the finished canvas. Seascapes on the Devon coast, landscapes on the rolling South Hams, the frowning ocean-hewn cliffs of Cornwall; and of course those great solemn tors on the moor . . . which is to say Dartmoor: the location for Sherlock Holmes'-or rather Arthur Conan Doyle's-famous (or infamous) Hound of the Baskervilles.

Ah, that faded old film! My mother used to say, "It's not like that, you know. Well, it is in some places, and misty, too. But not all the time! Not like in that film. And I've certainly never seen the like of that fearsome old tramp that Basil Rathbone made of himself! Not on Dartmoor, God forbid! Yes, I know it was only Sherlock Holmes in one of his disguises, but still, I mean . . . Why, if the moors were really like that I swear I'd never want to paint there again!"

I remember that quite clearly, the way she said: "It's not like that, you know," before correcting herself. For in fact it is like that-and too much like that-in certain places . . .

After she'd gone I found myself revisiting the locations where we had painted together: the coastlines of Cornwall and our own Devon, the rolling, open countryside, and eventually Dartmoor's great tors, which my dictionary somewhat inadequately describes as hills or rocky heights. But it was the Celts who called them tors or torrs, from which we've derived tower, and some of them do indeed "tower" on high. Or it’s possible the name comes from the Latin: the Roman turris. Whichever, I’ll get to

the tors in a moment. But first something of Dartmoor itself:

All right, so it's not like that faded old Basil Rathbone Hound of the Baskervilles film. Not entirely like that, anyway; not all the time. In fact in the summer it's glorious, and that was mainly when I would go there; for I was still attempting to paint there despite that it had become a far more lonely business . . . often utterly lonely, on my own out there on the moors.

But glorious? Beautiful? Yes it certainly was, and for all that I don't go there any more, I'm sure it still is. Beautiful in a fashion all its own. Or perhaps the word I'm searching for is unique. Uniquely dramatic . . . gloriously wild . . . positively neolithic, in its outcrops and standing stones, and prehistoric in the isolation and sometimes desolation of its secret, if not sacred, places.

As for outcrops, standing stones and such: well, now we're back to the tors.

On Eastern Dartmoor my mother and I had painted that amazing jumble of rocks, one of the largest outcrops in the National Park, known as Hound Tor (no connection to Doyle's hound, at least not to my knowledge). But along with a host of other gigantic stacks, such as the awesome Haytor Rock or Vixen Tor, the Hound hadn't been one of Ma's favourites. Many a lesser pile or tranquil river location had been easier to translate to canvas, board, or art paper. It wasn't that we were idle, or lacking in skill or patience-certainly not my mother, whose true-to-life pictures were full of the most intricate detail-but that the necessities of life and the endless hours required to trap such monsters simply didn't match up to our limited time. One single significant feature of any given rock could take Ma a whole day to satisfactorily transcribe in oils! And because I only rarely got things right at the first pass, they sometimes took me even longer. Which is why we were satisfied to paint less awesome or awkward subjects, and closer to home whenever possible.

Ah, but when I say "closer to home" . . . surely Dartmoor is only a moor? What's a few miles between friends? Let me correct you:

Dartmoor is three hundred and fifty square miles of mists, mires, woodlands, rushing rivers, tors carved in an age of ice, small villages, lonely farmsteads, and mazy paths; all of which forms the largest tract of unenclosed land in southern England. The landscape may range in just a few miles from barren, naked summits-several over five hundred metres in height-through heather-clad moorland, to marsh and sucking bog. There, in four national nature reserves and numerous protected sites, Dartmoor preserves an astonishing variety of plants and wildlife; all of this a mere twenty miles from Plymouth to the south, and a like distance from Exeter to the east.

Parts of the moor's exposed heath contain the remains of Bronze and Iron Age settlements, now home to the hardy Dartmoor ponies; but the River Dart's lush valley-cut through tens of thousands of years of planetary evolution-displays the softer side of rural Devon, where thatched cottages, tiny villages, and ancient inns seem almost hidden away in the shady lee of knolls or protective hollows.

Dartmoor is, in short, a fascinating fantasy region, where several of the tors have their own ghosts-which is only to be expected in such a place-but I fancy their ectoplasm is only a matter of mist, myth, and legend. Most of them. Some of them, certainly . . .

I won't say where I went that first time-which is to say the first time anything peculiar happened-for reasons which will become amply apparent, but it was close to one of our favourite places. Close to, but not the precise spot, for that would have meant feeling my mother's presence. Her memory, or my memory of her, in that place, might have interfered with my concentration. And I'm not talking about ghosts here, just memories, nostalgia if you like: a sentimental longing for times spent with someone who had loved me all of her life, now gone forever. And if that makes me seem weak, then explain to me how even strong men find themselves still crying over a pet dog dead for months and even years, let alone a beloved parent.

And there is no paradox here, in my remembering yet needing to hold the memories to some degree at bay. I missed my Ma, yes, but I knew that I couldn't go on mourning her for the rest of my life.

Anyway, it was in the late summer-in fact August, this time of year-when less than an hour's drive had taken me onto the moor and along a certain second-class road, to a spot where I parked my car in a lay-by near a crossroads track leading off across the heather. Maybe a quarter-mile away there was a small domed hill, which faced across a shaded shallow depression, one of Dartmoor's more accessible tors: an oddly unbalanced outcrop that looked for all the world as if it had been built of enormous, worn and rounded dominoes by some erratic Titan infant and was now trying hard not to topple over. An illusion, naturally, because it was entirely possible that this was just one massive rock, grooved by time and the elements into a semblance of many separate horizontal layers. And here I think I had better give the stack a name-even one of my own coining-rather than simply call it a tor. Let's call it Tumble Tor, if only because it looked as if at any moment it just might!

My mother and I had tried to paint Tumble Tor on a number of occasions, never with any great success. So maybe I could do it now and at least finish a job that we had frequently started and just as often left unresolved. That was the idea, my reason for being there, but as stated I would not be painting from any previously occupied vantage point. Indeed, since the moors seem to change from day to day and (obviously) more radically season to season, it would be almost impossible to say precisely where those vantage points had been. My best bet was to simply plunk myself down in a spot which felt totally strange, and that way be sure that I'd never been there before.

As for painting: I wouldn't actually be doing any, not on this, my first unaccompanied visit to Tumble Tor. Instead I intended to prepare a detailed pencil sketch, and in that way get as well acquainted as possible with the monolith before attempting the greater familiarity of oils and colour. In my opinion, one has to respect one's subjects.

It had been a long hot summer and the ground was very hard underfoot, the soil crumbling as I climbed perhaps one third of the way up the knoll to a stone-strewn landing where the ground lev...

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