Jessica B. Bell
I am a sucker for a good ghost story – but then, I should qualify that by telling you what I think is a good ghost story. I’ve always been of the opinion that the less you see, the scarier it is. There are exceptions, of course – Guilermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak has a ghost that makes you shiver – but for the most part, special effects are, in my opinion, no match for a well-written Gothic story that hints, suggests, and frightens you with the possibility of a ghost.
Even more, I like stories where you know there are ghosts – a ghost might even be the narrator, or a main character. Or perhaps, a character whose exploits you’ve been reading is revealed to be a ghost.
There are all sorts of different philosophies or mythologies about ghosts, and when you’re writing about ghosts, you have to sort of decide what the rules of your universe are. What are ghosts? Are they demons? Are they just unlucky souls who got trapped here, unable to move on? Are they bound here by some unfinished business, like revenge? Are they aware of the living? Or is their presence merely an echo of past events, and we are only frightened by them because of a sense of violation, which is further frustrated by an inability to communicate with them.
And speaking of communicating – do they communicate? What of mediums and necromancers – can they talk to the dead? Can they be trapped? Should you cross the streams? What do you do if someone asks you if you are a god?
I think it’s great there are so many types of ghost stories – from those intended to make you pee your pants with fright, to those intended to make you laugh until you, well, pee your pants again. Not that ghost stories are only intended to make you incontinent, but it happens. One of the earliest movies that gave me nightmares was Poltergeist, and it’s still a classic. It defines an entire subgenre of ghost stories, and the horror trope of the house built on top of an old graveyard. This was the first time I’d seen a real reason behind the haunting, and it started a life-long love affair with stories about haunted hotels, creepy old psychiatric hospitals and abandoned mining towns.
I love the stories behind the ghost stories. I’m a sucker for Gothic stories, and so I want to know how the ghost died; who they were when they were alive; why they are still here. I want to know what their connection is with the person being haunted, if there is one. Because for me, a good ghost story is a tragedy. Whatever caused this soul to remain behind must have been terrible – or tragic. I’ll admit, I’m also a sucker for a ‘love conquers death’ story, where the reason the ghost stays behind is because they cannot bear to be parted from their beloved (cue Unchained Melody and bring me my potter’s wheel).
The Lessons of the Courtyard is a horror story, and it is also a tragedy – the story of a mother forced to watch her son be raised by her brutish husband, unable to temper him with a mother’s touch. Read it and more in Viscera, a collection of strange tales published by Sirens Call Publications and available now.
Jessica B. Bell is a Canadian writer of strange fiction. It is rumoured that she lives in a damp, dark basement, writing her twisted tales in her own blood on faded yellow parchment. Her stories have been published in various anthologies, the most recent of which is Voices. She also writes under the name Helena Hann-Basquiat, and has published two novels on the metafictional topic of Jessica B. Bell, titled Jessica and Singularity. A third and final novel is planned for 2017.
Find more of Jessica’s (and Helena’s) writing at whoisjessica.com