Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories: The Burning Room

I'm a sucker for ghost stories.  Simon Marshall-Jones is also, I suspect, a sucker for ghost stories; after all, he is running a publisher called Spectral Press.  So it's probably appropriate that there are (depending on which edition you buy) potentially three of the things in my forthcoming Spectral collection The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories.

The first of those is our opening tale, The Burning Room, originally published some years back in the excellent Bull Spec.  I have a theory that most ghost stories are essentially mysteries, and that's certainly true of this one: it plays out, basically, as a detective story, with the principle difference being that the crime in question is dramatised night after night, as a female tenant finds herself confronted by the tragic history of the suspiciously cheap room she's begun renting.

One impetus with many of these stories was to take a traditional genre - say, the Victorian ghost tale - and try and modernize it or otherwise upend it in some way that I found particularly interesting.  In this case, that meant giving my female protagonist a little more voice and leeway than she might have had in tales from the period.  The estimable Miss Taversham isn't one to be frightened away by things going bump in the night; instead she'd rather interpret the horror she encounters as a problem to be solved, one to be seen through to its decidedly bitter end.

Oh, and the title was meant as a reference to H. G. Wells's The Red Room, a big tonal influence and perhaps my favourite ghost story of all time.

Here's a brief sample of The Burning Room:
For all her strangeness, Mrs Faraday seemed like a blessing.  She interviewed me in a small, drab kitchen, claustrophobically gloomy with the heavy curtains drawn.  There were indications of poverty, but signs of former comfort also: the tablecloth, though faded, had once been fine; the chipped crockery in the cabinet was china of a more expensive sort. 
"I wouldn't let it," she said, "if I weren't very desperate.  I've put it off these past years since I lost my Daniel, Lord knows I have.  But times are hard."
So she was widowed.  That explained the odd mixture of penury and luxury.  "I'll be quiet, and no bother," I replied.
She stared at me.  I couldn't have hazarded a guess at her age.  Her hair was grey, her eyes seemed washed of vitality, but her skin was unlined and seemed to belong to a much younger woman.  She ran her fingertips down the swathe of crimson scarring that ran from her cheek to beyond her collarbone, and said, "Miss Taversham, it isn't myself I'm worried for.  Do you sleep deeply?"
"I imagine so.  It isn't something I've considered."
"Then probably you do.  Will you see the room?"
"I’d like to."

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