Friday, 4 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - D is For Disturbing, Dickens & Dean Castle

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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Today we're visiting Scotland on my tour of British Hauntings, Dean Castle, to be precise. Plus I'll be waxing lyrical about Charles Dickens and what I think makes ghost stories wonderfully disturbing.







D is for Disturbing

The job of any good ghost story, in my opinion, is to give you shivers down your spine, to make you wonder if that movement in the corner of your vision was real; in short, a spooky story should disturb its reader. I don't know about anyone else, but I have to pick and choose when I read or watch ghost stories, because, if it's a good one, it leaves me with an over active imagination and the jitters. If I'm home alone, forget it, no ghost stories for me :).

Sadly, a lot of modern horror goes in for gore and shock value rather than a good, lasting scare, but one bunch of film makers who have held onto the ability to disturb is the Japanese. The likes of Ju-on: The Grudge, and Dark Water, use all the old tricks of camera angles, weird sounds and good story telling to create scares aplenty. I have to say, when in Ju-on, they broke the first rule of being scared at night, that when you're under the covers, nothing can get to you, I did freak out a little.;P These ghosts are not necessarily fast moving, in fact, once again, in The Grudge, the slow progress of the murdered woman down the stairs, slithering towards the terrified watcher, is exquisite in how it unsettles.

The Woman In Black, Hammer Horror's 2012 offering starring Daniel Radcliffe, make me hopeful for the future of British horror cinema as well. Where we see the mysterious ghost reflected in mirrors, gliding up on our unsuspecting hero and gradually increasing her presence. All very creepy and a movie I can go back to again and again, it never stops making me shiver.

On the page, we have no music, no camera angles, but we do have half-seen images, eerie sounds being described, and all the same tools of the film industry. Less is often more when it comes to disturbing the reader, dropping hints, leaving a trail of unease. And it is this kind of slow build up to terror that I relish when reading a ghost story.

by Sophie Duncan


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Tris tried to shut out the waves of yelling, breaking glass and other violence that was rolling down the street from the estate, since it was making him nauseous. He stepped into the shop through its shattered front window, ducking under the buckled security blind and Jonesy and Blink followed him in. 

"Armed police!" he yelled into the interior, moving faster now.

The place had been turned over, army surplice, swords and other weapons scattered over the floor. That was why they were there, to secure the scene and stop any more mobs running around with the contents of the place that looked like it was equipping customers for the next apocalypse. He headed quickly towards the back of the shop, his teammates fanning out behind him to cover the tightly packed space, and he peered into the gloom where the lights had all been smashed. He'd dealt with dozens of raids, but it really did look like world war III, and, even with eighteen months experience, Tris' heart hammered in his chest.

"Armed police," he yelled again, his call echoed by the others, and he scanned the shadows efficiently.

"Clear!" Blink called as she reached the back wall on her side.

"Clear!" Jonesy added and Tris began to relax a little.

He stepped round an upturned set of shelves to get to the back of the shop, attention on the counter in front of him with what, from the restricted light of the torch on his uniform, looked like a smashed register. A wild shriek erupted into the darkness and sent such a jolt through his entire body that Tris took an involuntary step back as a pile of boxes to his left exploded in all directions.

"Armed police!" he barked again, training kicking in, but the figure in front of him screamed madly, waving its hands and it was his hours of training again that picked out the shape of a gun in one of them.

"Drop the gun!" he yelled, taking another step back and aiming at the threat. "Drop the gun!"

There was no coherent reaction, just more animalistic wailing and the gun came in Tris' direction. Not quite believing he was doing it, he went into automatic and fired. The shadowy attacker dropped instantly with a grunt of shock and the gun went clattering away across a pile of knives.

"Man down, man down!" Tris yelled, closing in, his own weapon still raised, and then his torch lit up the visage of this terror.

Tris froze for a moment in horror as he looked down on the face of a panting, terrified Asian kid. The screams took on a new meaning then as he recognised the tenor of fear that had been in them, and, dropping to his knees, he reached for the bloody mess that was oozing through the boy's T-shirt.

"Call an ambulance," he yelled at Blink, "for god-sake it's a boy, call a bloody ambulance."

He put his hands over the wound, pushing down on the incredible flow of blood and the boy whined.

"It's okay, you're going to be okay," he promised breathlessly, his own chest tightening with the horror of what he'd done.

He looked right into the kid's eyes, so sorry for the wide fear that drew him in. Yet, the terror was nothing compared to when the helplessness flickered and, right in front of him, went out.

"No, no!" Tris moaned as the life under his hands just stopped.

Tris woke with a breath of disbelief on his lips and Abdi's young, frightened face in his mind's eyes. It held him now as it had then, leaving him paralysed with horror and overwhelming regret. He couldn't move, it felt like a weight was sitting on his chest and legs, even as dream and waking merged.

Unlike London, where there was always a street light somewhere to offer its yellow glow to a room, this place was pitch black, offering no landmark or reminder of reality. Despite knowing he was lying on the makeshift bed next to Xander, Abdi's pleading eyes looked straight into his and Tris could not look away. He could do nothing but surrender to the accusation in that innocent, young face, his breathing ragged and his body rigid. This was his demon and it was never going to stop, he knew that now. There could be no happiness for him, no forgiveness, whatever the law said, and the tears that trickled out of the corners of his eyes stung his blind vision with the truth of it. No traffic noise, no street lighting, just the harshness of his own breathing kept Tris company as he stared out into the blackness that was beginning to move in front of his eyes.

His own gasps for air were so loud, Tris almost didn't hear it: the creak of a floorboard just outside their door in the corridor. Yet, when it came a second time, maybe even a little nearer, Tris caught his breath and held it silent. There it was again, the ache of the old house, but it was right on the sill of the door this time and Tris shivered. He let out the air he was holding in a tight huff, gasping in another and holding it again. He couldn't see anything, but he heard the door hinges whine for just a second. His senses on overdrive now, Tris strained to listen to the nighttime around him and his body chilled as he heard the rustle of cloth on cloth followed by the creak of another floorboard, inside the room this time.

Holding his breath only made the tension and weight on his chest worse and Tris gasped quietly and quickly as air refused to stay in his lungs. The whisper of material mixed with his own pants for air, taunting his hearing with the unseen presence. Something was coming nearer, creak by creak and rustle by rustle. He could do nothing but listen and Tris closed his eyes against the darkness. Yet, it was even worse when the sounds stopped, leaving his breathing taut and alone. He could feel them looming over the bed now, unseen and unheard, but something was there, witness to his helpless guilt.

Tris shuddered and forced out a whine. Xander moved instantly beside him and relief flooded Tris' system as hands took hold of him and pulled him in. His muscles unlocked, but turned to water and he only weakly reached back, gasping and shuddering as Xander sat them up.

"It's okay, Tris, it's okay," Xander soothed, no need for explanation as the night terror slipped into perspective.

Still, as the terror left, the sorrow of his memories welled up in Tris and he had to let it out. His whimpers became a moan and then sobs as, perspective, or no, Adbi's face remained firmly in his mind.


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Author Info: Charles Dickens

I have to declare myself again, I am not a huge fan of Dickens' most famous novels. I cannot stomach Great Expectations, and I'm not that fond of The Pickwick Papers, but I do enjoy his ghost stories. :) The most famous of these spooky tales is, of course, A Christmas Carol, a tale of the redemption of an evil old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, through the visit of four ghosts: first his old partner, Jacob Marley, and then three spirits of Christmases Past, Present & Future. The visit of Marley draws heavily on the trope of the forlorn ghost, punished for his worldly sins, desperate to make good. And I find Marley the second most scary of the four ghosts, the worst being the hooded, nightmare creature from Christmases yet to come.

A Christmas Carol, is a fun, spooky tale, feeding into the Christmas tradition of ghost stories round the fire. Dickens also wrote other though, one of his best being The Signal-man. A tale of premonition and a mysterious figure plaguing a lonely railway signal-man. The story carries a sense of foreboding all the way through it as our protagonist hears the poor man's story, his melancholy and trouble gradually building our sense of concern for him.

So, thanks to gems such as these, although I won't recommend Dickens for classic novels, I will recommend him for his ghost stories. :)

British Hauntings: Dean Castle, Scotland

I'm hopping over the border today, to tell you about Dean Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland. This castle now plays host to a museum, but was once the family home of the Boyd family. The famous ghost attached to this castle was short-lived and was, in fact, the ghost of a living person, or rather just his head. William Boyd, 4th Earl of Kilmarnock, was an enthusiastic Jacobite, supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie in his claim to the British throne.

Shortly before the Jacobite Rising, however, servants in Dead Castle began to report seeing the ghost of William Boyd's head rolling around the floors of one of the castle's rooms. It was the Earl of Galloway who then told Boyd this was a portent of doom, although, someone seeing your severed head rolling around one of your own rooms must, I think, have given Boyd a hint that something was amiss!

Well, as everyone knows, after their defeat at Culloden, the rising was beaten and Boyd was eventually captured. He was taken to London, tried and executed by treason, and, yes, he was beheaded. So, I think it's fair to say, if you see your own head rolling around the floor, change your plans ;P.

I'd love to hear your own spooky stories, add them to the blog comments. :)

A few of us discovered that we all had supernatural themes for the AtoZ so we got together and did a mini list. If you also have a supernatural theme (ghosts, monsters, witches, spells etc), please feel free to add yourself to the list.

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36 comments:

  1. I can't watch any ghost stuff after dark. Even with hubby home I get too scared.

    ~Patricia Lynne~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, YA Author

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    1. I end up with lots of lights on, even when the house is full of people - I'm a total coward :)

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  2. LOL yes I think I'd totally take a vision of my head rolling around on the floor as a definitely sign especially since we have some beheadings way back in our family line by some men who picked...the wrong side of things. lol I'd be changing my plans right quick. heh

    Happy A to Z-ing!
    ~Anna
    herding cats & burning soup.

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    1. That is one hell of a family history! It was unfortunate in olden days, picking the wrong side generally got you killed ;)

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  3. This is great Sophie. I like your thoughts on Dickens and thought the entire post a wonderful read. The tale of Boyd does make a creepy story, and I love it too.

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    1. Thanks. The Boyd family does have a creepy history, doesn't it :)

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  4. Trying to remember if we've visited Dean Castle? Been to a few, but not sure. I love Dickens, and Great Expectations is my favourite. But hey, its not to everyone's taste! ;)
    Story today, outstanding. You captured the art of being intense without going over the top. I won't use creepy as I don't find ghost stories or films scary.
    Have a great day and see you again tomorrow. :)

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    1. Thanks, glad I got the tension right for you :)
      I've never been to Dean Castle, it's one of those on my 'to do' list if I get up that way again.

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  5. It wasn't the ghost scared me in The Woman in Black. It was those dolls. They were seriously creepy. And whatever happened to the dog? It just disappeared?

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    1. I know what you mean about all the dolls in TWIB - I don't like automota and there were so many in the nursery - and the broken ones in the attic were creepy as well. In the book, the dog is lured out into the marsh and Arthur thinks her dead, but she in fact runs home and that is why Sam turns up.

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  6. If I saw my severed head rolling around on the floor I'd run screaming in the other direction and set up shop somewhere with locked doors :). Great post as eer.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings - AtoZ (Vampires)

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    1. I think I'd be right there with you!

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  7. I don't like horror films (vamps and ghosts - you're a gruesome two)
    But I definitely agree it's the unknown thats scary not the special effect gore. Films now waste too much budget on effects; bigger explosions more gorss you out images. The sense of something behind you, the tension building as you wait to see, a sudden jump - far more visceral.

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    1. Sorry, yeah we're pretty gruesome ;P
      I think the advent of CGI has a lot to answer for - when animation was difficult, they had to rely on more tension.
      Thanks for commenting, even if horror isn't your cup of tea :)

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  8. I'm a huge fan of A Christmas Carol. I thought Great Expectation was too depressing.

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  9. You mentioned Japanese horror films. The Japanese are masters at creating disturbing visuals by including unique camera angles and more.

    Precious Monsters

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    1. Oh yes, the camera is used so expertly in Japanese horror films :) - I think it may be something else that is lost in all this 3D and CGI'd Hollywood.

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  10. I never knew living people can have ghosts. Fascinating :)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Tales of colors
    MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...

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    1. There's a whole category of apparitions called crisis ghosts, when people can appear, generally to their loved ones, at a time of great stress in their lives - this can be at the point of death, or just in a moment of turmoil. Some suggest it may be telepathy/astral projection that causes these phenomena.

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  11. I loved the Woman in Black. Such a great ghost story and Daniel Radcliffe was excellent.

    I am a fan of Dickens, but not an uber-fan by any stretch of the imagination.

    --
    Timothy S. Brannan
    The Other Side, April Blog Challenge: The A to Z of Witches

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    1. Considering a lot of the movie and most of the scary stuff was Dan on his own carrying the scene (not including the ghosts of course), I agree, he did an amazing job.

      I do wonder what label Dickens would be given if he published now, i.e. without the 'classic' billing he has due to the age of his work.

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  12. I also don't like to watch or read ghost stories when it's late, and sometimes feel a bit uneasy if I'm alone. I'm even more freaked out by watching anything having to do with aliens, either alone or period.

    It's probably a bit contradictory how I love Lon Chaney, Sr., and have never had a problem with watching even his creepiest films by myself or at night.

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    1. It's not contradictory, I'm like you, actually, some of the old movies don't have the same terror effect on me, I'm not sure what it is though...

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  13. I'd love to go to a haunted castle...or any castle. :) Sometimes, I feel like my house is haunted. Like when kids toys start playing music when it's dark and no one is near them. I hate that.

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    1. I'd get wigged out about toys just starting up in the dark too o.O

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  14. I so agree with you about the difference between a story sending chills down your spine and all that gore that is produced today. I loved the ghost stories of my childhood, well told by my dad.

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    1. The ones from childhood are always the best, because they still hold the magic of listening to them when young :)

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  15. I absolutely agree with you about the movie, THE WOMAN IN BLACK. My favorite kind of horror movies are the more subtle ones, the ones that creep you out rather than gross you out.

    Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption
    Minion, Capt. Alex's Ninja Minion Army
    The 2014 Blogging from A-Z Challenge

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    1. That seems to be the general opinion here, we all prefer creepy rather than gross. :)

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  16. I haven't seen The Woman in Black yet, and been looking for a good ghost movie. All the American ones are getting derivative. They're good up to a point, but then the reveals usual spoil the scary atmosphere they've built up.

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    1. I know what you mean about the reveal, sometimes they can be a bit of a let down. The Woman In Black doesn't have that problem at all :)

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  17. Great, tension filled excerpt!

    I'm not a huge fan of horror now, but back in the day I was. Awesome post!

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    1. Thank you :) My tastes in horror have changed over the years as well. I certainly don't scare as easily as I did as when I was a teenager, I'm much more picky about my horror, I think it's why I like scares more than gore. :)

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  18. I'm guessing I shouldn't have read this at 1am *glances nervously over shoulder*. Between your "disturbing" beginning, tension-filled middle and haunting end, I'm done for:) I'll be back for more!

    WriterlySam
    A to Z #TeamDamyanti

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    1. Y'know part of me is sorry to have made you nervous and the rest of me, the writer is chanting 'yes, yes, yes'! Thanks for stopping by :D

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Thanks for stopping by - I'd love to hear from you. :)