…or alternatively – run, run, RUN!!!
I haven’t read a lot of MR James, mainly because any time I do I come away thinking that they are well written but not very scary. However, the last time I mentioned that, my old mate Lady Fancifull declared that this story made her ‘clammy spined’ – a wondrous expression, I feel, and one that should be investigated further. So here goes – another chance for Mr James to redeem himself on this week’s…
Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad
by MR James
Professor Parkins proposes to spend his holiday playing golf in the seaside town of Burnstow on the East Coast. An archaeological colleague asks him if, while there, he would mind having a look at the site of an ancient Templar preceptory with a view to determining whether it would be worth having a dig there. The Professor agrees, since he will be staying very near to the ruins, in the Globe Inn. Another colleague jokes that he hopes there will be no ghosts in the Inn, which sets Parkins off on what appears to be a well worn lecture…
“ – I hold that any semblance, any appearance of concession to the view that such things might exist is equivalent to a renunciation of all that I hold most sacred.”
(You just know he’s going to have to eat those words, don’t you?) Off he goes, and finds on arrival at the Inn that the room he has been given has two beds in it, no singles being available, and the three windows face out to the shore.
The following day Parkins spends the morning playing golf with a fellow guest, Colonel Wilson, and in the afternoon toddles off to look at the Templar site. Digging around, he finds a recess in the structure and when he feels inside he discovers a little metal cylinder, which he promptly pockets (this being the Englishman’s normal behaviour whenever coming across anything of archaeological interest).
Bleak and solemn was the view on which he took a last look before starting homeward. A faint yellow light in the west showed the links, on which a few figures moving towards the club-house were still visible, the squat martello tower, the lights of Aldsey village, the pale ribbon of sands intersected at intervals by black wooden groynes, the dim and murmuring sea.
As he looks behind him, he sees a strange figure apparently trying to catch up to him, but he hurries on to the Inn.
Late that evening, he finds the metal cylinder in his pocket and, by the light of his candles, he discovers it’s a whistle, inscribed in Latin. Part of the inscription is Quis est iste qui venit – Who is this who is coming? But he can’t work out the other part, FLA FUR BIS FLE (nor me, but Google can!), which is a pity since it might have stopped him blowing it. But blow it he does…
It was a sound…that seemed to have the power…of forming pictures in the brain. He saw quite clearly for a moment a vision of a wide, dark expanse at night, with a fresh wind blowing and in the midst a lonely figure – how employed, he could not tell. Perhaps he would have seen more had not the picture been broken by the sudden surge of a gust of wind against his casement, so sudden that it made him look up, just in time to see the white glint of a sea-bird’s wing somewhere outside the dark panes.
The wind grows stronger, blowing open his window and blowing out the candles! Finally wrestling the window shut again, he tries to compose himself to sleep. But each time he closes his eyes, the same pictures appear to him – a long stretch of shore like the one outside his window, and a man running, running in fear – but of what? And then Parkins sees what is chasing the man…
…a figure in pale, fluttering draperies, ill-defined. There was something about its motion which made Parkins very unwilling to see it at close quarters. It would stop, raise arms, bow itself toward the sand, then run stooping across the beach to the water-edge and back again; and then, rising upright, once more continue its course forward at a speed that was startling and terrifying.
Eventually Parkins falls asleep, but not before hearing some strange sounds, he thinks rats perhaps, scuttling across the room towards the other, empty bed…
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Hurrah! An MR James story that is actually creepy! It’s also well written and has a lot of humour in it – especially around Parkins trying to maintain his disbelief in the supernatural despite the mysterious goings on in the other bed. Personally I’d have been out of that room sharpish, before evening fell, but he always manages to find a ‘rational’ explanation, however unlikely. At the point where a young boy is seen running away from the hotel shrieking about a horrible figure in the window – yes, of course, Parkins’ window – even the grouchy Colonel is beginning to have doubts, but not Parkins! Of course, if people did the sensible thing and ran away there wouldn’t be so many good horror stories – and this is a good one! It’s not too long – about 8,000 words – so here’s a link if you’d like to read it and find out what happens the next night…
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PS The title is taken from a poem by Robert Burns – James was clearly a man of impeccable taste! Needless to say, Burns’ poem is about love rather than ghosties…
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Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯
Overall story rating: 😀 😀 😀 😀