Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"A Peg on Which to Hang"

"A Peg on Which to Hang"
from They Return at Evening
by H.R. Wakefield

They Return at Evening is a collection of ghost stories by H.R. Wakefield.  It's his first such collection, published in 1928.  I'll be posting reactions to stories individually.


A journalist and three of his best chums gather for one of their regularly scheduled golfing vacations.  When they arrive at their hotel, the owner informs them that he has only three rooms available and that the fourth man will have to go a short distance away to stay at another (lesser) establishment.  The journalist will have none of it, because he has taken pains to reserve the rooms well in advance.  (Where is his room, dammit?!  He wants his room!  He knows you have it hidden away, somewhere.  Now, fork it over-- or else!)  Sure enough, after the application of a little pressure, it comes to light that there is a fourth room.  It gives a bad first (and second, third, etc.) impression, but Mr. Stubborn insists on taking it.  He is consequently witness to a haunting, but-- I regret to inform*-- escapes unscathed.  A very tidy (if somewhat boring) explanation follows.

* Well!  I don't like the guy!  ...And he is only a fictional character.  Though, if I could wish a less harmless haunting on a flesh and blood person, there might be a few politicians... ahem!  Back to the story!

My Reaction:
It was passable.  Nothing exceptional, but there are a few creepy moments.

-- Based on what I can recall of the other short story titles in this volume, I think this one wins the dubious "Creepiest Title" award.  Maybe not until you've finished the story-- but when you have... ~shudder~  (As a macabre side note, that must've been one sturdy peg...)

--  "'Looked at dispassionately, the evidence for such phenomena [hauntings] is far more catholic and irrefutable than is the evidence for ninety-nine things out of a hundred which are accepted without question.'"  ...Really?  I don't think so.  The character goes on to recommend a book-- Thirty Years of Psychical Research, by Richet-- as "full and detailed" evidence.  I double-dog dare you to find a copy and read it.  ;o) (Or maybe you're like me-- completely insusceptible to dares of any degree of dogginess (???).  Go ahead, dare me anything you like, and I'll astound you by my ability to not care one way or the other.  Go on, do it!  I dare ya!)

--  "In how unreal, unearthly a way the moon painted the world sometimes!  The view from the window, for example-- how uncertain in a sense, unfamiliar, as if it were a reflection from a mind not his own; certain pictures of Cézanne gave one that tingling, groping 'let me get back to reality' feeling."  I'll admit that I couldn't remember any of Cézanne's works, so I looked online (for a couple of minutes only, because... not captivated).  I didn't get the tingling, groping feeling, at all.  Oh well.  (A.P. Ryder seems better suited for that mention.)

--  "Instead of sinking at once into that ten-fathom-deep slumber to which a flawless conscience and eighteen strenuous holes entitled him, he passed into that exasperating border state where detached and leering images come flocking into one's head, endlessly and inanely telescoping one another, composing indefinable patterns, humiliating puerilities, a state where there is neither the controlled rationality of full consciousness nor the deliciously serio-comic pantomime of the land of dreams.  'This region,' he decided, 'is the nearest approach to an understanding of that buzzing, wavering kaleidoscope called lunacy, which the sane person ever reaches.  The mind can neither control, nor quite lose control of, these regurgitations of the memory-- for that is what they must be.'"

--  This story reminded me of one of M.R. James' stories set in hotels-- "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad"-- though I'm not sure the two have that much in common, beyond the fact that both involve hotel rooms and ghosts.

-- Anytime I read a scary story set in a hotel room, I always think of the movie titled 1408.  It doesn't have the highest rating, but for some reason it's stuck with me, and I still think it's pretty scary...  This one, with its setup of "oh, yeah, we do have another vacancy, but..." really brought back the memories-- but that was about it.  Tame by comparison.

-- Apparently the room is fine to stay in the rest of the year-- it's just that one night that there's any issue-- but no thanks.  I'd rather not stay in a hotel room with that kind of history-- just like I'd probably pass up a great deal on a "murder house".  I'd know it was "just a house", but I don't think I could ever feel really comfortable in it.  Obsessively remembering what had happened in it would taint it for me.  (One of the benefits of living in a house we built ourselves-- or "had built".  New houses have no soul, you say?  Well, there are no troubling ghosts or shadows of the past, either.  A clean slate.)