Short stories and twisted tales

first posted at THE BOOKETTE

I love stories. I’m a writer, so that probably sounds a bit stupid. Of course I like stories, but I really really like short stories. So when I wrote this book which is composed of seven parts, each one like a short story, I also decided it would be fun to take things even further, and have a story within a story. The Unquiet Grave, the fifth part of the book, and whose titles derives from an old English folk ballad, is a ghost story, told from within a ghost story. If that sounds complicated, it isn’t too bad when you read it, I hope, though it did cause me a few headaches at the time. It is also one of the world’s only lesbian ghost stories, though I would love to be proved wrong about that, and probably will be. (Answers on a virtual postcard, please!) 

That’s why I like short stories: you can do odd things within them, experiment a bit, try things you might not want to risk trying in a whole book. Many writers made almost their whole career out of them: Poe would be a good example, many writers wrote many alongside their longer works: such as Hawthorne, and many writers never touch the form at all. The short story is particularly suited to certain genres as well, I find: science-fiction and ghost stories must be among the best examples. So The Unquiet Grave is my small offering to the traditional ghost story, with a couple of slight twists.

And here’s an extract from Part Five of Midwinterblood, The Unquiet Grave

Every night, at dusk, Merle would wander from her house, like a ghost, a mere shadow of her former beauty, and drift to the graveyard.
Every night, she would sit at Erik’s grave, waiting, waiting for him to return. Eventually, she would fall asleep, her tears lost among the steady autumn rains that pattered onto the freshly turned grave soil.
Every morning, she would stagger home to bed, a cold and fevered wretch.
Her father tried to stop her, but no matter what he did or said, Merle took no notice of him.
The days turned into weeks.
The weeks turned into months.
The months turned into a year.
And still Merle spent every night weeping at her lover’s grave.
As the year had passed however, something had happened to Merle, to her mind. It had grown tired, and been stretched beyond endurance, so that it tore, and so it was, a year and a day after Erik had been laid in the earth, that she went mad.

That night, as she slept on the grave, now well covered with grass, the gravestone softening gently with the turn of the days, she woke. 
The moon was bright, almost as bright as day.
It was a clear, calm night, as still indeed, as the grave, and she looked up to see a hare sitting on the grass, an arm’s length away.
She knew immediately who it was, or rather, who she thought it was. In her delusion, she thought the creature was her lover.
‘Erik!’ she cried, and when the hare did not run away in fright, the belief that she was right grew in her. ‘Erik!’ she declared again, laughing, the tears streaming down her face.
She put out her hand, and the hare hopped closer, and sniffed her fingers. She leaned closer, and the hare came right up to her face, to her lips. They kissed, lightly.
‘Erik!’ she said. ‘How clever!’
Then suddenly she realised something, and she sat up quickly. Now the hare bolted into the trees. 
‘But how,’ she cried. ‘How can I follow you? I must be with you, my love! How can I be with you?’
Though even as she said the words, she knew what she had to do. The idea formed in her head, like an apple ripening, and she knew what she had to do, and who she needed to help her.
On the hill, on the road out to the western isle, was an old woman, who knew the old ways.
They said she was a witch, and they were right.

© Marcus Sedgwick 2011

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