Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts 2021

It is a truth universally acknowledged, thought Lady Penelope Hill, the Baroness Hill of Potheride, that a widowed lady in possession of no fortune must have been in want of a husband adverse to speculating. Or gambling. Or drink. Or wenching. Or in the case of the late Baron Hill, who had gone on to his eternal reward while tipsily attempting to mount a stallion he’d won in a card game, all four.

Lady Hill, formerly Miss Penelople Smith, merchant’s daughter — lover of unladylike pursuits such as playing cricket, riding on the hunt, and laughing at ear-ringing volume over her father’s notorious limericks — passionately hoped that what her deceased husband would receive for his deeds done in the flesh would include sulfur and brimstone and fire. Lots and lots of fire. Even before the funeral, tales had tortuously wound their way to her about his many mistresses, more than she could count on both hands. The whispers and pointed looks had not exactly vexed Penelope, who’d not remained entirely ignorant of Billy’s dalliances.

The resignations from the household staff, though, that had caught her off guard. So had the balances (or lack thereof) in Billy’s bank accounts. And so had the news from a grim-faced solicitor that the proverbial vultures were circling and her days in the estate were numbered unless the Almighty shed a special dispensation of his grace upon her, a grace denominated in pounds and with a great many zeroes at the end of the sum. So far, the much-needed miracle had failed to materialize, and Penelope was down to a pair of servants: a bowed-backed butler who pulled double duty as a cook and a Bulgarian lady’s maid with a wen-marred cheek.

And for all that, Lady Penelope Hill (who knew any paper on which her title was inscribed would soon be worth more than the honorific itself) suspected that she knew only the outermost edges of her husband’s transgressions.

There were hints, clues, traces of something … something … Penelope didn’t know what. Something other. Something worse. The collection of books in indecipherable languages secreted away in a clandestine compartment in Billy’s desk. How the maid would twister her hands into foreign warding gestures whenever she passed by Billy’s old chamber. The way the flames in the hearth seemed to take on bizarre colors in the wee hours that Penelope couldn’t describe. The old blood stains she’d discovered beneath a scattering of straw in the stables, stains upon stains upon stains.

Those stains told stories, and she was afraid what she would hear if she listened ...

* * *

Dear writerly friends, welcome to Advent Ghosts 2021, the twelfth annual shared storytelling event at ISLF. For more than a decade, a group of us have kept alive the peculiarly British tradition of sharing spooky stories around Christmas time. Think of Neil Gaiman’s "Nicholas Was ..." or Jeanette Winterson’s "Dark Christmas" or anything by M.R. James, the best-known figure for spooky Christmas stories. (A couple of my personal favorites are "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral" and "The Malice of Inanimate Objects.") That’s what we do — except in a very, very short form. Like, 100 words exactly. Anyone can participate, and the rules are simple:
1) Email me at ISawLightningFall [at] gmail [dot] com.
2) Pen a scary story that’s exactly 100-words long — no more, no less.
3) Post the story to your blog on Saturday, December 18, and email the link to me. Hosting on ISLF is available for those without blogs or anyone who wants to write under a pseudonym. (Don't worry, you’ll retain copyright!)
4) While you should feel free to write whatever you want to, know that I reserve the right to put a content warning on any story that I think needs it.
If you’re new to the group and would like to see some examples, give last year’s stories a gander.

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