Posts Tagged haunting

‘In Darkness, Shadows Breathe’, by Catherine Cavendish

NetGalley kindly provided a review copy of this book, but my opinions are my own.

Spooky hospitals seem to be their own trend in recent horror. From ‘The Ward‘ to ‘American Horror Story: Asylum‘, we’ve seen so many protagonists fight their way free of institutions that are supposed to be helping them. Perhaps timely in this crazy year?

This book takes the best of such tropes and combines them into a modern gothic tale that gripped me immediately with its spooky atmosphere, despite being set in a very mundane world – at least at first.

We initially follow Carol, a down-to-earth supermarket worker who’s flat-sitting in a posh apartment complex. But it’s adjacent to a hospital that was refurbished from a building with a much darker purpose… and soon this very 21st-century lady is being drawn back in time.

About halfway through, the action jumps to Nessa, a patient in the hospital undergoing a pretty intense operation. From the easy familiarity of Carol’s life, we suddenly find ourselves with a woman going through a traumatic fight with cancer. It’s a bit of a jarring leap, but we quickly find out what they have in common – besides strange dreams (memories?) of a filthy secret corridor echoing with screams.

I don’t want to give any more away, but a thread of uncertainty runs through the book as to whether our protagonists are hallucinating due to medication, going actually mad, or somehow really experiencing supernatural horrors that are tied up with the hospital’s history.

I enjoyed the start of this book. A brief prologue reminded me of Dennis Wheatley somewhat, before settling down into ultra-normality. Once we relate to the character, strange things start to happen, making it easy to ask what we would do in her situation. So far, so good.

The writing is beautiful and an absolute pleasure to read, with the transition from modern renal ward to Victorian squalor (or reality to Otherworld) being almost tangible.

However, the leap from one character to another is sudden and, for me, rather awkward. Nessa’s cancer treatments are focused on quite closely, and that’s a very different type of horror. When we see Carol again, I was left wondering what happened during the time we weren’t with her – because something certainly had.

The book demands a bit of work on the reader’s part, I think, to keep up with what’s going on in several deliberately confusing scenarios. Hospital staff don’t seem to act rationally, and the dreamlike quality of the ghostly scenes draws you along. It all seems to be heading for some sort of dramatic crescendo, as you think the characters have broken free to safety…

And then the book stops.

I don’t think this is a cliff-hanger, but it was shocking in the worst way. Nothing was resolved, I was left wondering what would happen next, and the commitment to both Carol and Nessa’s battles seemed wasted. It’s almost as if the author wanted a ‘Seven’-like twist, but couldn’t quite manage it.

I did enjoy the majority of this book, but it left me wanting more. I found myself making up ‘head-canon’ for the characters, because I genuinely did like them and I wanted more than the author gives. The final part of the novel appears to have vanished.

Do check this out if you like a bit of modern gothic on a dark winter night. Personally though, it left me feeling that the protagonists had checked out of the story early, as well as the hospital.

Available to pre-order on Amazon, for release mid-January 2021.

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Everybody Knows…

I’ve noticed that one of the most common conversation-starters recently is ‘You’re never going to believe this but…’ or ‘I’m not crazy but…’

When people find out that you may be even a little bit sympathetic or knowledgeable about ‘the supernatural’, the stories start flowing. Ghosts, strange experiences, things that you don’t talk about as a matter of normal life for fear of being mocked, embarrassed or locked up in a room with rubber walls and crayons.

This week, I heard some wonderful tales about a ghost kitten that plays with the living cats around a house, a policeman who still performs his duties in what is now a domestic residence, the comparative effect of personal energy levels based on the weather, crystals or other people… call it what you will, there are things in this world that are currently unexplainable, but commonly felt.

I’ve never studied science formally past GCSE level, but have become fascinated with quantum theory and the effect of energies as we discover more and more about this great universe. I once asked an online science forum whether there were any studies of human energies (eg auric fields and suchlike) with a view to investigating how they can affect and be affected by their surroundings. Given that we clearly produce energy – by being living beings – the response I received was rather surprising. “Why bother, what’s the point?” Basically, such theories would be ‘bad science’, and best left to the likes of Uri Geller.

And yet, the theory is clearly tacitly understood by most of us. The ‘Matrix’ movies openly suggest human bodies can be used as batteries. A unit of energy consumed and burned by every one of us every day is immediately familiar – the calorie. These are the same calories that can be quantified by burning any fuel: coal has a calorie content (bad news for those pregnant ladies out there).

One of the basic beginner lessons in most ‘magic’ or energy work texts is the simple game of rubbing your hands together fast, then separating them while still remaining aware of the charge between your palms. Once you become more skilled, you can become able to sense (or even see) the energies of others, or direct focused energy yourself. From using a wand, a staff or even your finger, most of us have been ‘zapped’ at one time or another – hence ‘grounding’ is also a crucial beginner lesson.

Short of being nervous of the unknown, I am puzzled as to why so many feel such familiar actions or mysteries are not worthy of study – perhaps because the empirical scientific method may not be able to accurately assign meaning and category easily. Surely Jung’s widely known theories of the collective unconscious are worth pursuing? If divination is bunkum, why is it still practised – and practised successfully? There are still many things to be discovered about both the world around us and ourselves in relationship – curiosity should be encouraged, not stifled!

As I said at the beginning,  a lot of people simply want to tell me about their experiences, with a look in their eyes that just hopes I understand. They’re not mad. They experienced something as real as a handshake, as solid as a wall, as visible and tangible as anything else around us. To be then told that this was somehow ‘not valid, not real’ is both disrespectful and, frankly, ignorant.

Why simply ignore another’s story? Dismissing someone without listening, without even attempting to understand, degrades them and prevents you from possibly learning something new. Even if it’s something so unusual, unfamiliar or frightening, I try my best to comprehend what they experienced, to listen to the tone beyond the words – why are they telling me? Do they expect me to have an explanation (sometimes), or just wanting to be heard (more usually)?

Yes, sometimes judgment is impaired. Sometimes there is misdirection going on, misunderstanding or simply assigning the unusual to a basic activity for the sake of excitement or a ‘wow’ factor. But still, it can make a good story! Very few tales are utterly worthless; there is always a reason behind the telling, as well as the ‘data’ involved. Is it worth exploring further? Maybe, maybe not – but we all know, inside, that everyone has experienced something unexplainable. It’s whether they are brave enough to look deeper, or not.

If you’re walking this path of modern paganism, you’ll have experienced so much unusual ‘stuff’ that it’s probably not even unusual anymore. That’s the next level – realizing that the ‘supernatural’ isn’t. Even if we can’t quantify it with statistics, what exists in nature is, by definition, natural. So our experience is immediately validated – let’s press on, try to see what it means.

We’re just starting to move clearly into the dark time of the year. People are starting to think about Halloween, ghost-walks are going on in town centres, the television is full of ‘alternative’ entertainment. Ultimately, we as society like a good story, and a ghost story around the campfire is a tradition as old as humanity. We come to learn about living with the unexplained because we have to – there’s not an easy answer to everything.

But as the scientist can explain the intricacies of a healing drug, the engineer the workings of technology, so the druid, shaman or priest can help with the stranger side of life. Yes, it can be silly or funny to hear about a ‘supernatural’ experience… but it can also be deeply disturbing. This is why most feel the need to share with an ‘specialist’. Why they come up to me and nervously stammer ‘you’ll probably think I’m nuts, but…’

No. I don’t. I’ll listen. And then we’ll see what next. We move on together, explore, work with that connection.

Life is full of magic and mystery, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s up to us what we make of it.

Keep exploring, friends. The fire’s burning over here, if you want to come and sit awhile.

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