The Last Ghost and Other Stories by Marie O’Regan
Luna Press Publishing (April 2019)
148 pages; $11.99 paperback; $5.99 e-book
Reviewed by R.B. Payne
O, modern reader, do you think you are too sophisticated to fear a wistful Gaussian blur hovering above your bed in the dead of night? You tell yourself it doesn’t exist. It can’t. Surely just a retinal trick in dim light.
Then why pay attention to the rustling beneath the bed? Or the persistent scratch at the door? (Look! The cat is sleeping soundly at your feet.) Too late, perhaps, an unseen hand coldly brushes your cheek or grasps your throat.
The Last Ghost and Other Stories is, most of all, a love song to ghost stories. In these narratives, the ghosts are not just spectral figures draped in pale shrouds or black bombazine. They are real ghosts that were once people just like us. Now, they’re phantoms and apparitions. But each spirit has unique needs and purpose. And that’s what makes this a most enjoyable volume of tales to read.
In “Sleeping Black,” a home restoration project goes horribly awry, depending on your point-of-view. “In the Howling of the Wind,” an old man and his grandson wait on Christmas Eve for their family to return, but a violent snowstorm interferes with an unexpected outcome. In “Someone to Watch Over You,” a cub reporter at a newspaper finds herself losing objectivity and uncomfortably becoming part of the story she’s investigating.
Two of the the most compelling stories in the collection are “Suicide Bridge,” where a young man contemplates ending it all, and my favorite, “The Last Ghost,” which tells the tale of Lainey, a teenage girl, who is fighting for life in her hospital bed.
Like a ghost frizzing into existence, these stories develop at a guarded pace. We rub our eyes. Perhaps a ghost lurks, it hesitates, are we sure it’s really there? In the hands of Marie O’Regan, a British Fantasy Award-nominated author and editor, these seven tales each build to a resounding and satisfying conclusion. As a bonus in the volume, she provides story notes and five pages of a script written for “Suicide Bridge.”
The writing style of Ms. O’Regan is a combination of classic and modern. If you like Victorian ghost tales, you will certainly be satisfied. If you want modern themes, you will also be sated. Carefully crafted, these stories build to their haunting crescendos with pathos, fear, care, and love. Each is a pleasure to read.
So, find that rainy day, build a roaring fire in the fireplace, brew a cup of strong tea, and settle into a comfortable chair. This is a book to be read thus.
In the final analysis, we are all haunted by ghosts whether we believe in them or not. Something unburied rises from our past to interfere or intercede in our everyday life. Or something restless about that woman in the red dress makes us nervous on the Metro. An unwanted shadow follows us down a darkened street.
Ghost stories are dead, once said a critic.
Ghosts are alive and well in books like The Last Ghost and Other Stories. I recommend you give it a read.
Before it’s too late.