Green Tea (Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 1869)

It’s been a rough week, in terms of having time for blogging. I’ve still been reading new stories, but haven’t written about them. A ghost story or two each night… I’ve had some unsettling dreams, and one story in particular (“Madame Crowl’s Ghost” by Le Fanu) I would not recommend to anyone else for that time slot right before sleep. It is interesting to notice how potent the subtleties of a ghost story can be.

So! Moving along now. Setting is so important to a ghost story, isn’t it? Darkness is perhaps the most common and important ingredient for fear. We can’t see what’s there. We imagine… and we can imagine things that we fear the most, even if we don’t fear them in the daylight. But there are other parts to setting: castles, old houses, uninhabited houses, wilderness or waste (see Blackwood, or Edwards’ “The Phantom Coach”)–wherever there aren’t a lot of other people around, because we become much braver about the supernatural when we have company.

How about on a bus? Seems unpromising. But just read “Green Tea” — I swear it has the most chilling scene you will ever read, when the Rev. Mr. Jennings is the last passenger still in the vehicle, going home at twilight. Yes, I’m going to quote it, and you should stop here if you think this will spoil it for you:

The interior of the omnibus was nearly dark. I had observed in the corner opposite to me at the other side, and at the end next the horses, two small circular reflections, as it seemed to me of a reddish light. They were about two inches apart, and about the size of those small brass buttons that  yachting men used to put upon their jackets. I began to speculate, as listless men will, upon this trifle, as it seemed. From what centre did that faint but deep red light come, and from what — glass beads, buttons, toy decorations — was it reflected? … these two luminous points, with a sudden jerk, descended nearer and nearer the floor, keeping still their relative distance and horizontal position, and then, as suddenly, they rose to the level of the seat on which I was sitting and I saw them no more.
My curiosity was now really excited and, before I had time to think, I saw again these two dull lamps, again together near the floor; again they disappeared, and again in their old corner I saw them.
So, keeping my eyes upon them, I edged quietly up my own side, towards the end at which I still saw these tiny discs of red.
There was very little light in the bus. It was nearly dark. I leaned forward to aid my endeavor to discover what these little circles really were. They shifted position a little as I did so. I began to perceive an outline of something black, and I soon saw the outline of a small black monkey, pushing its face forward in mimicry to meet mine; those were its eyes, and I now dimly saw its teeth grinning at me.

Augh! And, as it becomes clear, it’s not a real monkey, but a spectral one, and it’s here to stay with poor Rev. Jennings.

And, let me conclude, that green tea, curiously, did not then have attributed to it the healthful effects that it now does.

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