A SINGLE all-purpese form for the ghost story ought to be welcomed by authors’ leagues everywhere. Writers who found the standardized fishing story a convenience (May Atlantic) will fare even more briskly with the ghost story in blank. It practically writes itself, once you get the thing going.
“I don’t believe in ghosts — yet how else to account for what happened to me that night in—?”
This model opening sentence is adjustable in various ways, but the main point must be made at the very beginning: It’s a ghost story; eerie doings impend. Once he understands that, the reader will find something spooky in even the most commonplace details.
With the full gullibility of the reader thus fired at the take-off, the ghost-story writer need only breeze along, filling in the blanks as he goes.
“It was late in the afternoon when I finally reached—,” he continues. “I had been-ing hard all day and I was looking forward to a—, a good—, and the possibility of— the next morning.”
Any reader who will stick with a ghost story, once he knows it for that, is a highly suggestible personality. He creates his own atmosphere for himself out of anything the author sees fit to tell him, so it matters little what the layout at — proves to be.
“There was nothing about the outward appearance of No.—that was in the least unusual, but as I mounted the steps and rang the bell I had a sudden feeling of—. I noticed, too, that a — across the street seemed to be eying me rather closely, but I must confess that I thought nothing of it at the time.”
Just who the author’s host will be at No. — is easily settled. It can be an old friend, though a landlady would do just as well — but only one in either case. (“I realized when Blank answered the door himself that his servants must have left and that we were alone in the house. . . .”) You can’t afford to have too many people around in a story of this kind.
The reader ought to have built up a fair head of steam by this time and be ready to assign odd meanings to any old statement. “The hall was brightly lighted” will worry him as much as no lights at all. If the author reports a window open, the reader wonders who opened it. Was it Blank? Why was it open?
A few such details set the reader up for the first really scary development — the extraordinary change in Blank (or the landlady): “The warmth of my welcome was like old times, but I was hardly prepared for Blank’s appearance. He was much —er than when I had last seen him; his —, which I had remembered as downright —, was now quite—. His —s, too, were no longer as I had known them. All in all, he seemed like a man who had-ed, if I may be permitted the word.”
Reader and author alike are thoroughly frightened by the way Blank is looking, and here is just the moment to plant another disturbing trifle: “I could not help noticing, as we exchanged greetings, Blank’s —; it was very old, as I could tell at a glance, and of curious workmanship.” (This item could be almost anything — Blank’s clock, teapot, set of false teeth, or what you will, it may be that nothing will come of it anyhow, but there it is, if the author finds later on that he needs it. Meanwhile, it sets the reader to breathing noisily.)
“The room to which Blank showed me seemed cheery enough,” the story goes on, “but I was struck by the huge — which occupied almost one entire wall. Once or twice, as I turned suddenly and looked at it, I could have sworn that it was —ing, but this, of course, was absurd. —s simply do not —, I told myself.”
Let us not finger over Blank’s dinner (unless the author fancies himself as a food-and-drink expert), and the conversation over the cigars can be cut short, too. Blank himself certainly won’t be allowed to give the story away at this juncture, and the author is still feeling the effects of a hard day’s—ing. The sooner both men are in bed, the better. Thus:—
“So far as I could tell, my room was just as I had left it, but the - seemed even larger than before. Its bulk dwarfed everything else, and I was uncomfortably aware of it as I dropped off to sleep.
“ I have no way of judging how long I slept, but suddenly I was wide awake. The room was pitch black; all was still. Then I heard, faintly and as at a great distance, the sound of—ing. It was as if a very —, or a — were being —ed, far away. I cannot describe the feeling of —, of —, of sheer —, that swept over me. The —ing grew louder. It seemed to becoming from the general direction of the vast that I have mentioned. My was—I tried to —, but to no avail. Suddenly I realized that I could see taking form in the darkness the unmistakable outlines of a — (italics)!
“At that point I must have — — altogether, for the next thing I knew, it was—, and Blank was—ing———jug of hot water.
“I————, Blank ———, and the house was sold. Shortly afterwards, I came upon this story in my evening paper:
“‘Workmen —ing an old house at No.— —— Sreet discovered today in the wall of a bedroom the mummified remains of a—. Police are investigating.‘”