M. R. James is widely acknowledged as having been one of the finest exponents of the literary ghost story. Almost everyone who enjoys or has an interest in supernatural fiction will have read his outstanding stories, so those who are drawn to this anthology series will surely need no introduction to his work. Yet, James did not just write ghost fiction, he also wrote extensively about it. As one might expect, the combination of his academic background and his own mastery of the genre mean that his opinions and verdicts on the works of other writers of supernatural fiction are founded on considerable knowledge—if James declares a story to be good it is, in all probability, very, very good. James was not an easy reader to please and there are numerous tales that since his time have enjoyed wide public approbation that fared rather less well subjected to the incisive judgement of 'the master.' In the M. R. James’ Dark Choices anthology series, the Leonaur Editors have gathered together the ghostly novels, novellas, short stories and ballads that did earn M. R. James’—sometimes qualified—seal of approval. Together they form a satisfying and unique anthology of five substantial volumes. Although, predictably, James was in agreement as to the abiding quality of several tales which to this day remain universally recognised as classics, he also acknowledged other authors and stories—on occasion representing a writer’s only foray into the genre of supernatural fiction—which have rarely, if ever, been republished in the many anthologies of ghostly fiction which have appeared since the early years of the twentieth century. There can be no more M. R. James stories, but now we can read this remarkable author’s own 'dark choices’—that select group of tales he considered to be the finest ghost stories ever written. The Leonaur Editors have carefully researched James writings and have included an introduction in each volume which references his comments on the stories included. There have been many ghost story anthologies created under many pretexts, but rarely one with such impeccable credentials as M. R. James’ Dark Choices!
Included in volume five are two novels ‘The Haunted Hotel’ and ‘The Room in the Dragon Volant,’ two novellas ‘Cecilia de Noël,’ and ‘Carmilla,’ four short stories and two ballads.
This collectable anthology series is available not only in paperback but also in hardcover with dustjacket.
We were now quite close to the house.<br>
“There must be someone there who is whistling,” he said, “it must be your lame man. . . . Lord! yes, it comes from inside the house. So that’s explained, and I hoped it was some new bird. But why can’t you hear it?”<br>
“Some people can’t hear a bat’s squeak,” said I.<br>
Jack, satisfied with the explanation, took no more interest in the matter, and we struck across the shingle, bathed and lunched, and tramped on to the tumble of sand dunes in which the Point ended. For a couple of hours we strolled and lazed there in the liquid and sunny air. and reluctantly returned in order to cross the ford before the tide came in. As we retraced our way, I saw coming up from the west a huge continent of cloud: and just as we reached the spit of land on which the house stood, a jagged sword of lightning flickered down to the low-lying hills across the estuary, and a few big raindrops plopped on the shingle.<br>
“We’re in for a drenching,” he said. “Ha! Let’s ask for shelter at your lame man’s house. Better run for it!” Already the big drops were falling thickly, and we scuttled across the hundred yards that lay between us and the house, and came to the door just as the sluices of heaven were pulled wide. He rapped on it, but there came no answer; he tried the handle of it, but the door did not yield, and then, by a sudden inspiration, he felt along the top of the lintel and found a key. It fitted into the wards and next moment we stood within.<br>
We found ourselves in a slip of a passage, at the end of which went up the staircase to the floor above. On each side of it was a room, one a kitchen, the other a living-room, but in neither was there any stick of furniture. Discoloured paper was peeling off the walls, the windows were thick with spidery weavings, the air heavy with unventilated damp.<br>
“Your lame man dispenses with the necessities as well as the luxuries of life,” said Jack. “A Spartan fellow.”<br>
We were standing in the kitchen: outside the hiss of the rain had grown to a roar, and the bleared window was suddenly lit up with a flare of lightning. A crack of thunder answered it, and in the silence that followed there came from just outside, audible now to me, the sound of a piping whistle. Immediately afterwards I heard the door by which we had just entered violently banged, and I remembered that I had left it open.<br>
His eyes met mine.<br>
“But there’s no breath of wind,” I said. What made it bang like that?”<br>
“And that was no bird that whistled,” said he.<br>
There was the shuffle in the passage outside of a limping step: I could hear the drag of a man’s lame foot along the boards.<br>
“He has come in,” said Jack.<br>
Yes, he had come in, and who had come in? At that moment not fright, but fear, which is a very different matter, closed in on me. Fright, as I understand it, is an emotion, startling, but not unnerving; you may under the finger of fright spring aside, you may scream, you may shout, you have the command of your muscles. But as that limping step moved down the passage I felt fear, the hand of the nightmare that, as it clutches, paralyses and inhibits not action only, but thought. I waited frozen and speechless for what should happen next.<br>
Exactly opposite the open door of the kitchen in which we stood the step stopped. And then, soundlessly and invisibly, the presence that had made itself manifest to the outward ear, entered. Suddenly I heard Jack’s breath rattle in his throat.<br>
“O my God!” he cried in a voice hoarse and strangled, and he threw his left arm across his face as if defending himself, and his right arm shooting out, seemed to hit at something which I could not see, and his fingers crooked themselves as if clutching at that which had evaded his blow. His body was bent back as if resisting some invisible pressure, then lunged forward again, and I heard the noise of a resisting joint, and saw on his throat the shadow (or so it seemed) of a clutching hand.<br>
At that some power of movement came back to me, and I remember hurling myself at the empty space between him and me, and felt under my grip the shape of a shoulder and heard on the boards of the floor the slip and scoop of a foot. Something invisible, now a shoulder, now an arm, struggled in my grasp, and I heard a panting respiration that was not Jack’s, nor mine, and now and then in my face I felt a hot breath that stank of corruption and decay. And all the time this physical contention was symbolical only: what he and I wrestled with was not a thing of flesh and blood, but some awful spiritual presence. And then . . . <br>
There was nothing. The ghostly invasion ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and there was Jack’s face gleaming with sweat close to mine, as we stood with dropped arms opposite each other in an empty room, with the rain beating on the roof and the gutters chuckling. No word passed between us, but next moment we were out in the pelting rain, running for the ford. The deluge was sweet to my soul, it seemed to wash away that horror of great darkness and that odour of corruption in which we had been plunged.