And now for something completely different! There’s a marked difference between this book and the others, and that is that it’s just a collection of stories. There’s no framing device of kids narrating them. At last! Music to my ears!
“My idea of a perfect horror book is one in which there are no children … at all!”
Has Anthony Masters come up trumps at last? Let’s find out!
The Haunted Weir
Daniel’s parents have bought a house on the Thames in London … you can tell this book belongs to a bygone age, can’t you. He wants to learn to canoe but is too much of a wimp, basically. One day, Daniel’s down by the weir and sees a young boy capsize his canoe and sink. Daniel goes looking for the boy, but falls into a sort of trance and is swept along by the current. The sight of the boy’s dead body and smashed-up canoe snaps Daniel out of it, and he’s able to get back to safety. He then sees the boy, miraculously back in one piece, merrily rowing past and waving at him.
Daniel wonders if the boy was trying to drown him. He knows the corpse he saw was real. He feels compelled to back to the river but tells himself he must never ever go in the water again. Somehow, he gets a feeling to check out the run-down old boathouse that no one ever goes near. It contains two canoes, one of which is smashed in bits; but what about the other one? He asks his mother, who tells him it probably belongs to the nice rich family nearby and he mustn’t steal it.
Daniel dreams of himself and the boy taking the canoes out and having fun together. Despite warnings from his parents (who obviously know something), Daniel takes the canoe and goes out to meet his crush. The boy tries to teach him to canoe on the weir, but they both capsize, and Daniel almost drowns – again. But manages to free himself – again! He goes home, sleeps for a while, and then sneaks out to the river yet again because he still hasn’t learned his damn lesson. The boy tries to beckon him back into the water, and says “I’m lonely.” Finally, Daniel gets the picture and destroys the canoe with an axe.
At this point, a girl called Anne tells us Daniel and his family moved away … MOTHERFUCKER. Yep, the child narrators are back. It didn’t open with a description of them settling down somewhere to tell ghost stories, so I thought they’d finally gone. Sorry about that. I should’ve known better, shouldn’t I?
The Dinosaur Cliff
Dinosaur ghosts, I’ve heard it all now.
Helen’s sent to stay with her aunt at a sheep farm on the Isle of Wight in order to, quote, “bring (her cousin) Ed out of himself.” They want to keep him interested in ladies instead of … nope, I’m not even going there. The island has severe problems with cliff erosion, and it is very likely that the whole cliff will soon give way and destroy the house. During a landslide, some dinosaur bones are unearthed; apparently this happens often. Ed is really excited and wants to display them and turn the house into a museum. But first he needs to summon someone called Dr Maurice Arnold who will verify the findings.
Dr Arnold confirms the bones are genuine, but says that legally they belong to the local authority and will be displayed in an actual museum. He orders the family to leave the bones alone until he can get someone to remove them. Ed throws a tantrum and smashes up the bones with a sledgehammer. Helen tries to tell her aunt, who already knows, and has conveniently disposed of the evidence so Ed won’t get arrested. That night, Helen has a dream of being in prehistoric times. Then there is another massive landslide and a load more bones are unearthed.
Ed’s about to go down and smash up these ones as well, but Helen tries to restrain him. He breaks free and rolls down the cliff towards the surf. Helen desperately goes after him before the cliff crumbles away beneath him; but then a huge dinosaur shows up and the story just ends there. Apparently the kids don’t dare ask Helen what happened, although it’s pretty much implied Ed was eaten by the dinosaur. That’s not so scary, is it, you whining babies? You’ve all seen Jurassic Park!
I Dare You
Bully Larry dares Tom to stand on the banks of the “Black Pond”, a local pond infamous for having a boy drown there. Larry promises he’ll be hiding nearby and filming the dare, so Tom agrees to do it. Tom hears someone whistling “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain”, a song which Alan (the kid who drowned) used to whistle all the time. Tom thinks it’s Larry trying to scare him, yet Larry doesn’t come to meet him as agreed.
Tom stands on the bank, with freezing mist all around him. He hears what sounds like people nearby, and then the whistling again. Time seems to be going supernaturally slowly and Tom is convinced someone’s watching him. After fifteen agonising minutes, Tom turns around to see Alan’s hideous bloated drowned ghost, who says “I’m lonely.” WE JUST HAD THIS. IN THE FIRST STORY. ONLY A FEW PAGES AGO! Thankfully at this point Larry shows up and the ghost disappears and that’s it. That is the story. Come back “Kelpies”, all is forgiven.
Patrick’s stuck on his own for the summer, helping his parents renovate an old house they just bought. One day, he sees a vision of what looks like an old-fashioned policeman cycling along the road; but then it disappears. Patrick thinks this is a mirage caused by the heat. You’re in England, not the Gobi Desert. Later, he has a similar vision of a green Ford Popular car from the 1950s. He also finds that their garage contains a wrecked old bike which was obviously hit by a car.
The weather gets hotter and hotter, and his parents take a trip to the beach, but on the way home their car almost crashes into the Ford Popular. Patrick realises he is the only one who can see the Ford. He chats to a local yokel who confirms that years ago, in the 1950s, cop PC Dawkins went out on his bike and mysteriously vanished. Neither the bike nor the body was ever found, and no one ever saw a green Ford. That night Patrick has a dream of being in the car as it crashes.
Patrick goes out the following day and just happens to see a ghostly reconstruction of the car running over the policeman. Two men get out of the car, dump PC Dawkins’s bike in the garage, and bury him behind it. Patrick gets out a pickaxe and starts digging for the corpse and yes, once again apparently that is the story.
The ghost that appears every Christmas Day on Channel 4.
Jane has a snow globe containing the miniature figure of a snowman. It’s very precious to her because it’s the last present she got from her sister, who fell through a frozen pond and drowned. That is now three ghosts in five stories who have drowned. Change the record already! Jane plays with the snow globe, but then notices the snowman’s disappeared. Inside the globe she sees a vision of her sister’s death. TL;DR Jane’s stupid friend wants to go skating on a frozen pond and the snow globe warns Jane that her friend will fall and drown. Jane is able to save her friend, she’s a hero, everyone cheers and the snow globe returns to normal. All this could be avoided had they gone to an ice rink.
I’m sorry if you were expecting something scary. Here, have a mildly disturbing video of a bear drowning in a frozen pond:
Let’s be honest, this was dire. It’s the final entry in the series (though I still haven’t covered Werewolf Stories yet) and was published just a few years before the author’s death – I d’no, maybe he was losing his touch by that time. The only redeeming quality about this book is that the stories are, mercifully, short.
Up next: Trains! Planes! Welsh nationalism!