Author Topic: Pseudopod 378: The Haunted Spinney  (Read 6291 times)


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on: March 22, 2014, 05:46:27 AM
Pseudopod 378: The Haunted Spinney

by Elliott O’Donnell.

“The Haunted Spinney” First appeared in the November issue of THE IDLER in 1904.

ELLIOTT O’DONNELL (1872-1965) preceded, in the popular consciousness, the more familiar Harry Price as one of the most widely read figures purporting to be a ghost-hunter and investigator into the unknown. Born in Bristol, O’Donnell claimed an encounter at age 5 with an “elemental spirit”, as well as his family line being cursed by a Banshee, as prerequisites for his lifelong interest in the paranormal. On graduating The Queen’s Service Academy (where he claimed to have wrestled a spectral strangler), he went to America, where he lived as a rancher in Oregon, worked as a policeman in Chicago during the great railroad strikes and also claimed to have been a journalist in San Francisco and New York, all while collecting tales of ghosts in the New World, finally returning to England in 1900 to work as a schoolmaster and traveling actor. His first occult novel, FOR SATAN’S SAKE, made no impact in 1905 so he reinvented himself as a raconteur and ghost hunter – penning dozens of popular books in which he collected folklore about spirits and bogeys and told of his visits to famous haunted sites. He possibly originated the concept of hauntings as localized “recordings” (one of a number of classifications he posited), as later seen in Nigel Kneale’s THE STONE TAPE. Luckily for us, he also wrote many novels and pieces of short fiction designated as such. He never claimed to be a psychic investigator and his writings, when presented as true, still have a highly dramatic and atmospheric style that makes them dubious as true records but very enjoyable as entertainment. “Let me state plainly that I lay no claim to being what is termed a scientific psychical researcher. I am not a member of any august society that conducts its investigations of the other world, or worlds, with the test tube and weighing apparatus; neither do I pretend to be a medium or clairvoyant — I have never undertaken to ‘raise’ ghosts at will for the sensation-seeker or the tourist. I am merely a ghost hunter. One who lays stake by his own eyes and senses; one who honestly believes he inherits in some the degree the faculty of psychic perceptiveness from a long line of Celtic ancestry; and who is, and always has been, deeply and genuinely interested in all questions relative to phantasms and a continuance of individual life after physical dissolution.”

Your reader – Alasdair Stuart – may or may not exist – until someone opens the box and a deathly hand emerges….

“It was a cold night. Rain had been falling steadily not only for hours but days, the ground was saturated. As I walked along the country lane the slush splashed over my boots and trousers. To my left was a huge stone wall, behind which I could see the nodding heads of firs, and through them the wind was rushing, making a curious whistling sound, now loud, now soft, roaring and gently murmuring. The sound fascinated me. I fancied it might be the angry voice of a man and the plaintive pleading of a woman, and then a weird chorus of unearthly beings, of grotesque things that stalked along the moors, and crept from behind huge boulders.

Nothing but the wind was to be heard. I stood and listened to it. I could have listened for hours. for I felt in harmony with my surroundings, lonely. The moon showed itself at intervals from behind the scudding clouds, and lighted up the open landscape to my left.

A gaunt hill covered with rocks, some piled up pyramidically, others strewn here and there; a few trees with naked arms tossing about and looking distress-fully slim beside the more stalwart boulders; a sloping field or two, a couple of level ones, crossed by a tiny path, and the lane where I stood. The scenery was desolate, not actually wild, but sad and forlorn, and the spinney by my side lent an additional weird aspect to the place, which was pleasing to me.

Suddenly I heard a sound, a familiar sound enough at other times, but at this hour and in this place everything seemed different. A woman was coming along the road, a woman in a dark cloak with a basket under her arm, and the wind was blowing her skirts about her legs. I looked at the trees. One singularly gaunt and fantastic one appalled me. It had long, gnarled arms, and two of them ended in bunches of twigs like hands – huge, murderous-looking hands, with bony fingers. The moonlight played over and around me. I had no business to be on the earth; my poor place was in the moon; I no longer thought it. I knew it. The woman was close at hand. She stopped at a little wicket gate leading into the lane skirting the north walls of the spinney. I felt angry; what right had she to be there, interrupting my musings with the moon? The tree with the human hands appeared to agree. I saw anger in the movements of its branches, anger which soon blazed into fury, as they gave a mighty bend towards her as if longing to rend her to pieces.”

Listen to this week's Pseudopod.

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?

Tim Tylor

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Reply #1 on: March 22, 2014, 04:48:15 PM
I discovered Elliott O'Donnell a few years back browsing the Horrormasters public-domain library (thankfully saved by The stories were well-told and atmospheric, and EOD's less human apparitions sometimes had a quite Lovecraftian freakiness as with the thing in The Coombe (pdf link). He seems to have dropped from sight completely, or at least I've never seen him in any of the "Dromedary Book of Classic Ghost Stories You Already Know Backwards" type collections. It always seemed strange that he's been so forgotten, and I'm thankful to Pseudopod for rediscovering him. :)
« Last Edit: March 22, 2014, 04:50:40 PM by Tim Tylor »


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Reply #2 on: March 23, 2014, 12:00:07 PM
After Quieta Non Movere I was surprised that this story kept going after the scare-scene with the woman's death. I'd anticipated that the narrator was also the killer but thought it would end unresolved, leaving the reader to join the dots.

I've never heard of O'Donnell before - thanks for the link Tim Tylor, I will go exploring :)


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Reply #3 on: March 24, 2014, 02:58:56 PM
it's possible that I may not have had my head in the right place for this story, but my mind just kept wandering in this one so that I'm not sure that I really followed all of it.  I think I may need to give it a re-listen.  I usually like older horror stories, so I'm usually a prime target audience for them.


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Reply #4 on: March 26, 2014, 10:42:04 PM
Thanks to Alasdair for defining spinny before the story.  I would have spent the entire time wondering when the spinning wheel was going to show up.


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Reply #5 on: March 27, 2014, 01:44:24 PM
Thanks to Alasdair for defining spinny before the story.  I would have spent the entire time wondering when the spinning wheel was going to show up.

Yes, good move, Al.  I was picturing a haunted carousel.


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Reply #6 on: March 27, 2014, 02:34:14 PM
I thought it was really good, but I pin a large part of that on the great narration.  I think I harp on this theme a lot in my posts, but narration is just as important as the story when the story is delivered in podcast form.  Bad narration can screw up great stories and good narration can lift average ones.  Of course nothing can save a truly crappy story.  

Great work Alasdair, way to read.  I definitely think you lifted what was, as you mentioned, a very predictable little tale into something with a more dreary and horrific feel that stuck with me more than it might otherwise have.  I felt like I was in that "copse of trees".  ;D
« Last Edit: March 27, 2014, 02:36:57 PM by davidthygod »

The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.


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Reply #7 on: March 28, 2014, 08:33:55 AM
Unreliable Narrator stories are great fun once in a while. My attention was distracted briefly after the POV storyteller (as opposed to amazing podcast narrator Alasdair) said the tree limbs seemed to become angry at the woman, and the next thing I heard about her was when the man who turned out to be her husband found her body, so I wasn't quite sure that was what was happening.
When the storyteller said the man had blood on him, I thought, well, that could have happened when he checked the body. Who's the killer here?
Then when the policeman found the tableau of that man subdued by the storyteller, next to a body, and arrested that man and sent the gentleman on his way, I thought, now WAIT a minute! However, given the stronger classist attitudes of the time, that probably wasn't as much of a shocker to the audience those days as it was to me now.
When the ghost-hunting friend had the storyteller accompany him back to the scene, I had an idea of what was going to happen, but took satisfaction in watching it unfold. I just hope the storyteller didn't go on to kill the friend after the story ended.
Anyway, I quite enjoyed this podcast. Alasdair's narration made the story much more gripping and memorable than if I had just stumbled across the text in some collection.

The Far Stairs

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Reply #8 on: April 07, 2014, 09:32:55 PM
It did seem like a well-worn trope, but the narrator's imagined vision of the thing that would climb down from the trees was truly creepy.

Jesse Livingston
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Reply #9 on: April 10, 2014, 08:32:23 PM
The thing I liked was the dream-like quality to every scene. You don't know at first if the narrator is meeting the living or the dead or what parts are real, imagination or delusional, which I think helps with the twist ending. I was swept along as you are in dreams with not enough time to step back and analyze. Not one of my favourites, but not bad.


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Reply #10 on: April 13, 2014, 07:55:55 PM
I found this story to be, overall, a good ride. Older stories are always a treat, and this one was nice and relaxing, both in the narration and the familiar, but well told ghostly tale. It was a good length too; sometimes it's nice to have a somewhat shorter piece to listen to, especially with the longer stories that have been playing on the podcasts lately.


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Reply #11 on: May 22, 2014, 06:05:07 AM
Yeah, the actual reveal wasn't great, all these years later, but the description of the woods themselves was delightful.  I particularly liked "it's all arms and legs, and soon it will drop down and come towards us, then you'll see."  I might have muffed the exact words, but it was a deliciously creepy way to describe "a couple of tall trees with knobbly branches" and worth the price of the ticket all on its own, I'd say.


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Reply #12 on: September 16, 2014, 07:20:52 PM
I agree with prior commentators. The story kept going beyond where I thought it would end, and had some fine chills.
Well read, sir!