London, 1897. An elderly bibliophile receives a letter from the recently retired head of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. But the tale it relates of a book buying journey to Cracow soon turns into a hellish nightmare.
A short ghost story. A homage to M R James.
‘Selwood has successfully added another gem to his collection and his reputation … nothing short of amazing … atmospheric and psychological … it’s just something every horror fan should read‘ (Horror Palace) Full review here
FIVE STARS ‘The story has subtle and terrifying hints throughout … fans of M. R. James and of ghost stories will really enjoy this’ (The Reader’s Hollow) Full review here
FOUR STARS ‘A really creepy tale … darkly atmospheric’ (Shari Sakurai) Full review here
Russell Square, London, 27 January 1897
NOW THAT I have read the letter from my good friend, Dr Sir Oberon Worsley, F.S.A., F.B.A., M.A., D.Phil., and have had time to contemplate its dreadful contents, I find myself at my wits’ end. Although I struggle adequately to comprehend the events he describes, the correspondence has led me to the point of a nervous terror.
I dare not leave my house, although I perceive there is no safety for me within it either. I despair of how to warn others. Yet I fear that in the account I am now writing may lie the very evil which besets me. Nevertheless, since my hours are now doubtless numbered, I feel no alternative except to commit the abominable matter to paper in the hope that some salvation may yet be found.
Last Wednesday, the 20th, I received by the evening mail a letter from my good friend Worsley, who recently retired as Bodley’s Librarian. He had held the post at Oxford with distinction for many years, and in that time did much for the scholars of that great city. He and I had known each other since we were undergraduates at Magdalen in the ’50s, and, as I have always maintained my literary interests, we have kept up a regular and cordial correspondence.
The letter arrived as I was dressing for dinner. For the last several years, it has been my habit to dine at home rather than in my Club during the bitter evenings of January, when the chill air does me no good. So I took Worsley’s letter with me to the table, where, for reasons which will become apparent, I was keenly anticipating reading it with the roast goose Stephens had earlier procured, along with a bottle of the ’65 Haut-Brion that we agreed would suit the dish admirably.
However, the news Worsley recounted in his letter rendered me quite incapable of dining, and an hour later I waved the plate away, untouched, fearing for my reason.
The extraordinary and ghastly tale he recounted was this.
— o O o —
A month or so ago, the senior staff at the Bodleian had thrown a farewell party for Worsley at the Randolph. When the final cigars had been smoked and goodbyes said, he retired to the comfortable house he kept in Shropshire. There he set about arranging his papers to prepare for the many monographs he looked forward to composing now he had the luxury of time and uninterrupted thought. His primary interests lay in northern European incunabula, although a lifetime in the company of all manner of books had brought him familiarity with an exceptionally wide range of printed and manuscript materials, and these were all to be the subject of his scholarship.
However, before he commenced these learned activities, he set about compiling a brief account of his career’s most memorable events. This was not for any purpose of vanity, as any who know him will appreciate, but rather a record of what had transpired at that great library during his tenure. Such an account would, he felt, be a useful resource for his successors, as all too often the details of major acquisitions passed with inadequate note kept of the circumstances.
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