I started off with a story Susan Hill recommended in her book, Howards End is on the Landing; it's called Mr. Jones, it's by Edith Wharton, and can be read online here and/or uploaded to your e.reader if you have one (which is what I did).
Lady Jane Lynke inherits 'Bells', an old property in Sussex, and, while staying with friend in Kent, decides to visit it anonymously.
She comes upon the house...
It's love at first sight but, because she doesn't tell the maid who answers the door who she is, she can't gain admittance because 'Mr. Jones says that no one is allowed to visit the house'.
Eventually she does of course get in, and subsequently moves in too. But there's an odd thing - although the housekeeper and maid talk about 'Mr. Jones', he's nowhere to be found. The excuse is that he's old and frail and not well, but this continues on for weeks. Not only that, certain parts of the house appear off limits, keys lost etc. Lady Jane and her writer guest start to investigate and their investigations involve a plaque in the church, a portrait of a woman, and a locked room where the family archives are kept...
How can anyone resist writing like this? Truthfully, it's not a story to read if you want to be scared out of your wits, it being only slightly creepy. Really, it's one to read if you love beautiful writing and a very strong sense of place. Sadly, I've never been to the Sussex Weald, but writers such as Kipling wrote so beautifully about the area that I feel as though I have. Edith Wharton must have been there herself as the timeless atmosphere feels perfect to me. Well worth half an hour of your time.
Next, I read a story recommended by Susan at You Can Never Have Too Many Books. It's The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman, which can be read online if you click on the link or as I did once again, transferred to your e.reader.
A man goes in search of a guide to take him to a cave on the Misty Isle: he wants someone in particular, one Calum MacInnes. MacInnes is reluctant to take him to this mythical cave. It is said that inside a man can collect as much gold as he can carry and MacInnes is one of the few men to have actually done this. But the man is insistant and they go, but is MacInnes to be trusted? The long, arduous journey will reveal all...
I love it when I read a story thinking it's one thing... and it turns out it's something else altogether. Clever, clever writing, that. I'm not overwhelmingly a fan of Gaiman's writing. Some of his books and stories I love - The Graveyard Book for instance - and some I'm so-so about. This though is pretty skilful stuff and I liked it a lot. There's an almost lyrical feel to the prose and a very strong sense of time and place. And also a very clever twist. Another one that's well worth half an hour.
And last, but not least, I reread a story that was sent to me some months ago by the author, Julia Kavan: Dreaming Not Sleeping.
Hard to describe this one as it's about dreams and, rather cleverly, written like a dream. The reader isn't sure what's going on at first. Then it becomes clear that a woman is having strange dreams and that, subsequently, her husband is concerned about the depth of these dreams and the state she's in when she awakes... the fact that she clearly doesn't want to wake from them. Is she becoming obsessed?
I'm not saying any more. This is a beautifully written, atmospheric, creepy little story.
It was a kiss that brought me here. Soft and gentle. It ripped away my breath and tore away my soul. Now I can't find my way back. I don't want to find my way back. I hope you understand.
It's quite short, but I think it works at this length as many of the best short stories often do. A small word of warning, this is quite an erotic piece of work. I was fine with it but it might not be everyone's cup of tea. The story is available for purchase here on AmazonUK. I have to say that if Julia ever writes a full length novel I would be very interested in reading it.