The Spirit of the Place by Elizabeth Walter
Limited Edition Hardcover – Centipede Press – Aug 2022 – 728 pages
If the title of Elizabeth Walter’s short story collection, The Spirit of the Place and Other Strange Tales, doesn’t foreshadow her ominous nature, then her narratives certainly will. They’re filled with the spirits of the past, wronged and ripped from their bodily vessels long before they deserved such ingratitude. But anything that points to life after death is a good thing, isn’t it? In Walter’s writing this is left up to the reader to determine. Her characters may operate under a certain moral code, but that doesn’t mean they’re free of a past that may have other intentions.
Take “The Drum” and “The Sin-Eater” as examples of pasts wronged that receive their retribution. It can never be outrun and when it finds you, come hell or high water, the weight of that injustice will be far too great a burden to carry whether you’re innocent or guilty. As the saying goes, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
In Walter’s personal favorite, “Davy Jones’s Tale”, two cousins form an ostensibly unbreakable bond when one is left parentless through tragedy. But years later when under great duress at sea, fighting for their lives, we find out that sacrifice is a hero’s lament and there are no heroes here. Only the dead and their vengeance for the living.
There’s also the revelation that Jennifer in “The Traveling Companion” receives upon her trip home by train. She is accompanied by a man for the long passage following an accident that took her lover’s life. Though she finds the refuge and comfort she seeks, she also learns more about herself from this stranger than she would ever wish to know.
The title story, “The Spirit of the Place”, and “The Mist” feature seemingly ordinary exchanges between characters whose paths crossed by chance. But nothing should ever be dismissed as pure chance or coincidence when the spirit world is alive and well, manifesting itself in this world to pass on knowledge that would have otherwise been lost to the grave.
And then there’s “The Thing” and “The Spider” that carry the horror torch of yore. But the true horror here isn’t in the unnamed entity or giant spider that petrify their victims. It’s the psychological torture that often amounts to a greater harm than the physical danger it poses. Avoid at all costs if you suffer from severe bouts of acrophobia or arachnophobia.
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