On Halloween, a day devoted to scary stories, editor and author Michael Sims has a first-person recollection that ranks as a real spine-tingler. It’s about the day he fell into an open grave, seeing the view as few living people do – from the bottom up, not the top down.
Just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, Sims has released The Phantom Coach, a collection of classic Victorian ghost stories published by Bloomsbury in a softcover edition. The book includes creepy tales from Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, and Ambrose Bierce, among others.
Sims, who edited the anthology, tells readers in his introduction that he had a personal experience with terror – a moment every bit as chilling, one gathers, as the tales he’s assembled from 19th-century masters of the macabre.
“I remember the view from the grave,” Sims tells readers. “Stars spiraled in front of my eyes when I hit the damp soil at the bottom. Up there on the faraway earth, past six feet of square muddy wall, a man and a boy stared down at me – my brothers, Gary and David, both laughing. Until I slipped and fell in the grave, we had been setting up the graveside for a funeral.”
Gary, 11 years older than Sims, worked for a funeral home, and Michael was helping him out. Michael Sims’s moment in the grave didn’t last long, but it deepened his appreciation of ghost stories.
“I have always enjoyed ghost stories,” he writes. “Perhaps keeping death in cautionary view provides a frisson of mortality that helps us squeeze a more exquisite juice out of the ephemeral moment.”
In that way, ghost stories – and, by extension, Halloween – is a way to seize life, not death.
A nice sentiment to keep in mind as the trick-or-treaters arrive – or when combing the pages of “The Phantom Coach.”
Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Advocate newspaper in Louisiana, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House."