Ghostsly stories

Flames that yielded endless cold
Dancing by night over bogs, brakes and water meadows, the flamelike luminance called ignis fatuus, or 'foolish fire,' once was common throughout northern Europe. Although the learned would claim that the flames were caused by marsh gases, countryfolk knew better, and tales of mishaps made them weary.

The strange light was given myriad names - 'will-o'-the-wisp,' 'jack-o'-lantern,' 'fox fire,' 'elf light.' In Wales, the flames were called 'corpse candles' and appeared just at the level of a raised human hand when a ghost walked invisible; they were thought to presage the death of those who saw them. Germans said the lights were the ghosts of those who had stolen land. For Finns, such a light was a liekkiö, or 'flaming one,' and was believed to be the ghost of a child who had been buried in the forest.

In any case, the dancing flames were dangers to the living. Wayfarers who mistook them for the lights of a far-off shelter sometimes strayed into thickets where the ground grew shifty and sucked them down into the depths of bogs. Those who followed ghost lights, people said, were led to join the company of Death.

Ghost children who called from the dark
Among the various sorts of ghosts that confronted travelers, few were as piteous as the navky, haunters of Slavic lands. They were the spirits of children who had died unbaptized or at their mother's hands. Most often they appeared in the shapes of infants or young girls, rocking in tree branches and wailing and crying in the night. Some begged for baptism from passersby. Some - thirsting for revenge against the living, who had let them die nameless - lured unwitting travelers into perilous places.

But they were not always human in form: In Yugoslavia, it was said, the navky took the shapes of great black birds, which cried in a manner that chilled the soul.

What the brewer saw
Long ago, a house in west Cornwall called Trewoof came to be haunted by the ghosts of two mistresses of the owner - his housekeeper and a younger rival she had poisoned. The younger ghost resided quietly in the room where she had died, but that of the housekeeper terrorized the place until an exorcist confined it in the same room and gave it the task of eternally carding wool. Then the door was shut upon the pair forever.

In later times, few people remembered the details of these events, although gossips sometimes pointed to a little window in the eaves above the house's brewing chambers and repeated the old tale that ghosts were imprisoned behind it. But there was no way of knowing for sure. During many alterations to the upper floors, the room to which the window belonged had been sealed off, its door plastered shut and incorporated into a wall.

Cold forever more
Gilsland Castle in Cumberland was a forbidding place, its stone walls shining with dampness, its dark corridors swept by icy drafts. Once a small boy was shut in an empty upstairs room as a punishment for mischief.

The lad froze to death there, and for centuries afterward, his little nightgowned figure could be seen wandering the house, upstairs and downstairs and at the door of every chamber.

Teeth chattering, body trembling, he walked the dark, searching for an open door. If he entered a room where someone was sleeping, he merely whimpered by the bed. If the person was ill, he would lay his frigid hand upon the sufferer and whisper:

Cold, cold, forever cold. You shall be cold forever more.

The invalid always died after that visitation, eased out of pain by the touch of the Cold Lad of Gilsland Castle.