Edward Frederic Benson, the son the Archbishop of Canterbury, was born in 1867, in Wokingham, Berkshire. He attended Marlborough and King’s College, Cambridge and spent three years studying archeology abroad in Greece and Egypt. He enjoyed immediate success with his first society novel, DODO (1893) and ended up writing over a hundred published pieces in a wide range of fields. He’s best known for his comedies and society novels, but his interest in the paranormal allowed him to produce a number of supernatural pieces. His novel, ACROSS THE STREAM (1919), anthologies VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE (1923) and SPOOK STORIES (1928) are evidence that he enjoyed the macabre. He had a sister and two brothers (both of whom also produced their own writings) and was also the mayor of Rye in Sussex from 1934 to 1937. That town was the model for Tilling, the fictional town that many of his tales took place within. Benson died in 1940 of throat cancer.
Here’s a bit about a few of his weird tales:
1. “The Other Bed” (1908) – A man travels to Switzerland just before Christmas to spend time at a resort enjoying its snowy sloops, but terrible weather prevents him from being able to do much. Despite his being there alone, he’s given a room with two beds. He has a bad feeling about one of the beds and refuses to sleep in it. Strange things begin to occur, as the bed often looks slept in, a hotel attendant keeps bringing him whiskey he claims was ordered for the room, and he starts having disturbing dreams. It turns out the room has a dark history.
2. “Outside the Door” (1910) – A woman gives her theory on ghosts being similar to radio transmissions, then recounts an evening she spent in a haunted house and its ghostly sounds.
3. “Terror By Night” (1912) – Two men are suddenly overcome with inexplicable dread that lasts for several days until a ghostly visitor comes to them.
4. “Caterpillars” (1912) – This is a wonderfully weird tale about a man’s stay in a beautiful Italian villa that overlooked the sea. He shares the place with an artist and the house’s owner and his wife. The man finds he cannot sleep in the villa, and one night when he goes downstairs to one of the sitting rooms to retrieve a book, he finds the only unused bedroom door open. Inside he describes what he sees on the bed as follows:
“Then I saw that the grayish light of the bedroom came from the bed, or rather what was on the bed. For it was covered with great caterpillars, a foot or more in length, which crawled over it.”
He goes on to describe these strange caterpillars as having crab-like pinchers instead of the sucker-feet that most have.
“There must have been hundreds of them, for they formed a sort of writhing, crawling pyramid on the bed.”
While he’s watching, the caterpillars begin to drop off of the bed and move towards him.
5. “The Room in the Tower” (1912) – A young man has a recurring nightmare of visiting a school friend’s house. He’s told he’ll be given the room in the tower to stay in by the friend’s mother. For reasons he does not understand, he dreads going to that room. He always awakens before finding out what terror the room holds. When a day comes where he finds himself at the house for real, everything progresses as it had in the dream. When he’s given the tower room, he soon finds out what the dreams were warning him about.
6. “The China Bowl”(1916)– A man buys a house that’s for sale because the owner’s wife recently died there and it reminds him of her too much. Soon afterwards the new owner begins having nightmares where he is chased by an unseen entity and later begins seeing the ghost of the deceased former lady of the house, drinking from a china bowl in her old room.
7. “The Light in the Garden” (1921) – A man inherits his uncle’s house that’s in need of repair. He stays in a nearby lodge where he can see the house and its garden from the window. He’s saddened to hear the family butler recently died. Soon afterwards he begins to see a lantern light moving through the garden when no one should be there. He also hears knocking at his door, which when opened reveals no one. Other strange phenomena occur which unveils a long lost secret.
8. “The Horror Horn” (1922) – A man vacationing at a ski resort finds himself forced inside by bad weather. Another man, who is an avid mountain climber, tells him of his encounter with small, stout, hairy man-creatures while atop a nearby area referred to as The Horror Horn. The legends of these sub-human creatures speak of horrible fates that befall anyone caught by them. Later, the man has an encounter of his own with the dreadful things.
9. “Negotium Perambulans” (1922) – An old church in the secluded, difficult to reach village of Polearn contains carved and painted wooden panels which form an altar rail. The panels displayed the angel of Annunciation, the angel of Resurrection, the witch of Endor, a scene with a hooded priest holding a cross toward a hideous slug-like creature. Below it was written, “Negotium perambulans in tenebris” from the 91st Psalm which translates to “the pestilence that walketh in darkness.” A legend claimed the panels were originally part of an ancient church that was nearby until an evil man tore it down to build himself a house from its materials. He used the altar as a table to dine and play dice on. One evening he screamed and was found a withered heap, dying on the floor quoting the same scripture as is below the panel. A large shadow was seen crawling across the floor to exit the room. The protagonist of the story moves to Polearn which he remembers fondly from his childhood visits. He’s informed that another man died in a house built from the old church in a similar fashion. The man broke into the church to smash the panels displaying the creature in an attempt to rid himself of the dark thing he claimed was stalking him. However, the panel was found reformed and undamaged. The man’s death followed soon afterwards. An artist who’s since moved into the house, shows the protagonist his paintings that depict the world through nightmarish eyes. This story comes to a swift conclusion after a great build up.
10. “Mrs. Amworth” (1923) – A kindly middle-aged widow moves into a quiet village where all her neighbors love her, except for one man who believes her to be a Vampire.
11. “Bagnell Terrace” (1928) – A man gets the chance to purchase a residence he has coveted for years, when their peculiar neighbor suddenly moves out. The strange man who used to live there appeared young until a good look at his face made him seem impossibly old. The house, which smells like an Egyptian temple inside, seems to be under the influence of an ancient dark force.
12. “The Witch-Ball” (1929) – A trio of friends purchase a blue witch-ball in a curio shop. Although woman is very happy with it, her husband, has some psychic leanings, is disturbed by it. Later, when he and a friend look into the witch-ball, they see a woman crawling up from underground. Her specter then leaves the ball and enters their house.
13. “The Passenger” (?) – A man boards a double-decker bus and notices a lone passenger sitting ahead of him. The man is quiet and seems to disappear from time to time. When the passenger is finally seen clearly, it is both chilling and grizzly. Here is a small sample from the story.
“Close around me were secure, normal rooms, tenanted by living men and women, where cheerful fires burnt and steady lights illuminated solid walls. But here companionless, except for the motionless form crouched in front of me, I sped between earth and sky, among dim shadows and fugitive lights. And all the time I knew, though not knowing how I knew, some dreadful drama was immediately to be unrolled in front of me.”
There are many more supernatural tales penned by E.F. Benson (and even some by his brother R.H. Benson), and a number of them can be found for free on-line. Do yourself a favor, and give him a try. E.F. Benson’s stories are very easy to read and are always full of intriguing mysteries of the strange variety.
Article by Matt Cowan
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