Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Haunted Wells and Ghostly Lovers: Tales of Terror by Ida Chittum

Cover of Tales of Terror
As authors, there are books that stay with us long after the final page is turned. These stories worm their way into our subconscious, influencing us, leading us to create our own stories.

Tales of Terror is one such book. A collection of supernatural stories set in the Ozarks, this collection has held a special place in my heart for nearly 30 years. And I was lucky enough to recently borrow a copy from the library and reread the stories I recalled from my childhood.

True, before I read the book again, I didn't remember every story. But Ida Chittum had a way of describing images that stayed in the mind, years, even decades later. Like the mother scolding her two-year old son for scattering the geese, only to regret it later ("Vision of Roses"), or the horrified Maralee watching her father murder her mother and sister in cold blood ("The Haunted Well"), or the nearly blind Ada befriending Geoffrey, a young man forced by an illness to walk on all fours ("The Twisting Wind").

Make no mistake, though. Despite being written for young people, Ida Chittum didn't shy away from the harsh realities of life... and death. "The House the Dovers Didn't Move Into" has the Dover children witnessing the ghostly reenactment of a particularly brutal murder. (And apparently the killing really did happen.) The tragedy befalling the Beldon family in "The Haunted Well" is especially gruesome, given the father's rage against his wife and daughters.

Ida Chittum also had a way of touching the heart. In "Vision of Roses," a young mother becomes selectively mute after yelling at her son, who drowns soon afterward. She blames herself for his death, and despite the efforts of her husband, refuses to speak. We see the impact this has on them, and how the husband deeply cares about her, but is also afraid he must institutionalize her, until he has a dream. A young mother, near death, asks him to come to the village. He does so, only to learn the woman has died and left a small son. He realizes this may be the last chance to reach his wife, and, with the local judge's permission, brings the boy home, hoping to break his wife's self-imposed silence.

Love is also the subject of "The Lovers," a tale of a young couple who become embroiled in the doomed affair between the ghost of a young man and his love, a young woman who died from tuberculosis.

The other story that has impacted me is "The Twisting Wind." I've always felt drawn to Geoffrey, a young man forced by a "rare malady" to walk on all fours and who is treated like an outsider and who is beaten by his stepfather. Perhaps it was because I'd also been abused, and I could empathize with him. The pain and horror he felt after being struck resonated with me. And it forces Geoffrey to make a decision, one Ada realizes will soon impact him as well.

It's been fun rereading these stories. My only regret is I no longer have my copy.