April 11, 2023

Cocktail Talk: The Empty House

stiff enough to help anybody over anything

I’ve been reading some classic-y ghost stories recently (though spring doesn’t seem the season, my fairly-recent-in-the-scheme-of-things love for M. R. James has driven it) especially those written by English writers – meaning, from England, not writing in English. Not that I haven’t read a few U.S. writers of yore, too (especially Manly Wade Wellman, who is not always, but often, groovy), but leaning British. A lean which led me to picking up the Oxford Book of Ghost Stories. Not a bad collection, in the whole. A few stories that weren’t to my thought ghost stories at all, and a few stories not to my taste, but anthologies are tricky things to put together! Anywho, one of the stories read was “The Empty House,” by Algernon Blackwood, who did all kinds of things, though perhaps is known more for his ghost stories than anything else, today at least. And this was a good story, perhaps one of his best known so I won’t prattle on about it, except to say that the below Cocktail Talk contains a phrase I was – and remain – instantly fond of, “stiff enough to help anybody over anything.” Sometimes, ghosts or not, that’s exactly what’s needed.

He took the brandy flask and poured out a glass of neat spirit, stiff enough to help anybody over anything. She swallowed it with a little shiver. His only idea now was to get out of the house before her collapse became inevitable.

–Algernon Blackwood, “The Empty House”

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