Friday, 14 August 2015

Ghosts from the Mist of Time ~ R. Chetwynd-Hayes

Ronald Henry Glynn Chetwynd-Hayes (1919~2001) was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, the son of Henry Chetwynd-Hayes (a Master Sergeant and cinema manager) and May Rose Cooper. He attended Hanworth Council School, and until 1973 he worked as a furniture showroom manager in Berkeley Street, London. He grew up a film fan and appeared as an extra in a few films, including Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). His first published short story was 'The Empty Grave', which appeared in Reveille in 1953. His first novel, The Man from the Bomb, was published six years later. He went on to write around two hundred short stories and a dozen novels, and his books were always in demand at lending libraries.

A number of Chetwynd-Hayes' short story collections and anthologies edited by him were published by William Kimber & Co. during the 1970s and 1980s. Kimber published Ghosts from the Mist of Time, with a dust jacket designed by Ionicus, in 1985. It contains seven tales: Time Check, The Wanderer, Prometheus Chained, Doppel-gänger, Cold Fingers, The Echo, Shona and the Water Horse.

The first story, 'Time Check', is set during the inter-war years. It's about five-year-old Rodney Winston, who is just starting Week School. He lives with Mrs Balcombe, who he calls Mumma, and her daughter Rose, who's a religious fanatic. Mrs Balcombe is paid to look after him, because his father ran off before he was born and his mother, who's 'a beautiful brainless butterfly', can't afford to keep him. But little Rodney is special, because he can see and hear things that haven't happened yet... tragic things.

'The Wanderer' is set in Clavering in 1665. Clavering Grange has always had its ghosts... the shades of those who haunted the place in life, who seem unable to detach themselves from it in death. But now it also has a wanderer - a ghost who does not belong, who is drawn to the Grange because of the tainted ground upon which it was built, and who wanders the planes of time only to bring disaster.

In 'Prometheus Chained', Stephen Markham is a writer of weird stories. It is 1984 and Markham is walking along a street when he stumbles and falls... and gets up someone else, in 2164, in a world where fiction has become reality.

In 'Doppelgänger', Matthew Bayswater, a rather famous writer, is driving home from a party when he spots his double at the doorway to an old-fashioned hardware shop. A couple of days later, he sees him again, standing against a gate in the vicinity of the house of Sir Henry Handel. But is double is thinner, down on his luck, and shabby... an unsuccessful, miserable mirror-ghost of the well-off author. And as he continues to appear, the line between reality and unreality begin to blur.

In 'Cold Fingers' Paul Etherington is an archaeology student who, in need of lodgings, answers an advertisement in the Comet, placed by the elderly Miss Partridge. The place seems ideal, and the rent is cheap, but during his first night in his new room he feels cold fingers against his throat... cold fingers that gradually tighten their grip.

In 'The Echo', Oliver and Anne, old friends who haven't seen each other for six years, meet by chance by the riverside. He invites her back to his musty old house, a place where words echo strangely, where 'Nothing can get out... Sound, energy, emotion.' He collapses after declaring his love for her, and she promises to return the following day. But Oliver has a secret... a sinister, deadly secret.

In 'Shona and the Water Horse', a tall young man turns up at the house of Reverend Angus Buchanan claiming to be the legendary Water Horse, and tells him that the devil walks the moor again and intends to take the whole Highland village that very night. The good reverend is having none of it... but then darkness falls, and the mist rolls in...

If I were to pick one of the stories as my favourite, it would have to be "Cold Fingers', partly because I like the humour in it. 'Doppelgänger' is the creepiest, but 'Prometheus Chained' comes a very close second. They're all very entertaining, and I do like Chetwynd-Hayes' sense of humour.

A fine copy of Ghosts from the Mist of Time goes for about £30 ($45) at the moment. But, as with all the Kimber-Ionicus books, it's not all that easy to get hold of one. They tend to turn up a bit dog-eared or as ex-library books.

I've put together a section all about the William Kimber books with jackets designed by Ionicus, and you can access it by clicking here.

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