Stories Best Told In the Dark


These shortened days and long, shadowed nights are a perfect backdrop for Halloween— which hides around the corner. It is also the optimum time of year for tales of ghosts and goblins and things ‘that go bump in the night.’

Ghost stories! Who hasn’t heard at least one that sent a delicious sliver of ice up the spine? There is something about the unknown that both beckons and frightens. Reading (or writing) such a story sends us out to walk down a long dark road and makes us turn a corner to find… what? Ah, what indeed.

You have a favorite ghost story, don’t you? Growing up in Japan, I heard more than my share. Usually these were told in August rather than in October, the rationale being that in this Obon season spirits of the dead returned for a visit. Also, the terrifying stories were supposed to work better than air conditioners to make listeners shiver.

And shiver I did. The Japanese ghosts meant business. Instead of gore and outright violence, the specters that I most feared preyed on the subconscious, defying the listener to guess whether what was happening was reality or hallucination.  Instead of leaping up and yelling ‘Boo,” like any self-respecting apparition, they would slither up behind and gently lay a cold hand on the shoulder.

That tale, long ago

            Waits until the lonely dark…

            Then sighs in my ear.

One tale in particular—something called Yotsuya Kwaidan (or ‘Ghost Story Of Yotsuya’) involved a man who murdered his gentle and loving wife in order to marry a rich man’s daughter. The dead lady’s ghost was anything but gentle or kind, and she exacted terrible vengeance in a sequence which kept me from turning off any of my bedroom lights for a week… never mind that I was 16 and all grown up!

I have never actually seen a ghost, but while we lived in Thailand many years ago it wasn’t difficult to imagine disembodied beings lurking about. Back then one had only to travel outside the city to enter a world where there were no lights anywhere. Here great palm trees threw sinister shadows along the ground and the imagination ran riot. And though I never met a ghost personally, the house in which we lived was said to have a visiting Presence in the wraith of our landlord’s late first wife. We never did encounter her, but one evening our Thai cook came racing down the stairs shouting, “Pii ma leo!” thus announcing the arrival of the Ghost.Mike remarked that as long as the lady was around, she might as well pay some of the rent.

I don’t think we ever really outgrow our campfire fascination for the dark unknown. Young (and older) readers regularly delve into stories about vampires and werewolves, and writers enjoy such tales (I know that I had fun writing my one ghostly novel, The Promise). So, as the shadows lengthen and a cold breeze wraps itself around our ankles, we shiver deliciously… and imagine, or read, or write, or tell yet another story that will send icy fingers dancing across the spine.

In the moonless night

            What is that thin, dark shadow

            That glides before us?




About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: My blog is here: Or friend me on Facebook!

8 responses »

  1. Maureen,

    Great post and just right for Fall. I’d love to hear some Japanese ghost stories. I’ll have to look for some. I’ll try searching for the title you suggested.

    Have you ever been to the National Storytellers Convention in Jonesborough, TN? It’s the first weekend in October, I believe. I haven’t, but I’d love to.

  2. Maureen,
    Another stunning quilt. It is beautiful. How did you get the shimmering effect at the wolves feet? Your work is always so beautiful. I really enjoyed your post. Thank you for sharing with us.

  3. Yes, that does sound like fun, Linda–. in a ghostly sort of way! I love those ghost stories that make me shiver, don’t you? Lefcadio Hearn (not sure of the spelling of his last name) is one of the best known Western writer of Japanese ghost stories, but *Yotsuya Kwaidan* remains my absolute… favorite? Frightener? Not sure how to describe a really scary story!

  4. hi Maureen,
    it was good to spend time with you today…at quilting. Your quilt did turn out to be more that when i saw you working on it. what nice shading and combinations with the rocks ; and the wolves are so great. a beautiful piece of work. once in your blog…
    ah yes the ghost stories. i don’t remember the ones in my childhood. but the halloween nights out with some neighbors putting on scary records of the wolves and the witches. made my spine tingle as i went house to house… for tricker treat…
    i do remember making costumes for my kids ..and then they went out and mingled with their buddies. what a sight for sore eyes they made…\
    .such imagination in the way they wore those costumes .. some home made by moms and grandma’s.
    this year i am in my glory taking in the bright colors of mother nature with her pumpkins and gourds of many colors of orange and green and yellows and acorn and butternut squashes… you could make a hAIKU OF THEIR VIBRAITONS. OR PERHAPS ANOTHER QUILT WALLHANGING.~~~!!!

    • Ah, ghost stories! I’ll bet you told your girls one or two… or maybe they told you some! I do agree about the costumes. I used to make them for my boys and later for Ben and Kate until they got too big for Grammy’s creations!

    • Right! When the lights go out, all bets are off… I wonder why we love to be scared now and then? Probably because we then can realize that we are safe and comfortable at home. But a ghost story on a lonely and weed-strewn road…. ahhh!

  5. What a talented soul you are, Maureen. I was teaching horseback riding at a camp in Fairfield, CT back in 1960. My friends and I went to see .”Psycho” on dark and rainy night and had to drive home along a heavily forested road. Our eyes bugged out of our heads and we squeaked at unexplained glare along the way. Nothing like a good scare when you know you’ll be safe and sound soon.

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