The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Wandering Ghosts is a posthumous collection of supernatural stories written over the entire career of one of America’s most colorful and popular novelists. The tales demonstrate a startling degree of originality, craftsmanship, and narrative technique.

“The Dead Smile” (1899) recounts the malignant Sir Hugh Ockram’s attempt to destroy the lives of his son Gabriel and his niece (actually his daughter) Evelyn Warburton by hiding their true relationship and allowing them to marry. Sir Hugh’s death is presaged by horrifying manifestations of the banshee form of Evelyn’s mother. Nurse Macdonald suspects the truth and directs Gabriel to Sir Hugh’s tomb, where the Ockrams refuse to lie in their coffins. Gabriel obeys and, bravely facing his father’s ghastly dead smile, removes a document from his hand that reveals the truth. Gabriel and Evelyn reconcile as brother and sister.

“The Screaming Skull” (1908) is the story of the unquiet spirit of Lucy Pratt, murdered by her husband, Dr. Pratt, who apparently poured molten lead into her ear while she slept. Dr. Pratt later removed the head from his wife’s body so that if the body were later exhumed, no one would realize the nature of the crime by hearing the lead rattling around. The skull appears mysteriously in various places, shattering the night with its screaming. Attempts to get rid of it fail. Pratt is found dead with bite marks upon his throat, apparently strangled by...

(The entire section is 598 words.)