The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral: Two Stories of the Supernatural - Orrin Grey, Robert Westall

Two chilling stories of the supernatural that can be read by either teens or adults, they are both well researched, informative, fascinating and evocative.

 

The main titled story “The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral” is about Joe Clarke Steeplejack extraordinaire who together with his work mate Billy Simpson is prepared to scale any building to carry out all necessary repairs and maintenance. The trouble however begins when they are given a job of cleaning the South West tower at Muncaster Cathedral “There was something funny about the thing, something nobody wanted to talk about. Maybe my dream was a warning that there was something wrong with the tower: some steeplejack’s instinct that I couldn’t plumb. Something in the stone.”

 

Joe has dreams of his son being trapped on the tower.. ”And our Kevin was up there on top, in the dark, and screaming as if some wild beast was eating him. And the door to the tower was locked and I didn’t have the key. I remember that I was so desperate that I tried to climb up the outside of the tower, up the buttress. Bu I knew I’d never get there in time to save Kevin.”... He learns of its unusual background and the mysterious figures of John of Salisbury, the Devil and the mythical master mason when the original south tower was erected, Jacopo Mancini of Milan.

 

This is a superb setting for a horror story. The idea of performing such dangerous work and relying not only on such basic equipment but also the presence and help of your colleague, knowing that one mistake could be your last, is in itself chilling. Robert Westall really makes the reader feel a sense of space and height as the work proceeds with his descriptive prose..”Up there Kevin an’ I get real close to each other, as my dad and me did long before he was born...the safe careful way he climbs, as fearless of heights as a cat.”...  Then when we interweave an evil presence that spans hundreds of years the tension is both frightening and unbearable.

 

The story evolves around Joe his wife Barbara and son Kevin and to disclose more would spoil what is a brilliant read for young and old alike. However a warning those who suffer from vertigo you may want to read with an adult!

 

In the second short story it is 1955 and Harry Shaftoe, a student, is seeking accommodation in London and soon finds success at No 11 Brangwyn Gardens. This house stands alone as a testament to the blitz the properties on either side having been destroyed some years ago. Harry agrees to rent the attic room which overlooks St Paul’s Cathedral from the landlady Mrs Meggitt and as Harry observes he notices.......“Nervously she put up her hand and tucked a stray strand of dark hair back inside her headscarf. As she did so, he noticed her ear. It was absurdly fine and shapely, on such a mess of a creature. But then he’d noticed such things before. His Auntie Daisy, his mother’s older sister, had beautiful shapely legs. No varicose veins or anything, though she was over sixty. Those beautiful legs haunted him at family Christmas parties; they went so ill with that grey hair and that high-pitched cackling laugh (over women’s dirty jokes muttered in corners after the port wine had gone round twice). He had an absurd desire to rescue those beautiful legs and return them to their rightful owner, who would be satisfyingly grateful.”

 

In the attic he discovers a diary written in 1940 by Catherine Winslow and as he reads her words Harry falls in love and almost begins to imagine that she could be with him now...”But she his lovely girl, was back in 1940. She smiled up at him from the table, her eyes just pools of dark in a patch of light. Had she been buried? She’d be a mouldering skeleton by now. Or had she been cremated by her sorrowing parents? Or burned in the Blitz? Or been blown to bits; small chunks of her picked from telegraph wires by little innocent birds? He mourned her with all his heart. And then perversely he wished again that time was elastic, and he could travel back, meet her, stand close, make love.”

 

This second short story has a most unexpected, surprising and delightful ending and concludes a brilliant collection by a story teller who unfortunately is no longer with us.  Writers could learn so much from Robert Westall today, irrespective of genre his prose and ability to draw the reader in and make an occasion come alive is astounding. Highly Recommended.