W.S. by L.P. Hartley

“W.S.” is a short story by L.P. Hartley that I read in an anthology entitled Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories. It’s the first story in the the book after the preface, which was interesting reading all by itself. I’ll comment more about the actual collection itself in a later post, when I’ve finished reading the entire collection, but I wanted to comment on the first story in this post.

“W.S” are common enough initials for a writer. In this short story, the main character is a writer named Walter Streeter, and he starts receiving postcards from someone who signs them “W.S.” The narrator himself, Streeter, points out that W.S. are common initials–William Shakespeare has the same initials, too.

The postcards that the main character receives border on creepy, and they eventually make him nervous enough to contact the police. Especially once he realizes that if you look at the location that each of the postcards comes from, it’s apparent that the W.S. who’s signing these postcards is getting about 80 miles closer every day.

I don’t want to spoil any more of the story, but let me say that the ending was unique, and I liked the story quite a bit. It didn’t scare me, but if you’re a writer or an author, especially if you’re one of those “tortured souls” who put a lot of themselves in their writing, then you might find the story particularly effective.

In fact, I liked the story well enough that I looked up L.P.Hartley in Google. Turns out that he’s one of those writers who’s well-known for his traditional English ghost stories. But it doesn’t look like he wrote traditional English ghost stories exclusively; one of his best-known works is a novel that begins with the line, which I’ve heard before, and I’m sure you might have heard before, too: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

That’s from Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, which is popular enough that editions are still available on Amazon. I might have to check it out, although I’m probably more interested in reading more of Hartley’s horror stories.

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