By GW Thomas
Imagine my surprise when I stumbled onto Weird Tales, August 1935, with its Doctor Satan cover, and hiding amongst the Paul Ernst, Seabury Quinn and Clark Ashton Smith is a little story called "The House Party at Smoky Island" by LM Montgomery. It turns out that LMG wrote quite a few of these "horror" stories, enough to fill a book, Among the Shadows: Tales from the Darker Side (1990), nineteen tales in all. But only one appeared in the Unique Magazine.
I read "House Party" in one sitting, finding it oddly compelling. Montgomery's style is so different from the typical Weirdies, with 1920s party fever that I haven't seen since I read Lord Peter Wimsey. Montgomery spends the first third of the story getting us caught up on all the gossip. The plot follows the narrator and his sister who invite a group of friends out to the wilds for a week of woodsy fun. Amongst the invites are Anthony Armstrong and his wife, Brenda, who have suffered marital difficulty because Anthony's first wife, Suzette Wilder died under mysterious circumstance, leaving him a large sum of money. Brenda has been distant for she suspects her husband a murderer. Nobody wants to talk about it, but the tension is evident.
Finally, Christine is invited to tell a story, though the narrator can't recall Christine's last name. She tells the story that everybody has been avoiding: that of Aunt Elizabeth Wilder, who left her money to Suzette, Anthony's first wife. Christine explains that Suzette was dying of a wasting illness, and began to hate her husband. She planned to write him out of the will at the end. Only Christine's intervention, a lethal overdose, stopped that from happening. Christine had loved Anthony from afar for a long time, though he never knew it. At this confession, Christine disappears, a ghost herself. Suddenly the narrator realizes he has never known or seen Christine before. Anthony appears, back from the rain, and Brenda runs to him, begging forgiveness. All is well again in the Armstrong household.
The finale is nothing special in ghost story terms. The old chestnut about one of the party being a spirit dates back to antiquity, though it never stopped Algernon Blackwood from using it again and again. The spectral elements fade at the end, returning to Montgomery's real forte: jolly tales of love and romance. What might have become a chilling tale of Poesque nightmare, veers back towards Edwardian geniality. And why not? This is a holiday outing, after all.
GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.