I’m a big fan of classic ghost stories and read at least a few pages from a book every night to help bring on sleep. I recently bought an excellent tome “Antique Dust” by Robert Westall. Without going into too many details, it’s a wonderfully bizarre short story collection about haunted British antiques in the style of the master of the antiquarian ghost story, M.R. James. For about ten days, I have been savoring a creepy little tale called “The Devil and Clocky Watson,” about a haunted mantle clock with a sinister background.
In the meantime I have also been working steadily on my own collection of mini-tales, “An Absence of Moonlight” which concerns various supernatural goings on in my imagined transmundane family. Although I hadn’t thought about the legendary “Hell Fire Club” of 18th century London for many years, my interest in it had been piqued during research for a section I was writing about. I Googled and read the real details about the club’s ribald members and history including its evolution into a much darker enterprise and their chief leader in that incarnation: Sir Francis Dashwood. I was fascinated, having had only a brief faux introduction to the “Hell Fire” mythos from watching an old episode of the “The Avengers” television series entitled “A Touch of Brimstone,” which featured Emma Peel prancing about in an unforgettable black leather fetish outfit – complete with spiked collar.
Anyway, I went to work spending the afternoon weaving my newfound tidbits of sordid weirdness into my writing. That’s nothing special so far. Just a completely random direction my writing took from off the top of my head. Now it gets weirder. Forward to last night: The Clocky Watson story was progressing really well, with Clocky himself having several sensual encounters with a lady ghost who climbs into bed with him, clinging to him for reasons later revealed. I got near to the end of the story and saw the word about a place called “Wycombe,” momentarily reflecting while reading that that name suddenly “rang a bell” although I didn’t attach must significance to it alone. I kept reading. Later at the very end of the story, it turned out that the haunted clock was portrayed as a relic belonging to Sir Francis Dashwood which was prominently displayed in the Hell Fire Club’s Medmenham Abby caves in West Wycombe, UK during the 1750s. The very words I had read a few hours earlier in the day. I stopped reading, took off my glasses, and felt a delightful chill run down my spine.
For a few moments, my own bed seemed haunted by something weird and unexplainable. What are the odds these two instances of the obscure Hell Fire Club would come up in two spontaneously unrelated places in a seven hour stretch of time?
Below are the extended notes provided by Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 190. Take a look and leave your comments below.
The odds are excellent; there is nothing spontaneous, unrelated, or unexplainable in what happened here. The readings were chosen by one person and they were related in that the author was reading a ghost story and became interested in the location while doing research for a story about the supernatural. The connection may seem obscure, but it likely isn’t. What comes to mind when you read the words “ghost story”? Perhaps gas lanterns in the fog and horse-drawn carriages? Old mansions with giant staircases? Gathering places of London’s upper-crust sound like a great location for a ghost story or a component of one. The author was probably so surprised by the second incident simply because he had taken such an interest in the club’s history after not thinking about it for some time.