Not much reading went on this past weekend--short stories or otherwise, but I did manage to squeeze in Shamus Frazer's "Florinda" from Twelve Tales of the Supernatural edited by Michael Cox. It was originally published in the London Mystery Magazine in 1956. I'd never come across Shamus Frazer before this. He only published a couple of novel and it sounds like later in life he wrote supernatural fiction, of which "Florinda" would be a great example. He died in 1966.
Much like John Wyndham's Chocky, which I recently read and very much enjoyed, this is another example of a child who has an imaginary friend. In this case, however, the friend is not here to make friends and study a different life form, but she has much darker and destructive intentions.
Jane is a very average little girl who lives with her mum and dad and has a kind nanny named Miss Reeve with whom she goes in daily walks around her parents estate. That sounds like much more than it really is. Her father inherited a family home that is in a state of disrepair, a "sombre peeling house" called Fowling Hall and park and woodland that are in a shambles with overgrown bushes and paths that need to be cleared. Roger, Jane's father, has an obstinate notion of settling there much to the chagrin of his wife Clare. Also typical of the time and the class no doubt, Jane, though much loved by her parents, finds them quite distracted. She'll talk to her mum but find she can say almost anything without her actually "hearing" her.
So when Jane tells her mum about Florinda, she is only half hearing her. Chatting about Jane's afternoon walk she talks about Florinda, and when asked who Florinda is, Jane replies--a doll, or she thinks she is anyway. By then her mum is lost again looking in the mirror, already her thoughts a mile away.
"Mummy, I've told you. She's a doll, I think, only large, large as me. And she never talks--not with words anyway. And her eyes can't shut even when she lies down."
Jane first spotted Florinda on one of her walks with Miss Reeve. She saw her in the lake--the part not covered and blocked by brambles. She looked into the water to see her reflection--only there were two Janes looking back. Only it wasn't Jane. The face was smiling back. But she's shy, Florinda is--shy and a little sly, too.
On this particular day, when Jane's mum was so distracted, Miss Reeve hadn't had a nice walk by the lake. Her stockings had a "rather beautiful ladder" according to Jane--she had stumbled in some brambles--the ones in the woodland that really need to be cleared away. When Jane says that the brambles must be left as they are, of course no one listens to her. They mustn't be cleared away as Florinda wouldn't like it.
"If Daddy has the bushes cut down what will poor Florinda do? Where will she play? There will be no place at all for the little traps and snares she sets; no place to creep and whistle in, and tinkle int laughter when something funny happens--like Miss Reeve caught by the leg and hopping."
Poor Miss Reeve and her laddered stockings and there's only one way to make sure this doesn't happen again. Cut back the brambles, and clear the paths. Too bad no one else knows about Florinda, or they might have just left well enough alone. And when the grounds are tidied up, it will put Florinda in a wicked mood. And it will disrupt everybody.
"Florinda" is a wonderfully creepy story. It would make a terrific movie--just a little devastating but very dark and unsettling. Now I must see of I can find any other stories by Shamus Frazer. He is perfect RIP reading. I just stumbled upon his story--much like Miss Reeve stumbled on those brambles. Oh, just thinking about what comes next sends a few shivers up my spine! If you come across this story, I heartily recommend it.