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Literature / The Ghosts of Sleath

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A 1994 novel by James Herbert. Three years after a nervous breakdown induced by the events of Haunted, parapsychologist David Ash remains dedicated to exposing hoaxes, but has been irresistibly convinced of the actuality of ghosts. Called by the Reverend Lockwood to the secluded village of Sleath to investigate appearances to bereaved mother Ellen Preddle by the ghost of her recently deceased son Simon, Ash learns of a recent influx of ghostly encounters throughout the village. Disembodied children's voices are heard singing from a disused and empty school, the haystack fire which incinerated George Preddle, Simon's abusive father, is seen to burn again, and the ghost of George has apparently returned to further torment the ghost of his son. Insight from the vicar's daughter Grace Lockwood and maverick psychic Seamus Phelan hint at a sinister connection between the hauntings...

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The tropes of Sleath:

  • Abusive Parents: Violent drunkard George Preddle.
    Ash: Men have slaughtered their families and women have smothered their babies under the misguided notion that they were protecting their loved ones from the wicked realities of life.
  • Big Eater: As well as his own pub breakfast, Seamus eats half of Ash's.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While Ash is bereaved by the horrifying death of Grace, the danger is passed, and the villagers begin to come to terms with their trauma.
  • Bloody Horror: Sleath's old whipping post is sometimes seen to bleed.
  • Corrupt Hick: Nope, Sleath is a friendly place, apart from some of its tormented ghosts.
  • Creepy Children Singing: From inside an empty school, an unseen choir of children are heard to sing the hymn "Lord of the Dance."
  • Crippling Castration: Seen to have been inflicted on the ghost of Joseph Munce.
  • Darker and Edgier: Much more depravity than in Haunted.
  • Deathof A Child: Eleven-year-old Simon Preddle, and numerous Human Sacrifice victims throughout Sleath's history.
  • Flayed Alive: The last Lockwood descendants, Carl Beardsmore and Grace Lockwood, are Flayed Alive and torn apart by the ghostly victims of the Lockwood rituals.
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  • Gorn: Some.
  • Eldritch Location: Sleath is believed to stand on a "ley line" of the earth which nurtures spectral activity. This has apparently been enhanced by Ritual Magic.
  • Human Sacrifice: A large part of the Lockwood dynasty's Ritual Magic.
  • Immortality Seeker: Sir Gareth Lockwood, thirteenth century governor of Sleath and practitioner of Ritual Magic learned from his stint in The Crusades. Several of his descendants followed suit, the latest being Carl Beardsmore.
  • Kill the Cutie: Horrifyingly and devastatingly so with Grace.
  • Occult Detective: Ash might be considered one. Having predicted various disasters with minimal success in their aversion, psychic Seamus Phelan has come to investigate Sleath.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Ghosts here range from harmless discarnate spirits to numerous disconnected spectral body parts floating in an ethereal haze, to amorphous, semi-corporeal hordes able to form lethal claws.
  • Psychic Powers: Ash and Grace Lockwood share an intuitive insight, both into the emerging crisis and each others' pasts. Seamus Phelan, having predicted several major disasters, hopes to prevent such horror in Sleath.
  • Rape as Drama: The mutilated ghost of a child molester returns to haunt his victim.
  • Revenge by Proxy The ghostly victims of the Lockwood rituals seek this on the Lockwood descendants.
  • Ritual Magic: Used by Sir Gareth Lockwood and his descendants to harness the transition of the spirit, in attempt to pursue immortality.
  • Sadist: Several of the Lockwood line, with their Black Magic ritual.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Following the crisis, a devastated Ash just wants to get away from Sleath.
  • Sinister Minister: Sir Gareth Lockwood, thirteenth century governor of Sleath and veteran of The Crusades, was more a "mercenary of the Devil" than a "soldier of God." Several of his descendants entered the clergy, and continued his macabre practises.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Seamus Phelan, on exiting the empty church, isn't quite sure whether someone is following him...
  • Your Head Asplode: The Reverend Lockwood takes a shotgun blast to the head in shielding Grace.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: A very dark one indeed.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The historical Lockwoods, as well as Munce the child molester.
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