When I first laid eyes on the cover of Verona: A Ghost Story written by Benedict Ashforth, it seemed simple and right to the point; a stained-glass window depicting a black unicorn with red eyes. There was no doubt in my mind that this cover foreshadowed a haunted church or graveyard. It seemed to be a classic type of ghost story. At the time, my insomnia returned to visit like an unwanted guest and already settled in for the night. I needed a good read since sleep was not an option. I am delighted to say that this story is well-written and surprisingly terrifying. I am a fan.
Readers meet Charles and his young wife, Caroline, during a soul-crushing moment of their lives. At the Nuffield Fertility Clinic, the couple learns that Caroline cannot bear a child. After five long years of trying to conceive, both are told to get away and allow themselves time to come to terms with the reality and heal. Although Caroline cannot immediately fathom any trip, she later seems to whisper that she’d like to go to Verona as she falls asleep one night. In an attempt to ease Caroline’s pain, Charles organizes their vacation. But, unfortunately, it is the first of many well-intended steps on a path to ruin.
This story is a written first-hand account penned by Charles Carter. It is he who explains the events as they unfold. Readers can easily see the depth to which Caroline and Charles care for each other and the pain that they endure. The emotional trauma of not growing their family and meeting the child they so desperately wanted to welcome into the world is harrowing. Although many readers may not relate to these characters’ sad state of affairs, they certainly can sympathize. Both Charles and Caroline’s actions and feelings of depression, confusion, and grief are entirely understandable.
What gives the characters dimension and relatability is how they interact and deal with their emotions. The typical expectation of women to be outwardly emotional is not always the reality. It confuses Charles when Caroline doesn’t fall to pieces. At this moment, she seems to be more introverted and needs time alone to process her emotions. Charles, expecting to be her emotional anchor, feels that their marriage is in danger when his wife doesn’t automatically cling to him and cry or scream out her sadness and grief. He can see that she is in obvious pain but continually shuts him out. He quickly comes to the notion that the marriage is in danger. His need to please his wife and ease her pain is his desperation to reassure Caroline and his survival tactic to save their marriage.
The atmosphere is light and joyous in Verona. The city enchants Charles and Caroline. It is beautiful with its bustling life and laughter. At night the glowing lights from cafes and bulbs that hang overhead, past archways along the cobblestoned avenues, create quite the picture. The city is just as beautiful during the day in the warmth of the sunshine that reveals the emerald waters of the Adige River, the swooping flights of pigeons, the nearby amphitheater, and busy streets. However, the atmosphere changes when something dark and seemingly sinister becomes known. The mystery brings an oppressiveness that lingers like a shadow. More troubling is that this presence is not hindered by the light of day.
I happen to enjoy this story because although it is relatively short, there is a real sense of mystery that readers and the main characters feel. We are compelled to solve the mystery of the presence. The uncertainty about whether or not these events will dissolve Charles and Caroline’s marriage or strengthen it is anxiety-inducing. This story is, in my opinion, an immersive experience into the realm of the paranormal. I highly recommend this book for readers who enjoy short stories, creepypastas, and supernatural horror.
Verona: A Ghost Story by Benedict Ashforth is available as an e-book and physical paperback. This story may be found on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel and where books are sold. It may also be available at your local library.