Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Monster Maker by W. C. Morrow - Best Scary Short Story 14 from 1850-1899 in Andrew Barger's Countdown

W. C. Morrow

I am counting down the Top 20 scary short stories from 1850-1899 to launch my latest annotated anthology: Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899: A 6a66le Horror Anthology.

Weighing in at spot 14 on my list is the venerable W. C. Morrow and his classic horror tale: "The Monster Maker." Published in 1887,

Morrow was the son of a Baptist minister and, as everybody knows, they make some of the best horror story writers. After The Civil War, at the age of 25, Morrow left his family and travelled to Oakland, California. A few years later he moved to San Jose where he befriended fellow supernatural writer Ambrose Bierce, and other writers that helped open doors to the publishing world. He began submitting stories to various magazines for publication while making a living as a teacher of writing. Bierce, however, valued his stories more than his teaching as he told Morrow in an October 9, 1907 letter:

“Whether you ‘prosper’ or not I’m glad you write instead of teaching. I have done a bit or teaching myself, but as the tuition was gratuitous I could pick my pupils; so it was a labor of love. I’m pretty well satisfied with the results.” [The Letters of Ambrose Bierce, Bertha Clark Pope, 1922, pg. 139]

William C. Morrow was soon having success at writing and by 1897 his first (and only) collection of stories was published—The Ape, the Idiot and Other People. It included such horror classics as “The Monster-Maker,” and “The Permanent Stiletto.” Morrow was 43 years old.

The Monster Maker
W. C. Morrow

A YOUNG man of refined appearance, but evidently suffering great mental distress, presented himself one morning at the residence of a singular old man, who was known as a surgeon of remarkable skill. The house was a queer and primitive brick affair, entirely out of date, and tolerable only in the decayed part of the city in which it stood.

It was large, gloomy, and dark, and had long corridors and dismal rooms; and it was absurdly large for the small family—man and wife—that occupied it. The house described, the man is portrayed—but not the woman. He could be agreeable on occasion, but, for all that, he was but animated mystery.

His wife was weak, wan, reticent, evidently miserable, and possibly living a life of dread or horror—perhaps witness of repulsive things, subject of anxieties, and victim of fear and tyranny; but there is a great deal of guessing in these assumptions. He was about sixty-five years of age and she about forty.

He was lean, tall, and bald, with thin, smooth-shaven face, and very keen eyes; kept always at home, and was slovenly. The man was strong, the woman weak; he dominated, she suffered. Although he was a surgeon of rare skill, his practice was almost nothing, for it was a rare occurrence that the few who knew of his great ability were brave enough to penetrate the gloom of his house, and when they did so it was with deaf ear turned to sundry ghoulish stories that were whispered concerning him.

These were, in great part, but exaggerations of his experiments in vivisection; he was devoted to the science of surgery. The young man who presented himself on the morning just mentioned was a handsome fellow, yet of evident weak character and unhealthy temperament-sensitive, and easily exalted or depressed. A single glance convinced the surgeon that his visitor was seriously affected in mind, for there was never bolder skull-grin of melancholia, fixed and irremediable. A stranger would not have suspected any occupancy of the house. The street door--old, warped, and blistered by the sun—was locked, and the small, faded-green windowblinds were closed.

The young man rapped at the door. No answer. He rapped again. Still no sign. He examined a slip of paper, glanced at the number on the house, and then, with the impatience of a child, he furiously kicked the door. There were signs of numerous other such kicks.

A response came in the shape of a shuffling footstep in the hall, a turning of the rusty key, and a sharp face that peered through a cautious opening in the door. “Are you the doctor ?” asked the young Inan.

“Yes, yes! Come in,” briskly replied the master of the house. The young man entered. The old surgeon closed the door and carefully locked it. “This way,” he said, advancing to a rickety flight of stairs. The young man followed.

The surgeon led the way up the stairs, turned into a narrow, musty-smelling corridor at the left, traversed it, rattling the loose boards under his feet, at the farther end opened a door at the right, and beckoned his visitor to enter. The young man found himself in a pleasant room, furnished in antique fashion and with hard simplicity. “Sit down,” said the old man, placing a chair so that its occupant should face a window that looked out upon a dead wall about six feet from the house. He threw open the blind, and a pale light entered. He then seated himself near his visitor and directly facing him, and with a searching look, that had all the power of a microscope, he proceeded to diagnose the case.
“Well?” he presently asked.
The young man shifted uneasily in his seat. “I—I have come to see you,” he finally stammered, “because I’m in trouble.”
“Yes; you see, I—that is—I have given it up.”
“Ah!” There was pity added to sympathy in the ejaculation.
“That's it. Given it up,” added the visitor. He took from his pocket a roll of banknotes, and with the utmost deliberation he counted them out upon his knee.
“Five thousand dollars,” he calmly remarked. “That is for you. It's all I have; but I presume—I imagine—no; that is not the word-assume —yes; that’s the word—assume that five thousand—is it really that much; Let me count.” He counted again. “That five thousand dollars is a sufficient fee for what I want you to do.”
The surgeon’s lips curled pityingly-perhaps disdainfully also. “What do you want me to do?” he carelessly inquired. The young man rose, looked around with a mysterious air, approached the surgeon, and laid the money across his knee. Then he stooped and whispered two words in the surgeon’s ear. These words produced an electric effect. The old man started violently; then, springing to his feet, he caught his visitor angrily, and transfixed him with a look that was as sharp as a knife. His eyes flashed, and he opened his mouth to give utterance to some harsh imprecation, when he suddenly checked himself. The anger left his face, and only pity remained. He relinquished his grasp, picked up the scattered notes, and, offering them to the visitor, slowly said: “I do not want your money. You are simply foolish. You think you are in trouble. Well, you do not know what trouble is. Your only trouble is that you have not a trace of manhood in your nature. You are merely insane—I shall not say pusillanimous. You should surrender yourself to the authorities, and be sent to a lunatic asylum for proper treatment.”
The young man keenly felt the intended insult, and his eyes flashed dangerously. “You old dog—you insult me thus!” he cried. “Grand airs, these, you give yourself! Virtuously indignant, old murderer, you! Don’t want my money, eh? When a man comes to you himself and wants it done, you fly into a passion and spurn his money; but let an enemy of his come and pay you, and you are only too willing. How many such jobs have you done in this miserable old hole? It is a good thing for you that the police have not run you down, and brought spade and shovel with them. Do you know what is said of you? Do you think you have kept your windows so closely shut that no sound has ever penetrated beyond them? Where do you keep your infernal implements?”
He had worked himself into a high passion. His voice was hoarse, loud, and rasping. His eyes, bloodshot, started from their sockets. His whole frame twitched, and his fingers writhed. But he was in the presence of a man infinitely his superior. Two eyes, like those of a snake, burned two holes through him. An overmastering, inflexible presence confronted one weak and passionate. The result came.
“Sit down,” commanded the stern voice of the surgeon.
It was the voice of father to child, of master to slave. The fury left the visitor, who, weak and overcome, fell upon a chair.
Meanwhile, a peculiar light had appeared in the old surgeon’s face, the dawn of a strange idea; a gloomy ray, strayed from the fires of the bottomless pit; the baleful light that illumines the way of the enthusiast. The old man remained a moment in profound abstraction, gleams of eager intelligence bursting momentarily through the cloud of sombre meditation that covered his face. Then broke the broad light of a deep, impenetrable determination. There was something sinister in it, suggesting the sacrifice of something held sacred. After a struggle, mind had vanquished conscience.
Taking a piece of paper and a pencil, the surgeon carefully wrote answers to questions which he peremptorily addressed to his visitor, such as his name, age, place of residence, occupation, and the like, and the same inquiries concerning his parents, together with other particular matters.
“Does any one know you came to this house?” he asked.
“You swear it!”
“But your prolonged absence will cause alarm and lead to search.”
“I have provided against that.”
“By depositing a note in the post, as I came along, announcing my intention to drown myself.”
“The river will be dragged.”
“What then?” asked the young man, shrugging his shoulders with careless indifference. “Rapid undercurrent, you know. A good many are never found.”
There was a pause.
“Are you ready?” finally asked the surgeon.
“Perfectly.” The answer was cool and determined.
The manner of the surgeon, however, showed much perturbation. The pallor that had come into his face at the moment his decision was formed became intense. A nervous tremulousness came over his frame. Above it all shone the light of enthusiasm.
“Have you a choice in the method * he asked.
“Yes; extreme anaesthesia.”
“With what agent?”
“The surest and quickest.”
“Do you desire any—any subsequent disposition?”
“No ; only nullification; simply a blowing out, as of a candle in the wind; a puff—then darkness, without a trace. A sense of your own safety may suggest the method. I leave it to you.”
“No delivery to your friends?”
“None whatever.”
Another pause.
“Did you say you are quite ready?” asked the surgeon.
“Quite ready.”
“And perfectly willing?”
“Then wait a moment.”
With this request the old surgeon rose to his feet and stretched himself. Then with the stealthiness of a cat he opened the door and peered into the hall, listening intently. There was no sound. He softly closed the door and locked it. Then he closed the window-blinds and locked them. This done, he opened a door leading into an adjoining room, which, though it had no window, was lighted by means of a small skylight. The young man watched closely. A strange change had come over him. While his determination had not one whit lessened, a look of great relief came into his face, displacing the haggard, despairing look of a half-hour before. Melancholic then, he was ecstatic now.
The opening of the second door disclosed a curious sight. In the centre of the room, directly under the skylight, was an operating table, such as is used by demonstrators of anatomy. A glass case against the wall held surgical instruments of every kind. Hanging in another case were human skeletons of various sizes. In sealed jars, arranged on shelves, were monstrosities of divers kinds preserved in alcohol. There were also, among innumerable other articles scattered about the room, a manikin, a stuffed cat, a desiccated human heart, plaster casts of various parts of the body, numerous charts, and a large assortment of drugs and chemicals. There was also a lounge, which could be opened to form a couch. The surgeon opened it and moved the operating-table aside, giving its place to the lounge.
“Come in,” he called to his visitor.
The young man obeyed without the least hesitation.
“Take off your coat.”
He complied.
“Lie down on that lounge.”
In a moment the young man was stretched at full length, eyeing the surgeon. The latter undoubtedly was suffering under great excitement, but he did not waver; his movements were sure and quick. Selecting a bottle containing a liquid, he carefully measured out a certain quantity. While doing this he asked:
“Have you ever had any irregularity of the heart ’’
The answer was prompt, but it was immediately followed by a quizzical look in the speaker’s face.
“I presume,” he added, “you mean by
your question that it might be dangerous to
give me a certain drug. Under the circumstances, however, I fail to see any relevancy in your question.”
This took the surgeon aback; but he hastened to explain that he did not wish to inflict unnecessary pain, and hence his question.
He placed the glass on a stand, approached his visitor, and carefully examined his pulse.
“Wonderful l’’ he exclaimed.
go Why ?”
“It is perfectly normal.”
“Because I am wholly resigned. Indeed, it has been long since I knew such happiness. It is not active, but infinitely sweet.”
“You have no lingering desire to retract?’’
“None whatever.”
The surgeon went to the stand and returned with the draught. “Take this,” he said, kindly. The young man partially raised himself and took the glass in his hand. He did not show the vibration of a single nerve.
He drank the liquid, draining the last drop. Then he returned the glass with a smile. “Thank you,” he said; “you are the noblest man that lives. May you always prosper and be happy! You are my benefactor, my liberator. Bless you, bless you! You reach down from your seat with the gods and lift me up into glorious peace and rest. I love you—I love you with all my heart!” These words, spoken earnestly, in a musical, low voice, and accompanied with a smile of ineffable tenderness, pierced the old man's heart. A suppressed convulsion swept over him; intense anguish wrung his vitals; perspiration trickled down his face. The young man continued to smile. “Ah, it does me good!” said he. The surgeon, with a strong effort to control himself, sat down upon the edge of the lounge and took his visitor’s wrist, counting the pulse.
“How long will it take?’’ the young man asked.
“Ten minutes. Two have passed.” The voice was hoarse.
“Ah, only eight minutes more! . . . Delicious, delicious! I feel it coming. . . . What was that ? . . . Ah, I understand. Music. . . . Beautiful! . . . Coming, coming. . . . Is that—that—water ? . . . Trick_ling? Dripping? Doctor!”
“Thank you, . . . thank you. . . . Noble man, . . . my saviour, . . . my bene . . . bene . . . factor. . . . Trickling, . . . trickling. . . . Dripping, dripping. . . . Doctor!”
"Doctor I--”
“Past hearing,” muttered the surgeon.
“And blind.”
Response was made by a firm grasp of the hand.
"Doctor I--”
“And numb.”
The old man watched and waited.
“Dripping, . . . dripping.” The last drop had run. There was a sigh, and nothing more. The surgeon laid down the hand. “The first step,” he groaned, rising to his feet; then his whole frame dilated. “The first step—the most difficult, yet the simplest. A providential delivery into my hands of that for which I have hungered for forty years. No withdrawal now! It is possible, because scientific; rational, but perilous. If I succeed —if? I shall succeed. I will succeed. . . . And after success—what? . . . Yes; what? Publish the plan and the result? The gallows. . . . So long as it shall exist, . . . and I exist, the gallows. That much. . . . But how account for its presence Ah, that pinches hard? I must trust to the future.”
He tore himself from the revery and started. “I wonder if she heard or saw anything.” With that reflection he cast a glance upon the form on the lounge, and then left the room, locked the door, locked also the door of the outer room, walked down two or three corridors, penetrated to a remote part of the house, and rapped at a door. It was opened by his wife. He, by this time, had regained complete mastery over himself.
“I thought I heard some one in the house just now,” he said, “but I can find no one.”
“I heard nothing.” He was greatly relieved.
“I did hear some one knock at the door less than an hour ago,” she resumed, “and heard you speak, I think. Did he come in?’’
"No.” The woman glanced at his feet and seemed perplexed. “I am almost certain,” she said, “that I heard foot-falls in the house, and yet I see that you are wearing slippers.”
“Oh, I had on my shoes then I--’’
“That explains it,” said the woman, satisfied; “I think the sound you heard must have been caused by rats.”
“Ah, that was it !” exclaimed the surgeon. Leaving, he closed the door, reopened it, and said, “I do not wish to be disturbed to-day.” He said to himself, as he went down the hall, “All is clear there.” He returned to the room in which his visitor lay, and made a careful examination. “Splendid specimen!” he softly exclaimed; “every organ sound, every function perfect; fine, large frame; well-shaped muscles, strong and sinewy; capable of wonderful development—if given opportunity. . . . I have no
doubt it can be done. Already I have succeeded with a dog,-a task less difficult than this, for in a man the cerebrum overlaps the cerebellum, which is not the case with a dog.
This gives a wide range for accident, with but one opportunity in a lifetime! In the cererum, the intellect and the affections; in the cerebellum, the senses and the motor forces; in the medulla oblongata, control of the diaphragm. In these two latter lie all the essentials of simple existence. The cerebrum is merely an adornment; that is to say, reason and the affections are almost purely ornamental.
I have already proved it. My dog, with its cerebrum removed, was idiotic, but it retained its physical senses to a certain degree.”
While thus ruminating he made careful preparations. He moved the couch, replaced the operating table under the skylight, selected a number of surgical instruments, prepared certain drug-mixtures, and arranged water, towels, and all the accessories of a tedious surgical operation. Suddenly he burst into laughter.
“Poor fool!” he exclaimed. “Paid me five thousand dollars to kill him! Didn’t have the courage to snuff his own candle! Singular, singular, the queer freaks these madmen have! You thought you were dying, poor idiot! Allow me to inform you, sir, that you are as much alive at this moment as ever you were in your life. But it will be all the same to you. You shall never be more conscious than you are now; and for all practical purposes, so far as they concern you, you are dead henceforth, though you shall live. By the way, how should you feel without a head? Ha, ha, ha! . . . But that’s a sorry joke.”
He lifted the unconscious form from the lounge and laid it upon the operating table.


About three years afterwards the following conversation was held between a captain of police and a detective:
“She may be insane,” suggested the captain.
“I think she is.”
“And yet you credit her story!”
"I do.”
“Not at all. I myself have learned something.”
“Much, in one sense; little, in another. You have heard those queer stories of her husband. Well, they are all nonsensical— probably with one exception. He is generally a harmless old fellow, but peculiar. He has performed some wonderful surgical operations. The people in his neighborhood are ignorant, and they fear him and wish to be rid of him; hence they tell a great many lies about him, and they come to believe their own stories. The one important thing that I have learned is that he is almost insanely enthusiastic on the subject of surgery—especially experimental surgery; and with an enthusiast there is hardly such a thing as a scruple. It is this that gives me confidence in the woman's story.” “You say she appeared to be frightened?”
“Doubly so—first, she feared that her husband would learn of her betrayal of him; second, the discovery itself had terrified her.”
“But her report of this discovery is very vague,” argued the captain.
“He conceals everything from her. She is merely guessing.”
“In part—yes; in other part—no. She heard the sounds distinctly, though she did not see clearly. Horror closed her eyes. What she thinks she saw is, I admit, preposterous; but she undoubtedly saw something extremely frightful. There are many peculiar little circumstances. He has eaten with her but few times during the last three years, and nearly always carries his food to his private rooms. She says that he either consumes an enormous quantity, throws much away, or is feeding something that eats prodigiously. He explains this to her by saying that he has animals with which he experiments. This is not true. Again, he always keeps the door to these rooms carefully locked; and not only that, but he has had the doors doubled and otherwise strengthened, and has heavily barred a window that looks from one of the rooms upon a dead wall a few feet distant.”
“What does it mean?” asked the captain.
“A prison.”
“For animals, perhaps.”
“Certainly not.”
“Because, in the first place, cages would have been better; in the second place, the security that he has provided is infinitely greater than that required for the confinement of ordinary animals.”
“All this is easily explained: he has a violent lunatic under treatment.”
“I had thought of that, but such is not the fact.”
“How do you know?”
“By reasoning thus: He has always refused to treat cases of lunacy; he confines himself to surgery; the walls are not padded, for the woman has heard sharp blows upon them; no human strength, however morbid, could possibly require such resisting strength as has been provided; he would not be likely to conceal a lunatic’s confinement from the woman; no lunatic could consume all the food that he provides; so extremely violent mania as these precautions indicate could not continue three years; if there is a lunatic in the case it is very probable that there should have been communication with some one outside concerning the patient, and there has been none; the woman has listened at the keyhole and has heard no human voice within; and last, we have heard the woman’s vague description of what she saw.”
“You have destroyed every possible theory,” said the captain, deeply interested, “and have suggested nothing new.”
“Unfortunately, I cannot; but the truth may be very simple, after all. The old surgeon is so peculiar that I am prepared to discover something remarkable.”
“Have you suspicions?”
"I have.”
"Of what?”
“A crime. The woman suspects it.”
“And betrays it?”
“Certainly, because it is so horrible that her humanity revolts; so terrible that her whole nature demands of her that she hand over the criminal to the law; so frightful that she is in mortal terror; so awful that it has shaken her mind.”
“What do you propose to do?” asked the captain.
“Secure evidence. I may need help.”
“You shall have all the men you require. Go ahead, but be careful. You are on dangerous ground. You would be a mere plaything in the hands of that man.”
Two days afterwards the detective again sought the captain. “I have a queer document,” he said, exhibiting torn fragments of paper, on which there was writing. “The woman stole it and brought it to me. She snatched a handful out of a book, getting only a part of each of a few leaves.”
These fragments, which the men arranged as best they could, were (the detective explained) torn by the surgeon’s wife from the first volume of a number of manuscript books which her husband had written on one subject, —the very one that was the cause of her excitement.
“About the time that he began a certain experiment three years ago,” continued the detective, “he removed everything from the suite of two rooms containing his study and his operating-room. In one of the bookcases that he removed to a room across the passage was a drawer, which he kept locked, but which he opened from time to time. As is quite common with such pieces of furniture, the lock of the drawer is a very poor one; and so the woman, while making a thorough search yesterday, found a key on her bunch that fitted this lock. She opened the drawer, drew out the bottom book of a pile (so that its mutilation would more likely escape discovery), saw that it might contain a clew, and tore out a handful of the leaves. She had barely replaced the book, locked the drawer, and made her escape when her husband appeared. He hardly ever allows her to be out of his sight when she is in that part of the house.”
The fragments read as follows: “ . . . the motory nerves. I had hardly dared to hope for such a result, although inductive reasoning had convinced me of its possibility, my only doubt having been on the score of my lack of skill. Their operation has been only slightly impaired, and even this would not have been the case had the operation been performed in infancy, before the intellect had sought and obtained recognition as an essential part of the whole. Therefore I state, as a proved fact, that the cells of the motory nerves have inherent forces sufficient to the purposes of those nerves. But hardly so with the sensory nerves. These latter are, in fact, an offshoot of the former, evolved from them by natural (though not essential) heterogeneity, and to a certain extent are dependent on the evolution and expansion of a contemporaneous tendency, that developed into mentality, or mental function. Both of these latter tendencies, these evolvements, are merely refinements of the motory system, and not independent entities; that is to say, they are the blossoms of a plant that propagates from its roots. The motory system is the first . . . nor am I surprised that such prodigious muscular energy is developing. It promises yet to surpass the wildest dreams of human strength. I account for it thus: The powers of assimilation had reached their full development. They had formed the habit of doing a certain amount of work. They sent their products to all parts of the system. As a result of my operation the consumption of these products was reduced fully one-half; that is to say, about one-half of the demand for them was withdrawn. But force of habit required the production to proceed. This production was strength, vitality, energy. Thus double the usual quantity of this strength, this energy, was stored in the remaining . . . developed a tendency that did surprise me. Nature, no longer suffering the distraction of extraneous interferences, and at the same time being cut in two (as it were), with reference to this case, did not fully adjust herself to the new situation, as does a magnet, which, when divided at the point of equilibrium, renews itself in its two fragments by investing each with opposite poles; but, on the contrary, being severed from laws that theretofore had controlled her, and possessing still that mysterious tendency to develop into something more potential and complex, she blindly (having lost her lantern) pushed her demands for material that would secure this development, and as blindly used it when it was given her. Hence this marvellous voracity, this insatiable hunger, this wonderful ravenousness; and hence also (there being nothing but the physical part to receive this vast storing of energy) this strength that is becoming almost hourly herculean, almost daily appalling. It is becoming a serious . . . narrow escape today. By some means, while I was absent, it unscrewed the stopper of the silver feedingpipe (which I have already herein termed ‘the artificial mouth'), and, in one of its curious antics, allowed all the chyle to escape from its stomach through the tube. Its hunger then became intense—I may say furious. I placed my hands upon it to push it into a chair, when, feeling my touch, it caught me, clasped me around the neck, and would have crushed me to death instantly had I not slipped from its powerful grasp. Thus I always had to be on my guard. I have provided the screw stopper with a spring catch, and . . . usually docile when not hungry; slow and heavy in its movements, which are, of course, purely unconscious; any apparent excitement in movement being due to local irregularities in the blood-supply of the cerebellum, which, if I did not have it enclosed in a silver case that is immovable, I should expose and . . .”
The captain looked at the detective with a puzzled air. “I don’t understand it at all,” said he.
“Nor I,” agreed the detective. “What do you propose to do?”
“Make a raid.”
“Do you want a man?”
“Three. The strongest men in your district.”
“Why, the surgeon is old and weak!”
“Nevertheless, I want three strong men; and for that matter, prudence really advises me to take twenty.”


At one o’clock the next morning a cautious, scratching sound might have been heard in the ceiling of the surgeon’s operating-room. Shortly afterwards the skylight sash was carefully raised and laid aside. A man peered into the opening. Nothing could be heard.
“That is singular,” thought the detective.
He cautiously lowered himself to the floor by a rope, and then stood for some moments listening intently. There was a dead silence. He shot the slide of a dark-lantern, and rapidly swept the room with the light. It was bare, with the exception of a strong iron staple and ring, screwed to the floor in the centre of the room, with a heavy chain attached. The detective then turned his attention to the outer room; it was perfectly bare. He was deeply perplexed. Returning to the inner room, he called softly to the men to descend. While they were thus occupied he re-entered the outer room and examined the door. A glance sufficed. It was kept closed by a spring attachment, and was locked with a strong spring-lock that could be drawn from the inside.
“The bird has just flown,” mused the detective. “A singular accident! The discovery and proper use of this thumb-bolt might not have happened once in fifty years, if my theory is correct.”
By this time the men were behind him. He noiselessly drew the spring-bolt, opened the door, and looked out into the hall. He heard a peculiar sound. It was as though a gigantic lobster was floundering and scrambling in some distant part of the old house. Accompanying this sound was a loud, whistling breathing, and frequent rasping gasps. These sounds were heard by still another person—the surgeon’s wife; for they originated very near her rooms, which were a considerable distance from her husband's. She had been sleeping lightly, tortured by fear and harassed by frightful dreams. The conspiracy into which she had recently entered, for the destruction of her husband, was a source of great anxiety. She constantly suffered from the most gloomy forebodings, and lived in an atmosphere of terror.
Added to the natural horror of her situation were those countless sources of fear which a fright-shaken mind creates and then magnifies. She was, indeed, in a pitiable state, having been driven first by terror to desperation, and then to madness. Startled thus out of fitful slumber by the noise at her door, she sprang from her bed to the floor, every terror that lurked in her acutely tense mind and diseased imagination starting up and almost overwhelming her. The idea of flight—one of the strongest of all instincts —seized upon her, and she ran to the door, beyond all control of reason. She drew the bolt and flung the door wide open, and then fled wildly down the passage, the appalling hissing and rasping gurgle ringing in her ears apparently with a thousandfold intensity. But the passage was in absolute darkness, and she had not taken a half-dozen steps when she tripped upon an unseen object on the floor. She fell headlong upon it, encountering in it a large, soft, warm substance that writhed and squirmed, and from which came the sounds that had awakened her. Instantly realizing her situation, she uttered a shriek such as only an unnamable terror can inspire. But hardly had her cry started the echoes in the empty corridor when it was suddenly stifled. Two prodigious arms had closed upon her and crushed the life out of her.
The cry performed the office of directing the detective and his assistants, and it also aroused the old surgeon, who occupied rooms between the officers and the object of their search. The cry of agony pierced him to the marrow, and a realization of the cause of it burst upon him with frightful force. “It has come at last !” he gasped, springing from his bed. Snatching from a table a dimly-burning lamp and a long knife which he had kept at hand for three years, he dashed into the corridor. The four officers had already started forward, but when they saw him emerge they halted in silence. In that moment of stillness the surgeon paused to listen. He heard the hissing sound and the clumsy floundering of a bulky, living object in the direction of his wife's apartments. It evidently was advancing towards him. A turn in the corridor shut out the view. He turned up the light, which revealed a ghastly pallor in his face.
“Wife!" he called.
There was no response. He hurriedly advanced, the four men following quietly. He turned the angle of the corridor, and ran so rapidly that by the time the officers had come in sight of him again he was twenty steps away. He ran past a huge, shapeless object, sprawling, crawling, and floundering along, and arrived at the body of his wife.
He gave one horrified glance at her face, and staggered away. Then a fury seized him. Clutching the knife firmly, and holding the lamp aloft, he sprang toward the ungainly object in the corridor. It was then that the officers, still advancing cautiously, saw a little more clearly, though still indistinctly, the object of the surgeon’s fury, and the cause of the look of unutterable anguish in his face. The hideous sight caused them to pause. They saw what appeared to be a man, yet evidently was not a man; huge, awkward, shapeless; a squirming, lurching, stumbling mass, completely naked. It raised its broad shoulders. It had no head, but instead of it a small metallic ball surmounting its massive neck.
“Devil!” exclaimed the surgeon, raising the knife.
“Hold, there!” commanded a stern voice.
The surgeon quickly raised his eyes and saw the four officers, and for a moment fear paralyzed his arm.
“The police!" he gasped.
Then, with a look of redoubled fury, he sent the knife to the hilt into the squirming mass before him. The wounded monster sprang to its feet and wildly threw its arms about, meanwhile emitting fearful sounds from a silver tube through which it breathed. The surgeon aimed another blow, but never gave it. In his blind fury he lost his caution, and was caught in an iron grasp. The struggling threw the lamp some feet toward the officers, and it fell to the floor, shattered to pieces. Simultaneously with the crash the oil took fire, and the corridor was filled with flame. The officers could not approach. Before them was the spreading blaze, and secure behind it were two forms struggling in a fearful embrace. They heard cries and gasps, and saw the gleaming of a knife.
The wood in the house was old and dry. It took fire at once, and the flames spread with great rapidity. The four officers turned and fled, barely escaping with their lives. In an hour nothing remained of the mysterious old house and its inmates but a blackened ruin.

#MosterMaker #BestHorrorShortStories

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899: A 6a66le Horror Anthology Edited by Andrew Barger is Published!

I'm happy to announce on New Year's Eve that my latest anthology:  Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899: A 6a66le Horror Anthology is published! It contains the scariest horror stories from the last half of the 19th century, including shocking tales from popular American and Victorian authors.
Andrew Barger (that would be me), award-winning author and editor of Phantasmal: Best Ghost Short Stories 1800-1849 and 6a66le: Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1850 has researched the finest horror stories for the last half of the nineteenth century and combined them in one haunting collection. I have added my familiar scholarly touch by annotating the stories, providing story background information, author photos and a list of horror stories considered to settle on the most frightening and well-written tales.
  • A Terror Tour Guide (2016) by Andrew Barger (A leading voice in the gothic literature space, Andrew sets the stage for this anthology of nightmares.)
  • The Pioneers of Pike’s Peak (1897) by Basil Tozer (Hoards of giant spiders on a Colorado mountain. What could go wrong?)
  • Lot No. 249 (1892) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Perhaps the premier mummy horror story ever recorded from the master that is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is measured out to its climatic ending.)
  • The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Explore the depths of insanity.)
  • Green Tea (1871) by Joseph Le Fanu (One of the most haunting horror stories by the Irish master.)
  • What Was It? (1859) by Fitz James O’Brien (Sometimes the worst horror is one you can't see.)
  • Pollock and the Porroh Man (1897) by H. G. Wells (Wells takes us deep into the jungle and its wrought supernatural horror.)
  • The Spider of Guyana (1857) by Erckmann-Chatrian (The first giant spider horror story is one of its best.)
  • The Squaw (1893) by Bram Stoker (The author of Dracula never disappoints.)
  • The Great God Pan (1894) by Arthur Machen (Mythic horror that gained much praise from H. P. Lovecraft.)
  • His Unconquerable Enemy (1889) by W. C. Morrow (A fiendish tale of torture sees Morrow at his best.)
  • Horror Short Stories Considered (Andrew concludes the horror anthology by listing every horror short story he read to pick the very best.)
Read the premier horror anthology for the last half of the nineteenth century tonight! 

#BestHorrorShortStories #BestHorrorStoriesBook

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Guest from Gibbet Island by Washington Irving - Scariest Short Story 17 from 1850-1899 in Andrew Barger's Countdown

Washington Irving

American writer Washington Irving is best known as the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hallow that is still widely read some 200 years after its publication. His second best ghost short story was Adventure of the German Student. Both were recently published in my anthology titled, Phantasmal: The Best Ghost Short Stories 1800-1849.

In my view Washington Irving's "Gibbet" is an antiquated term for the gallows where criminals met their fate by hanging. Gibbet Island is known today as Ellis Island. That's right, Washington Irving appears to have penned the first ghost story involving Ellis Island and it's one of his finest, published four years before his death in 1855.

"Guests from Gibbet Island: A Legend of Communipaw," is an unincorporated community located in today's modern Jersey City in Hudson County, New Jersey. The ghost story was purportedly found among the Knickerbocker Papers at Wolfert's Roost. Unfortunately it contains certain stereotypes. It begins with the following letter:



I observed in your last month's periodical, a communication from a Mr. VANDERDONK, giving some information concerning Communipaw. I herewith send you, Mr. Editor, a legend connected with that place; and am much surprised it should have escaped the researches of your very authentic correspondent, as it relates to an edifice scarcely less fated than the House of the Four Chimneys. I give you the legend in its crude and simple state, as I heard it related; it is capable, however, of being dilated, inflated, and dressed up into very imposing shape and dimensions. Should any of your ingenious contributors in this line feel inclined to take it in hand, they will find ample materials, collateral and illustrative, among the papers of the late Reinier Skaats, many years since crier of the court, and keeper of the City Hall, in the city of the Manhattoes; or in the library of that important and utterly renowned functionary, Mr. Jacob Hays, long time high constable, who, in the course of his extensive researches, has amassed an amount of valuable facts, to be rivalled only by that great historical collection, "The Newgate Calendar."

Your humble servant,


Guests from Gibbet Island: A Legend of Communipaw
WHOEVER has visited the ancient and renowned village of Communipaw may have noticed an old stone building, of most ruinous and sinister appearance. The doors and window-shutters are ready to drop from their hinges ; old clothes are stufled in the broken panes of glass, while legions of half-starved dogs prowl about the premises, and rush out and bark at every passer-by, for your beggarly house in a village is most apt to swarm with profli gate and ill-conditioned dogs. What adds to the sinister appearance of this mansion is a tall frame in front, not a little resembling a gallows, and which looks as if waiting to accommodate some of the inhabitants with a well-merited airing. It is not a gallows, however, but an ancient sign-post; for this dwelling in the golden days of Communipaw was one of the most orderly and peaceful of village taverns, where public affairs were talked and smoked over. In fact, it was in this very building that Oloffe the Dreamer and his companions concerted that great voyage of discovery and colonization in which they explored Buttermilk Channel, were nearly shipwrecked in the strait of Hell Gate, and finally landed on the island of Manhattan, and founded the great city of New Amsterdam. Even after the province had been cruelly wrested from the sway of their High Mightinesses by the combined forces of the British and the Yankees, this tavern continued its ancient loyalty. It is true, the head of the Prince of Orange disappeared from the sign, a strange bird being painted over it, with the explanatory legend of “DIE WILDE GANS,” or, The Wild Goose; but this all the world knew to be a sly riddle of the landlord, the worthy Teunis Van Gieson, a knowing man, in a small way, who laid his finger beside his nose and winked, when any one studied the signification of his sign, and observed that his goose was hatching, but would join the flock whenever they flew over the water ; an enigma which was the perpetual recreation and delight of the loyal but fat-headed burghers of Communipaw.
Under the sway of this patriotic, though discreet and quiet publican, the tavern continued to flourish in primeval tranquillity, and was the resort of true-hearted Nederlanders, from all parts of Pavonia; who met here quietly and secretly, to smoke and drink the downfall of Briton and Yankee, and success to Admiral Van Tromp.
The only drawback on the comfort of the establishment was a nephew of mine host, a sister’s son, Yan Yost Vanderscamp by name, and a real scamp by nature. This unlucky whipster showed an early propensity to mischief, which he gratified in a small way by playing tricks upon the frequenters of the Wild Goose,—putting gimpowder in their pipes, or squibs in their pockets, and astonishing them with an explosion, while they sat nodding around the fireplace in the bar-room; and if perchance a worthy burgher from some distant part of Pavonia lingered until dark over his potation, it was odds but young Vanderscamp would slip a brier under his horse’s tail, as he mounted, and send him clattering along the road, in neck-or-nothing style, to the infinite astonishment and discomfiture of the rider.
It may be wondered at, that mine host of the Wild Goose did not turn such a graceless varlet out of doors; but Teunis Van Gieson was an easy-tempered man, and, having no child of his own, looked upon his nephew with almost parental indulgence. His patience and good-nature were doomed to be tried by another inmate of his mansion. This was a crossgrained curmudgeon of a negro, named Pluto, who was a kind of enigma in Communipaw. Where he came from, nobody knew. He was found one morning, after a storm, cast like a sea-monster on the strand, in front of the Wild Goose, and lay there, more dead than alive. The neighbors gathered round, and speculated on this production of the deep ; whether it were fish or flesh, or a compound of both, commonly yclept a merman. The kind-hearted Teunis Van Gieson, seeing that he wore the human form, took him into his house, and warmed him into life. By degrees, he showed signs of intelligence, and even uttered sounds very much like language, but which no one in Communipaw could understand. Some thought him a negro just from Guinea, who had either fallen overboard, or escaped from a slave-ship. Nothing, however, could ever draw from him any account of his origin. When questioned on the subject, he merely pointed to Gibbet Island, a small rocky islet which lies in the open bay, just opposite Communipaw, as if that were his native place, though everybody knew it had never been inhabited.
In the process of time, he acquired something of the Dutch language; that is to say, he learnt all its vocabulary of oaths and maledictions, with just words suflicient to string them together. “Donder en blic/esem ./ ” (thunder and lightning) was the gentlest of his ejaculations. For years he kept about the Wild Goose, more like one of those familiar spirits, or household goblins, we read of, than like a human being. He acknowledged allegiance to no one, but performed various domestic oflices, when it suited his humor ; waiting occasionally on the guests, grooming the horses, cutting wood, drawing water; and all this without being ordered. Lay any command on him, and the stubborn sea-urchin was sure to rebel. He was never so much at home, however, as when on the water, plying about in skifi' or canoe, entirely alone, fishing, crabbing, or grabbing for oysters, and would bring home quantities for the larder of the Wild Goose, which he would throw down at the kitchen-door, with a growl. No wind nor weather deterred him from launching forth on his favorite element ; indeed, the wilder the weather, the more he seemed to enjoy it. If a storm was brewing, he was sure to put ofi' from shore ; and would be seen far out in the bay, his light skiff dancing like a feather on the waves, when sea and sky were in a turmoil, and the stoutest ships were fain to lower their sails. Sometimes on such occasions he would be absent for days together. How he weathered the tempest, and how and where he subsisted, no one could divine, nor did any one venture to ask, for all had an almost superstitious awe of him. Some of the Communipaw oystermen declared they had more than once seen him suddenly disappear, canoe and all, as if plunged beneath the waves, and after a while come up again, in quite a different part of the bay; whence they concluded that he could live under water like that notable species of wild-duck commonly called the hell-diver. All began to consider him in the light of a foul-weather bird, like the Mother Carey’s chicken, or stormy petrel ; and whenever they saw him putting far out in his skifi', in cloudy weather, made up their minds for a storm. The only being for whom he seemed to have any liking was Yan Yost Vanderscamp, and him he liked for his very wickedness. He in a manner took the boy under his tutelage, prompted him to all kinds of mischief, aided him in every wild harum-scarum freak, until the lad became the complete scapegrace of the village, a pest to his uncle and to every one else. Nor were his pranks confined to the land ; he soon learned to accompany old Pluto on the water. Together these worthies would cruise about the broad bay, and all the neighboring straits and rivers ; poking around in skififs and canoes; robbing the set nets of the fishermen; landing on remote coasts, and laying waste orchards and water-melon patches; in short, carrying on a complete system of piracy, on a small scale. Piloted by Pluto, the youthful Vanderscamp soon became acquainted with all the bays, rivers, creeks, and inlets of the watery world around him ; could navigate from the Hook to Spiting Devil on the darkest night, and learned to set even the terrors of Hell Gate at defiance.
At length negro and boy suddenly disappeared, and days and weeks elapsed, but without tidings of them. Some said they must have run away and gone to sea; others jocosely hinted that old Pluto, being no other than his namesake in disguise, had spirited away the boy to the nether regions. All, however agreed in one thing, that the village was well rid of them.
In the process of time, the good Teunis Van Gieson slept with his fathers, and the tavern remained shut up, waiting for a claimant, for the next heir was Yan Yost Vanderscamp, and he had not been heard of for years. At length, one day, a boat was seen pulling for shore, from a long, black, rakish-looking schooner, that lay at anchor in the bay. The boat’s crew seemed worthy of the craft from which they debarked. Never had such a set of noisy, roistering, swaggering varlets landed in peaceful Communipaw. They were outlandish in garb and demeanor, and were headed by a rough, burly, bully rulfian, with fiery whiskers, a copper nose, a scar across his face, and a great Flaunderish beaver slouched on one side of his head, in whom, to their dismay, the quiet inhabitants were made to recognize their early pest, Yan Yost Vanderscamp. The rear of this hopeful gang was brought up by old Pluto, who had lost an eye, grown grizzlyheaded, and looked more like a devil than ever. Vanderscamp renewed his acquaintance with the old burghers, much against their will, and in a manner not at all to their taste. He slapped them familiarly on the back, gave them an iron grip of the hand, and was hailfellow well met. According to his own account, he had been all the world over, had made money by bags full, had ships in every sea, and now meant to turn the Wild Goose into a country-seat, where he and his comrades, all rich merchants from foreign parts, might enjoy themselves in the interval of their voyages.
Sure enough, in a little while there was a complete metamorphose of the Wild Goose. From being a quiet, peaceful Dutch publichouse, it became a most riotous, uproarious private dwelling; a complete rendezvous for boisterous men of the seas, who came here to have what they called a “blow-out” on dry land, and might be seen at all hours, lounging about the door, or lolling out of the windows, swearing among themselves and cracking rough jokes on every passer-by. The house was fitted up, too, in so strange a manner: hammocks slung to the walls, instead of bedsteads; odd kinds of furniture, of foreign fashion; bamboo couches, Spanish chairs; pistols, cutlasses, and blunderbusses, suspended on every, peg; silver crucifixes on the mantle-pieces, silver candle-sticks and porringers on the tables, contrasting oddly with the pewter and Delf ware of the original establishment. And then the strange amusements of these sea-monsters! Pitching Spanish dollars, instead of quoits ; firing blunderbusses out of the window ; shooting at a mark, or at any unhappy dog, or cat, or pig, or barn-door fowl, that might happen to come within reach.
The only being who seemed to relish their rough waggery was old Pluto ; and yet he led but a dog’s life of it, for they practised all kinds of manual jokes upon him, kicked him about like a foot—ball, shook him by his grizzly mop of wool, and never spoke to him without coupling a curse by way of adjective, to his name, and consigning him to the infernal regions. The old fellow, however, seemed to like them the better the more they cursed him, though his utmost expression of pleasure never amounted to more than the growl of a petted bear, when his ears are rubbed.
Old Pluto was the ministering spirit at the orgies of the Wild Goose ; and such orgies as took place there! Such drinking, singing, whooping, swearing ; with an occasional interlude of quarrelling and fighting. The noisier grew the revel, the more old Pluto plied the potations, until the guests would become frantic in their merriment, smashing everything to pieces, and throwing the house out of the windows. Sometimes, after a drinking bout, they sallied forth and scoured the village, to the dismay of the worthy burghers, who gathered their women within doors, and would have shut up the house. Vanderscamp, however, was not to be rebuffed. He insisted on renewing acquaintance with his old neighbors, and on introducing his friends, the merchants, to their families ; swore he was on the lookout for a wife, and meant, before he stopped, to find husbands for all their daughters. So, will-ye, nill-ye, sociable he was; swaggered about their best parlors, with his hat on one side of his head ; sat on the good-wife’s nicely waxed mahogany table, kicking his heels against the carved and polished leg; kissed and tousled the young zzrows; and, if they frowned and pouted, gave them a gold rosary, or a sparkling cross, to put them in goodhumor again.
Sometimes nothing would satisfy him, but he must have some of his old neighbors to dinner at the Wild Goose. There was no refusing him, for he had the complete upper hand of the community, and the peaceful burghers all stood in awe of him. But what a time would the quiet, worthy men have, among these rake-hells, who would delight to astound them with the most extravagant gunpowder tales, embroidered with all kinds of foreign oaths, clink the can with them, pledge them in deep potations, bawl drinking-songs in their ears, and occasionally fire pistols over their heads, or under the table, and then laugh in their faces, and ask them how they liked the smell of gunpowder.
Thus was the little village of Communipaw for a time like the unfortunate wight possessed with devils; until Vanderscamp and his brother merchants would sail on another trading voyage, when the Wild Goose would be shut up and everything relapse into quiet, only to be disturbed by his next visitation.
The mystery of all these proceedings gradually dawned upon the tardy intellects of Communipaw. These were the times of the notorious Captain Kidd, when the American harbors were the resorts of piratical adventurers of all kinds, who, under pretext of mercantile voyages, scoured the West Indies, made plundering descents upon the Spanish Main, visited even the remote Indian Seas, and then came to dispose of their booty, have their revels, and fit out new expeditions in the English colonies.
Vanderscamp had served in this hopeful school, and, having risen to importance among the buccaneers, had pitched upon his native village and early home, as a quiet, out-of-theway, unsuspected place, where he and his comrades, while anchored at New York, might have their feasts, and concert their plans, without molestation.
At length the attention of the British government was called to these piratical enterprises, that were becoming so frequent and outrageous. Vigorous measures were taken to check and punish them. Several of the most noted freebooters were caught and executed, and three of Vanderscamp‘s chosen comrades, the most riotous swash-bucklers of the Wild Goose, were hanged in chains on Gibbet Island, in full sight of their favorite resort. As to Vanderscamp himself, he and his man Pluto again disappeared, and it was hoped by the people of Communipaw that he had fallen in some foreign brawl, or been swung on some foreign gallows.
For a time, therefore, the tranquillity of the village was restored; the worthy Dutchmen once more smoked their pipes in peace, eying With peculiar complacency their old pests and terrors, the pirates, dangling and drying in the sun, on Gibbet Island.
This perfect calm was doomed at length to be rufiied. The fiery persecution of the pirates gradually subsided. Justice was satisfied with the examples that had been made, and there was no more talk of Kidd, and the other heroes of like kidney. On a calm summer evening, a boat, somewhat heavily laden, was seen pulling into Communipaw. What was the surprise and disquiet of the inhabitants to seeYan Yost Vanderscamp seated at the helm, and his man Pluto tugging at the oar! Vanderscamp, however, was apparently an altered man. He brought home with him a wife, who seemed to be a shrew, and to have the upper hand of him. He no longer was the swaggering, bully ruflian, but afi'ected the regular merchant, and talked of retiring from business, and settling down quietly, to pass the rest of his days in his native place.
The Wild Goose mansion was again opened, but with diminished splendor, and no riot. It is true, Vanderscamp had frequent nautical visitors, and the sound of revelry was occasionally overheard in his house; but everything seemed to be done under the rose, and old Pluto was the only servant that officiated at these orgies. The visitors, indeed, were by no means of the turbulent stamp of their predecessors; but quiet mysterious traders; full of nods, and winks, and hieroglyphic signs, with whom, to use their cant phrase, “everything was smug.” Their ships came to anchor at night, in the lower bay; and, on a private signal, Vanderscamp would launch his boat, and, accompanied solely by his man Pluto, would make them mysterious visits. Sometimes boats pulled in at night, in front of the Wild Goose, and various articles of merchandise were landed in the dark, and spirited away, nobody knew whither. One of the more curious of the inhabitants kept watch, and caught a glimpse of the features of some of these night visitors, by the casual glance of a lantern, and declared that he recognized more than one of the freebooting frequenters of the Wild Goose, in former times; whence he concluded that Vanderscamp was at his old game, and that this mysterious merchandise was nothing more nor less than piratical plunder. The more charitable opinion, however, was, that Vanderscamp and his comrades, having been driven from their old line of business by the “oppressions of government,” had resorted to smuggling to make both ends meet.
Be that as it may, I come now to the extraordinary fact which is the butt-end of this story. It happened, late one night, that Yan Yost Vanderscamp was returning across the broad bay, in his light skiff, rowed by his man Pluto. He had been carousing on board of a vessel, newly arrived, and was somewhat obfuscated in intellect, by the liquor he had imbibed. It was a still, sultry night; a heavy mass of lurid clouds was rising in the west, with the low muttering of distant thunder. Vanderscamp called on Pluto to pull lustily, that they might get home before the gathering storm. The old negro made no reply, but shaped his course so as to skirt the rocky shores of Gibbet Island. A faint creaking overhead caused Vanderscamp to cast up his eyes, when, to his horror, he beheld the bodies of his three pot companions and brothers in iniquity dangling in the moonlight, their rags fluttering, and their chains creaking, as they were slowly swung backward and forward by the rising breeze.
“What do you mean, you blockhead!” cried Vanderscamp, “by pulling so close to the island?”
“I thought you'd be glad to see your old friends once more,” growled the negro; “you were never afraid of a living man, what do you fear from the dead?”
“Who ’s afraid?” hiccoughed Vanderscamp, partly heated by liquor, partly nettled by the jeer of the negro; “who’s afraid? Hang me, but I would be glad to see them once more, alive or dead, at the Wild Goose. Come, my lads in the wind!” continued he, taking a draught and flourishing the bottle above his head, “here ’s fair weather to you in the other world; and if you should be walking the rounds to-night, odds fish! but I ’ll be happy if you will drop in to supper.”
A dismal creaking was the only reply. The wind blew loud and shrill, and as it whistled round the gallows, and among the bones, sounded as if they were laughing and gibbering in the air. Old Pluto chuckled to himself, and now pulled for home. The storm burst over the voyagers, while they were yet far from shore. The rain fell in torrents, the thunder crashed and pealed, and the lightning kept up an incessant blaze. It was stark midnight before they landed at Communipaw.
Dripping and shivering, Vanderscamp crawled homeward. He was completely sobered by the storm, the water soaked from without having diluted and cooled the liquor within. Arrived at the Wild Goose, he knocked timidly and dubiously at the door; for he dreaded the reception he was to experience from his wife. He had reason to do so. She met him at the threshold, in a precious ill-humor.
“Is this a time,” said she, “to keep people out of their beds, and to bring home company, to turn the house upside down?”
“Company?” said Vanderscamp, meekly; “I have brought no company with me, wife?"
“No, indeed! they have got here before you, but by your invitation; and blessed-looking company they are, truly!"
Vanderscamp’s knees smote together. “For the love of heaven, where are they, wife?”
“Where?—why in the blue room, up-stairs, making themselves as much at home as if the house were their own.”
Vanderscamp made a desperate effort, scrambled up to the room, and threw open the door. Sure enough, there at a table, on which burned a light as blue as brimstone, sat the three guests from Gibbet Island, with halters round their necks, and bobbing their cups together, as if they were hob-or-nobbing, and trolling the old Dutch freebooter’s glee, since translated into English:
“For three merry lads be we,
And three merry lads be we;
I on the land, and thou on the sand,
And Jack on the gallows-tree.”
Vanderscamp saw and heard no more. Starting back with horror, he missed his footing on the landing-place, and fell from the top of the stairs to the bottom. He was taken up speechless, either from the fall or the fright, and was buried in the yard of the little Dutch church at Bergen, on the following Sunday.
From that day forward the fate of the Wild Goose was sealed. It was pronounced a hazmtea’ house, and avoided accordingly. No one inhabited it but Vanderscamp’s shrew of a widow and old Pluto, and they were considered but little better than its hobgoblin visitors. Pluto grew more and more haggard and morose, and looked more like an imp of darkness than a human being. He spoke to no one, but went about muttering to himself ; or, as some hinted, talking with the devil, who, though unseen, was ever at his elbow. Now and then he was seen pulling about the bay alone in his skifl, in dark weather, or at the approach of nightfall; nobody could tell why, unless, on an errand to invite more guests from the gallows. Indeed, it was affirmed that the Wild Goose still continued to be a house of entertainment for such guests, and that on stormy nights the blue chamber was occasionally illuminated, and sounds of diabolical merriment were overheard, mingling with the howling of the tempest. Some treated these as idle stories, until on one such night, it was about the time of the equinox, there was a horrible uproar in the Wild Goose, that could not be mistaken. It was not so much the sound of revelry, however, as strife, with two or three piercing shrieks, that pervaded every part of the village. Nevertheless, no one thought of hastening to the spot. On the contrary, the honest burghers of Communipaw drew their nightcaps over their ears, and buried their heads under the bedclothes, at the thoughts of Vanderscamp and his gallows companions.
The next morning some of the bolder and more curious undertook to reconnoitre. All was quiet and lifeless at the Wild Goose. The door yawned wide open, and had evidently been open all night, for the storm had beaten into the house. Gathering more courage from the silence and apparent desertion, they gradually ventured over the threshold. The house had indeed the air of having been possessed by devils. Everything was topsy-turvy ; trunks had been broken open, and chests of drawers and corner cupboards turned inside out, as in a time of general sack and pillage; but the most woful sight was the widow of Yan Yost Vanderscamp, extended a corpse on the floor of the blue chamber, with the marks of a deadly gripe on the windpipe.
All now was conjecture and dismay at Communipaw ; and the disappearance of old Pluto, who was nowhere to be found, gave rise to all kinds of wild surmises. Some suggested that the negro had betrayed the house to some of Vanderscamp’s buccaneering associates, and that they had decamped together with the booty; others surmised that the negro was nothing more nor less than a devil incarnate, who had now accomplished his ends, and made off with his dues.
Events, however, vindicated the negro from this last implication. His skifi' was picked up, drifting about the bay, bottom upward, as if wrecked in a tempest; and his body was found, shortly afterward, by some Communipaw fishermen, stranded among the rocks of Gibbet Island, near the foot of the pirates gallows. The fishermen shook their heads and observed that old Pluto had ventured once too often to invite guests from Gibbet Island.

#GibbetIsland #BestGhostStories

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Was It a Dream by Guy de Maupassant - Scary Short Story 18 in Andrew Barger's Countdown

Henri Guy de Maupassant

Frenchman, Henri Guy de Maupassant, is best known today for his short stories. He penned over 300 of them and they range from the romantic to the supernatural, though most the latter were merely fictions of the protagonists' minds.

Was It a Dream? is Maupassant's best ghost short story given its longing writing style and graveyard setting. The scary story is gothic and haunting and written in the shadow of Poe as it involves the longing for a lost love reminiscent of a common theme in Edgar Allan Poe's short stories. Maupassant was influential in the last half of the nineteenth century. His stories even drew the attention of Leo Tolstoy who penned an essay called "The Works of Guy de Maupassant." Tolstoy's short stories continue to grow in popularity as do Maupassant's. He died at the young age of 43.

I pick Was It a Dream? as best ghost short story 18  in my countdown of the twenty best from 1850-1899. Enjoy this haunting little tale!

Was It a Dream?

“I had loved her madly! Why does one love? Why does one love? How queer it is to see only one being in the world, to have only one thought in one’s mind, only one desire in the heart, and only one name on the lips; a name which comes up continually, which rises like the water in a spring, from the depths of the soul, which rises to the lips, and which one repeats over and over again which one whispers ceaselessly, everywhere, like a prayer.

“I am going to tell you our story, for love only has one, which is always the same. I met her and loved her; that is all. And for a whole year I have lived on her tenderness, on her caresses, in her arms, in her dresses, on her words, so completely wrapped up, bound, imprisoned in everything which came from her, that I no longer knew whether it was day or night, if I was dead or alive, on this old earth of ours, or elsewhere.

“And then she died. How? I do not know. I no longer know; but one evening she came home wet, for it was raining heavily, and the next day she coughed, and she coughed for about a week, and took to her bed. What happened I do not remember now, but doctors came, wrote and went away. Medicines were brought, and some women made her drink them. Her hands were hot, her forehead was burning, and her eyes bright and sad. When I spoke to her, she answered me, but I do not remember what we said. I have forgotten everything, everything, everything! She died, and I very well remember her slight, feeble sigh. The nurse said: ‘Ah! and I understood, I understood!’

“I knew nothing more, nothing. I saw a priest, who said: ‘Your mistress?’ and it seemed to me as if he were insulting her. As she was dead, nobody had the right to know that any longer, and I turned him out. Another came who was very kind and tender, and I shed tears when he spoke to me about her.

“They consulted me about the funeral, but I do not remember anything that they said, though I recollected the coffin, and the sound of the hammer when they nailed her down in it. Oh! God, God!
“She was buried! Buried! She! In that hole! Some people came — female friends. I made my escape, and ran away; I ran, and then I walked through the streets, and went home, and the next day I started on a journey.”

“Yesterday I returned to Paris, and when I saw my room again — our room, our bed, our furniture, everything that remains of the life of a human being after death, I was seized by such a violent attack of fresh grief, that I was very near opening the window and throwing myself out into the street. As I could not remain any longer among these things, between these walls which had enclosed and sheltered her, and which retained a thousand atoms of her, of her skin and of her breath in their imperceptible crevices, I took up my hat to make my escape, and just as I reached the door, I passed the large glass in the hall, which she had put there so that she might be able to look at herself every day from head to foot as she went out, to see if her toilet looked well, and was correct and pretty, from her little boots to her bonnet.

“And I stopped short in front of that looking-glass in which she had so often been reflected. So often, so often, that it also must have retained her reflection. I was standing there, trembling, with my eyes fixed on the glass — on that flat, profound, empty glass — which had contained her entirely, and had possessed her as much as I had, as my passionate looks had. I felt as if I loved that glass. I touched it, it was cold. Oh! the recollection! sorrowful mirror, burning mirror, horrible mirror, which makes us suffer such torments! Happy are the men whose hearts forget everything that it has contained, everything that has passed before it, everything that has looked at itself in it, that has been reflected in its affection, in its love! How I suffer!

“I went on without knowing it, without wishing it; I went towards the cemetery. I found her simple grave, a white marble cross, with these few words:
“‘She loved, was loved, and died.’

“She is there, below, decayed! How horrible! I sobbed with my forehead on the ground, and I stopped there for a long time, a long time. Then I saw that it was getting dark, and a strange, a mad wish, the wish of a despairing lover seized me. I wished to pass the night, the last night in weeping on her grave. But I should be seen and driven out. How was I to manage? I was cunning, and got up, and began to roam about in that city of the dead. I walked and walked. How small this city is, in comparison with the other, the city in which we live: And yet, how much more numerous the dead are than the living. We want high houses, wide streets, and much room for the four generations who see the daylight at the same time, drink water from the spring, and wine from the vines, and eat the bread from the plains.

“And for all the generations of the dead, for all that ladder of humanity that has descended down to us, there is scarcely anything afield, scarcely anything! The earth takes them back, oblivion effaces them. Adieu!

“At the end of the abandoned cemetery, I suddenly perceived that the one where those who have been dead a long time finish mingling with the soil, where the crosses themselves decay, where the last comers will be put tomorrow. It is full of untended roses, of strong and dark cypress trees, a sad and beautiful garden, nourished on human flesh.

“I was alone, perfectly alone, and so I crouched in a green tree, and hid myself there completely among the thick and somber branches, and I waited, clinging to the stem, like a shipwrecked man does to a plank.

“When it was quite dark, I left my refuge and began to walk softly, slowly, inaudibly, through that ground full of dead people, and I wandered about for a long time, but could not find her again. I went on with extended arms, knocking against the tombs with my hands, my feet, my knees, my chest, even with my head, without being able to find her. I touched and felt about like a blind man groping his way, I felt the stones, the crosses, the iron railings, the metal wreaths, and the wreaths of faded flowers! I read the names with my fingers, by passing them over the letters. What a night! What a night! I could not find her again!

"Graves! graves! graves! nothing but graves!
“There was no moon. What a night! I am frightened, horribly frightened in these narrow paths, between two rows of graves. Graves! graves! graves! nothing but graves! On my right, on my left, in front of me, around me, everywhere there were graves! I sat down on one of them, for I could not walk any longer, my knees were so weak. I could hear my heart beat! And I could hear something else as well. What? A confused, nameless noise. Was the noise in my head in the impenetrable night, or beneath the mysterious earth, the earth sown with human corpses? I looked all around me, but I cannot say how long I remained there; I was paralyzed with terror, drunk with fright, ready to shout out, ready to die.

“Suddenly, it seemed to me as if the slab of marble on which I was sitting, was moving. Certainly, it was moving, as if it were being raised. With a bound, I sprang on to the neighboring tomb, and I saw, yes, I distinctly saw the stone which I had just quitted, rise upright, and the dead person appeared, a naked skeleton, which was pushing the stone back with its bent back. I saw it quite clearly, although the night was so dark. On the cross I could read:
“‘Here lies Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one. He loved his family, was kind and honorable, and died in the grace of the Lord.’

“The dead man also read what was inscribed on his tombstone; then he picked up a stone off the path, a little, pointed stone, and began to scrape the letters carefully. He slowly effaced them altogether, and with the hollows of his eyes he looked at the places where they had been engraved, and, with the tip of the bone, that had been his forefinger, he wrote in luminous letters, like those lines which one traces on walls with the tip of a lucifer match:
“‘Here reposes Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one. He hastened his father’s death by his unkindness, as he wished to inherit his fortune, he tortured his wife, tormented his children, deceived his neighbors, robbed everyone he could, and died wretched.’

“When he had finished writing, the dead man stood motionless, looking at his work, and on turning round I saw that all the graves were open, that all the dead bodies had emerged from them, and that all had effaced the lies inscribed on the gravestones by their relations, and had substituted the truth instead. And I saw that all had been tormentors of their neighbors — malicious, dishonest, hypocrites, liars, rogues, calumniators, envious; that they had stolen, deceived, performed every disgraceful, every abominable action, these good fathers, these faithful wives, these devoted sons, these chaste daughters, these honest tradesmen, these men and women who were called irreproachable, and they were called irreproachable, and they were all writing at the same time, on the threshold of their eternal abode, the truth, the terrible and the holy truth which everybody is ignorant of, or pretends to be ignorant of, while the others are alive.

“I thought that she also must have written something on her tombstone, and now, running without any fear among the half-open coffins, among the corpses and skeletons, I went towards her, sure that I should find her immediately. I recognized her at once, without seeing her face, which was covered by the winding-sheet, and on the marble cross, where shortly before I had read: ‘She loved, was loved, and died,’ I now saw: ‘Having gone out one day, in order to deceive her lover, she caught cold in the rain and died.’”

“It appears that they found me at daybreak, lying on the grave unconscious.”

#WasItaDream #BestGhostShortStories

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Score 30% Off Andrew Barger's Books at Barnes & Noble This Weekend!

Thanksgiving Day through November 27th you get 30% off my books at Barnes & Noble using coupon code: BNBFRIDAY16 online. Plus bag free shipping on orders over $25. Happy Thanksgiving weekend for those of you in the States. Check out these great choices to use your 30% off B&N coupon:

"Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace" branded Tolstoy as one of the greatest writers in modern history. Few, however, have read his wonderful short stories. Now, in one collection, are the 20 greatest short stories of Leo Tolstoy, which give a snapshot of Russia and its people in the late nineteenth century. A fine introduction is given by Andrew Barger. Annotations are included of difficult Russian terms. There is also a Tolstoy biography at the start of the book with photos of Tolstoy's relatives.

Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Ghost Anthology contains the annotated best ghost stories from the last half of the 19th century. Published in August of 2016, it includes scary short stories from popular American and Victorian authors including: Bram Stoker, M. R. James, Joseph Le Fanu, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Nesbit, and Francis Marion Crawford. The ghost story anthology is annotated and includes story backgrounds and author photos by none other than Andrew Barger. Boo!

Thanks to Edgar Allan Poe, Honore de Balzac, Nathaniel Hawthorne and others, the half century from 1800-1849 is the cradle of all modern horror short stories. Andrew Barger, the editor of this book as well as Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems, read over 300 horror short stories to compile the 12 best. At the back of the book he includes a list of all short stories he considered along with their dates of publication and author, when available. He even includes background for each of the stories, author photos and annotations for difficult terminology. A number of the scary short stories were published in leading periodicals of the day such as Blackwood's and Atkinson's Casket. Read The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849 today!

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