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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted “friends” from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated cays. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron.

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The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. This was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

It was towards the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand guests at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. These were seven—an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different, as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect.

Prince Prospero called for a revelry when the plague was at its peak and after months of seclusion.

To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose colour varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example in blue—and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange—the fifth with white—the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue.

But in this chamber only, the colour of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet—a deep blood colour. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances.

But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.

Prince Prospero’s land was in plague. But after months of seclusion a masque ball was held at court.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound.

Thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or meditation.

But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colours and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.

Twelve strokes

He had directed, in great part, the movable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fête; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm—much of what has been since seen in “Hernani”. Many were the arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these—the dreams—writhed in and about taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps.

Anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. Then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away—they have endured but an instant—and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods.

But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-coloured panes; further, the blackness of the sable drapery appals; yet to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulged in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. But then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled.

Thus too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumour of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise—then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

Assembly of phantasms

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade licence of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made.

The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat.

And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood—and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of the Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which, with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares,”—he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him—”who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we may know whom we have to hang, at sunrise, from the battlements!”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly, for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker.

To arrest him

But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple—through the purple to the green—through the green to the orange—through this again to the white—and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him.

It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer.

There was a sharp cry—and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpse-like mask, which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. Even the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

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The Willows, Part 1

A scary chat story in 4 parts

By Algernon Blackwood

Adapted to Chat Story format by Captivated Chat

Tap on arrow to listen to the story.
Click arrow above to play carefully selected, cinema-style, theme.
Me
What a river! To think of all the distance and varied waters we’ve traveled from its source.
Swede
The river won’t stand much nonsense now, though, will it? That first week in the Black Forest, in contrast, was all getting out and slogging through shallows and pushing our boat, eh? We’ll have scary chat stories to share on our phones for years!
Me
But today we were only concerned about the boat possibly being ripped open by the jagged shale beneath those rapids. Yet despite it all, we made it! Now you rest on the sand right where you are. You single-handedly tugged our boat ashore, after all, so rest and I’ll survey this little willow island of ours in preparation for camping here. *********
Me
I’m back, and it really is a small place and quite as overgrown with willow bushes as the shopkeeper warned. It’s enough to make walking unpleasant, but I made the tour. The island is triangular, wind-swept — with almost no full trees — and quite unwelcoming.
Swede
Certainly, I could see those last features from here. Any luck?
Me
Yes, there is a slight depression in the island’s center, where we may pitch the tent. The surrounding willows break the wind quite a bit there.

**********

The rising wind

Swede
A poor camp it is, with no stones and precious little firewood. This sandbar won’t hold up against the flood for many hours; I’m for moving on early tomorrow — you?
Me
Sure. Later this evening we can set about collecting a store of wood to last until bedtime.
Swede
With that incessant cold wind, this is not a fit place for a man.
Me
What’s worse, willow bushes drop no branches, and so driftwood will be our only source of fuel. I hunted the shores pretty thoroughly. Everywhere the banks are crumbling as the rising flood tears at our tiny island and carries away great portions of it every few minutes.
Swede
The place is much smaller than when we landed. It won’t last long at this rate. 
Me
We’d better drag the canoe close to the tent, and be ready to start at a moment’s notice. I shall sleep in my clothes.

‘The wind is still rising’

Swede
Ho-ho-ho, ha-ha-ha! By Jove!
Me
I heard your laugh, but now you are hidden by the willows, where are you?
Swede
But what in the world’s this?
Me
Suddenly you sounded quite serious. Stand still; I’m coming right over.
Swede
Good heavens, it’s a man’s body out there! Look!
Me
All I see is that black thing, turning over and over in the waves.  It keeps disappearing and coming up to the surface again.
Swede
No, it’s an otter, by gad! Ho-ho, ah, ha-hah!
Me
It is an otter, very alive, and out on the hunt, yet it looked just now like the body of a drowned man turning helplessly in the current. 
Swede
You saw it too? Thank heavens, for the mind plays tricks when you’re tired. Look, there goes a boatman along the far shore!
Me
He’s crossing himself! Look, he’s making the sign of the Cross!
Swede
I believe you’re right.
Me
He tried to call to us beforehand, but the wind is still rising and it drowned him out.
Swede
But what in the world is he doing at nightfall on this flooded river? 

Not welcome

Me
Where is he going at such a time, and what did he mean by his signs and shouting? D’you think he wished to warn us about something?”
Swede
He saw our smoke, and thought we were spirits probably, ha-ha, ha-hah! These Hungarians believe in all sorts of rubbish; you remember the shopwoman at Pressburg warning us that no one ever landed here?
Me
She said it’s because it belonged to some sort of beings outside man’s world!
Swede
I suppose they believe in fairies and elementals, possibly demons, too. That peasant in the boat saw people on the island for the first time in his life, and it gave him a scary story to chat about, that’s all.
Me
Heh. If they had enough imagination, they might very well people a place like this with the old gods of antiquity.
Swede
The river’s still rising, though, and will be under water in two days.

‘The psychology of places’

Me
True, two days at most.
Swede
I wish the wind would go down. I don’t care a fig for the river.
Me
The scarcity of wood will make it a business to keep the fire going. The wind that’s driving the smoke into our faces right now will make a fierce cross draught. 
Swede
We can take turns fighting it and making expeditions to grub in among the bushes for wood. **********
Me
When this next bundle of branches is in camp, I shall turn in. So I’ll make this final expedition brief.
Swede
Good. I’m dog tired.
Me
Glad to hear you are tired, it proves you can get tired. I’m bushed and all your loads of wood have been twice as heavy as mine. So long for the moment, Swede!  
Me
(Thinking) The psychology of places is vivid for the wanderer; thus camps have a note, either of welcome or rejection. And the note of this willow-camp has become unmistakably plain to me; we are interlopers, trespassers; we are not welcome. The damn willows are against us.
Me
(Thinking) And talking of bad omens, I could swear that boatman, if it was actually a man, was warning us against some danger, warning us off this filthy island.

Look for Part 2 soon!

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Featured

The Willows, Part 2 of 4

Scary chat stories, by Algernon Blackwood

Adapted as scary chat stories by Captivated Chat

Tap arrow button above to hear theme music called Monster at the Door, by Sir Cubworth.
Tap arrow above to listen to this story being read.
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Me
I have been gone so long you probably thought something happened to me, so you came out after me! (Thinking: But there is a look on your face that conveys concern. I certainly see the real reason now for your coming after me: the spell of the place has entered your soul too, and you did not like being alone with your own scary chat stories about this.)
Swede
River’s still rising, and the wind’s relentless.
Me
Luckily our tent’s in the hollow. I think it’ll hold up. But I can’t hold up searching for wood in this wind much longer, what with the increasing difficulty of finding any.
Swede
(Nodding) We will be lucky if we can get away from this island without disaster!
Me
I am almost angry at you for putting my own thought into words. There is trouble coming, and soon.

I awoke at around midnight and looked out. Feeling some disquiet, I crawled quietly out of the tent. I noticed the tops of the bushes opposite, with their moving tracery of leaves. It was incredible, surely, but there, opposite and slightly above me, were shapes of some indeterminate sort, and as the moonlit branches swayed in the wind they grouped themselves about these, forming a series of monstrous outlines that shifted rapidly.

Me
The village shopkeeper was right.
Swede
Then you saw these beings?
Me
Yes. They first became properly visible, these huge figures, just within the tops of the bushes—immense, bronze-colored, moving, and wholly independent of the swaying of the branches.
Swede
You saw them plainly?
Me
I saw them plainly and noted, when I came to examine them more calmly, that they were very much larger than human, and indeed that something in their appearance proclaimed them to be not human. 
Swede
Were they malevolent?
Me
Certainly. Men fear this place with good reason, clearly.
Swede
I have felt that was a possibility since we landed.
Me
They were interlaced one with another, making a great column, and I saw their limbs and huge bodies melting in and out of each other, forming this serpentine line that swayed and twisted spirally in the wind. 
Swede
What did their faces look like?
Me
I never could see. They were nude, dull bronze, fluid shapes, passing up the bushes, within the leaves, almost—rising up in a living column into the heavens. 
Swede
What proof have you?
Me
I admit, none. It may have been an optical illusion. It must be a subjective experience, I argued to myself — none the less real for that, but subjective. These pictures formed upon the mirror of my imagination, and for some reason I projected them outwards and made them appear objective. Perhaps it is just that.
Swede
I’d have thought so, of course, if I had not had the opportunity to observe otherwise.
Me
You too? What was your experience?
Swede
Outside on the tent there was a sound of many little patterings. In spite of the hot night, I woke feeling clammy and cold. Something was pressing steadily against the sides of the tent and weighing down on it. 
Me
Was it possibly caused by wind or the spray and rain?
Swede
No. I raised a flap and rushed out to see. But when I stood upright I saw that the tent was free. There was nothing impinging, no fallen bough, no rain or spray, nothing approaching, either. I walked around it and then into the bush to look.
Me
What did you see?
Swede
From the shadows a large figure went swiftly by. Someone passed me, as sure as ever a man did….
Me
So you saw one of them!
Swede
Yes, and arriving here, a dreadful discovery leaped out at me, as well, and compared to it my terror of the walking one seemed like nothing.
Swede
For a change, I thought, had somehow come about in the arrangement of the landscape. The bushes now crowded much closer—unnecessarily, unpleasantly close. Certainly they had moved nearer!
Me
I noticed it, too, but I was afraid to believe my eyes.
Swede
Denial was my first reaction, as well. Then the truth followed quickly. Their attack will come, and is coming.
Me
Well, we can do nothing tonight. We must rest, sleep or no. (Five minutes later)
Swede
The porridge is cooked and there is just time to bathe. 
Me
I welcome the aroma of that frizzling bacon.
Swede
River waters around this wild island are still rising, and several islands out in mid-stream have disappeared. Our own island’s become much smaller.
Me
Any wood left?
Swede
The wood and the island will finish tomorrow in a dead heat, but there’s enough to last us till then.
Me
I plan to plunge in to bathe from the point of the island. 
Swede
I did the same. But stay in close.
Me
Right, and I will be quick about it, for we’d better get off sharp in an hour.
Me
(Thinking: The island has changed a lot in size and shape overnight. The water feels icy, and chunks of sand are flying by like countryside from a speeding car. Bathing under such conditions will be at best exhilarating.)
Me
(Thinking: What did Swede imply? He no longer wishes to leave quickly? “Enough to last till tomorrow”—he said. What changed his thinking?

But the state of his mind is more interesting than anything in his words. He has changed it overnight. His manner is different—a trifle excited, and shy, with a sort of suspicion. I am certain he has gotten frightened, this brave man who is not given to imagining things. He ate little at breakfast.

Me
We’d better get away within the hour.
Swede
Agreed. If they’ll let us.
Me
Who’ll let us? The elements?
Swede
The powers of this awful place, whoever they are. The gods are here, if they are anywhere in the world.
Me
Stop looking down at that map. You can’t tell me you believe the elements can stop us.
Swede
Yes. The elements are always the true immortals.
Me
So you have said, and I agree if you mean the weather, however we can handle the things going on right now. Agreed?
Swede
We shall be fortunate if we get away without further disaster.

This was exactly what I had dreaded, and I screwed myself up to the point of asking the direct question.

Me
Further disaster? Why, what’s happened?
Swede
First — the steering paddle’s gone.
Me
The steering paddle gone! This was our rudder, and canoing the Danube in flood without a rudder is suicide. But what could —
Swede
Secondly, there’s a tear in the bottom of the canoe.
Me
A tear in it?
Swede
There’s only one. But here it is.
Me
Yes, a long, finely made tear. Thank heavens you spotted it. 
Swede
Had we launched without observing it, we’d have foundered. 
Me
At first the water would have made the wood swell so as to close the hole, but once out in mid-stream the water would have poured in and our low-riding boat would have filled and sunk rapidly.
Swede
There you see an attempt to prepare a victim for the sacrifice. Mmmph, two victims, rather.
Me
Hmm.
Swede
It wasn’t there last night.
Me
We must have scratched her in landing, of course. The stones are very sharp. I know just as well as you do how impossible my explanation sounds. We both examined the boat last night, but we were tired.)  
Swede
And then there’s this to explain too. The paddle, look at this blade.
Me
(Thinking: The blade is scraped down all over, beautifully scraped, as though someone had sand-papered it with care, making it so thin that the first vigorous stroke would snap it.) 
Swede
Well?
Me
One of us walked in his sleep and did this thing.
Swede
Ah, you can explain everything. (Turning away) Ha-ha-ha.
Swede
I see.
Me
One of us must have done this thing, and it certainly was not me.
Me
(Thinking: To even suppose that my friend, the trusted companion of a dozen similar expeditions, could have knowingly had a hand in this sabotage is a thought not to be entertained. But just as absurd is to say this imperturbable, densely practical fellow has suddenly gone mad and is busied with insane purposes.)
Me
But he is suddenly nervous, timid, suspicious, aware of goings on he does not speak about. 
Swede
What do you make of the many deep hollows formed in the sand around our tent?  
Me
I noticed, basin-shaped and of various depths and sizes. The biggest is like a large bowl. The wind, no doubt, was responsible, just as it was for lifting the paddle and tossing it to where it got caught among the willows as the eroding sand and the flood sanded it down.
Swede
Really? 
Me
The rent in the canoe is the only thing that seems quite inexplicable; and, after all, it is conceivable that a sharp point caught it when we landed. 
Swede
Ah!
Me
(Thinking: My examination of the shore does not support this theory, yet I must cling to it with my diminishing reason. An explanation of some kind, however, is an absolute necessity.)
Swede
Please set the pitch melting, and soon I’ll join you, although the canoe can’t be safe for traveling until tomorrow. 
Me
Of course it won’t.
Swede
You know those hollows in the sand? They’re all over the island. But you can explain them, no doubt!
Me
Wind, of course. Have you never watched those little whirlwinds in the street that twirl everything into a circle? This sand’s loose enough to yield, that’s all.
Swede
Hummph!
Me
(Thinking: He is watching me, and yet listening attentively for something I cannot hear. Why else keep turning and staring into the bushes, and up, and out across the water through the willow branches?) Sometimes he even puts his hand to his ear. Why?)
Swede
Ummph!
Me
(Thinking: Fortunately he says nothing as he works, because I vaguely dread he will speak of the reason for the willows’ changed aspect. And, if he has reached the same conclusion, my thought that “it’s just our imagination” will no longer be a sufficient response!)

Look for part 3

.

Featured Scary chat story otter in The Willows

The Willows, Part 3 of 4

By Algernon Blackwood

Tap arrow button above to hear theme music called Monster at the Door, by Sir Cubworth.
Tap arrow above to listen to this story.
Swede
Oddest thing about that otter last night.
Me
  Ha-ha! I had expected another of your scary chat stories or at least something totally different.
Swede
I mean—do you—did you think it really was an otter?
Me
What else, in the name of heaven?
Swede
You know, I saw it before you did, and at first it seemed—so much bigger than an otter.
Me
The sunset as you looked up-stream magnified it, or something.
Swede
It had such extraordinary yellow eyes.
Me
That was the sun too. I guess you’ll wonder next if that fellow in the boat—
Swede
You just decided not to finish that sentence, I notice.
Me
Damned if you are not listening for them again, turning your head to the wind, with something in your expression that makes me wonder. 
Swede
I did rather wonder, too, if you want to know, what that thing in the boat was. I remember thinking at the time it was not a man. The whole business seemed to rise quite suddenly out of the water.
Me
Excuse me but I must laugh, only this time out of impatience, and a strain of anger too.
Swede
You are angry at me?
Me
Look here now, this place is quite queer enough without going out of our way to imagine things! That boat was an ordinary boat, and the man in it was just a man, and they were both going down-stream very fast. And that otter was an otter, so don’t play games!
Me
And, for Heaven’s sake, don’t keep pretending you hear things, because it only gives me the jumps, and there’s nothing to hear but the river and this thundering wind.
Swede
You fool! That’s just the way all victims talk. As if you didn’t understand just as well as I do!
Swede
The best thing you can do is to keep quiet and try to hold your mind as firm as possible. This feeble attempt at self-deception only makes the truth harder when you’re forced to meet it.
Me
Well, please don’t sneer! (Thinking: I do know your words are true, and that I have been the fool, not you. Up to a certain stage in the adventure you kept ahead of me easily, and I think I felt annoyed to be out of it!)  
Me
But you’re right about one thing, and that is that we’re wiser not to talk about it, or even to think about it, because what one thinks finds expression in words, and what one says, happens.
Me
A good thing the wind has died down.
Swede
Come and tell me what you make of it. Hold a hand to your ear. Now do you hear anything?
Me
I hear only the water’s roaring and hissing. 
Swede
Wait. The willows for once are silent, so it should be a good chance to hear the other sound.
Me
Yes, faintly I hear a peculiar sound—something like the humming of a distant gong. It is repeated at regular intervals, but it is certainly neither the sound of a bell nor the hooting of a distant steamer. I can liken it to nothing so much as to the sound of an immense gong, suspended far up in the sky.
Swede
A fair description.
Me
The wind blowing in those sand-funnels, or the bushes rubbing together after the storm perhaps.
Swede
It comes off the whole swamp and from everywhere at once. It comes from the willow bushes somehow—
Me
But now the wind has dropped. The willows can hardly make a noise by themselves, can they?
Swede
It is because the wind has dropped that we now hear it. It was drowned before. It is the cry, I believe, of the—oops!”
Me
Oh, the stew was about to burn! No wonder you dashed back without finishing your thought. Come and cut up bread for the pot. This stew-pot holds sanity for us both, and that silly thought makes me laugh. (Thinking: He has emptied the entire contents of the provisions bag on the ground-sheet!)
Me
Hurry up! It’s boiling.
Swede
There’s nothing here! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Bread, I mean. It’s gone. There is no bread. They’ve taken it! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Me
You’re kidding.
Swede
Hah! Ha-ha-ha.
Me
Hah-hah, hah-ha. Must be the strain, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Swede
Hah-hah, ha-ha-ha.
Me
Hah-hah, hah. But, no! How criminally stupid of me! I clean forgot to buy a loaf at Pressburg. But that chattering woman put everything out of my head, and I must have left it lying on the counter or—”
Swede
The oatmeal, too, is much less than it was this morning.
Me
There’s enough for tomorrow, and we can get lots more at Komorn or Gran. In twenty-four hours we shall be miles from here.
Swede
I hope so—to God. Unless we’re claimed first as victims for the sacrifice. He-he, Heh-heh, he. Mumble, mmmph –.

Our meal was beyond question a gloomy one, and we ate it almost in silence, avoiding one another’s eyes, and keeping the fire bright. Then we washed up and prepared for the night.

Me
There are things about us, I’m sure, that make for disorder, disintegration, destruction, our destruction. We are in unsafe modes, somehow.
Swede
I don’t think a tape recorder would show any record of that ‘gong.’ The sound doesn’t come to me by the ears. The vibrations seem to be within me, which is precisely how a fourth dimensional sound might be supposed to make itself heard.
Swede
I agree that we have strayed into some region or some set of conditions where the risks are great, yet unintelligible to us; where the frontiers of some unknown world lays close about us. 
Me
What made you decide to become the spokesman for it?
Swede
Face the terrible facts. This is a new order of experience, of horror, and in the true sense of the word unearthly.
Swede
It’s the deliberate, calculating purpose that reduces one’s courage to zero. Otherwise imagination might account for much of it. But the paddle, the canoe, the lessening food—
Me
Haven’t I explained all that once?
Swede
You have; you have indeed, however unconvincingly. These outsiders have demonstrated a plain determination to provide a victim. 
Me
I can’t disguise it any longer, I don’t like this place. There’s something here that beats me. I’m in a funk. If the other shore was—different, I swear I’d be inclined to swim for it!
Swede
(Staring me down) It’s not a physical condition we can run away from. We must sit tight. There are forces close here that I expect could kill a herd of elephants in a second as easily as you or I could squash a fly. Our only chance is to keep generally still. Our insignificance may save us.
Me
That seems rather far fetched. What do you mean?
Swede
I mean that so far, although aware of our disturbing presence, they have not found us—not ‘located’ us, as the Americans say. 
Swede
They’re blundering about like men hunting for a leak of gas. The paddle and canoe and provisions prove that. I think they feel us, but cannot actually see us. 
Me
We must keep our minds quiet—it’s our minds they feel. We must control our thoughts, or it’s all up with us.
Me
Death, you mean?  
Swede
Worse—by far. Death, according to one’s belief, means either annihilation or release from the limitations of the senses, but it involves no change of character. You don’t suddenly alter just because the body’s gone. But this means a radical alteration, a complete change, a horrible loss of oneself by substitution—far worse than death, and not even annihilation. 
Swede
We happen to have camped in a spot where their region touches ours, where the veil between has worn thin—a horror portal! 
Me
But who are aware?
Swede
All my life, I have been strangely, vividly conscious of another region—not far removed from our own in one sense, yet wholly different in kind—where great things go on unceasingly, where immense and terrible personalities hurry by, intent on vast purposes compared to which earthly affairs, the rise and fall of nations, the destinies of empires, the fate of armies and continents, are all as dust in the balance; vast purposes, I mean, that deal directly with the soul, and not indirectly with more expressions of the soul—
Me
I suggest just now you hold back — stop your exposition!
Swede
You think it is the spirit of the elements, and I thought perhaps it was the old gods. But I tell you now it is—neither. These would be comprehensible entities, for they have relations with men, depending upon them for worship or sacrifice, whereas these beings have absolutely nothing to do with man, and it is mere chance that their space happens just at this spot to touch our own.
Me
Your words somehow are so convincing, they’ve set me shaking a little. So what do you propose?
Swede
A sacrifice, a victim, might save us by distracting them until we could get away, just as the wolves stop to devour the dogs and give the sleigh another start. But—I see no chance of any other victim now.
Me
The gleam in your eye is terrifying.

Look for Part 4!

Featured

The Willows, Part 4 of 4

A horror story presented here in 4 parts

By Algernon Blackwood

Adapted to chat story format by Captivated Chat

Tap arrow above to play cinematic-style theme music.
Tap on arrow above to hear story read aloud.
Me
But you really think a sacrifice would solve our problem? Thanks a for another of your super scary ghost stories—
Swede
If we can hold out through the night, we may get off in the daylight unnoticed, or rather, undiscovered.
Swede
Wait! The gong-like humming just came down very close over our heads as you spoke. Hush! They’re nearby!
Swede
Do not mention them or refer to them by name. The name is the inevitable clue, so our only hope lies in ignoring them, in order that they may ignore us.
Me
Even in thought?
Swede
Especially in thought. Our thoughts make something like spirals in their world. We must keep them out of our minds. Here, rake the fire.
Me
Certainly. I have never longed for the sun as I long for it now in the awful blackness of this summer night.
Swede
Were you awake all last night?
Me
I slept badly a little after dawn, but the wind, of course—
Swede
I know. However the wind won’t account for all the noises.
Me
Then you heard it too?
Swede
The multiplying countless little footsteps I heard, and that other sound—
Me
You mean above the tent, and the pressing down upon us of something tremendous, gigantic?
Swede
It was like the beginning of a sort of inner suffocation?
Me
Partly, yes. It seemed to me that the weight of the atmosphere had been altered—had increased enormously, so that we should have been crushed.
Me
And that gong overhead. What do you make of that?
Swede
It’s their sound. It’s the sound of their world, the humming in their region. The division between us here is so thin that it leaks through somehow. But, if you listen carefully, you’ll find it’s not above so much as around us. It’s in the willows. It’s the willows themselves humming.
Me
I could not follow exactly what you meant by that, yet the thought and idea in my mind are beyond question the thought and idea in yours.

I realized what he realized, only with less power of analysis than his. Then he suddenly thrust his face again close into mine across the firelight and began to speak in a very earnest whisper. He amazed me by his calmness and pluck, his apparent control of the situation. This man I had for years deemed unimaginative, stolid!

Swede
Now listen, we’ll go on as though nothing had happened, follow our habits; pretend we feel nothing and notice nothing. It is a question wholly of the mind, and the less we think about them the better our chance of escape. Above all, don’t think, for what you think happens!”
Me
All right, all right, I’ll try, but tell me one more thing first. What do you make of those hollows in the ground, the sand-funnels?
Swede
No! I dare not, just dare not put the thought into words. If you have not guessed, I am glad. Don’t try to. They have put it into my mind; try to prevent their putting it into yours.
Me
I will not press you to explain. There is already just about as much horror in me as I can hold. Please be qui-I —

I stopped in the middle, seized anew by the old horror. I tried to smother the sound of my voice as something sacrilegious. The Swede, of course, heard it too—the strange cry overhead in the darkness—and that sudden drop in the air as though something had come nearer.

He had turned ashen white under the tan. He stood bolt upright in front of the fire, stiff as a rod, staring at me. The terror had caught him at last.

Swede
After that close call, we must go! We can’t stay now; we must strike camp this very instant and go on—down the river.
Me
In the dark? That’s madness! The river’s in flood, and we’ve only got one paddle. Besides, we only go deeper into their country! There’s nothing ahead for fifty miles but willows, willows, willows!
Swede
What on earth possessed you to do such a thing?
Me
It is all right, my friend. You will soon be eating roast beef in London with me and we will laugh at this all.
Swede
I was as frightened as any man ever before. But when you looked in my eyes and mentioned roast beef, I forgot all of it. 
Me
I as well. We’ll make one more blaze, and then turn in for the night. At sunrise we’ll be off at full speed for Komorn. Now, pull yourself together a bit, and remember your own advice about not thinking fear!
Swede
The commonplace feeling introduced by your food mention broke the spell. I shall say no more. 
Me
In some measure it will be a relief for us both to get up and make an excursion into the darkness for more wood. We’ll keep close together, and look among the bushes and along the bank. 

The humming overhead never ceased, but seemed to me to grow louder as we increased our distance from the fire. It was shivery work!

Swede
Look! By my soul! There, in front of the dim glow, something is moving.
Me
  I see it through this veil that hangs before our eyes like the gauze drop-curtain used at the back of a theater—hazily. It is neither a human figure nor an animal. 
Swede
It’s shaped and sized like a clump of willow bushes, rounded at the top, and moving all over upon its surface—coiling upon itself like smoke.
Me
It is settling down through the willows.
Swede
Look, by God! It’s coming this way! Oh, o no! Ehh! They’ve found us.

I gave one terrified glance, which just enabled me to see that the shadowy form was swinging towards us through the bushes, and then I collapsed backwards with a crash into the branches. 

But it was the pain, he declared afterwards, that saved me; it caused me to forget them and think of something else at the very instant when they were about to find me. It concealed my mind from them at the moment of discovery, yet just in time to evade their terrible seizing of me. He himself, he says, actually passed out at the next moment, and that was what saved him.

Swede
I lost consciousness for a moment or two. That’s what saved me. It made me stop thinking about them.
Me
You nearly broke my arm in two.
Swede
That’s what saved you! Between us, we’ve managed to set them off on a false tack somewhere. The humming has ceased. It’s gone—for the moment!
Me
A wave of hysterical laughter is about to seize me again.

Neither of us said a word. We both knew that sleep was the safest thing we could do, and to bed we went without delay, having first thrown sand on the fire and brought the provision sack and paddle inside the tent with us. The canoe, too, we propped at the end of the tent so that our feet touched it, and the least motion would disturb and wake us.

In case of emergency, too, we again went to bed in our clothes, ready for a sudden start.

It was my firm intention to lie awake all night and watch, but the exhaustion of nerves and body decreed otherwise, and sleep after a while came over me with a welcome blanket of oblivion. The fact that my companion also slept quickened its approach. At first he fidgeted and constantly sat up, asking me if I “heard this” or “heard that.” 

A difficulty in breathing woke me, and I found the blanket over my face. But something else besides the blanket was pressing upon me, and my first thought was that my companion had rolled off his mattress on to my own in his sleep. I called to him and sat up, and at the same moment it came to me that the tent was surrounded. That sound of multitudinous soft pattering was again audible outside, filling the night with horror.

I called again to him, louder than before. He did not answer, but I missed the sound of his snoring, and also noticed that the flap of the tent was down. This was the unpardonable sin. I crawled out in the darkness to hook it back securely, and it was then for the first time I realized positively that the Swede was not there. He had gone.

I dashed out in a mad run, seized by a dreadful agitation, and the moment I was out I plunged into a sort of torrent of humming that surrounded me completely and came out of every quarter of the heavens at once. It was that same familiar humming—gone mad! A swarm of great invisible bees might have been about me in the air. The sound seemed to thicken the very atmosphere, and breathing was difficult.

But my friend was in danger, and I could not hesitate.

The dawn was just about to break, and a faint whitish light spread upwards over the clouds from a thin strip of clear horizon. No wind stirred. I could just make out the bushes and river beyond, and the pale sandy patches. In my excitement I ran frantically to and fro about the island, calling him by name, shouting at the top of my voice the first words that came into my head. But the willows smothered my voice, and the humming muffled it, so that the sound only traveled a few feet round me. I plunged among the bushes, tripping headlong, tumbling over roots, and scraping my face as I tore this way and that among the preventing branches.

Then, quite unexpectedly, I came out upon the island’s point and saw a dark figure outlined between the water and the sky. It was the Swede. And already he had one foot in the river! A moment more and he would have taken the plunge.

I threw myself on him, flinging my arms about his waist and dragging him shorewards with all my strength. Of course he struggled furiously, making a noise all the time just like that cursed humming, and using the most outlandish phrases in his anger about “going inside to Them,” and “taking the way of the water and the wind,” and God only knows what more besides, that I tried in vain to recall afterwards, but which turned me sick with horror and amazement as I listened. But in the end I managed to get him into the comparative safety of the tent, and flung him down breathless and cursing, where I held him with one foot until his fit had passed.

I think the suddenness with which it all went and he grew calm, coinciding as it did with the equally abrupt cessation of the humming and pattering outside—I think this was almost the strangest part of the whole business. For he had just opened his eyes and turned his tired face up to me so that the dawn threw a pale light upon it through the doorway, and said, for all the world just like a frightened child:

Swede
My life, old man—it’s my life I owe you. But it’s all over now anyhow. They’ve found a victim in our place!
Me
I feel it, too.
Swede
  River’s falling at last; that’s one good thing.
Me
The humming has stopped too.
Swede
  Everything has stopped, because—
Me
Because they’ve found another victim’? 
Swede!
Exactly. I feel as positive of it as though—as though—I feel quite safe again, I mean.
Me
How do you know?
Swede
Come, I think if we look, we shall find it.
Me
Wait half a  mo-, I’m coming.
Swede
We will need a stick of wood from here! 
Me
What for?
Swede
To poke among the sandy bays and caves and little back-waters.  Here now, to the river banks.
Me
I am right behind you, Swede!
Swede
Ah! Look!

He was pointing with his stick at a large black object that lay half in the water and on the sand. It appeared to be caught by some twisted willow roots so that the river could not sweep it away. A few hours before the spot must have been under water.

Swede
See, the victim that made our escape possible! If I can turn it over, umph! There! It is the body of a peasant, and the face was hidden in the sand. 
Me
Clearly the man has been drowned, but a few hours ago, and his body must have been swept down upon our island somewhere about the hour of dawn—at the very time the fit passed.
Swede
We must give it a decent burial, you know.
Me
I suppose so. Poor fellow, poor, poor old man.
Swede
Come along.

Halfway down the bank my companion suddenly stopped and held up his hand in warning; but either my foot slipped, or I had gained too much momentum to halt, for I bumped into him and sent him forward with a sort of leap to save himself. We tumbled together on to the hard sand so that our feet splashed into the water. And, before anything could be done, we had collided a little heavily against the corpse.

Swede
Oomph, ouch!
Me
Oww! What in the –! It’s them! They are humming inside the corpse, like hornets in the nest!
Swede
We must get away. But the filthy things are leaving him, ascending into the air. It seems we disturbed the rotten creatures at work.

But before either of us had time properly to recover from the unexpected shock, we saw that the current was turning the corpse round so that it became released from the grip of the willow roots. 

Swede
We must save the man. He must have a proper burial! Oh dear God!
Me
I saw it! The skin and flesh of the face and chest are indented with small hollows, perfectly formed, quite similar to those beings’ damned sand funnels.
Swede
Their mark! Their awful mark!

And when I turned my eyes again from the dead man’s ghastly face to the river, the current had done its work, and the body had been swept away into mid-stream and was already beyond our reach and almost out of sight, turning over and over on the waves like an otter.

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Featured

The Tell-Tale Heart, Part 1

By Edgar Allan Poe

Click arrow above to hear this story read aloud.

The first of four scary chat stories under this title.

Me
You are nervous! I must say as an experienced detective, nervousness could be sign of madness.
Suspect
TRUE!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?  Click arrow above to play a carefully selected musical accompaniment while you read, a creepy, cinema-style tune titled Lurking, by Silent Partner.
Me
Not I, but some may say it. Doubtless you have a nervous disorder, some disease perhaps dulling or destroying your ability to sense what is real.
Suspect
True, but the disease has sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. 
Me
Please explain the difference. And pray tell how then you did not hear anything of the old man’s destruction and disappearance?
Me
Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

The whole story

Suspect
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object? There was none. Passion? There was none. 
Me
You did not dislike the old man?
Suspect
I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.
Me
You must have disliked something about him! What could it have been?
Suspect
I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
Me
But that’s so trivial, so pointless! And yet you say you are not mad?
Suspect
Now this is the point, you fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. 
Me
I did see you. 
Suspect
Now that too seems mad. You are the detective, as you stated, although how you came here so quickly after—
Me
You were saying?
Suspect
: You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I thekilled him. 
Me
Ah! So, you admit you actually did it!
Suspect
Every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it—oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in!
Me
But I dared not laugh in observing you! Any audible sound might have been your undoing, or the old man’s, who you loved! The lantern revealed an angelic face in slumber, did it not?
Suspect
I moved it slowly—very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this?
Me
Doubtless it seemed wise to you at the time. But does it still seems wise after your confession? But I digress; pray continue your account, and tell us why we have not found the corpse.

***********

Look for Part 2!
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Featured

The Tell-Tale Heart, Part 2

By Edgar Allan Poe

Click arrow above to play a carefully selected musical accompaniment while you read, it’s a creepy, cinema-style tune titled Lurking, by Silent Partner.

Click arrow to hear the story read aloud.
Me
What did you do then, you clever intruder?
Suspect
Then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously—oh, so cautiously—cautiously (for the hinges creaked)—I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. 
Suspect
And this I did for seven long nights—every night just at midnight—but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. 
Me
And yet you remain steadfast in denying that you are mad! Who kills over an eye? 
Suspect
But if you had seen the vulture eye.
Me
I have seen it. I knew the victim and his eye. But what did you do when after seven days the eye was always closed?
Suspect
Every morning when the day broke I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see, he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.
Me
Indeed, I know that! Go on, please.
Suspect
Upon the eighth night, I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. 
Me
That didn’t strike you as odd behavior on your part? Hadn’t you always been more free in your movement?
Suspect
Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers—of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. 
Me
Yet it looks to me that you are shaking with nerves. Why?
Suspect
To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. 
Me
We both know that he had heard you.
Suspect
Perhaps. Now you may think that I drew back—but no. 
Me
No, and you no doubt recall how quickly you thought and reacted, and that it was a very clever response.
Suspect
True! His room was black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers). So I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.
Me
Yes. But your next move was what?
Suspect
I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out—“Who’s there?”
Suspect
I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening;—just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.
Me
Naturally you were well practiced then. But continue, for we can come back to that last comment.
Suspect
Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief—oh, no!—it was the low, stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe.
Me
Perhaps I can appreciate your understanding of his emotions, but is it logical to confess all this to a policeman? Some may wonder how you understood him so well. Pray explain, for the record.
Suspect
I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. 
Me
I know, I know.
Suspect
I repeat that I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. 
Me
No doubt. One remembers such a groan!
Suspect
His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself—“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney—it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” 
Me
Yes, I suppose he would be trying to comfort himself with these suppositions.
Suspect
But he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. 
Me
You have already admitted that it was you who stalked him!
Suspect
But it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel—although he neither saw nor heard—to feel the presence of my head within the room.
Me
Perhaps. So then what did you do? 
Suspect
When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little—a very, very little crevice in the lantern. 
Me
Then what did he do?
Suspect
So I opened it—you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily—until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.
Me
I disliked that eye myself. I suppose it vexed you to see a spotlight shone upon it!
Suspect
It was open—wide, wide open—and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. 
Me
Odd reaction, but no doubt you feel it scarcely can be called mad under the circumstances.



*************

Look for the next segment, Part 3!

Featured

The Tell-Tale Heart, Part 3

A scary chat story

By Edgar Allan Poe

Click arrow above to play instrumental theme music.
Suspect
I saw the eye with perfect distinctness — all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones.
Me
  You say you could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person, for you had directed the ray as if by instinct, on the eye?
Suspect
Yes, and  precisely upon the damned spot! And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses?
Me
Have you not noticed that I do not disbelieve you! You were ill, after all. But continue with your account, please!
Suspect
Now there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart.
Me
How did that sound make you feel?
Suspect
It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.
Me
 But even yet you refrained and kept still, is that correct?
Suspect
I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased.
Me
True, very, very dreadfully true! And yet the world calls you mad!
Suspect
Hah! It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!—do you mark me well?
Me
You have told me that you were nervous, and are.
Suspect
So I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. 
Me
Yet, for some minutes longer you refrained from speech and stood still, eh? 
Suspect
I did, but the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me—the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. 
Me
He shrieked once—once only, is that right?
Suspect
Yes! In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. 
Me
Then you heard his still-beating heart, yet you did not relent?  That establishes your wish to kill him.
Suspect
At length the sound ceased. 
Me
The old man was dead.
Suspect
Indeed! I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.
Me
That is one mercy for you, at least. But the police shall trouble you and vex you to the end of your days.
Suspect
If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I detail the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. 
Me
Don’t trouble to.  No, please don’t!
Suspect
First of all I dismembered the corpse. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence…

………..

Look for the ending, Part 4, coming soon!

Featured

The Tell-Tale Heart, Part 4

By Edgar Allan Poe

Tap arrow above to play theme music.
Tap arrow to hear this story read to you.
Me
You mean that you cut off the head and the arms and the legs of the corpse?
Suspect
I did so in order to elude detection.
Me
Why do you admit the deed now, in that case?
Suspect
As you know, my neck is already in the noose. 
Me
Then please complete your statement. Be aware that you may be proved mad by your own words, although you appear reasonably sane in my view.
Suspect
Thank you. In my own view, too, but your words are encouraging. So, I cut him up, and I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. 
Suspect
I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye—not even his—could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out—no stain of any kind—no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all—ha! ha!
Me
I know!
Suspect
I almost feel as if you can read my thoughts.
Me
You know perfectly well that I am able to do so. But pray continue.
Suspect
For the record? Surely! When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock—still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,—for what had I now to fear? 
Me
How singular. This certainly could be repeated as one of the finest scary stories to tell in the dark. Trailer of murderers though I am, I am not sure I shall ever wish to repeat this. But what happened next?

At ease

Suspect
There entered three men, who introduced themselves with perfect suavity as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.
Me
What did you think about that?
Suspect
I smiled,—for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house and bade them search—search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. 
Me
Don’t you think that may have been a bit too much?
Suspect
No, no! I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.
Me
Did you think they believed you?
Suspect
My manner had convinced the officers. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. 
Me
The police were so readily being thwarted, but it was all a laugh to you, I suppose.
Suspect
Certainly not. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted.
Suspect
The ringing became more distinct:—It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness—until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

Excited to fury

Me
No doubt, for you now grew very pale!
Suspect
I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. But the sound increased—and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.
Me
Most disconcerting! I too noticed it.
Suspect
No doubt! I gasped for breath—and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly—more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. 
Me
I know! Why would they not be gone?
Suspect
I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men—but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed—I raved—and I swore! Then I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. You must understand that it grew louder, louder!

Making a mockery

Me
What was their reaction to all this?
Suspect
Nothing, for still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. 
Me
Was it possible they heard not? 
Suspect
Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—and knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!–this I thought, and this I think. 
Suspect
But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! For I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! 
Me
You felt that you must scream or die? 
Suspect
True, and now—again!—hark! Louder! Louder! Yet louder! Louder! “Villains!” I shrieked! 
Suspect
I screamed, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks! Here, here!—It is the beating of his hideous heart!”
Featured

THE RAVEN

By Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted by Captivated Chat

Press play button above to listen to Audio reading authored by Librivox.

Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
Poe
Tis some visiter, I muttered,
Poe
tapping at my chamber door — Only this, and nothing more.
Me
Nothing more.
Poe
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Poe
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore— For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Poe
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before; So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

Poe
Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door— Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
Poe
This it is, and nothing more.
Me
Nothing more.
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
Poe
Sir, said I, or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore; But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping, And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door, That I scarce was sure I heard you —here I opened wide the door;——
Poe
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before; But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token, And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, Lenore! This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word,
Me
Lenore!—
Poe
Merely this, and nothing more.
Poe
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning, Soon I heard again a tapping somewhat louder than before.
Poe
Surely, said I,
Poe
Surely that is something at my window lattice; Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore— Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;— ‘Tis the wind and nothing more!
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore; Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he; But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door— Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door— Perched, and sat, and nothing more. Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
Poe
Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou, I say, art sure no craven, Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore— Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Quoth the raven
Me
Nevermore.
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly, Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore; For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door— Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door, With such name as Nevermore. But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered— Till I scarcely more than muttered:
Poe
Other friends have flown before— On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.
Poe
Then the bird said
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken, Doubtless, said I, what it utters is its only stock and store Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore— Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore Of “Never—nevermore.”
Poe
But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling, Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door; Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore— What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore Meant in croaking
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core; This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er, But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er, She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Poe
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer Swung by Angels whose faint foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor. “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore; Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!” Quoth the raven,
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
Prophet! said I, thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!— Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted— On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore— Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore! Quoth the raven,
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
Prophet! said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil! By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore — Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore— Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” Quoth the raven,
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend! I shrieked, upstarting— Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore! Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken! Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door! Quoth the raven,
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door; And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming. As the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted — nevermore!

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Featured

The Cask of Amontillado, Part 1

by Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted to chat story format by Captivated Chat

Listen to the story
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Me
The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.
Luchesi
Knowing you so well, and the nature of your soul, I will not suppose, however, that you gave utterance to any threat.
Me
I? No! At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled—but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.
Luchesi
You have said, a wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.
Me
It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.
Luchesi
You obviously have felt and thought deeply on this question!
Me
It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.
Luchesi
Burning alive? Surely not that!
Me
He had a weak point—this Fortunato—although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. Wine connoisseur
Luchesi
We all know he overly prided himself a win connoisseur.
Me
Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit.
Luchesi
So you have often stated!
Me
For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity—to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires.
Luchesi
But surely that’s not true of Fortunato! He is famous for his taste in many things!
Me
Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack in painting and gemmary — but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially: I was skillful in the Italian vintages myself, and often bought largely.
Luchesi
So I am aware.
Me
I encountered my friend as it was about dusk one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season. He accosted me with excessive warmth, lost  in drink.
Luchesi
The poor fellow has a known proclivity for excessive drinking.
Me
The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him, that I thought I should never be done wringing his hand.
Luchesi
You wore the mask, eh?
Me
In every way. I said to him—”My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day! But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.” As I remember it…

* * * * * * * * *

Here’s the deal

Fortunato
How? Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!
Me
I have my doubts, and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.
Fortunato
Amontillado!
Me
I have my doubts.
Fortunato
Amontillado!
Me
And I must satisfy them.
Fortunato
Amontillado!
Me
As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn, it is he. He will tell me—
Fortunato
Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.
Me
And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own.
Fortunato
Come, let us go.
Me
Whither?
Fortunato
To your vaults.
Me
My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchesi—
Fortunato
I have no engagement;—come.
Me
My friend, no. It is the severe cold you are afflicted with, not the engagement. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with nitre.
Fortunato
Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.
Me
Fortunato, you have possessed yourself of my arm. Unhand me so that I may put on my mask of black silk, and draw my roquelaire closely about my person. I too suffer from the cold air.
Fortunato
Surely, but do hurry along with me to your palazzo. We must not tarry!
Me
There may be no attendants in sight; they have absconded to make merry in honour of the hour.
Fortunato
Do try to keep up.

Into the vaults

Me
I must first take from their sconces a couple of these flambeaux, and give one to you Fortunato. Now follow me and we will bow through just a few suites of rooms. You may recall this is the archway that leads into the vaults.
Fortunato
At last!
Me
Be careful on this staircase, too, it is a long and winding one. Be cautious following me.
Fortunato
I am glad that you are leading the way.
Me
We now come at length to the foot of the descent.
Fortunato
A damp ground.
Me
The hallowed ground of the catacombs of the Montresors!
Me
Your gait my friend is unsteady, and the bells upon your cap jingle as you walk. Silly, is it not!
Fortunato
The pipe.
Me
It is farther on, but observe the white web-work which gleams from these cavern walls.
Fortunato
Nitre?
Me
Nitre. How long have you had that cough?
Fortunato
F: Ugh! ughh! uggh!—ughhh! ughh! ugh!—uggh! ughh! ughhh!—ugh! ughh! ughhh!—ugh! ughh! ughhh!
Me
My poor friend, you have been coughing so long a time!
Fortunato
It is nothing.
Me
Come, we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved, and happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. Therefore, we must go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi—
Fortunato
Enough, the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.
Me
Indeed you shall not!

That’s not all…

Watch for Part 2 of the story!

Featured A photograph of the monkey's paw

The Monkey’s Paw, Part 2

By W. W. Jacobs

format by Captivated Chat

Me
Last night’s fancies do seem silly in the light of day.
Mrs. White
I suppose all old soldiers are the same. But the idea of our listening to such nonsense! After all, how could wishes be granted in these days? And if they could, how could two hundred pounds hurt you, father?
Herbert
Might drop on his head from the sky.
Me
Morris said the things happened so naturally, that you might, if you so wished, attribute it to coincidence.
Herbert
Well, I’m off. Don’t break into the money before I come back. I’m afraid it’ll turn you into a mean, avaricious man, and we shall have to disown you.
Mrs. White
Ha, ha, ha. Have a good day, Herbert.

(Eight hours later.)

Mrs. White
Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks or he’ll tell us a scary ghost story, I expect, when he comes home.
Me
I dare say. But for all that, the thing moved in my hand; that I’ll swear to.
Mrs. White
That is, you thought it did.
Me
I say it did. Certainly I had no thought about it —- But what’s the matter?

A visitor

Mrs. White
The matter? That man by our gate peering through the window just then. Appeared to be trying to make up his mind whether to come in.
Me
He’s finally deciding to come up.
Mrs. White
Come in, sir.
Stranger
I, uh, I—was asked to call. So I came to tell you, from Maw and Meggins.
Mrs. White
Oh, no! Is anything the matter? Has anything happened to Herbert? So what is it? What is it?
Me
 There, there, mother. Sit down, and don’t jump to conclusions. You’ve not brought bad news, I’m sure, sir.
Stranger
Above all, I’m sorry— .
Mrs. White
But, is he hurt?
Stranger
Badly hurt, but he is not in any pain.
Mrs. White
Oh, thank God! Thank God for that! Thank–
Mrs. White
You mean?
Stranger
 He was caught in the machinery.
Me
Caught in the machinery. Yes. (taking his wife’s hand between his own)
Me
But he was the only one left to us. So it is hard.
Stranger
(Coughing) Finally, the firm wished me to convey their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss. But I beg that you will understand I am only their servant and merely obeying orders.
Me
Oh.
Stranger
I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility. They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son’s services, they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation.
Me
H-H-How much?
Stranger
Two hundred pounds.
Mrs. White
I-Aiii!

(The old man smiled faintly, put out his hands like a sightless man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.)

Look for part 3, the finale of the scary ghost story, The Monkey’s Paw

Featured

The Monkey’s Paw, Part 3 of 3

By W. W. Jacobs

format by Captivated Chat

Tap icon at top of page to pause or resume listening to The Monkey’s Paw being read aloud. Tap arrow above to play music.
Me
Come back. You will be cold.
Mrs. White
It is colder for my son.
Me
But we must sleep.
Mrs. White
(A few minutes later, after giving a sudden wild cry.) The paw! The monkey’s paw!
Me
Where? Where is it? What’s the matter?
Mrs. White
I want it. You’ve not destroyed it?
Me
Certainly not; it’s in the parlour, on the bracket. Why?
Mrs. White
I only just thought of it. Why didn’t I think of it before? Why didn’t you think of it?
Me
Think of what?
Mrs. White
The other two wishes. We’ve only had one.
Me
Was not that enough?
Mrs. White
No. Above all, we’ll have one more. Go down and get it quickly, and wish our boy alive again.
Me
Good God, you are mad!
Mrs. White
Go get the monkey’s paw, get it quickly, and wish — Oh, my boy, my boy!
Me
Get back to bed. You don’t know what you are saying.
Mrs. White
We had the first wish granted. Why not the second also?
Me
A c-c-coincidence.
Mrs. White
Go and get it and wish.
Me
I-uh, hate to say it, but he has been dead ten days, and besides he—I would not tell you else, but—I could only recognize him by his clothing. If he was too terrible for you to see then, how now?
Mrs. White
Bring him back. Do you think I fear the child I have nursed?
Me
I am going downstairs to get it, but…

An unnatural look

In the dark room he found the talisman in its place, and a horrible fear seized him that the unspoken wish might bring his mutilated son before him ere he could escape from the room.

Even his wife’s face seemed changed as he entered the room. It was white and expectant, and to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He was afraid of her.

Mrs. White
Wish!
Me
It is foolish and wicked.
Mrs. White
Wish!
Me
I wish my son alive again.
Mrs. White
You’ve dropped it!
Me
(Whispering to himself) A knock at the door!
Me
Another!

The matches fell from his hand and spilled in the passage. He stood motionless, his breath suspended until the knock was repeated. Then he turned and fled swiftly back to his room, and closed the door behind him. A third knock sounded through the house.

Another knock

Mrs. White
What’s that sound?
Me
A rat — a rat. It passed me on the stairs.

(Loud knock resounds through the house)

Mrs. White
It’s Herbert! It’s Herbert! (She ran to the door, but her husband was before her, and catching her by the arm, held her tightly.)
Me
What are you going to do?
Mrs. White
It’s my boy; it’s Herbert!. I forgot it was two miles away. What are you holding me for? Let go. I must open the door.
Me
For God’s sake d-don’t let it in!
Mrs. White
You’re afraid of your own son. Let me go. I’m coming, Herbert; I’m coming.
Mrs. White
The bolt! Come down. I can’t reach it.

Long loud wail

There was another knock, and another. Finally the old woman, with a sudden wrench, broke free and ran from the room. Therefore her husband followed to the landing, and called after her appealingly as she hurried downstairs. But he heard the chain rattle back and the bottom bolt drawn slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman’s voice, strained and panting.

But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in.

A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. Finally, he heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey’s paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.

The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. He heard the chair drawn back, and the door opened.

A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and a long loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wife gave him courage to run down to her side, and then to the gate beyond. The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.

Featured

The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Part 1

by Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted to chat story format by captivated chat

My roommate and I were strolling one night down a long dirty street in the vicinity of the Palais Royal. Being both occupied in thought, neither of us had spoken a syllable for fifteen minutes at least. All at once, Monsieur Dupin interrupted my thoughts.

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Dupin
He is a very little fellow, that’s true, and would do better for the Théâtre des Variétés.”
Me
There can be no doubt of that. – But how? How did you chime in on my meditations?
Dupin
Largely by watching your face and your movements.
Me
This is beyond comprehension! I must say you amaze me, and I can scarcely credit my senses. How was it possible to know I was thinking of —— ?” Here I paused, to ascertain beyond a doubt whether he really knew of whom I thought.
Dupin
— of Chantilly, why do you pause? You were remarking to yourself that his diminutive figure unfitted him for tragedy.
Me
That is precisely what formed the subject of my reflections.
Dupin
Chantilly, that quondam cobbler of the Rue St. Denis, who, became stage-mad and thus attempted the rôle of Xerxes, in Crébillon’s tragedy, and was notoriously Pasquinaded for his pains.
Me
Tell me, for Heaven’s sake, the method—if method there is—by which you have been enabled to fathom my soul in this matter. I remain slightly befuddled.
Dupin
It was the fruiterer who brought you to the conclusion that the mender of soles was not of sufficient height for Xerxes.
Me
The fruiterer!—you astonish me—I do not know any fruiterer.
Dupin
The man who ran up against you as we entered the street—fifteen minutes ago.

Injured

Me
Oh yes, I remember that fellow, carrying on his head a basket of apples! He nearly threw me down, by accident, as we passed from the Rue C —— into the thoroughfare; but what has this to do with Chantilly!
Dupin
I will explain, and that you may comprehend all clearly, we will first retrace the course of your meditations, from the moment in which I spoke to you until that of the rencontre with the fruiterer in question. The larger links of the chain run thus—Chantilly, Orion, Dr. Nichols, Epicurus, Stereotomy, the street stones, the fruiterer.
Me
You astonish me! We have all amused ourselves by retracing the train of thought we took to reach a particular conclusion. But somehow you traced my thoughts! You spoke the truth. But how? I mean——how!
Dupin
We had been talking of horses, if I remember aright, just before leaving the Rue C ——. We discussed this subject last. As we crossed into this street, the fruiterer, with a large basket on his head, brushing quickly past us, thrust you upon a pile of paving stones collected at a spot where the causeway is undergoing repair.
Me
The bounder injured me!
Dupin
You stepped on one of the loose fragments. You slipped slightly strained your ankle, appeared vexed or sulky, muttered a few words, turned to look at the pile, and then proceeded in silence. I was greatly attentive; but observation has become with me, of late, a species of necessity.
Dupin
You kept your eyes upon the ground—glancing, with a petulant expression, at the holes and ruts in the pavement, so that I saw you were still thinking of the stones, until we reached the little alley called Lamartine. They have paved it, by way of experiment, with the overlapping and riveted blocks.

Paving the way

Me
Quite right!
Dupin
Here your countenance brightened, and, perceiving your lips move, I could not doubt that you murmured the word ‘stereotomy,’ a term very affectedly applied to this species of pavement. I knew that you could not say to yourself ‘stereotomy’ without being brought to think of atomies, and thus of the theories of Epicurus.
Dupin
And since, when we discussed this subject not very long ago, I mentioned to you how singularly, yet with how little notice, the vague guesses of that noble Greek had met with confirmation in the late nebular cosmogony, I felt that you could not avoid casting your eyes upward to the great nebula in Orion, and I certainly expected that you would do so. You did; and I was now sure that I had correctly followed your steps.
Me
Too cloudy still!
Dupin
But in that bitter tirade upon Chantilly that appeared in yesterday’s ‘Musée,’ the satirist, making some disgraceful allusions to the cobbler’s role, quoted a Latin line we ourselves discussed: Perdidit antiquum litera sonum.
Me
I could not remember it in full.
Dupin
I had told you that this was in reference to Orion, formerly written Urion; and, from certain pungencies connected with this explanation, I was aware that you could not have totally forgotten it. It was clear, therefore, that you would not fail to combine the two ideas of Orion and Chantilly. That you did combine them I saw by the character of the smile which passed over your lips. You thought of the poor cobbler’s immolation.
Dupin
So far, you had been stooping in your gait; but now I saw you draw yourself up to your full height. I was then sure that you reflected upon the diminutive Chantilly.  I interrupted your meditations to remark that as, in fact, he was a very little fellow—that Chantilly—he would do better at the Théâtre des Variétés.” ***************

A house in the Rue Morgue

(Ten minutes later)

Me
Pass me the front pages of your “Gazette des Tribunaux,” Dupin, please!
Dupin
Here you are, I have finished. But I was about to return to the lead paragraphs of the top story. Would you, then, kindly read that entire story to me?
Me
Surely.
Me
“EXTRAORDINARY MURDERS.—This morning at about three o’clock a succession of terrific shrieks from the fourth story of a house in the Rue Morgue, awoke the inhabitants of the Quartier St. Roch. The house is occupied by one Madame L’Espanaye, and her daughter Mademoiselle Camille L’Espanaye.
Me
“Eight or ten neighbors burst through the gateway and entered, accompanied by two gendarmes, following some delay from a fruitless attempt to enter in the usual manner.
Me
“By this time the cries had ceased; but, as the party rushed up the first flight of stairs, two or more rough voices in angry contention were distinguished and seemed to proceed from the upper part of the house. These sounds had ceased by the time the crowd reached the second landing, and everything remained perfectly quiet.
Me
“The party spread themselves and hurried from room to room. Arriving at a large back chamber in the fourth story, (the door of which, being found locked, with the key inside, was forced open,) a spectacle presented itself which struck every one present with horror and astonishment.
Me
“The party found the apartment in the wildest disorder—with furniture broken and thrown about in all directions. There was only one bedstead; but someone had removed its bed, and thrown it onto the floor. On a chair lay a razor, besmeared with blood. The perpetrators had deposited three long, thick tresses of grey human hair on the hearth, dabbled in blood, and seemingly pulled out by the roots.

Money left behind

Me
“They had left four Napoleons on the floor, an ear-ring of topaz, three large silver spoons, three smaller of métal d’Alger, and two bags, containing nearly four thousand francs in gold.
Me
“The drawers of a bureau in one corner were open, and had been, apparently, rifled, although many articles still remained in them. The police discovered a small iron safe under the bed (not under the bedstead). It was open, with the key still in the door. It had no contents beyond a few old letters, and other papers of little consequence.
Me
“Police could not find any traces of Madame L’Espanaye here. But they found (horrible to relate!) the daughter’s corpse in the chimney, head downward. Clearly, the fiends had forced her remains up the narrow aperture for a considerable distance. The body was quite warm. The violence with which the criminals had thrust it up the chimney left many excoriations upon the corpse. The criminals had also scratched her face and left dark bruises, and the deep indentations of finger nails on her throat, as if the deceased had been throttled to death.
Me
“After a thorough investigation of every portion of the house, without farther discovery, the party made its way into a small paved yard in the rear of the building, where lay the corpse of the old lady, with her throat so entirely cut that, upon an attempt to raise her, the head fell off. The body, as well as the head, was fearfully mutilated—the former so much so as scarcely to retain any semblance of humanity.
Me
“To this horrible mystery there is not as yet, we believe, the slightest clew.”
Look for Part 2!
Featured

The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Part 2

By Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted to chat story format by Captivated Chat

Tap icon above to stop or play the music, ‘Spirit of the Dead’
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Me
“To this horrible mystery there is not as yet, we believe, the slightest clew.”
Dupin
As this is the late edition, my friend, the paper has added the additional particulars of witness testimony on page two.
Me
All right, I will keep decanting them to you: “The Tragedy in the Rue Morgue,” it is called. It says: “Many individuals have been examined regarding this most extraordinary and frightful affair, but nothing has transpired to throw light upon it. Below is all the testimony elicited.” And Dupin, these pictures! I know some of these individuals who have given depositions! “Their testimony follows!”

Reputed to have money

Pauline Dubourg
laundress, deposes that she has known both the deceased for three years, having washed for them during that period. The old lady and her daughter seemed on good terms—very affectionate towards each other. They made excellent paying customers. But she could not speak in regard to their mode or means of living. Believed that Madame L. told fortunes for a living. Was reputed to have money put by. She never met any persons in the house when she called. Was sure that they had no servant. Moreover, she saw no furniture in the building except in the fourth story.
Pierre Moreau
tobacconist, deposes he has been selling small quantities of tobacco and snuff to Madame L’Espanaye for nearly four years. The victims had lived in the murder house for more than six years, it was formerly occupied by a jeweller, who sublet the upper rooms. The house belonged to Madame L. who, angered by the abuse of it by tenants, moved in herself and refused to let rooms. She was childish. Witness had seen the daughter some five or six times in six years. The two lived a very retired life—were reputed to have money. Neighbors said Madame L. told fortunes. But he had never seen any outside person enter, except a porter once or twice, and a physician.

A good house

Me
“Many neighbors, gave evidence to the same effect. No one was frequenting the house. Not known if any living connexions exist to victims. The family never opened the front window shutters. They kept the rear ones closed, also, with the exception of the large back room, fourth story. The house was a good house—not very old. “
Isidore Muset
gendarme, called to the house about three in the morning, and found thirty persons pushing at the gate. Had little difficulty prying it open with a bayonet. Shrieks heard only until gate forced. They were screams of great agony—loud and drawn out. He led the way upstairs, and heard two voices arguing—one gruff, the other shrill and very strange . Could distinguish some words of the former, a Frenchman, including ‘sacré’ and ‘diable.’ The shrill voice was a foreigner’s, Spanish he believed.
Henri Duval
a neighbor, and by trade a silversmith, was one of the first to enter the house. Corroborates testimony of Muset in general. After entering, they reclosed the door to keep out the crowd, which collected very fast. The shrill voice was speaking in Italian, not French. Perhaps a woman’s voice. Could not distinguish the words. Knew Madame L. and her daughter. Had conversed with both frequently. Was sure that the shrill voice was not that of either.

Gruff voice: ‘diable’

//Image: [Odenheimer] [https://captivatedchat.com/wp-content/uploads/Restauranteur-e1557773367866.jpg]

Odenheimer
restaurateur. This witness is a native of Amsterdam. Was passing and heard the shrieks. They lasted ten minutes, were long and loud—very awful. Meanwhile he joined crowd entering the building. Corroborated all details but one: the shrill voice was that of a Frenchman. Could not, however, distinguish the words uttered. They were loud and quick, spoken in fear and anger. That voice was harsh—not so much shrill as harsh. The gruff voice said repeatedly ‘sacré,’ ‘diable,’ and once ‘mon Dieu.’
Jules Mignaud
banker, of the firm of Mignaud et Fils, Rue Deloraine. Is the elder Mignaud. Madame L’Espanaye had some property. Had opened an account with his bank in the spring—eight years previously. Made frequent deposits, but in small sums. Had checked for nothing until the third day before her death, when she took out in person the sum of 4,000 francs, paid in gold, and a clerk accompanied her home with it.
Adolphe Le Bon
bank clerk at Mignaud et Fils, deposes that on the day in question, about noon, he accompanied Madame L’Espanaye to her residence with her withdrawn 4,000 francs, put up in two bags. Upon the door being opened, Mademoiselle L. appeared and took from his hands one of the bags, while the old lady relieved him of the other. He then bowed and departed. During that time he did not see any person in the street. It is a bye-street—very lonely.

No person seen

William Bird
tailor, deposes he was one of those who entered the house. Is an Englishman. Heard the voices in contention. The gruff voice was that of a Frenchman. Could make out several words, but cannot now remember all. Heard distinctly ‘sacré’ and ‘mon Dieu.’ Further, there was a sound of several persons struggling—a scraping and scuffling. The shrill voice was certainly not the voice of an Englishman. Appeared to be German. Might have been a woman.
Me
“Four of the above-named witnesses, being recalled, deposed that the door of the chamber in which was found the body of Mademoiselle L. was locked on the inside. Everything was perfectly silent—no groans or noises of any kind. Upon forcing the door, no person was seen. The windows, both of the back and front room, were down and firmly fastened from within. A door between the two rooms was closed, but not locked. The door leading from the front room into the passage was locked, with the key on the inside.
Me
“A small room in the front on the fourth story at the head of the passage was ajar. This room was crowded with old beds, boxes, and so forth. However these were carefully removed and searched. The house was carefully searched. Sweeps were sent up and down the chimneys, for example. The house was four stories, with garrets (mansardes.) A trap-door on the roof was nailed down very securely—apparently years ago. The time between hearing the voices and the breaking open of the room door, with difficulty, was variously estimated. To be precise, some made it three minutes—some as long as five.”

More witness testimony

Alfonzo Garcio
undertaker, deposes that he resides in the Rue Morgue. Is a native of Spain. Was one of the party who entered. But did not proceed up stairs. Is nervous, so was apprehensive about agitating himself. However he heard the voices in contention. The gruff voice was certainly that of a Frenchman. But the witness could not distinguish words. The shrill voice was English—is sure of this. Does not understand the language, but judges by the intonation.” Continued on page 8, it says. Hmmm…
Dupin
It is after the fold back there.
Alberto Montani
confectioner, deposes that he was among the first to ascend the stairs. Certainly heard the voices in question. The gruff voice was that of a Frenchman. Distinguished several words. What’s more, the speaker appeared to be expostulating. But could not make out the words of the shrill voice. Above all, the fellow spoke quick and unevenly. Thinks it the voice of a Russian. Corroborates the general testimony. Is an Italian. However, he has never conversed with a native of Russia.
Me
“Several witnesses testified that the fourth-story chimneys were too narrow to admit passage of a human being. The only ‘sweeps’ were cylindrical sweeping brushes. The chimney cleaner passed these up and down every flue in the house. There is no back stairs by which murderers could have escaped. The killers had wedged Mademoiselle L’Espanaye’s body so firmly in the chimney that she could not be got down until four or five of the party united their strength. “

Throat cut

Paul Dumas
physician, viewed the bodies about day-break. Dumas examined both bodies in the bedroom. The fiends had bruised and excoriated the young lady’s corpse. The fact that it had been thrust up the chimney would sufficiently account for this. Throat was greatly chafed, with several deep scratches just below the chin, together with a series of livid spots, evidently the impression of fingers. He found the face discolored, with the eyes protruding, and the tongue partially bitten through. The killers also had caused a large bruise on her stomach, produced, apparently from a knee.
Me
In the opinion of M. Dumas, Mademoiselle L’Espanaye had been throttled to death by some person or persons unknown. The corpse of the mother was mutilated. All the bones of the right leg and arm were shattered. The left tibia much splintered, as well as all the ribs of the left side. Whole body dreadfully bruised, but how is unknown. A wooden club, or a broad iron bar—a chair—any large, heavy, and obtuse weapon could have been used, if wielded by a very powerful man. No woman could have inflicted the blows. The head, witness said, was entirely separated from the body, and was also shattered. The throat had evidently been cut with some very sharp instrument—probably with a razor.

Arrest made!

`

Alexandre Etienne
surgeon, was called with M. Dumas to view the bodies. In short, he corroborated the testimony, and the opinions of Dumas.
Me
“Nothing farther of importance was elicited, although several other persons were examined. A murder so mysterious, and so perplexing in all its particulars, was never before committed in Paris—if indeed a murder has been committed at all. The police are entirely at fault—an unusual occurrence in affairs of this nature. There is not, however, the shadow of a clew apparent.”
Me
“The greatest excitement still continues in the Quartier St. Roch—the premises in question had been carefully re-searched, and fresh examinations of witnesses instituted, but all to no purpose.”
Dupin
But the writer added a postscript, set in agate type at the bottom of that same page.
Me
Yes, now I see it! “Police have arrested and imprisoned Adolphe Le Bon.” That is the bank clerk who accompanied the old woman home with 4,000 francs!

************

Look for Part 4, the denouement!
Featured

The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Part 4

by Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted to chat story format by captivated chat

A man entered. He was a sailor, evidently,—a tall, stout, and muscular-looking person, with a certain dare-devil expression of countenance, not altogether unprepossessing. The man kept his face, greatly sunburnt, more than half hidden beneath whisker and mustachio. He carried a huge oaken cudgel under one arm. At once he bowed awkwardly, and bade us “good evening,” in French accents, which, although somewhat Neufchatelish, were still sufficiently indicative of a Parisian origin.

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Dupin
Sit down, my friend. I suppose you have called about the Ourang-Outang. Upon my word, I almost envy you the possession of him; a remarkably fine, and no doubt a very valuable animal. How old do you suppose him to be?
Sailor
Eh?-Ahhh! It is such a relief to know that you have him! Well, I have no way of telling his age—but he can’t be more than four or five years old. Have you got him here?
Dupin
Oh no, we had no conveniences for keeping him here. He is at a livery stable in the Rue Dubourg, just by. You can get him in the morning. Of course you are prepared to identify the property?”
Sailor
To be sure I am, sir.
Dupin
I shall be sorry to part with him.
Sailor
I don’t mean that you should be at all this trouble for nothing, sir. Couldn’t expect it. I will pay a reward for the finding of the animal—that is to say, anything in reason.
Dupin
Well, that is all very fair, to be sure. Let me think!—what should I have? Oh! I will tell you. My reward shall be this. You shall give me all the information in your power about these murders in the Rue Morgue.
Dupin
I shall first just lock this door and pocket the key. There, and have a good look at my pistol! I am placing it upon the table, where your cards belong.
Sailor
Why you! I should. . . ! Oh, why fight over it. My inability to stop these killings will ruin me, ruin me!
Dupin
My friend you are alarming yourself unnecessarily—you are indeed. We mean you no harm whatever. I pledge you the honor of a gentleman, and of a Frenchman, that we intend you no injury. I perfectly well know that you are innocent of the atrocities in the Rue Morgue.
Dupin
You must admit, however, you are complicit. From what I have already said, you must know that I have had means of obtaining information about this matter—means of which you could never have dreamed.
Sailor
Yes but…
Dupin
Now the thing stands thus. You have done nothing which you could have avoided—nothing, certainly, which renders you culpable. You were not even guilty of robbery, when you might have robbed with impunity. Clearly you have nothing to conceal, and you have no reason for concealment. On the other hand, you are bound by every principle of honor to confess all you know. By keeping silent you have allowed an innocent man to remain imprisoned and charged with that crime. But you can point out the perpetrator.”
Sailor
Certainly sir, though it ruins me. I never wished to be such a villain. So help me God, I will tell you all I know about this affair;—but I do not expect you to believe one half I say—I would be a fool indeed if I did. Still, I am innocent, and I will make a clean breast if I die for it.
Dupin
That’s a good man, then!
Sailor
I have lately made a voyage to the Indian Archipelago. A party, of us landed at Borneo, and passed into the interior on an excursion of pleasure. Myself and a companion captured the Ourang-Outang. My companion dying from a fever, the animal fell into my own exclusive possession.
Sailor
After great trouble, and grievous wounds, occasioned by the intractable ferocity of my captive L’grande orange, on the home voyage, I at length succeeded in lodging it safely at my own residence here in Paris. I brought him from the docks at four in the morning on a cart, disguised as an injured sailor.
Sailor
Once established, not to attract any unpleasant nosiness of my noisy neighbors, I kept it carefully secluded in a windowless attic room, just until it could recover from an infected wound in one foot, resulting from a splinter on board ship. My ultimate design was to sell it, of course.
Dupin
Do go on.
Sailor
Returning home from a frolic with some of my old shipmates one night, or rather one morning, the day of the murder, I found the beast occupying my own bedroom. It had broken in from the small room adjoining, where it had been, as I thought, securely confined.
Sailor
Razor in hand, and fully lathered, it was sitting before a looking-glass, attempting to shave, an operation it had no doubt previously watched me perform through the key-hole. I confess I was never more terrified than at the sight of that dangerous steel in the possession of an animal so ferocious, and so well able to use it. So for some moments I was at a loss what to do.
Dupin
That is when he escaped, eh?
Sailor
I hesitated a little too long, you see. I had been accustomed, however, to quiet the creature, even in its fiercest moods, by the use of a whip, and so I went for it a little too directly, if you know what I mean. Upon sight of it, the Ourang-Outang sprang through the door of my bedchamber, down the stairs, through a window, accursedly left open, and out into the street.
Me
I begin to see how this outrage unfolded.
Sailor
I followed as best I could. The razor-waving ape at times stopped to look back and gesture at me, until I had nearly caught up with him. He then again took off at speed. In such-wise manner I kept chasing him for what seemed like forever. The streets were dead quiet, as it was nearly three o’clock in the morning.
Sailor
Loping down an alley in the rear of the home where the murders in the Rue Morgue had been perpetrated, the big fellow’s attention was arrested by a light. That light was in the open window of Madame L’Espanaye’s fourth-storey chamber. The rough beast scampered toward the manse, leapt over the front gate, apparently saw the lightning rod, clambered up it like a panther up a tree after a sleeping monkey, then grabbed onto the shutter, and swung on it like a child on a gate.
Me
Extraordinary thing!
Sailor
Yessir! He propelled that shutter back against the wall, he did, sir, and swung himself onto the headboard of that poor lady. The whole trapeze act was but one motion, as it were, and took less than ten seconds. I was happy to see he had kicked that shutter again as he pushed off it and leapt into that poor unfortunate old woman’s room.
Sailor
Well, my spirit soared to see him go indoors, and yet I also felt flummoxed and terrified. I finally saw some hope of recapturing the brute, as it could scarcely escape from the trap into which it had ventured, except by the rod, where I might intercept it as it slid down. On the other hand, I know there was much cause for anxiety as to what that beast might do in the mansion. That convinced me to follow the horrible beast.
Me
But how?
Sailor
As a sailor, I felt I could ascend the nearby lightning rod without difficulty, sir. Yet when I had arrived as high as the window, which lay far to my left, my career on the high wire was stopped; the most that I could do was to reach over so as to obtain a glimpse of the inside of that room. At that sight I nearly fell from my hold through sheer, mind-reeling horror. Then those shrieks began that awakened all the inmates of the quarter to the murders in the Rue Morgue.
Me
Poor Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter!
Sailor
The poor ladies had been arranging some papers in an iron chest. It was open, and its contents lay beside it on the floor. The brute’s victims must have been sitting with their backs to the window; and, from the moment the beast arrived until the screams began, they clearly never knew he was there. They may have attributed the flapping shutter to the wind.
Sailor
As I looked in, the gigantic animal had seized Madame L’Espanaye by the hair, (which was loose, as she had been combing it,) and was flourishing the razor about her face, in imitation of one shaving. The daughter lay motionless. The screams and struggles of the lady (during which the hair was torn from her head) changed the expression of the Ourang-Outang from harmless curiosity to anger. With one determined sweep of its muscular arm it nearly severed her head from her body.
Sailor
The sight of blood or the struggle inflamed it into a frenzy. Gnashing its teeth, its eyes glowing, it flew upon the body of the girl, and imbedded its fearful talons in her throat, apparently retaining its grasp until she had expired. Its wild glances fell at this moment upon me outside near the head of the bed. The beast shifted its outlook from fury to fear. Perhaps conscious of deserving punishment, it sought to conceal its bloody deeds, and skipped about in an agony of agitation; thus throwing down and breaking the furniture, and dragging the bed from the bedstead. It seized the corpse of the daughter, and thrust it up the chimney; then the body of the old lady, it immediately hurled toward the window.
Me
Then it was hiding the bodies?
Sailor
Yes. As the ape approached me with its mutilated burden, I shrank back in terror to the rod, and, glided down it, and hurried at once home—dreading the consequences of the butchery, and gladly abandoning any solicitude about the fate of my Ourang-Outang. The words heard by the party on the stairs, which we have all read of in the newspapers, were my exclamations, as well as the fiendish jabberings of the brute.
Dupin
I have scarcely anything to add. The Ourang-Outang must have escaped from the chamber, by the lightning rod. It must have left just before the door was broken in, and must have closed the window as it passed through it.
Me
Then Le Bon will instantly be released upon our narration of the circumstances (with some few comments from you, Dupin) at the Bureau of the Prefect of Police.

(An hour later)

Dupin
My letter from the sailor notes that the beast has been captured by the owner himself, and says he gave it a very large sum at the Jardin des Plantes.
Me
That functionary the Prefect, however well disposed he must be to you, my friend, could not altogether conceal his chagrin at the turn affairs! I detected some sarcasm in his remarks about the propriety of every person minding his own business.
Dupin
Let him talk!
Me
I am just pleased you did not think it necessary to reply.
Dupin
Let him discourse; it will ease his conscience, I am satisfied with having defeated him in his own castle. Nevertheless, that he failed in the solution of this mystery is by no means that matter for wonder which he supposes it; for, in truth, our friend the Prefect is somewhat too cunning to be profound.
Me
Our Prefect too cunning?
Dupin
Yes. In his wisdom is no stamen. It is all head and no body, like the pictures of the Goddess Laverna,—or, at best, all head and shoulders, like a codfish. But he is a good creature, after all. I like him especially for one master stroke of cant, by which he has attained his reputation for ingenuity. I mean the way he has ‘de nier ce qui est, et d’expliquer ce qui n’est pas.’” (*)

(*) Rousseau—Nouvelle Heloise. This quotation means that he [the Prefect] ‘denies what is, and explains what is not.’

Featured

Chance, Part 1

Scary kids stories such as this can give a person the creeps at any age. Enjoy!

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Me
The boat ride was fun.
Stan
But it’s too bad it drifted off. Guess we’ll walk back.
Me
It’s getting so dark!
Stan
I’m worried.
Me
What have you got to be scared about? Wait. We’ve got to go the other way!
Stan
Listen, Brain, I’ll do the pathfinding!
Me
But you’re wrong; it’s the other way!
Stan
We’ll flip for it as usual.
Me
I have a nickel. Heads we take the right-hand path, tails we take the left-hand path.
Stan
All right.
Me
OK, call it.
Stan
Heads.
Me
Ugh, heads it is! OK, Eagle Scout, lead the way!
Stan
No. You go first! I never made Eagle.
Stan
But if this path leads us up to the middle of nowhere, so help me, I’m gonna pull you apart like a sardine! So, uh, keep movin’ dude!
Stan
Wait up!
Me
Dude, what’s the matter now?
Stan
Listen, you hear that? I swear, it’s a fiddle. See, I told you we were heading the right way!
Me
Keep movin’ pal! After all, I’m hungry.
Stan
Well, that’s funny. That’s awful sad music, and the house has a scary look up on that hill with the headstones all around it. Somehow my heart sank at the sight.
Me
But it’s just a family plot. I just care about food!
Stan
Maybe we shouldn’t disturb whoever’s playing.
Me
‘Disturb’ is right! One side, Sir Walter Raleigh. I’ll do the knocking!
Stan
They don’t seem to hear us.
Me
But they’ll sure as hell hear this door knocker!
Stan
I think that did it. The music stopped. Tell horror stories
Me
It’s kind of fun isn’t it?
Stan
Okay you enjoy the fun and you do the paying if they can’t find our boat.
Ms. Kurtz
Good evening! Welcome to the Kurtz residence.
Me
Oh, how do you do! We’re sorry to bust in like this, but we lost our way, I mean our boat, and thought maybe you could direct us.
Ms. Kurtz
Of course. Won’t you step in? I’m more than glad to see you. Sorry, I still have the chain on.
Stan
Okay, it’s going to rain.
Me
Yeah, we certainly were lucky to find this place!
Stan
We heard you playing the violin, and so very well!
Ms. Kurtz
How kind. If you’ll step this way.
Stan
Oh God, isn’t she the strangest girl?
Me
Yeah, turned her face away before we entered.
Ms. Kurtz
Step in here. I have a small fire going.
Stan
It’s so dark.
Ms. Kurtz
Yeah, the fire is dim now but still warm. Your eyes will adjust. Do me the honor of being seated.
Me
All right. Oh boy what a chair!
Ms. Kurtz
Yes, it’s comfortable. Now if I might be permitted to introduce myself, I’m Henrietta Kurtz.
Me
Pleased to meet you, Ms. Kurtz. I’m Bob and he’s Stan. Believe me, Ms. Kurtz, it’s a pleasure!
Stan
It’s good to sit. Results from an illness
Ms. Kurtz
I’d like to sit and talk with you both. There’s so very much to talk about.
Me
Well, we should be getting back home.
Stan
Yeah.
Ms. Kurtz
Oh, with the storm upon you, we’ve got plenty of time.
Stan
Anyway lady, you don’t know what a lifesaver you were.
Ms. Kurtz
Is that so?
Stan
Everything gets Bob scared.
Ms. Kurtz
I must apologize for not having more light in here. But you see, my eyes.
Me
Oh that’s all right, Ms. Kurtz. I guess I don’t really mind it being dark in here. We can chat and tell horror stories.
Stan
If you have a candle?
Me
Don’t bother. He was hit on the head by a candlestick when very young.
Ms. Kurtz
Oh will you listen to that wind? The storm will come through in just a few more moments.
Stan
That thunder gives me the shakes. Is your husband home, Ms. Kurtz?
Ms. Kurtz
No, I’m quite alone in the world.
Me
Sure must get lonely out here!
Ms. Kurtz
It was very lonely.
Stan
Getting awful dark in here.
Ms. Kurtz
The power went out as you arrived. But don’t be alarmed at that sound, its a door banging in the wind.
Me
If it’s a bad time to visit, sorry.
Ms. Kurtz
If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll go close it.
Me
Stan, you’re shaking!
Stan
I’m not scared. It looks so odd, and those shadows keep moving.
Me
That’s the fire. But what’s that funny smell?
Stan
Yeah I noticed it, like medicine. She walks and holds her head so strangely.
Me
People do have infirmities, however, maybe it all results from an illness. That could be why she’s hiding.
Stan
Still it’s kinda creepy. So let’s just get out of here.
Ms. Kurtz
On the contrary, I suggest you stay!
Me
Is that a gun?
Featured

Taps for Earthlings, Part 1

Me
I can tell nobody has told Sam Parsons much about my misfortunes.
Boss Tunney
  Remember, Sam ain’t Beau Brummel, so you don’t have to heed his fashion advice.
Me
  True, writing a stats column for Fantasy Baseball Daily don’t qualify, even if we are celebrating his freedom.
Boss Tunney
Being sprung from the alcoholic center doesn’t mean he can edit GQ.
Me
He got one look at my clothes and choked on a piece of cake.
Boss Tunney
What happened, exactly?
Me
He said I had become a suit. Lay off, Sam, I said. He said: Look! A gray suit, a black tie. Dressed for management, or burial!
Me
He then asked where’s my purple-and-green checked sports jacket. I told him it’s Elena’s fault: she made a gentleman of me.
Boss Tunney
You two got married just before they took Sam’s pink elephants away. Have you flipped out so soon?
Me
You don’t know, either, Chief?
Boss Tunney
No, what happened?
Me
Well, it was right after Sam went a little loopy that Elena started hearing voices.
Boss Tunney
What kinda voices?
Me
It got so bad, she’s now at Glendale Horizon upstate. I just came back from visiting.
Boss Tunney
Well, did the psychiatrist give you a diagnosis?
Me
Yeah, catatonia, or more specifically excited catatonia.
Boss Tunney
Oh, very rough. The outlook is never good in such cases.
Me
Maybe they can’t help her, but I will.
Boss Tunney
Now Harlan, you’re a player analyst! You run the best tip sheet, but not in the medical world.
Me
So?
Boss Tunney
My publisher is on my back, and I can use a player ranking sheet from you.
Me
Those medical-world shrinks don’t know what’s wrong with Elena.  I do!
Boss Tunney
You do?
Me
Well almost.
Boss Tunney
That’s interesting, maybe you can collaborate with Sam on an article for Modern Psychiatrics.
Me
No, really, just look at this chart. Look here, I use the same system that I always use to dope the player predictions.
Boss Tunney
Are ya sure that’s the way to diagnose psychosis?
Me
Look, Elena’s got excited catatonia; she used to be a dancer before we got married, and now she does time steps all day.
Sam
We meet again, Boss and son. I overheard you; ya know stereotyped movements are typical of catatonia.
Me
You don’t get it; she does time steps! That’s the first thing you learn in tap dancing. But its the same steps repeatedly for hours on end each day, and she keeps talking like she’s carefree and happy!
Boss Tunney
Sounds like she’s gone, all right.
Me
Talks like she’s givin’ lessons to some jerk kid who can’t get it straight.
Boss Tunney
I hear when these catatonics pull out, they don’t remember much, or maybe nothing.
Sam
It’s protective amnesia.
Me
She better pull out soon! I tell you I miss that girl. She can’t tell her hubby from her hair dresser, but she sees somebody she’s teachin’, and I’m gonna dope it out.
Sam
It’s too much for you.
Me
Too much for me, huh, Parsons? Who was it picked six complete-game starting pitchers opening day? I’ll beat the schizophrenia handicap.
Boss Tunney
You haven’t been paying much attention to your player prediction sheet while you been doping out your catatonia gal.
Me
I miss Elena! I miss the wool sweaters soaking in the sink, the toothpaste tubes squeezed from the middle. I have to get her back somehow.
Sam
So how do you dope it out so far?
Me
I took a cab. I went out to that place. I sat in a room and watched her give dance lessons. Elena was worth watching, even with her eyes dead and shooting blanks. Somehow her feet kept shuffling through that time step. . .
* * * * * * *
Keys
Mr. Locke, visiting time is almost up.
Me
All right, all right, Keys.
Me
Elena, listen. Elena, how long can this kid take to learn a time step?
Keys
She can’t hear you!
Me
Look, Lainey, I don’t know who these squares are that you’re working for, but tell them that if they take you, they gotta take me.
Key
It don’t work that way!
Me
Here I had my key idea. Elena was showing them how to dance, whoever they are. And the only way I could spring her was to find out who was controlling her and why.
Sam
This assumes there is somebody actually there.
Boss Tunney
As the poem says, As I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today, I wish that he would stay away.
Me
My first step was to get this dim bulb interested in me and what I know about baseball and doping out player predictions.
Sam
It worked when you went for your present job!
Me
So I stood there next to Elena and I started to talk.
Sam
They must have been tempted to lock you up, too!
Boss Tunney
Not as much as I am tempted to fire you both!
Me
I said, the first thing you got to figure is mean performance. You take a pitcher, you’ve got to know the mean stats, going back through the minors, then you got to know how to adjust those stats to major-league conditions.
Sam
Excruciating minutiae, that’s you all right!
Me
And there’s training. You take a lefty with good breaking stuff, see them during the spring with the big leaguers, and check if they can fool hitters who can handle breaking stuff. You also got to know any phobias.
Keys
Mr. Locke are you all right?
Me
You top rank a pitcher who’s scared of big crowds, you’re gonna come a cropper.
Sam
Big crowds could just as easily make a fireballer throw harder.
Me
True. So, like with ballgames, I kept coming back every day, I’d just sit there next to Elena and talk about baseball and hope. Then finally I started hearing their voices.
Boss Tunney
I’m not sure I’d admit that.
Me
A voice said: Locke, this way, Come this way, this way Locke, come on now.
Sam
I had a similar experience with snakes.
Boss Tunney
Hissing?
Sam
No, talking!
Me
I could still see the attendant in his white coat…
Sam
I can still see mine, too, and just as plain…
Me
He kept asking me questions, but I couldn’t hear him. I just kept talking about the ballplayers, and then suddenly I was there!
Boss Tunney
Where was ya?
Me
Somewhere else. I was in a big arena and the folks looked like at a futuristic ballpark or maybe the Atlanta airport, but with trees and statues, hundreds of people standing around, looking on edge.
Sam
Sounds like a NASCAR event.
Me
Well, there was a little man with big glasses standing next to me. He looks scared, but I knew it had worked; I was on my way to visit Elena!
Sam
And not just the automaton Elena, eh?
Me
Yes, and it really did work! Wait’ll you hear this. I was on another planet!
* * * * * *

Look for part 2

Featured

Not Dead, Part 1

Me
I stopped the bleeding! It looks like just a cut on his forehead from when he hit the ground.
Chad
It can’t be that bad, officer. I didn’t hit him hard. I was inching along and then I hit the b-b-brakes.
Bystander
Yeah, that’s right it looked like just a little bump.
Me
That’s all right. All right, now, clear back, clear back! Let’s have a little air in here.  I have to take down some information. What’s your name?
Chad
Chad Kohl. Here’s my license.
Bystander
Hey, you kids there!  
Me
Yeah, you, stay back!
Bystander
Those kids, they picked up something off the street. I saw it.  
Me
Where’s that ambulance? Oh, here it comes, and not too soon! It doesn’t look like he’s breathing!
Chad
My gosh, he ain’t b-b-breathing!
Me
I told you kids to get back there! Come on now, get back.
Me
I’m glad you got here, doctor, he’s out cold.
Doc
Let’s have a look here.
Chad
Yeah. I know some good injury lawyers.
Me
Don’t say yeah.
Doc
All right, let’s get him packed away; he’s dead. Well, at least it didn’t happen in the ambulance.
Me
Keep back, will you!   
Bystander
Sure officer. The guy’s dead, he don’t need air or injury lawyers.   
Chad
D-d-d dead!
Bystander
You might have to Donate Your Car for Kids!
Me
Back! It’s the second one today.
Doc
Yeah, I know. Bye.
Bystander
Hey who’s coat was that under his head? He was laying on a coat.
Chad
I don’t know.
Bystander
Did you pick it up?
Chad
No.
Bystander
Well you’re gonna need a new car insurance quote, PA! Hey officer!  
Me
Yeah?  
Bystander
Where’s the coat?
Me
Oh my gosh, it’s gone!

(Wright Lauer had lost his medical alert ID; that is, he had lost the identification telling of his condition, and a similar letter that was in the inside pocket of his jacket. The silver chain he wore on his right wrist had snapped and fallen to the pavement. Two youngsters had picked up the chain: Roberto Pinella, aged nine and one half, and Tommy Stoner, eight.)  

Me
Hey, maybe we should give it back.  
Bob
Yeah, what for?
Me
Bob, it sure is a nice chain. Hey there’s writing on it!
Bob
Maybe it’s the guy’s name.
Me
Was he hurt bad?
Bob
He died, and it was just a little bump.
Me
What’s the name?  
Bob
Just a second, we’ll be out of the alley.
Me
Yeah, Pop’s gone home to eat.
Bob
Well, let me see it.
Me
Wait a second will you? Give it back!
Bob
“Do not — something — me, I am not dead,” that’s Phooey!
Me
What we doing with it?
Bob
Sell it, fool!
Me
That’ stealin’, Bob!
Bob
It ain’t stealing! We found it, didn’t we? When we sell it, I’ll swear we found it on the street.
Me
What else do we tell them?
Bob
Nothin’ more! You know what we’ll do?
Me
What?
Bob
We’ll use Pop’s welding torch to melt the writing flat.
Me
He told us not to use it!
Bob
Pop ain’t here. And it’s not like the dead guy’s gonna need this thing, is it?
Featured

Removing a Roth, 1: Birth of a Superhero

Me
Come to the Fourth National Bank.
Stranger
Huh?
Me
Would you come to the bank with me, please? I’ve asked a lot of people, but they won’t listen. No, don’t turn your head!
Stranger
I have important work…
Me
Please don’t go away! Listen, it’s my friend, he’s locked up in there, and I can’t get in.
Stranger
Help, police!
Me
Oh no, not to rob them! I didn’t say he was locked up in the vault. I don’t care about money! All I care about is him! But I didn’t mean to tell you. All right, I did!
Stranger
Tell me what?
Me
It’s Mr. Roth: he’s in the bank, and he can’t get out! What are you laughing about? This is not funny! He can’t get out! You can go in there, but I can’t. Now stop laughing! Please listen to me!
Stranger
At least you are funny, girl!
Me
I’ll tell you all about it from the start. I’m a school teacher at the high school. I teach physics: it’s a rational science, cause and effect, cause and effect. Mr. Roth teaches in the same school: psychology, the way of the human mind. But that’s not an exact science, is it?
Stranger
Not at all.
Me
And that’s exactly what started it. Mr. Roth said to me: “Miss Koss, I don’t think very much of your exact sciences. It is my conviction that the potentialities of the human mind and body have never been realized by any human creature.”
Me
But there have been great men – Plato, Lincoln – many scientists, too!
Roth
Yes, but only fractional greatness! All using perhaps one tenth of the power latent within themselves. It’s all a matter of concentration! Thomas Edison used perhaps one iota more concentration than the average man and became one of the great inventors of all time. If men would concentrate their minds to the limit the universe would be theirs.
Stranger
Interesting, but…
Me
I thought nothing of it. Mr. Roth was such an intense young man. I liked his intensity, just think what could happen if a man could bring his mind to the proper point of concentration! He could move objects with his mind! Yes! Why not think that a table should move as people move? Mr. Roth did think that if he wanted to be a certain place and he would be there.
Stranger
Sounds like a weird-y!
Me
Men conceived of civilization just by a thought and here it is. I liked to watch Mr. Roth’s eyes while he talked! They were so bright and burning, and his mouth, the way it twisted. I couldn’t help liking Mr. Roth, could I? We had dinner together once.
Stranger
Oh, so you liked him a lot?
Me
I remember I said, it’s very nice of you to have dinner with me, Mister Roth.
Roth
On the contrary, I, I’m grateful to you! You’re a very good listener. I’ve done a great deal of work in the week since we last talked.
Me
Have you? Please tell me.
Roth
Well it isn’t exactly work. It’s, it’s more of a decision!
Me
Yes?
Roth
I’ve come to the decision to stop theorizing. I’ve decided to put what I believe into practice.
Me
Tell me what you mean by that.
Roth
Yeah, It’s quite simple, the powers of concentration, I’ve decided to put my theory into full practice. The fruit juice is for the lady. I don’t want to anticipate, but I expect wonderful results, Miss Koss. I might even say unbelievable results!
Me
Tell me more, I said.
Stranger
You did, eh? What then?
Me
Please come with me to the bank.
Stranger
All right. all right.
Me
I’ll tell you the rest, then. Mr. Roth is trapped in a wall in the bank!

Look for Part 2

Featured

Removing a Roth, Part 2: Birth of a Superhero

Me
The day after he talked to me in the restaurant, Mr. Roth didn’t come to school. They told me that he’d suddenly taken a leave of absence. Two weeks later I decided to go see him. I bought a new dress, a very becoming one. Then I went to visit him. Standing there knocking, I suddenly realized that the door was ajar.
Stranger
Was he all right?
Me
Yes. the landlord had said he was at home I pushed the door open. I saw him and said, Mr. Roth, your face! Oh, you are sick!
Stranger
Sick?
Me
Yes! I’ll phone a doctor, I said.
Roth
No, no. I did what I told you. But I don’t know if I’ve been sitting here for a week or a month, practicing concentration, just concentrating.
Me
The experiment was not successful?
Roth
To the contrary, yes, most successful. I’ve proven that I can do what some of the gurus profess to do, slow down through willpower the essential life processes: a week without food and water, is that not a triumph, Miss Koss?
Me
I don’t know. Oh, why do you do these things?
Roth
I’m trying to explain it to you. Quite simply, human thoughts are like the rays of the sun, spreading in all directions. With the use of a lens they can be focused on one point and instead to warm just it. Then there’s this focal point of intense light that can burn its way through all obstacles, and so it is with human thoughts. If, through concentration, a man could focus them on one point he would be a God among men.
Me
A God among men?
Roth
I am confident that I, through training, can become that one man in a million. Even, even as muscles can be trained, so I am training my mind, and when the day for my training is complete, I will be able to do anything I desire. Do you hear me? Anything, anything!
Stranger
The man must have become unbalanced.
Me
Maybe just tired. But weak and tired as he was, when his eyes looked at me I was afraid for him. I made up my mind right then the first thing was to get him out of that room. He ate, rested, and then went out with me.
Roth
I don’t see why I let you talk me into this, Miss Koss! I have so much work to do!
Me
The walk will do you good.
Roth
Where are we headed?
Me
Well, I want you to come to the bank with me.
Roth
I beg your pardon?
Me
Well, you see, I, I’ve been thinking of taking a little vacation and I need some money.
Roth
Going to withdraw some, huh? Let’s see. I, too, want to get off someplace, where I can concentrate.
Me
Oh yes?
Roth
Yes, most important! Yes!
Me
Uh, have you thought about going out to the country?
Roth
The country would be a wonderful place to work, now wouldn’t it?
Me
Mister, as we went into the bank he kept talking about the powers of concentration. I hardly listened to him.
Stranger
I can understand that.
Me
All I could think about was that somehow I had to get him into a new environment. In the bank, suddenly Mr. Roth stopped, he stared at the wall. I said Victor, uh Mr. Roth, what are you looking at?
Roth
This is the time. It’s really high time for what I told you, after my subconscious reached the proper point of incubation. Now I must use that power, now!
Me
No, please, what are you doing?
Roth
I’m going to do it now. That marble wall straight ahead? I can and I shall walk right through it!

Featured

Removing a Roth, Part 4: Birth of a New Superhero

Me
I got away into the street. It was still raining. I ran along the dark streets, and soon I was at the bank. Closed! But there was a dark doorway at an adjacent building.
Stranger
Why not just go home until they opened the next day.
Me
I couldn’t. I hid in the darkness and waited all through the night, until they opened the doors of the bank. I went in, I walked toward the wall.
Stranger
How could you know the exact spot?
Me
I wanted to run to the spot, but I walked, and when I was near it, I said, Mr. Roth! Are you in there? It’s Miss Koss, Eva! Please, if you’re in there, answer me. They’ll see me standing here by the wall talking. And they won’t let me talk long, Mr. Roth, please! Answer me!
Roth
Uuuung hmm!
Me
I hear you! You are Mr. Roth? You did walk into the wall and stay there?
Roth
Ung huh!
Stranger
It is madness, but what if you’re right!
Me
I am. Please help me get him out! Mr. Roth is in there, I must get help!
Stranger
But why do you need my help?
Me
They put me back in the hospital; they didn’t believe me! I was very sick after standing in the rain so long, I don’t know how many days I was in the hospital. Then I was all right. They let me out.
Stranger
If you ask me, you are still sick.
Me
No, really! And the bank manager said “This is your last warning, you are to stay away from the bank. Behave yourself as the good, intelligent citizen you normally are. Your last warning!
Stranger
Wouldn’t it be a strange epilogue if Mr. Roth were to be seen emerging from that wall in a selfie video, with me leading the rescue party?
Me
You would be a celebrity!
Stranger
I would be a BIG celebrity! I could start a Go Fund Me page and gather a fortune to develop Roth’s powers. That is, if Roth really is waiting for someone to help him.
Me
You would be a true hero. Mr. Roth’s powers are formidable.
Stranger
He would become the next Batman, at the very least, if he lived.
Me
I told Mr. Roth to keep alive, that I was working to help him. I had to figure out a way! There’s a store across the street selling paint! That is the answer of course.

* * * * * * * * * *

Paint Salesman
Ma’am, now how much do you think you need?
Stranger
Oh I suggest a half pint.
Paint Salesman
Hey, we have it here in bulk.
Me
Open it, let me see it.
Paint Salesman
Sure, sure. Hey, see it’s standard cleaning fluid, okay lady?
Me
Good. I’ll take it. Here’s a ten. Please bring this can outside, Mister.
Stranger
Sure, I’ll bring it. Here I come.
Me
We need a distraction. Set the can on that pile of newspaper by the curb.
Stranger
That match! Look out! Didn’t you know it was flammable!
Me
Now, run to the bank! Everyone is going to be so busy that we will be free to go into the bank. I will show you the wall. Put your ear against it, right over there.
Stranger
Can you hear me, Roth?
Roth
Mmmm, hmm.
Stranger
He is alive!
Me
All these days Victor’s been in that wall, holding himself alive only by his will.
Stranger
Miss Koss and I will help you, Roth. I am tapping on the wall at the spot where you entered, and your best chance must be to come back the way you came. You’ve proved you can pass through it about here. I am tapping.
Roth
Yeah!
Stranger
Come toward the sound. Miss Koss is concentrating now on helping you emerge. I have turned on my cell phone video camera, it has a bright light shining on the spot.
Roth
I hear.
Me
Come toward the light, and toward my voice. Concentrate.
Roth
I see it!
Stranger
There you are, Roth! Keep walking this way. Grab his other hand, Miss Koss, and let’s pull!
Roth
I’m free! Thanks, stranger!
Stranger
Welcome back to Earth, Batman, er, Wallman! Don’t thank me; it’s Miss Koss. She really cares!
Roth
Oh, Eva, I love you!
Me
Forget pure reason; I love you, too, Victor, that is, Wallman!

Featured

Death of a Flint Skin, Part 1

by Karen Adkins

“Poor old Fred,” sighed Lucy, as she watched a smoke ring slowly rise to the ceiling.  She and Ricky had just finished their third cup of Irish coffee, emphasis on the Irish,and things were moving at a leisurely pace.

“Poor old Fred,” echoed Ricky, oblivious to the fact that he was, again, repeating what his wife had just said.  He had been doing it all morning, to her irritation.

“Well, it isn’t as if he wasn’t a lot older than us…it shouldn’t come as that big of a shock,”snapped Lucy.  The friendly feelings produced by the whisky were beginning to wear off.  She ground out her cigarette and lit another.

“That would be fine, ‘cept he din’t die of old age.”

“I know he “din’t”— really — can’t you speak proper English?  You “din’t” just get off the boat.  I just can’t get over it — Fred falling down those basement stairs like that — he knew every inch of this building.”

“Even if he din–PARDON ME–DIDN’T–take care of every inch of it,” murmured Ricky scratching a flurry of paint flakes loose from a place near the window.  Looking down on him from the ceiling were several large, brown stains.  They served as reminders of how wet spring weather and a landlord’s scrimping on roof maintenance could add color to a room.

“Ricky, don’t speak ill of the dead!,” hissed Lucy, as if she was afraid it was Fred’s spirit, and not tobacco smoke, floating above their heads. “He’s only been gone three weeks. So he wasn’t perfect and didn’t keep the building up the way he should have.  So he was miserly where money was concerned, whether it was for repairs or for Ethel — he hardly ever let her get a new hat or dress.  She had to fight him for the money to get her hair done, even though the building was in her name and she did most of the work!  I don’t know how she put up with him for all those years…”

“Poor ol’ Fred,” repeated Ricky mournfully as he stared out the window. He wasn’t listening.  Again.  Lucy stuck her tongue out at his back.    

“I think I’ll go give Ethel a call and see how she’s holding up.”

As soon as Lucy left, Ricky regained conciousness.  He furiously ground his cigarette to bits. Finally some time alone.  And some quiet.  Two things he was constantly seeking and rarely found in his life with Lucy.

Poor old Fred — Ha!  That’s a good one!  That old ham — always pesterin’ me for a part in my show — thinkin’ people would still get a kick out of his stale, third-rate, vaudeville routines.  A real flint-skin — he din’t fix a thin’ in this broken-down, rat-trap unless it was an emergency.  And all of that money I “loaned” him!  Like I had a choice, when it’s winter and he’s controllin’ the heat!  Never saw THAT money again.  Always puttin’ me off when I brought it up, sayin’ he couldn’t get his hands on it now, but he’d have it for me soon, then changin’ the subject.

I wonder what he wanted it for.  Gambling probably. 

Ricky had come across some racing forms when he’d gone to the basement to get Fred for a card game.  The basement (and the roof when the weather was good) was Fred’s not-so-secret hideout, and Ricky knew he spent a large part of each day there with his tip sheet and forms, his radio and a bottle, ducking work and his wife, dreaming of hitting it big. 

 And eavesdropping.  Fred had told him he had a pretty good thing going: he found he could (plainly) hear his tenants through the furnace pipe whenever the furnace wasn’t on.  Seeing Ricky’s shocked face, Fred had hurried to defend himself:

“It’s just smart business Rick!  A landlord always has to be a step ahead of his tenants.  He has to know who’s planning to skip out before the end of the month; who’s gonna try to hand you what hard-luck story, instead of cash.  Ethel may fall for their stories, but not me, brother. You don’t get ahead in this business by being a pushover.”

Then he’d wiped off his bottle with his sleeve and offered Ricky what was left, which, declined, Fred finished off in one loud gulp, followed by an even louder burp.  As he wiped his mouth on his other sleeve, he chuckled and began talking, almost to himself:

“Yep, a landlord has to know every trick in the book…a master key helps…but this clues you in to things you’d miss, a lot of things…” 

Then he’d roused himself (from his reverie) and painfully clapped Ricky on the back.

“And Rick, old boy!  You wouldn’t believe the goings-on!

It’s better than television!  It’s right up there with goin’ to the track and winning a bundle!”

 Then he said that the h’actin’ bug had been bitin’ him again an’ maybe I could “find” a part for him–better yet, why not plan a bunch of shows aroun’ him and his vaudeville bits,ay-yi-yi!  Din’t seem to care if the club folded–an’ when I told him, sorry ol’ man but no, he said no, HE was sorry but he would have to tell Lucy ’bout Valerie. 

Ricky pressed his forehead against the window and listened to the pigeons cooing on the ledge.

Ah, Valerie!  Complete opposite from Lucy — quiet, almost shy.  He smiled thinking of the peaceful hours they’d shared and winced as he compared them to the shrill voice, the  quarrels, the questions.  Where had he been?  Why was he so late and why didn’t he call? Why can’t I be in the show, Ricky?

He poured another drink, minus the coffee this time, and lifted his glass.  Sorry ol’ man, but I like to eat my cake and have it too.  An’ you thought you were goin’ to put a stop to that…

Lucy slammed the receiver down on another busy signal.

Drat–will you look at that nail?  A perfectly manicured, blood-red polished nail had torn, threatening her nylons. 

Honestly–there’s so much”upkeep” to keep up with, Lucy thought, filing the nail smooth.  That done, she sat down at her vanity and began to brush her naturally curly, naturally red hair.  (She divided the recommended hundred strokes throughout the day.)  She glanced sideways at the bedroom door, remembered it was locked and parted the mass of curls covering her forehead.  Brown and silver roots were now visible in what had been uniformly, if artificially, red.  Darn it!  It seems like I was just at Henri’s!  I’ll have to see if he can fit me in for a touch-up.  I can’t afford to look less than perfect with all the glamorous dancers Ricky works with.

Lucy eyed herself critically.  She was paler than usual and her makeup couldn’t completely hide the circles under her eyes.  She hadn’t been sleeping well.  For the last several months, Ricky had been keeping more late nights.  Much later.  He used to come home directly from the club.  He used to bring her flowers for no other reason than that he thought she might enjoy them.  There were a lot of things he used to do. Now, a couple of nights a week he’d get in at dawn and tiptoe around, trying not to wake her.  Fat chance of that; she’d been listening for him and only pretended sleep on hearing his key in the door. 

One day after discussing her suspicions with Ethel, she’d run into Fred coming up from the basement where he claimed he’d been working on the furnace.  He said he hoped she and Ethel weren’t too sore about the late nights he and Rick had been keeping lately.  They’d been taking in some late fights, with drinks afterwards, and started up their old poker sessions again.  One of the boys had it pretty rough right now and they were just trying to be pals. 

Now that Fred was gone, Lucy thought Ricky would keep more regular hours, but he stayed out just as late as before.  Unasked, Ricky said that he and the”boys” were now keeping the poker games going in Fred’s honor and that he didn’t know what he would do without them.       

At first, Lucy felt relieved.  It was a perfectly reasonable explanation but she couldn’t help wondering if it was the real one.  Was Ricky running around on her?  With one of those big-eyed dancers with the twenty-three inch waists?  She looked at her waist.  It seemed enormous–surely it wasn’t THAT big.  Add “diet” to the list of things I need to do, she wrote down mentally.  And where on earth did all these wrinkles come from?  With her forehead free of curls for the moment, the lines stood out plainly.  There weren’t that many yesterday.  She’d had plenty of chances to see those dancers up close–everything about them was taut and smooth.  Even their foreheads. 

Lucy furiously brushed and rearranged her hair, dabbed on some rouge and re-did her lips, admiring the crimson impression they made when she blotted them.  That’s better.  She stood up, smoothed her dress and checked her front and rear views.  If I ever found out that Ricky was cheating on me and that someone was covering for him … the thought brought more color to her face than rouge ever could.

Read part 2 of the story!

Copyright: Karen Adkins

Featured

Death of a Flint Skin, Part 2

She quickly dialed Ethel’s number again. Damned busy signal. One of the girls must’ve got to gabbing and won’t let her off the phone. Or the other way around. Poor Ethel.

Lucy pulled her chair up to the window and lit another cigarette.

Or was it poor Ethel?

As Ethel had repeatedly said, theirs was no match made in heaven. Fred was twenty-five years older and the trickle of charm he had once possessed had long since dried up.

He had grown into a full-time nitpicker, finding fault with whatever she did. There was plenty to choose from — she did most of the work.

And it was hard to believe there was a time when Fred had won ANYONE over with how he looked or dressed; he prided himself on being a slob. He felt it showed who was boss.

Then, there was Fred and money. Fred and cheap went together like milk and cookies. And he didn’t just cut corners when it came to the building, he was miserly in his personal life as well. He didn’t notice or care how outdated and worn his and Ethel’s furniture and clothes were. Fortunately, Ethel did.

When I decided it was time for us to redecorate last year, Ethel waged an all-out war to get Fred to agree to redecorate their apartment too. After months of arguing, he finally gave in–but only on the condition that they could have our old furniture.

During one of our club meetings, when Ethel was getting the refreshments, the girls all said how bad they felt for her and how embarrassing it must be not to be able to pick out your own things.

Ethel would’ve died if she’d known.

And the clothes. Making due with my old hats and coats — fiddling with hems, buttons and dye trying to make them look new — or at least like they didn’t come from my closet! Still, it didn’t take long for the girls to catch on…Ethel’s last name would have to be Dior to have pulled that off!

She never gave up though. Every couple of weeks, Ethel would tell me about her latest struggle to get Fred to cough up the price of a dress (even half-off!) or a permanent. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it was a losing battle… learned how to give herself a home perm…pretty good at it too, now…still can’t touch Henri’s, of course, but pretty good. And she’s been able to get some fairly decent bargain-basement stuff by pocketing some of the grocery money and buying Fred the cheapest of everything, especially meat. No wonder he complains! But he certainly deserves, er…deserved, it.

Ethel always did do most of the work around here, thought Lucy, angrily blowing smoke, smothering the cheap perfume — collecting and depositing the rents, keeping the books, inspecting, cleaning and showing apartments — and acting as a buffer when tenants demanded to know what had happened to an ancient repair request. Fred preferred napping to filling those.

Except for that day about a week before he died. Our bridge game broke up early and I found him WITH his tool kit in our apartment. He had promised to fix the garbage disposal months ago but kept “forgetting” as usual. Then, out of the blue, he’d fixed it. Left in a hurry, too. That wasn’t like Fred either….he liked to stand around jawing, mooching food and putting off the next job.

Later, as I was going into the kitchen to make dinner, something white caught my eye. It was the corner of a racing form that looked like it had been shoved under the sofa cushion in a hurry. That, plus the phone being out of place and the way Fred had acted earlier, made me wonder if he’d been placing bets from our apartment.

I should have suspected something when Ethel proudly announced that Fred had been a big help to her lately: he had voluntarily taken over the collecting and depositing of the rent money. He also appeared to be developing a soft side because he’d mentioned letting several tenants who were in a bad way slide. I tried to get her to say who, but she said she didn’t know; Fred had been very vague about it. Ethel said she thought it was very gentlemanly of him and she couldn’t remember when he had pleased her so much.

She had also confided feeling horribly guilty; she’d been on the verge of accusing him of dipping into the emergency money she kept in the china sugar-bowl. How could she have thought he’d stoop so low, when he was being so helpful and selfless? Then she laughed and admitted her memory wasn’t what it used to be and she’d probably forgotten the amount she’d put in it in the first place.

She was going to have to start writing notes to herself to remind her what was what.

Lucy had hesitated about going to Ethel with her suspicions. If she was wrong, it might cost her her best friend. If she was right, things between tenant and landlord could (and probably would) get very uncomfortable.

But then Fred had died and that took care of that. She wouldn’t tell Ethel. Fred could rest in peace.

Lucy dialed Ethel again, let it ring ten times, hung up and re-dialed, thinking she might have made a mistake. Figures. I probably missed her by a minute. I’ll try her after Ricky leaves for the club.

Maybe we can catch that new Gary Cooper picture that’s playing at… rats. Of course she’s not going to feel like going. It’s probably all the poor dear can stand to run out and get a few groceries. 

Won’t that darn phone ever stop ringing?

Ethel had periodically taken the phone off the receiver to give herself a break from several well-meaning friends, but she couldn’t just leave it off
— somebody used to jumping to ridiculous conclusions might think she had killed herself over Fred and show up with the police! That would be just like Lucy. She was certain this current annoyance was Lucy (she was the only one with the chutzpah to let it ring ten times), and was equally certain she could keep it up for hours. With her nosiness, hare-brained schemes and lack of normal consideration, Lucy could be a real pip of a friend sometimes. There she goes again! She’s driving me crazy!

Ethel pulled open a drawer of sweaters and pushed them aside to make room for the phone. Hoping to at least muffle any further outbursts, she piled layers of wool over and around it and shut the drawer.

As she leaned back against the dresser and closed her eyes, Ethel began to feel the relief that was always the happy result of shutting the door behind Lucy. Eyes open, she reached for her whisky sour. She’d made a pitcher-full after breakfast. Now that Fred was gone, so were all his bottles of prune juice and beer and the space they took up. There was plenty of room, now, for pitchers. Ethel thought it was a much better use of space.

She fluffed up some pillows, kicked off her shoes and lay back on, what was now solely her bed, to relax. No more drafts and sleeping on the edge of the mattress while somebody else hogs the blankets and the bed, snores to beat the band and then complains all the next day about what a bad night’s sleep he got. She grimaced at the valley-like depression that marked what used to be his side of the bed. Time for a new bed.

Ethel gulped her drink. That closet’s all mine too. She smiled as she looked at its empty hangers and clean floor. With Fred’s stuff gone and my ratty, old things burned, it certainly seems roomy. She chuckled — that was one trip to the incinerator she’d enjoyed! This time I’ll fill it the WAY I want, with WHAT I want, without asking anybody’s permission or begging for a few dollars just to get some reject from the “bargain basement.” (I’ll never have to go there again.)

Ethel’s glance came to rest upon a small mountain of hat, shoe and dress boxes next to the dresser. It’s a start…but only a start. Won’t they be jealous? I heard what they said when they thought I was out of earshot. It’s too bad I burnt everything — I could’ve offered Lucy some castoffs and see how she liked it!

She lifted a newly purchased rose out of its equally new bud vase and breathed in the sweet scent–it reminded her of ripe peaches. Fred had only given her flowers when they were courting–once they were married they (like so many other enjoyable things) were “a waste of money.” If he could only see what I’m “wasting” money on now! The old goat’s eyes would pop right out of his head! Ethel took another gulp of her drink and picked up a home decorating catalog, pausing to stare at her freshly manicured and polished nails. They didn’t look like her hands.

Pretty soon you won’t even notice ’em. A standing appointment every week. Even Lucy doesn’t go that often. Out of habit, Ethel raised her hand, to try to pat her usually drooping home perm into place, when she caught herself. Her fingers couldn’t believe the pert curls of her recent, long-desired permanent were hers.

“What do ya want to go wasting all my hard-earned money for?” yelled Fred when approached for money for the hairdresser’s.

“It don’t last; you’re just gonna want another in a couple a months — it’s a waste!” She made a face as she mimicked him and stuck out her tongue at the end. Well Fred, it may not be permanent, but neither were you!  

Eddie Tanner toweled himself off with a thick, white hotel towel. The cold shower had finally jump-started his brain. He squinted at his clock–6:30. Starting to get dark out. He was just waking up.

He slathered on the shaving cream and began to shave with quick, sure strokes. Too quick; he cut himself. Eddie laughed and pinched the skin until it stopped bleeding. Then he ran his styptic pencil over the cut again and again, sealing it. He picked up the razor, rinsed it off and resumed shaving with the same speed as before. (Eddie couldn’t be bothered by cuts; he had business to attend to.

First, the boys. He flung himself on his bed and dialed.

“Tony? Eddie. I want you and the boys to come over later so we can discuss our plans for this evening.”

Tony laughed. “‘Discuss…for this evening’…gettin’ a little formal, ain’t ya Eddie?”

“Not at all, Anthony. Recent experience has shown me one can’t be too careful.” He dropped the refined diction and his voice returned to its normal threatening tone.

“Understand?”

“Yeah. Sure, Eddie. When do ya want us?”

“Let’s say eleven — go on in if I’m not back and make sure you bring everything and everyone with you.”

“Right, Eddie. See ya.”

Eddie hung up and lit a cigarette. It paid to watch what you said on the phone. He took a deep drag and slowly exhaled. Yep, smarter to head off a problem than to deal with one. He and the boys could plan to their heart’s content in his apartment without any fear of being overheard. Now that Fred was out of the way.

What could that old guy have been thinking? Eddie laughed and flicked his ashes onto the Mertz’s dirty, worn carpet. He didn’t know who he was dealing with.

Look for the story’s conclusion in Part 3!

Copyright: Karen Adkins

Featured

No Lights, Part 1

Bernice
So what if we must work overtime, Mary! What are you afraid of? That a ghost will puff out of the pages you’re typing and turn your head upside down?
Me
If you don’t stop it right now… Wait, how do ya like that?
Bernice
What’s the matter now?
Me
My screen is blank and I can’t move a key! I’m moving to a different workstation.
Bernice
Just when we were getting comfortable.
Me
I’m going to use Evelyn’s. She’s gonna be away anyhow.
Bernice
Good choice, she’s always talkin’ about how big the screen is.
Me
Why it’s frozen at this one, too.
Bernice
It’s the computer gremlin. Mary, what’s the matter? Your face!
Me
Bern, let’s get out of here, now!
Bernice
Well, what’s the matter? There’s no reason to panic.
Me
I’m getting out of here, and you better come with me!
Bernice
You’re crazy! Now what are you standing at the door with your back to me for?
Me
Come here, quick!
Bernice
Why are you standing there with your hand on the knob?
Me
It’s not moving, it’s locked…
Bernice
Oh, you’re crazy!
Me
Let me out!
Bernice
Let me try. Why, it is locked! But why?
Me
They thought everybody left.
Bernice
The boss must’ve locked the door out of habit, that’s all. Who are you calling?
Me
All I gotta do is call building services! They’ll get us out of here.
Bernice
Sure, good idea, call them.
Me
I’ll tell them we’re not all right! Hello, hello?
Bernice
What’s the matter?
Me
Thanks for nothing! Somehow the phone’s gone dead!
Bernice
That’s all? Of all the things to cry about! Why panic?
Me
Call it a feeling. You don’t understand!
Bernice
I’ll say I don’t. Stop crying.
Me
Something terrible’s going to happen.
Bernice
What are you talking about, we’re in a major film company here, remember?
Me
But something froze the computers, something locked the door and killed the phones! And something just flattened me.
Bernice
I never knew you had bats in your belfry. It’s nothin’! Why did you stop talking? Answer me!
Me
This phone cord, it’s torn off the wall!

Look for Part 2!

Featured

Chicken me

Another of our scary stories for kids

From the Captivating app on Android, and the web app CaptivatedChat.com

Tap above to pause or play theme music.
Tap arrow icon to listen to the story being read aloud.

Me
Stella, this is Lois, what do you mean one of my scary stories for kids? This is big news: that heart thing’s still growing!    
Me
Hello, rewrite? Give me Regan, fast! Mr. Regan, this is Lois. Listen, it is still growing! No, it’s the truth, the corridor’s choked with living, crawling flesh. No, no, no! I’m not drunk; I’m telling you the truth! That little piece of flesh they grew in the lab? Now it’s jamming that building, all inside the space of an hour!    
Me
You’ve got to believe me! It’s the greatest news story of the generation, and here you argue with me! I tell you, it’s gospel! You’ve got to believe me! The only hope is to burn the building to the ground!    
Me
It doesn’t matter that I am just a stringer and still in high school. I am a reporter! Experts say burn it to the ground, I tell you!    
Me
Take it easy! OK, send over a cop! What don’t you understand? For some reason I cannot even imagine, it’ll be twice the size it is now long before they get here! It will break open the building.     [Minutes later] Horror began
Professor James
Colleagues, it was in my Institute this horror began. If you give me a chance, perhaps I can stop it! Yes, what is your question doctor?    
Dr. Vogel
Tell us first what that monster really is!    
Professor James
Yes, I will! It’s a great, ever-growing, mass of flesh! I tell you, that mass of flesh was a chicken heart we kept alive, which for some reason is undergoing constant, rapidly accelerating growth! With every passing hour, its growth is doubling! Do you know what that means?    
Professor James
If it is now one square block in size, within 30 hours that cannibal flesh will have increased in size to one square block to the 30th power; in 30 hours every inch of this whole city will be crushed under that moving flesh; within 60 hours it will have covered the entire state; within two weeks, the entire United States! You asked for the National Guard? I say call up the entire military for active! Scary stories for kids     [background broadcast from two blocks away]    
Cncc Broadcast
All ready, troopers?  All hoses will now flood that thing with water from all angles! On!    
Professor James
What good is water? I told them the only hope is artillery!    
Cncc
All national guardsmen, report to your armories!    
Major Barnes
Battery in position sir!    
General Simms
Yes, but it’s useless.    
Professor James
Yes, it has grown too large, and it grows too quickly! The flesh is already engulfing the guns; they came too late!    
Professor James
You all right, Lois? I sure am glad I located you! I stalled as long as I could. Another ten minutes we couldn’t take you off that blasted protoplasm, or whatever it is!    
Me
I figured.    
Professor James
  It must stop growing! See how the protoplasmic gray edges jump away. The government must send bombers. Poison gas! Oh, listen to me! If you remember, only a handful of days ago you asked me my prophecy of the end of the earth.    
Me
A lot has happened since then!    
Professor James
You remember my answer, my prophecy: cessation of rotation.    
Me
Mighty big sounding astronomical theory, but now this is reality! My editor still says it is just more of my scary stories for kids.    
Professor James
Lois, the end has come for humanity, not in the red of atomic fission, not in the glory of interstellar combustion, but in a chicken growth experiment.    
Me
No, no, we won’t die! We can’t die! We’ll find a way to fight this! Ready to give up    
Professor James
I am ready to give up, Lois. Maybe it’s useless to fight it!    
Me
You can’t just quit! You are the expert on this growth experiment!    
Dr. Vogel
Wasn’t there anything that seemed to inhibit it’s expansion in the laboratory?    
Me
It’s like we have to fight something from another world!    
Dr. Vogel
Perhaps that’s the way to kill it! Professor, have you ever read H.G. Wells’ book The War of the Worlds?    
Professor James
I see where you’re going with this. It was the pathogens, our earth’s microscopic germs, that destroyed the invaders in that story.    
Vogel
Yes, Lois, perhaps the chicken flesh might die from exposure to something like a bird flu virus or a bacteria!    
Dr. Vogel
We must try it! If it works, it will just prove what I always tell my students. You must get involved, for it is your world that needs to be saved, not the exclusive property of some experts or the powers that be. As Lois just demonstrated, you must never surrender your right to save your world!

 

Featured

Spider Hunt, Part 1

Bud
It’s weird. If anybody’d told me a couple of years ago I’d be chasing bugs in the Amazon, that I’d collect butterflies…
Me
You know it’s a funny thing, but as a kid I used to chase butterflies, too, dinky little yellow ones, all around our yard.
Bud
Museums and schools will pay a lot for the rare ones, Reed.
Me
Hey, watch out!
Bud
What?
Me
A big bug up in that tree! It looked out at me from behind the trunk!
Bud
What looked out?
Me
A spider! And I think it was as large as a dog!

(Hours later)

Bud
I can’t sleep, it’s too hot! 
Me
Bud… Did I, did I see it?
Bud
You startin’ that again?
Me
But I must have seen it! I must! It was all so clear.
Bud
I tell you, it was nothing but a monkey hanging there.
Me
But I saw it!
Bud
Oh go on, the heat’s fryin’ your brain! Go on and sleep.
Me
Sleep, I’ll try.
Bud
Okay. Aww, that mosquito got in under the netting! I’m gonna fix the net.
Me
Bud, Bud!
Bud
What?
Me
Don’t go too close to the edges of that!
Bud
What are you talkin’ about? I was just gonna fix the netting. Whaaa!
Me
What is it? You all right?
Bud
I’m OK, but get up, Reed.
Me
Why? Why did you yell out!
Bud
Now I saw it too! It was sittin’ at the edge of the clearing. Yeah, a spider as big as a dog!
Me
Then I did see it!

[The next morning]

Bud
Okay come down out of the tree now.
Me
All right, it’s rigged.
Bud
Watch yourself, don’t shake that branch so much. That trap has a hair trigger!
Me
OK, now it’s set.
Bud
That cage is strong enough to hold it.
Me
But what if it’s even stronger?
Bud
We’ll just try it again.
Me
This time is gonna be our only chance, I bet! Spiders are smart.
Bud
You mean if it doesn’t stay around?
Me
It’s a wonderful trap, but –
Bud
But what? Don’t start that again! Why, one shake of a branch and the whole cage will fall right on him.
Me
Yeah?
Bud
Then, my friend, our troubles are all over.
Me
I tell you, Bud, I’m afraid.
Bud
Afraid of what, getting out of here and getting to someplace where we can live like men?
Me
I’d just rather make a little money with the butterflies.
Bud
Money? Hey, for a spider that big we could get enough cash to fly home with silk shirts on our backs. Think of it, a spider that big!
Me
If we could catch it and get it home safely.
Bud
We’d clean up with it!
Me
No, no, Bud, let’s get out of here!
Bud
It scared ya, Reed; but not me.
Me
But, the trap! Are you sure of it, Bud?
Bud
Sure I am, and it’s a gold mine!
Me
Are you sure that you’re sure?
Bud
I’m sure, we’ll catch it, and it won’t be butterflies payin’ our way home. It’ll be the biggest spider in the world.
Me
But –
Bud
Haw, hah, hah! Being rich, that’ all right, ain’t it, Reed?
Me
Sure. But are you sure of the trap, Bud?

[14 hours later]

Bud
Hmm, it’s getting near morning.
Me
Yeah, looks like that trap frightened it away.
Bud
What do spiders know about traps?
Me
They’re clever.
Bud
Don’t be a fool. It just went someplace else, that’s all!
Me
There’s a fear in me, cold and sharp.
Bud
Stick with me.
Me
Bud, let’s get out of here.
Bud
There it is!
Me
Bud, let him go!
Bud
Well, well! Don’t get scared. It’s right under the trap.

[Click-Bang!]

Bud
I got it, I got it! Ho, ho!
Me
Yeah. It’s horrible–those fangs!
Bud
It’s right there! I got it, I got it!
Me
Oh boy.
Bud
That’s mine, the biggest spider in creation! I’ll get all the money I need!
Me
You sure?
Bud
I’ll get all the money I need! What’s the matter with you, Reed? Come on, why don’t you say something?
Me
It’s trapped, and it doesn’t try to move, just stares at us!

Be sure to read Part 2!

Featured

Down in Flames, Part 1

Artie
The dead do talk, Sam. They’re all around you, but you won’t listen to them.
Me
You’re mad as a March hare!
Artie
A match for you, then. Speaking of matches, take one out, strike it. Beautiful flame, isn’t it?
Me
So?  If I throw it away, it’s horrible: it may cost me my life.
Artie
Don’t worry, be happy!
Me
You know you ought to be just about the happiest guy in the world: great grades, a fine career ahead, money, now Barbara.
Artie
Yeah, I know.
Me
She’s the loveliest girl in town.
Artie
In the world Sam, in the world.
Me
My fireplace agrees with you, Art.
Artie
So who’s to disagree? Therefore, let’s Talk more about my idea.
Me
When are you going to grow up! I don’t mind you risking your own neck, but think of Barbara. What does GQ say about a wedding in white tie and bandages?
Artie
Well, fires have always fascinated me.
Me
That doesn’t mean we have to jeopardize our lives chasing them all the freakin’ time.
Artie
Maybe it does seem odd, chasing fires. Look though, Sam, don’t flames get to you?
Me
What do you mean?
Artie
Look in your fireplace; look at those flames, orange and red, like small living things.
Me
We need to change the topic!
Artie
What’s the matter, Sam, did I scare you?
Me
No, you were talking like an idiot! Living things?
Artie
Was I? I said that flames seem alive; others have said that. Earlier generations. They worshipped flame as a living thing, a god-like thing.
Me
Artie Nicolas, are you out of your freakin’ mind!
Artie
I’m talking facts!
Me
That’s lame! Contrary to your statement, fire is not a living thing.
Artie
How can you, or I, or anyone else, say that it isn’t alive? How do we know that it isn’t?
Me
Because it isn’t intelligent, there is no evidence of intelligence.
Artie
No? Do you know the definition of life? It is a living thing, moving about; it not only moves by itself but it feeds by itself!
Me
Big deal. So what?
Artie
When a man chokes to death, why does he die?
Me
Because, well, because his air supply is cut off.
Artie
Exactly! That’s just how you kill a flame, by cutting the air supply. I tell you, I’ve sat for hours watching flames. Flame is a living, breathing, entity.
Me
Yeah?  You’re talking out of your head! Come on, let’s meet up, and I’ll buy you a drink.
Artie
Wait, Sam, there’s something I want to read to you, a book I just found. Spirits?
Me
While you’re getting it, do you mind if I throw another piece of wood on this living entity of mine? It’s getting chilly in here.
Artie
I have the book, listen. But first let me say, it tells of a race of fire worshippers who lived in medieval times, people who believed that every flame held its own godlike being.
Me
I still want to go to Joe’s Bar!
Artie
In here is a prayer these fire worshippers used to call up the spirit of the flame!
Me
Wait a minute, Artie! They did what with that prayer?
Artie
Conjured up the flame spirit, so that they could see it.
Me
You mean they’d recite some hocus-pocus and have something pop out at them?
Artie
Yes, but I need to find just how to read this prayer to the fire in a fireplace, say! If I knew just what inflections to use, I would be able to see the spirit of the flame, too, Sam. Joking
Me
In other words, you think it exists?
Artie
Maybe, I’m not sure.
Me
Good thing you’re not sure, dude. Or I’d call for a straitjacket! Come on, buddy. Let’s bust out of our cabins and go meet for a drink someplace!
Artie
No thanks, Sam, I’m not going.
Me
Oh, okay. Go ahead, sit at home and stew, but don’t let anyonewho isn’t a friend of yours hear all that stuff about flame spirits or you’re gonna find yourself in front of a looney doctor.
Artie
Don’t deny the possibility.
Me
But all this nonsense, you were just kidding me along, right!
Artie
What? Yeah, yeah, that’s right! LOL!
Me
And you wanna marry my sister!
Artie
That’s so. Well, you know how it is.
Me
But a joke’s a joke, huh?
Artie
Of course, ha, ha. So I’ll be in touch, bud.
Me
Later, man! “Beautiful flame,” huh? LOL!
Artie
…and I humbly give unto thee this sacrifice. A sacrifice? But what? Barbara’s ring! I have it here. Oh yeah, and I humbly give unto thee this sacrifice, Great Most High! I beseech thee to reveal unto me the life within life, the heart of life that beats within the heart of fire, as I repeat the sacred words…”

Look for PART 2.

Featured

Down in Flames, Part 2

Me
Artie will be back soon.
Barbara
Not a word since yesterday! And you’re saying he threw you out of the house?
Me
Well, he didn’t exactly throw me out.
Barbara
Oh Sam, what can be the problem? You should’ve told me sooner!
Me
All right, but I didn’t know what to think!
Barbara
Then what could possibly be wrong!
Me
A terrible fire! Feels like the world’s ending! I read online that the governor is sending the militia!
Barbara
Hurry Sam, go to his house!
Me
Sure! Bye, Barb, I’ll contact you from there.

[15 Minutes later]

Barbara
Oh Sam, is he OK?
Me
Your brother’s not home! There’s not a light in the house. Well, I’ll try anyway, huh?
Barbara
There’s no doorbell, remember.
Me
I know, you have to knock. Oh, wait, the door is slightly ajar. It’s me, Sam! We’re worried!
Barbara
You’ll frighten him.
Me
Buddy, you in there? Artie!
Barbara
Oh no, is he…! Why doesn’t he answer?
Me
Artie! It’s Sam! Are you home? It’s so dark! I don’t have a match. Where’s the light switch?
Barbara
To your left, by the door. Oh Sam, he must be sick!
Me
The place is a mess!
Barbara
He’s always so neat. Quick, the bedroom!
Me
All right, don’t get so excited! I think he might be dining, or out walking.
Barbara
Nonsense, I’ll bet he isn’t even there!
Me
Oh God, there’s been a fire in here!
Barbara
A fire, oh no, no — how bad?
Me
Oh, well, it was contained. Artie, Artie! Where are you; what happened to you? These walls are only a little scorched.
Barbara
Maybe you should call someone.
Me
Who?
Barbara
The police! The fire may have been set by the people who are setting fires all over town! They did something to him, or he fled! 
Me
Maybe you’re right. They started to set fire to the place, he tried to stop them, and… Artie! You’re there on the floor!  
Artie
Sam.
Barbara
Thanks goodness he’s alive!
Artie
I didn’t, I didn’t want you to see me.
Me
Who did this, buddy?
Barbara
What happened?
Me
Your face, your clothes! Here, sit up.
Artie
There’s no time! She’s following me!
Barbara
Sweetie! What is he talking about?
Me
What’s the matter? Who’s following you? What’d they do to you, Artie!
Barbara
A doctor, he needs a doctor!
Artie
No, no, I’m all right! But I raised up a demon, and I must stop it!
Me
Control yourself! Calm down.
Artie
You hear the news? I caused that! All those fires, the people who died! I didn’t aim to, but…
Me
What are you saying?
Artie
I did it with that spell!
Me
Ridiculous! This was too big for one person!
Artie
If not for me, she wouldn’t have had the power. It was released to her through my words!
Barbara
No, Artie, you didn’t do it!
Sam
No. Why would you?
Artie
Listen, she’ll be back here!
Me
Artie!
Artie
She’ll come back here!
Me
He’s leaving again!
Barbara
Why is he running?
Me
I don’t know. I’ll follow him. But Barb, where he was lying, the shape of him was burned right into the wood! It is smoking!

[Twenty minutes later]

Ohara
Oh father in heaven!
Me
I tell you Mr. Ohara, I’m telling the truth! Every word of it!
Ohara
Young man, your story’s preposterous!
Me
How can you be sure? Couldn’t he be responsible for orchestrating these fires?
Ohara
Absolutely not!
Me
But he’s confessed! Artie’s my friend! He wouldn’t lie to me. The may have set loose some horrible thing!
Ohara
What are you talking about?
Me
If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me, but believe this much: as sure’s we’re in this room, Artie had something to do with those fires.
Barbara
But you heard what the Commissioner was saying.
Me
I don’t care! Didn’t you hear Artie?
Me
Commissioner, are you just sitting here while more fires are started, more lives are endangered? In the name of humanity, please listen to me! Send out a general alarm to have the police pick Artie up. I’ll give you his description, I’ll tell you just what he was wearing. You’ve got to catch him!
Ohara
A General Alarm? All right!

Featured

No Place Like Home

By Karen Adkins

Sylvia stretched and wriggled her toes, still pleasantly aware of wearing slippers at ten a.m. Retirement agreed with her. Being home agreed with her. She took another sip of coffee and looked happily around the kitchen. After years of re-modeling and re-decorating, everything was exactly the way she wanted it.

Recalling the junk she had thrown away, she wished every irritation could be disposed of as easily. She had in mind a particularly nettlesome one: her neighbor Agnes Braxton.

Agnes was an annoying woman who always scheduled noisy outdoor projects for the break of day, often on Saturdays and, almost psychically, on her neighbor’s days off. Also, she conducted one sprawling, ongoing garage sale from April to December.

Agnes would wrap up business early in the evenings so she could get what she dubbed her “beauty sleep.” Her calls complaining about Harry’s barking, other sounds and bright lights could be expected shortly after eight o’clock.

For once Agnes’ early-to-bed habit was about to benefit, rather than disturb, her neighbor.

Walking Harry, a wire-haired terrier, Sylvia checked to see if Agnes’s lights were out. All but one. She always left the light in the bathroom turned on “so burglars will think someone’s awake.”

By eleven-thirty, the surrounding homes would be dark, despite Mrs. Braxton’s complaints of late-night parties. At midnight, Sylvia slipped out her freshly oiled side door, crept close along her juniper bushes, then darted across her neighbor’s yard and onto the front porch. Patches of ice still remained there.

Sylvia planned to turn the woman’s front porch into a skating rink and cause one of those accidents she had read about so often. She laid a section of her garden soaker-hose over the porch, supported by a pair of stone gnomes. She turned it on.

Sylvia had found it all too easy to get used to sleeping late again. She had to force herself to open her eyes and keep them open. Ten-thirty! She jumped out of bed and tore open her curtains. Nothing had happened. The street was deserted.

She pulled on sweats, attached Harry to his leash, and strolled out. To Harry’s dismay, Sylvia stopped abruptly. Everything was melting — it must be at least forty degrees!

She had called for the latest forecast before setting her plan in motion. The robust voice had advised her to expect “flurries tonight and much colder temperatures toward morning, well-below freezing, and wind chills in the single digits.

“What did we ever do to deserve such great weather?,” asked Mrs. Darby brightly as she surveyed the world from her driveway.

“Just lucky I guess.”

Returning home, Sylvia noticed the light flashing on her answering machine. So she pressed the message button releasing a booming voice.

“Hello? Are you there? (A large pause. . .I know you’re there, pick up the phone!) This is Connie Braxton. (Another pause. . .now that you know it’s me, I’m sure you’ll want to pick up.) Aunt Agnes had an accident. . .she fell down the escalator at the mall. They took her away in an ambulance! It was just a bad sprained leg and some deep bruises. Of course, she’ll be on crutches and painkillers for a while. I know you’ll want to get her mail and help her out. Aunt Agnes said you wouldn’t mind, with all the time you have on your hands now. Bye-bye.”

She watched the light blink, dumbly. Her plan ruined, only to be drafted to help Agnes. Pushiness thy name is Braxton! She considered her next move.

Sylvia’s mind drifted back to last summer:

“What are you up to Syl? Pulling weeds I hope. I was wondering why I have so many dandelions this year. . .must’ve come from your yard. While you’re at it, yank those tiger lilies—they’re over for the year—I wish you’d dig ’em up and plant something nice.

Now that the pain was lessening, Sylvia could think. Press your advantage; she’ll be more wobbly than ever; any accident now will be put down to her injury.

Many of the next-door neighbors held each other’s key as insurance against being locked out; Sylvia had Agnes Braxton’s.

The rusty black box sporting the name BRAXTON in curling plastic letters was stuffed with catalogs, bills and ads. No letters.

She remembered the times Agnes had said she was so sorry but the mail carrier must have made a mistake. She’d already opened it before realizing it wasn’t addressed to her.

Now Sylvia let herself in, dropped the mail on a dusty entry table and went into the kitchen.

Dirty coffee cups smeared with lipstick dotted the counter and table. Smatters of dried egg and bits of burnt toast decorated dishes stacked in the sink.

In the midst of the clutter, four throw-rugs caught her attention. The worn chenille had not been attractive when new. She tested one rug with her foot. It immediately bunched and slid forward. Sylvia knew just what would set things in motion: the silicone spray she used to lubricate her treadmill.

But how could she get Agnes to come out here? She needed her to come tearing into the room, not paying attention to what she was doing. She would not be moving around much, let alone racing into rooms.

Something would have to demand her attention. Something impossible to ignore. The smoke detector!

She had seen one in the kitchen. It didn’t take much to set these older models off: dust, a wisp of smoke or steam from the stove. The ear-splitting noise had led many people to remove the batteries, including Mrs. Braxton.

Sylvia wondered whether she had the right batteries at home. Her gaze wandered to an empty humidifier. Its mist could set off the smoke detector. The rugs could be arranged just so. Hurriedly, she straightened the room. She refilled the humidifier and then darted home, undetected.

She gave Harry food and water and retrieved the silicone spray and some thin latex gloves. Next she found a fresh battery. She shoved everything in her coat pockets and popped next door.

Sylvia took a stepladder from the laundry room. She climbed up, attached the battery and pressed a button. The shrieking was immediate. After resetting the detector, she returned the ladder and took out the silicone. She sprayed the linoleum and rearranged the rugs in the path to the detector.

While admiring her handiwork, she heard a car pull up. From the peephole, she watched Connie attempt to help her aunt out of the car.
Sylvia bounded outside. “Sorry to hear about your accident, Agnes. How do you feel?”

“How d’ja think I feel? Damn pills. Want to go to bed.”

Connie rolled her eyes and muttered: “She’s a load.”

“Stop griping and let’s go. I’m cold,” snapped Agnes.

Connie looked as though she might use what energy she had left to push her aunt onto the driveway before peeling out.

“I’ll get her inside,” Sylvia said quickly. She offered a shoulder and arm to Mrs. Braxton who leaned on them heavily.

Connie fished around in her aunt’s bag for her medicine with no success until, exasperated, she took it to the more brightly lit bathroom and dumped it on the counter.

“It says `take one pill every four hours,’” yelled Connie. “I’ll get some water.”

“If that doctor thinks I’m wakin’ up just to take his damn pills,” said Agnes.

Connie returned with the water and medicine.

“I heard that. Just take this pill and I’ll set your alarm for four hours. You must follow the doctor’s instructions,” said Connie.

“I can cope,” mumbled Agnes. “Gonna sleep late. I’ll call when I want you.”

“I’d be glad to check on her tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks Sylvia, but I have some early errands to run anyway.”

“Quit gabbing and go! I’m tired!”

They laughed their way to the front door as Connie regaled her with a less-than-flattering anecdote about Aunt Agnes.

“I’ll lock up.”

Sylvia waved as Connie sped away. Then, she turned off all but the kitchen light and glanced at the clock. The second hand lurched between ceramic bunches of now-gray grapes. Her gloved hand switched on the humidifier, pointed the nozzle at the smoke detector and adjusted the mist to high. She turned off the light and locked the door behind her.

Sylvia made coffee and waited. She wasn’t sure how long it would take. She decided she’d return in two hours. If her plan failed and Mrs. Braxton was still alive, she’d say she’d come to check on her. If her plan succeeded, everything would have to be cleaned up and put back. Nothing must seem out of place.

She tried to read but couldn’t concentrate. The coffee wasn’t helping her nerves. How could she have thought she’d need it to stay awake? She began to pace and, with increasing frequency, to stare out her bedroom window at Mrs. Braxton’s house.

The house sat as quiet and dark as any other on the street. An hour crept to an end. Sylvia couldn’t stand it any longer. She would get Harry and take a closer look from outside. Then “hearing something,” and being the good and concerned neighbor she was, she’d go in to check on Mrs. Braxton.

Harry strained at his leash, determined to go everywhere, smell everything and claim new territory. Sylvia struck a pose of annoyance mixed with boredom at being dragged out of bed at this hour by her dog, in case any wayward neighbor might be driving by or looking out a window on the way to get an antacid. She was anything but bored, however, and all her senses were primed for any clue as to what was happening next door. But it was no use. The only one getting anything out of this expedition was Harry. She couldn’t detect anything from the front.

Harry didn’t need any prodding to redirect his operations to the back of the house.

The kitchen window shouldn’t be dark. She should have turned on the light when she went to disconnect the alarm. So what is going on?

Sylvia took Harry home, then returned and let herself in through the back door. The only sound she heard was the muffled whooshing of the furnace. From the kitchen doorway, she saw the steady stream of mist continue its climb towards the smoke detector. On the floor lay an overturned stepladder and a crumpled heap of flannel that had once been Mrs. Braxton.

It had worked. Finally.

“I wondered when you’d get here,” said a familiar voice from the darkened living room.

Sylvia jumped. Trying to keep her voice calm, she said, “I didn’t know you were here, Connie…I was out walking Harry and thought I heard a noise so I came over…”

“To check on my poor aunt,” Connie finished. “That’s very neighborly of you. I think that’s the main reason I’m going to enjoy living here. . .the neighborliness.”

“Living here?”

“My aunt objected to relatives living too nearby, but that obstacle has been removed…thanks to you.”

“Me? I was just coming by to check on her and see about the noise…”

“Oh yes, the noise,” said Connie as she shifted her position on the couch and drew her aunt’s afghan closer around her. “Do you think it might have come from something like this?”

Connie held up something small that Sylvia had trouble making out. She had a sinking feeling she knew what it was.

“In case your eyes haven’t adjusted, it’s the battery you installed in the smoke detector tonight.”

“I didn’t…”

“Don’t interrupt,” snapped Connie. “She always used to interrupt: another of my aunt’s lovable traits. The smoke detector used to go off while she was cooking, so she disabled it years ago. Said she’d rather take her chances. But when I came by to check on her, it was blaring away.

I found her on the floor. Thought she must’ve lost her balance, but when I got out the stepladder to stop the noise, I slipped on one of those damn throw rugs I’ve been asking her to get rid of for years and almost broke my neck.”

Sylvia, who was periodically wiping her sweaty hands on her jacket and eyeing the nearest door, managed an “oh?” 

“When I went to put the rug back, I slipped again and noticed the floor there was slick. I checked under the other rugs and found the same thing. I assume that’s your doing, also? It sure isn’t from cleaning. My aunt was never one for cleanliness…I don’t know the last time she mopped the linoleum. A lot will have to be done to bring this place up to my standards.”

Sylvia could only nod as though hypnotized. Connie seemed to know everything; what was the point of denying it?

“I don’t see any reason why you should have to spend your retirement in prison…if you do as I say.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Sylvia eased herself carefully onto her couch, groaning as she did so. She was stiff and sore all over, as if she’d been in a gardening marathon. She was engaged in a type of marathon, though it involved nothing as enjoyable as gardening. Every day now, beginning at dawn, she started a long-distance relay race whose seemingly unreachable goal was to carry out Connie’s wishes.

Connie’s wishes, her orders, were relentless and exacting. From morning til night Sylvia had to divide her time between the moderate sprucing up of Connie’s soon-to-be previous residence and the extensive, cleaning, repainting and redecorating required to make Agnes Braxton’s home habitable.

It was just past nine now; pleased with her progress, Connie had let her knock off early.

A real treat, thought Sylvia, bitterly sipping her cup of decaf. She gathered a week’s worth of unread newspapers toward her and began skimming them, starting with the oldest. In a matter of minutes she tossed it aside. The news was stale. The radio she listened to while working kept her abreast of major stories. She was just looking for items of local interest: weddings, divorces, births, deaths. A couple more, then bed. (Now that mornings were so ridiculously early, bedtime had to be too.)

Sylvia skimmed several more papers and yawned. Responding to the noise, Harry rearranged himself on the floor but still slept with his back to her, silently protesting all the recent departures from his routine.

Sylvia was about to toss the last paper on the pile when a small item caught her eye: “Accidental overdose causes death.”

She read on: “The coroner’s jury, Wednesday, ruled an accidental overdose was the cause of death of Agnes Braxton, age 76. Braxton was found dead in her home at 64 Laurel Lane, February 23. Autopsy results indicated an overdose of a painkiller recently prescribed for injuries received in a fall. Interviews with relatives led to the verdict of accidental overdose.”

Sylvia was suddenly wide awake. An overdose killed her, not the fall. She read it again. There was no mention of injuries from a fall as the cause, or even a contributing cause, of death.

She took another gulp of coffee. Sylvia tried to recall exactly what happened when they were getting Agnes ready for bed. She remembered Connie saying something about how often the doctor wanted her to take the pills, then Agnes arguing, Connie bringing in the medicine and the water to take it with…

“Interviews with relatives led to the verdict…” 

Connie had been Agnes Braxton’s only living relative. And she had handled the medicine. And the water. Plus she was there waiting for Sylvia that night. And wasn’t Connie with Agnes when she had that fall on the escalator? 

Sylvia jumped up and began to do a little jig, until her sore muscles reminded her who was boss. She was free! 

Tomorrow she would sleep in. Have a big breakfast. Read the morning paper at an unhurried pace. Not dress until noon. When Connie called, threatening her for being late, Sylvia would inform her she had recently caught up on her reading and found it most interesting. So would her attorney if ever anything should happen to her. 

Sylvia smiled and (painfully) bent down to pat Harry before turning out the light. 

So, Connie Braxton was going to be living next door. 

Did she say living?

© Karen Adkins

 

The Wood of the Dead

By Algernon Blackwood

One summer, in my wanderings with a knapsack, I was at luncheon in the room of a wayside inn in the western country when the door opened and there entered an old rustic. He crossed close to my end of the table and sat down quietly in the seat by the bow window. We exchanged glances, or, properly speaking, nods. At that moment I did not actually raise my eyes to his face. I was concerned only with the business of satisfying an appetite gained by tramping twelve miles over a difficult country.

The fine warm rain of seven o’clock, which had risen in a luminous mist about the trees, floated higher overhead. It drifted in a deep blue sky as the day was settling into a blaze of golden light. It was one of those days peculiar to Somerset and North Devon. On such days the orchards shine and the meadows add their own radiance, for so brilliantly soft are the colourings of grass and foliage.

The inn-keeper’s daughter, a little maiden with a simple country loveliness, entered with a foaming pewter mug. She enquired after my welfare, and went out again. Apparently she had not noticed the old man sitting in the settle by the bow window. Nor had he, for his part, so much as once turned his head in our direction.

Under ordinary circumstances I should probably have given no thought to this other occupant of the room. But as it was supposed to be reserved for my private use, I noticed him. Furthermore, the singular fact that he sat looking aimlessly out the window, with no attempt to converse, drew my eyes. More than once I glanced somewhat curiously at him. I soon caught myself wondering why he sat there so silently, and always with averted head.

He was, I saw, a rather bent old man in rustic dress, and his face was wrinkled like an apple. His corduroy trousers were caught up with string below the knee. He wore a sort of brown fustian jacket that was very much faded. His thin hand rested upon a stoutish stick. He wore no hat and carried none, and I noticed that his head, covered with silvery hair, was finely shaped. It gave the impression of something noble.

Though rather piqued by his studied disregard of my presence, I came to the conclusion that he probably belonged here. Perhaps he had something to do with the hostel and had the right to use this room with freedom. I finished my luncheon without breaking the silence and then took the settle opposite to smoke a pipe before going.

Through the open window came the scents of the blossoming fruit trees. The orchard was drenched in sunshine and the branches danced lazily in the breeze. The ground below fairly shone with white and yellow daisies. The red roses climbing in profusion over the casement mingled their perfume with the sweetly penetrating scent of the sea.

It was a place to dawdle in, to lie and dream away a whole afternoon, watching the sleepy butterflies. It was ideal for listening to the chorus of birds that seemed to fill every corner of the sky. I was already debating whether to linger and enjoy it instead of taking the strenuous pathway over the hills. But the old rustic suddenly turned his face towards me for the first time and began to speak.

His voice had a quiet dreamy note in it that was quite in harmony with the day and the scene. But it sounded far away, I thought, almost as though it came to me from outside. It seemed to emanate from out where the shadows were weaving their eternal tissue of dreams upon the garden floor. Moreover, there was no trace in it of the rough quality one might naturally have expected. Indeed, now seeing the man’s full face, I noted that the deep, gentle eyes seemed in keeping with his voice. It was far more consistent with the timbre of the voice than with the rough, countrified clothes and manner. His voice set pleasant waves of sound in motion towards me, and the actual words, if I remember rightly, were—

“You are a stranger in these parts?” or “Is not this part of the country strange to you?”

There was no “sir,” nor any visible sign of the deference paid by country folk to the town-bred visitor. Instead there was a gentleness, almost a sweetness, of polite sympathy.

I answered that I was wandering on foot through a part of the country that was wholly new to me. But I added that I was surprised not to find a place of such idyllic loveliness marked upon my map.

“I have lived here all my life,” he said, sighing, “and am never tired of coming back to it again.”

“Then you no longer live in the immediate neighbourhood?”

“I have moved,” he answered briefly, adding after a pause. Meanwhile his eyes seemed to wander wistfully to the wealth of blossoms beyond the window. “But I am almost sorry, for nowhere else have I found the sunshine lie so warmly, the flowers smell so sweetly, or the winds and streams make such tender music. . . .”

His voice died away into a thin stream of sound that lost itself in the rustle of the rose-leaves climbing in at the window, for he turned his head away from me as he spoke and looked out into the garden. But it was impossible to conceal my surprise, and I raised my eyes in frank astonishment on hearing so poetic an utterance from such a figure of a man, though at the same time realising that it was not in the least inappropriate, and that, in fact, no other sort of expression could have properly been expected from him.

“I am sure you are right,” I answered at length, when it was clear he had ceased speaking; “or there is something of enchantment here—of real fairy-like enchantment—that makes me think of the visions of childhood days, before one knew anything of—of—”

I had been oddly drawn into his vein of speech, some inner force compelling me. But here the spell passed and I could not catch the thoughts that had a moment before opened a long vista before my inner vision.

“To tell you the truth,” I concluded lamely, “the place fascinates me and I am in two minds about going further—”

Even at this stage I remember thinking it odd that I should be talking like this with a stranger whom I met in a country inn, for it has always been one of my failings that to strangers my manner is brief and tends to to surliness.

It was as though we were figures meeting in a dream, speaking without sound, obeying laws not operative in the everyday working world, and about to play with a new scale of space and time perhaps. But my astonishment passed quickly into an entirely different feeling when I became aware that the old man opposite had turned his head from the window again, and was regarding me with eyes so bright they seemed almost to shine with an inner flame. His gaze was fixed upon my face with an intense ardour, and his whole manner had suddenly become alert and concentrated. There was something about him I now felt for the first time that made little thrills of excitement run up and down my back. I met his look squarely, but with an inward tremor.

“Stay, then, a little while longer,” he said in a much lower and deeper voice than before; “stay, and I will teach you something of the purpose of my coming.”

He stopped abruptly. I was conscious of a decided shiver.

“You have a special purpose then—in coming back?” I asked, hardly knowing what I was saying.

“To call away someone,” he went on in the same thrilling voice, “someone who is not quite ready to come, but who is needed elsewhere for a worthier purpose.” There was a sadness in his manner that mystified me more than ever.

“You mean—?” I began, with an unaccountable access of trembling.

“I have come for someone who must soon move, even as I have moved.”

He looked me through and through with a dreadfully piercing gaze, but I met his eyes with a full straight stare, trembling though I was, and I was aware that something stirred within me that had never stirred before, though for the life of me I could not have put a name to it, or have analysed its nature. Something lifted and rolled away. For one single second I understood clearly that the past and the future exist actually side by side in one immense Present; that it was I who moved to and fro among shifting, protean appearances.

The old man dropped his eyes from my face, and the momentary glimpse of a mightier universe passed utterly away. Reason regained its sway over a dull, limited kingdom.

“Come to-night,” I heard the old man say, “come to me to-night into the Wood of the Dead. Come at midnight—”

Involuntarily I clutched the arm of the settle for support, for I then felt that I was speaking with someone who knew more of the real things that are and will be, than I could ever know while in the body, working through the ordinary channels of sense—and this curious half-promise of a partial lifting of the veil had its undeniable effect upon me.

The breeze from the sea had died away outside, and the blossoms were still. A yellow butterfly floated lazily past the window. The song of the birds hushed—I smelt the sea—I smelt the perfume of heated summer air rising from fields and flowers, the ineffable scents of June and of the long days of the year—and with it, from countless green meadows beyond, came the hum of myriad summer life, children’s voices, sweet pipings, and the sound of water falling.

I knew myself to be on the threshold of a new order of experience—of an ecstasy. Something drew me forth with a sense of inexpressible yearning towards the being of this strange old man in the window seat, and for a moment I knew what it was to taste a mighty and wonderful sensation, and to touch the highest pinnacle of joy I have ever known. It lasted for less than a second, and was gone. But in that brief instant of time the same terrible lucidity came to me. It had already shown me how the past and future exist in the present. Thus I knew that pleasure and pain are one and the same force. For the joy I had just experienced included also all the pain I ever had felt, or ever could feel. . . .

The sunshine grew to dazzling radiance, faded, passed away. The shadows paused in their dance upon the grass, deepened a moment, and then melted into air. The flowers of the fruit trees laughed with their little silvery laughter as the wind sighed over their radiant eyes the old, old tale of its personal love. Once or twice a voice called my name. A wonderful sensation of lightness and power began to steal over me.

Suddenly the door opened and the inn-keeper’s daughter came in. By all ordinary standards, her’s was a charming country loveliness, born of the stars and wild-flowers, of moonlight shining through autumn mists upon the river and the fields; yet, by contrast with the higher order of beauty I had just momentarily been in touch with, she seemed almost ugly. How dull her eyes, how thin her voice, how vapid her smile, and insipid her whole presentment.

For a moment she stood between me and the occupant of the window seat while I counted out the small change for my meal and for her services; but when, an instant later, she moved aside, I saw that the settle was empty and that there was no longer anyone in the room but our two selves.

This discovery was no shock to me; indeed, I had almost expected it, and the man had gone just as a figure goes out of a dream, causing no surprise and leaving me as part and parcel of the same dream without breaking of continuity. But, as soon as I had paid my bill and thus resumed in very practical fashion the thread of my normal consciousness, I turned to the girl and asked her if she knew the old man who had been sitting in the window seat, and what he had meant by the Wood of the Dead.

The maiden started visibly, glancing quickly round the empty room, but answering simply that she had seen no one. I described him in great detail, and then, as the description grew clearer, she turned a little pale under her pretty sunburn and said very gravely that it must have been the ghost.

“Ghost! What ghost?”

“Oh, the village ghost,” she said quietly, coming closer to my chair with a little nervous movement of genuine alarm, and adding in a lower voice, “He comes before a death, they say!”

It was not difficult to induce the girl to talk, and the story she told me, shorn of the superstition that had obviously gathered with the years round the memory of a strangely picturesque figure, was an interesting and peculiar one.

The inn, she said, was originally a farmhouse, occupied by a yeoman farmer, evidently of a superior, if rather eccentric, character, who had been very poor until he reached old age, when a son died suddenly in the Colonies and left him an unexpected amount of money, almost a fortune.

The old man thereupon altered no whit his simple manner of living, but devoted his income entirely to the improvement of the village and to the assistance of its inhabitants; he did this quite regardless of his personal likes and dislikes, as if one and all were absolutely alike to him, objects of a genuine and impersonal benevolence. People had always been a little afraid of the man, not understanding his eccentricities, but the simple force of this love for humanity changed all that in a very short space of time; and before he died he came to be known as the Father of the Village and was held in great love and veneration by all.

A short time before his end, however, he began to act queerly. He spent his money just as usefully and wisely, but the shock of sudden wealth after a life of poverty, people said, had unsettled his mind. He claimed to see things that others did not see, to hear voices, and to have visions. Evidently, he was not of the harmless, foolish, visionary order, but a man of character and of great personal force, for the people became divided in their opinions, and the vicar, good man, regarded and treated him as a “special case.”

For many, his name and atmosphere became charged almost with a spiritual influence that was not of the best. People quoted texts about him; kept when possible out of his way, and avoided his house after dark. None understood him, but though the majority loved him, an element of dread and mystery became associated with his name, chiefly owing to the ignorant gossip of the few.

A grove of pine trees behind the farm—the girl pointed them out to me on the slope of the hill—he said was the Wood of the Dead, because just before anyone died in the village he saw them walk into that wood, singing. None who went in ever came out again. He often mentioned the names to his wife, who usually published them to all the inhabitants within an hour of her husband’s confidence; and it was found that the people he had seen enter the wood—died.

On warm summer nights he would sometimes take an old stick and wander out, hatless, under the pines, for he loved this wood, and used to say he met all his old friends there, and would one day walk in there never to return. His wife tried to break him gently off this habit, but he always had his own way; and once, when she followed and found him standing under a great pine in the thickest portion of the grove, talking earnestly to someone she could not see, he turned and rebuked her very gently, but in such a way that she never repeated the experiment, saying—

“You should never interrupt me, Mary, when I am talking with the others; for they teach me, remember, wonderful things, and I must learn all I can before I go to join them.”

This story went like wild-fire through the village, increasing with every repetition, until at length everyone was able to give an accurate description of the great veiled figures the woman declared she had seen moving among the trees where her husband stood. The innocent pine-grove now became positively haunted, and the title of “Wood of the Dead” clung naturally as if it had been applied to it in the ordinary course of events by the compilers of the Ordnance Survey.

On the evening of his ninetieth birthday the old man went up to his wife and kissed her. His manner was loving, and very gentle. There was something about him besides that made her slightly in awe of him. Something made her feel that he was almost more of a spirit than a man.

He kissed her tenderly on both cheeks, but his eyes seemed to look right through her as he spoke.

“Dearest wife,” he said, “I am saying good-bye, for I am going into the Wood of the Dead. I shall not return. Do not follow me, or send to search, but be ready soon to come upon the same journey yourself.”

The good woman burst into tears and tried to hold him. But he easily slipped from her hands, and she was afraid to follow him. Slowly she saw him cross the field in the sunshine, and then enter the cool shadows of the grove. There he disappeared from her sight.

That same night, much later, she woke to find him lying peacefully by her side in bed. But he lay with one arm stretched out towards her, dead. Her story was half believed, half doubted at the time. But in a very few years it evidently came to be accepted by all the countryside. A funeral service was held to which the people flocked in great numbers. Everyone approved of the sentiment which led the widow to add to his headstone the words, “The Father of the Village.”

This, then, was the story I pieced together of the village ghost as the little inn-keeper’s daughter told it to me that afternoon in the parlour of the inn.

“But you’re not the first to say you’ve seen him,” the girl concluded; “and your description is just what we’ve always heard, and that window, they say, was just where he used to sit and think, and think, when he was alive, and sometimes, they say, to cry for hours together.”

“And would you feel afraid if you had seen him?” I asked, for the girl seemed strangely moved and interested in the whole story.

“I think so,” she answered timidly. “Surely, if he spoke to me. He did speak to you, didn’t he, sir?” she asked after a slight pause.

“He said he had come for someone.”

“Come for someone,” she repeated. “Did he say—” she went on falteringly.

“No, he did not say for whom,” I said quickly, noticing the sudden shadow on her face and the tremulous voice.

“Are you really sure, sir?”

“Oh, quite sure,” I answered cheerfully. “I did not even ask him.” The girl looked at me steadily for nearly a whole minute as though there were many things she wished to tell me or to ask. But she said nothing, and presently picked up her tray from the table and walked slowly out of the room.

Instead of keeping to my original purpose and pushing on to the next village over the hills, I ordered a room to be prepared for me at the inn, and that afternoon I spent wandering about the fields and lying under the fruit trees, watching the white clouds sailing out over the sea. The Wood of the Dead I surveyed from a distance, but in the village I visited the stone erected to the memory of the “Father of the Village”—who was thus, evidently, no mythical personage—and saw also the monuments of his fine unselfish spirit: the schoolhouse he built, the library, the home for the aged poor, and the tiny hospital.

That night, as the clock in the church tower was striking half-past eleven, I stealthily left the inn and crept through the dark orchard and over the hayfield in the direction of the hill whose southern slope was clothed with the Wood of the Dead.

A genuine interest impelled me to the adventure. But I was also obliged to confess to a sinking heart as I stumbled over the field in the darkness. For I was approaching what might prove to be the birth-place of a real country myth. This spot was already lifted by the imaginations of many people into a haunted and ill-omened region.

The inn lay below me, and all round it the village clustered in a soft black shadow unrelieved by a single light. The night was moonless, yet distinctly luminous, for the stars crowded the sky. The silence of deep slumber was everywhere; so still, indeed, that every time my foot kicked against a stone I thought the sound must be heard below in the village and waken the sleepers.

I climbed the hill slowly, thinking chiefly of the strange story of the noble old man who had seized the opportunity to do good to his fellows the moment it came his way, and wondering why the causes that operate ceaselessly behind human life did not always select such admirable instruments. Once or twice a night-bird circled swiftly over my head, but the bats had long since gone to rest, and there was no other sign of life stirring.

Then, suddenly, with a singular thrill of emotion, I saw the first trees of the Wood of the Dead rise in front of me in a high black wall. Their crests stood up like giant spears against the starry sky; and though there was no perceptible movement of the air on my cheek I heard a faint, rushing sound among their branches as the night breeze passed to and fro over their countless little needles. A remote, hushed murmur rose overhead and died away again almost immediately; for in these trees the wind seems to be never absolutely at rest, and on the calmest day there is always a sort of whispering music among their branches.

For a moment I hesitated on the edge of this dark wood, and listened intently. Delicate perfumes of earth and bark stole out to meet me. Impenetrable darkness faced me. Only the consciousness that I was obeying an order, strangely given, and including a mighty privilege, enabled me to find the courage to go forward and step in boldly under the trees.

Instantly the shadows closed in upon me and “something” came forward to meet me from the centre of the darkness. It would be easy enough to meet my imagination half-way with fact, and say that a cold hand grasped my own and led me by invisible paths into the unknown depths of the grove; but at any rate, without stumbling, and always with the positive knowledge that I was going straight towards the desired object, I pressed on confidently and securely into the wood. So dark was it that, at first, not a single star-beam pierced the roof of branches overhead; and, as we moved forward side by side, the trees shifted silently past us in long lines, row upon row, squadron upon squadron, like the units of a vast, soundless army.

And, at length, we came to a comparatively open space where the trees halted upon us for a while, and, looking up, I saw the white river of the sky beginning to yield to the influence of a new light that now seemed spreading swiftly across the heavens.

“It is the dawn coming,” said the voice at my side that I certainly recognised, but which seemed almost like a whispering from the trees, “and we are now in the heart of the Wood of the Dead.”

We seated ourselves on a moss-covered boulder and waited the coming of the sun. With marvellous swiftness, it seemed to me, the light in the east passed into the radiance of early morning. Just when the wind awoke and began to whisper in the tree tops, the rays of the risen sun appeared. The shafts alighted between the trunks and rested in a circle of gold at our feet.

“Now, come with me,” whispered my companion in the same deep voice. “For time has no existence here, and that which I would show you is already there!”

We trod gently and silently over the soft pine needles. Already the sun was high over our heads, and the shadows of the trees coiled closely about their feet. The wood became denser again. But occasionally we passed through open bits where we could smell the hot sunshine and the dry, baked pine needles. Then, presently, we came to the edge of the grove, and I saw a hayfield in the blaze of day. Two horses basking lazily with switching tails in the shafts of a laden hay-waggon.

So complete and vivid was the sense of reality, that I remember the grateful realisation of the cool shade where we sat and looked out upon the hot world beyond.

The last pitchfork had tossed up its fragrant burden. The great horses were already straining in the shafts after the driver, as he strolled forward, bridles in one hand. He was a stalwart fellow, with sunburned neck and hands. Then, I noticed, perched aloft upon the throne of hay, the figure of a slim young girl. I could not see her face, but her brown hair escaped in disorder from a white sun-bonnet. Her still browner hands held a well-worn hay rake. She was laughing and talking with the driver. He, from time to time, cast up ardent glances of admiration at her. His glances won instant smiles and soft blushes in response.

The cart presently turned into the roadway that skirted the edge of the wood where we were sitting. I watched the scene with intense interest and became much absorbed in it. Thus I quite forgot the manifold, strange steps by which I was permitted to become a spectator.

“Come down and walk with me,” cried the young fellow, stopping a moment in front of the horses. Then, opening wide his arms, he added: “Jump! and I’ll catch you!”

“Oh, oh,” she laughed. Her voice sounded to me as the happiest, merriest laughter I had ever heard from a girl’s throat. “Oh, oh! that’s all very well. But remember I’m Queen of the Hay, and I must ride!”

“Then I must come and ride beside you,” he cried, and began then to climb up over the driver’s seat. But, with a peal of silvery laughter, she slipped down easily over the hay to escape him. Then she ran a little way along the road. I could see her quite clearly, and noticed the charming, natural grace of her movements, and the loving expression in her eyes as she looked over her shoulder to make sure he was following. Evidently, she did not wish to escape for long, certainly not for ever.

In two strides the big, brown swain was after her, leaving the horses to do as they pleased. Another second and his arms would have caught the slender waist and pressed the little body to his heart. But, just at that instant, the old man beside me uttered a peculiar cry. It was low and thrilling, and it went through me like a sharp sword.

HE had called her by her own name—and she had heard.

For a second she halted, glancing back with frightened eyes. Then, with a brief cry of despair, the girl swerved aside and dived in swiftly among the shadows of the trees.

But the young man saw the sudden movement and cried out to her passionately—

“Not that way, my love! Not that way! It’s the Wood of the Dead!”

She threw a laughing glance over her shoulder at him. And the wind caught her hair and drew it out in a brown cloud under the sun. But the next minute she was close beside me, lying on the breast of my companion. I was certain I heard the words repeatedly uttered with many sighs: “Father, you called, and I have come. And I come willingly, for I am very, very tired.”

At any rate, so the words sounded to me. Mingled with them I seemed to catch the answer in that deep, thrilling whisper I already knew. “And you shall sleep, my child,” it said. “Sleep for a long, long time, until it is time for you to begin the journey again.”

In that brief second of time I had recognised the face and voice of the inn-keeper’s daughter. But the next minute a dreadful wail broke from the lips of the young man. Just then the sky grew as dark as night, the wind rose and began to toss the branches about us. The whole scene was swallowed up in a wave of blackness.

Again the chill fingers seemed to seize my hand. I was guided by the way I had come to the edge of the wood. Crossing the hayfield still slumbering in the starlight, I crept back to the inn and went to bed.

A year later I happened to be in the same part of the country, and the memory of the strange summer vision returned to me with the added softness of distance. I went to the old village and had tea under the same orchard trees at the same inn.

But the little maid of the inn did not show her face. I took occasion to enquire of her father as to her welfare and her whereabouts.

“Married, no doubt,” I laughed, but with a strange feeling that clutched at my heart.

“No, sir,” replied the inn-keeper sadly, “not married—though she was just going to be—but dead. She got a sunstroke in the hayfields, just a few days after you were here, if I remember rightly, and she was gone from us in less than a week.”