Featured man in black shorts in water

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Connell

“Off there to the right–somewhere–is a large island,” said Whitney. “It’s rather a mystery–” 

“What island is it?” Rainsford asked. 

“The old charts call it ‘Ship-Trap Island’,” Whitney replied. “A suggestive name, isn’t it? Sailors have a curious dread of the place. I don’t know why. Some superstition–” 

“Can’t see it,” remarked Rainsford, trying to peer through the dank tropical night that was palpable as it pressed its thick warm blackness in upon the yacht. 

“You’ve good eyes,” said Whitney, with a laugh,” and I’ve seen you pick off a moose moving in the brown fall bush at four hundred yards, but even you can’t see four miles or so through a moonless Caribbean night.” 

“Nor four yards,” admitted Rainsford. “Ugh! It’s like moist black velvet.” 

“It will be light enough in Rio,” promised Whitney. “We should make it in a few days. I hope the jaguar guns have come from Purdey’s. We should have some good hunting up the Amazon. Great sport, hunting.” 

“The best sport in the world,” agreed Rainsford. 

“For the hunter,” amended Whitney. “Not for the jaguar.” 

“Don’t talk rot, Whitney,” said Rainsford. “You’re a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?” 

“Perhaps the jaguar does,” observed Whitney. “If you were lost in the jungle without a gun perhaps you would view the Jaguar differently.”

“Bah! They’ve no understanding.” 

“Even so, I rather think they understand one thing–fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death.” 

“Nonsense,” laughed Rainsford. “This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes–the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters. Do you think we’ve passed that island yet?” 

“I can’t tell in the dark. I hope so.” 

“Why? “ asked Rainsford. 

“The place has a reputation–a bad one.” 

“Cannibals?” suggested Rainsford.

“Hardly. Even cannibals wouldn’t live in such a God-forsaken place. But it’s gotten into sailor lore, somehow. Didn’t you notice that the crew’s nerves seemed a bit jumpy today?” 

“They were a bit strange, now you mention it. Even Captain Nielsen–” 

“Yes, even that tough-minded old Swede, who’d go up to the devil himself and ask him for a light. Those fishy blue eyes held a look I never saw there before. All I could get out of him was ‘This place has an evil name among seafaring men, sir.’ Then he said to me, very gravely, ‘Don’t you feel anything?’–as if the air about us was actually poisonous. Now, you mustn’t laugh when I tell you this–I did feel something like a sudden chill. 

“There was no breeze. The sea was as flat as a plate-glass window. We were drawing near the island then. What I felt was a–a mental chill; a sort of sudden dread.” 

“Pure imagination,” said Rainsford. 

“One superstitious sailor can taint the whole ship’s company with his fear.” 

“Maybe. But sometimes I think sailors have an extra sense that tells them when they are in danger. Sometimes I think evil is a tangible thing–with wave lengths, just as sound and light have. An evil place can, so to speak, broadcast vibrations of evil. Anyhow, I’m glad we’re getting out of this zone. Well, I think I’ll turn in now, Rainsford.” 

“I’m not sleepy,” said Rainsford. “I’m going to smoke another pipe up on the afterdeck.” 

“Good night, then, Rainsford. See you at breakfast.” 

“Right. Good night, Whitney.” 

There was no sound in the night as Rainsford sat there but the muffled throb of the engine that drove the yacht swiftly through the darkness, and the swish and ripple of the wash of the propeller. 

Rainsford, reclining in a steamer chair, indolently puffed on his favorite brier. The sensuous drowsiness of the night was on him.” It’s so dark,” he thought, “that I could sleep without closing my eyes; the night would be my eyelids–” 

An abrupt sound startled him. Off to the right he heard it, and his ears, expert in such matters, could not be mistaken. Again he heard the sound, and again. Somewhere, off in the blackness, someone had fired a gun three times. 

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Rainsford sprang up and moved quickly to the rail, mystified. He strained his eyes in the direction from which the reports had come, but it was like trying to see through a blanket. He leaped upon the rail and balanced himself there, to get greater elevation; his pipe, striking a rope, was knocked from his mouth. He lunged for it; a short, hoarse cry came from his lips as he realized he had reached too far and had lost his balance. The cry was pinched off short as the blood-warm waters of the Caribbean Sea dosed over his head.

He struggled up to the surface and tried to cry out, but the wash from the speeding yacht slapped him in the face and the salt water in his open mouth made him gag and strangle. Desperately he struck out with strong strokes after the receding lights of the yacht, but he stopped before he had swum fifty feet. A certain coolheadedness had come to him; it was not the first time he had been in a tight place. There was a chance that his cries could be heard by someone aboard the yacht, but that chance was slender and grew more slender as the yacht raced on. He wrestled himself out of his clothes and shouted with all his power. The lights of the yacht became faint and ever-vanishing fireflies; then they were blotted out entirely by the night. 

Rainsford remembered the shots. They had come from the right, and doggedly he swam in that direction, swimming with slow, deliberate strokes, conserving his strength. 

For a seemingly endless time he fought the sea. He began to count his strokes; here could do possibly a hundred more and then– 

Rainsford heard a sound. It came out of the darkness, a high screaming sound, the sound of an animal in an extremity of anguish and terror. 

Despite an effort he did not recognize the animal that made the sound; he did not try to; with fresh vitality he swam toward the sound. He heard it again; then it was cut short by another noise, crisp, staccato. 

“Pistol shot,” muttered Rainsford, swimming on. 

Ten minutes of determined effort brought another sound to his ears–the most welcome he had ever heard–the muttering and growling of the sea breaking on a rocky shore. He was almost on the rocks before he saw them; on a night less calm he would have been shattered against them. With his remaining strength he dragged himself from the swirling waters.

Jagged crags appeared to jut up into the opaqueness; he forced himself upward, hand over hand. Gasping, his hands raw, he reached a flat place at the top. Dense jungle came down to the very edge of the cliffs. What perils that tangle of trees and underbrush might hold for him did not concern Rainsford just then. All he knew was that he was safe from his enemy, the sea, and that utter weariness was on him. He flung himself down at the jungle edge and tumbled headlong into the deepest sleep of his life. 

When he opened his eyes he knew from the position of the sun that it was late in the afternoon. Although sleep had given him new vigor, a sharp hunger was picking at him. He looked about him, almost cheerfully. 

“Where there are pistol shots, there are men. Where there are men, there is food,” he thought. But what kind of men, he wondered, in so forbidding a place? An unbroken front of snarled and ragged jungle fringed the shore. 

He saw no sign of a trail through the closely knit web of weeds and trees; it was easier to go along the shore, and Rainsford floundered along by the water. Not far from where he landed, he stopped. 

Some wounded thing–by the evidence, a large animal–had thrashed about in the underbrush; the jungle weeds were crushed down and the moss was lacerated; one patch of weeds was stained crimson. A small, glittering object not far away caught Rainsford’s eye and he picked it up. It was an empty cartridge. 

“A twenty-two,” he remarked. “That’s odd. It must have been a fairly large animal too. The hunter had his nerve with him to tackle it with a light gun. It’s clear that the brute put up a fight. I suppose the first three shots I heard was when the hunter flushed his quarry and wounded it. The last shot was when he trailed it here and finished it.” 

He examined the ground closely and found what he had hoped to find–the print of hunting boots. They pointed along the cliff in the direction he had been going. Eagerly he  hurried along, now slipping on a rotten log or a loose stone, but making headway; night was beginning to settle down on the island. 

Bleak darkness was blacking out the sea and jungle when Rainsford sighted the lights. He came upon them as he turned a crook in the coast line; and his first thought was that be had come upon a village, for there were many lights. But as he forged along he saw to his great astonishment that all the lights were in one enormous building–a lofty structure with pointed towers plunging upward into the gloom. His eyes made out the shadowy outlines of a palatial chateau; it was set on a high bluff, and on three sides of it cliffs dived down to where the sea licked greedy lips in the shadows. 

 “Mirage,” thought Rainsford. But it was no mirage, he found, when he opened the tall spiked iron gate. The stone steps were real enough; the massive door with a leering gargoyle for a knocker was real enough; yet above it all hung an air of unreality. 

He lifted the knocker, and it creaked up stiffly, as if it had never before been used. 

He let it fall, and it startled him with its booming loudness. Although he thought he heard steps within, the door remained closed. Again Rainsford lifted the heavy knocker, and let it fall. The door opened then–opened as suddenly as if it were on a spring–and Rainsford stood blinking in the river of glaring gold light that poured out. The first thing Rainsford’s eyes discerned was the largest man Rainsford had ever seen–a gigantic creature, solidly made and black bearded to the waist. In his hand the man held a long-barreled revolver, and he was pointing it straight at Rainsford’s heart. 

Out of the snarl of beard two small eyes regarded Rainsford. 

“Don’t be alarmed,” said Rainsford, with a smile which he hoped was disarming. 

“I’m no robber. I fell off a yacht. My name is Sanger Rainsford of New York City.” 

The menacing look in the eyes did not change. The revolver pointing as rigidly as if the giant were a statue. He gave no sign that he understood Rainsford’s words, or that he had even heard them. He was dressed in uniform–a black uniform trimmed with gray astrakhan. 

“I’m Sanger Rainsford of New York,” Rainsford began again. “I fell off a yacht. I am hungry.” 

The man’s only answer was to raise with his thumb the hammer of his revolver. 

Then Rainsford saw the man’s free hand go to his forehead in a military salute, and he saw him click his heels together and stand at attention. Another man was coming down the broad marble steps, an erect, slender man in evening clothes. He advanced to Rainsford and held out his hand. 

In a cultivated voice marked by a slight accent that gave it added precision and deliberateness, he said, “It is a very great pleasure and honor to welcome Mr. Sanger Rainsford, the celebrated hunter, to my home.” 

Automatically Rainsford shook the man’s hand. 

“I’ve read your book about hunting snow leopards in Tibet, you see,” explained the man. “I am General Zaroff.” 

Rainsford’s first impression was that the man was singularly handsome; his second was that there was an original, almost bizarre quality about the general’s face. He was a tall man past middle age, for his hair was a vivid white; but his thick eyebrows and pointed military mustache were as black as the night from which Rainsford had come. 

His eyes, too, were black and very bright. He had high cheekbones, a sharpcut nose, a spare, dark face–the face of a man used to giving orders, the face of an aristocrat. 

Turning to the giant in uniform, the general made a sign. The giant put away his pistol, saluted, withdrew.

“Ivan is an incredibly strong fellow,” remarked the general, “but he has the 

misfortune to be deaf and dumb. A simple fellow, but, I’m afraid, like all his race, a bit of  a savage.” 

“Is he Russian?” 

“He is a Cossack,” said the general, and his smile showed red lips and pointed teeth. 

“So am I.” 

“Come,” he said, “we shouldn’t be chatting here. We can talk later. Now you want clothes, food, rest. You shall have them. This is a most-restful spot.” 

Ivan had reappeared, and the general spoke to him with lips that moved but gave forth no sound. 

“Follow Ivan, if you please, Mr. Rainsford,” said the general. “I was about to have my dinner when you came. I’ll wait for you. You’ll find that my clothes will fit you, I think.” 

It was to a huge, beam-ceilinged bedroom with a canopied bed big enough for six men that Rainsford followed the silent giant. Ivan laid out an evening suit, and Rainsford, as he put it on, noticed that it came from a London tailor who ordinarily cut and sewed for none below the rank of duke. 

The dining room to which Ivan conducted him was in many ways remarkable. There was a medieval magnificence about it; it suggested a baronial hall of feudal times with its oaken panels, its high ceiling, its vast refectory tables where twoscore men could sit down to eat. About the hall were mounted heads of many animals–lions, tigers, elephants, moose, bears; larger or more perfect specimens Rainsford had never seen. At the great table the general was sitting, alone. 

“You’ll have a cocktail, Mr. Rainsford,” he suggested. The cocktail was surpassingly good; and, Rainsford noted, the table appointments were of the finest–the linen, the crystal, the silver, the china. 

They were eating borsch, the rich, red soup with whipped cream so dear to Russian palates. Half apologetically General Zaroff said, “We do our best to preserve the amenities of civilization here. Please forgive any lapses. We are well off the beaten track, you know. Do you think the champagne has suffered from its long ocean trip?” 

“Not in the least,” declared Rainsford. He was finding the general a most thoughtful and affable host, a true cosmopolite. But there was one small trait of the general’s that made Rainsford uncomfortable. Whenever he looked up from his plate he found the general studying him, appraising him narrowly. 

“Perhaps,” said General Zaroff, “you were surprised that I recognized your name. 

You see, I read all books on hunting published in English, French, and Russian. I have but one passion in my life, Mr. Rainsford, and it is the hunt.” 

“You have some wonderful heads here,” said Rainsford as he ate a particularly well-cooked filet mignon. “ That Cape buffalo is the largest I ever saw.” 

“Oh, that fellow. Yes, he was a monster.” 

“Did he charge you?” 

“Hurled me against a tree,” said the general. “Fractured my skull. But I got the brute.” 

“I’ve always thought,” said Rainsford, “that the Cape buffalo is the most dangerous of all big game.”

For a moment the general did not reply; he was smiling his curious red-lipped smile. 

Then he said slowly, “No. You are wrong, sir. The Cape buffalo is not the most dangerous big game.” He sipped his wine. “Here in my preserve on this island,” he said in the same slow tone, “I hunt more dangerous game.” 

Rainsford expressed his surprise. “Is there big game on this island?” 

The general nodded. “The biggest.” 

“Really?” 

“Oh, it isn’t here naturally, of course. I have to stock the island.” 

“What have you imported, general?” Rainsford asked. “Tigers?” 

The general smiled. “No,” he said. “Hunting tigers ceased to interest me some years ago. I exhausted their possibilities, you see. No thrill left in tigers, no real danger. I live for danger, Mr. Rainsford.” 

The general took from his pocket a gold cigarette case and offered his guest a long black cigarette with a silver tip; it was perfumed and gave off a smell like incense. 

“We will have some capital hunting, you and I,” said the general. “I shall be most glad to have your society.” 

“But what game–” began Rainsford. 

“I’ll tell you,” said the general. “You will be amused, I know. I think I may say, in all modesty, that I have done a rare thing. I have invented a new sensation. May I pour you another glass of port?” 

“Thank you, general.” 

The general filled both glasses, and said, “God makes some men poets. Some He makes kings, some beggars. Me He made a hunter. 

My hand was made for the trigger, my father said. He was a very rich man with a quarter of a million acres in the Crimea, and he was an ardent sportsman. When I was only five years old he gave me a little gun, specially made in Moscow for me, to shoot sparrows with. When I shot some of his prize turkeys with it, he did not punish me; he complimented me on my marksmanship. I killed my first bear in the Caucasus when I was ten. My whole life has been one prolonged hunt. I went into the army–it was expected of noblemen’s sons–and for a time commanded a division of Cossack cavalry. But my real interest was always the hunt. I have hunted every kind of game in every land. It would be impossible for me to tell you 

how many animals I have killed.” 

The general puffed at his cigarette. 

“After the debacle in Russia I left the country, for it was imprudent for an officer of the Czar to stay there. Many noble Russians lost everything. I, luckily, had invested heavily in American securities, so I shall never have to open a tearoom in Monte Carlo or drive a taxi in Paris. Naturally, I continued to hunt–grizzlies in your Rockies, crocodiles in the Ganges, rhinoceroses in East Africa. It was in Africa that the Cape buffalo hit me and laid me up for six months.

As soon as I recovered I started for the Amazon to hunt jaguars, for I had heard they were unusually cunning. They weren’t.” The Cossack sighed. “They were no match at all for a hunter with his wits about him, and a high-powered rifle. I was bitterly disappointed. I was lying in my tent with a splitting headache one night when a terrible thought pushed its way into my mind. Hunting was beginning to bore me! And hunting, remember, had been my life. I have heard that in America businessmen often go to pieces when they give up the business that has been their life.” 

“Yes, that’s so,” said Rainsford.

The general smiled. “I had no wish to go to pieces,” he said. “I must do something. 

Now, mine is an analytical mind, Mr. Rainsford. Doubtless that is why I enjoy the problems of the chase.” 

“No doubt, General Zaroff.” 

“So,” continued the general, “I asked myself why the hunt no longer fascinated me. 

You are much younger than I am, Mr. Rainsford, and have not hunted as much, but you perhaps can guess the answer.” 

“What was it?” 

“Simply this: hunting had ceased to be what you call `a sporting proposition.’ It had become too easy. I always got my quarry. Always. There is no greater bore than perfection.” 

The general lit a fresh cigarette. 

“No animal had a chance with me any more. That is no boast; it is a mathematical certainty. The animal had nothing but his legs and his instinct. Instinct is no match for reason. When I thought of this it was a tragic moment for me, I can tell you.” 

Rainsford leaned across the table, absorbed in what his host was saying. 

“It came to me as an inspiration what I must do,” the general went on. 

“And that was?” 

The general smiled the quiet smile of one who has faced an obstacle and surmounted it with success. “I had to invent a new animal to hunt,” he said. 

“A new animal? You’re joking.” “Not at all,” said the general. “I never joke about hunting. I needed a new animal and I found one. So I bought this island, built this house, and here I do my hunting. The island is perfect for my purposes–there are jungles with a maze of trails in them, hills, swamps–” 

“But the animal, General Zaroff?” 

“Oh,” said the general, “it supplies me with the most exciting hunting in the world. 

No other hunting compares with it for an instant. Every day I hunt, and I never grow bored now, for I have a quarry with which I can match my wits.” 

Rainsford’s bewilderment showed in his face. 

“I wanted the ideal animal to hunt,” explained the general. “So I said, `What are the attributes of an ideal quarry?’ And the answer was, of course, `It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason.”‘ 

“But no animal can reason,” objected Rainsford. 

“My dear fellow,” said the general, “there is one that can.” 

“But you can’t mean–” gasped Rainsford. 

“And why not?” 

“I can’t believe you are serious, General Zaroff. This is a grisly joke.” 

“Why should I not be serious? I am speaking of hunting.” 

“Hunting? Great Guns, General Zaroff, what you speak of is murder.” 

The general laughed with entire good nature. He regarded Rainsford quizzically. “I refuse to believe that so modern and civilized a young man as you seem to be harbors romantic ideas about the value of human life. Surely your experiences in the war–” 

“Did not make me condone cold-blooded murder,” finished Rainsford stiffly. 

Laughter shook the general. “How extraordinarily droll you are!” he said. “One does not expect nowadays to find a young man of the educated class, even in America, with such a naive, and, if I may say so, mid-Victorian point of view. It’s like finding a snuffbox in a limousine. Ah, well, doubtless you had Puritan ancestors. So many Americans appear to have had. I’ll wager you’ll forget your notions when you go hunting with me. You’ve a genuine new thrill in store for you, Mr. Rainsford.” 

“Thank you, I’m a hunter, not a murderer.” 

“Dear me,” said the general, quite unruffled, “again that unpleasant word. But I think I can show you that your scruples are quite ill founded.” 

“Yes?” 

“Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs be, taken by the strong. 

The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not? I hunt the scum of the earth: sailors from tramp ships — lassars, Chinese, whites, mongrels–a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them.” 

“But they are men,” said Rainsford hotly. 

“Precisely,” said the general. “That is why I use them. It gives me pleasure. They can reason, after a fashion. So they are dangerous.” 

“But where do you get them?” 

The general’s left eyelid fluttered down in a wink. “This island is called Ship Trap,” he answered. “Sometimes an angry god of the high seas sends them to me. Sometimes, when Providence is not so kind, I help Providence a bit. Come to the window with me.” 

Rainsford went to the window and looked out toward the sea. 

“Watch! Out there!” exclaimed the general, pointing into the night. Rainsford’s eyes saw only blackness, and then, as the general pressed a button, far out to sea Rainsford saw the flash of lights. 

The general chuckled. “They indicate a channel,” he said, “where there’s none; giant rocks with razor edges crouch like a sea monster with wide-open jaws. They can crush a ship as easily as I crush this nut.” He dropped a walnut on the hardwood floor and brought his heel grinding down on it. “Oh, yes,” he said, casually, as if in answer to a question, “I have electricity. We try to be civilized here.” 

“Civilized? And you shoot down men?” 

A trace of anger was in the general’s black eyes, but it was there for but a second; and he said, in his most pleasant manner, “Dear me, what a righteous young man you are! 

I assure you I do not do the thing you suggest. That would be barbarous. I treat these visitors with every consideration. They get plenty of good food and exercise. They get into splendid physical condition. You shall see for yourself tomorrow.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“We’ll visit my training school,” smiled the general. “It’s in the cellar. I have about a dozen pupils down there now. They’re from the Spanish bark San Lucar that had the bad luck to go on the rocks out there. A very inferior lot, I regret to say. Poor specimens and more accustomed to the deck than to the jungle.” He raised his hand, and Ivan, who served as waiter, brought thick Turkish coffee. Rainsford, with an effort, held his tongue in check. 

“It’s a game, you see,” pursued the general blandly. “I suggest to one of them that we go hunting. him a supply of food and an excellent hunting knife, I give him three hours’ star follow, armed only with a pistol of the smallest caliber and range. If my quarry eludes me for three whole days, he wins the game. If I find him” –the general smiled– “he loses.”

“Suppose he refuses to be hunted?” 

“Oh,” said the general, “I give him his option, of course. He need not play that game if he doesn’t wish to. If he does not wish to hunt, I turn him over to Ivan. Ivan once had the honor of serving as official knouter to the Great White Czar, and he has his own ideas of sport. Invariably, Mr. Rainsford, invariably they choose the hunt.” 

“And if they win?” 

The smile on the general’s face widened. “To date I have not lost,” he said. Then he added, hastily: “I don’t wish you to think me a braggart, Mr. Rainsford. Many of them afford only the most elementary sort of problem. Occasionally I strike a tartar. One almost did win. I eventually had to use the dogs.” 

“The dogs?” 

“This way, please. I’ll show you.” 

The general steered Rainsford to a window. The lights from the windows sent a flickering illumination that made grotesque patterns on the courtyard below, and Rainsford could see moving about there a dozen or so huge black shapes; as they turned toward him, their eyes glittered greenly. 

“A rather good lot, I think,” observed the general. “They are let out at seven every night. If anyone should try to get into my house — or out of it — something extremely regrettable would occur to him.” He hummed a snatch of song from the Folies Bergere. 

“And now,” said the general, “I want to show you my new collection of heads. Will you come with me to the library?” 

“I hope,” said Rainsford, “that you will excuse me tonight, General Zaroff. I’m really not feeling well.” 

“Ah, indeed?” the general inquired solicitously. “Well, I suppose that’s only natural, after your long swim. You need a good, restful night’s sleep. Tomorrow you’ll feel like a new man, I’ll wager. Then we’ll hunt, eh? I’ve one rather promising prospect–” 

Rainsford was hurrying from the room. 

“Sorry you can’t go with me tonight,” called the general. “I expect rather fair sport — a big, strong, mongrel. He looks resourceful. Well, good night, Mr. Rainsford; I hope you have a good night’s rest.” 

The bed was good, and the pajamas of the softest silk, and he was tired in every fiber of his being, but nevertheless Rainsford could not quiet his brain with the opiate of sleep. 

He lay, eyes wide open. Once he thought he heard stealthy steps in the corridor outside his room. He sought to throw open the door; it would not open. He went to the window and looked out. His room was high up in one of the towers. The lights of the chateau were out now, and it was dark and silent; but there was a fragment of sallow moon, and by its wan light he could see, dimly, the courtyard.

There, weaving in and out in the pattern of shadow, were black, noiseless forms; the hounds heard him at the window and looked up, expectantly, with their green eyes. Rainsford went back to the bed and lay down. By many methods he tried to put himself to sleep. He had achieved a doze when, just as morning began to come, he heard, far off in the jungle, the faint report of a pistol. 

General Zaroff did not appear until luncheon. He was dressed faultlessly in the tweeds of a country squire. He was solicitous about the state of Rainsford’s health. 

“As for me,” sighed the general, “I do not feel so well. I am worried, Mr. Rainsford. 

Last night I detected traces of my old complaint.” 

To Rainsford’s questioning glance the general said, “Ennui. Boredom.”

Then, taking a second helping of crêpes Suzette, the general explained: “The hunting was not good last night. The fellow lost his head. He made a straight trail that offered no problems at all. That’s the trouble with these sailors; they have dull brains to begin with, and they do not know how to get about in the woods. They do excessively stupid and obvious things. It’s most annoying. Will you have another glass of Chablis, Mr. Rainsford?” 

“General,” said Rainsford firmly, “I wish to leave this island at once.” 

The general raised his thickets of eyebrows; he seemed hurt. “But, my dear fellow,” the general protested, “you’ve only just come. You’ve had no hunting–” 

“I wish to go today,” said Rainsford. He saw the dead black eyes of the general on him, studying him. General Zaroff’s face suddenly brightened. 

He filled Rainsford’s glass with venerable Chablis from a dusty bottle. 

“Tonight,” said the general, “we will hunt–you and I.” 

Rainsford shook his head. “No, general,” he said. “I will not hunt.” 

The general shrugged his shoulders and delicately ate a hothouse grape. “As you wish, my friend,” he said. “The choice rests entirely with you. But may I not venture to suggest that you will find my idea of sport more diverting than Ivan’s?” 

He nodded toward the corner to where the giant stood, scowling, his thick arms crossed on his hogshead of chest. 

“You don’t mean–” cried Rainsford. 

“My dear fellow,” said the general, “have I not told you I always mean what I say about hunting? This is really an inspiration. I drink to a foeman worthy of my steel–at last.” The general raised his glass, but Rainsford sat staring at him. 

“You’ll find this game worth playing,” the general said enthusiastically.” Your brain against mine. Your woodcraft against mine. Your strength and stamina against mine. Outdoor chess! And the stake is not without value, eh?” 

“And if I win–” began Rainsford huskily. 

“I’ll cheerfully acknowledge myself defeated if I do not find you by midnight of the third day,” said General Zaroff. “My sloop will place you on the mainland near a town.” 

The general read what Rainsford was thinking. 

“Oh, you can trust me,” said the Cossack. “I will give you my word as a gentleman and a sportsman. Of course you, in turn, must agree to say nothing of your visit here.” 

“I’ll agree to nothing of the kind,” said Rainsford. 

“Oh,” said the general, “in that case — But why discuss that now? Three days hence we can discuss it over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, unless–” 

The general sipped his wine. 

Then a businesslike air animated him. “Ivan,” he said to Rainsford, “will supply you with hunting clothes, food, a knife. I suggest you wear moccasins; they leave a poorer trail. I suggest, too, that you avoid the big swamp in the southeast corner of the island. 

We call it Death Swamp. There’s quicksand there. One foolish fellow tried it. The deplorable part of it was that Lazarus followed him. You can imagine my feelings, Mr. Rainsford. I loved Lazarus; he was the finest hound in my pack. Well, I must beg you to excuse me now. I always’ take a siesta after lunch. You’ll hardly have time for a nap, I fear. You’ll want to start, no doubt. I shall not follow till dusk. Hunting at night is so much more exciting than by day, don’t you think? Au revoir, Mr. Rainsford, au revoir.” 

General Zaroff, with a deep, courtly bow, strolled from the room.

From another door came Ivan. Under one arm he carried khaki hunting clothes, a haversack of food, a leather sheath containing a long-bladed hunting knife; his right hand rested on a cocked revolver thrust in the crimson sash about his waist. 

Rainsford had fought his way through the bush for two hours. “I must keep my nerve. I must keep my nerve,” he said through tight teeth. 

He had not been entirely clearheaded when the chateau gates snapped shut behind him. His whole idea at first was to put distance between himself and General Zaroff; and, to this end, he had plunged along, spurred on by the sharp rowers of something very like panic. Now he had got a grip on himself, had stopped, and was taking stock of himself and the situation. He saw that straight flight was futile; inevitably it would bring him face to face with the sea. He was in a picture with a frame of water, and his operations, clearly, must take place within that frame. 

“I’ll give him a trail to follow,” muttered Rainsford, and he struck off from the rude path he had been following into the trackless wilderness. He executed a series of intricate loops; he doubled on his trail again and again, recalling all the lore of the fox hunt, and all the dodges of the fox. Night found him leg-weary, with hands and face lashed by the branches, on a thickly wooded ridge. He knew it would be insane to blunder on through the dark, even if he had the strength. His need for rest was imperative and he thought, “I have played the fox, now I must play the cat of the fable.”

A big tree with a thick trunk and outspread branches was near by, and, taking care to leave not the slightest mark, he climbed up into the crotch, and, stretching out on one of the broad limbs, after a fashion, rested. Rest brought him new confidence and almost a feeling of security. Even so zealous a hunter as General Zaroff could not trace him there, he told himself; only the devil himself could follow that complicated trail through the jungle after dark. But perhaps the general was a devil– 

An apprehensive night crawled slowly by like a wounded snake and sleep did not visit Rainsford, although the silence of a dead world was on the jungle. Toward morning when a dingy gray was varnishing the sky, the cry of some startled bird focused Rainsford’s attention in that direction. Something was coming through the bush, coming slowly, carefully, coming by the same winding way Rainsford had come. He flattened himself down on the limb and, through a screen of leaves almost as thick as tapestry, he watched. . . . That which was approaching was a man. 

It was General Zaroff. He made his way along with his eyes fixed in utmost 

concentration on the ground before him. He paused, almost beneath the tree, dropped to his knees and studied the ground. Rainsford’s impulse was to hurl himself down like a panther, but he saw that the general’s right hand held something metallic–a small automatic pistol. 

The hunter shook his head several times, as if he were puzzled. Then he straightened up and took from his case one of his black cigarettes; its pungent incenselike smoke floated up to Rainsford’s nostrils. 

Rainsford held his breath. The general’s eyes had left the ground and were traveling inch by inch up the tree. Rainsford froze there, every muscle tensed for a spring. But the sharp eyes of the hunter stopped before they reached the limb where Rainsford lay; a smile spread over his brown face. Very deliberately he blew a smoke ring into the air; then he turned his back on the tree and walked carelessly away, back along the trail he had come. The swish of the underbrush against his hunting boots grew fainter and fainter.

The pent-up air burst hotly from Rainsford’s lungs. His first thought made him feel sick and numb. The general could follow a trail through the woods at night; he could follow an extremely difficult trail; he must have uncanny powers; only by the merest chance had the Cossack failed to see his quarry. 

Rainsford’s second thought was even more terrible. It sent a shudder of cold horror through his whole being. Why had the general smiled? Why had he turned back? 

Rainsford did not want to believe what his reason told him was true, but the truth was as evident as the sun that had by now pushed through the morning mists. The general was playing with him! The general was saving him for another day’s sport! The Cossack was the cat; he was the mouse. Then it was that Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror. 

“I will not lose my nerve. I will not.” 

He slid down from the tree, and struck off again into the woods. His face was set and he forced the machinery of his mind to function. Three hundred yards from his hiding place he stopped where a huge dead tree leaned precariously on a smaller, living one. 

Throwing off his sack of food, Rainsford took his knife from its sheath and began to work with all his energy. 

The job was finished at last, and he threw himself down behind a fallen log a hundred feet away. He did not have to wait long. The cat was coming again to play with the mouse. 

Following the trail with the sureness of a bloodhound came General Zaroff. Nothing escaped those searching black eyes, no crushed blade of grass, no bent twig, no mark, no matter how faint, in the moss. So intent was the Cossack on his stalking that he was upon the thing Rainsford had made before he saw it. His foot touched the protruding bough that was the trigger.

Even as he touched it, the general sensed his danger and leaped back with the agility of an ape. But he was not quite quick enough; the dead tree, delicately adjusted to rest on the cut living one, crashed down and struck the general a glancing blow on the shoulder as it fell; but for his alertness, he must have been smashed beneath it. He staggered, but he did not fall; nor did he drop his revolver. He stood there, rubbing his injured shoulder, and Rainsford, with fear again gripping his heart, heard the general’s mocking laugh ring through the jungle. 

“Rainsford,” called the general, “if you are within sound of my voice, as I suppose you are, let me congratulate you. Not many men know how to make a Malay mancatcher. 

Luckily for me I, too, have hunted in Malacca. You are proving interesting, Mr. Rainsford. I am going now to have my wound dressed; it’s only a slight one. But I shall be back. I shall be back.” 

When the general, nursing his bruised shoulder, had gone, Rainsford took up his flight again. It was flight now, a desperate, hopeless flight, that carried him on for some hours. Dusk came, then darkness, and still he pressed on. The ground grew softer under his moccasins; the vegetation grew ranker, denser; insects bit him savagely. 

Then, as he stepped forward, his foot sank into the ooze. He tried to wrench it back, but the muck sucked viciously at his foot as if it were a giant leech. With a violent effort, he tore his feet loose. He knew where he was now. Death Swamp and its quicksand. 

His hands were tight closed as if his nerve were something tangible that someone in the darkness was trying to tear from his grip. The softness of the earth had given him anidea. He stepped back from the quicksand a dozen feet or so and, like some huge prehistoric beaver, he began to dig. 

Rainsford had dug himself in in France when a second’s delay meant death. That had been a placid pastime compared to his digging now. The pit grew deeper; when it was above his shoulders, he climbed out and from some hard saplings cut stakes and sharpened them to a fine point. These stakes he planted in the bottom of the pit with the points sticking up. With flying fingers he wove a rough carpet of weeds and branches and with it he covered the mouth of the pit. Then, wet with sweat and aching with tiredness, he crouched behind the stump of a lightning-charred tree. 

He knew his pursuer was coming; he heard the padding sound of feet on the soft earth, and the night breeze brought him the perfume of the general’s cigarette. It seemed to Rainsford that the general was coming with unusual swiftness; he was not feeling his way along, foot by foot. Rainsford, crouching there, could not see the general, nor could he see the pit. He lived a year in a minute. Then he felt an impulse to cry aloud with joy, for he heard the sharp crackle of the breaking branches as the cover of the pit gave way; he heard the sharp scream of pain as the pointed stakes found their mark. He leaped up from his place of concealment. Then he cowered back. Three feet from the pit a man was standing, with an electric torch in his hand. 

“You’ve done well, Rainsford,” the voice of the general called. “Your Burmese tiger pit has claimed one of my best dogs. Again you score. I think, Mr. Rainsford, I’ll see what you can do against my whole pack. I’m going home for a rest now. Thank you for a most amusing evening.” 

At daybreak Rainsford, lying near the swamp, was awakened by a sound that made him know that he had new things to learn about fear. It was a distant sound, faint and wavering, but he knew it. It was the baying of a pack of hounds. 

Rainsford knew he could do one of two things. He could stay where he was and wait. 

That was suicide. He could flee. That was postponing the inevitable. For a moment he stood there, thinking. An idea that held a wild chance came to him, and, tightening his belt, he headed away from the swamp. 

The baying of the hounds drew nearer, then still nearer, nearer, ever nearer. On a ridge Rainsford climbed a tree. Down a watercourse, not a quarter of a mile away, he  could see the bush moving. Straining his eyes, he saw the lean figure of General Zaroff; just ahead of him Rainsford made out another figure whose wide shoulders surged through the tall jungle weeds; it was the giant Ivan, and he seemed pulled forward by some unseen force; Rainsford knew that Ivan must be holding the pack in leash. 

They would be on him any minute now. His mind worked frantically. He thought of a native trick he had learned in Uganda. First he slid down the tree. Then he caught hold of a springy young sapling and to it he fastened his hunting knife, with the blade pointing down the trail; with a bit of wild grapevine he tied back the sapling. Then he ran for his life. The hounds raised their voices as they hit the fresh scent. Rainsford knew now how an animal at bay feels. 

He had to stop to get his breath. The baying of the hounds stopped abruptly, and Rainsford’s heart stopped too. They must have reached the knife. 

He shinned excitedly up a tree and looked back. His pursuers had stopped. But the hope that was in Rainsford’s brain when he climbed died, for he saw in the shallow valley that General Zaroff was still on his feet. But Ivan was not. The knife, driven by the recoil of the springing tree, had not wholly failed. 

Rainsford had hardly tumbled to the ground when the pack took up the cry again. 

“Nerve, nerve, nerve!” he panted, as he dashed along. A blue gap showed between the trees dead ahead. Ever nearer drew the hounds. Rainsford forced himself on toward that gap. He reached it. It was the shore of the sea. Across a cove he could see the gloomy gray stone of the chateau. Twenty feet below him the sea rumbled and hissed. Rainsford hesitated. He heard the hounds. Then he leaped far out into the sea. . . . 

When the general and his pack reached the place by the sea, the Cossack stopped. 

For some minutes he stood regarding the blue-green expanse of water. He shrugged his shoulders. Then be sat down, took a drink of brandy from a silver flask, lit a cigarette, and hummed a bit from Madame Butterfly. 

General Zaroff had an exceedingly good dinner in his great paneled dining hall that evening. With it he had a bottle of Pol Roger and half a bottle of Chambertin. Two slight annoyances kept him from perfect enjoyment. One was the thought that it would be difficult to replace Ivan; the other was that his quarry had escaped him; of course, the American hadn’t played the game–so thought the general as he tasted his after-dinner liqueur. In his library he read, to soothe himself, from the works of Marcus Aurelius. At ten he went up to his bedroom. He was deliciously tired, he said to himself, as he locked himself in. There was a little moonlight, so, before turning on his light, he went to the window and looked down at the courtyard. He could see the great hounds, and he called, 

“Better luck another time,” to them. Then he switched on the light. 

A man, who had been hiding in the curtains of the bed, was standing there. 

“Rainsford!” screamed the general. “How in God’s name did you get here?” 

“Swam,” said Rainsford. “I found it quicker than walking through the jungle.” 

The general sucked in his breath and smiled. “I congratulate you,” he said. “You have won the game.” 

Rainsford did not smile. “I am still a beast at bay,” he said, in a low, hoarse voice. 

“Get ready, General Zaroff.” 

The general made one of his deepest bows. “I see,” he said. “Splendid! One of us is to furnish a repast for the hounds. The other will sleep in this very excellent bed. On guard, Rainsford.” . . . 

He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.

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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 ordered a masque for he 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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Blood colour

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 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 safety in 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.

Chiming

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, the wanton, the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not little that 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 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. 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.

Blood-bedewed halls

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

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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!

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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.
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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.
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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 3

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Dupin seemed singularly interested in the progress of this affair—at least so I judged from his manner, for he made no comments. It was only after the announcement that Le Bon had been imprisoned, that he asked me my opinion respecting the murders.

I could merely agree with all Paris in considering them an insoluble mystery. I saw no means by which it would be possible to trace the murderer.

“We must not judge of the means,” said Dupin, “by this shell of an examination. The Parisian police, so much extolled for acumen, are cunning, but no more. There is no method in their proceedings, beyond the method of the moment. They make a vast parade of measures; but, not unfrequently, these are so ill adapted to the objects proposed, as to put us in mind of Monsieur Jourdain’s calling for his robe-de-chambre—pour mieux entendre la musique. 

The results attained by them are not unfrequently surprising, but, for the most part, are brought about by simple diligence and activity. When these qualities are unavailing, their schemes fail. Vidocq, for example, was a good guesser and a persevering man. But, without educated thought, he erred continually by the very intensity of his investigations. He impaired his vision by holding the object too close. He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole. Thus there is such a thing as being too profound. Truth is not always in a well. In fact, as regards the more important knowledge, I do believe that she is invariably superficial. The depth lies in the valleys where we seek her, and not upon the mountain-tops where she is found.

The modes and sources of this kind of error are well typified in the contemplation of the heavenly bodies. To look at a star by glances—to view it in a side-long way, by turning toward it the exterior portions of the retina (more susceptible of feeble impressions of light than the interior), is to behold the star distinctly—is to have the best appreciation of its lustre—a lustre which grows dim just in proportion as we turn our vision fully upon it. A greater number of rays actually fall upon the eye in the latter case, but, in the former, there is the more refined capacity for comprehension. By undue profundity we perplex and enfeeble thought; and it is possible to make even Venus herself vanish from the firmament by a scrutiny too sustained, too concentrated, or too direct.

“As for these murders, let us enter into some examinations for ourselves, before we make up an opinion respecting them. An inquiry will afford us amusement,” [I thought this an odd term from Dupin, so applied, but said nothing] “and, besides, Le Bon once rendered me a service for which I am not ungrateful. We will go and see the premises with our own eyes. I know G——, the Prefect of Police, and shall have no difficulty in obtaining the necessary permission.”

The permission was obtained, and we proceeded at once to the Rue Morgue. This is one of those miserable thoroughfares which intervene between the Rue Richelieu and the Rue St. Roch. It was late in the afternoon when we reached it; as this quarter is at a great distance from that in which we resided. The house was readily found; for there were still many persons gazing up at the closed shutters, with an objectless curiosity, from the opposite side of the way.

It was an ordinary Parisian house, with a gateway, on one side of which was a glazed watch-box, with a sliding panel in the window, indicating a loge de concierge. Before going in we walked up the street, turned down an alley, and then, again turning, passed in the rear of the building—Dupin, meanwhile examining the whole neighborhood, as well as the house, with a minuteness of attention for which I could see no possible object.

Retracing our steps, we came again to the front of the dwelling, rang, and, having shown our credentials, were admitted by the agents in charge. We went up stairs—into the chamber where the body of Mademoiselle L’Espanaye had been found, and where both the deceased still lay. The disorders of the room had, as usual, been suffered to exist. I saw nothing beyond what had been stated in the “Gazette des Tribunaux.” Dupin scrutinized every thing—not excepting the bodies of the victims. We then went into the other rooms, and into the yard; a gendarme accompanying us throughout. The examination occupied us until dark, when we took our departure. On our way home my companion stepped in for a moment at the office of one of the daily papers.

I have said that the whims of my friend were manifold, and that Je les ménageais:—for this phrase there is no English equivalent. It was his humor, now, to decline all conversation on the subject of the murder, until about noon the next day. He then asked me, suddenly, if I had observed any thing peculiar at the scene of the atrocity.

There was something in his manner of emphasizing the word “peculiar,” which caused me to shudder, without knowing why.

“No, nothing peculiar,” I said; “nothing more, at least, than we both saw stated in the paper.”

“The ‘Gazette,’” he replied, “has not entered, I fear, into the unusual horror of the thing. But dismiss the idle opinions of this print. It appears to me that this mystery is considered insoluble, for the very reason which should cause it to be regarded as easy of solution—I mean for the outré character of its features.

The police are confounded by the seeming absence of motive—not for the murder itself—but for the atrocity of the murder. They are puzzled, too, by the seeming impossibility of reconciling the voices heard in contention, with the facts that no one was discovered up stairs but the assassinated Mademoiselle L’Espanaye, and that there were no means of egress without the notice of the party ascending. The wild disorder of the room; the corpse thrust, with the head downward, up the chimney; the frightful mutilation of the body of the old lady; these considerations, with those just mentioned, and others which I need not mention, have sufficed to paralyze the powers, by putting completely at fault the boasted acumen, of the government agents.

They have fallen into the gross but common error of confounding the unusual with the abstruse. But it is by these deviations from the plane of the ordinary, that reason feels its way, if at all, in its search for the true. In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked ‘what has occurred,’ as ‘what has occurred that has never occurred before.’ In fact, the facility with which I shall arrive, or have arrived, at the solution of this mystery, is in the direct ratio of its apparent insolubility in the eyes of the police.”

I stared at the speaker in mute astonishment.

“I am now awaiting,” continued he, looking toward the door of our apartment—“I am now awaiting a person who, although perhaps not the perpetrator of these butcheries, must have been in some measure implicated in their perpetration. Of the worst portion of the crimes committed, it is probable that he is innocent. I hope that I am right in this supposition; for upon it I build my expectation of reading the entire riddle. I look for the man here—in this room—every moment. It is true that he may not arrive; but the probability is that he will. Should he come, it will be necessary to detain him. Here are pistols; and we both know how to use them when occasion demands their use.”

I took the pistols, scarcely knowing what I did, or believing what I heard, while Dupin went on, very much as if in a soliloquy. I have already spoken of his abstract manner at such times. His discourse was addressed to myself; but his voice, although by no means loud, had that intonation which is commonly employed in speaking to some one at a great distance. His eyes, vacant in expression, regarded only the wall.

“That the voices heard in contention,” he said, “by the party upon the stairs, were not the voices of the women themselves, was fully proved by the evidence. This relieves us of all doubt upon the question whether the old lady could have first destroyed the daughter and afterward have committed suicide. I speak of this point chiefly for the sake of method; for the strength of Madame L’Espanaye would have been utterly unequal to the task of thrusting her daughter’s corpse up the chimney as it was found; and the nature of the wounds upon her own person entirely preclude the idea of self-destruction.

Murder, then, has been committed by some third party; and the voices of this third party were those heard in contention. Let me now advert—not to the whole testimony respecting these voices—but to what was peculiar in that testimony. Did you observe any thing peculiar about it?”

I remarked that, while all the witnesses agreed in supposing the gruff voice to be that of a Frenchman, there was much disagreement in regard to the shrill, or, as one individual termed it, the harsh voice.

“That was the evidence itself,” said Dupin, “but it was not the M of the evidence. You have observed nothing distinctive. Yet there was something to be observed. The witnesses, as you remark, agreed about the gruff voice; they were here unanimous. But in regard to the shrill voice, the peculiarity is—not that they disagreed—but that, while an Italian, an Englishman, a Spaniard, a Hollander, and a Frenchman attempted to describe it, each one spoke of it as that of a foreigner. Each is sure that it was not the voice of one of his own countrymen. Each likens it—not to the voice of an individual of any nation with whose language he is conversant—but the converse.

The Frenchman supposes it the voice of a Spaniard, and ‘might have distinguished some words had he been acquainted with the Spanish.’ The Dutchman maintains it to have been that of a Frenchman; but we find it stated that ‘not understanding French this witness was examined through an interpreter.’ The Englishman thinks it the voice of a German, and ‘does not understand German.’ The Spaniard ‘is sure’ that it was that of an Englishman, but ‘judges by the intonation’ altogether, ‘as he has no knowledge of the English.’ The Italian believes it the voice of a Russian, but ‘has never conversed with a native of Russia.’ A second Frenchman differs, moreover, with the first, and is positive that the voice was that of an Italian; but, not being cognizant of that tongue, is, like the Spaniard, ‘convinced by the intonation.’

Now, how strangely unusual must that voice have really been, about which such testimony as this could have been elicited!—in whose tones, even, denizens of the five great divisions of Europe could recognise nothing familiar! You will say that it might have been the voice of an Asiatic—of an African. Neither Asiatics nor Africans abound in Paris; but, without denying the inference, I will now merely call your attention to three points. The voice is termed by one witness ‘harsh rather than shrill.’ It is represented by two others to have been ‘quick and unequal.’ No words—no sounds resembling words—were by any witness mentioned as distinguishable.

“I know not,” continued Dupin, “what impression I may have made, so far, upon your own understanding; but I do not hesitate to say that legitimate deductions even from this portion of the testimony—the portion respecting the gruff and shrill voices—are in themselves sufficient to engender a suspicion which should give direction to all farther progress in the investigation of the mystery. I said ‘legitimate deductions;’ but my meaning is not thus fully expressed. I designed to imply that the deductions are the sole proper ones, and that the suspicion arises inevitably from them as the single result. What the suspicion is, however, I will not say just yet. I merely wish you to bear in mind that, with myself, it was sufficiently forcible to give a definite form—a certain tendency—to my inquiries in the chamber.

“Let us now transport ourselves, in fancy, to this chamber. What shall we first seek here? The means of egress employed by the murderers. It is not too much to say that neither of us believe in præternatural events. Madame and Mademoiselle L’Espanaye were not destroyed by spirits. The doers of the deed were material, and escaped materially. Then how? Fortunately, there is but one mode of reasoning upon the point, and that mode leads us to a definite decision.

—Let us examine, each by each, the possible means of egress. It is clear that the assassins were in the room where Mademoiselle L’Espanaye was found, or at least in the room adjoining, when the party ascended the stairs. It is then only from these two apartments that we have to seek issues. The police have laid bare the floors, the ceilings, and the masonry of the walls, in every direction. No secret issues could have escaped their vigilance. But, not trusting to their eyes, I examined with my own.

There were, then, no secret issues. Both doors leading from the rooms into the passage were securely locked, with the keys inside. Let us turn to the chimneys. These, although of ordinary width for some eight or ten feet above the hearths, will not admit, throughout their extent, the body of a large cat. The impossibility of egress, by means already stated, being thus absolute, we are reduced to the windows. Through those of the front room no one could have escaped without notice from the crowd in the street. The murderers must have passed, then, through those of the back room. Now, brought to this conclusion in so unequivocal a manner as we are, it is not our part, as reasoners, to reject it on account of apparent impossibilities. It is only left for us to prove that these apparent ‘impossibilities’ are, in reality, not such.

“There are two windows in the chamber. One of them is unobstructed by furniture, and is wholly visible. The lower portion of the other is hidden from view by the head of the unwieldy bedstead which is thrust close up against it. The former was found securely fastened from within. It resisted the utmost force of those who endeavored to raise it. A large gimlet-hole had been pierced in its frame to the left, and a very stout nail was found fitted therein, nearly to the head. Upon examining the other window, a similar nail was seen similarly fitted in it; and a vigorous attempt to raise this sash, failed also. The police were now entirely satisfied that egress had not been in these directions. And, therefore, it was thought a matter of supererogation to withdraw the nails and open the windows.

“My own examination was somewhat more particular, and was so for the reason I have just given—because here it was, I knew, that all apparent impossibilities must be proved to be not such in reality.

“I proceeded to think thus—a posteriori. The murderers did escape from one of these windows. This being so, they could not have refastened the sashes from the inside, as they were found fastened;—the consideration which put a stop, through its obviousness, to the scrutiny of the police in this quarter. Yet the sashes were fastened. They must, then, have the power of fastening themselves. There was no escape from this conclusion.

I stepped to the unobstructed casement, withdrew the nail with some difficulty and attempted to raise the sash. It resisted all my efforts, as I had anticipated. A concealed spring must, I now know, exist; and this corroboration of my idea convinced me that my premises at least, were correct, however mysterious still appeared the circumstances attending the nails. A careful search soon brought to light the hidden spring. I pressed it, and, satisfied with the discovery, forbore to upraise the sash.

“I now replaced the nail and regarded it attentively. A person passing out through this window might have reclosed it, and the spring would have caught—but the nail could not have been replaced. The conclusion was plain, and again narrowed in the field of my investigations. The assassins must have escaped through the other window. Supposing, then, the springs upon each sash to be the same, as was probable, there must be found a difference between the nails, or at least between the modes of their fixture.

Getting upon the sacking of the bedstead, I looked over the head-board minutely at the second casement. Passing my hand down behind the board, I readily discovered and pressed the spring, which was, as I had supposed, identical in character with its neighbor. I now looked at the nail. It was as stout as the other, and apparently fitted in the same manner—driven in nearly up to the head.

“You will say that I was puzzled; but, if you think so, you must have misunderstood the nature of the inductions. To use a sporting phrase, I had not been once ‘at fault.’ The scent had never for an instant been lost. There was no flaw in any link of the chain. I had traced the secret to its ultimate result,—and that result was the nail. It had, I say, in every respect, the appearance of its fellow in the other window; but this fact was an absolute nullity (conclusive us it might seem to be) when compared with the consideration that here, at this point, terminated the clew.

‘There must be something wrong,’ I said, ‘about the nail.’ I touched it; and the head, with about a quarter of an inch of the shank, came off in my fingers. The rest of the shank was in the gimlet-hole where it had been broken off. The fracture was an old one (for its edges were incrusted with rust), and had apparently been accomplished by the blow of a hammer, which had partially imbedded, in the top of the bottom sash, the head portion of the nail. I now carefully replaced this head portion in the indentation whence I had taken it, and the resemblance to a perfect nail was complete—the fissure was invisible.

Pressing the spring, I gently raised the sash for a few inches; the head went up with it, remaining firm in its bed. I closed the window, and the semblance of the whole nail was again perfect.

“The riddle, so far, was now unriddled. The assassin had escaped through the window which looked upon the bed. Dropping of its own accord upon his exit (or perhaps purposely closed), it had become fastened by the spring; and it was the retention of this spring which had been mistaken by the police for that of the nail,—farther inquiry being thus considered unnecessary.

“The next question is that of the mode of descent. Upon this point I had been satisfied in my walk with you around the building. About five feet and a half from the casement in question there runs a lightning-rod. From this rod it would have been impossible for anyone to reach the window itself, never mind to enter it.

I observed, however, that the shutters of the fourth story were of the peculiar kind called by Parisian carpenters ferrades—a kind rarely employed at the present day, but frequently seen upon very old mansions at Lyons and Bordeaux. They are in the form of an ordinary door, (a single, not a folding door) except that the lower half is latticed or worked in open trellis—thus affording an excellent hold for the hands. In the present instance these shutters are fully three feet and a half broad. When we saw them from the rear of the house, they were both about half open—that is to say, they stood off at right angles from the wall.

It is probable that the police, as well as myself, examined the back of the tenement; but, if so, in looking at these ferrades in the line of their breadth (as they must have done), they did not perceive this great breadth itself, or, at all events, failed to take it into due consideration. In fact, having once satisfied themselves that no egress could have been made in this quarter, they would naturally bestow here a very cursory examination.

It was clear to me, however, that the shutter belonging to the window at the head of the bed, would, if swung fully back to the wall, reach to within two feet of the lightning-rod. It was also evident that, by exertion of a very unusual degree of activity and courage, an entrance into the window, from the rod, might have been thus effected.—By reaching to the distance of two feet and a half (we now suppose the shutter open to its whole extent) a robber might have taken a firm grasp upon the trellis-work. Letting go, then, his hold upon the rod, placing his feet securely against the wall, and springing boldly from it, he might have swung the shutter so as to close it, and, if we imagine the window open at the time, might even have swung himself into the room.

“I wish you to bear especially in mind that I have spoken of a very unusual degree of activity as requisite to success in so hazardous and so difficult a feat. It is my design to show you, first, that the thing might possibly have been accomplished:—but, secondly and chiefly, I wish to impress upon your understanding the very extraordinary—the almost præternatural character of that agility which could have accomplished it.

“You will say, no doubt, using the language of the law, that ‘to make out my case,’ I should rather undervalue, than insist upon a full estimation of the activity required in this matter. This may be the practice in law, but it is not the usage of reason. My ultimate object is only the truth. My immediate purpose is to lead you to place in juxtaposition, that very unusual activity of which I have just spoken with that very peculiar shrill (or harsh) and unequal voice, about whose nationality no two persons could be found to agree, and in whose utterance no syllabification could be detected.”

At these words a vague and half-formed conception of the meaning of Dupin flitted over my mind. I seemed to be upon the verge of comprehension without power to comprehend—men, at times, find themselves upon the brink of remembrance without being able, in the end, to remember. My friend went on with his discourse.

“You will see,” he said, “that I have shifted the question from the mode of egress to that of ingress. It was my design to convey the idea that both were effected in the same manner, at the same point.

Let us now revert to the interior of the room. Let us survey the appearances here. The drawers of the bureau, it is said, had been rifled, although many articles of apparel still remained within them. The conclusion here is absurd. It is a mere guess—a very silly one—and no more. How are we to know that the articles found in the drawers were not all these drawers had originally contained?

Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter lived an exceedingly retired life—saw no company—seldom went out—had little use for numerous changes of habiliment. Those found were at least of as good quality as any likely to be possessed by these ladies. If a thief had taken any, why did he not take the best—why did he not take all? In a word, why did he abandon four thousand francs in gold to encumber himself with a bundle of linen?

The gold was abandoned. Nearly the whole sum mentioned by Monsieur Mignaud, the banker, was discovered, in bags, upon the floor. I wish you, therefore, to discard from your thoughts the blundering idea of motive, engendered in the brains of the police by that portion of the evidence which speaks of money delivered at the door of the house. Coincidences ten times as remarkable as this (the delivery of the money, and murder committed within three days upon the party receiving it), happen to all of us every hour of our lives, without attracting even momentary notice.

Coincidences, in general, are great stumbling-blocks in the way of that class of thinkers who have been educated to know nothing of the theory of probabilities—that theory to which the most glorious objects of human research are indebted for the most glorious of illustration. In the present instance, had the gold been gone, the fact of its delivery three days before would have formed something more than a coincidence. It would have been corroborative of this idea of motive. But, under the real circumstances of the case, if we are to suppose gold the motive of this outrage, we must also imagine the perpetrator so vacillating an idiot as to have abandoned his gold and his motive together.

“Keeping now steadily in mind the points to which I have drawn your attention—that peculiar voice, that unusual agility, and that startling absence of motive in a murder so singularly atrocious as this—let us glance at the butchery itself. Here is a woman strangled to death by manual strength, and thrust up a chimney, head downward.

Ordinary assassins employ no such modes of murder as this. Least of all, do they thus dispose of the murdered. In the manner of thrusting the corpse up the chimney, you will admit that there was something excessively outré—something altogether irreconcilable with our common notions of human action, even when we suppose the actors the most depraved of men. Think, too, how great must have been that strength which could have thrust the body up such an aperture so forcibly that the united vigor of several persons was found barely sufficient to drag it down!

“Turn, now, to other indications of the employment of a vigor most marvellous. On the hearth were thick tresses—very thick tresses—of grey human hair. These had been torn out by the roots. You are aware of the great force necessary in tearing thus from the head even twenty or thirty hairs together. You saw the locks in question as well as myself. Their roots (a hideous sight!) were clotted with fragments of the flesh of the scalp—sure token of the prodigious power which had been exerted in uprooting perhaps half a million of hairs at a time. The throat of the old lady was not merely cut, but the head absolutely severed from the body: the instrument was a mere razor. I wish you also to look at the brutal ferocity of these deeds.

Of the bruises upon the body of Madame L’Espanaye I do not speak. Monsieur Dumas, and his worthy coadjutor Monsieur Etienne, have pronounced that they were inflicted by some obtuse instrument; and so far these gentlemen are very correct. The obtuse instrument was clearly the stone pavement in the yard, upon which the victim had fallen from the window which looked in upon the bed. This idea, however simple it may now seem, escaped the police for the same reason that the breadth of the shutters escaped them—because, by the affair of the nails, their perceptions had been hermetically sealed against the possibility of the windows having ever been opened at all.

“If now, in addition to all these things, you have properly reflected upon the odd disorder of the chamber, we have gone so far as to combine the ideas of an agility astounding, a strength superhuman, a ferocity brutal, a butchery without motive, a grotesquerie in horror absolutely alien from humanity, and a voice foreign in tone to the ears of men of many nations, and devoid of all distinct or intelligible syllabification. What result, then, has ensued? What impression have I made upon your fancy?”

I felt a creeping of the flesh as Dupin asked me the question. “A madman,” I said, “has done this deed—some raving maniac, escaped from a neighboring Maison de Santé.”

“In some respects,” he replied, “your idea is not irrelevant. But the voices of madmen, even in their wildest paroxysms, are never found to tally with that peculiar voice heard upon the stairs. Madmen are of some nation, and their language, however incoherent in its words, has always the coherence of syllabification. Besides, the hair of a madman is not such as I now hold in my hand. I disentangled this little tuft from the rigidly clutched fingers of Madame L’Espanaye. Tell me what you can make of it.”

“Dupin!” I said, completely unnerved; “this hair is most unusual—this is no human hair.”

“I have not asserted that it is,” said he; “but, before we decide this point, I wish you to glance at the little sketch I have here traced upon this paper. It is a fac-simile drawing of what has been described in one portion of the testimony as ‘dark bruises, and deep indentations of finger nails,’ upon the throat of Mademoiselle L’Espanaye, and in another, (by Messrs. Dumas and Etienne,) as a ‘series of livid spots, evidently the impression of fingers.’

“You will perceive,” continued my friend, spreading out the paper upon the table before us, “that this drawing gives the idea of a firm and fixed hold. There is no slipping apparent. Each finger has retained—possibly until the death of the victim—the fearful grasp by which it originally imbedded itself. Attempt, now, to place all your fingers, at the same time, in the respective impressions as you see them.”

I made the attempt in vain.

“We are possibly not giving this matter a fair trial,” he said. “The paper is spread out upon a plane surface; but the human throat is cylindrical. Here is a billet of wood, the circumference of which is about that of the throat. Wrap the drawing around it, and try the experiment again.”

I did so; but the difficulty was even more obvious than before. “This,” I said, “is the mark of no human hand.”

“Read now,” replied Dupin, “this passage from Cuvier.”

It was a minute anatomical and generally descriptive account of the large fulvous Ourang-Outang of the East Indian Islands. The gigantic stature, the prodigious strength and activity, the wild ferocity, and the imitative propensities of these mammalia are sufficiently well known to all. I understood the full horrors of the murder at once.

“The description of the digits,” said I, as I made an end of reading, “is in exact accordance with this drawing. I see that no animal but an Ourang-Outang, of the species here mentioned, could have impressed the indentations as you have traced them. This tuft of tawny hair, too, is identical in character with that of the beast of Cuvier. But I cannot possibly comprehend the particulars of this frightful mystery. Besides, there were two voices heard in contention, and one of them was unquestionably the voice of a Frenchman.”

“True; and you will remember an expression attributed almost unanimously, by the evidence, to this voice,—the expression, ‘mon Dieu!’ This, under the circumstances, has been justly characterized by one of the witnesses (Montani, the confectioner,) as an expression of remonstrance or expostulation. Upon these two words, therefore, I have mainly built my hopes of a full solution of the riddle. A Frenchman was cognizant of the murder. It is possible—indeed it’s far more than probable—that he was innocent of all participation in the bloody transactions. The Ourang-Outang may have escaped from him. He may have traced it to the chamber; but, under the agitating circumstances which ensued, he could never have re-captured it. It is still at large.

I will not pursue these guesses—for I have no right to call them more—since the shades of reflection upon which they are based are scarcely of sufficient depth to be appreciable by my own intellect, and since I could not pretend to make them intelligible to the understanding of another. We will call them guesses then, and speak of them as such. If the Frenchman in question is indeed, as I suppose, innocent of this atrocity, this advertisement which I left last night, upon our return home, at the office of ‘Le Monde,’ (a paper devoted to the shipping interest, and much sought by sailors,) will bring him to our residence.”

He handed me a paper, and I read thus:

CAUGHT—In the Bois de Boulogne, early in the morning of the—inst., (the morning of the murder,) a very large, tawny Ourang-Outang of the Bornese species. The owner, (who is ascertained to be a sailor, belonging to a Maltese vessel,) may have the animal again, upon identifying it satisfactorily, and paying a few charges arising from its capture and keeping. Call at No. ——, Rue ——, Faubourg St. Germain—au troisième.

“How was it possible,” I asked, “that you knew the man was a sailor, and belonged to a Maltese vessel?”

“I do not know it,” said Dupin. “I am not sure of it. Here, however, is a small piece of ribbon, which from its form, and from its greasy appearance, has evidently been used in tying the hair in one of those long queues of which sailors are so fond.

Moreover, this knot is one which few besides sailors can tie, and is peculiar to the Maltese. I picked the ribbon up at the foot of the lightning-rod. It could not have belonged to either of the deceased. Now if, after all, I am wrong in my induction from this ribbon, that the Frenchman was a sailor belonging to a Maltese vessel, still I can have done no harm in saying what I did in the advertisement. If I am in error, he will merely suppose that I have been misled by some circumstance into which he will not take the trouble to inquire. But if I am right, a great point is gained. Cognizant although innocent of the murder, the Frenchman will naturally hesitate about replying to the advertisement—about demanding the Ourang-Outang.

He will reason thus:—‘I am innocent; I am poor; my Ourang-Outang is of great value—to one in my circumstances a fortune of itself—why should I lose it through idle apprehensions of danger? Here it is, within my grasp. It was found in the Bois de Boulogne—at a vast distance from the scene of that butchery. How can it ever be suspected that a brute beast should have done the deed?

He further reasons the police are at fault—they have failed to procure the slightest clew. Should they even trace the animal, it would be impossible to prove me cognizant of the murder, or to implicate me in guilt on account of that cognizance. Above all, I am known. The advertiser designates me as the possessor of the beast. I am not sure to what limit his knowledge may extend. Should I avoid claiming a property of so great value, which it is known that I possess, I will render the animal at least, liable to suspicion. It is not my policy to attract attention either to myself or to the beast. I will answer the advertisement, get the Ourang-Outang, and keep it close until this matter has blown over.’”

At this moment we heard a step upon the stairs.

“Be ready,” said Dupin, “with your pistols, but neither use them nor show them until at a signal from myself.”

The front door of the house had been left open, and the visitor had entered, without ringing, and advanced several steps upon the staircase. Now, however, he seemed to hesitate. Presently we heard him descending. Dupin was moving quickly to the door, when we again heard him coming up. He did not turn back a second time, but stepped up with decision and rapped at our door.

“Come in,” said Dupin, in a cheerful and hearty tone.

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. His face, greatly sunburnt, was more than half hidden by whisker and mustachio. He had with him a huge oaken cudgel, but appeared to be otherwise unarmed. He bowed awkwardly, and bade us “good evening,” in French accents, which, although somewhat Neufchatel, were indicative of the Parisian.

“Sit down, my friend,” said Dupin. “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?”

The sailor drew a long breath, with the air of a man relieved of some intolerable burden. Then he replied in an assured tone: “I have no way of telling. But he can’t be more than four or five years old. Have you got him here?”

“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?”

“To be sure I am, sir.”

“I shall be sorry to part with him,” said Dupin.

“I don’t mean that you should be at all this trouble for nothing, sir,” said the man. “Couldn’t expect it. Am very willing to pay a reward for the finding of the animal—that is to say, any thing in reason.”

“Well,” replied my friend, “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 said the last words in a very low tone, and very quietly. Just as quietly, too, he walked toward the door, locked it and put the key in his pocket. He then drew a pistol from his bosom and placed it, without the least flurry, upon the table.

The sailor’s face flushed up as if he were struggling with suffocation. He started to his feet and grasped his cudgel. But the next moment he fell back into his seat, trembling violently, and with the countenance of death itself. He spoke not a word. I pitied him from the bottom of my heart.

“My friend,” said Dupin, in a kind tone, “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. It will not do, however, to deny that you are in some measure implicated in them. From what I’ve said, you know I have had means of information about this matter—means you could never have dreamed.

Now the thing stands thus. You have done nothing which you could have avoided—nothing, certainly, which renders you culpable. I believe you were not even guilty of robbery, when you might have robbed with impunity. You have nothing to conceal. You have no reason for concealment. On the other hand, you are bound by every principle of honor to confess all you know. An innocent man is now imprisoned, charged with that crime of which you can point out the perpetrator.”

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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.’

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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

Chance, Part 2

Stan
Come on, Bob!
Ms. Kurtz
You’d better stay!
Stan
Something tells me I’d rather take my chances with the storm.
Ms. Kurtz
Take your chances?
Me
We must be getting back.
Stan
We’ll be seeing you. Thanks very much.
Me
Hey, this door won’t open. The keys, please, Miss!
Stan
We need the key!
Ms. Kurtz
I know it.
Stan
You know? Hey, what’s the big idea of locking us in?
Ms. Kurtz
I have some things to talk about with both of you.
Me
The door key or we’ll yell our heads off.
Ms. Kurtz
There’s no one around for miles except my servant, Olaf.
Stan
Give us that key now or we’ll jump you.
Me
Open that door, lady.

[Bang!]

Ms. Kurtz
Sorry I had to fire. Just a warning shot. I’m really a very gentle woman.
Stan
Wow!
Ms. Kurtz
We’ll understand each other quite clearly now, won’t we?
Me
Why did you fire that gun?
Ms. Kurtz
We can talk with each other quietly now, can’t we?
Stan
Sure.
Ms. Kurtz
I dislike loud noise intensely. You see I’m really a very gentle woman.
Me
Sure. Don’t cry, Stan!
Ms. Kurtz
Excellent advice! I suggest you stop crying, sir.
Stan
Smoke got in my eyes. That’s all, I’m fine now.
Ms. Kurtz
Here I was, a quiet, contented woman, sitting here all alone. And yet I was not quite content. Then chance brought you here.
Me
The rain…
Ms. Kurtz
A chance for me, a quite discontented woman. I am thoroughly shameless, perhaps. But as a woman of infinite realism, I realize that this chance meeting may end well. It is a welcome opportunity for me.
Me
Opportunity?
Ms. Kurtz
I can solve my longing to get myself situated.
Stan
Why, she’s crazy.
Ms. Kurtz
I suggest you substitute another word, a kinder one.
Me
Oh Lady have a heart, will you? Open the door, let us out. I will keep my mouth shut. I swear we both will.
Ms. Kurtz
Are you finished? Then here’s my answer, one of you becomes my husband.
Stan
Uh-oh.
Ms. Kurtz
Yes, my husband. I’m leaving this place shortly, and when we reach our destination, one of you will become my husband. Oh very legally, I will marry.
Me
What about the other?
Ms. Kurtz
To the ordinary woman that would be quite a problem, now wouldn’t it? But to me, well, I told you I’m a realist. So the answer is quite simple. I marry one, the other dies.

(The two boys have heard the choice. One is to live, one is to die, and their hysteria has grown with the terror. Look for Part 3.)

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 Scarlet Plague Place

The Scarlet Plague, Part 1

by Jack London

Adapted to chat format and condensed by Captivated Chat

Me
I am recording the scary plague story of mankind only for myself, for my own sanity, perhaps even from some age-old sense of duty. For I have not the slightest hope that it will ever be read by any living human being.
Me
I was a professor in the great university at San Francisco, Professor James Smith, a man who believed in reason and abhorred blood, but that was before the terror and the madness. This morning I killed a small animal with my bare hands, then squatting down I tore a hunk from my prey and ate it raw.
Me
It began simply on a Monday morning. I was having breakfast at the counter in the campus cafeteria. A friend was glancing over some news sites on his cell phone.
Bill
I don’t know why I do it, Jim.
Me
Do what?
Bill
Read these news updates every morning. Nothing changes: senators all back on the Hill after a whirlwind Asian tour; crimes of passion in Louisville; bomb threats.
Me
Good citizenship compels you, maybe.
Bill
Perhaps, but what about this item down in the corner? Way down in the corner: New York fights scarlet death! Some news reporter’s pipe dream, I suppose: nine persons have died since last night of a strange malady that has left doctors at Manhattan hospitals admittedly baffled.
Me
That’s terrible!
Bill
The disease strikes without warning and slays its victim in less than an hour.
Me
How sensationalistic that reporter is!
Bill
The first symptom is a feeling of well-being, with a slight rise in temperature. Then a fiery red rash appears on the hands and face and spreads rapidly over the body. Within thirty minutes comes a coma and death.
Me
What do you think?
Bill
Ridiculous, after all there’s no disease that attacks like that. It’s food poisoning, Botulism, something of that sort.
Me
Bill, I’m eating!
Bill
Medical authorities are unanimously agreed, however, that no general danger exists, and that there is no cause for public concern or alarm. That’s double-talk for we don’t know what it is yet.
Me
Hmm. What about a mutation?
Bill
Mutation apart, how do I know?
Me
You’re a physiologist!
Bill
Oh you’re talking about those occasional scary plague stories, I suppose, harmless virus or bacteria mutates and grows into some new deadly bug. Antibiotics won’t touch it. Medical science helpless, a million people wiped out overnight?
Me
Sure, it’s a possibility, isn’t it?
Bill
No, Jim, bacterial and viral strains are always mutating and usually the mutation is less harmful than the parent. But that other idea’ has been overworked for years! Pass the cream, please.
Me
Hmm. Is it a possibility or not?
Bill
Yes, it’s a possibility.
Me
Okay.
Bill
You’re stalling, Jim, that rook’s the only piece you can move, and you know it.
Me
Don’t rush me; we’ve still got the queen back here!
Bill
Let’s see, and here is the latest development on the Red Death: up to now the death toll in greater New York is 321 persons; in Boston, 94; in Chicago, 181. Medical findings expected soon, with every liklihood that the cause will be isolated and an effective treatment prescribed.
Me
 How can it spread so fast?
Bill
It’s hard to tell, not knowing the period of incubation, whether it’s airborne, contagious by contact, or how long it’s contagious before the symptoms show up. However, just one thing is sure, something’s got to be done fast!
Me
I guess we can call ourselves lucky out here; fact is, there hasn’t been a case reported in San Francisco.
Bill
No, not yet.

* * * * * * * * *

Ten minutes later

Me
I sat for a long time in my empty classroom paralyzed with shock by a fear of the unknown. A girl had walked in the class smiling and talking and now she lay dead at the back of the room. But why, and why so fast? I went to the Faculty Club where Bill was sharing a scary plague story.
Bill
Greater New York estimated two hundred eighty-four thousand deaths! Philadelphia, estimated 220,000 deaths. Here’s a bulletin! London: the scarlet plague is raging in Europe. The death toll in Moscow at 180,000.
Me
No word of any cure, Jim? I just walked across the campus: it’s completely deserted.
Bill
Guess the back of the club here is the only holdout, and at that there are only four, four counting you and the security guy, plus our Blake. She went over to her room to pack. Dr. Barnes is out in the kitchen getting us all some drinks.
Me
Bill, that girl who died in my class a while ago? One minute she was all right, and a minute later she was dead!
Bill
Well it’s fast, that’s one thing.
Me
Can you get it from contact? I touched her forehead with the back of my hand.
Bill
Nobody knows how you get it. Transmission couldn’t be mainly from contact, not millions of cases in less than 48 hours.
Me
Why can’t they find a cure? They’ve had two days now, what are they all doing?
Bill
Dying, Jim, like everybody else.
Barnes
There you are! Have a Zombie, Smith?
Me
Oh, hey Dr. Barnes.
Barnes
Yeah, maybe this will help.
Me
Scotch?
Barnes
Certainly, Why not, there’s a whole case of it out there. I think it might be a good idea to turn that radio on. How much longer?
Radio
Vehicles are being stopped and turned back at army control points. Stay where you are: do not attempt to travel!
Bill
Yes, you’re right, Dr. Barnes, we’d better learn from media while we can. How much longer can services like radio, television, and transportation go on?
Me
Sure, I guess you are no safer in one place than another: after all, the plague is everywhere.
Bill
I’ll try to raise some news somewhere else, maybe my cellphone.
Radio
…The United States and by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a bulletin just handed to me. Johns Hopkins states that Dr. Theodore Von Zwickler who had announced near success in identifying the cause of the plague has just died. But unfortunately Dr. Zwickler left no notes on his work.
Me
What’s happened to the lights?
Bill
A power failure. I guess it was bound to happen soon. There’s a flashlight in that desk drawer.
Me
I got it.
Dr. Barnes
There’s a portable radio with batteries in the game room.
Bill
Oh let’s leave it for the moment.
Me
Oh yes, the liquor sounds better than the news!
Bill
Well in that case, wonder what’s keeping Miss Blake? After all, she said she was coming right back.
Me
Hey, wait a minute, where’s that light coming from?
Barnes
Looks like a fire.
Me
Maybe we can tell more from the windows.
Bill
It’s not one fire, but a thousand fires, down there toward the bay. Berkeley, Oakland, and over in the city.
Barnes
Why? What started them?
Me
Hear that?
Bill
Gunfire!
Me
Yes, they’re not waiting for the plague to do the job.
Bill
No, and they’re already out in force.
Barnes
Who?
Bill
Looters, neighbors, robbers.
Me
Certainly, anyone with a hate or a grievance. It’s started already.
Bill
But it’ll get a lot worse.
Me
Oh yes, it’ll get worse.

[Look for Part 2]

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

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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!