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Drama Horror

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Connell

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


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“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. 

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. However 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. However 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. That’s why 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. Hence 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. But sometimes, as well, 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. But t 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. Although it was a distant sound, faint and wavering, 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. Second 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. Third 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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Categories
Horror

Casting the Runes

[On casting curses]

By M.R. James

Click on video to view the trailer from an Acorn Television adaptation of this classic horror tale!

Categories
Horror Uncategorised

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.

Categories
Horror

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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Categories
Horror

The Willows, Part 2 of 4

Scary chat stories, by Algernon Blackwood

Adapted as scary chat stories by Captivated Chat

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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.

**********

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 them: 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

.

Categories
Horror Uncategorised

The Willows, Part 3 of 4

By Algernon Blackwood

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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!

Categories
Horror

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

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Me
But you really think a sacrifice would solve our problem? Thanks for another of your 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.

Categories
Horror

The Tell-Tale Heart, Part 1

By Edgar Allan Poe

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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? 
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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 killed 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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Categories
Horror

THE RAVEN

By Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted by Captivated Chat

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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 visitor, 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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Categories
Horror

The Cask of Amontillado, Part 1

by Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted to chat story format by Captivated Chat

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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!

Categories
Horror

The Monkey’s Paw, Part 1

Part 1 of 3 scary stories <br>By W. W. Jacobs

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Categories
Horror Mystery

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.”
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Categories
Mystery

The Purloined Letter, Part 1

by Edgar Allan Poe

An interactive story for kids and everyone else

Interactive stories for kids: find a letter stolen from the Royals!

Dupin
Welcome Monsieur Prefect!
Me
Welcome! It has been too long!
Monsieur G
Pardon my interrupting, but I must consult with you. That is, I need your opinion on some official business, Dupin.
Dupin
I won’t bother with lighting the lamp. If it is any point requiring reflection, we shall examine it to better purpose in the dark.
Monsieur G
That is another of your odd notions.
Dupin
True. Here, have a pipe of tobacco, and a chair.
Me
And what is the difficulty facing the Paris police now? Nothing more in the assassination way, I hope?
Monsieur G
Oh no; nothing of that nature. The business is very simple. No doubt we can manage it ourselves.
Me
No doubt.
Monsieur G
But I thought Dupin would like to hear the details, because it is so odd.
Dupin
Simple and odd. A little too plain
Monsieur G
Why, yes; the affair has puzzled us all because it is so simple, and yet baffles us altogether.
Dupin
Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at fault.
Monsieur G
Ha! ha! Ha—ha! What nonsense!
Dupin
Perhaps the mystery is a little too plain.
Monsieur G
Ha! ha! ha—ha! ha!—ho!” Dupin, you’ll be the death of me!
Me
But what, after all, is the matter at hand?
Monsieur G
Why, I will tell you briefly. But first let me caution you that this is an affair demanding secrecy.
Me
Yes?
Monsieur G
I should probably lose my position were it known I confided it to anyone.
Me
Proceed.
Dupin
Or not.
Monsieur G
I have received information from a very high quarter that a document of the last importance has been purloined from the royal apartments.
Me
What?
Monsieur G
We know the individual who purloined it. The victim saw him take it. Also, he still has it.
Dupin
How is this known?
Monsieur G
I infer it from the nature of the document, and from the results that I anticipate if the thief releases it.
Me
What do you mean?
Monsieur G
I mean that the paper gives its holder power in a certain quarter where such power is immensely valuable.
Me
You are too fond of diplomatic phrases. The scoundrel
Dupin
Still I do not quite understand.
Monsieur G
No? Well; the disclosure of the document to a third person, who shall be nameless, would call in question the honor of a luminary.
Monsieur G
The thief is the Minister D—, who dares all things, both becoming and unbecoming.
Me
The scoundrel!
Monsieur G
The theft was as bold as it was ingenious. The thief actually robbed the royal personage of the letter in the family boudoir.
Me
My God!
Monsieur G
She was suddenly interrupted by the person from whom she most wished to conceal the letter.
Me
What did she do?
Monsieur G
She was not able to shove it in a drawer. So she placed it, open, on a table, address-side up. It thus escaped notice.
Monsieur G
Unfortunately D— entered. His eye immediately perceived the paper, recognized the handwriting, observed the addressee’s confusion, and fathomed her secret. After some routine business, he opened a similar letter, scanned it, and dropped it beside hers.
Me
This was a gambit?
Monsieur G
Yes. Again he converses. He grabs up the wrong letter. Its rightful owner sees but dares not protest, what with the third personage now at her side. The minister absconds, leaving his own letter.
Dupin
As a result you have what you demand to make the ascendancy complete—the robber’s knowledge of the loser’s knowledge of the robber.
Monsieur G
Yes, and with the power thus attained he has been wielded it for months politically, and to a dangerous extent. The lady must reclaim her letter, but how? Driven to despair, she has committed the matter to me.
Me
Clearly, the minister still possesses the letter, since possession, and not any employment of it, bestows his new power. With its employment his power would depart. Done often before
Monsieur G
True, and upon this conviction I’ve proceeded, first making a thorough search of the minister’s hotel without his knowledge. A delicate search, for I have been warned of the dangers of giving him reason to suspect our design.
Me
But you are quite au fait in these investigations. The Parisian police have done this thing often before.
Monsieur G
Oh yes; and for this reason I did not despair. Furthermore the habits of the minister offer a great advantage. In addition, his servants are few, and they sleep at a great distance from his apartment, and are readily made drunk.
Me
By your agents, eh!
Monsieur G
I have keys, as you know, with which I can open any chamber or cabinet in Paris. For three months a night has not passed, during most of which I have been engaged, personally, in ransacking the D— Hotel. My honor is interested, and, to mention a great secret, the reward is enormous.
Me
I am sure you will find it soon.
Monsieur G
Well, I did not abandon the search until I had become fully satisfied that the thief is a more astute man than myself. I have searched everywhere. Not altogether a fool
Me
But is it not possible that, although the letter is in possession of the minister, he may have concealed it elsewhere?
Dupin
Barely possible. It is nearly as important that document may be produced at a moment’s notice as that the scoundrel keeps control of it.
Me
It really needs to be ready to be produced at any moment?
Dupin
Yes, but wouldn’t that also mean that it may be readily destroyed?
Me
True; therefore the paper is clearly on the premises. As for its being on the person of the minister, we may consider that as out of the question.
Monsieur G
Entirely, after all he has been waylaid twice as if by footpads, and his person rigorously searched under my own inspection.
Dupin
I presume the minister is not altogether a fool and must have anticipated these waylayings.
Monsieur G
Not altogether a fool, but then he’s a poet, which I take to be only one remove from a fool.
Dupin
True, perhaps, although I have been guilty of writing doggrel myself.
Me
Suppose you detail the particulars of your search.
Monsieur G
We took our time and searched everywhere, the entire building, room by room; devoting the nights of a whole week to each. We examined, first, the furniture of each apartment. We opened every possible drawer; and I presume you know that, to a properly trained police agent, such a thing as a secret drawer is impossible. Even more impossible than hiding anything from the police.
Dupin
Impossible?

Look for Part 2!

Categories
Horror

Chance, Part 1

Scary 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?
Categories
Horror

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?
Categories
Horror Speculative Fiction

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]

Categories
Drama Humor Speculative Fiction

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

Categories
Drama Humor Speculative Fiction

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!
Categories
Drama Humor Speculative Fiction

Removing a Roth, Part 3: Birth of a Superhero Pop

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Categories
Drama Speculative Fiction

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!
Categories
Humor Mystery

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

Categories
Horror

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!

Categories
Horror

Chicken me

Another of our scary stories for kids

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

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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!

 

Categories
Horror

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!

Categories
Horror

Down in Flames, Part 1

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

Look for PART 2.

Categories
Humor Mystery

No Place Like Home

By Karen Adkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just lucky I guess.”

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

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

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

Sylvia’s mind drifted back to last summer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connie returned with the water and medicine.

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

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

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

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

“Quit gabbing and go! I’m tired!”

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

“I’ll lock up.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had worked. Finally.

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

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

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

“Living here?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Interviews with relatives led to the verdict…” 

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

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

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

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

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

Did she say living?

© Karen Adkins

 

Categories
Horror

Hop-Frog

By Edgar Allan Poe

I NEVER knew anyone so keenly alive to a joke as the king was. He seemed to live only for joking. To tell a good story of the joke kind, and to tell it well, was the surest road to his favor. 

Thus it happened that his seven ministers were all noted for their accomplishments as jokers. They all took after the king, too, in being large, corpulent, oily men, as well as inimitable jokers. Whether people grow fat by joking is not clear to me. Or whether there is something in fat itself that predisposes to a joke, again I cannot tell. But it is certain that a lean joker is a rara avis in terris.

About the refinements, or, as he called them, the ‘ghost’ of wit, the king troubled himself very little. He had an especial admiration for breadth in a jest, and often permitted length, for the sake of it. Over-niceties wearied him. He would have preferred Rabelais’ “Gargantua” to the “Zadig” of Voltaire. Furthermore, on the whole, practical jokes suited his taste far better than verbal ones.

At the date of my narrative, professing jesters had not altogether gone out of fashion at court. Several of the great continental ‘powers’ still retained their ‘fools,’ who wore motley, with caps and bells. The king expected them to be always ready with sharp witticisms, at a moment’s notice. This demand came in consideration of the crumbs that fell from the royal table.

Our king, as a matter of course, never would relinquish his ‘fool.’ He required something in the way of folly — if only to counterbalance the heavy wisdom of the seven wise men who were his ministers — not to mention himself.

His fool, or professional jester, was not only a fool, however. His value was trebled in the eyes of the king, by his being also a dwarf and a cripple. Dwarfs were as common at court, in those days, as fools; and many monarchs would have found it difficult to get through their days (days are rather longer at court than elsewhere) without both a jester to laugh with, and a dwarf to laugh at. But, as I have already observed, your jesters, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, are fat, round, and unwieldy — so that it was no small source of self-gratulation with our king that, in Hop-Frog (this was the fool’s name), he possessed a triplicate treasure in one person.

I believe the name ‘Hop-Frog’ was not that given to the dwarf by his sponsors at baptism, but it was conferred upon him, by general consent of the several ministers, on account of his inability to walk as other men do. In fact, Hop-Frog could only get along by a sort of interjectional gait — something between a leap and a wriggle — a movement that afforded illimitable amusement, and of course consolation, to the king, for (notwithstanding by the protuberance of his stomach and a constitutional swelling of the head) the king, by his whole court, was accounted a capital figure.

Hop-Frog was a nimble court jester.

Hop-Frog, through the distortion of his legs, could move only with great pain and difficulty along a road or floor. But nature bestowed prodigious muscular power to his arms in compensation for deficiency in the lower limbs. This enabled him to perform feats of wonderful dexterity, where ropes were involved, or anything thing else to climb. At such exercises he certainly much more resembled a squirrel, or a small monkey, than a frog.

I am not able to say, with precision, from what country Hop-Frog originally came. It was from some barbarous region, however, that no person ever heard of — a vast distance from the court of our king. Hop-Frog, and a young girl very little less dwarfish than himself (although of exquisite proportions, and a marvellous dancer), had been forcibly carried off from their respective homes in adjoining provinces, and sent as presents to the king, by one of his ever-victorious generals.

Under these circumstances, it is little wonder that a close intimacy arose between the two little captives. Indeed, they soon became sworn friends. Hop-Frog made a great deal of sport, yet was by no means popular. So he had it not in his power to render Trippetta many services; but she, on account of her grace and exquisite beauty (although a dwarf), was universally admired and petted; so she possessed much influence; and never failed to use it, whenever she could, for the benefit of Hop-Frog.

On some grand state occasion — I forgot what — the king determined to have a masquerade. Obviously whenever a masquerade occurred at court, the king was sure to call into play the talents of Hop-Frog and Trippetta. Hop-Frog, in especial, was so inventive in the way of getting up pageants, suggesting novel characters, and arranging costumes, for masked balls, that nothing could be done, it seems, without his assistance.

The night appointed for the fete had arrived. A gorgeous hall had been fitted up, under Trippetta’s eye, with every kind of device that could possibly give eclat to a masquerade. The whole court was in a fever of expectation. 

As for costumes and characters, it might well be supposed that everybody had come to a decision on such points. Many had made up their minds (as to what roles they should assume) a week, or even a month, in advance; and, in fact, there was not a particle of indecision anywhere — except in the case of the king and his seven minsters. Why they hesitated I never could tell, unless they did it by way of a joke. More probably, they found it difficult, on account of being so fat, to make up their minds. At all events, time flew; and, as a last resort they sent for Trippetta and Hop-Frog.

When the two little friends obeyed the summons of the king they found him sitting at his wine with the seven members of his cabinet council; but the monarch appeared to be in a very ill humor. He knew that Hop-Frog was not fond of wine, for it excited the poor cripple almost to madness; and madness is no comfortable feeling. But the king loved his practical jokes. Thus took pleasure in forcing Hop-Frog to drink and (as the king called it) ‘to be merry.’

“Come here, Hop-Frog,” said he, as the jester and his friend entered the room; “swallow this bumper to the health of your absent friends, [here Hop-Frog sighed], and then let us have the benefit of your invention. We want characters — characters, man — something novel — out of the way. We are wearied with this everlasting sameness. Come, drink! the wine will brighten your wits.”

Hop-Frog endeavored, as usual, to get up a jest in reply to these advances from the king; but the effort was too much. It happened to be the poor dwarf’s birthday, and the command to drink to his ‘absent friends’ forced the tears to his eyes. Many large, bitter drops fell into the goblet as he took it, humbly, from the hand of the tyrant.

“Ah! ha! ha!” roared the latter, as the dwarf reluctantly drained the beaker. — “See what a glass of good wine can do! Why, your eyes are shining already!”

Poor fellow! His large eyes gleamed, rather than shone; for the effect of wine on his excitable brain was not more powerful than instantaneous. He placed the goblet nervously on the table, and looked round upon the company with a half — insane stare. They all seemed highly amused at the success of the king’s ‘joke.’

“And now to business,” said the prime minister, a very fat man.

“Yes,” said the King; “Come lend us your assistance. Characters, my fine fellow; we stand in need of characters — all of us — ha! ha! ha!” and as this was seriously meant for a joke, his laugh was chorused by the seven.

Hop-Frog also laughed although feebly and somewhat vacantly.

“Come, come,” said the king, impatiently, “have you nothing to suggest?”

“I am endeavoring to think of something novel,” replied the dwarf, abstractedly, for he was quite bewildered by the wine.

“Endeavoring!” cried the tyrant, fiercely; “what do you mean by that? Ah, I perceive. You are Sulky, and want more wine. Here, drink this!” and he poured out another goblet full and offered it to the cripple, who merely gazed at it, gasping for breath.

“Drink, I say!” shouted the monster, “or by the fiends-“

The dwarf hesitated. The king grew purple with rage. The courtiers smirked. Trippetta, pale as a corpse, advanced to the monarch’s seat, and begged. Falling on her knees before him, she implored him to spare her friend.

The tyrant regarded her, for some moments, in evident wonder at her audacity. He seemed quite at a loss what to do or say — how most becomingly to express his indignation. At last, without uttering a syllable, he pushed her violently from him, and threw the contents of the brimming goblet in her face.

The poor girl got up the best she could, and, not daring even to sigh, resumed her position at the foot of the table.

There was a dead silence for about half a minute, during which the falling of a leaf, or of a feather, might have been heard. It was interrupted by a low, but harsh and protracted grating sound which seemed to come at once from every corner of the room.

“What — what — what are you making that noise for?” demanded the king, turning furiously to the dwarf.

The latter seemed to have recovered, in great measure, from his intoxication, and looking fixedly but quietly into the tyrant’s face, merely ejaculated:

“I — I? How could it have been me?”

“The sound appeared to come from without,” observed one of the courtiers. “I fancy it was the parrot at the window, whetting his bill upon his cage-wires.”

“True,” replied the monarch, as if much relieved by the suggestion; “but, on the honor of a knight, I could have sworn that it was the gritting of this vagabond’s teeth.”

Hereupon the dwarf laughed (the king was too confirmed a joker to object to any one’s laughing), and displayed a set of large, powerful, and very repulsive teeth. Moreover, he avowed his perfect willingness to swallow as much wine as desired. The monarch was pacified; and having drained another bumper with no very perceptible ill effect, Hop-Frog entered at once, and with spirit, into the plans for the masquerade.

“I cannot tell what was the association of idea,” observed he, very tranquilly, and as if he had never tasted wine in his life, “but just after your majesty, had struck the girl and thrown the wine in her face — just after your majesty had done this, and while the parrot was making that odd noise outside the window, there came into my mind a capital diversion — one of my own country frolics — often enacted among us, at our masquerades: but here it will be new altogether. Unfortunately, however, it requires a company of eight persons and-“

“Here we are!” cried the king, laughing at his acute discovery of the coincidence; “eight to a fraction — I and my seven ministers. Come! what is the diversion?”

“We call it,” replied the cripple, “the Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs, and it really is excellent sport if well enacted.”

“We will enact it,” remarked the king, drawing himself up, and lowering his eyelids.

“The beauty of the game,” continued Hop-Frog, “lies in the fright it occasions among the women.”

“Capital!” roared in chorus the monarch and his ministry.

“I will equip you as ourang-outangs,” proceeded the dwarf; “leave all that to me. The resemblance shall be so striking, that the company of masqueraders will take you for real beasts. Of course, they will be as much terrified as astonished.”

“Oh, this is exquisite!” exclaimed the king. “Hop-Frog! I will make a man of you.”

“The chains are for the purpose of increasing the confusion by their jangling. You are supposed to have escaped, en masse, from your keepers. Your majesty cannot conceive the effect produced, at a masquerade, by eight chained ourang-outangs, imagined to be real ones by most of the company; and rushing in with savage cries, among the crowd of delicately and gorgeously habited men and women. The contrast is inimitable!”

“It must be,” said the king. As a result the council arose hurriedly (as it was growing late), to put in execution the scheme of Hop-Frog.

His mode of equipping the party as ourang-outangs was very simple, but effective enough for his purposes. The animals in question had, at the epoch of my story, very rarely been seen in any part of the civilized world; and as the imitations made by the dwarf were sufficiently beast-like and more than sufficiently hideous, their truthfulness to nature was thus thought to be secured.

The king and his ministers were first encased in tight-fitting stockinet shirts and drawers. They were then saturated with tar. At this stage of the process, some one of the party suggested feathers; but the suggestion was at once overruled by the dwarf, who soon convinced the eight, by ocular demonstration, that the hair of such a brute as the ourang-outang was much more efficiently represented by flax. A thick coating of the latter was accordingly plastered upon the coating of tar. 

A long chain was now procured. First, it was passed about the waist of the king, and tied, then about another of the party, and also tied; then about all successively, in the same manner. When this chaining arrangement was complete, and the party stood as far apart from each other as possible, they formed a circle; and to make all things appear natural, Hop-Frog passed the residue of the chain in two diameters, at right angles, across the circle, after the fashion adopted, at the present day, by those who capture Chimpanzees, or other large apes, in Borneo.

The grand saloon in which the masquerade was to take place, was a circular room, very lofty, and receiving the light of the sun only through a single window at top. At night (the season for which the apartment was especially designed) it was illuminated principally by a large chandelier, depending by a chain from the centre of the sky-light, and lowered, or elevated, by means of a counter-balance as usual; but (in order not to look unsightly) this latter passed outside the cupola and over the roof.

The arrangements of the room had been left to Trippetta’s superintendence; but, in some particulars, it seems, she had been guided by the calmer judgment of her friend the dwarf. At his suggestion it was that, on this occasion, the chandelier was removed. Its waxen drippings (which, in weather so warm, it was quite impossible to prevent) would have been seriously detrimental to the rich dresses of the guests, who, on account of the crowded state of the saloon, could not all be expected to keep from out its centre; that is to say, from under the chandelier. Additional sconces were set in various parts of the hall, out of the war, and a flambeau, emitting sweet odor, was placed in the right hand of each of the Caryatides that stood against the wall — some fifty or sixty altogether.

The eight ourang-outangs, taking Hop-Frog’s advice, waited patiently until midnight (when the room was thoroughly filled with masqueraders) before making their appearance. No sooner had the clock ceased striking, however, than they rushed, or rather rolled in, all together — for the impediments of their chains caused most of the party to fall, and all to stumble as they entered.

The excitement among the masqueraders was prodigious, and filled the heart of the king with glee. As had been anticipated, there were not a few of the guests who supposed the ferocious-looking creatures to be beasts of some kind in reality, if not precisely ourang-outangs. Many of the women swooned with affright; and had not the king taken the precaution to exclude all weapons from the saloon, his party might soon have expiated their frolic in their blood. As it was, a general rush was made for the doors; but the king had ordered them to be locked immediately upon his entrance; and, at the dwarf’s suggestion, the keys had been deposited with him.

While the tumult was at its height, and each masquerader attentive only to his own safety (for, in fact, there was much real danger from the pressure of the excited crowd), the chain by which the chandelier ordinarily hung, and which had been drawn up on its removal, might have been seen very gradually to descend, until its hooked extremity came within three feet of the floor.

Soon after this, the king and his seven friends having reeled about the hall in all directions, found themselves, at length, in its centre, and, of course, in immediate contact with the chain. While they were thus situated, the dwarf, who had followed noiselessly at their heels, inciting them to keep up the commotion, took hold of their own chain at the intersection of the two portions which crossed the circle diametrically and at right angles. Here, with the rapidity of thought, he inserted the hook from which the chandelier had been wont to depend; and, in an instant, by some unseen agency, the chandelier-chain was drawn so far upward as to take the hook out of reach, and, as an inevitable consequence, to drag the ourang-outangs together in close connection, and face to face.

The masqueraders, by this time, had recovered, in some measure, from their alarm. They were beginning to regard this as a well-contrived pleasantry. Thus many set up a loud shout of laughter at the predicament of the apes.

“Leave them to me!” now screamed Hop-Frog, his shrill voice making itself easily heard through all the din. “Leave them to me. I fancy I know them. If I can only get a good look at them, I can soon tell who they are.”

Here, scrambling over the heads of the crowd, he managed to get to the wall; when, seizing a flambeau from one of the Caryatides, he returned, as he went, to the centre of the room-leaping, with the agility of a monkey, upon the kings head, and thence clambered a few feet up the chain; holding down the torch to examine the group of ourang-outangs, and still screaming: “I shall soon find out who they are!”

And now, while the whole assembly (the apes included) were convulsed with laughter, the jester suddenly uttered a shrill whistle; when the chain flew violently up for about thirty feet — dragging with it the dismayed and struggling ourang-outangs, and leaving them suspended in mid-air between the sky-light and the floor. Hop-Frog, clinging to the chain as it rose, still maintained his relative position in respect to the eight maskers, and still (as if nothing were the matter) continued to thrust his torch down toward them, as though endeavoring to discover who they were.

So thoroughly astonished was the whole company at this ascent, that a dead silence, of about a minute’s duration, ensued. It was broken by just such a low, harsh, grating sound, as had before attracted the attention of the king and his councillors when the former threw the wine in the face of Trippetta. But, on the present occasion, there could be no question as to whence the sound issued. It came from the fang-like teeth of the dwarf, who ground them and gnashed them as he foamed at the mouth, and glared, with an expression of maniacal rage, into the upturned countenances of the king and his seven companions.

“Ah, ha!” said at length the infuriated jester. “Ah, ha! I begin to see who these people are now!” Here, pretending to scrutinize the king more closely, he held the flambeau to the flaxen coat which enveloped him, and which instantly burst into a sheet of vivid flame. In less than half a minute the whole eight ourang-outangs were blazing fiercely, amid the shrieks of the multitude who gazed at them from below, horror-stricken, and without the power to render them the slightest assistance.

At length the flames, suddenly increasing in virulence, forced the jester to climb higher up the chain, to be out of their reach; and, as he made this movement, the crowd again sank, for a brief instant, into silence. The dwarf seized his opportunity, and once more spoke:

“I now see distinctly.” he said, “what manner of people these maskers are. They are a great king and his seven privy-councillors, — a king who does not scruple to strike a defenceless girl and his seven councillors who abet him in the outrage. As for myself, I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester — and this is my last jest.”

Owing to the high combustibility of both the flax and the tar to which it adhered, the dwarf had scarcely made an end of his brief speech before the work of vengeance was complete. The eight corpses swung in their chains, a fetid, blackened, hideous, and indistinguishable mass. The cripple hurled his torch at them, clambered leisurely to the ceiling, and disappeared through the sky-light.

It is supposed that Trippetta, stationed on the roof of the saloon, had been the accomplice of her friend in his fiery revenge, and that, together, they effected their escape to their own country: for neither was seen again.