In the huge new cemetery two miles away, the old people buried their dead and returned to a house filled with shadow and silence. It was all over so quickly they could hardly accept it at first. They kept expecting something else to happen– something to lighten this load that was too heavy for old hearts to bear.
But the days passed, and expectation gave place to resignation– the hopeless resignation of the old, sometimes mistaken for apathy. Sometimes they hardly said a word because now they had nothing to talk about. Their days were long and weary.
It was about a week after this the old man woke suddenly in the night, stretching out his hand to find himself alone. The room was in darkness, and the sound of muffled crying came from the window. He sat up and listened.
“Come back, you will be cold.” He said, tenderly.
“It is colder for my son!” The old woman said, weeping more.
The sound of her sobs died away on his ears. The bed was warm and his eyes were heavy. He dozed fitfully, then slept until his wife’s sudden, wild cry woke him with a start.
“The paw!” She cried wildly. “The monkey’s paw!”
He jumped up in alarm. “Where? Where is it? What’s the matter?”
She came stumbling across the room. “I want it,” she said, quietly. “You haven’t destroyed it?”
“It’s in the den, on the mantle.” He replied in wonder. “Why?”
She cried and laughed together, bending over to kiss his cheek.
“I only just thought of it!” She said, hysterically. “Why didn’t I think of it before? Why didn’t you think of it?”
“Think of what?” He questioned.
“The other two wishes! We’ve only had one.” She replied rapidly.
“Was not that enough?” He demanded fiercely.
“No, we’ll have one more. Go get it quickly, and wish our boy alive again.” She cried, triumphantly.
The man sat up, flinging the sheets from his quaking limbs. “Good God, you are mad!” He cried, horrified.
“Get it! Get it quickly, and wish– Oh, my boy, my boy!” She panted.
Her husband struck a match to light the candle. “Get back to bed. You don’t know what you are saying.” He said unsteadily.
“We had the first wish granted, why not the second?” The old woman argued feverishly.
“A coincidence.” The old man stammered.
“Go get it and wish!” His wife cried, quivering with excitement.
The old man turned, regarding her, and his voice shook. “He has been dead ten days, and besides he– I did not want to tell you, but– I could only recognize him by his clothing. If he was too terrible for you to see then, how about now?”
“Bring him back! Do you think I fear the child I nursed?” The old woman cried, dragging him toward the door.
He went down into the darkness, feeling his way to the den, and then to the mantel. The talisman was there, and before he could escape the room, he was seized with a horrible fear the unspoken wish might bring his mutilated son to him. Catching his breath, he realized he could not find the exit. With the creepy thing in hand and his brow cold with sweat, he felt his way around the table, groping along the wall until he found the small door.
Even his wife’s face changed as he entered the room. It was white, expectant, and seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He was afraid of her.
“Wish!” She cried in a strong voice.
“It is foolish and wicked.” He hesitated.
“Wish!” His wife repeated.
He raised his hand. “I wish my son alive again.”
The talisman fell to the floor, and he regarded it fearfully. Then he sank into a chair, trembling. With burning eyes, the old woman walked to the window and raised the blinds.
He sat until chilled by the cold, occasionally glancing at the old woman looking out the window. The candle burned below the rim of the candlestick, throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls until it expired with a last flicker. The old man felt an unspeakable sense of relief at the talisman’s failure and crept back to bed. A minute or two later, the old woman followed, silently and without emotion.
Neither spoke, but lay listening to the ticking of the clock. A stair creaked, and a squeaky mouse scurried noisily through the wall. The darkness was oppressive. After working up his courage for some time, he struck a match, and went downstairs for a candle.
At the foot of the stairs the match went out, and he paused to light another. At the same moment, a quiet and stealthy knock sounded at the front door.
The matches fell from his hand, spilling to the floor. He stood motionless, not breathing until the knock was repeated. Then he turned and swiftly fled back to his room, closing the door behind him. A third knock sounded through the house.
“What’s that?” The old woman cried, sitting up.
“A rat,” the old man said in shaking tones— “a rat. It passed me on the stairs.”
His wife sat up in bed, listening. A loud knock echoed through the house.
“It’s our son!” She screamed. “It’s our son!”
She ran to the door, but her husband arrived first, catching her by the arm, and holding her tightly.
“What are you going to do?” He whispered hoarsely.
“It’s my boy!” She cried, struggling mechanically. “I forgot it was two miles away. What are you holding me for? Let go. I must open the door.”
“For God’s sake don’t let it in!” The old man cried, trembling.
“You’re afraid of your own son! Let me go. I’m coming, son; I’m coming.” She cried, struggling.
There was another knock and another. The old woman broke free with a sudden twist and ran from the room. Her husband followed to the landing, calling after her pleadingly as she hurried downstairs. He heard the chain rattle and the bottom bolt slide slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman’s voice, strained and panting.
“The bolt,” she cried, loudly. “Come down. I can’t reach it.”
But her husband was on his hands and knees, groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing got in. A barrage of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came back slowly, and at the same moment he found the monkey’s paw, frantically breathing his third and last wish.
The knocking stopped suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. He heard the chair removed and the door open. A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and his wife’s long, loud wail of disappointment gave him the courage to run past her, to the gate. The flickering street lamp shone on a quiet and deserted road.