Classics, thriller

The Most Dangerous Game

Richard Connell, first published January 19, 1924 in Collier’s. Translated into modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

“There’s a large island off to the right somewhere. It’s a bit of a mystery…” Whitney said.

“What island is it?” Rainsford asked.

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

“Can’t see it.” Rainsford remarked, trying to see through the damp, tropical night. The night was palpable as it pressed its thick, warm blackness on the yacht.

“You have good eyes, and I’ve seen you shoot a moose moving through fall brush at four hundred yards, but even you can’t see four miles through a moonless, Caribbean night.” Whitney said with a laugh.

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

“There will be plenty of light in Rio. We should be there in a few days. I hope the jaguar guns from Purdey’s arrived. We should have good hunting in the Amazon. Hunting is a great sport.” Whitney promised.

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

“For the hunter. Not for the jaguar.” Whitney corrected.

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

“Perhaps the jaguar does.” Whitney observed.

“Bah! They don’t understand.” Rainsford said.

“Even so, I do think they understand one thing — fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death.” Whitney said.

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

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

“Why?”

“The place has a bad reputation.”

“Cannibals?” Rainsford guessed.

“Hardly. Even cannibals wouldn’t live in such a God-forsaken place. It has somehow become sailor’s lore. Didn’t you notice the crew’s nerves are jumpy today?”

“Now that you mention it, they were a little strange. Even Captain Nielsen…”

“Yes, even that stubborn, old Swede, who’d go to the devil himself to ask for a light. Those fishy blue eyes held a look I never saw there before. All he said was `This place has an evil name among seafaring men. Don’t you feel anything?’ — as if the air around us was poison. You can’t laugh when I tell you this, but I did feel a sudden chill. There was no wind, and the sea was flat as glass. We were getting near the island then. I felt a mental chill; a sort of sudden dread.”

“Pure imagination! One superstitious sailor can infect the whole crew with fear.” Rainsford said.

“Maybe, but sometimes I think sailors have a sixth sense that warns them of danger. I think evil is a physical thing — with wave lengths, like sound and light. An evil place can broadcast vibrations of evil. Anyhow, I’m glad we’re leaving this area. I think I’ll turn in now.”

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

“Goodnight. See you at breakfast.”

“Right. Goodnight, Whitney.”

There was no sound except the engine’s muffled throb and the swish of the propeller. Rainsford sat in a lounge chair, lazily puffing his favorite pipe. A heavy sleepiness set in. “It’s so dark, I could sleep without closing my eyes; the night can be my eyelids—” He thought.

A sudden sound startled him. It came from the right, and his expert ears could not be wrong. Again and again he heard it. Somewhere, off in the darkness, a gun fired three times.

Rainsford jumped up, moving quickly to the rail, mystified. He squinted in the direction the shots came from, but it was like trying to see through a blanket. He leapt higher, onto the rail; his pipe hit a rope and fell from his mouth. He lunged for it, and a short, hoarse cry escaped his lips as he lost balance. The cry was cut short as the blood-warm waters closed over his head.

He struggled to the surface and tried to cry out. The waves from the speeding yacht slapped him in the face, and he choked on the salt water. Desperately, he chased the departing yacht but stopped before he went fifty feet. He became very calm; it was not his first time in a tight spot. There was a slim chance his cries could be heard by someone, but that chance grew slimmer as the yacht raced on. He wriggled out of his clothes and shouted with all his power. The lights of the yacht dimmed, then the night blotted them out entirely.

Rainsford remembered the shots and swam in their direction with slow, deliberate strokes, conserving his strength. For a seemingly endless time, he fought the sea and counted his strokes. He could maybe do a hundred more, but then…

The high, screaming sound of an animal in extreme pain and terror came from the darkness. He did not recognize what animal; he did not try to. With fresh energy, he swam toward the sound. He heard it again; then it was cut short by a separate, crisp noise.

“Pistol shot.” Rainsford muttered, swimming on.

After ten minutes of determined effort, he heard the most beautiful sound he ever heard — the 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 out of the swirling waters. Jagged rocks shot up into the darkness, and he forced himself to climb, hand over hand. Gasping, hands raw, he reached a flat place at the top. Dense jungle came down to the cliff’s edge. Rainsford was not concerned with dangers from the tangle of trees and underbrush. He only knew he was safe from the sea and utterly tired. He dropped at the jungle’s edge and fell into the deepest sleep of his life.

When he woke, the sun’s position told him it was late afternoon. Sleep gave him new vigor, and he was very hungry. He looked around, almost cheerfully. “Where there are pistol shots, there are men. Where there are men, there is food.” He thought but wondered what kind of men would be in such a forbidden place. An unbroken stretch of snarled and ragged jungle outlined the shore.

He saw no sign of a trail through the tight web of weeds and trees. He found it easier to follow the shore and walk along the water. Not far from where he landed, he stopped. Evidence suggested a large, wounded animal had thrashed around in the underbrush. The weeds were crushed, the moss was cut, and one patch of weeds were stained crimson. A small, glittering object caught his eye. It was an empty cartridge.

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

He examined the ground closely and found what he hoped for — tracks of hunting boots. They pointed along the cliff, in the direction he was going. With night approaching, he hurried, slipping on rotten logs and loose stones but making progress.

Bleak darkness was blacking out the sea and jungle when Rainsford saw lights. He saw them as he turned a crook in the coast-line. There were so many lights, he thought he found a village at first. As he got closer, he was astonished to see the lights were in one enormous building — a lofty structure with pointed towers extending up into the gloom. He saw the shadowy outlines of a large residence sitting on a high bluff. Three sides sat on steep cliffs descending into sea and shadow.

“Mirage.” Rainsford thought, but it was no mirage when he opened the tall, spiked, iron gate. The stone steps, massive door, and leering gargoyle knocker were real; yet it all seemed unreal.

The knocker creaked stiffly, as if never used before, and its loud boom startled him. He thought he heard footsteps inside, but the door remained closed. He lifted the heavy knocker again and let it fall. The door opened suddenly, and Rainsford stood blinking in glaring, gold light.

He saw the largest man he’s ever seen — gigantic, solid, and black bearded to the waist. The man held a long-barreled gun pointed at Rainsford’s heart, two small eyes regarding him from the tangled beard.

“Don’t be alarmed, I’m no thief. I fell off a yacht. My name is Sanger Rainsford, I’m from New York City.” Rainsford said with a disarming smile.

The threatening stare did not change. The giant stood still as a statue, giving no sign he understood English. He was dressed in a black uniform with gray, fleece trim.

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

The man raised the gun’s hammer, saluted, clicked his heels, and stood at attention. Someone was coming down the wide, marble steps – a tall, slender man in evening clothes. He approached Rainsford and held out his hand.

His cultivated voice and slight accent made his words sound precise and deliberate. “It is pleasure and honor to welcome Mr. Sanger Rainsford, the celebrated hunter, to my home.”

Rainsford automatically shook the man’s hand.

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

First, Rainsford noticed the man was singularly handsome; second, there was an original, almost bizarre quality about the general’s face. He was tall, past middle age, and had vivid white hair. His thick eyebrows and pointed, military mustache were black as night. His eyes were also black and bright. He had high cheekbones, a sharp-cut nose, a dark, aristocratic face, and was accustomed to giving orders. The general signaled the uniformed giant who then put his pistol away, saluted, and withdrew.

“Ivan is incredibly strong but has the misfortune of being deaf and dumb. He’s a simple man, but like all his race, he’s also a bit savage.” The general remarked.

“Is he Russian?”

“He and I are Cossack.” The general’s smile showed red lips and pointed teeth.

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

Ivan reappeared, and the general spoke with moving lips but no sound.

“Please follow Ivan, I was about to have my dinner when you came. I’ll wait for you. You’ll find my clothes will fit.” The general said.

Rainsford followed the silent giant to a huge bedroom with a canopied bed big enough for six men. Ivan laid out an evening suit from a London tailor who never worked for anyone below the rank of duke.

The dining room was remarkable in many ways. Its oak panels, high ceiling, and large dining tables gave it a medieval magnificence. It resembled a baron’s manor of feudal times. Around the walls were many mounted heads — lions, tigers, elephants, moose, and bears; Rainsford had never seen more perfect specimens.

The general was sitting alone. “You’ll have a cocktail?” He suggested. The cocktail was surprisingly good, and the linen, crystal, silver, and china were of the finest quality. They had borsch – the rich, red soup with whipped cream popular to Russian palates. “We do our best to be civilized here, but please forgive any oversights. We’re off the beaten track. Do you think the champagne suffered from its long ocean trip?” General Zaroff said, half apologetically.

“Not in the least!” Rainsford declared. He was finding the general a very thoughtful and friendly host, but there was one small trait that made him uncomfortable. Whenever he looked up from his plate, he found the general studying him, appraising him narrowly.

“Perhaps you were surprised I recognized your name. I read all books on hunting in English, French, and Russian. The hunt is my one life’s passion.” General Zaroff said.

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

“Oh, yes, he was a monster.”

“Did he charge you?”

“Hurled me against a tree and fractured my skull, but I got the brute.” The general said.

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

The general did not reply at first; he was smiling his curious, red-lipped smile. “No, the Cape buffalo is not the most dangerous big game.” He said slowly, sipping his wine. “Here on my preserve, I hunt more dangerous.”

Rainsford expressed 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? Tigers?”

The general smiled. “No, hunting tigers stopped interesting me years ago. I exhausted their possibilities. No thrill or real danger left. I live for danger.” The general took out a gold cigarette case and offered his guest a long, silver-tipped, black cigarette. It was perfumed and smelled like incense. “We will have some wonderful hunting together. I will be very glad to have your company.”

“But what game—” Rainsford began.

“I know you will be amused. I think I can modestly say I’ve done a rare thing. I’ve invented a new sensation. May I pour you another glass of champagne?”

“Thank you, general.”

The general filled both glasses before speaking. “God makes some men poets, some kings or beggars. He made me a hunter. My father said my hand was made for the trigger. He was a very rich, enthusiastic sportsman with a quarter million acres in the Crimea. When I was five, he gave me a custom-made gun to shoot sparrows with. When I shot some of his prize turkeys, he did not punish me, but complimented my marksmanship. I killed my first bear in the Caucasus at age ten. My life has been one prolonged hunt. As expected of a nobleman’s son, I joined the army and commanded a cavalry division, but my real interest was always hunting. I have hunted every game in every land; it would be impossible to say how many animals I have killed.”

He puffed his cigarette. “After the debacle in Russia, I left the country; it was careless for an officer to stay there. Many noble Russians lost everything. Luckily, I invested in American stocks, so I will never have to open a tearoom or drive a taxi. I continued to hunt — grizzlies in the Rockies, crocodiles in the Ganges, rhinos in East Africa. Africa is where the Cape buffalo laid me up for six months. Then I hunted jaguars in the Amazon after hearing they were unusually smart, but they weren’t.” The general sighed. “They were no match for intelligence and a high-powered rifle. I was bitterly disappointed. One night, I was lying in my tent with a splitting headache when I realized hunting was beginning to bore me! Remember, hunting is my life. I heard American businessmen often fall apart when they give up their life’s work.”

“Yes, that’s so.” said Rainsford.

The general smiled. “I had no wish to fall apart, I had to do something. I have an analytical mind, that is why I enjoy the puzzle of the chase.”

“No doubt, General Zaroff.”

“I asked myself why the hunt no longer fascinated me. You are much younger and have not hunted as much, but maybe you can guess the answer.” The general continued.

“What was it?”

“Hunting stopped being `sporting.’ It became too easy, I always got my prey. There is no greater bore than perfection.” The general lit a fresh cigarette. “No animal had a chance against me. I’m not bragging; it’s the truth. Animals have nothing but legs and instinct. Instinct is no match for reason. Realizing this was a tragic moment for me.”

Rainsford leaned forward, absorbed in his host’s words.

“An idea came to me, and I knew what I must do.” The general continued.

“And that was?”

The general smiled the quiet smile of one who has overcome an obstacle. “I had to invent a new animal to hunt.”

“A new animal? You’re joking.”

“I never joke about hunting. I needed a new animal; I found one. I bought this island, built this house, and do my hunting. The island is perfect for my purposes. There are jungles with a maze of trails, hills, swamps—”

“But the animal, General Zaroff?”

“Oh, it supplies me with the most exciting hunting in the world. Nothing else compares. Every day I hunt and never grow bored. I have a prey able to match my wits.” The general said.

Rainsford’s confusion showed in his face.

“I wanted the perfect animal, one with courage, cunning, and, above all, intelligence.” The general explained.

“But no animal can reason.” Rainsford objected.

“There’s one that can.” The general said.

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

“Why not?”

“I can’t believe you’re serious. This is a horrible joke.”

“Why should I not be serious? I’m talking about hunting.”

“Hunting? Good God, you’re talking about murder.”

The general laughed sportingly. He regarded Rainsford quizzically. “I refuse to believe a modern and civilized young man like yourself has romantic ideas about the value of human life. Surely your experiences in the war—”

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

The general shook with laughter. “How extraordinarily unusual you are! Nowadays, one doesn’t expect to find an educated young man with such a naive point of view. It’s like finding a dip-jar in a limousine. Doubtless you had Puritan ancestors like many Americans. I bet you’ll forget those ideals when you go hunting with me. You’ve a genuine new thrill in store for you.”

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

“There’s that unpleasant word again, but I think I can show you your morals are ill-founded.”

“Yes?”

“Life is to be lived by the strong, and – if needed – taken by the strong. The weak were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift? I hunt the scum of the earth: sailors from tramp ships, thieves of all races — a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than dozens of them.”

“But they are men.” Rainsford said hotly.

“Precisely, that’s why I use them. It gives me pleasure. They can think, so they are dangerous.”

“But where do you get them?”

The general winked. “This island is called Ship-Trap. Sometimes an angry god sends them. Sometimes, when fate is less kind, I help. Come to the window with me.”

Rainsford looked to the sea.

“Watch! Out there!” The general exclaimed, pointing into the night. Rainsford’s eyes saw only blackness. Then, with the push of a button, lights flashed at sea.

The general chuckled. “They indicate passage where there’s only giant, razor-sharp rocks like a sea monster’s jaws. They crush a ship as easily as I crush this nut.” He dropped a walnut on the hardwood floor and stepped on it. “Yes, I have electricity. We try to be civilized here.” He said casually.

“Civilized? And you shoot men down?”

The general’s black eyes held a trace of anger, but it was there only a second. “How righteous you are! I assure you it’s not what you suggest, that would be barbaric. I treat these visitors with every consideration. They get plenty of good food and exercise, and they’re in splendid physical condition. You’ll see tomorrow.”

“What do you mean?”

The general smiled.“We’ll visit my training school, it’s in the cellar. I have a dozen pupils there now. They’re from the Spanish ship, San Lucar, that had the bad luck to crash on the rocks. A very inferior group, I regret to say. Poor specimens and more accustomed to a ship than jungle.” He raised his hand, and Ivan brought thick, Turkish coffee. With effort, Rainsford held his tongue in check.

“It’s a game. I suggest to one of them that we go hunting. I give him food, an excellent hunting knife, and three hours head start. I follow armed with only a small, short-ranged, caliber pistol. If my prey eludes me for three days, he wins. If I find him, he loses.” The general smiled.

“Suppose he refuses to be hunted?”

“Oh, he doesn’t have to play if he doesn’t want to. If he doesn’t t want to hunt, I give him to Ivan. Ivan once had the honor of serving as official torturer for the Great White Czar, and has his own ideas of sport. They always choose the hunt.” The general said.

“And if they win?”

The smile on the general’s face widened. “I have never lost.” He said, then added hastily: “I don’t wish you to think I’m bragging. Many of them offered little challenge. Occasionally, I get lucky. One almost won; 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 sent a flickering illumination that made grotesque patterns on the courtyard below. Rainsford could see a dozen huge, black shapes moving around. As they turned toward him, their eyes glittered greenly.

“I think they’re a good lot. They’re let out at seven every night. If anyone tried to get in my house — or out — something extremely regrettable would happen.” He hummed a snatch of song from the Folies Bergere. “Now, I want to show you my new collection of heads. Will you come to the library?”

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

“Ah, is that so? Well, I suppose that’s only natural after your long swim. You need a restful night’s sleep. Tomorrow you’ll feel like a new man; then we’ll hunt, yes? I’ve one promising prospect—” Rainsford hurried from the room. “Sorry you can’t go with me tonight, I expect a fine game. He looks resourceful. Well, goodnight; I hope you rest well.”

The bed was good, the pajamas were silk, and he was tired in every fiber of his being, but Rainsford could not quiet his brain with sleep. He lay, eyes wide open. Once he thought he heard stealthy steps in the hall outside his room. He tried to open the door, but it was locked. He went to the window, his room was high up in one of the towers. The lights of the chateau were out, leaving it dark and silent. By a fragment of the moon’s wan light, he could dimly see the courtyard.

Weaving in and out of the shadows were black, noiseless forms. The hounds heard him and looked expectantly with their green eyes. Rainsford went back to bed, trying to fall asleep. He achieved a doze just as morning began, then he heard a gunshot far off in the jungle.

General Zaroff did not appear until lunch. He was dressed perfectly in the clothes of a country squire. He was overly concerned about Rainsford’s health. “As for me, I do not feel so well. I am worried. Last night, I detected traces of my old complaint.” The general sighed.

To Rainsford’s confused look, the general said, “Ennui. Boredom.”

Taking a second helping of crepes, the general explained: “The hunting was not good last night, the man panicked. He made a straight trail that offered no problems at all. That’s the trouble with these sailors; they are dumb and don’t know how to move in the woods. They do excessively stupid and obvious things. It’s most annoying. Will you have another glass of Chablis?”

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

The general raised his thick eyebrows; he seemed hurt. “But, you’ve only just come. You’ve had no hunting—” The general protested.

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

He filled Rainsford’s glass with aged Chablis from a dusty bottle.“Tonight, we will hunt.”

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

The general shrugged and delicately ate a grape. “As you wish. The choice is entirely yours, but I think you will find my idea of sport more fair than Ivan’s.”

He nodded toward the corner where the giant stood scowling, thick arms crossed on his hog’s chest.

“You don’t mean—” Rainsford cried.

“I told you, I always mean what I say about hunting. This is really an inspiration. I drink to a foe worthy of my skill — at last.” The general raised his glass, but Rainsford sat staring at him.

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

“And if I win—” Rainsford began huskily.

“I’ll cheerfully acknowledge defeat if I do not find you by midnight on the third day. My boat will place you on the mainland near a town.” The general knew what Rainsford was thinking. “Oh, you can trust me, I will give you my word as a gentleman and sportsman. Of course you, must agree to say nothing of your visit here.”

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

“Oh, in that case — but why discuss it now? Three days hence we can discuss it over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, unless—” The general sipped his wine.

Then, he became businesslike. “Ivan, will supply you with hunting clothes, food, and a knife. I suggest you wear moccasins, they leave less trail. Also, avoid the big swamp in the southeast corner of the island. We call it Death Swamp, there’s quicksand. One foolish man tried it. The worst part was that Lazarus followed him. You can imagine my feelings. I loved Lazarus; he was the finest hound in my pack. Well, I must beg you to excuse me now. I always take a nap after lunch. You’ll hardly have time for one. No doubt you’ll want to get started. I won’t follow until dusk. Hunting at night is so much more exciting than by day, don’t you think? Goodbye.” With a deep, courtly bow, General Zaroff left the room.

Ivan entered from another door. He carried khaki hunting clothes, a sack of food, and a long-bladed hunting knife in a leather sheath. His right hand rested on a cocked gun in the crimson sash around his waist.

Rainsford fought his way through brush for two hours. “I must keep my nerve. I must keep my nerve.” He said through gritted teeth.

He had not been entirely thinking straight when the gates snapped shut behind him. At first, his idea was to put distance between himself and General Zaroff. He had plunged along, forced on by the sharp prodding of something very like panic. Now he had a grip on himself and was taking stock of the situation. Running was pointless; it would eventually bring him to the sea. He could not get away.

“I’ll give him a trail to follow.” Rainsford muttered, leaving the small pathway for the trackless wilderness. He walked a series of intricate loops and doubled on his trail again and again, recalling all the dodges of the fox. Night found him exhausted, hands and face cut by branches, on a thickly wooded ridge. He knew it would be insane to stumble through the dark, even if he had the strength.

His need for rest was imperative. “I have played the fox, now I must play the cat.” A big tree with a thick trunk and outspread branches was near. He climbed into the branches, careful not to leave the slightest mark, and stretched out on a large limb. Rest brought him confidence and almost a feeling of security. He thought even an enthusiastic a hunter like General Zaroff could not track him there; only the devil could follow that complicated trail through the jungle after dark. Yet, perhaps the general was a devil…

An apprehensive night crawled by slowly as a wounded snake, and Rainsford could not sleep. The jungle was silent as a dead world. Toward morning, when the sky was dingy gray, the cry of startled birds focused his attention. Something was coming, slowly, carefully, by the same winding way he came. He flattened himself down, and through a screen of thick leaves, he watched. A man was approaching.

It was General Zaroff. He made his way along, eyes focused on the ground in utmost concentration. He paused, almost beneath the tree, dropped to his knees and studied the ground. Rainsford’s impulse was to jump down like a panther, but he saw the general held a small automatic pistol.

The hunter shook his head several times, as if puzzled. Then he straightened up and took out one of his black cigarettes. Its smelly, incense-like smoke floated up to Rainsford’s nostrils, and he held his breath.

The general’s eyes left the ground and traveled up the tree, inch by inch. Rainsford froze, every muscle tensed, but the hunter’s sharp eyes stopped before they reached him. A smile spread over his brown face. Very deliberately, he blew a smoke ring into the air; then turned his back on the tree and walked away carelessly. The swish of the underbrush against his hunting boots grew fainter and fainter.

Rainsford’s breath burst hotly from his lungs. His first thought made him feel sick and numb. The general could follow a trail through the woods at night, an extremely difficult trail; he must have uncanny powers. Only by the slimmest chance had he failed to see his prey.

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? He did not want to believe it, but the truth was as evident as the sun pushing through the morning mists. The general was playing with him, saving him for another day’s sport! The general was the cat; he was the mouse. Then Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror. “I will not lose my nerve. I will not.”

He left the tree and went into the woods. His face was set, and he forced his mind to function. Three hundred yards from his hiding place, he stopped where a huge, dead tree leaned on a smaller, living one. Throwing his sack of food down, Rainsford took his knife and began to work with all his energy.

When the job was finished, he hid behind a fallen log a hundred feet away. He did not have to wait long. The cat was coming to play with the mouse.

General Zaroff was following the trail with the sureness of a bloodhound. Nothing escaped those searching, black eyes – no crushed grass, bent twig, or mark, no matter how faint. He was so focused on his tracking, he noticed nothing else of his surroundings.

Rainsford could not see the general, nor could he see the pit. He lived a year in a minute. Then he felt an impulse to shout with joy when he heard the sharp crackle of breaking branches as the pit cover gave way. He heard the sharp scream of pain as the pointed stakes found their mark. He leapt from his hiding place, then cowered back. Three feet from the pit, a man was standing with a flashlight.

“You’ve done well. Your Burmese tiger pit claimed one of my best dogs. Again you score. I think 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.”

Rainsford, lying near the swamp, woke at daybreak to a terrifying sound. It was distant, faint and wavering, but he knew it. It was the howling of hounds. He could do one of two things. He could stay, but that was suicide; or run, postponing the inevitable. For a moment he stood, thinking. An idea with a wild chance came to him, and he walked away from the swamp.

The sound of hounds drew closer, then still closer, closer, ever closer. On a ridge he climbed a tree. Down a watercourse, not a quarter mile away, he saw the bush moving. Squinting, he saw the lean figure of General Zaroff. Ahead of him was the giant Ivan, who seemed pulled forward by the pack’s leash.

They would be there any minute. His mind worked frantically. He thought of a native trick he learned in Uganda. He slid down the tree, caught hold of a springy, young sapling, and attached his knife, the blade pointing down the trail. With a wild grapevine, he tied back the sapling, and ran for his life. The hounds raised their voices as they hit the fresh scent.

Rainsford now knew how hunted animals felt. He had to catch his breath. The hounds’ howling stopped abruptly, and his heart stopped too. They must have reached the knife.

Excited, he climbed up a tree to look back. His pursuers stopped, but the hope in Rainsford’s brain died. In the shallow valley, he saw General Zaroff was still on his feet, but Ivan was not. The knife, driven by the recoil of the springing tree, was not a total failure. Rainsford fell to the ground hard when the hounds began howling again.

“Nerve, nerve, nerve!” he panted, as he ran. A blue gap showed between the trees ahead. The hounds drew closer. He forced himself toward the gap. He reached it. It was the sea shore. Across the cove, he could see the gloomy, gray stone of the chateau. Twenty feet below, the sea rumbled and hissed. He 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, they stopped. For several minutes, he stood regarding the blue-green water. Shrugging his shoulders, he sat, took a drink of brandy from a silver flask, lit a cigarette, and hummed Madame Butterfly.

General Zaroff had a very good dinner in his dining hall that evening. He had a bottle of Pol Roger and half a bottle of Chambertin. Two slight annoyances kept him from perfect enjoyment. One was how difficult it would be to replace Ivan; the other was his escaped prey. “The American hadn’t played the game.” The general thought as he tasted his liquor. In his library, he read from the works of Marcus Aurelius to soothe himself. At ten, he went up to his bedroom.

He was deliciously tired as he locked himself in. There was a little moonlight, so he went to the window looking down at the courtyard. “Better luck next time.” He called to the hounds. Then he switched on the light.

A man who hid in the bed curtains was standing there.

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

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

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

Rainsford did not smile. “I am still a beast on the hunt. Get ready, General Zaroff.” He said in a low, hoarse voice.

The general gave a deep bow. “I see. Splendid! One of us is to supply a meal for the hounds. The other will sleep in this very excellent bed. On guard!”

Rainsford never slept in a better bed.

Classics, horror

The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published January 1892 in The New England Magazine. Translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

It is rare for ordinary people like John and myself to secure a colonial mansion. A haunted house would pure, romantic bliss — but that is asking too much of fate!

Still, I’m proud to say there is something strange about it. Why else would it be so cheap? Why has it been empty so long? John laughs at me, but one expects that in marriage. John is extremely practical. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and openly scoffs at talk of the paranormal.

John is a doctor, and perhaps — (I would not say it to a living soul, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) — perhaps that is one reason I do not recover faster.

He does not believe I am sick! What can I do if a respected physician and my own husband assures everyone there is nothing wrong except a temporary anxiety — a slight hysterical tendency?

My brother is also a respected doctor and says the same thing. So I take phosphates or phosphites — whichever it is, tonics, walks, air and exercise, and I am forbidden from “work” until I have recovered.

Personally, I disagree with their ideas. I believe enjoyable work combined with excitement and change would do me good, but what am I to do? I wrote for a while in spite of them; but it does greatly exhaust me. I have to be so sneaky, or I am met with heavy opposition.

Sometimes, I think if I had less restrictions and more socializing, my condition would — but John says the worst thing I can do is to think about my condition… and I admit it always makes me feel bad. So I will leave it alone and talk about the house.

It is the most beautiful place! It stands all alone, far back from the road, a full three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places you read about, because there are hedges, walls, gates that lock, and many separate little houses for gardeners and staff.

There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden — large, shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long, grape-covered pergolas with benches beneath them. There were also greenhouses, but they are all broken now.

I believe there was some legal trouble about the heirs and coheirs; anyhow, the place has been empty for years. I’m afraid that spoils my haunted theory, but I don’t care. There is something strange about the house — I can feel it.

I told John one moonlit evening, but he said what I felt was a draft and closed the window. I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is because of this anxiety, but John says if I feel that way, I will neglect proper self-control. I take pains to control myself — in front of him, at least, and it makes me very tired.

I don’t like our room at all. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the veranda, with roses all over the window and the old-fashioned, colorful hangings! But John would not hear of it. He said there was only one window, not enough room for two beds, and no room close by in case he wanted to use another. He is very careful and loving, hardly letting me move without special instruction.

I have a schedule that accounts for each hour in the day. He takes care of everything for me, so I feel deeply ungrateful not to value it more. He said we only came here for me, because I was to have perfect rest and air. “My dear, your exercise depends on strength, and your food depends on appetite; but you can breathe air all the time.” So we took the nursery at the top of the house.

It is a big, airy room, nearly the whole floor, with windows all around, and air and sunshine galore. I think it was a nursery first, then playroom and gymnasium; the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings in the walls. The paint and wallpaper look as if a boys’ school used it. The paper is stripped off in big, wide patches all around my headboard, and in a place lower down, on the other side of the room. I never saw worse wallpaper in my life. One of those long, flamboyant patterns committed every artistic sin.

It is dull enough to make it difficult to follow, yet noticeable enough to constantly annoy and draw attention. When you follow the lame, uncertain curves for a little ways, they suddenly commit suicide — plunging off at outrageous angles, destroying themselves in impossible contradictions.

The color is horrid, almost revolting; a smoldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull, yet vivid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others. No wonder the children hated it! I would hate it too if I had to live in this room long.

Here comes John, I must put this away, — he hates for me to write a word.

We have been here two weeks, and I haven’t felt like writing since that first day. I am in the hideous nursery now, sitting by the window, and there is nothing to stop me from writing as much as I want – except lack of strength.

John is away all day, and some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is not serious, but these anxiety troubles are dreadfully depressing. John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.

Of course it is only anxiety. I feel guilty for not performing wifely duties! I meant to be a big help to John, providing real rest and comfort, but instead I am a burden! Nobody would believe how hard it is to do what little I can — to dress, socialize, and clean. It is fortunate Mary is good with the baby. Such a dear baby! Yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so anxious. I suppose John was never nervous in his life.

He laughs at me so much about this wallpaper! At first he agreed to re-paper the room. Later he said I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for an anxiety patient than enabling such whims. He said after the wallpaper it would be the heavy bed frame, then the barred windows, then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.

“You know the place is doing you good, and really, dear, I don’t want to renovate the house just for a three month rental.” He said.

“Then let’s go downstairs, there are such pretty rooms there.” I said.

Then he took me in his arms, called me a blessed little goose, and said if I wished, he would go down to the cellar and white-wash it as well. Though, he is right about the beds, windows, and things.

It is an airy and comfortable room, and I will not be silly enough to make him uncomfortable just for a whim. I’m growing quite fond of the big room, except for that horrid paper. Out of one window, I can see the garden, the mysterious, deep-shaded pergolas, the wild, old-fashioned flowers, bushes and gnarly trees.

Out of another, I get a lovely view of the bay and a private wharf belonging to the estate. A beautiful, shaded lane leads there from the house. I always think I see people walking on these many paths, but John cautioned me not to indulge fantasy. He says with my imagination, an anxious disposition is sure to cause excited fantasies, and that I should control myself to keep them in check. So I try.

Sometimes, I think if I were well enough to write, it would relieve the flow of ideas and allow me to rest – but I get pretty tired when I try. It is so discouraging not to have any understanding about my work. When I really recover, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia over for a long visit; but he says he would rather put fireworks in my pillowcase than let me have those stimulating people around now.

I wish I could recover faster, but I must not think about it. This wallpaper looks as if it knew what a vicious influence it had! There is a recurring spot where the pattern sags like a broken neck, and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down. I get positively angry with the disrespect of it. Up, down, and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two sections don’t line up, and the eyes are a little uneven.

I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! As a child, I used to lie awake getting more entertainment and terror from blank walls and furniture than most children found in a toy store. I remember the kindly wink of the knobs on our old bureau, and one chair that always seemed like a strong friend. I used to think if any of the other things looked mean, I could hop into that chair and be safe.

The furniture in this room is only a little unpleasant, we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom, they had to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such messes as the children made here. As I said before, the wallpaper is torn off in spots, and it’s incredibly sticky — they must have had determination as well as hatred. Then the floor is scratched, gouged and splintered, and the plaster is dug out here and there. This great heavy bed looks as if it has been through the wars, but I don’t mind a bit — only the paper.

Here comes John’s sister. She is such a dear girl, so considerate of me! I must not let her find me writing. She is a perfect, enthusiastic housekeeper and wants no better profession. I truly believe she thinks it’s the writing that made me sick! When she is out, I can write next to the window and see her coming from a long way off. One overlooks the shaded, winding road and country. A lovely country, too, full of large elms and velvet meadows.

This wallpaper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade; a particularly irritating one that can only be seen in certain lights, and not clearly even then. In places where it isn’t faded, when the sun is just so — I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and obvious front design.

There’s sister on the stairs!

Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are gone and I am exhausted. John thought it might do me good to have company, so we had mother, Nellie, and the children down for a week. Of course, I didn’t do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now, but it tired me all the same. John says if I don’t recover faster, he will send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.

I don’t want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his care, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only worse! Besides, it is such a hassle to go so far. I don’t think it would be worth going for anything, and I’m getting dreadfully anxious and upset. I cry most of the time and at nothing. Of course, I don’t when anyone is here, only when I am alone. I am alone a good deal now. John is very often kept in town by serious cases, and Jennie is good to leave me alone when I want her to.

I walk in the garden or down the lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down a good deal. I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper. I think about it so much! I lie here on this great immovable bed —it is nailed down — and follow that pattern around by the hour. It is good as exercise, I assure you.

I start at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion. I know a little about the principle of design, and know this was not arranged by any laws of radiation, alternation, repetition, symmetry, or anything else I ever heard of. It is repeated by sections, but not otherwise.

Looked at one way, each strip stands alone, the fat curves and flourishes waddling up and down in isolated columns of foolishness. But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of visual horror, like seaweeds caught in the waves.

The whole thing seems to go horizontally too, and I exhaust myself trying to distinguish where its going in that direction. They have used a horizontal strip for decoration that adds to the confusion wonderfully. There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and when the candlelights dim, and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost see the pattern — the endless horrors seem to form around a common center and rush off to steep plunges of equal distraction.

It makes me tired to follow it. I guess I will take a nap. I don’t know why I should write this. I don’t want to. I don’t feel able. I know John would think it absurd, but I must somehow say what I think and feel — it is such a relief! Though, the effort is getting to be greater than the relief. Half the time I am awfully lazy and lie down a lot. John says I must not lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil, lots of tonics, ale, wine, and rare meat.

Dear John! He loves me dearly and hates to have me sick. I tried to have an earnest, reasonable talk with him, telling him how I wished to visit Cousin Henry and Julia, but he said I wasn’t able to go. I did not make a very good case for myself, I was crying before I finished.

It is getting very hard to think straight. Just this anxious weakness I suppose. Dear John gathered me in his arms, carried me to bed, and sat reading to me until it tired my head. He said I was his darling, his comfort, all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and stay well.

He says only I can help myself out of it, that I must use willpower and self-control, and not let silly fantasies run away with me. There’s one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to stay in this nursery with the horrid wallpaper. If we had not used it, that blessed child would! What a fortunate escape! I wouldn’t have an impressionable, little child of mine live in such a room for all the world.

I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all. I can stand it so much easier than a baby could. Of course, I am too smart to mention it to them anymore, but I keep watch of it all the same. There are things in that paper that nobody else knows or ever will. Behind that outside pattern, the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very many.

It is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I began wishing John would take me away from here! It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so smart and loves me so much. I tried last night. The moon was out, shining all around just as the sun does. I hate to see it sometimes, it creeps so slowly, always coming in one window or another.

John was asleep and I hated to wake him, so I kept still and watched the moonlight on that wavy wallpaper until I felt creepy. The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, as if she wanted to get out. I got up softly, wanting to feel it, to see if the paper did move, and when I came back John was awake.

“What is it, little girl? Don’t go walking about like that, you’ll get cold.” He said.

I though it was a good time to talk, so I told him I was not really improving here, and that I wished he would take me away.

“Why darling?! Our lease will be up in three weeks, and I can’t see how to leave before. The repairs are not done at home, and I cannot possibly leave town yet. If you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, and I know. You are gaining weight and color, your appetite is better. I feel much better about you, dear.”

“I don’t weigh a bit more; and my appetite may be better in the evening when you are here, but it is worse in the morning when you are away!” I said.

“Bless her little heart! She will be sick as she pleases! Now let’s improve the daytime hours by going to sleep and talk about it in the morning!” He said with a big hug.

“And you won’t leave?” I asked gloomily.

“Why, how can I, dear? It is only three more weeks, then we will take a nice trip for a few days while Jennie is getting the house ready. Really dear you are better!”

“Better in body perhaps —” I began, and stopped short. He sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.

“My darling, I beg of you, for my sake, our child’s, and your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish notion. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?”

Of course I said no more on the subject, and we went to sleep before long. He thought I was asleep first, but I wasn’t. I laid there for hours trying to decide whether the front and back patterns moved together or separately.

Viewing a pattern like this by day makes it appear disorderly and law-defying, a constant annoyance to a normal mind. The color is hideous, unreliable, and infuriating, but the pattern is torture. You think you have mastered it, but just as you start following it well, it turns a back-flip and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples you. It is like a bad dream.

The outside pattern is an elaborate, flowing design, reminding me of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an endless string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless complexities. That’s only sometimes!

There is one defining oddity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to notice but myself – that it changes with the light. When the sun shoots in through the east window — I always watch for that first long, straight ray — it changes so quickly I can never quite believe it. That is why I always watch.

By moonlight, I wouldn’t know it was the same paper. At night, in any kind of light – twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all, by moonlight – the outside pattern becomes bars! The woman behind it is real as can be. For a long time, I didn’t realize what the thing behind that dim sub-pattern was, but now I am quite sure it’s a woman. By day she is subdued, quiet. I believe it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is puzzling, it keeps me quiet for hours.

I lie down so much now. John says it is good for me, and to sleep all I can. Indeed, he started the habit by making me lie down for an hour after each meal. I am convinced it is a very bad habit. I don’t sleep, and that breeds dishonesty because I don’t tell him I’m awake — Oh, no!

The fact is, I am getting a little afraid of John. He seems very odd sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look. Occasionally, it strikes me, just as a theory, — that perhaps it is the paper! I’ve watched John when he didn’t know I was looking, and suddenly entered the room on innocent excuses. I’ve caught him several times looking at the paper! Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once.

She didn’t know I was in the room. I asked her in the most restrained manner possible, in a very quiet voice, what she was doing. She turned around looking quite angry, as if she had been caught stealing, and asked me why I would frighten her so! Then she said the paper stained everything it touched, that she found yellow smooches on all our clothes, and wished we would be more careful! Did that not sound innocent? I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody will figure it out but myself!

Life is much more exciting now than it used to be. You see, I have something more to expect, to look forward to. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was. John is so happy to see me improve! He laughed the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wallpaper.

I shrugged it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wallpaper — he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away. I don’t want to leave until I have figured it out. There is one more week, and I think that will be enough. I’m feeling so much better! I don’t sleep much at night, it is too interesting to watch developments, but I sleep a good deal during the day.

Daytime it is tiresome and confusing. There are always new shoots on the fungus, and new shades of yellow all over it. I cannot keep count of them, though I have tried. That wallpaper is the strangest yellow! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw — not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old, foul, bad yellow things.

There is something else about that wallpaper — the smell! I noticed it the moment we came in the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we’ve had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here. It creeps all over the house. I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, and lying in wait for me on the stairs. It gets into my hair. Even when I ride, if I turn my head suddenly — there is that smell!

Such a strange odor! I have spent hours trying to analyze it to find what it smelled like. It is not bad at first, very gentle, but quite subtle and the most enduring odor I ever met. In this damp weather it is awful, I wake up in the night and find it hanging over me. It used to disturb me at first. I seriously considered burning the house down to reach the smell, but now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that is similar, is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.

There is a funny mark on this wall, low down, near the baseboard. A streak that runs around the room. The long, straight, even smooch goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, as if it was rubbed over and over.

I wonder how it was done, who did it, and why. Round and round and round — round and round and round — it makes me dizzy! I really have finally discovered something. Through watching so much when it changes at night, I have finally figured it out. The front pattern does move — and no wonder! The woman shakes it! Sometimes, I think there are a great many women behind it, and sometimes only one. She crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.

In the bright spots she keeps still, and in the shady spots she takes hold of the bars, shaking them hard. She is always trying to climb through, but nobody could climb through that suffocating pattern. I think that’s why it has so many heads. They get through, then the pattern shuts them off, turning them upside down, and making their eyes white! If those heads were covered or removed, it would not be half as bad. I think that woman gets out in the daytime! Privately — I’ll tell you why. I’ve seen her!

I can see her out of every window! I know it is the same woman because she is always creeping, and most women do not creep during the day. I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and she hides under the blackberry vines when a carriage comes.

I don’t blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping in daylight! I always lock the door when I creep in daylight. I can’t do it at night, I know John would suspect something immediately. John is so strange now, I don’t want to irritate him. I wish he would take another room! Besides, I don’t want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself. I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once, but turn as fast as I can, I only see out of one at a time.

Though I always see her, she might be able to creep faster than I can turn! I have watched her sometimes way off in the open country, creeping fast as a cloud’s shadow in high wind. If only that top pattern could be gotten off the other one! I mean to try it, little by little. I have found out another funny thing, but I won’t say it this time! It is not good to trust people too much.

There are only two more days to get this paper off, and I believe John is beginning to notice. I don’t like the look in his eyes. I heard him ask Jennie a lot of professional questions about me. She had a very good report to give. She said I slept a good deal in the daytime.

John knows I don’t sleep well at night, but I’m so quiet! He also asked me all sorts of questions, pretending to be loving and kind. As if I couldn’t see through him! Still, it’s no wonder he acts that way after sleeping under this wallpaper for three months. It only interests me, but I feel sure John and Jennie are secretly affected by it.

Hurray! This is the last day, but it is enough. John is staying in town overnight, and won’t be out until this evening. Jennie wanted to sleep with me — the sly thing! I told her I would definitely rest better alone. That was clever, when really I wasn’t alone at all! As soon as it was moonlight, that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern. I got up and ran to help her.

I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we peeled off yards of that paper. A strip about as high as my head and half around the room. Then, when the sun came and that awful pattern began to laugh at me, I declared I would finish it today!

We leave tomorrow, and they are moving the furniture back where it came from. Jennie looked at the wall in amazement, but I happily told her I did it out of pure spite of the vicious thing. She laughed and said she wouldn’t mind doing it herself, but I must not get tired. How she betrayed herself that time, but no one touches this paper but me — not alive!

She tried to get me out of the room — it was too obvious! I said it was so quiet, empty, and clean now that I would lie down and sleep all I could; and not to wake me even for dinner. I would call when I woke. Now she, the servants, and the things are gone, and there is nothing left but that nailed down bedstead. We shall sleep downstairs tonight, and take the boat home tomorrow. I quite enjoy the room, now that it is empty again.

How those children destroyed this room! This bedstead is fairly gnawed, but I must get to work. I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path. I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want anybody to come in until John. I want to astonish him. I’ve got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find.

If that woman does get out and tries to escape, I can tie her, but I forgot I cannot reach far without anything to stand on! This bed will not move! I tried to lift and push it until I was exhausted, then I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner — but it hurt my teeth. Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly, and the pattern enjoys it! All those strangled heads, bulbous eyes, and waddling fungi scream with mockery!

I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be a deserving exercise, but the bars are too strong to try. Besides, I wouldn’t do it. Of course not. I know that would be improper and possibly misunderstood. I don’t even like to look out the windows — there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all came out of the wallpaper like I did, but now I’m securely tied by my well-hidden rope — you won’t get me out there in the road!

I suppose I will have to get back behind the pattern when night comes, and that is hard! It is so pleasant to be out in this big room and creep around as I please! I don’t want to go outside. I won’t, even if Jennie asks me to. Outside, you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow. Here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot get lost. Why there’s John at the door! It is no use, young man, you can’t open it!

How he yells and pounds! Now he’s crying for an axe. It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door! “John dear! The key is down by the front steps, under a plantain leaf!” I said in the gentlest voice,

That silenced him for a few moments. Then he said — very quietly, “Open the door, my darling!”

“I can’t. The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!” Then I said it again, several times, very gently, slowly, so often that he had to go and see. He found it of course, and came in, stopping short by the door.

“What is the matter? For God’s sake, what are you doing?!” He cried.

I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jennie. I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” I said.

Now, why would that man have fainted? He did, right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

Classics, horror

The Monkey’s Paw

W.W. Jacobs, first published September 1902. Translated into modern English, otherwise exactly the same. Chapters separated by page breaks. 

I.

Outside, the night was cold and wet, but in the small living room of Laburnam Villa the blinds were closed and the fire burned brightly. Father and son played chess. The father knew radical strategies, and put his king into enough danger to earn comment from the white-haired old lady knitting peacefully by the fire.

“Listen to the wind,” Mr. White said, seeing a fatal mistake and wanting to prevent his son from noticing.

“I’m listening,” the son said, grimly surveying the board as he stretched out his hand. “Check.”

“I should hardly think he’d come tonight,” the father said, hand poised over the board.

“Mate,” the son replied.

“That’s the worst part about living so far out! Of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live, this is the worst. Pathway’s a bog, and the road’s a disaster. I don’t know what people are thinking. I suppose because only two houses on the road are occupied, they think it doesn’t matter.” Mr. White yelled with sudden, unprovoked anger.

“Never mind, dear. Perhaps you’ll win the next one.” His wife soothed.

Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to see a knowing glance between mother and son. The words died away on his lips, and he hid a guilty grin in his thin, grey beard.

“There he is.” The son said as the gate banged loudly, and heavy footsteps approached the door.

The old man rose to open the door with friendly haste and was heard sympathizing with the guest. The guest complained so much that Mrs. White said, “Tut, tut!” coughing gently as her husband entered with a tall, burly man, with beady eyes and a pink complexion.

“Sergeant-Major Morris!” he said, introducing him.

The sergeant-major shook hands, sat by the fire, and watched contentedly as his host poured whiskey and put a small, copper kettle on the fire.

With the third glass, his eyes got brighter, and he eagerly began telling a story about a visitor from distant lands. He squared his broad shoulders in the chair and spoke of wild events and brave deeds of wars, plagues, and strange people.

“Twenty-one years of it. When he went away, he was a thin youth in the warehouse. Now look at him.” Mr. White said, nodding at his wife and son.

“He don’t seem to have taken much harm.” Mrs. White said politely.

“I’d like to go to India myself, just to look around a bit, you know.” The old man said.

“Better off where you are.” The sergeant-major said, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass, sighing softly before shaking it again.

“I would like to see those old temples, mystics, and jugglers. What was it you started telling me the other day about a monkey’s paw or something, Morris?” The old man asked.

“Nothing. At least, nothing worth hearing.” The soldier replied hastily.

“Monkey’s paw?” Mrs. White asked curiously.

“Well, it’s just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps.” The sergeant-major said offhandedly.

His three listeners eagerly leaned forward. The soldier absent-mindedly put his empty glass to his lips, then set it down again. His host filled it for him.

“To look at, it’s just an ordinary little paw, dried as a mummy.” The sergeant-major said, fumbling in his pocket. He removed something and held it out. Mrs. White drew back with a grimace, but her son took it, examining it curiously.

“And what is special about it?” Mr. White inquired as he took it from his son. After examining it, he placed it on the table.

“An old mystic put a spell on it. A very holy man. He wanted to show fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.” The sergeant-major explained.

His manner was so serious, the family became aware their light laughter bothered him somewhat.

“Well, why don’t you have three, sir?” The son joked.

The soldier regarded him in the way middle age tends to regard presumptuous youth. “I have.” He whispered, his blotchy face whitened.

“And did you really have the three wishes granted?” Mrs. White asked.

“I did.” The sergeant-major answered, and his glass tapped against his teeth.

“And has anybody else wished?” The old lady persisted.

“The first man had his three wishes, yes. I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That’s how I got the paw.” The soldier answered in tones so grave, a hush fell over the group.

“If you’ve had your three wishes, it’s no good to you anymore, Morris. What do you keep it for?” The old man finally asked.

The soldier shook his head. “Fancy, I suppose,” he said, slowly. “I did think of selling it, but I don’t think I will. It has caused enough mischief already. Besides, people won’t buy. Some think it’s a fairy tale; and those who do think anything of it want to try it first and pay me after.”

“If you could have another three wishes, would you use them?” The old man asked, eyeing him keenly.

“I don’t know,” said the soldier. “I don’t know.”

He took the paw, dangling it between his forefinger and thumb, and suddenly threw it into the fire. Mr. White, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it out.

“Better to let it burn.” The soldier said, solemnly.

“If you don’t want it, Morris, give it to me.” Mr. White said.

“I won’t. I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don’t blame me for what happens. Throw it in the fire again like a sensible man.” The soldier said grimly.

Mr. White shook his head and examined his new possession closely. “How do you do it?” he asked.

“Hold it up in your right hand and say the wish out loud, but I warn you of the consequences.” The sergeant-major said.

“Sounds like the Arabian Nights. Do you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?” Mrs. White joked as she rose to set the supper.

Her husband drew the talisman from his pocket, and all three burst into laughter as the sergeant-major, looking alarmed, caught him by the arm. “If you must wish, wish for something sensible.” He said gruffly.

Mr. White dropped it back in his pocket, placed the chairs, and motioned his friend to the table. During supper, the talisman was partly forgotten. Afterward the three sat fascinated, listening to a second installment of the soldier’s adventures in India.

“If the tale about the monkey’s paw is as exaggerated as those he has been telling us, we won’t make much of it.” The son joked, closing the door behind their guest who had to catch the last train.

“Did you give him anything for it?” Mrs. White inquired, regarding her husband closely.

“A little. He didn’t want it, but I made him take it. He again urged me to throw away the paw.” The old man admitted, blushing slightly.

“Not likely! Why, we’re going to be rich, famous, and happy. Start by wishing to be an emperor, father; then you can’t be ordered around by mother.”

He darted around the table, chased by the angry Mrs. White who was armed with a rag.

Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it suspiciously. “I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact,” he said, slowly. “It seems to me, I’ve got all I want.”

“If you only paid off the house, you’d be quite happy, wouldn’t you? Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that’ll just do it.” The son suggested, his hand on his father’s shoulder.

The father, smiling shamefully at his indulgence, held up the talisman. His son sat down at the piano and struck a few impressive chords, his face solemn as he winked at his mother.

“I wish for two hundred pounds.” The old man said clearly.

A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him.

“It moved! As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake.” He cried, looking at the object on the floor with disgust.

“Well, I don’t see the money, and I bet I never shall.” His son said, picking it up and placing it on the table.

“It must have been your imagination.” His wife suggested, regarding him anxiously.

He shook his head. “Well, never mind. There’s no harm done, but it gave me a shock all the same.”

They sat down by the fire again while the two men finished their pipes. Outside, the wind was higher than ever, and the old man jumped nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs. An unusual and depressing silence settled upon all three, lasting until the old couple retired for the night.

“I expect you’ll find the cash in a big bag on the middle of your bed, and something horrible squatting on top of the wardrobe, watching you pocket your ill-gotten gains.” The son joked as he said goodnight.

The old man sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces in it. The last face was so horribly ape-like, he gazed at it in amazement. It got so vivid, he felt for a glass of water to throw over it. His hand grasped the monkey’s paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his hand on his coat and went to bed.

Classics, horror

The Call of Cthulhu

H.P. Lovecraft, first written in 1926; first published in Weird Tales magazine, 1928. Translated into modern English, but otherwise exactly the same. Chapters separated by page breaks. 

I.

The Horror in Clay.

I think the most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to connect all its contents. We live on a peaceful island of ignorance in the middle of an infinite black sea, and we were not meant to travel far. The sciences, each struggling in its own direction, have so far done us little harm; but some day, their discoveries will uncover terrifying vistas in our reality and reveal our fragile position in it. We will either go crazy from the deadly knowledge or flee into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle where our world and the human race form short-lived events. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms that would freeze your blood if not disguised as bland optimism. Yet they were not the ones who brought a single glimpse of forbidden ages that chills me when I think of it and maddens me when I dream of it. That glimpse, like all dreaded glimpses of truth, came from an accidental piecing together of separate things – in this case an old newspaper article and the notes of a dead professor. I hope no one else will accomplish this realization; certainly, if I live, I will never knowingly supply a clue to such a hideous puzzle. I believe the professor also intended to remain silent regarding the part he knew, and that he would have destroyed his notes had he not died suddenly.

My knowledge of the thing began in the winter of 1926-27 with the death of my grand-uncle George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Professor Angell was widely known as an authority on ancient inscriptions and often advised heads of prominent museums; he was remembered by many when he passed at the age of ninety-two. Locally, interest was intensified due to the obscurity of the cause of death. The professor was struck when returning from the Newport boat; witnesses say he fell suddenly after a nautical looking black man bumped into him. The man came from one of the strange dark courts on the steep hillside that formed a short cut from the waterfront to the professor’s home on Williams Street. Doctors were unable to find any visible cause, but after perplexed debate concluded a lesion of the heart caused by the elderly man’s brisk climb up a steep hill was responsible for his death. At the time, I saw no reason to disagree with this conclusion, but now I am inclined to wonder – and more than wonder.

As my grand-uncle’s heir, for he died a childless widower, I was expected to go over his papers thoroughly; for that reason, I moved his entire set of files and boxes to my home in Boston. Many of the materials I put together will later be published in American Archeological Society, but there was one box I found exceedingly puzzling, and felt a strong aversion from showing it to others. It had been locked, and I did not find the key until I thought to examine the ring my uncle always carried in his pocket. Then I succeeded in opening it but was only confronted by a greater and more closely locked barrier. What could be the meaning of the odd clay sculpture and disconnected writings and articles I found? Had my uncle, in his later years, become gullible to the most superficial deceits? I decided to find the eccentric sculptor responsible for this apparent disturbance of the old man’s peace of mind.

The sculpture was a rough rectangle less than an inch thick and about five by six inches in area; obviously of modern origin. However, its designs were far from modern in atmosphere and suggestion; although there are many wild, unusual interlocking planes, they do not recreate that cryptic regularity found in prehistoric writing. The bulk of these designs certainly seemed to be writing; though despite much familiarity with my uncle’s papers, my memory failed to identify this species, or hint at its remotest affiliations.

Above these hieroglyphics was an illustrated figure of purpose, though its impressionistic finish prohibited a clear idea of its nature. It seemed to be a monster only a sick mind could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination simultaneously produced pictures of an octopus, dragon, and human caricature, I would not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head sat atop a grotesque, scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it shockingly frightful. Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cyclopean architectural background.

Aside from a stack of newspaper clippings, the papers that came with this oddity were in Professor Angell’s handwriting; they made no pretense to literary style. What seemed to be the main document was titled “CTHULHU CULT” in characters painstakingly printed to avoid the incorrect reading of a word so unheard of. The manuscript was divided into two sections, the first which was headed “1925 – Dream and Dream Work of H. A. Wilcox, 7 Thomas St., Providence, R.I.”, and the second, “Narrative of Inspector John R. Legrasse, 121 Bienville St., New Orleans, La. At 1908 A. A. S. Mtg. – Notes on Same, & Prof. Webb’s Acct.” The other manuscript papers were all brief notes, some were accounts of the strange dreams of different people, some were quotes from theosophical books and magazines (notably W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria). The rest comment on long-surviving secret societies and hidden cults, with references in mythological and anthropological source-books such as Frazer’s Golden Bough and Miss Murray’s Witch-Cult in Western Europe. The clippings mostly hint to weird mental illnesses and outbreaks of group mania in the spring of 1925.

The first half of the main manuscript told a very peculiar tale. On March 1st, 1925, a thin, dark young man of deranged and excited appearance came to Professor Angell carrying the clay sculpture, which was then very damp and fresh. His card read Henry Anthony Wilcox. My uncle recognized him as the youngest son of an excellent family he slightly knew, who had recently been studying sculpture at Rhode Island School of Design and living alone at the Fleur-de-Lys Building near the school. Wilcox was a precocious youth, his genius and eccentricity well known, and since childhood he had a habit of gaining attention through telling strange stories and odd dreams. He called himself “psychically hypersensitive”, but the serious-minded folk of the ancient commercial city dismissed him as merely “strange”. Never socializing much with his kind, he gradually dropped from the social eye, and was now known only to a small group of art enthusiasts from other towns. Even the Providence Art Club, anxious to preserve its conservatism, found him quite hopeless.

During the visit, the sculptor abruptly asked for uncle’s help in identifying the hieroglyphics on the sculpture. He spoke in a dreamy, strained manner, which made it difficult to sympathize with him; and my uncle’s reply was sharp because the clearly visible freshness of the tablet implied it was new. Wilcox’s reply impressed my uncle enough to make him write it verbatim, it was fantastically poetic and defined his whole conversation. I have since found it highly characteristic of him. He said, “It is new, indeed, for I made it last night in a dream of strange cities; and dreams are older than the brooding Tyre, or the contemplative Sphinx, or the garden-girdled Babylon.”

It was then he began telling a story that jogged a forgotten memory and uncle became interested. There had been a slight earthquake tremor the night before, the most considerable in New England for some years; and Wilcox’s imagination was greatly affected. Upon going to sleep, he had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities, titan blocks, and sky-high monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with dormant horror. Hieroglyphics covered the walls and pillars, and from some undetermined point below came a voice that was not a voice; a chaotic sensation that only imagination could translate into sound, but he attempted to pronounce the almost unpronounceable jumble of letters, “Cthulhu fhtagn”.

This verbal jumble was the key to remembering what excited and disturbed Professor Angell. That night, after waking suddenly, he questioned the sculptor at length. Chilled and still wearing his pajamas, he studied the sculpture with almost frantic intensity. Wilcox later said my uncle blamed his old age for his slowness in recognizing both hieroglyphics and pictures. Many of his questions seemed highly out-of-place to the youth, especially those trying to connect the designs with strange cults or societies; and Wilcox did not understand the repeated promise of silence in exchange for admitting he belonged to some widespread mythological religious group. When Professor Angell became convinced the sculptor was truly ignorant of any cult or cryptic lore, he besieged the youth with demands for reports of future dreams. This brought regular information. After this first interview, the manuscript tells of daily reports where the youth relates startling dream fragments, each containing some terrible Cyclopean vista of dark and dripping stone with a subterranean voice or intelligence shouting in gibberish. The two sounds repeated most often are those made by the letters “Cthulhu” and “R’lyeh”.

On March 23rd, Wilcox failed to appear; inquiries at his home revealed he developed an obscure fever and went to his family home on Waterman Street. He had cried out in the night, waking several other artists in the building, and has alternated between unconsciousness and delirium since. My uncle immediately telephoned the family and kept close watch over the case; often calling the Thayer Street office of Dr. Tobey, whom was in charge. The youth’s feverish mind was apparently dwelling on strange things; and the doctor shuddered as he spoke of them. They included not only a repetition of what he had dreamed before, but touched wildly on the gigantic thing “miles high” walking about. He never fully described this object, but occasional frantic words convinced the professor it must be identical with the nameless monstrosity he tried to depict in his dream-sculpture. Reference to this object always came before the young man’s collapse into lethargy. His temperature was not greatly above normal; but his condition as a whole suggested true fever rather than mental disorder.

On April 2nd, at 3 p.m. every trace of Wilcox’s sickness suddenly vanished. He sat upright in bed, astonished to find himself at home and completely ignorant of what happened in dream or reality since the night of March 22nd. Pronounced well by his doctor, he returned home in three days, but was of no further assistance to Professor Angell. All traces of strange dreaming vanished with his recovery, and my uncle kept no record of his dreams after a week of pointless accounts.

The first part of the manuscript ended here, but references to scattered notes gave me much to think on – so much, in fact, the only explanation for my continued distrust of the artist was the skepticism my belief system was made of at the time. The notes described dreams of various people during the same period as Wilcox’s strange dreams. My uncle instituted an impressive list of questions to nearly all the friends he could without being rude, asking for nightly reports of their dreams, and the dates of any notable visions for some time past. The reactions to his request varied; but he must have received more responses than any ordinary man could handle without a secretary. This original correspondence was not preserved, but his notes formed a thorough and significant account. Average people in society and business – New England’s traditional “salt of the earth” types – gave an almost completely negative result. Though scattered cases of uneasy but formless dreams appear here and there, always between March 23rd and April 2nd – the period of Wilcox’s delirium. Scientific men were little more affected, though four vaguely described cases suggesting glimpses of strange landscapes, and in one case a dread of something abnormal is mentioned.

The answers came from the artists and poets, and I know if they had been able to compare notes, panic would have ensued. Lacking their original letters, I half suspected my uncle asked leading questions or edited the correspondence to match what he was determined to see. That is why I continued to feel Wilcox, somehow aware of my uncle’s old data, had been fooling the veteran scientist. These responses from artists told a disturbing story. From February 28th to April 2nd, a large portion of them dreamed very bizarre things, the intensity growing immeasurably stronger during Wilcox’s delirium. Over a fourth of those who reported anything, reported scenes and half-sounds not unlike the ones Wilcox described; some confessed a sharp fear of the gigantic nameless thing at the end. One case, which the note describes with emphasis, was very sad. The subject, a widely known architect with inclinations toward theosophy and occultism, went violently insane on the date of Wilcox’s seizure, and he died several months later after incessant screaming to be saved from a demon escaped from hell. Had my uncle referred to these cases by name instead of number, I would have tried to personally investigate; as it was, I only found a few. All of these reviewed the notes in full. I have often wondered if all the professor’s subjects were as puzzled by his questions as these few were. It is good no explanation will ever reach them.

The newspaper clippings mention cases of panic, mania, and eccentricity during that time frame. Professor Angell must have used a paper cutter, for there was a tremendous number of articles from around the world. Here was a night suicide in London, where a lone sleeper jumped from a window after a shocking cry. A ranting letter to the editor of a paper in South America claimed a fanatic saw a horrible future in his dreams. A letter from California describes a theosophist colony as all wearing white robes for some “glorious fulfillment” that never arrives. Items from India speak cautiously of serious native unrest toward the end of March. Voodoo orgies multiply in Haiti, and African outposts report ominous whispers. American officers in the Philippians find certain tribes bothersome about this time, and New York policeman are mobbed by hysterical Levantines on the night of March 22-23. The west of Ireland is full of wild rumors, and a fantastic painter named Ardois-Bonnot hangs a blasphemous “Dream Landscape” in the Paris spring salon of 1926. There are numerous troubles in insane asylums, only a miracle could have stopped the medical community from noting strange similarities and coming to mystified conclusions. All told, it is a weird bunch of clippings. I can hardly imagine the callous rationalism that caused me to set them aside, but I was then convinced Wilcox knew the older matters mentioned by the professor.

Classics, horror

The Masque of the Red Death

Edgar Allan Poe, 1842. Translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 
Original illustration to the tale

The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No plague had ever been so deadly or hideous. Blood’s redness and horror was its Avatar and seal. There were sharp pains, sudden dizziness, and excessive bleeding at the pores before death. The victim’s scarlet stained body and face outcast him from the sympathetic aid of others. The whole process, from infection to death, took 30 minutes.

Regardless, Prince Prospero was happy, fearless, and clever. When his kingdom’s population was reduced by half, he summoned a thousand healthy and light-hearted friends from the knights and women of his court. With them, he retreated to the seclusion of his towered abbey. It was a vast and magnificent place, a creation of the Prince’s eccentric yet respected taste. A strong, high wall with iron gates encircled it. The courtiers brought furnaces and massive hammers to weld the bolts. They were determined to close every exit against those who may later panic. The abbey was well stocked. With such precautions the courtiers might avoid the plague. The outside world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was foolish to grieve or think. The prince had provided all the instruments of pleasure. There were fools, poets, ballet-dancers, musicians, beauty, and wine. All these and safety were within. Out there was the “Red Death.”

It was toward the end of the 5-6th month of seclusion – while the plague raged across the country – that Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a shapely scene, but first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven – an imperial suite. However, in many palaces, such suites form a long and straight view, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either side. It allows the area to be viewed as a whole with minimal obstruction. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so unevenly placed, you could only see one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every 20-30 yards, each with a unique feature. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked upon a closed corridor after each turn.

These windows were of stained glass with varying colors to match the decor of the chamber unto which it opened. For example, the eastern chamber was hung in blue – and its windows were vividly blue. 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 lit with orange – the fifth with white – the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries on the ceiling and walls, falling in heavy folds onto a matching carpet. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows did not match. The panes were scarlet – a deep blood color.

None of the seven apartments contained any lamp or candelabrum among the golden ornaments scattered everywhere or hanging from the roof. There was no light shining from lamp or candle inside the suite. But in the corridors outside the suite, opposite each window, there stood a heavy tripod holding a warm fire that projected its light through the tinted glass to illuminate the room. And thus a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances were produced. But in the black chamber the effect of the fire-light on the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes was ghastly and extreme. It produced so wild a look upon the faces of those who entered, that there were few bold enough to enter at all.

A gigantic clock of ebony stood against the western wall of the same apartment. Its pendulum swung back and forth with a dull, heavy, tedious clang; when the minute-hand made a full turn and the hour was to strike, its bold lungs made a sound which was clear, loud, deep, and exceedingly musical, but had such a peculiar sound that the orchestra would momentarily pause their performance to listen. Thus the dancers stopped twirling; and there was brief unease of the happy company; and, while the chimes continued to ring, the giddiest were seen growing pale. The older and calmer passed their hands over their brows as if confused or meditating. But when the echos had fully stopped, a light laughter immediately spread through the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled at their own nerves and foolishness, whispering vows that the next chiming will not cause such a reaction. Then, after sixty minutes (which is 3,600 seconds of the Time that flies,) there came another chime of the clock, and the same discomfort and quivering as before.

In spite of these things, it was a happy and magnificent party. The duke’s tastes were peculiar. He had a fine eye for color and decorations. He disregarded the decorum of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his ideas glowed with a barbaric shimmer. There are some who would have thought him crazy. His followers did not think so. It was necessary to hear, see, and touch him to be sure he was not.

He had directed, in great part, the portable decorations in the seven chambers for this great party; and it was his guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There was much glare, glitter, spice, and phantasm – much of which has been seen in “Hernani.” There were ornamental figures with odd limbs and features. There were delirious fancies such as madman fashions. There were many of the beautiful, the wanton, the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have disgusted.

Back and forth in the seven chambers there stalked a multitude of dreams. These dreams writhed about, taking color from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as an echo of their steps. And soon strikes the ebony clock which stands in the velvet hall. For a moment, all else is still and silent. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But these echos of the chime die away – they lasted only an instant – and a light, half-subdued laughter follows them as they leave. Now again the music swells, the dreams live and writhe about more happily than ever, taking color from the many lit up, tinted windows. But to the black chamber, there are now none who enter; for the night is coming to an end; and there flows a dimmer light through the blood-colored panes; the blackness of the drapery is appalling; those whose feet step upon the black carpet hear the clock’s chime more emphatically than those in other apartments.

But the other apartments were densely crowded, and in them the heart of life beat feverishly. The party continued until the clock chimed midnight. Then, as I have told, the music stopped. The twirling of the dancers and all things stopped. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps as more time passed and thoughts crept into the minds of party-goers. Before the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, many individuals became aware of a masked figure who had not been noticed before. The rumor spread around in whispers. There arose a unanimous buzz, or whisper, expressing disapproval and surprise – then, finally, terror, horror, and disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have described, it may be assumed that no ordinary appearance could have caused such a reaction. In truth, the night’s masquerade license was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the appearance of even the prince’s indefinite taste. The most reckless have chords in their hearts which cannot be touched without emotion. Even the utterly lost who view life and death as a joke have matters of which no joke can be made. Everyone now seemed to deeply feel the stranger inside that costume possessed neither wit nor propriety. He was tall, gaunt, and shrouded head to foot in the outfit of the grave. The mask concealing his face was made to resemble that of a stiffened corpse. It would be difficult to recognize as fake even with close scrutiny. And yet, all this may have been endured, if not approved by the mad masqueraders around. But the whisper had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His clothes, broad brow, and face were dabbled in blood. When Prince Prospero’s eyes fell upon this spectral image (which slowly and solemnly stalked among the dancers as if to better sustain its role) he was seen shuddering at first, in either terror or distaste; but then his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” He demanded hoarsely of those standing near him – “who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and remove his mask – so we may know whom will hang at sunrise!”

It was in the blue room where the prince stood with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, this group made slight rushing movements toward the intruder, who was now also near, taking deliberate steps toward the prince. But not one of the whole party which the mad whispers inspired made an effort to stop him; he passed, unchallenged, within a yard of the prince. While the large assembly shrank back against the walls, he made his way with the same solemn and measured step which first distinguished him from the rest; through the previous six chambers, all without any effort made to stop him.

It was then Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and shame at his momentary cowardice, drew his dagger and rushed through the six chambers to within 3-4 feet of the retreating figure. None followed, all were frozen in deadly terror. The figure reached a dead-end, and turned to face his pursuer. There was a sharp cry as the dagger fell, gleaming, to the sable carpet. Instantly, Prince Prospero fell down, dead. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of party-goers threw themselves into the black apartments, seizing the stranger who stood erect and motionless in the shadow of the ebony clock. They gasped in indescribable horror at finding the grave clothes and corpse-like mask (which they handled with violence and rudeness) uninhabited by a physical form.

And now they acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one the party-goers dropped in the blood-covered halls of their party, each dying in the position they fell. The life of the ebony clock went out with the last one. The flames of the tripods expired. Darkness, Decay, and Red Death held unlimited dominion over all.

I did this purely for fun. I hope to do more in the future, but it won’t be a common occurrence. I find reading them this way easier and more enjoyable. It may not be for everyone, but it’s worth giving a chance. Thank you all and Happy Halloween!