Classics Translated

The Pit and the Pendulum

Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1842; translated into Modern English, otherwise exactly the same.

(Narration coming soon)

I was sick to death of the agony; when they untied me, and I was allowed to sit, I felt like I was losing my mind. The dreaded death sentence was the last thing I heard. After that, the sound of the interrogating voices merged into one dreamy, unrecognizable hum. It infused my soul with the idea of revolution – perhaps due to the way it sounded like a mill-wheel – but I only heard it for a brief period. For a while, I saw terrible things! I saw the thin lips of the black-robed judges. They were whiter than the paper I write on and grotesquely thin; they all wore the firm expression of one who is absolutely certain of their beliefs, and they showed a stern contempt for torture. Their lips squirmed with deadly commands as they passed judgment over my Fate. I saw them form the syllables of my name and shuddered when no sound followed. For a moment, I also saw the soft and nearly invisible movement of the black curtains that wrapped the walls. Then, I saw the seven tall candles on the table. At first, they seemed like white, slender angels who would save me, but suddenly, I became very nauseous; every inch of my body felt like I had been electrocuted. The angels became meaningless ghosts with flaming heads, and I realized they would be no help. Next, I heard a rich, musical note and thought of how peacefully the dead must rest. The thought crept up gently and took a long time to complete, but just as I began to really consider it – the judges magically vanished. The tall candles sank into nothing, and the black darkness prevailed; all sensations were swallowed up in the mad, rushing fall into hell. Then, silence, stillness, and night were the only things left in the universe.

I felt faint but did not completely lose consciousness. I will not attempt to define or describe what little remained, but all was not lost. In the deepest slumber— no, in delirium— no, in death— no, even in the grave, all is not lost; otherwise, man cannot be immortal. When waking from a deep sleep, we break through the silky web of some dream, yet a second later – we forget what it was about. There are two stages to waking. First, is in the mental or spiritual sense; second, is in the physical sense. Once awake, we can usually recall impressions of the dream; these impressions are clear memories of the gulf beyond, and that gulf is— what? How can we tell its shadows apart from the ones we see in death? If the impressions from the first stage are not remembered immediately, they come to us spontaneously, and we wonder where they came from. A man who has never felt that madness will not see strange places and familiar faces in the embers of a fire or imagine sad visions floating in the air; he will not wonder about the smell of a random flower or grow confused over the meaning of a song.

Among frequent attempts at trying to remember any part of mine, there were moments I remembered dreaming of success; there were very brief periods where I imagined myself in the future, and that is how I knew it could not be real. These shadowy memories are of tall figures that dragged me down in silence— down, down, still further down, until I became horribly dizzy at the mere idea of continuing. My unnaturally still heart also warned of a vague horror. Then, everything suddenly stopped – as if my tormentors had reached their limit and needed a break. After this, I remember a flat, damp area, and the rest is a chaotic memory trying to hide forbidden things.

I woke to my heart beating loudly in my ears followed by a silent pause, and a tingling sensation spread through my body. For a long while, there were no thoughts – merely an awareness of my existence. Then, very suddenly, my thoughts returned, and I was consumed by terror as I tried to understand my situation. It resulted in a strong desire to fall back into oblivion, but was soon followed by a surge of motivation and a successful attempt at moving. Now, I remembered the trial, the judges, the black robes, the punishment, the sickness, and the delirium; with great, concentrated effort, I was able to vaguely recall what happened later that day.

So far, my eyes remained closed. I was untied and laying on my back; I reached out my hand, and it fell heavily onto something hard and damp. I struggled to keep it there for several minutes while trying to imagine what it could be. I dared not to look even though I wanted to; I dreaded seeing the objects around me. It was not that I feared looking at horrible things, but I feared there would be nothing to see. With a wild desperation, I opened my eyes quickly, and my worst fears were confirmed. The blackness of night surrounded me, and I struggled to breathe. The intensity of the darkness was crushing, and the air was unbearably dense. I continued to lay quietly and tried to think logically. I thought about the trial and attempted to discern my location. It seemed like a very long time had passed since my sentence was given, but I did not think myself dead for even a moment. Such an uncertain belief only happens in works of fiction, but where – and in what – condition was I? Those sentenced to death usually died at the inquisition burnings, and one of these had been held on the same night as my trial. Had I been returned to my dungeon to wait for the one that is several months away? I immediately knew that could not be. Victims were in immediate demand. Plus, my dungeon and all the condemned cells in Toledo had stone floors, and they were not pitch black.

A scary thought suddenly made my heart race, and for a brief time, I once more fell into a state of delirium. Upon recovering, I immediately rose to my feet – my entire body shaking. I reached my arms out blindly in all directions and felt nothing, yet I feared taking a step in case I found the walls of a tomb. Sweat ran from every pore and stood in big, cold drops on my forehead. The suspense was agonizing and grew to be unbearable; cautiously, I moved forward with my arms extended – straining my eyes in hopes of finding any faint ray of light. I continued for many paces, but everything was black and empty. I breathed easier; it was obvious that I had at least escaped the worst fates.

As I continued to step forward cautiously, I suddenly remembered a thousand vague rumors about the horrors of Toledo. Strange things have been said of its dungeons; I had always considered them to be myths – too ghastly to repeat above a whisper. Was I left to starve in this underground world of darkness? What even worse fate might await me? It would be a harsher death than the usual bitter executions they perform; I knew my judge’s character too well to doubt it. The how and when were the only thoughts that distracted me.

My outstretched hands finally found a smooth, stone wall. It was slimy and cold, but I followed it along, stepping carefully and wondering what brilliant idea made me try in the first place. This process did nothing to help determine the size of my dungeon; I made a complete lap back to where I started without being aware of it. Since there were no unique features, I looked for the knife that had been in my pocket, but it was gone, and my clothes had been exchanged for a coarse, woolen robe; I had wanted to use the blade to mark my starting point. There was an easy solution, but my initial panic made it seem impossible to do any other way. I tore part of the robe’s hem and placed the strip of fabric by the wall; I thought it would be impossible to miss while feeling my way around the cell, but I either underestimated the dungeon’s size or my own weakness. The ground was wet and slippery; I staggered forward for some time until I tripped and fell. I was too tired to get up and soon fell asleep.

When I woke and reached out my arm, there was a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water. I ate and drank greedily – too exhausted to care how it got there. Then, I resumed my lap around the prison, and finally returned the strip of cloth. I had counted 52 paces before falling, and I counted 48 more after. In total, that is 100 paces, and – assuming two paces equal one yard – I figured the dungeon to be 50 yards in circumference. However, I found many angles in the wall and could not guess the shape of the vault; I could not help thinking of it as a vault.

I had few clues and no hope of learning anything, but a vague curiosity prompted me to keep trying. Giving up on the wall, I decided to cross the dungeon’s floor. At first I went with extreme caution; although the floor seemed solid, it was covered with slime. Ultimately, I did not hesitate to step firmly as I struggled to cross in as straight a line as possible. I went 10-12 paces this way when the scrap of cloth became tangled between my legs; I tripped and fell hard on my face.

During the confusion after my fall, I laid on my back, not understanding what I saw. My chin rested on the prison’s floor, but not my lips or anything above them; my forehead was soaked in a clammy sweat, and I could smell the peculiar stench of rotten fungus. I reached forward and shuddered to find myself at the edge of a round pit; I had no way to determine its size. Feeling around the bricks at the edge, I was able to remove a small piece and drop it into the hole. For many seconds I listened to it bounce off the stone walls as it fell; finally, there was a sullen splash of water followed by loud echoes. At the same time, I heard the quick opening and closing of a door from above, and a faint beam of light suddenly flashed through the gloom and faded away.

It became clear what they had planned for me, and I congratulated myself for the timely accident that allowed me to avoid it. One step further, and it would have been the end. There was a choice between a physically horrible death or a mentally horrible death, and I had been marked for the latter. My nerves were a wreck from all the suffering I had endured; I trembled at the sound of my own voice and was now a perfect subject for the awaiting torture.

Shaking all over, I felt my way back to the wall; I decided to die there rather than risk the terror of the pit. My imagination created many horrors in the dungeon. If my mind were in a better state, I might have had the courage to end my misery immediately by jumping into the hole, but in that moment, I was the king of cowards. The fact that it was a slow death was the only thing I remembered reading about the pit.

My anger kept me awake for many hours, but eventually, I slept again. Upon waking, I found another loaf of bread and a pitcher of water nearby. I was consumed by a burning thirst and emptied the pitcher in a single drink. It must have been drugged; I hardly drank any before becoming unbearably tired and falling into a deep, death-like sleep. I do not know for how long, but when I woke, my surroundings were visible. Due to an unknown soft, yellow glow, I was able to see the full prison.

I had been greatly mistaken about its size; it was no more than eight feet wide. For several minutes this fact troubled me greatly. What could be less important than the size of my dungeon? My mind tends to focus on insignificant details, and I tried to discern how I misjudged the dimensions by so much. Then, I realized the truth; during my first attempt, I counted 52 paces before falling and must have been only a couple of steps away from the torn fabric. I had almost completed the lap when I fell asleep; considering my calculations were almost double the actual size, I must have walked back the way I came after waking. In my confusion, I failed to realize the wall was to my left when I started and to my right when I finished.

I was also fooled about its shape. I found many angles when feeling my way around and assumed something very unlikely; waking from a deep sleep in total darkness has a strong effect on one’s senses. The angles were only a few small, sporadic indentations; its actual shape was square. What I mistook for stone were huge plates of iron or a similar metal, and the indentations were where the plates connected. The metallic dungeon was filled with hideous and repulsive devices inspired by the superstitious monk’s burial chambers. The walls were covered with menacing skeletons and other frightening images. The shapes of these monstrosities were clear, but the colors were faded and blurry from the damp atmosphere. In the center of the stone floor was the round pit I had almost fallen into.

It was difficult to see these things due to my poor condition. I was now lying on my back, and a long strap held me in place atop a low, wooden platform. The bond wrapped around my limbs and body several times, and only my head and left arm were able to move; with great effort, I was able to feed myself when given food. To my horror, the water was gone, and I was consumed by an unbearable thirst. The food reeked of spices that would make me even more thirsty; removing the water was yet another method of torture.

Looking up, I inspected my prison’s ceiling. It was 30-40 feet high and built like the walls. My attention then focused on a single, painted panel; it showed the Grim Reaper, except – instead of a scythe – he held a picture of a huge pendulum like we see on antique clocks. There was something about the machine’s appearance that made me inspect it carefully. When I looked straight up at it – I realized it was moving. It moved in short, slow swings, and I watched it for several minutes – partly from fear, but mostly from curiosity. Finally, I grew tired of observing its dull movement and looked at the rest of my cell.

I heard a slight noise and looked down to see several enormous rats crossing the floor. They came out of the pit which I could see to my right. While I watched, dozens hurried out with ravenous eyes – attracted by the smell of meat. It required great effort to scare them away.

There was no way to track the time, but nearly an hour later, I looked up again. What I saw confused and amazed me. The pendulum was swinging nearly a yard wider at a greatly increased speed, but the fact that it had lowered was the most disturbing part. The end of the crescent-shaped glittering steel was roughly a foot long from point to point, and the bottom edge looked sharp as a razor. It seemed bulky and heavy, but higher up, it thinned and connected to a hefty brass rod that hissed as it swung through the air.

There were no more doubts that I faced the monk’s ingenious tortures. The inquisitors knew I discovered the pit – whose horrors are reserved for bold rebels such as myself; it is comparable to hell and regarded as the worst of all their punishments. Being trapped and ignorant of what is to come is an important part of the torture. I avoided falling into the hole by accident, and throwing me into the abyss would be no fun for the demons. Now, a different, milder death awaited me. Milder! I half-smiled at the word choice despite my agony.

For many long, long hours of indescribable horror, I counted the steel pendulum’s rushing swings. Inch by inch it slowly lowered – down and down it came! Days passed; it might have been many days – it swung so close, I could feel its pungent wind. The sharp steel’s smell forced itself into my nostrils, and I begged heaven for a quicker descent. I grew frantic with anger and struggled to force myself up – into the frightening blade’s path. Then, I suddenly calmed and lay smiling at the glittering blade – like a child smiles at a shiny object.

There was another brief period of delirium; upon waking, there was no noticeable descent in the pendulum, but it might have been longer. I knew the demons noticed my lapse of consciousness, and they could have easily stopped the blade. I felt indescribably sick and weak, as if I were starving. Even during the agony of that time, my body needed food. I painfully reached out as far as my bonds allowed and grabbed the small bit of food left by the rats. As I put it in my mouth, I realized something that made me happy – even hopeful. Yet what business did I have to hope? I felt joy and hope, but I also felt the happy thought vanish before it fully formed. I struggled in vain to remember it. My long suffering had nearly eliminated my ability to think clearly; I was an idiot.

The pendulum swung horizontally across my body – aimed to strike near my heart. First, it would slice into my robe, then, it would retreat and come back again… and again. Its swing now ranged thirty feet or more and would be strong enough to shred the iron walls, but the cutting of my robe would take several minutes. I paused at this thought – not daring to think of what would come next, but I considered it persistently as if that would stop the pendulum’s descent. I forced myself to think about the strange sensation and sound the blade would make as it passed across the robe; I thought about all these pointless things until my teeth were on edge.

It crept down steadily, and I took an erratic pleasure in comparing its descent with its velocity. To the right – to the left – far and wide – screaming at me like a cursed spirit with the stealthy pace of a tiger! I alternated between laughter and howling – depending which thought became my focus.

Down – unavoidably, relentlessly down! It swung within three inches of my chest! I struggled violently, furiously, to free my left arm; it was only loose from the elbow down. With great effort, I could reach the nearby plate and my mouth, but no farther. If I could have broken the bonds above my elbow, I would have attempted to stop the pendulum by catching it; I might as well have attempted to stop an avalanche!

Down still – consistently and inevitably down! I gasped, struggling and convulsing at every swing as my eyes followed it with a desperate eagerness; they reflexively closed at the descent, but death would have been a relief! Still, my whole body shook at the thought of how slight the descent would be that came before that first, glistening strike across my chest. Hope is what made my nerves quiver; the desperate kind that whispers to the condemned – even in the dungeons of the Inquisition.

In 10-12 more swings, the steel would connect with my robe. My soul was consumed with despair, but then, I realized the strap was the only thing holding me in place. The blade’s first strike would cut the bond – making it possible to free myself – though, the blade would be horrifically close. Any wrong movement would be deadly! Also, it seemed likely that the torturer’s minions had not considered or planned for the possibility! Was there a chance the strap was in the pendulum’s path? In my last, frustrated hope, I struggled to lift my head enough to see my chest. The strap wound tightly around my limbs and body in all directions except for where the blade would strike.

I dropped my head back, and an escape plan suddenly flashed through my mind. Earlier, I hinted that parts of one were beginning to form while I ate. Now, the plan was complete; it was weak, insane, and dangerous – but still complete. Though nervous and filled with doubt, I began immediately.

For many hours, the area around me had been swarming with rats. They were wild, brave, and starving; their red eyes glared at me as if they were only waiting for me to go still before attacking. “What food are they used to eating down here?” I thought.

Despite my greatest efforts to stop them, they ate almost all of my food. I was constantly waving my hand over the dish, but once they grew accustomed to the movement it stopped working; in their hunger, the vermin frequently bit my fingers. With the spices that remained, I thoroughly rubbed the strap wherever I could reach it; then, raising my hand away from the floor – I laid entirely still.

At first, the starving animals were startled and terrified at my sudden stillness. They retreated in alarm – many into the well – but only for a moment; I was right to depend on their hunger. Seeing that I remained motionless, a couple of the bravest jumped onto my platform and smelled the strap. This seemed to be the signal for the others to come forward. They rushed over in hordes – clinging to the wooden frame, and leaping onto me by the hundreds. The movement of the pendulum did not bother them at all; they avoided its swing as they focused on my tasty bonds. More and more swarmed over me in heaps, writhing on my throat, and their cold lips found my own. I was suffocating under their weight; the world has no word for the level of disgust that swelled within me, and my heart felt deeply chilled, almost clammy. Yet, I felt that the struggle would be over in a minute; the strap was noticeably loosened. It must have already been severed in multiple places. With inhuman determination, I continued laying still.

My calculations proved correct, and my efforts were not in vain. Finally, I was free; the shredded strap hung loosely from my body, but the pendulum’s swing had already cut into my chest. It had split the robe’s fabric and made two more passes – sending sharp shots of pain through every nerve – but it was time to escape. A wave of my hand scared the rats away; then, my movements were steady, cautious, and slow as I slid out of the straps and away from the blade. For the moment, I was free.

I was free from the blade but not from the Inquisition! I had barely stepped onto the prison’s stone floor when the hellish machine stopped moving, and some invisible force pulled it up into the ceiling. It was a lesson I took to heart; my every move was surely being watched. Free! I had only escaped one agonizing death to endure another – perhaps one even worse. At that thought, I nervously inspected the iron bars holding me prisoner and noticed something unusual – something I did not notice at first. For several minutes, I busied myself in vain with random assumptions, and – for the first time – realized where the yellow light was coming from. It came from a half-inch wide crack that extended around the entire cell at the bottom of the walls – which were completely separate from the floor. I struggled to look through the opening, but could not see anything.

As I rose from trying, I immediately understood the purpose of the chamber’s alterations. I saw the distinct outlines of figures, but their color was blurred and hard to describe. These colors were now intensely bright and gave them a menacing, ghoulish appearance that might have frightened someone with even stronger nerves than my own. Wild, ghastly, demonic eyes glared at me from a thousand directions, all gleaming with a fire I could not believe to be imaginary.

I could smell the vapors of heated iron, and the suffocating odor spread through the prison! A deeper glow settled into the eyes glaring at me, and I panted, gasping for breath; there was no doubt what my persistent, demonic tormentors planned now! I retreated to the center of the cell, away from the glowing metal. As I thought of the fiery end to come, I was relieved to remember the pit’s coldness. I rushed to its deadly edges and strained to see down below. The glare from the burning roof lit its darkest depths, but – for a wild moment – my eyes refused to understand what I saw. Finally, it wrestled its way into my soul until I could not deny logic any longer. Oh, what I would have given for a voice to speak! What horror! With a scream, I rushed away from the edge and buried my face in my hands, weeping bitterly.

The heat rose rapidly, and I looked up once again, shaking with fear. There had been a second change in the cell. Like before, I failed to understand what was happening at first, but I was not left wondering for long. The Inquisitor’s revenge had been rushed by my escape, and the King of Terrors would have no more delay. The room had been square; I saw that two of its iron angles were now small and the other two were large. The frightening difference quickly increased with a low, rumbling moan, and the room suddenly shifted into the shape of a diamond as the walls closed in. They did not stop there, and I did not want them to stop; I would have pulled those red walls to my chest like a blanket of eternal peace. “Death,” I said, “any death but the pit!” Fool! I should have known the burning walls’ purpose was to push me into the pit! Could I stand against its heat or pressure? The diamond grew flatter and flatter so fast that I had no time to think. The center fell just over the pit; I shrank back, but the closing walls pushed me forward. Finally, there was no foothold left on the prison floor for my burned and writhing body to stand. I stopped struggling, but the agony in my soul found comfort in one loud, long, and final scream of despair. I balanced on the edge and looked away—

There was a conflicting hum of human voices, a loud blast of trumpets, and a harsh grating like a thousand thunders! The fiery walls rushed back! An outstretched arm caught my own as I fell, fainting, into the abyss; it was General Lasalle. The French army had entered Toledo; the Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.

Classics Translated

Bluebeard

Charles Perrault, originally published 1697; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 


This story was adapted specially for Classics in the Rain with the wonderful Danie Dreadful. Enjoy Bluebeard in its full glory with this fantastic narration!

There was once a man who had fine houses, a great treasure, embroidered furniture, and gold-plated coaches, but this man was unlucky enough to have a blue beard; it made him so frightfully ugly that all the women ran away from him.

One of his neighbors – a highborn lady – had two daughters who were perfect beauties. He wanted to marry one of them and let her choose which it would be. Neither of the women would have him; they sent him back and forth from one to the other, unable to bear the thought of marrying a man with a blue beard. Adding to their aversion was the fact that he had already been married to several wives, and nobody knew what happened to them.

To win their affection, Bluebeard took them, their mother, and a few friends from the neighborhood to one of his country houses where they stayed for a whole week.

The time was filled with parties, hunting, fishing, dancing, and feasting. Nobody went to bed; they all spent the night celebrating and joking with each other. Everything went according to plan, and the youngest daughter began to think the man’s beard was not so blue after all, and that he was a very nice gentleman.

They were married as soon as they returned home. About a month later, Bluebeard needed to travel to the country for at least six weeks due to very important business matters. Not wanting his wife to be lonely, he suggested she take some friends to the country house and enjoy herself.

Original art I found

“Here are the keys to the two big rooms where my best furniture is stored. These keys are to the good silver, which are not for everyday use, and this one opens the safe containing my gold; these are for the jewelry cases, and this is the master key to all the apartments… Now – as for this little one here – it is the key to the ground floor closet at the end of the great hall. Open them all; go into each and every one of them – except for that closet. I forbid it. If you do open it – I will be greatly angered and resentful.” He said.

She promised to obey his exact wishes. Then, he hugged her, got into his coach, and left on his journey.

Her friends and neighbors did not wait to be invited; they were impatient to see the rich furniture, but they were too frightened of her husband’s blue beard to visit while he was there. They ran through all the rooms, and each was finer than the last.

Finally, they visited the two great rooms with the most expensive furniture. They could not sufficiently admire all the beautiful paintings, beds, couches, cabinets, tables, and full-length mirrors; some were framed with glass, others with silver, and they were the most magnificent they had ever seen.

In the meantime, the wife did not waste her time looking at all these fine things because she was impatient to open the closet on the ground floor. Her curiosity was so strong, she descended the black staircase with no thought to how rude it was to leave her guests, and – in her hurry – she nearly fell and broke her neck.

She paused at the closet door, thinking about her husband’s command and considering what the consequences might be if she disobeyed, but the temptation was too strong to resist. Trembling, she opened it with the little key, but it was too dark to see anything clearly. After a few minutes, her eyes began to adjust; the bodies of several dead women were laid against the walls, and the floor was covered with dried blood. These were all the previous wives of Bluebeard; he married and murdered them one after another. She thought she would die of fright, and the key fell from her hand.

She retrieved the key, locked the door, and went upstairs to recover in her room, but she was simply too frightened. Noticing the key was stained with blood, she tried to wipe it off, but it would not come out; she even tried to wash it with soap and sand, but that did not work either. The blood remained because it was a magical key, and she could never get it clean; when the blood was gone from one side, it reappeared on the other.

Bluebeard returned from his journey that same evening; he received letters on the road stating the business matters had ended well. His wife did all she could to convince him she was happy about his speedy return.

The next morning, he asked for the keys; her hand trembled so badly that he easily guessed what happened.

“Why is the key to my closet missing?” He asked.

“I must have left it on the table upstairs.” She said.

“Bring it to me at once.” Bluebeard demanded.

After several back and forths between them, she was forced to bring him the key. Bluebeard carefully examined it before asking, “Why is there blood on it?”

“I do not know!” The poor woman cried, paler than death.

“You do not know!” Exclaimed Bluebeard. “I know exactly what happened! You went into the closet, did you not? Very well, madam; you will go back and take your place among the ladies you saw there.”

At this, she threw herself at her husband’s feet and sincerely begged his forgiveness – vowing to never disobey again. She was so beautiful she could have melted a rock, but Bluebeard’s heart was harder than any rock!

“You must die at once, madam,” he said.

“If I must die, give me time to say my prayers.” She answered, her eyes bathed in tears.

“I will give you seven minutes, but not one second more.” Bluebeard replied.

When she was alone, she called to her sister, “Sister Anne, I beg you, go to the top of the tower, and see if my brothers are coming. They promised they would be here today; if you see them, give them a sign to hurry.”

Anne went to the top of the tower, and the poor wife cried out from time to time, “Anne, do you see anyone coming?”

“I see nothing but a cloud of dust, the sun, and the green grass.” Her sister replied.

Meanwhile Bluebeard held a great sword in his hand and called to his wife as loudly as he could, “Come down now, or I will come get you.”

“One moment longer, please,” his wife said; then, very softly, she cried out, “Sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?”

“I see nothing but a cloud of dust, the sun, and the green grass.” Anne answered.

“Come down quickly, or I will come get you.” Bluebeard cried.

“I am coming,” his wife answered; then she cried, “Sister Anne, you do not see anyone coming?”

“I see a great cloud of dust approaching.” Anne replied.

“Are they my brothers?”

“No, my dear sister, it is a flock of sheep.”

“Are you coming down?” Shouted Bluebeard.

“One moment longer,” his wife said; then she cried, “Sister Anne, do you see anyone coming?”

“I see two horsemen, but they are still far away.” She said.

“Thank God,” the poor wife replied joyfully. “It is my brothers; I will give them a sign to hurry.”

Then, Bluebeard yelled so loud, it shook the whole house. The frightened wife came down in tears, her hair in disarray, and threw herself at his feet.

“This means nothing; you must die!” Bluebeard said. Taking hold of her hair with one hand and lifting the sword in the other, he prepared to remove her head. The poor lady turned to him, and – with pleading eyes – asked for one final minute to compose herself.

“No, explain yourself to God,” he said, ready to strike.

At that moment, there was such a loud knocking at the gate that Bluebeard stopped suddenly. The gate was opened, and two horsemen entered. Drawing their swords, they ran directly to Bluebeard, and he knew they were his wife’s brothers; one was a soldier, and the other was a musketeer. He immediately ran to save himself, but the brothers captured him before he was off the porch. They ran their swords through his body and left him on the ground. The poor wife was almost as dead as her husband; she didn’t even have enough strength to stand and welcome her saviors.

Bluebeard had no heirs so his wife inherited everything. She used part of it to marry Anne to a young gentleman who loved her, and another part was used to buy captaincy commissions for her brothers. The rest she used to marry a very worthy gentleman who made her forget the bad time she had with Bluebeard.

Classics Translated

The Night the Ghost Got in

James Thurber, originally published 1933; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

This story was adapted specially for a live read by the amazing Danie Dreadful!

The ghost that got into our house on the night of November 17, 1915 caused a horrible mess; I should have just kept walking and went to bed. Its presence caused my mother to throw a shoe through the neighbor’s window and ended with my grandfather shooting a policeman. I regret ever stopping to pay attention to the footsteps.

They began around 1:15am – walking around the dining-room table at a quick but steady pace. My mother and my brother, Herman were asleep upstairs; grandfather was in the attic – in the old walnut bed that once fell on my father. I was drying off after a bath when I heard the steps. It sounded like a man was running around the dining-room table downstairs. The light from the bathroom was shining down the back steps – directly into the dining-room; I could see the faint shine of plates on the shelf and table. The steps continued to circle, and a board creaked at regular intervals when stepped on. At first, I thought it was my father or my brother, Roy; they had gone to Indianapolis but were expected home any time. Next, I suspected it was a burglar. It was not until later that I realized it was a ghost.

After the walking had continued for roughly three minutes, I tiptoed to Herman’s room. “Psst!” I hissed in the dark, shaking him.

“Awp,” he said in the low, hopeless tone of a beagle; he was always paranoid that something would “get him” in the night.

I told him who I was and said, “there’s something downstairs!” He got up and followed me to the back staircase. We listened together, but there was no sound; the steps had stopped. Herman looked at me with surprise – I was only wearing a bath towel around my waist. He wanted to return to bed, but I grabbed his arm.

“There’s something down there!” I said. Instantly, the steps began again; it sounded like a man was running around the dining-room table, but then they rushed towards us – taking the stairs two at a time.

The pale light was still shining down the stairs, but we saw nothing – we only heard the steps. Herman rushed to his room and slammed the door. I slammed the door at the top of the stairs and held my knee against it. After a long moment, I slowly opened it again. Nothing was there; all was quiet. None of us ever heard the ghost again.

The slamming doors woke mother, and she peeked out of her room. “What on earth are you boys doing?” she demanded.

Herman came out of his room. “Nothing,” he said gruffly.

“What was all that running around downstairs?” Mother asked. She had heard the steps, too! We only looked at her. “Burglars!” she shouted.

I tried to calm her by starting downstairs. “Come on, Herman,” I said.

“I’ll stay with mother; she’s all excited.” He said.

I stepped back onto the landing. “Both of you are staying right here,” mother said. “We’ll call the police.”

Since the phone was downstairs, I didn’t see how we were going to make a call – nor did I want the police – but mother made one of her quick, uncompromising decisions. She flung open her bedroom window and threw a shoe through the neighbor’s window. Glass fell into the bedroom of a retired engraver named Bodwell and his wife. Bodwell had been rather ill for some years, and was prone to mild “attacks.” Most everybody we knew or lived near had some kind of attack.

It was now about 2:00 on a moonless night, and black clouds hung low in the sky. Bodwell was at the window in an instant – shouting and shaking his fist. “We’ll sell the house and go back to Peoria,” we could hear Mrs. Bodwell say.

It was some time before mother got through to Bodwell. “Burglars!” she shouted. “Burglars in the house!”

Herman and I hadn’t dared tell her differently – she was even more afraid of ghosts than burglars. At first, Bodwell thought she meant there were burglars in his house, but finally, he calmed down and called the police for us. After he disappeared from the window, mother suddenly tried to throw another shoe, but I stopped her. It was not because of a necessity, but because she greatly enjoyed the thrill of breaking glass.

The police arrived in an impressively short time; there was a Ford sedan full of them, two on motorcycles, and a patrol wagon with eight more plus a few reporters. They banged on our front door, and flashlights searched over the walls, across our yard, and between the houses.

“Open up!” cried a hoarse voice. “We’re from Headquarters!”

I wanted to go down and let them in, but mother wouldn’t hear of it. “You’re naked,” she pointed out. “You’d catch your death.”

I wound the towel around me again. Finally the cops put their shoulders to our big, heavy door with its thick windows and broke in. I could hear wood breaking and a splash of glass on the floor. Their lights danced all over the living-room and dining-room, stabbed into hallways, and shot up both flights of stairs. They caught me standing in my towel at the top.

A heavy policeman ran up the steps. “Who are you?” he demanded.

“I live here,” I said.

“Well, what’s the matter, are ya hot?” He asked.

As a matter of fact, it was cold; I went to my room and put on some pants. On my way out, a cop stuck a gun into my ribs. “What are you doin’ here?” he demanded.

“I live here,” I said again.

The officer in charge reported to mother. “No sign of nobody, lady. He must have got away. What’d he look like?”

“There were two or three of them, whooping and hollering and slamming doors.” Mother said.

“Funny; all your windows and doors were locked tight.” The cop said.

Downstairs, we could hear the other officers stomping around. They were all over the place; doors and drawers were yanked open, windows were thrown up, and furniture fell with dull thuds. A half-dozen policemen emerged from the darkness of the front, upstairs hallway. They began to ransack everything; beds were pulled away from walls, clothes were torn off hooks, and boxes were pulled from shelves. One of them found an old harp that Roy won in a pool tournament.

“Looky here, Joe,” he said, strumming it with a big paw.

The cop named Joe took it and turned it over. “What is it?” he asked me.

“It’s an old harp that our guinea pig used to sleep on,” I said. It was true – that guinea pig never slept anywhere else, but I should never have said so. Joe and the other cop looked at me a long time before putting the harp back.

“No sign of nothing,” the cop who first spoke with mother explained to the others. “This guy,” he pointed at me, “was naked, and the lady seems hysterical.”

They all nodded but said nothing; they just stared at me. In the silence, we all heard a creaking from the attic. Grandfather was rolling over in bed.

“What’s that?” Joe snapped. Five or six cops sprang for the attic door before I could intervene or explain.

I realized it would be bad if they burst in on grandfather. He was going through a phase where he believed General Meade’s men were under fire by Stonewall Jackson, and they were beginning to desert. When I got to the attic, things were pretty chaotic. Evidently, grandfather assumed the police were deserters from Meade’s army – trying to hide away in his attic. He leapt out of bed wearing a long, flannel nightgown over woolen underwear, a nightcap, and a leather jacket around his chest. The cops must have immediately realized the angry, white-haired, old man belonged in the house, but they had no chance to say so.

“Back, you cowardly dogs!” Grandfather roared. “Back to the lines, you goddamn, lily-livered cattle!” With that, he gave the officer who found the harp a flat-handed slap upside his head that sent him sprawling. The others retreated, but not fast enough; grandfather grabbed the first cop’s gun and fired. The bang seemed to crack the rafters, and smoke filled the attic. A cop cursed and slapped his hand to his shoulder. Somehow, we all finally got downstairs again and locked the door against the old man. He fired once or twice more and then returned to bed.

“That was grandfather,” I explained to Joe, out of breath. “He thinks you’re deserters.”

“I’ll say he does,” Joe said.

The cops were reluctant to leave without getting their hands on somebody besides grandfather; their night had been a distinct defeat. Furthermore, they obviously didn’t like how the situation ended; I can see their point when they said something seemed fishy. They resumed their search, and a thin-faced reporter approached me.

When I could not find a shirt to wear, I put on one of mother’s blouses. The reporter looked at me with a mixture of suspicion and interest. “Just what the hell is really going on here, Bud?”

I decided to be frank with him. “We had a ghost.”

He gazed at me for a long time – as if I were a slot machine he lost a nickel to – then he walked away. The cops followed him; the one grandfather shot was holding his bandaged arm, cursing. “I’m gonna get my gun back from that old bird.”

“Yea,” Joe said. “You and who else?”

I told them I would bring it to the station house the next day. “What was the matter with that one policeman?” Mother asked after they were gone.

“Grandfather shot him,” I said.

“What for?” She demanded. I told her he was a deserter. “Of all things! He was such a nice-looking young man.” Mother said.

The next morning, grandfather was fresh as a daisy and full of jokes at breakfast. At first, we thought he had forgotten, but he hadn’t. Over his third cup of coffee, he glared at Herman and I. “What was with all them cops stomping around the house last night?” He demanded. He had us there.

Classics Translated

The Empty House

Algernon Blackwood, first published 1906; translated to Modern English, otherwise left exactly the same. 

This story has been added to our Classics in the Rain collection! Hear Danie Dreadful’s magnificent narration here for the full experience!

Certain houses – like certain people – somehow manage to instantly announce themselves as evil. No single feature is to blame; someone might be charming and attractive, but after getting to know each other, you see something is drastically wrong with them. They reveal secret and wicked thoughts that make others avoid them like a plague.

Perhaps it is the same with houses, and the evil deeds committed under a single roof are what give us chills and raise our hair. Maybe some of the evil person’s hatred and their victim’s horror are left behind; it could affect the new occupant – making them feel nervous or frightened for no apparent reason.

Nothing about this particular house hinted at the horror that happened inside. It was neither lonely nor dirty. It stood on a crowded corner of the square and looked identical to the houses on either side. They all had the same number of windows, a balcony over the garden, and white steps leading up to a heavy, black front door. Even the number of chimneys, the angle of the eaves, and the height of the railings were the same. In the back was a narrow strip of green with brick borders running up the wall to separate it from the adjoining houses.

Yet, despite seeming so similar to its fifty ugly neighbors, this house was horribly different.

It is impossible to say exactly where this invisible difference is. It cannot be entirely the imagination because too many people have stayed there without knowing its history; even they claimed that certain rooms were so awful, they would rather die than return. The house’s very atmosphere created a feeling of genuine terror, and the innocent people who tried to live there were forced to leave with hardly any notice. The town practically considered it a scandal.

When Shorty arrived to pay a visit to his Aunt Julia at her little house by the sea, he found her bursting with excitement. He received a telegram from her that morning and expected the visit to be boring, but the moment he kissed her wrinkled cheek – he felt her energy like an electrical wave. The sensation grew when he learned there would be no other visitors; he was summoned for a very special reason.

Something was in the wind, and it would certainly prove useful. This spinster aunt had a passion for psychic research, brains, and willpower; she was known to accomplish her goal by any means necessary. The secret was revealed after tea, and Julia stood close to him as they slowly paced along the beach at dusk.

“I’ve got the keys,” she announced in a delighted, yet disbelieving way. “Got them till Monday!”

“The keys to the changing room, or—?” he asked innocently, looking from the sea to town. Nothing brought her to the point quicker than feigning stupidity.

“Neither,” she whispered. “I’ve got the keys to the haunted house in the square, and I’m going there tonight.”

Shorty felt a slight chill down his back and stopped joking. Something in her voice and behavior stunned him; she was serious. “But you can’t go alone—” he began.

“That’s why I sent for you,” she said confidently.

He turned and saw that her old, ugly, mysterious face was filled with happiness. There was a glow of genuine enthusiasm around it like a halo, and her eyes were shining brightly. He felt another wave of her excitement, and a second, stronger chill came with it.

“Thanks, Aunt Julia,” he said politely; “thanks so much…”

“I wouldn’t dare to go alone,” she raised her voice; “but I’ll enjoy it very much with you – you’re not afraid of anything.”

“Thanks so much,” he repeated. “Er – is it likely that anything will happen?”

“A great deal has already happened, though it’s been covered up very well. Three occupants have come and gone in the last few months, and it’s said the house will stay empty from now on.” She whispered.

In spite of himself, Shorty became interested. His aunt was deathly serious.

“The house is very old indeed,” she continued, “and the unpleasant story dates a long way back. It involves a murder committed by a jealous stableman who had an affair with a house servant. One night, he managed to sneak into the cellar; when everyone was asleep, he crept upstairs to the servants’ quarters, chased the girl down to the next landing, and – before anyone could help – threw her over the rail, into the hall below.”

“And the stableman—?”

“He was caught and hanged for murder, but it happened a century ago; I haven’t been able to get any more details.”

Shorty’s interest was now thoroughly peaked; while he was not particularly worried for himself, he was a little concerned for his aunt. “On one condition,” he said.

“Nothing will stop me from going,” she said firmly; “but I might as well hear your condition.”

“You must guarantee that you’ll be able to control yourself if anything really happens – that you’re sure you won’t get too frightened.”

“Jim, I’m not young and neither are my nerves, but with you – there’s nothing in the world for me to fear!” She said.

This, of course, settled it. Shorty had no hope of ever being more than an ordinary young man; any praise implying otherwise was irresistible. He agreed to go.

By sub-consciously preparing himself, he remained in control of his fear for the whole evening; he imagined packing up his emotions and locking them away. The process is difficult to describe, but wonderfully effective; all men who have lived through severe hardship will understand. Later, it served his reputation well.

It was 10:30 when they left the comfortably lit hallway of his aunt’s home, and Shorty had to hold back his fear for the first time. When the door was closed, he saw the silent, empty street bathed in white moonlight and realized that the real test would be dealing with two fears. He would need to carry his aunt’s as well as his own. Glancing down at her expression – which was difficult to interpret – he realized it would not become any easier in a rush of real terror; he could only be confident of one thing – his ability to stand firm against any shock that might come.

Slowly, they walked along the town’s empty streets; a bright, autumn moon painted the roofs silver and cast deep shadows all around. There was no wind, and the trees lining the beach watched in silence as they passed. Shorty did not reply to his aunt’s occasional remarks; he understood that she was mentally preparing – distracting herself from thinking unnatural thoughts. Few windows were lit, and smoke rose from even fewer chimneys. Shorty was already noticing these small details when they stopped at the corner to read the name on the house; without speaking, they turned into the square and walked to the side that lay in shadow.

“The house number is thirteen,” a voice whispered. Neither of them said more about the obvious reference; instead, they continued walking in silence.

Halfway across the square, Shorty felt an arm slip quietly but purposefully into his own, and he knew their adventure had truly begun. His aunt was already succumbing to the house’s influence; she needed support.

A few minutes later, they stopped in front of a narrow, ugly-shaped house that rose tall into the night and was painted a dingy white. The windows – which were missing their shutters and blinds – stared down on them, shining in the moonlight. There were weather streaks in the walls, cracks in the paint, and the balcony bulged out from the first floor unnaturally, but the pitiful appearance did nothing to warn of such an evil character.

Checking over their shoulders to ensure they were not followed, they ascended the steps with confidence and stood against the huge, foreboding black door. They were hit with a wave of nervousness, and Shorty fumbled with the key for a long time before getting it into the lock. For a moment, they both hoped it would not open; they felt various unpleasant emotions as they stood on the threshold of their ghostly adventure. Shorty – struggling with the key and hindered by the weight on his arm – felt the importance of the moment. It was as if the whole world were watching through his eyes and listening to that grating noise. A stray puff of wind wandered down the empty street and rustled the trees behind them – otherwise the rattling key was the only sound. Finally, it turned in the lock, and the heavy door swung open to reveal a large gulf of darkness.


With a last glance at the moonlit square, they quickly went inside, and the door slammed with a roar that echoed through the empty halls. Another sound was heard, and Aunt Julia suddenly leaned on her nephew hard enough to knock him off balance; he had to take a step back to avoid falling down.

A man had coughed right next to them in the darkness. Thinking it could be a prank, Shorty quickly swung his heavy stick toward the sound, but nothing was there. His aunt gave a little gasp. “There’s someone here, I heard him.” She whispered.

“Be quiet! It was only the front door.” He said sternly.

“Oh! Quick, get a light!” she added as he fumbled with a box of matches and opened it upside-down; they all fell to the stone floor with a rattle.

The sound was not repeated, and there was no evidence of retreating footsteps. Soon, they had a lit candle and the end of a cigar case as a holder; he held up the makeshift lamp and studied their surroundings. Everything about it was dreary; there is nothing more desolate than a dark, forsaken, empty house, yet it was also filled with memories of violence and evil.

They were standing in a wide hallway; on their left was the open door of a spacious dining-room and straight ahead, the hall narrowed into a long, dark passage that led to the top of the kitchen stairs. The staircase rose before them, draped in shadows – except for a spot halfway up where the moon shone through the window. Its light was surrounded by a faint glow, giving the objects it touched a misty outline that created a haunted atmosphere better than total darkness. As Shorty continued staring, he thought of the countless empty rooms upstairs, and he longed for the safety of the moonlit square or his aunt’s cozy home. Then, realizing those thoughts were dangerous, he locked them away again and focused all his concentration on the present.

“Aunt Julia, we must search the whole house thoroughly.” He said forcefully.

The echoes of his voice slowly died away, and in the intense silence that followed, he turned to look at her. In the candlelight, he saw that her face was ghastly pale, but she dropped his arm, stepped in close, and whispered. “I agree. First, we must be sure there’s no one hiding in here.” It took her some effort to speak, and he looked at her with admiration.

“Are you sure? It’s not too late—”

“I think so,” she whispered, her eyes shifting nervously to the shadows behind them. “Quite sure; there’s only one thing—”

“What’s that?”

“You must never leave me alone, not for an instant.”

“As long as you understand that anything we see or hear must be investigated immediately; hesitating would be the same as admitting we’re frightened, and that could be deadly.”

“Agreed,” she said shakily. “I’ll try.”

Arm in arm, Shorty held the dripping candle while Julia carried his cloak over her shoulders; they would have made a funny sight to anyone else as they began their search.

They entered the big dining-room first – walking on tip-toes and shielding the candle to avoid being seen through the windows. There was no furniture – only bare walls, ugly mantel-pieces and empty fireplaces. They felt like everything resented their intrusion and was watching them with hidden eyes. Whispers followed them; shadows darted around silently, and it always seemed as if something were standing right behind them – waiting for an opportunity to hurt them. There was a sense that whatever normally occurred in the empty room had been paused until they were out of the way again. The entire building’s dark interior seemed to become a malignant Presence; it rose up, warning them to mind their own business, and the strain on their nerves increased every moment.

From the gloomy dining-room, they passed through large, folding doors into a sort of library or smoking-room; it was equally as silent, dark, and dusty. From there they returned to the hall near the top of the back stairs.

Here, a pitch black tunnel opened into the lower regions, and they only hesitated for a minute. With the worst of the night still to come, it was essential to search every area. Aunt Julia stumbled on the top step; their descent was poorly lit by the flickering candle, and even Shorty almost tripped.

“Come on!” He demanded, voice echoing off into the dark, empty spaces below.

“I’m coming,” she faltered, grabbing his arm rougher than necessary.

They descended the stone steps unsteadily; the air was cold, damp, and smelly. The stairs led along a narrow passage and into a large kitchen with high ceilings. It had several doors – some belonged to closets with empty jars on the shelves, and others led to horrible, creepy offices – each colder and less inviting than the last. Black beetles scurried around, and when Shorty bumped against a table in the corner, something the size of a cat jumped down – scampering across the stone floor and into the darkness. There was a gloomy sadness everywhere, and a sense that someone had just been there.

Leaving the kitchen, they went towards the scullery (where the dishes and cleaning were once done). The door was slightly open, and as they pushed it wider, Aunt Julia screamed; she instantly tried to stifle it with a hand over her mouth. For a second, Shorty stood completely still, catching his breath. His spine felt as if it were hollowed out and filled with ice.

Standing directly across from the doorway – facing them – stood the figure of a woman. She had messy hair, wild, staring eyes, and her terrified face was white as death.

She stood motionless for a single second. Then the candle flickered, and she was gone; in the door was nothing but empty darkness.

“It was only the beastly candlelight jumping,” he said quickly, in a half-controlled voice that sounded like someone else’s. “Come on; there’s nothing there.”

He dragged her forward, and they tried to seem brave as they continued, but Shorty’s skin crawled as if covered in ants. He knew by the weight on his arm that he was supplying the strength for both of them. The scullery room was cold, bare, and empty; more like a large prison cell than anything else. They walked around it – trying the windows and the door to the yard – but they were all locked. His aunt moved like someone in a dream. Her eyes were squeezed shut, and she seemed to merely follow his arm; her courage amazed him. At the same time, he noticed an odd change had come over her face – a change which he could not quite define.

“There’s nothing here, aunty,” he quickly repeated. “Let’s go upstairs and see the rest of the house. Then we’ll choose a room to wait in.”

She followed him obediently – staying close as they locked the kitchen door behind them. It was a relief to go up again. The moon had traveled further downstairs, making the hall brighter than before. Carefully, they entered the dark vault of the upper floors with the boards creaking under their weight.

They found two large living-rooms, but a search of them revealed nothing. Again, there was no furniture or signs of recent occupation – nothing but dust, neglect, and shadows. They opened the big folding doors between the two rooms and came out onto the landing before continuing upstairs.

They had not gone more than a dozen steps when they both stopped to listen, looking anxiously at each other across the flickering candle. From the room they had just left came the sound of quietly closing doors. There was absolutely no question; they heard the booming noise the heavy doors made when shutting and the sharp sound of the latch catching.

“We must go back and see,” Shorty said in a low tone, turning to go. Somehow, she managed to drag after him, her feet catching in her dress and her face livid.

When they entered the front living-room, it was obvious the folding doors had been closed. Without hesitation, Shorty re-opened them. He almost expected to see someone facing him in the back room, but he was only met with darkness and cold air. They went through both rooms and found nothing unusual. They tried everything they could think of to make the doors close by themselves, but there was not even enough wind to disturb the candle flame. The doors would not move without a strong force, and it was undeniable that the rooms were empty, and the house was completely still.

“It’s beginning,” Shorty hardly recognized his aunt’s voice as she whispered at his elbow.

He nodded in agreement, checking his watch to note the time. It was fifteen minutes before midnight; he wrote exactly what happened in his notebook, setting the candle on the floor in order to do so; it only took a moment to balance it against the wall.

Aunt Julia always said she was not actually watching him at that moment; she had turned towards the inner room where she heard something moving, but both agreed they heard running footsteps – very fast and heavy. Then, the candle went out!

Only Shorty saw more than this, and he has always been grateful for that. As he rose from his stooping position of balancing the candle – but before it was actually extinguished – a face rushed forward so close to his own that he could have kissed it. The man’s face was filled with passion, had thick, dark features, and angry, savage eyes. It belonged to a common man, but it was bursting with intense, aggressive emotions; it wore a malignant and terrible expression.

The air was completely still – there was no movement aside from the muffled sound of running feet, the apparition’s face, and the extinguishing of the candle.

Shorty let out a cry, nearly losing his balance as his aunt clung to him with her full weight in a moment of terror. Fortunately, she had not seen the face and was able to regain control almost immediately; after he was able to get free, he struck a match.

The glare chased away the shadows on all sides as his aunt knelt to retrieve the cigar case with the precious candle. Then, they discovered that the candle had not been blown out at all – it had been crushed out. The wick was pressed down into the wax – which was flattened by something smooth and heavy.

How his companion overcame her terror so quickly, Shorty never properly understood, but his admiration for her increased tenfold and inspired his own courage; for that, he was undeniably grateful. The evidence of physical force they had just witnessed was equally unexplainable. He immediately suppressed memories of hearing about “physical mediums” and their dangerous phenomena; if those were true, and either himself or his aunt was unknowingly a medium – it meant they were helping to focus the forces of a haunted house already at full-charge. It was like carrying an open flame among uncovered supplies of gun-powder.

So, with almost no thought, he simply relit the candle and proceeded to the next floor. The arm in his trembled, and his own steps were uncertain, but they continued being thorough; after the search revealed nothing, they climbed the last flight of stairs to the top floor.

Here, they found a cluster of small servants’ rooms with broken furniture, dirty chairs, cracked mirrors, and decrepit bedsteads. The rooms had low, sloped ceilings, cobwebs, small windows, and badly painted walls; it was a depressing and dismal area they were glad to leave behind.

They entered a small room on the third floor at the stroke of midnight and prepared to make themselves comfortable for the night. It was totally empty and once used as a closet. It was said to be where the infuriated groom had caught his victim. Outside, across the narrow landing, began the stairs leading to the servants’ quarters where they had just searched.

Despite the cold outside, there was something in the air that cried for an open window, but there was more. Shorty could only describe it by saying that he felt less in control of himself here than in any other part of the house. There was something that preyed directly on the nerves, wearing down one’s resolve and weakening his will. It took less than five minutes in the room to realize this, and it was during that time he lost all of his energy, which – for him – was the worst scare of the whole experience.

They put the candle on the floor, leaving the door open a few inches so there was no glare to confuse their eyes and no shadows to dart around. Then, they spread a cloak on the floor and sat down to wait with their backs against the wall.

Shorty was within two feet of the door; he had a good view of the main staircase leading down into darkness and the start of the servants’ stairs going to the floor above. His heavy stick laid nearby within easy reach.

The moon was high above the house. Through the window, they could see the comforting stars like friendly eyes watching from the sky. One by one, the clocks in town struck midnight, and when the sounds died away, the deep silence of a windless night fell over everything. Only the far away boom of the sea was heard as hollow murmurs.

Inside, the silence was awful; any minute, it could be broken by terrifying sounds; the strain of waiting was harder on the nerves. They whispered when they talked – their voices sounding odd and unnatural. The chill in the room was not completely due to the night air, and it made them cold. Whatever was influencing them slowly stole their confidence and ability to make decisions; their self-control was declining, and the possibility of real fear took on a new and terrible meaning. Shorty trembled with worry for the elderly woman by his side; her stubbornness could only protect her against so much.

He heard the blood pumping in his veins. Sometimes, it was so loud, he thought it was preventing him from hearing other sounds coming from deeper within the house. Every time he focused his attention on these noises, they stopped instantly and never came any closer. He could not shake the idea that something was moving in the lower parts of the house. The living-room floor – where the doors were strangely closed – was too close; the sounds were further away than that. He thought of the kitchen, with its scurrying black beetles – and of the dismal scullery, – but they did not seem to come from there either. Surely they were not outside of the house!

Suddenly, he understood the truth, and – for an entire minute – he felt as if his blood had turned to ice. The sounds were not downstairs at all; they were upstairs – somewhere among those horrid, gloomy servants’ rooms with their broken furniture, low ceilings, and cramped windows – where the victim was first awakened and chased to her death!

The moment he realized where the sounds were coming from, he began to hear them more clearly. It was the sound of stealthy feet, walking along the passage overhead, through the rooms and around the furniture.

He turned quickly to peek at the motionless figure beside him to see if she had realized the same thing. The faint candlelight shining through the crack in the closet door illuminated her expressive face against the white wall, but it was something else that stole his breath and caused him to stare. She wore an extraordinary expression – it spread over her features like a mask and smoothed out the wrinkles; with the exception of her old eyes, she appeared quite young again.

He stared, speechless and amazed – an amazement that was dangerously close to horror. It was indeed his aunt’s face but from forty years ago; it was the blank, innocent face of a girl. He knew stories about the strange effect terror could have on someone – it consumes them, dominating all other emotions; Shorty never realized that it could be literal, or that it could mean anything as horrible as what he saw now. The dreadful signs of total fear were written all over her face, and when she felt his intense gaze – she turned to him, but he instinctively closed his eyes to avoid the sight.

When he regained control of his emotions and turned a minute later, he was relieved to see a different expression; his aunt was smiling, and though her face was deathly white – the awful veil was gone, and her normal look was returning.

“Anything wrong?” It was the only thing he could think to say, and the answer was persuasive.

“I feel cold and a little frightened,” she whispered.

He offered to close the window, but she grabbed him and begged him not to leave her side even for an instant.

“It’s upstairs, I know,” she whispered, with an odd laugh; “but I can’t possibly go up.”

Shorty thought otherwise; he knew taking action was their best hope of maintaining self-control. He poured a glass of brandy from his flask – it was strong enough to help anybody through anything, and she swallowed it with a shiver. Now, his only plan was to get out of the house before her inevitable collapse, but they could not safely run away. Doing nothing was no longer an option; he was losing more composure every minute, and it became necessary to use desperate, aggressive measures without further delay. It was unavoidable, and they would need to show great confidence when facing the enemy. He could do it now, but in ten minutes he might not have the strength left!

Upstairs, the sounds were growing louder and closer, accompanied by the occasional creaking floorboards. Someone was sneaking around and bumping into the furniture.

Waiting for the numerous spirits to finish their work, Shorty stood quietly and said in a determined voice, “Now, Aunt Julia, we’ll go upstairs and find out what’s making all this noise. You must come too; it’s what we agreed.”

He picked up his stick and fetched the candle. A limp figure rose shakily beside him – breathing hard and very faint, she said, “ready.” The woman’s courage amazed him; it was much greater than his own. They moved forward with the dripping candle, and this trembling, white-faced, old woman was the true source of his courage. It held something that both shamed him and supported him; without it – he would have failed long before.

They crossed the dark landing, averting their eyes from the deep, black space over the handrails. Then, they ascended the narrow staircase to locate the sounds which were still growing louder and nearer. Halfway up the stairs, Aunt Julia stumbled, and Shorty caught her by the arm. At that moment, there was a loud crash in the servants’ corridor above. It was immediately followed by a shrill, agonized scream that sounded like a cry of terror and a plea for help mixed together.

Before they could move aside or go down a single step, someone came rushing towards them from above, taking the stairs three at a time. The steps were light and uncertain, but close behind them was the sound of a heavier person walking, and it shook the whole staircase.

Shorty and his companion had just enough time to flatten themselves against the wall when the jumble of flying feet reached their location, and two people dashed through the tiny gap between them at full speed. It was a midnight whirlwind of sounds crashing through the empty building.

The two runners kept going and were already racing across the creaking boards below, but Shorty and his aunt saw absolutely nothing – not a hand, arm, face, or even a shred of clothing.

There was a pause before the one being chased ran into the room which Shorty and his aunt had just left. The heavier one followed, and there was a scuffling sound with smothered screaming; then came the step of a single, heavy person on the landing.

A dead silence followed for half of a minute before they heard the sound of rushing air. It was followed by a dull, crashing thud on the lower floors of the house.

It was total silence after; nothing moved. The candle’s flame was steady, and the air was undisturbed. Filled with terror, Aunt Julia began fumbling her way downstairs without waiting for her nephew; she was crying softly to herself, and when Shorty put his arm around her – he could feel her shaking like a leaf. He retrieved the cloak from the little room’s floor, and they marched down the three flights of steps very slowly, without speaking or turning.

They saw nothing in the hall, but the whole way down, they were aware that someone was following them; when they went faster, it was left behind, and when they went slower, it caught up. Never once did they look back; at each turn on the staircase, they lowered their eyes to avoid the horror they might see above.

With trembling hands, Shorty opened the front door; they walked out into the moonlight and breathed in the cool, night air blowing in from the sea.

Classics Translated

The Tell-Tale Heart

Edgar Allen Poe, originally published January 1843; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

Who’s ready to hear another phenomenal narration by my amazing friend, Danie Dreadful? YouTube
Illustration by Harry Clarke

It is true! I had been – and am – very, dreadfully nervous, but why would you say that I am crazy? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed or dulled them. Above all was the acute hearing; I heard all things in the heavens and on the earth, and I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I crazy? Listen! and observe how sanely – how calmly – I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how the idea first entered my mind, but once it was there – it haunted me day and night. It was not because of an objective or hatred; I loved the old man. He had never wronged or insulted me; I had no desire for his gold. I think it was his eye! Yes, that was it! One of his eyes was like a vulture’s; it was pale blue and covered with film. Whenever it fell on me, my blood ran cold; very gradually, I made up my mind to take his life and be rid of the eye forever.

Now, this is the point where you think I am crazy. Madmen know nothing, but you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded with caution and foresight; no one could have guessed my intentions when I went to work! I had never been kinder to the old man than the week before I killed him. Every night – around midnight – I turned his doorknob and opened it very gently! When I had an opening big enough, I put in a dark, closed lantern before sticking in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I stuck it in! I moved very, very slowly, so the old man would not wake. It took an hour to place my head in far enough to see him lying on his bed. Ha! Would a madman have been this smart? Then, when my head was in the room, I opened the lantern with extreme caution to avoid the creaking hinges; I did it just enough for a single, thin ray to fall upon the vulture’s eye. I did this for seven long nights, but the eye was always closed, making it impossible to do the job; it was not the old man who irritated me but his Evil Eye. Every morning, I went into his room with confidence and spoke to him fearlessly – calling him by name in a friendly tone, and asking how his night was. He would have been very insightful to suspect that every night – just at twelve – I watched him sleep.

On the eighth night, I was even more cautious than usual when opening the door. A clock’s minute hand moves faster than mine did. Never before had I felt the extent of my own power and wisdom. I could hardly contain my feelings of victory. There I was, opening the door little by little, and he had no clue of my secret actions or thoughts. I laughed at the idea, and he may have heard me; he moved suddenly, as if startled. You may think that I withdrew – but no. His room was pitch black; the shutters were closed for fear of robbers, and – knowing he could not see the open door – I kept pushing on it steadily.

My head was in, and I was about to open the lantern when my thumb slipped on the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up, crying out. “Who’s there?”

I stayed quite still and said nothing. I did not move a muscle for a whole hour, and I did not hear him lie down. He was sitting up in the bed, listening – exactly as I have done night after night – listening to the signs of imminent death.

Then, I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief – oh, no! It was the low, muffled sound that comes from the bottom of the soul when it is filled with anguish; I knew the sound well. Many nights – at midnight – when all the world slept, it came from my own chest; it deepened with dreadful echoes and distracting fears. I knew what the old man felt and pitied him, although I laughed in my heart. He had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise when he rolled in the bed, and his fear had been growing ever since. He tried to convince himself it was nothing, but he could not; he tried thinking, “It is only the wind in the chimney, or a mouse crossing the floor, or a cricket chirping.”

He tried to comfort himself with these thoughts, but his efforts were in vain. All in vain, because Death’s black shadow had already consumed its victim, and it was the sorrowful influence of the unseen shadow that caused him to feel my presence in the room.

When I had waited patiently for a long time without hearing him lie down, I decided to open a very thin slit in the lantern. You cannot imagine how stealthily I opened it until a single, dim ray – like a spider’s web – shot out from the crack and fell upon the vulture eye.

It was wide open, and I grew furious at the sight. I saw it perfectly – a dull blue, covered with a hideous film that chilled me to be bone; I could see nothing else of the old man since the ray of light fell directly on that damned spot.

Did I not say that you would mistake acute senses for madness? Then, I heard a low, quick sound – like a watch makes when wrapped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the old man’s heart beating. It increased my fury just as the beating of a drum inspired a soldier’s courage.

Even then, I remained motionless, scarcely breathing. I held the lantern steady, keeping the ray of light trained on the eye. Meanwhile, the hellish beating of his heart increased, growing quicker and louder every second. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder every moment! Do you understand? I have told you that I am nervous, and I am. At that late hour of the night – among the dreadful silence in that old house – this noise drove me to complete terror. I stood still for several more minutes, but the beating grew louder! I thought his heart would burst, and a new worry gripped me; the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s time had come; with a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leapt into the room! He only shrieked once; in an instant, I dragged him to the floor and pulled the heavy bed over him. Then I smiled happily, glad the deed was done, but – for many minutes – the heart continued its muffled beat. This, however, did not bother me; it would not be heard through the wall. Eventually, it stopped; the old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, cold dead. I placed my hand on the heart and held it there for several minutes. There was no pulse; he was dead, and his eye would no longer trouble me.

If you still believe I am crazy, you will not think so after I describe the wise precautions I took when hiding the body. As the night wore on, I worked hastily but in silence. First of all, I dismembered the corpse by cutting off the head, arms, and legs.

Then, I removed three planks from the living room floor and deposited everything between the joists. Next, I replaced the boards so perfectly that no human eye – not even his – could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash – no stains or blood whatsoever. I had been too cautious for that; all was done in the tub – haha!

When I finished these chores, it was four o ‘clock and still dark as midnight. As the bell announced the hour, there was a knock at the door. I went down to open it with a light heart – after all, what was there to fear now? Three men entered and introduced themselves as police officers. During the night, a shriek was heard by a neighbor, and there was suspicion of foul play. A report was filed at the police station, and the officers were sent to search the premises.

I smiled; what was there to worry about? I welcomed the gentlemen, saying the shriek had been my own – caused by a dream – and I mentioned the old man was visiting the countryside. I took my visitors all over the house, telling them to search well. I led them to his chamber and showed them his valuables – secure and undisturbed. In the excitement of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room – inviting them to rest – and placed my own seat directly above the hidden corpse.

The officers were satisfied; my demeanor had convinced them, and I was completely at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerfully, they chatted about familiar things. Though, before long, I felt myself getting pale and wished they would leave. My head ached, and there was a ringing in my ears, but still they remained. The ringing became more distinct as it continued – and I talked more to be rid of the feeling – but it persisted and grew louder. Finally, I realized the noise was not in my mind.

There is no doubt I grew very pale, but I talked faster with a louder voice. Still, the sound increased – and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound – very close to the sound a watch makes when wrapped in cotton. I gasped for breath, yet the officers did not hear it. I talked faster – more intensely, but the noise steadily increased. I stood, arguing insignificant matters in a high voice with wild gestures, but the noise increased. Why would they not leave? I paced with heavy strides – as if infuriated by the men’s observations, but the noise continued increasing. Oh God! What could I do? I ranted, raved, and swore! I threw my chair, and it struck the boards, but the noise rose above it all and still increased. It grew louder, louder, and louder, but still the men chatted – smiling pleasantly. Was it possible they did not hear it?… Almighty God!… No, no!… They heard!… They suspected!… They knew!… They were mocking my terror!… This is what I thought, and what I still think, but anything was better than that agony! Anything was more tolerable than their ridicule! I could not bear those hypocritical smiles any longer! It felt like I must scream or die! Now – again!… Listen! Louder, louder, louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “mock me no more! I admit it! Tear up the planks! Here, here! It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Classics Translated

The Phantom Coach

Amelia B. Edwards, originally published 1864; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

1

What I am about to tell you is the truth. It happened to me, and I remember it like yesterday despite the fact twenty years have passed since that night. In all this time, I have only told the story to one other person. Even now, it is difficult to overcome my reluctance to share it. I must ask that you avoid forcing your own conclusions onto me; I want no arguments or explanations. My mind is already made up on this subject; I prefer to believe what I saw with my own eyes.

Well! It was twenty years ago, and a day or two after the end of grouse hunting in December. I was on a cold moor in northern England with an east wind, and I became lost after being out with my gun all day. It was an unpleasant place to lose one’s way; the first flakes of a snowstorm were falling, and the sun was beginning to set. I shaded my eyes and stared anxiously into the darkness; a range of low hills were 10-12 miles away. There was nothing to see in any direction – not so much as a fence or sheep’s track. All I could do was continue walking and hope to find shelter along the way. I had been going since breakfast and eaten nothing since; shouldering my gun, I pushed forward.

Meanwhile, the wind was blowing, and it snowed with ominous persistence. The cold became more intense, and the night was rapidly approaching. My hopes darkened with the sky, and my heart grew heavy as I thought of my troubled wife sitting at the window – watching for my return. We had been married four months and spent autumn in the Highlands; for the winter, we traveled to a small, remote village near the great English moorlands. We were very much in love; when we parted that morning, she begged me to return before dusk, and I promised to do just that. I would have given anything to keep my word!

2

As tired as I was, I thought it might be possible to return before midnight with a little food and rest if I could find shelter or a guide. The snow fell and thickened; I stopped to shout occasionally, but my yells only made the silence feel deeper. A vague sense of uneasiness came over me, and I recalled stories about travelers who walked in the snow until they collapsed dead from exhaustion. I wondered if it would be possible for me to keep walking through the night; eventually, my legs would fail along with my resolution, and I would die.

I shuddered; it would be very hard to die when my whole life still lay ahead! It would be hard for my darling – she has such a loving heart – but I could not think of that. To distract myself, I shouted again – louder and longer – then listened eagerly. Was my call answered, or did I only imagine a far-off cry? I yelled again… and the echo followed once more.

Then, a wavering speck of light suddenly came out of the darkness – it was bobbing – getting closer and brighter. Running towards it at full speed, I found myself face to face with an old man and a lantern. “Thank God!” I exclaimed involuntarily.

Blinking and frowning, he lifted his lantern and peered into my face. “What for?” He growled, sulkily.

“Well… for you. I was beginning to worry I would be lost in the snow.”

“Oh, folks do get lost here from time to time; what’s stopping you from being lost as well if that’s what the Lord intended?”

3

“Friend, if the Lord intends for you and I to be lost together, then so be it, but I won’t be alone. How far am I from Dwolding?” I asked.

“A good twenty miles, more or less.”

“And the nearest village?”

“The nearest village is Wyke, and it’s twelve miles the other way.”

“Where do you live, then?”

“Over that way,” he said, vaguely pointing with the lantern.

“You’re going home, I assume?”

“Maybe I am.”

“Then I’m going with you.”

The old man shook his head and scratched his nose with the lantern’s handle. “It’s no use; he won’t let you in… not him.” He growled.

“We’ll see about that; who is He?” I replied, briskly.

“The master.”

“Who is the master?”

“That’s none of your business.” He replied abruptly.

“Well, then; you lead the way, and I assure you that the master will give me shelter and dinner tonight.”

“Oh, you can try him!” my reluctant guide muttered; still shaking his head, he hobbled away like a gnome through the falling snow. Suddenly, a large structure appeared in the darkness, and a huge dog rushed forward, barking furiously.

“Is this the house?” I asked.

“Yea, it’s the house. Down, Bey!” He fumbled in his pocket for the key.

4

I stood close behind him – determined not to lose my chance at entry – and in the lantern’s light, I saw that the door was studded with iron nails – like the doors of a prison. In another minute he turned the key, and I pushed past him into the house.

Once inside, I looked around curiously and found myself in a raftered hall – which apparently had a variety of uses. One end had corn piled to the roof, and the other had flour-sacks, farm tools, and lumber. Rows of meat and dried herbs hung from the rafters for winter use, and in the center of the floor was a huge object covered in a dingy blanket that extended halfway to the ceiling. Lifting a corner of the cloth, I was surprised to see a telescope mounted on a crude, mobile platform with four small wheels. The tube was made of painted wood and wrapped in bands of rough metal, and the reflective glass was at least fifteen inches in diameter. While I was still examining the instrument, a loud bell rang.

“That’s for you,” my guide said with a malicious grin. “His room is over there.”

He pointed to a low, black door at the opposite side of the hall. I crossed over, knocked somewhat loudly, and entered without waiting for an invitation. A huge, white-haired old man rose from a table covered with books and papers, confronting me sternly.

“Who are you? How did you get here? What do you want?” He demanded.

“James Murray, attorney-at-law. Across the moor on foot. Meat, drink, and sleep.”

His bushy eyebrows bent into an ominous frown.

5

“This is not a boarding house,” he said, disdainfully. “Jacob, how dare you let this stranger in?”

“I didn’t,” the old man grumbled. “He followed me over the moor, and forced his way in before me. I’m no match for someone six foot two.”

“Excuse me, sir, but what gave you the right to force your way into my house?”

“The same right I would have to cling to your boat if I were drowning – the right of self-preservation.”

“Self-preservation?”

“There’s already an inch of snow on the ground, and it would be deep enough to bury me before dawn.” I replied.

He pulled aside a heavy black curtain and looked out the window. “It is true. You can stay till morning if you choose. Jacob, serve supper.”

With this he waved me to a seat, and sat down to resume the studies I interrupted.

Placing my gun in a corner, I pulled a chair to the fireplace and leisurely examined this new room. Though it was smaller and decorated more normally than the hall, it contained many curious things. There was no carpet on the floor, and strange diagrams were drawn on the white walls; shelves were filled with dingy books and scientific instruments I couldn’t even identify. Beside the fire was a small piano – wonderfully painted with medieval saints and devils. Inside the half-opened cupboard at the far end of the room was a large display of special rocks, surgical tools, crucibles, beakers, and chemicals; next to me – on the mantle – was a model of the solar system, a small battery, and a microscope. Every chair was filled with more items, and books were stacked high in every corner; the very floor was littered with maps, carvings, and papers. My amazement increased with each new object I saw; I had never seen such a strange room – especially not in a farmhouse on a wild, secluded moor!

6

I looked at my host, asking myself who and what he could be. His mind was remarkably sharp, but it was more of a poet’s mind than a philosopher’s. His broad temple protruding over his eyes and abundance of rough, white hair made him look like Beethoven; he had the same furrowing brow and deep lines around his mouth that gave him an appearance of deep concentration. The door opened while I was still watching him, and Jacob brought in dinner. His master then closed his book and invited me to the table with the most courtesy he had shown yet.

A plate of ham and eggs, a loaf of brown bread, and a nice bottle of sherry were placed before me.

“I only have the dinner of a poor farmer to offer you, but I trust your appetite will make up for the lack in taste.

I had already begun eating and excitedly announced that I’d never had anything so delicious.

He bowed stiffly and sat down to his own dinner which mostly consisted of milk and porridge. We ate in silence, and when we were finished, Jacob removed the dishes. I moved my chair back to the fireplace, and – surprisingly – my host did the same; abruptly turning towards me, he said, “I have lived here in retirement for 23 years. During that time, I have not seen many strange faces, and I have not read a single newspaper. You are the first stranger to cross my threshold in over four years. Will you tell me information about the world I have been away from for so long?”

7


“Absolutely! Ask away; I’m happy to be of service.” I replied.

He nodded and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees; staring into the fire, he began to question me. He mostly wanted to know about new scientific advancement and how it affects daily life; he was completely ignorant of such matters. I answered as best as my limited knowledge allowed, but it was not easy; I was very relieved when the interrogation ended, and he began discussing his own conclusions. I listened intently as he talked until seeming to forget my presence; I have still never heard anything else like it. His subtle analysis and bold generalizations spilled forth uninterrupted as he drifted from topic to topic. From science to philosophy and from the greatest doctors to the greatest artists – he seamlessly transitioned from one subject to the next. I have forgotten how he linked each point together, but it went beyond what any man could know for fact. He spoke of souls, psychics, ghosts, and prophecies – of things that skeptics say cannot exist.

He said, “the world grows more skeptical by the hour, and our scientists have a fatal habit. Anything they can’t prove with an experiment or dissect in a laboratory is disregarded as a myth. What superstition causes them to be so stubborn about the possibility of ghosts? Show me any fact in physics, history, or archaeology that has such a wide variety of testimonials. There are witnesses of all ages from every culture around the world, yet the supernatural is treated like a nursery rhyme by the philosophers of our century. Circumstantial evidence carries no weight in the matter; regardless of how valuable cause and effect might be in physical science – it’s worthless here. A reliable witness – despite being conclusive in a court of law – counts for nothing, either. A moment’s pause before speaking is considered a sign of lying, and believers are called fools.”

8

He spoke with bitterness and sat silently for several minutes before raising his head. With an indifferent tone, he added, “I investigated and believed; I was not ashamed to state my convictions to the world. I was also labeled as a visionary, ridiculed by my peers, and laughed out of the industry where I spent the best years of my life. These things happened just 23 years ago. Since then, I have lived like this, and the world has forgotten me – as I have forgotten it; that is my history.”

“It is a very sad one,” I murmured, not knowing what to say.

“It is a very common one; I have only suffered for the truth – just as so many others before me.” He rose – as if wishing to end the conversation – and went over to the window. “It has stopped snowing.” He observed, dropping the curtain and returning to the fireplace.

“Stopped!” I exclaimed, eagerly jumping to my feet. “Oh, if it were only possible – but no; it’s hopeless! Even if I found my way across the moor, I couldn’t walk twenty miles tonight.”

“Walk twenty miles tonight?” My host repeated. “What are you thinking?”

“Of my wife,” I replied, impatiently. “She doesn’t know I got lost; right now – her heart is breaking with worry and terror.”

“Where is she?”

“In Dwolding, twenty miles away.”

“Dwolding,” he echoed, thoughtfully. “Yes, it is twenty miles, but… are you truly that desperate to save just 6-8 hours?”

9

“Yes! I would pay a fortune for a guide and a horse!”

“Your wish can be granted at a lower price,” he smiled. “The night-mail changes horses at Dwolding and passes within five miles of here; it is due to arrive at the crossroad in an hour. If Jacob were to take you across the moor to the old coach road – could you find your way to where it connects with the new one?”

“Easily – and gladly!”

He smiled, rang the bell, and gave the old servant his instructions. Taking a bottle of whisky and a wine-glass from the cupboard, he said, “The snow is deep; it will be difficult to walk on the moor. Would you like a drink before you go?”

I would have declined, but he insisted so I drank it. It went down like a liquid flame and almost took my breath away.

“It is strong, but it will help keep you warm. Now, there’s no time to spare; goodnight!” He said.

I thanked him for his hospitality and would have shaken hands, but he turned away before I could finish my sentence. Outside, Jacob locked the outer door behind me, and we were once again on the wide, white moor.

Although the wind had fallen, it was still bitterly cold. Not a single star shined in the black sky overhead, and there was no sound to disturb the heavy stillness of night except for the crunching of snow beneath our feet. Jacob – unhappy with his mission – stumbled ahead with his lantern in sullen silence. I followed with my gun over my shoulder – not wanting to chat any more than him – and day-dreaming as I mused over my experiences. Thoughts of the old man filled my mind – I could still hear his voice, and his words had captured my imagination; my over-excited brain retained almost every detail exactly as he relayed them.

10

At the end, Jacob came to a sudden stop. “That’s your road. Keep the stone fence to your right, and you can’t get lost.”

“Then, this is the old coach road?”

“Yes, it is.”

“How far is it until I reach the crossroads?”

“About three miles.”

I pulled out my wallet, and he became more helpful.

“The road’s good enough for walking, but it’s too steep and narrow for the carriages. Be careful near the sign-post where the bridge is broken; it’s never been repaired since the accident.” He said.

“What accident?”

“The night-mail fell into the valley below; the drop is a good fifty feet or more. It’s the worst stretch of road in the whole county.”

“That’s horrible! Were many lives lost?”

“Four were found dead, and the other two died the next morning.”

“How long ago did this happen?”

“Just nine years.”

“Near the sign-post, you say? I will keep it in mind; goodnight.”

“Goodnight, sir, and thank you.” Jacob pocketed his money, lazily tipped his hat in farewell, and walked away.

I watched the light of his lantern until it disappeared, and then turned to go my own way. This was now a simple matter; despite the darkness, the stone fence was easily seen against the pale, gleaming snow. Only my footsteps broke the silence, and a strange, unpleasant feeling of loneliness consumed me. I walked faster, humming a random tune or adding large numbers in my head; I did anything I could to forget the startling claims I heard that night, and – to an extent – I succeeded.

11

Meanwhile the night air grew colder and colder, and though I walked fast, it was impossible to stay warm. My feet were frozen, and my hands went numb as I clung to my gun. Breathing also became difficult; it felt as if I were scaling a mountain instead of walking along a quiet road. It became so distressing, I had to stop and lean against the stone fence for a few minutes. As I did, I happened to look back up the road, and – to my immense relief – I saw the faraway light of an approaching lantern. At first, I thought Jacob had returned to follow me, but then I saw a second light next to it – moving at the same speed. I quickly realized they must be the lamps of a private carriage, though it seemed strange that someone would take their own vehicle down such a disused and dangerous road.

However, there was no doubt the lamps grew larger and brighter every moment, and I could even see the dark outline of the carriage between them. It was coming very quickly and quietly, and the snow was nearly a foot deep under its wheels.

Then, the body of the coach became visible behind the lamps, and it looked unusually tall. I suddenly became paranoid that I had passed the crossroads in the dark without noticing the sign-post, and wondered if this was the coach I had come to meet.

I didn’t need to wonder long; it came around the curve with a guard, a driver, one outside passenger, and four gray horses – all wrapped in a soft haze of light which made the lamps blaze like a pair of fiery meteors.

Apparently this story has been added to numerous collections, but I think this is from the original.

12

I jumped forward, waving my hat and shouting. The carriage came at full speed and passed me. I feared they had not seen me, but only for a moment. The driver pulled over, and the guard – wrapped to the eyes in blankets – was apparently sound asleep because he failed to answer me or make room; the outside passenger did not even turn his head. I opened the door and looked inside; there were only three travelers so I got in, slid into the empty corner, and congratulated myself on my good fortune.

The air inside the coach seemed colder than outside and was filled with a foul, wet smell. I looked around at my fellow-passengers; all three were men and all were silent. They did not seem to be asleep – but absorbed in their own thoughts. I attempted to start a conversation. “It’s intensely cold tonight!” I said to the man across from me.

He lifted his head and looked at me, but made no reply.

“The winter seems to have begun in earnest.” I added. He was staring at me, but he never said a word; it was so dim in his corner, I could not see his features clearly.

Any other time, I would have felt – and probably shown – my annoyance, but at that moment I felt too sick to do either. The icy coldness of the night air chilled me to my bones, and the strange smell inside the coach was making me terribly nauseous. I shivered from head to toe and asked the neighbor on my left if he objected to an open window.

13

He didn’t move or speak.

I repeated the question louder but with the same result. Then I lost patience and pulled the strap to open it. As I did so, the leather strap broke in my hand, and I saw the glass was covered with a thick coat of mildew that appeared to have been accumulating for years. This drew my attention to the coach’s condition; with the faint lamplight, I could see that it was in the last stages of ruin. Every part of it was beyond repair; it was actually decaying. The straps splintered at the touch, the leather fittings were crusted over with mold, and the floor was almost crumbling beneath my feet. The whole thing smelled putrid – like it had been dragged from an outhouse after being left to rot for years.

I turned to the third passenger and tried one more question. “This coach is in horrible condition. Is the regular mail-coach being repaired?”

He turned his head slowly and looked me in the eyes without saying a word. I will never forget that look for as long as I live; it made my heart turn cold – and still does even now. His eyes held an unnatural, fiery glow, his face was as pale as a corpse, and his bloodless lips were drawn back to reveal clenched, gleaming teeth as if he were in the process of suffering a painful death.

My next words died on my lips, and I was consumed by a dreadful fear. My eyes had adjusted to the gloominess of the coach, and I could see much better. I turned to the man sitting across from me; he was looking at me with the same startling paleness and stony glow in his eyes. Wiping my hand across my brow, I turned to the passenger next to me and saw— oh Heaven! How will I describe it?

He was no living man; none of them were! A low, glowing light reflected upon their awful faces, and their hair was still damp with the dew from their graves. Their clothes were stained and falling to pieces, and their hands were those of corpses long buried. Only their malicious eyes were alive, and they were all staring directly at me!

14

I screamed a wild, unintelligible cry for help as I flung myself against the door and struggled in vain to open it. In that one brief and vivid instant – I saw the moon shining down through a gap in the stormy clouds, the ghastly sign-post, the broken bridge, the plunging horses, and the black gulf below. Then, the coach lurched like a ship at sea followed by a mighty crash – a sense of crushing pain – and finally, darkness.

It seemed as if years had passed when I awoke from a deep sleep and found my wife sitting at my bedside. I will skip that scene and tell you the story she told through thankful tears. I had fallen over a ledge near the intersection of the old coach road and the new one; I was only saved from certain death by landing in a deep snowdrift at the bottom. I was discovered there at daybreak when a couple of shepherds carried me to the nearest shelter and fetched a surgeon. The doctor found me raving deliriously with a broken arm and a compound fracture of the skull. The papers in my wallet revealed my name and address, and my wife was notified. Thanks to youth and a healthy lifestyle, I was able to pull through. It goes without saying that I fell precisely where that frightful accident occurred nine years before.

I never told my wife these terrifying events; I told the surgeon who helped me, but he treated the whole adventure as a delusion. We discussed it over and over until we lost our patience, and then we dropped it. Others may form whatever conclusions they wish; I know that twenty years ago – I was the fourth passenger in that Phantom Coach.

Classics Translated

The Pale Man

Julius Long, first published in Weird Tales magazine, September 1934; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 



If you would prefer to hear this tale narrated, my very good friend, Danie Dreadful did another amazing job with this one! Here’s the Youtube link, and if you enjoy scary stories don’t forget to subscribe and check out her other videos!
Cover of Weird Tales September 1934 issue

An odd little tale, about the eccentric behavior of a strange guest in a country hotel

I have not met the man in room 212. I don’t even know his name. He never visits the hotel restaurant, and he does not use the lobby. The three times we passed each other, we did not speak, but we nodded politely. I would really like to meet him; it is lonely in this depressing place. With the exception of the old lady down the hall, the only permanent guests are the man in 212 and myself. However, I should not complain; this complete silence is exactly what the doctor prescribed.

I wonder if the man in 212 also came here to rest. He is very pale, but I do not think it is from an illness; overall, he seems rather healthy. He is tall, has excellent posture, and a brisk, athletic stride. His paleness must be hereditary, or he would tan under this burning, summer sun.

He must have driven here; I am certain he was not on the train that brought me, and he checked-in shortly after myself. After a brief rest in my room, I was walking downstairs when he was coming up. It is odd the bell-boy did not escort him.

With so many vacant rooms, it is also odd that he chose 212 at the far end. The building is long, narrow, and three stories high; the rooms are all on the east side since the west wall is flush with an old business. The dull corridor – with its stiff, bloated wallpaper – smells musty, and the dim light bulbs make it feel like a tomb. Disgusted by this hallway, I insisted on having room 201; it is located at the front and has a southern entrance. The clerk – a disagreeable man with a Hitler mustache – was reluctant because it is usually reserved for his more profitable short-term clients. Unfortunately, my stubbornness has made him an enemy.

If only I had been as assertive thirty years ago! I would be a full-fledged professor instead of a broken-down assistant. The casual way the president of the university recommended my vacation still hurts. There is no doubt he acted in my best interests; the people controlling my poor life always do.

Oh well, the summer’s rest will probably benefit me considerably; it is nice to be away from the university. There is something very satisfying about the absence of graduate students. If only it were not so lonely! I must find a way to meet the pale man in 212. Perhaps the clerk can make arrangements.

I have been here exactly one week, and if there is a friendly soul in this miserable little town, we did not meet. Although businesses eagerly accept my money, they deliberately avoid even the most casual conversation. I fear I will never be accepted by them unless I can arrange to have my ancestors recognized as local residents for the last hundred and fifty years.

Despite my cold reception, I go out frequently – secretly hoping to encounter the pale man. I wonder why he left 212; surely there cannot be much gained by moving one door closer to the front. I noticed the change yesterday when I saw him exiting his new room.

We nodded again, and this time I thought I detected a sinister satisfaction in his gloomy, black eyes. He must know that I am eager to speak with him, yet his demeanor discourages introductions. If he wants me to do all of the work – he can forget it; I am not the type to chase after anybody. The surly clerk’s shyness has been enough to stop me from questioning him about the mysterious guest.

I wonder where the pale man gets his meals. Instead of dining at the hotel, I have been going to restaurants in town. At each one, I asked questions about the man in 210, but no one remembered serving him. Perhaps he knows people living in this town, or he may have found a boarding-house; I must learn if there is one nearby.

The pale man must be difficult to please – he changed rooms again; I am baffled by his behavior. If he is so desperate for a more conveniently placed room, why not move to 202? It is the closest to the front they have available.

Perhaps I can use his relocations as an excuse to start a conversation. I might casually say something like, “I see we are closer neighbors now”… but that is too obvious; I must wait for a better opportunity.

He did it again; he is now in room 209. I am intrigued by his little game; I waste hours trying to understand the point. What possible motive could he have? It must be annoying for the hotel staff; I wonder how our combination bell-hop/maid feels about preparing four rooms for a single guest. If he were not totally dense, I would ask him – but for now, I am too exhausted to attempt such a draining conversation.

I am tremendously interested in the pale man’s next move. He must either skip a room or stay where he is because the old lady lives in 208. She has not budged from her room since I have been here, and I doubt she plans to.

I wonder what the pale man will do; I await his decision with the nervous excitement of a race-track junkie the night before a big race. After all, there is nothing else to do.

Well, the mysterious guest was not forced to remain in 209, nor did he skip a room. The lady in 208 simplified matters by conveniently dying. No one knows the cause of her death, but the general assumption is that she died of old age. She was buried this morning, and I was among the curious few who attended her funeral. Upon returning home from the mortuary, I saw the pale man leaving her room; he had already moved in.

He favored me with a smile, and I have tried in vain to decipher its meaning – it must have some significance. He acted as if there were a secret meaning that I failed to appreciate; though, perhaps his smile was meaningless after all, and only ambiguous by chance – like the Mona Lisa’s.

My man of mystery now resides in 207, and I am not surprised in the least. I would have been astonished if he had missed his scheduled move; I have almost given up trying to understand his eccentric behavior. I do not know a single thing more about him than I knew the day he arrived. I wonder where he came from – there is something indescribably foreign about him. I am curious to hear his voice; I like to imagine that he speaks the language of some far-away country. If only there were some way to trick him into a conversation! I wish I possessed the abundant confidence of a college boy – one capable of introducing himself to distinguished people without hesitation; it is no wonder that I am only an assistant professor.

I am worried; this morning, I woke up lying flat on the floor – fully clothed. I must have collapsed from exhaustion after returning to my room; I wonder if my condition is more serious than suspected. Until now, I have ignored the fears of loved ones. For the first time, I remember the prolonged handshake of the president when we said good-bye at the university; he obviously never expected to see me alive again.

Of course, I am not that sick; nevertheless, I must be more careful. Thank heaven I have no children to worry about; there is not even a wife since I was never willing to exchange a bachelor’s loneliness for a husband’s loneliness.

I can sincerely say that the prospect of death does not frighten me; speculating about life beyond the grave has always bored me. Whatever it is – or is not – I’ll try to get along.

I have been so preoccupied with the sudden turn in my own life that I neglected to make note of an extraordinary incident; the pale man has done something astounding! He skipped three rooms and moved all the way to 203. We are now very close neighbors and will meet more often; my chances for an introduction are much better.

I have confined myself to bed during the last few days and my food has been delivered. I even called a local doctor, though I suspect he is a quack. He looked me over with professional indifference and told me not to leave my room; for some reason he doesn’t want me to climb stairs. This bit of information cost a ten-dollar bill which he fished out of my coat pocket as instructed; a pickpocket could not have done it better.

The doctor was not gone long when the clerk visited; he feigned a show of kindly concern while suggesting I go to the hospital. It is supposedly very modern and all that. With more firmness than I have been able to muster in a long time – I told him that I intended to stay, and his posture stiffened as he departed with a gloomy frown. The doctor must have paused long enough to tell him a pretty story. Obviously, he is afraid I will die in his best room.

The pale man is up to his old tricks. Last night, when I walked down the hall, the door of 202 was open. Without thinking, I looked inside; the pale man sat in a rocking-chair, idly smoking a cigarette. He looked into my eyes and smiled that peculiar, ambiguous smile that has so deeply puzzled me. I moved on down the corridor, not so much mystified as annoyed. The whole mystery of the man’s behavior is beginning to irritate me; it is all so silly and pointless. I feel that I will never meet the pale man, but – at the very least – I am going to learn his identity. Tomorrow, I will ask for the clerk and interrogate him.

I know now… I know the identity of the pale man and the meaning of his smile. Early this afternoon, I summoned the clerk to my bedside. “Please tell me who the man in 202 is!” I asked abruptly.

The clerk stared, tired and confused. “You must be mistaken; that room is empty.”

“But I saw him only two nights ago! He is a tall, handsome fellow with dark eyes and hair; he is unusually pale and checked-in the same day as myself.” I snapped in irritation.

The hotel man regarded me doubtfully, as if I were trying to play a joke. “But I assure you there is no such person here. As for his checking-in when you did – you were the only guest registered that day.”

“What? I’ve seen him twenty times! First he had room 212 at the end of the corridor. Then he kept moving toward the front, and now, he’s next door in 202.”

The room clerk threw up his hands. “You’re crazy!” He exclaimed, and I saw that he meant it.

I immediately shut up and dismissed him. After he left, I heard him rattling the knob of the pale man’s door. There is no doubt that he believes the room to be empty.

That is how I came to understand what happened over the past few – including the significance of the death in 207; I even feel partly responsible for the old lady’s passing. After all, I brought the pale man with me, but it was not I who set his path. I cannot explain the mystery of why he chose to approach me room after room through the length of this dreary hotel, nor why he chose to visit the old woman.

I suppose I should have guessed his identity when he skipped the three rooms on the night of my collapse. In a single night, he advanced until he was almost at my door. He will be coming to inhabit this room – his ultimate goal – soon. When he comes, at least I will be able to return his smile of grim recognition.

Meanwhile, I must only wait behind my locked door.

The door slowly swings open…

Classics Translated

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Washington Irving, first published in 1819 in a collection of 34 essays titled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Translated into Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

FOUND AMONG THE PAPERS OF THE LATE DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER…

On the eastern shore of the Hudson, at the heart of a spacious cove near the Tappan Zee bridge, there lies a small rural port; it is properly known as Tarry Town, but some call it Greensburgh. It was named by the housewives of sailors who lingered in the Tavern on market days. Two miles away, there is a little valley among high hills which is the quietest place in the world. A small brook runs through it just gently enough to lull one to sleep; quail and woodpeckers are almost the only sounds to break the perfect tranquility.

As a child, my first time squirrel hunting was in a grove of walnut trees that shaded one side of the valley. I wandered in at noon, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and was startled by the roar of my own gun breaking the perfect stillness. If I ever wish to leave my troubling life and world of distractions, there is no better place than this little valley.

For those qualities and for the strange character of its inhabitants – who are descended from the original Dutch settlers – the glen became known as Sleepy Hollow; the wild children living there were called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout the neighboring countries. A drowsy, dreamy influence hangs over the land, spreading through the atmosphere. Some say the place was cursed by a German witch-doctor during the early days of settlement; others, that an old Indian chief held powwows there before the land was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. It is certain that some spell still holds power over the minds of the good people, causing them to remain lost in fantasy. They have all kinds of marvelous beliefs; they are prone to trances, strange visions, and hearing music or voices. The neighborhood is filled with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; shooting stars and meteors race across the valley more often than anywhere in the country. It seems to be a favorite trick of evil spirits.

The ghost that commands the most power is the apparition of a headless man on horseback. Some claim he is the ghost of a Hessian soldier who was beheaded by a cannonball during the Revolutionary War. Now, the country folk see him hurrying along in the gloom of night as if carried by the wind. He is not confined to the valley, and often extends his haunts to the connecting roads – especially to the nearby church. Respected historians who have carefully studied these stories claim that the soldier’s body is buried in the churchyard, and that his ghost rides to the scene of battle in a nightly search for his head. The rushing speeds at which he passes through the Hollow are attributed to his hurry to reach the church before sunrise.

This is the event that many of the region’s scary stories are based on; the specter is known as the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. These visions are not exclusive to the valley’s natives, but affect anyone who resides there for a time. However aware they are when entering that sleepy region, they eventually succumb to the witching influence and begin seeing apparitions.

I mention this peaceful spot with all possible praise; it is in such valleys that population, manners, and customs remain fixed while the outside world passes by unnoticed. They are like little nooks of still water bordering a rapid stream, undisturbed by the passing currents. Though many years have passed since I walked the drowsy lanes of Sleepy Hollow, nothing has changed.

Some thirty years ago, a man named Ichabod Crane came to Sleepy Hollow in order to teach the children. He was from Connecticut – a state which supplied the Union with pioneers for the mind as well as the forest; each year they sent woodsmen and teachers throughout the country. The name “Crane” fit his appearance; he was tall and lanky with narrow shoulders, long limbs, and feet like shovels. His head was small but flat on top with huge ears, green glassy eyes, and a long nose; from a distance, one could mistake him for a famine victim or scarecrow.

His log schoolhouse was a low building with one large room, and the windows were half glazed – half stuffed with leaves. When vacant, it was locked with a flexible twig twisted in the door handle and stakes set against the shutters. The school was built in a secluded but pleasant location at the foot of a wooded hill, next to an impressive birch tree and brook. From there, one might hear the low murmur of students studying their lessons – often interrupted by their teacher’s commanding tone as he urged the lazier children along the path of knowledge. He was a conscientious man, and always remembered the golden rule, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Ichabod Crane’s students were not spoiled.

He was not cruel, he did not enjoy disciplining them; his punishments were dealt with discrimination. The weak were not stricken with the same force as the strong, disrespectful brats who sulked and squirmed beneath the paddle. Ichabod called this “doing his duty by their parents”; he never administered spankings without reassuring the students they “would appreciate the gesture as adults.”

When school ended, he was even a friend to the older boys. On holiday afternoons, he escorted the younger children home if they had pretty sisters or mothers who might feed him as thanks. It benefited him to stay on good terms with his students. The salary from his school was scarcely enough to buy daily bread. Though skinny, he possessed the consumption powers of an anaconda; it was customary in those parts for the children’s parents to house their teacher. With that assistance, he survived week to week – making his rounds through the neighborhood with all his worldly possessions tied in a cotton handkerchief.

To prevent things from being too inconvenient on his host’s wallet – who often considered him a grievous burden – he had various ways to make himself useful. He occasionally assisted farmers in their lighter chores – making hay, mending fences, watering horses, driving cows from pasture, and cutting wood. Ichabod laid aside the dominant ego which he lorded in his schoolhouse empire – becoming wholly gentle and kind. He found favor with the mothers by coddling the youngest children; he would sit with one child on his knee while rocking a cradle with his foot for hours at a time.

In addition to his other skills, he was the best singer in the neighborhood and often earned extra money by teaching the young children hymns. On Sundays, Ichabod proudly gathered his chosen singers to stand in front of the church, where – in his mind – he completely stole the show from the pastor. It is certain his voice was the best of the congregation, and – to this day – his student’s descendants can still be heard singing on Sunday mornings. It was by these clever strategies the worthy teacher got along and was thought to have an easy life.

In the rural neighborhoods, women generally regarded the schoolmasters as important men with superior tastes and accomplishments when compared to laborers. When they come to dinner, special desserts are made, and the fine silver is used. Ichabod, therefore, was particularly happy in the country women’s company; in the churchyard on Sundays, he visited with each lady – gathering grapes and reciting poetry as his country bumpkin counterparts envied his elegance from a distance.

Thanks to his well-traveled lifestyle, Ichabod was also a walking gossip factory which meant his arrival was always met with satisfaction. Women respected him as an intelligent man for the many books he read, and he was an expert on Cotton Mather’s History of New England Witchcraft – in which he firmly believed.

He was actually an odd mixture of shrewdness and gullibility. His hunger for the extraordinary and ability to understand it were equally remarkable – and heightened by this spellbound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his curiosity; after school, he often laid in the clover-patches nearby and read old Mather’s scary stories until it was too dark to see the words. Then, at the witching hour, he made his way past the swamp, stream, and awful woodland to the farm where he was currently staying; every sound of nature excited his imagination from the moaning whippoorwills to the foreboding cry of the tree toads. The fireflies sparkled vividly in the darkest places, startling Ichabod when they shot across his path; if a large beetle surprised him, he thought it came from a witch. His way to combat the evil spirits was to sing hymns; the people of Sleepy Hollow were often filled with awe at hearing his nasal melody floating along the dusky road.

In the winter months, he enjoyed sitting by the fire as wives roasted apples and tended their needlework because they shared stories of the local haunts and Headless Horseman. In return, he delighted them with witchy anecdotes, dreadful omens, and old, Connecticut legends; though, they were frightened by his speculations of comets and meteors – especially coupled with the knowledge our world sits at an angle— rotating!

On his subsequent walks home, he paid for these pleasures in terror. Frightening shapes and shadows haunted his path in the dim glow of snowy nights. He eyed every trembling ray of light that reflected from distant windows. Several times along his route, he mistook the snow-covered shrubs for ghosts or shrank with fright at the sound of his own steps on the frosty ground; he could not look over his shoulder for fear of what he might see, and he was often dismayed by blasts of wind howling through the trees – believing it was the Galloping Hessian on his nightly ride!

However, these were merely terrors created by the mind; though Ichabod had seen many ghosts, daylight brought an end to all of these evils. He would still have led a pleasant life despite the devil’s work had he not crossed paths with an entity far worse than ghosts, goblins, or the whole race of witches combined— a woman.

Once a week, Ichabod gave music lessons, and one of his students was Katrina Van Tassel – the only child of a substantial Dutch farmer. She was a beautiful, flirty eighteen-year-old with rosy cheeks and was adored by all. Her charms were perfectly accented by a mixture of old and modern fashions; she often wore a short petticoat and gold jewelry which her great-great-grandmother brought over from Saardam.

Ichabod Crane had a soft spot for women, and it is no surprise he favored Katrina. Her father, old Baltus Van Tassel, was a thriving, content, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom thought of anything beyond his happy, comfortable farm; he was satisfied with his wealth and did not spend it frivolously. His home was in one of those green, sheltered nooks on the Hudson, beneath the branches of a great elm tree. At the bottom was a spring of the sweetest sparkling well water which ran through the grass to a neighboring brook. Next to the farmhouse was a spacious barn big enough for a church. Every window and corner were filled with the farmer’s prized tools; swallows flew around the eaves, and rows of pigeons enjoyed the sunshine atop the roof. Heavy, grunting pigs ran about their large pens while squadrons of snowy geese swam in a connecting pond with ducks, and turkeys gobbled through the yard; a crowing rooster dug into the dirt and crowed called his family to enjoy the delicious worms.

The teacher’s mouth watered as he imagined the delicious holiday feasts. He pictured every pig already roasted with an apple in its mouth and a side of bacon carved out. The pigeons were put in pies and covered in crust. The geese swam in their own gravy and the ducks in onion sauce; around the turkey’s neck hung a necklace of savory sausages, and even the rooster lay sprawling as a side-dish.

Ichabod liked all of these, and then he saw the fields of wheat, rye, buckwheat, and corn; the orchards surrounding Van Tassel’s home were overflowing with fruit, and his heart yearned for the lady who would inherit them. He dreamed of selling them quickly so he might purchase large tracts of wild land to build upon. His busy imagination already realized his hopes and included Katrina with a whole family loaded in a wagon with all the household trimmings; then he included himself atop a pacing mare with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky or Tennessee.

Once he entered the house, Katrina’s hold on his heart was complete. It was spacious with sloping roofs, and built in the style learned from the first Dutch settlers; the low hanging eaves form a porch along the front that is capable of being closed up in bad weather. It is where the flails, harnesses and fishing nets were kept; a spinning wheel sat at one end, and a churn at the other. Benches were built along the sides for summer use, and from there, Ichabod entered the hall, which was the heart of the mansion. Rows of impressive pewter dazzled his eyes. In one corner stood a bag of wool ready to be spun, and in the other was a pile fresh off the loom; ears of corn and strings of dried apples hung along the wall with red peppers. Through an open door he saw into the parlor where claw-footed chairs and mahogany tables shone like mirrors; the fireplace irons glistened, and conch shells decorated the mantle while colorful eggs were strung above it. A great ostrich egg hung in the center of the room, and an open cupboard displayed old silver and china.

From the moment Ichabod saw these delights, he focused his efforts on gaining Katrina’s affection. For this endeavor, he imagined himself as a knight storming the castle gates to rescue the captive princess, but reality proved more challenging. He had to win the heart of a vibrant, clever woman while engaging in cut-throat competition against other suitors.

His most formidable adversary was a strong, burly man named Abraham who was considered a local hero for his amazing strength. He was broad-shouldered with short, curly black hair and a pleasant face; his Herculean strength earned him the nickname, Brom Bones, and he was famous for his skill with horses. As the strongest man in a country town, he settled all disputes with a tone of finality that left no room for argument. He would fight if necessary, but his heart was filled with more mischief than cruelty; beneath his rugged exterior was a great sense of humor. He had three or four friends who looked up to him as a role model and followed him around on his travels. During the winter months, he was recognized by his fox-tailed fur hat. Sometimes, his group would ride through town in the middle of the night, laughing and cheering; their neighbors woke with a mixture of awe, admiration, and goodwill. When any prank or brawl occurred in the vicinity, all shook their heads knowing Brom Bones was behind it.

Though this unruly hero displayed his affections for Katrina in rude, lustful ways, it was said she did not reject his company. His advances were meant to discourage rivals; when his horse was tied outside Van Tassel’s home on Sunday nights, all other suitors passed by in despair.

Ichabod was dealing with a formidable foe; a stouter man would have backed down from the competition, and a wiser man would have worried, but Ichabod possessed a happy mixture of flexibility and perseverance in his nature. He was yielding but tough, and though he bent – he never broke; he may have bowed beneath the slightest pressure, but when it was gone, he walked away with his head held high as ever.

To face his rival head on would have been madness; Brom was not a man to be thwarted. Therefore, Ichabod’s advances were smooth and subtle. He visited the farmhouse frequently as a singing instructor, but not much was gained in those visits; her meddlesome parents were quite the hurtle. Balt Van Tassel was an indulgent soul and always nearby, enjoying his pipe; he loved his daughter even more than his tobacco and spoiled her greatly. His wife was always busy with her housework but never far away. Meanwhile, Ichabod would carry on with their daughter by the spring under the great elm or walking along in the twilight hours.

I confess to not knowing how women’s hearts are won; to me, they are matters of riddle and admiration. Some seem to have only one way to win their affection while others have a thousand. It is a great triumph to gain the former, but it is an even greater victory to maintain a relationship with the latter because the man must face all types of rivals. This was certainly not the case with Brom Bones; from the moment Ichabod made advances – Brom’s interest declined. His horse was no longer seen at the farmhouse on Sunday nights, and a deadly feud gradually arose between him and the teacher.

If Brom had it his way, the matter would be solved with a duel, but Ichabod was too smart to fight when he was at a clear disadvantage. He had overheard the brute bragging that he would lay the teacher out in his own school, and Mr. Crane was careful not to give the man an opportunity. His tactics were infuriating to Brom; he and his goons were left with no choice but to waste money on pranks. They made loud noises outside his home, smoked out his schoolhouse by blocking the chimney off, and ransacked his classroom so he might blame witches. What the teacher found most annoying was being ridiculed in Katrina’s presence; the brute even trained his dog to whimper during their singing lessons.

Things went on this way for a long time without either man making progress. On one fine autumn afternoon, a pensive Ichabod watched over the students from his high stool – holding a scepter made of birch; it was a source of fear for all misbehaved children. On his desk were numerous items of contraband – everything from munched apples to pop guns. His dark mood had the children intently reading their books, and if they whispered to a friend – it was with one eye on their teacher. Class was suddenly interrupted by a dark-skinned man in old clothes; he was riding a half-wild colt with a rope instead of a halter. The stranger clambered up to the door with an invitation for Ichabod to attend a party at the Van Tassel home; after delivering his message, the visitor dashed over the brook and up the hollow – off to his next mission.

Now, everything was done quickly as the students were rushed through lessons without pause. Those who were quick-witted skipped more than half without fear of punishment while slower children were encouraged with a smack on the rear. Books were flung aside, inkstands were overturned, benches were knocked down, and school was dismissed an hour early.

Ichabod spent an extra half hour grooming and dressing; his only suit was a rusty black color, and his only mirror hung on the wall in broken shards. To make a grand entrance, he borrowed a friend’s horse and set out for the party. The animal named Gunpowder was a broken-down plow horse that had outlived everything but his viciousness. He was thin and shaggy with a head like a hammer; his hair was tangled, and one eye had lost its pupil while the other still had the devil in it. The steed’s master was the choleric Van Ripper, and some say he infused part of his own spirit into the animal; there was more of a lurking devil in him than any filly in the country.

Ichabod rode with short stirrups which brought his knees close to the pommel; his sharp elbows stuck out like grasshoppers, and he carried his whip like a scepter. As the horse jogged on, his arms resembled flapping wings; a small wool hat rested atop his nose, covering his small forehead, and the tail of his black coat flapped on the breeze as they left the property of Hans Van Ripper.

It was a fine autumn day, and the sky was clear; some trees were already nipped with frost and turning brilliant colors of orange and scarlet. Wild ducks flew in file, barking squirrels were heard from the hickory groves, and quail whistled pensively from the fields. Small birds were preparing to fly south for the winter as they fluttered and chirped from bush to bush.

As Ichabod rode slowly on his way, he enjoyed every one of these jolly sights. Apples were all around him; some still in trees, some already placed in baskets. Farther on, he passed golden ears of corn, yellow pumpkin patches, fragrant buckwheat fields, and beehives; there he fantasized of being fed delicious pancakes by his lovely Katrina. It was with those sweet thoughts he traveled along the hills overlooking the mighty Hudson as the sun gradually made its way west. The wide Tappan Zee bridge prolonged the blue shadow of the distant mountain, and a few amber clouds floated in the windless sky. A small boat lingered in the distance, dropping with the tide while her sail hung uselessly against the mast, and the sky reflected off the still waters, causing the vessel to appear as if it were floating.

It was evening when Ichabod arrived at the castle of Heer Van Tassel. Old farmers appeared with leather faces, homespun clothes, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles; their wives wore small hats, long gowns, and homespun petticoats. The daughters were dressed almost the same way except for the occasional fine ribbon or white frock; the sons had short square-skirted coats with rows of brass buttons, and their hair cut to the fashion of the era. Brom Bones came to the gathering on his favorite steed. It was as mischievous as its master; no one else could handle the fierce horse. The man had a reputation for preferring vicious animals that could break the rider’s neck.

Inside the mansion were the charms of a genuine Dutch country tea table stacked with platters of delectable dishes, cakes, and pies; Ichabod patiently spent ample time with each dish. He was a kind, thankful man whose cheer grew in proportion with his filled stomach as some men’s do with drink. He could not help searching the room with his eyes and chuckling at the notion he might one day be the lord of such luxury. Then, he thought of how fast he would abandon the schoolhouse – snapping his fingers at Hans Van Ripper and any other who would dare call him comrade!

Old Baltus Van Tassel cheerfully visited with his guests; his attentions were brief but sincere whether it was a handshake or invitation to make oneself at home. When the music began, so did the dancing; the musician was an elderly dark-skinned man who had been performing in the area for over fifty years; he bobbed his head and stomped his feet with every note.

Ichabod was as proud of his dancing as he was his singing. To see his loose frame in full swing was like watching a Lord of Dance move about the room; not a single part of his body remained idle. Every child from the poor neighborhoods gathered at the windows, eyes wide with delight and grinning ear to ear. Katrina smiled graciously in reply to Ichabod’s lustful stares as they danced, and Brom Bones sat brooding alone in the corner – seething with jealousy. When the party ended, Mr. Crane joined the older folks who sat smoking and gossiping about the war with old Van Tassel.

There was the story of Doffue Martling, a large, blue-bearded Dutchman who almost stole a British frigate with nothing more than a gun, but it burst on his sixth shot. Then, there was a wealthy gentleman who shall remain nameless; in the Battle of White Plains, he parried a bullet with a small sword and felt it ricochet off the hilt. He was always ready to show the dent it left as proof. Many more fought equally well, but these tales were nothing compared to the ghost stories that followed; the neighborhood is rich in those treasures.

Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these secluded towns, but the cause for spooky stories in this region was Sleepy Hollow. There was something in the air that blew from that haunted place; it gave life to an atmosphere of dreams and fantasies that spread throughout the land. Several locals from the Hollow attended Van Tassel’s gathering and told the wild legends as usual. Very dismal stories were told about funeral processions and mourning cries occurring near the great tree where the unfortunate Major Andre was killed. They also mentioned the woman in white who haunts the dark glen at Raven Rock; she died there, in the snow, and is often heard screaming on winter nights before a storm. The most interesting stories, however, centered around the Headless Horseman. His patrols were heard more frequently in the past months.

The secluded church is a favorite haunt of the troubled spirits. It sits on a hill with its white walls shining through the elms. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water surrounded by high trees – beyond which are the blue hills of the Hudson. On one side of the church is a large brook running through a wooded hollow. In the past, a wooden bridge stretched over a deep, black part of the stream; due to the overhanging trees, it and the road leading to it were gloomy even in the day, but at night, it was a frightening darkness. This was a favorite haunt for the Headless Horseman, and where he was most often encountered. Old Brouwer – a hardcore skeptic – told of how he met the horseman when returning home to Sleepy Hollow and was forced to ride behind him. They galloped over bushes, hills, and swampland until they reached the bridge; then, the horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton, and threw old Brouwer into the brook before leaping over the treetops with a clap of thunder.

This story was immediately outdone by Brom Bones who mocked the galloping Hessian as a jockey. One night, when returning from a nearby town – he was overtaken by the midnight rider and challenged him to a race; he claimed his own steed defeated the goblin horse, but as they arrived at the bridge, the Hessian vanished in a flash of fire.

These tales were always told in the same, drowsy undertone, and the listeners only nodded with polite interest, but Ichabod hung on every word. He repaid them with long excerpts from his favorite author, Cotton Mather, and added extra events that took place in his native state of Connecticut or on his nightly walks around Sleepy Hollow.

The party gradually broke up. The old farmers loaded into their wagons, and for a long time, they could be heard rattling along the Hollow’s roads. Some of the ladies mounted behind their lovers, and their light-hearted laughter echoed along the silent woodlands. Ichabod stayed behind to have a moment with Katrina, now fully convinced he was on the road to success. I do not know what was said, but something must have gone wrong; when he left, he was noticeably crestfallen. Could the girl have been at her flirty tricks? Was her encouragement all a ruse to secure her conquest of his rival? Heaven only knows! The disappointed teacher marched out the door and straight to the stable where he roughly woke his horse from slumber.

It was the witching hour when Ichabod made his way home alongside the lofty hills. Far below him, a small boat sailed quietly down the river. In the complete silence of midnight, he could even hear the dogs barking on the opposite shores of the Hudson, but it was faint. There were no signs of life near him except the occasional cricket or frog.

All the spooky tales he heard that afternoon now came to mind, and the night grew darker as clouds covered the stars. Never had he felt so dismally alone, and to make matters worse, he was approaching the place where so many of those ghost stories took place. An enormous tulip tree stood in the center of the road, high above all the others, and acted as a landmark in the area. Its limbs were the size of ordinary tree trunks, twisting down towards the ground before rising back up. Being connected to the downfall of the Hessian, it became known as Major Andre’s tree. The people regard it with a mixture of respect and superstition; partly out of sympathy for its tragic namesake, and partly from the unfortunate tales told about it.

Ichabod began to whistle as he approached this fearful tree, and – for a moment – thought it answered him, but it was only a sharp blast of wind blowing through the dry branches. As he came closer, he saw something white hanging in the tree; he paused, but upon closer inspection – it was only scorched by lightning. Suddenly, he heard a groan; his teeth chattered and his knees struck the saddle, but it was only two branches rubbing together in the breeze. He passed the tree safely, but new dangers lay before him.

Two hundred yards away, a small brook crossed the road and ran into a marshy, wooded glen known as Wiley’s swamp. A few rough logs bundled together served as a bridge over the stream. To the side – where the brook entered the forest – a group of thick oaks and chestnuts cast gloomy shadows over it. Passing this bridge was the severest trial. That is where Andre was captured after soldiers ambushed him from the grove. Ever since, the stream has been considered haunted, and every child is afraid to cross it alone at night.

As the teacher approached the bridge, his heart began to pound, but he summoned all of his courage. Urging the horse into a run, he attempted to dash across the bridge, but instead of going forward, old Gunpowder turned away. Fear increasing with the delay, Ichabod jerked on the reins and heartily kicked the animal to turn him around, but it was all in vain; his steed only plunged into a thicket of brambles on the opposite side of the road. He resorted to using his whip on the poor horse who then dashed forward – snorting angrily – but came to a sudden halt that nearly threw off his rider. At this moment a splashing by the bridge caught Ichabod’s ear. In the dark shadow of the grove, he saw something huge, misshapen, black, and towering. It did not move, but seemed to meld with the darkness – like a gigantic monster waiting to leap out at the traveler.

The teacher’s hair stood straight up with terror. What was he to do? It was too late to run away; besides, there was no chance he could outrun a ghost – not one as fast as the wind. Summoning his courage he stammered, “Who are you?” But there was no answer. He repeated his demand in an even more agitated voice, and still received no reply. Once more he kicked poor Gunpowder in the sides, and with his eyes squeezed shut, he burst into song. Just then, the shadowy figure moved, and with one giant leap, it was suddenly standing in the road. The night was dark and dismal, but it was now possible to identify the unknown form. It was a large horseman, mounted on a black, muscular steed. He did not stop to speak but kept running along the road.

I hope this is some of the original artwork, but it was harder to figure out with this story.

Ichabod did not enjoy this strange midnight companion, and – thinking of the story Brom Bones told – spurred his horse in hopes of leaving him behind; however, the stranger sped up to match his pace. The teacher slowed to a walk in hopes of falling back, but the other did the same. His heart sank; he tried to resume singing, but his dry tongue clung to the roof of his mouth. His companion’s ominous silence was mysterious and appalling. On the next hilltop, the gigantic traveler was silhouetted in the sky, and Ichabod was horrified to see he was headless! He was even more frightened upon noticing the head was carried on the saddle’s pommel. His terror turned to desperation, and he kicked at Gunpowder hoping to escape, but the specter lunged forward as well. They raced along, stones flying and sparks flashing at every turn. Ichabod’s baggy clothes fluttered in the wind as he stretched his long body flat, over the horse’s head.

They had now reached the road which veers off to Sleepy Hollow, but Gunpowder – as if possessed – turned, plunging downhill. This road leads through a sandy hollow, shaded by trees; it crosses the bridge mentioned in the ghost stories, and just beyond is the whitewashed church atop the green hills.

For a moment, the steed’s panic appeared to give its unskilled rider an advantage in the chase, but the saddle girths came loose halfway through the hollow. Ichabod felt it sliding and seized the pommel – struggling to hold on – but his efforts were in vain; the saddle fell to the ground – trampled by his pursuer – but he managed to grab Gunpowder’s neck at the last moment. For a brief instant, the teacher dreaded Hans Van Ripper’s wrath because it was his best saddle, but this was no time for petty worries. The horseman was hot on his heels, and he was a poor rider before the added challenge of riding bare-back; he feared the high ridge of the horse’s spine would split him in half.

An opening in the trees gave him hope the church’s bridge was near. A reflection in the brook confirmed his suspicion; the church walls dimly glared under the trees beyond. He remembered that’s where Brom Bones’ ghostly competitor disappeared, and thought he would be safe if he reached the bridge. Just then, he heard the black steed snorting close behind and even felt his hot breath. With another convulsive kick in the ribs, Gunpowder sprang onto the bridge. He thundered over the reverberating planks, and looked back to see if his pursuer would vanish in a flash of fire and brimstone as the legends claimed. Instead, he witnessed the specter rising in his stirrups – preparing to throw his head at him. Ichabod tried to dodge the horrible missile, but he was too late. It crashed into his head, knocking him face-first into the dirt; Gunpowder, the black steed, and Headless Horseman passed by like a whirlwind.

The next morning, the old horse was found eating grass at his master’s gate – without a saddle – and his bridle was under his feet. Ichabod did not appear at breakfast or dinner. The boys gathered at the schoolhouse and strolled along the brook, but there was no schoolmaster. Hans Van Ripper began to feel uneasy about Ichabod and his saddle; an investigation began, and they soon found traces of his passage. The trampled saddle was in the road before the church, and the horses’ deep tracks led to the bridge. Once across, Ichabod’s hat was discovered lying near the brook – next to a shattered pumpkin.

The brook was searched, but the teacher’s body was not found. As the executor of his estate, Hans Van Ripper examined the only sack of possessions he owned; it contained clothes, a rusty razor, a worn hymnal, and a broken pitch pipe. Everything in the schoolhouse belonged to the community except for Cotton Mather’s History of Witchcraft, a New England Almanac, and a book about dreams and fortune telling. Folded inside the last was a scrap of paper filled with several fruitless attempts at love poetry dedicated to Katrina. Hans immediately burned both books and the poems, deciding his children would never go to school again; he never understood what use reading or writing could serve. Any money the teacher possessed must have been in his pockets.

The mysterious event caused much speculation at church on the following Sunday. Clusters of people gathered to gossip in the churchyard, at the bridge, and where the shattered pumpkin was found. The current circumstances were compared to the stories of Brouwer, Bones, and all the others; it was soon concluded that Ichabod was carried off by the galloping Hessian. Since he was a bachelor who didn’t owe any debts, no one worried any more about it. The school was relocated to a different corner of the hollow, and a new teacher was assigned.

An old farmer visited New York several years later, and returned with gossip that Ichabod Crane was still alive. It was said he left the neighborhood partly for fear of the Hessian and Hans; partly from shame at Katrina’s sudden dismissal. He moved across the country, studied law, was admitted to the bar, became an elected politician, wrote for newspapers, and was finally made a Court Justice. Brom Bones married Katrina shortly after his rival’s disappearance, and the way he laughed when anyone mentioned the pumpkin incident led many to believe he knew more about the matter than he admitted.

The old country wives, however, – who are the best judges in these matters – maintain Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; it is a favorite tale told often around the winter fires. The bridge was feared by the superstitious more than ever; in later years, the road was altered to approach the church by the millpond. The deserted schoolhouse soon fell into decay, and was rumored to be haunted by the unfortunate teacher; the plowboy sometimes claimed to hear a distant voice singing hymns on his evening walks home along the tranquil roads of Sleepy Hollow.


POSTSCRIPT

FOUND IN THE HANDWRITING OF MR. KNICKERBOCKER

The above tale is written almost exactly as I heard it at a corporate meeting in Manhattan where many of its most illustrious citizens were present. The narrator was a pleasant, shabby, old fellow in salt-and-pepper clothes with a sadly humorous face; he made such efforts to be entertaining – I strongly suspected was poor. When his story ended, there was much laughter and praise – particularly from the aldermen who slept for most of the time. There was one tall old gentleman with knitted eyebrows who maintained a grave and severe face throughout – sometimes folding his arms or looking at the floor as if contemplating doubts. He was one of those wary men who never laugh unless it is completely proper. When the cheers subsided and silence was restored, he leaned forward, one arm stretched high, and demanded to know the moral of the story.

The narrator – who was just taking a sip of wine – paused to look at the other man with an air of infinite deference, and lowered his glass to the table. “That there is no situation in life without its advantages and pleasures if we can take our jokes where we find them. Therefore, he who races ghostly troopers is likely to have a hard time of it. Ergo, for a country teacher to be refused the hand of a Dutch heiress is a certain step towards popularity.”

The cautious old gentleman knit his brows even closer in confusion at the extremely literal explanation while the storyteller eyed him with a triumphant leer. He observed that all of this was very well, but he thought the story a little extravagant; there were a couple points on which he had doubts.

“As to that matter, sir, I don’t believe half of it myself,” replied the storyteller.

Horror Fiction

Lost Kevin

Now a CreepyPasta

Brimstone Below did an amazing narration on his YouTube channel which you can see here

Narrated in Czech by Creepy Stalk here

Photo by Brimstone Below

I know it’s wrong to download movies and we shouldn’t do it, but I’m poor and those guys are rich. Either way, it’s not important. I’m only writing this to warn others against it. Is it illegal? Yes. Immoral? Arguable, but technically. Dangerous? Apparently.

I didn’t do it often; I just wanted a few Christmas movies to get into the holiday spirit. I stuck with the classics, and they all played great. It wasn’t until I watched Home Alone 2 that things started getting bad. Everyone has seen that movie, right? Because if you haven’t I don’t know if you can follow this story. My partner was asleep, but I wasn’t tired, so I watched it alone.

The first different thing was the opening credits; the little house was red. I hadn’t watched it in a couple years, but I’ve seen it a thousand times. I was certain it should be blue. Still, it’s a minor detail, forgotten almost immediately after fading to movie.

In the opening scene, it shows family members rushing through the home and remains normal until Kevin walks in on his uncle’s shower. The uncle usually calls him a “nosy, little pervert”, but this time he said “sorry, little shit”. I thought I heard him wrong, but when I tried to skip back, the computer froze. That’s not uncommon, it’s a piece of junk; I didn’t want to waste more time, so I let it keep playing.

I was positive the movie was wrong when the Christmas pageant began. The kids were holding real candles. As the camera zoomed in on the singing children and their small, dancing flames, I thought I downloaded from someone with mad editing skills; changing the candles blew my mind, but I can believe it’s possible. The rest of what I’m about to convey… I can’t.

In the original movie, Buzz holds candles behind Kevin’s ears. In my copy, the sizzle of Kevin’s flesh can be heard as wisps of dark smoke swirl around his head. The audience still laughs the same, but instead of stopping when Buzz is knocked down, they grow louder. The choir robes worn by the children are set ablaze, and they scream over the roaring laughter. When the cardboard tree hits Piano Lady, blood sprays from the impact and a gaping head wound is seen as she tumbles back.

I watched in stunned silence, glued to my seat and unable to look away. I didn’t understand what I was watching, but I had a morbid desire to see more. Back home, Buzz uses the same apology speech, but his face and hands are wrapped in bloody bandages. Kevin’s ears are also badly burned, but his wounds are left untreated. When it shows the family, their faces are red and puffy from crying.

On the kid-tantrum-scale, I would rate Kevin’s actual non-apology scene pretty low. He doesn’t throw anything, his voice doesn’t crack as he screams through his tears, and his face doesn’t exude pure hatred. The one in my version did all those things.

After Kevin’s mom followed him to the attic, he used curse words I’ve never heard before. I think some were in a different language. Kate began crying, screaming, “I wish you would have died last year” before storming out. A baseball was thrown as she exited, slamming into the door as it closed. Kevin fell onto the bed, retrieved a razor from beneath his pillow, and slowly cut into his forearm.

The close-up of the Chicago Sun Times was also different. Instead of “wet bandits”, it read “KILLER BANDITS ESCAPE DURING RIOT” I don’t remember what the smaller headlines really say, but I’m willing to bet it’s not “DOZENS DEAD, MANHUNT CONTINUES” considering it’s a kid’s movie.

Remember the quick scene of the airport taxi knocking over the statue? In my copy, it hits a kid. Aside from the characters being angry and depressed towards one another, the movie plays relatively normal until Kevin leaves the New York airport. Where he once enjoyed a montage of fun, city sights to a happy song, he now walked dark, dangerous alleyways as sinister music played. For the remainder of the movie, Kevin’s family is not seen again. They never go to the police or attempt to locate him.

After the montage, we see Harry and Marv leave the fish truck. The “sticky bandit” jokes were completely removed. Where they normally steal change from a Salvation Army Santa, they now held a man at gunpoint in a dark alley. The terrified man surrenders his wallet without a struggle but is shot anyway. The scene ends as the bandits flee.

What should be the scene where we first see the hotel and Pigeon Lady was now a Holiday Inn and junkie. The woman in my copy was putting a syringe into her arm when Kevin saw her. He enters the Holiday Inn, skipping the short scene where he runs away. Still in possession of Peter’s bag, he immediately approaches the front desk. A dirty, balding man gives him a hard time until he sees the envelope full of cash. There is no bellboy to escort Kevin to his room, but when he turns on the lights, cockroaches scatter across the floor. The room is filthy, has two twin beds, and a small tv with tin foil wrapped around the antenna.

They skipped the pool scene, going directly to the Angels with Even Filthier Souls movie. The only difference here is the hungry look in Kevin’s eyes as he sits on the floor, face inches from the screen, his fingers lightly tracing over the fresh cuts in his arm.

A fade out takes us to a few hours later when he discovers Peter’s address book. At seeing his uncle’s name, he says, “If they’re still in Paris, I can stay there instead!” At the sight of a family photo in his father’s wallet, Kevin begins shaking and sobbing as he rips it to pieces. The following morning, he hails a cab instead of renting a limousine.

Duncan’s Toy Chest was unchanged, but the kid was still angry and depressed as he wandered through the store. He pushed other kids and shoplifted the item he normally purchased. Mr. Duncan watched him leave with a sad, slow shake of the head. Harry and Marv exit immediately after, grabbing Kevin on the street. The boy screamed, kicked Harry in the shin and ran.

The chase scene was short and filled with cursing. Instead of breaking pearl necklaces to trip the bad guys, he told a group of bikers, “two men are chasing me.” Kevin proceeds to escape while Harry and Marv are brutally beaten in the streets. Upon returning to the hotel, the owner claimed the room was never paid for, and tried to make the boy pay again. When Kevin refused, the man grabbed him, taking the money by force. Red faced with fury, the kid fled back into the streets.

He ran until Harry and Marv, limping and beaten to a pulp, found him once again. They pulled him through alleys, describing brutal methods of torture he would endure. I can’t even repeat the words… I don’t think I have ever heard such gruesome ideas before. I didn’t believe a child’s face could be more consumed by hatred, but the way Kevin looked at them gave me chills.

When he saw three homeless men ahead, he began frantically digging through his pockets. The bandits were too busy watching their surroundings to notice, but the kid found a few crumpled twenty’s. As they passed the homeless, he threw the cash into their circle. “Help, kill these guys!” He screamed. After retrieving the cash, the three men descended upon the bandits, and Kevin was able to escape.

In the next scene, Kevin was alone in the dark park. The sulky child walked with his head down, frightened by the shady characters he encountered. More than one tried to sell him drugs, and when the prostitute taunted him, he flipped her off. After running from the taxi driver, he bumped into the ex-pigeon lady again.

They had an almost-normal chat if you can pretend it’s normal to teach a ten-year-old how to shoot heroin. Where she once placed bird seed into his hand, she now rolled his sleeve up with a mother’s tenderness. She injected the drug into his vein, and when finished, he fell backwards into a snowy hill, looking up into a clear, night sky. As the camera pulled away, Kevin could be seen smiling for the first time.

It skipped their touching scene at the orchestra, instead going directly to Kevin entering his uncle’s home. I didn’t notice any difference in the trap-setting montage aside from the same eerie music as before. This is where the movie got truly graphic. I’ve seen a lot of horror, but I’ve never seen anything so incredibly brutal as the derailed special effects to come.

The scene at the toy store began with Kevin, hat off for the first time since the apology scene. His ears were turning green with infection from his still untreated burns. He smiled wickedly as he collected bricks, but he never bothered taking a picture. Actually, I don’t think he had the camera or voice recorder at all. Likewise, he didn’t attach a note to the brick he threw into the window.

Harry ran outside, tripped on the failed seesaw, and face-planted into the sidewalk. He lifted his head to show a bloody nose and murderous eyes. Seeing the trap failed, Kevin began running away. Marv emerged, also tripping on the board, and fell into Harry.

When the boy taunted the bandits from his uncle’s roof, they responded in the usual way. The first brick dropped still hit Marv in the forehead, but left a wide, bloody gash. The next two bricks gave matching lacerations, and blood sprayed the sidewalk on impact.

Both the men’s faces were already in poor condition from previous beatings, but somehow, each new wound was prominent among the rest. I wish I could tell you I watched because some strange power stayed my hand, or that the movie threatened me in some way, but I can’t. The only reason I continued watching was because some twisted part of me wanted to see what else they’d done to it. There was absolutely nothing to give any indication it was edited. If I had never seen it, I would have believed it genuinely filmed that way.

After Harry left to find another entrance, Marv struggled to his feet. At the front door, he pulled the knob off to initiate the same staple-gun trap, albeit without the comically long rope. The string quickly pulled tight, shooting a staple into his nutsack region, not his ass. He then fell to his knees, pulling the trigger once more. I had to look away when the staple penetrated his eye… they just made it so graphic.

Harry tried to go up the slippery ladder and fell on his back, but nothing worse than usual. When he kicked in the side door, most of the falling tools missed him, but the camera didn’t cut away when the last wrench fell. The sound of his skull breaking was nothing compared to the blood that splattered and the way his head caved inward. He should have been dead, but he wasn’t.

Marv kicked open the front door, but fell off the incomplete floor ledge, landing with a sickening thud. Blood stains spread beneath him as he moaned in agony. When finally able to stand, he walked on shaky legs around the green goop he normally slips in. He still tried to use the sink, probably because he was covered in as much blood in my version as he was paint in the real movie.

The electrocution scene was horrible. When he attempted to use the sink, his body went rigid as electricity coursed through him. His hair caught fire, and the screen filled with smoke. I know it was only my imagination, but I swear I could smell him burning. It felt like it lasted longer than normal; he fried for almost a full minute. He, too, should be dead… but wasn’t. Kevin laughed maniacally as he maxed out the voltage before running away. It didn’t stop until the actual device blew sparks and died.

It skipped Harry catching on fire and dipping his head in the toilet. Instead, it stayed with Marv as he somehow recovered. He erected a tower of junk to climb through the hole in the floor and almost made it to the top before it fell, burying him beneath the rubble with more gut-wrenching sound effects.

Back upstairs, Kevin sneaked down a hall, past Harry, and attempted to climb the ladder he previously sawed halfway through. It broke too early and sent him crashing into the ground. Recovering quickly, he almost made it to the top of the stairs before Harry saw him. When Marv caught up, the two undead bandits pretended to run upstairs. This time, they avoided the paint cans thrown by the kid, and there was no giant, metal, beam-like object.

The bandits hurled more threats at Kevin as they tried to enter the attic, but they didn’t conveniently listen as the tool-chest hurtled down the stairs. Instead, they backed away, confused looks on their disfigured faces, as the door exploded with a loud crash.

On the roof, Kevin still climbs down a rope and sets it on fire as the bandits descend. The difference is, Harry and Marv are engulfed in the flames before falling several stories to land on their backs – legs protruding at angles that made my stomach churn. The dozens of paint cans to fall on them after was just overkill.

Kevin calls the police from a pay phone while the bandits recover, but they catch him when he slips on the ice. Harry and Marv hardly look human anymore with their lumpy faces and broken limbs, but they still lifted the boy to his feet. Then they dragged him to the park, putting a gun in his face, and enjoying each new cry of terror they won.

Eventually the beating began, making Kevin suffer before he died. The kid was on the ground, curled in a ball, trying to protect his head with his arms, screaming for help. Finally, when the sharp kicks to his body stopped, he looked up, into the barrel of Harry’s gun. As the hammer pulled back, he squeezed his eyes shut. Then a loud bang echoed through the park, followed closely by a second.

Kevin remained still until he heard a booming voice say, “This is the police, you’re safe now.” As he opened his eyes, red and blue lights flashed all around him. Two paramedics wrapped him in a blanket and carried him to an ambulance. There, he met Mr. Duncan who praised him for saving his store.

Next, we see a few clips of the boy being adopted by Mr. Duncan and going on to live a happy, normal life. When you think the credits are about to roll, it fades to a scene zoomed in on Kevin’s smiling, jubilant face. Very slowly, as beautiful, inspirational music plays in the background, it zooms out to reveal him lying on a snowy hillside in the park; his eyes are glazed over in death, and a needle hangs from his arm.

I went to the website to see what I could find out about the person I got it from, but the torrent was removed. I looked on other sites, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I tried to show my partner the next morning, but it said “file corrupt” each time I pressed play. Next time I was alone, the movie suddenly worked again. I tried to screen record, but it only showed blackness when I rewatched the video.

I keep trying to add a link below for anyone who wants to see it, but they are being disabled faster than I can post more. Hurry – click the one below before they remove it too.

There’s only one thing you should know first. Since seeing it, no matter what I’m watching or who I watch with… occasionally I’ll see flashes of strange scenes… whatever is on will stray from its usual script and change into something horrible. That’s probably my imagination, but I thought I’d mention it… just in case.

File att: LoSTiNnEwYoRK.mkv

Classics Translated

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 poisonous. 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 wavelengths, 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 was 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 the 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 a 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. Hunting 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 got 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 for 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 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 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 holding 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 seashore. 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.