Classics Translated

The Dream

W. Somerset Maugham, first published May 1924; translated to modern English, otherwise left exactly the same. 

In August of 1917, I was required to travel from New York to Petrograd for work, and I was told to go through Vladivostok for safer traveling. I arrived in the morning and passed a dull day as best I could; the Trans-Siberian train was scheduled to depart at 9:00 that evening. I ate alone at the station restaurant, but it was crowded so I shared a small table with a funny-looking man. He was a tall, stout Russian, and his pudgy stomach forced him to sit a ways back from the table. His small hands were buried in rolls of fat, and his long, dark, thinning hair was brushed across his bald forehead while his sickly, clean-shaven face and double chin made him look naked. His nose was a funny little button on a mass of flesh, and his black, shining eyes were too small, but his big mouth was red and sensual. His black suit was shabby; it looked as if it had never been cleaned or pressed.

Our service was bad; it was almost impossible to get the waiter’s attention, so the Russian and I started talking. He spoke with an accent, but it wasn’t heavy, and his English was fluent. He asked several questions about me and – since my job required a certain level of caution – my answers were true but vague. I said I was a journalist, and he asked if I wrote fiction. When I answered, “only in my free time,” he began talking about Russian novelists. He was clearly an intelligent and educated man.

By now, we had finally gotten our cabbage soup, and my companion offered to share the small bottle of vodka he removed from his pocket. I do not know whether it was the liquor or the talkative nature of his race that made him share these things, but – without prompting – he told me a good deal about himself. He was noble-born, a lawyer, and a radical. Some trouble with the police had made it necessary for him to spend much of his time abroad, but now he was on his way home. Business had detained him at Vladivostok, but he expected to leave for Moscow in a week, and he would be charmed to see me if I were ever in the area.

“Are you married?” He asked.

I did not think it was any of his business, but I said yes, and he sighed a little. “I am a widower. My wife was Swiss – from Geneva – and a very cultivated woman. She spoke perfect English, German, and Italian; of course, her native language was French. Her Russian was above average, and she only had a slight accent.” He said.

He called to a passing waiter and asked how much longer until the next course. The waiter replied in a reassuring tone, hurried on, and my friend sighed again. “Since the revolution, the wait time in restaurants has been terrible.”

He lit his twentieth cigarette, and I looked at my watch – wondering if I should have a real meal before smoking.

“My wife was a very remarkable woman,” he continued. “She taught languages to the daughters of noblemen at one of the best schools in Petrograd. For a good many years, we lived together on perfectly friendly terms, but she had a jealous temperament; unfortunately, her love became a distraction.”

It was difficult for me to keep a straight face. He was one of the ugliest men I had ever seen. Sometimes, there is a certain charm in fat, red-faced, jolly men, but this gloomy obesity was repulsive.

“I do not pretend that I was faithful to her; she was not young when we married, and we were together for ten years. She was small, thin, and had a bad complexion with a bitter tongue. She was a passionately jealous woman and could not bear for me to be attracted to anyone else. She was not only jealous of other women but also of my friends, my cat and my books. Once, when I was out, she gave away my favorite coat – but I can be just as petty. I will not deny that she was boring, but I accepted her bitter personality as an act of God; I gave no more thought to rebelling against it than I would against bad weather or a head-cold. I denied her accusations as long as possible, and when it became impossible – I shrugged my shoulders and smoked a cigarette.

“The scenes she constantly made did not affect me very much; I led my own life. Sometimes, I wondered if it was passionate love or passionate hate she felt for me. There seems to be a very fine line between love and hate.

“We might still be together now if a very curious thing had not happened. One night, I awoke startled by my wife’s piercing scream and asked her what was the matter.

“She had a frightening nightmare in which I tried to kill her. We lived at the top of a large house, and the spiral stairs left a wide, open space in the center. In her dream – just as we arrived on our floor – I grabbed her and tried to throw her over the railing. It was a six-story fall to the stone floor below and meant certain death.

“She was very shaken. I did my best to soothe her, but for the next few days, she continued bringing it up, and despite my laughter, I could tell she was bothered by it. I could not help thinking of it, either; this dream showed me something I had never suspected. She thought I hated her – that I would be glad to get rid of her; she knew she was insufferable, and eventually, it occurred to her that I was capable of murder. Men’s thoughts are unpredictable; we think of ideas we would be ashamed to confess. Sometimes, I wished she would run away with a lover, and other times – for a sudden, painless death, but never – not ever had I thought to intentionally rid myself of an intolerable burden.

“The dream made an extraordinary impression on us both. It frightened my wife – making her more tolerant and a little less bitter – but when I walked upstairs, it was impossible not to see the railings and think of how easy it would be to make her dream come true. The rails were dangerously low; one quick push, and it would be done. It was hard to put the thought out of my mind. Then, months later, my wife woke me one night. I was very tired and exasperated.

“She was white and trembling from having the dream again. She burst into tears and asked me if I hated her. I swore by all the saints of the Russian calendar that I loved her, and she finally went back to sleep. It was more than I could do – I was left lying awake. I kept seeing her fall over the stair-rails and hearing her shriek before slamming against the stone floor; it made me shiver.”

The Russian stopped, and beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. He told the story well, and I listened closely. He poured the last of his vodka, and swallowed it in a single gulp.

“And how did your wife eventually die?” I asked after a pause.

He took out a dirty handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “By an extraordinary coincidence. Late one night, she was found at the bottom of the stairs with her neck broken.”

“Who found her?”

“She was found by one of the other tenants who came in shortly after the accident.”

“And where were you?” I cannot describe the cunning, malicious look he gave me; his little, black eyes sparkled.

“I was spending the evening with a friend. I did not come home until an hour later.”

At that moment, the waiter brought us the meat we ordered, and the Russian began shoveling enormous bites into his mouth. I was surprised; had he genuinely just admitted to murdering his wife? That obese and sluggish man did not look like a murderer; I could not believe he would have the courage. Perhaps he was making a joke at my expense…

In a few minutes, it was time to catch my train. I left and have not seen the man since, but I have never been able to make up my mind whether he was serious or not.

Classics Translated

The Signal-Man

Charles Dickens, first published 1866; translated into Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

“Hello! Down below!”

When he heard me calling to him, he was standing at his box’s door with a short flag rolled in his hand. Considering what was said, my location should have been obvious, but instead of looking up to where I stood atop the steep ledge – he looked down the tracks. There was something remarkable about the way he did it, though – for the life of me – I cannot say what. It was enough to attract my attention even though he was hard to see down in the deep trench. I was high above him, blinded by the glow of an angry sunset; I had to shade my eyes before I could see him at all.

“Hello! Below!”

From looking down the tracks, he turned again and – looking up – saw me standing high above him. “Is there a path I can use to come speak with you?”

He looked up at me without replying, and I looked down at him without repeating my question. Then, the earth began to shake slightly, but it quickly grew violent, and a sudden blast of air caused me to jump back as though I were being pulled down. Steam rose from the speeding train and rolled away over the landscape; I looked down again, and the man was re-rolling his flag after waving it at the passing train.

I repeated my question. He paused, staring at me before pointing his flag towards a spot roughly two or three hundred yards away on my level. I called down, “alright” and made my way over. Looking closely, I found an uneven, zigzagging path and followed it.

The trail was extremely deep and unusually steep. It cut through a clammy type of stone that oozed and became wetter as I went down. The walk took long enough for me to recall a reluctant expression when he pointed out the path.

When I was low enough to see him again, he was standing between the rails, looking as if he were waiting for me to appear. His arms were crossed, and his chin rested in his hands. He seemed surprised that I paused and was wondering why.

I resumed my descent and stepped out onto the railroad; as I got closer to him, I saw that he was a pale man with a dark beard and thick eyebrows. His post was in the loneliest, most dismal place I ever saw. On either side was a dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, blocking out all but a strip of sky. In one direction, only a long, crooked view of this great dungeon could be seen, and the other ended in a gloomy, red light. It was the entrance to a black tunnel, and inside the massive structure was a depressing, forbidding air. So little sunlight ever found this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell, and so much cold wind blew through it, that I felt a chill as cold as death.

I was close enough to touch him before he moved. Without taking his eyes from mine, he took one step back and lifted his hand.

This was a lonesome post to occupy, and I said so; when I looked down from above, it instantly drew my attention. I suppose a visitor was rare, but hopefully not unwelcome. He merely saw me as another random person with a new interest in the great wonder of railroads. I spoke to him for that reason, but I am not sure of the words I used; I do not enjoy beginning any conversation, but there was something in this man that intimidated me.

He looked towards the red light near the tunnel’s opening in a very curious way – as if something were missing – and then looked back at me. I asked if that light was part of his job.

He answered in a low voice. “Don’t you know that it is?”

A monstrous thought came to me as I studied his fixed eyes and gloomy face; that he was a ghost, not a man. I stepped back, but in doing so, I saw he appeared frightened. This put an end to my monstrous thought.

“You look as if you are afraid of me.” I said, forcing a smile.

“I think I have seen you before,” he replied.

“Where?”

He pointed to the red light he had looked at.

“There?” I said.

Watching me intently, he replied a silent, “yes.”

“My good man, what would I do there? However, I will swear that I was never there.”

“I think I was mistaken,” he said. “Yes; I am sure I was.”

Our demeanors softened, and his answers to my questions were knowledgeable and interesting. He had many responsibilities, but most importantly, his job required him to be attentive and precise. There was practically no manual labor; he only changed the train signal, trimmed the lights, and sometimes turned an iron handle. When I asked about those long, lonely hours that would bother me so much – he simply said it was routine, and that he had grown used to it. He taught himself a language down there – even if he did form his own crude pronunciations of the words he read. He also practiced fractions and tried a little algebra, but he had no skill for mathematics. I wondered if he was required to stay in that damp tunnel the whole time, or if he could take a break to enjoy the sun. It depended on how busy he was; some days were slower than others. In sunny weather, he often did venture out of the shadows, but he never strayed too far from his electric bell, and he always listened for it nervously; it sounded like it was not worth the anxiety it caused him.

We went into his box where there was a fire, a desk for his logbook, a telegraph machine, and the little bell he previously mentioned. Hoping he would excuse the remark about his education without offense – I could not help notice he seemed educated for his position; he observed that men like himself are much more common than I would think. Men like him often end up in workhouses, the police-force, and even the army in desperate cases; he knew of others in the railroad industry as well. When he was a young student of natural philosophy, he attended lectures, but he also ran wild and wasted opportunities. He had no complaints about it – he made his bed, and he was lying in it; he was far too old to make another.

I condensed everything he said quietly in his dark, serious way; the whole time his attention was split between me and the fire. Occasionally, he threw in the word, “sir,” when referring to his younger days. He was interrupted by the bell several times along with needing to send and receive messages. Once, he had to stand outside waving a flag and shouting something to the driver as a train passed. He was remarkably dedicated to his duties – always stopping his answers mid-sentence until each new task was done.

Basically, I would have sworn he was one of the safest men ever employed in that position… except for the two times he fell silent and pale when the bell did not ring; then, he opened the door and looked towards the red light near the mouth of the tunnel. On both occasions, he came back with the same baffled expression I mentioned before and could not explain why.

When I stood to leave, I said, “You almost make me believe that you are a content man.” Though, I am afraid I must admit this statement was not completely true.

“I believe I used to be, but I am troubled, sir; I am troubled.” He replied in the same, low voice as when he had first spoken.

He would have taken the words back if he could, but I responded quickly. “With what? What trouble?”

“It is very difficult to explain, sir, and very difficult to speak of. If you ever visit again, I will try to tell you.”

“But I specifically intend to visit again. Just say when!”

“I get off early in the morning, and I will return tomorrow night at ten, sir.”

“I will come at eleven.”

He thanked me and walked me out. “I’ll use my white light until you have found the way up, sir. Make sure not to call out when you find it or when you reach the top!” He said in his peculiar low voice.

“Very well.” His manner seemed to make the place colder, but I said no more.

“And when you come tomorrow night, don’t call out! Let me ask you one last question. What made you shout, ‘hello! Down below,’ tonight?”

“Heaven knows… I said something like that—”

“Not ‘like that’, sir. Those were your exact words. I know them well.”

“Yes, those were the very words, but I only said them because I saw you below.”

“There’s no other reason?”

“What other reason could I possibly have?”

“You didn’t feel like they were conveyed to you in a supernatural way?”

“No.”

He wished me goodnight and held up his lamp. I walked alongside the tracks with an unpleasant feeling that a train was coming. When I found the path, it was easier to climb than descend, and I returned to my inn without any trouble.


As promised, I arrived the next night when the clocks were striking eleven. He was waiting for me at the bottom with his white light. “I have not called out; may I speak now?” I said when we were closer.

“By all means, sir.”

“Hello, then.” I extended my hand.

“Hello, sir.” He replied as we shook; then, we closed ourselves in his box and sat by the fire.

“I’ve made up my mind, sir.” He leaned forward and spoke in a whisper. “I’m going to tell you what troubles me. Yesterday, I mistook you for someone else. That troubles me.”

“That mistake?”

“No. The other person.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do they look like me?”

“I don’t know; their left arm was covering their face, and their right arm was waving violently – like this.” He imitated someone frantically waving their arm around and shouted, “For God’s sake, clear the way!”

“One night,” he continued, “I was sitting here when I heard a voice cry, ‘hello, down there!’ I jumped up, looked outside, and saw this Someone standing by the red light near the tunnel – waving as I just showed you. The voice was hoarse from shouting. ‘Look out! Look out!’ It cried, and then repeated itself. ‘Hello, down there! Look out!’ I picked up my lamp, turned it on red, and ran towards the figure. ‘What’s wrong? What happened? Where?’ I called as it stood just outside the dark tunnel. I got closer and wondered why it was covering its eyes. I ran right up to it, and when my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, it vanished.”

“Into the tunnel?” I asked.

“No. I ran 500 yards into the tunnel and lifted my lamp; I saw the distance markers and the wet stains dripping down the walls, trickling through the arch. Then, I ran out even faster than I had entered and looked around the light with my own; I climbed the iron ladder to the gallery, came down again, and ran back here to send telegraphs both ways. I acknowledged an alarm was given and asked if anything was wrong, but the answers stated that all was well.”

I tried to shake the chill that ran down my spine as I told him he must have been mistaken. There were known cases where a sickness in the brain could cause people to see things that were not there; some patients were even aware of the hallucinations. They would prove what was real with various tests. I said, “for an imaginary cry, you only need to listen to the wind blowing through this unnatural valley. Do you hear the wild sound it makes with the telegraph wires?”

We sat listening to the wind for a while, and he thought that was all very well, but he was already familiar with the sound; he had spent many long, lonely winter nights there. Instead, he begged that I allow him to finish his tale.

I asked his forgiveness, and he touched my arm before slowly continuing his story.

“Six hours after I saw it, a horrible accident happened on the tracks, and within ten hours, the dead and wounded were brought through the tunnel – over the spot where the figure had stood.”

I shuddered unpleasantly despite actively trying no to. I admitted this was a remarkable coincidence – it is no wonder it made such an impression on his mind – but the fact is, that remarkable coincidences happen all the time; they must be considered when dealing with such subjects. Though, when I feared my words had offended him, I was sure to add, “men with common sense rarely believe in coincidences when it comes to their daily routines.”

He again begged me to allow him to finish.

I again asked his forgiveness for my interruption.

Again, he laid his hand on my arm and glanced over his shoulder with hollow eyes. “It happened only a year ago; I had recovered from the shock after six or seven months, but one morning – while standing at the door – I saw the ghost near the red light again.” He stopped with his eyes fixed on me.

“Did it cry out?”

“No. It was silent.”

“Did it wave its arm?”

“No. It leaned against the light pole with both hands covering its face. Like this.”

I watched as he imitated the scene; it was a gesture of despair. I have seen the same one in graveyards.

“Did you approach it?”

“I came in and sat down – partly to collect my thoughts, partly because it made me feel faint. When I looked again, the sun had risen, and the ghost was gone.”

“But that was it? Nothing else happened?”

He touched my arm with his finger a few times – nodding in a ghastly way with each poke.

“That same day, when a train came out of the tunnel, I saw into the carriage windows; there was a tangle of waving hands and heads. I saw it just in time to stop the driver. He hit the brakes, but the train continued drifting for another 150 yards. I chased after it, and heard terrible screams and cries along the way. A beautiful young lady had died instantly in one of the compartments, and she was brought here – laid on this floor between us.”

I instinctively pushed my chair back as I looked to where he pointed at the floor.

“It is true, sir. It happened precisely as I said.”

I could not think of anything to say, and my mouth was very dry. The wind and wires sounded like a long, sorrowful wail.

“Now – listen to this and see what you think of my troubled mind. The ghost returned a week ago; ever since, it has been coming and going often.” He continued.

“At the light?”

“At the Danger-light.”

“What does it do?”

He repeated himself with even more passion and intensity – making the same frantic gestures that seemed to say, “for God’s sake, clear the way!” Then he continued. “I get no peace or rest; it calls to me in an agonizing way for several minutes at a time. ‘Look out, down there!” It stands there – waving to me and ringing my little bell—”

“Did it ring your bell yesterday evening when I was here, and you went to the door?” I asked.

“Twice.”

“Do you see how your imagination misleads you? I was looking at the bell; I would have heard it, and it did not ring then or at any other time. It only rang when the station was communicating with you.” I said.

He shook his head. “I have never made that mistake, sir. I have never confused the actions of a man for a spirit’s. When the ghost rings the bell, it has a strange vibration unlike anything else, and I never said the bell physically moved. I’m not surprised that you didn’t hear it, but I heard it.”

“Was the ghost there when you looked outside?”

“It was there.”

“Both times?”

“Both times.” He repeated firmly.

“Will you come to the door with me and look for it now?”

He bit his lip – somewhat unwilling – but rose anyway. I opened the door and waited on the step while he stood in the doorway. There was the Danger-light, the dismal mouth of the tunnel, the high, wet stone walls of the valley, and the stars above them.

“Do you see it?” I asked, carefully studying his face. His eyes were wide and strained but not much more than my own were when I looked at the same spot.

“No,” he answered. “It is not there.”

“Agreed,” I said.

We went inside, shut the door, and took our seats. I was thinking of how I could keep this progress going when he resumed the conversation in a very matter-of-fact way. It seemed as if he would not even consider the facts, and it made my argument sound like the one that was incorrect.

“By now, you should understand what troubles me so much; I must know what the ghost means?” He said.

I was not sure, but I told him that I did understand.

“What is its warning against?” he said, staring into the fire as he contemplated. “What is the danger? Where is it? There is danger hanging over us somewhere on the tracks; some horrible catastrophe will happen. It cannot be doubted after what happened before – this is the third time! This surely is a cruel haunting. What can I do?”He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his heated forehead.

“If I send a danger signal, I won’t be able to give a reason,” he continued, wiping the palms of his hands. “I would get into trouble for nothing. They would think I was crazy. I would say, ‘danger! Take care’ and they would ask what and where the danger was. What should I say then? ‘Don’t know, but for God’s sake, take care!’ They would ignore me – what else could they do?

His pain was very sad to see; he was a good man enduring mental torture. The pressure was more than he could handle.

Pushing his dark hair back and rubbing his temples feverishly, he continued. “When it first stood under the Danger-light, why didn’t it tell me where the accident was going to happen? Why not say how to stop it? The second time – when it hid its face – why didn’t it tell me, ‘she is going to die. Let her stay home’? If it only came to show me that its warnings are true, then why not simply warn me the same way now? And I – Lord help me – am merely a poor Signal-man on this lonely station! Why not go to somebody with credibility and the power to do something?”

Seeing him in this state, I realized I needed to help him regain his composure – for his sake as well as the public’s. Therefore, setting aside the question of real or imaginary, I told him that no matter what – he had done his duty well, and that should be comforting even if he did not understand a confusing ghost’s appearances. That attempt was far more successful than anything else used to reason with him. He calmed, and his workload increased as it grew late. I left at two in the morning; I offered to stay, but he would not hear of it.

I looked back at the red light more than once as I climbed the pathway; I freely admit that I did not like it, and I would have slept poorly beneath it. I did not like the two accidents or the dead girl, either.

What ran through my thoughts most was the consideration of what to do now that I was aware of the situation. The man proved to be intelligent, vigilant, and painstakingly exact, but how long will that last in his state of mind? Though it is a low-ranking position, he still holds an important trust. Would I bet my own life on his chances of continuing with precision?

Ultimately, I felt it would be treacherous to tell his superiors what he told me without first proposing an alternative to him; I resolved I would offer to accompany him to the best doctor we could find. He said that the next night, he would be off an hour or two after sunrise and back after sunset. I decided to return accordingly.


Next evening was lovely, and I left early to enjoy it. The sun was not quite set when I crossed the field near the top of the deep valley. I decided to keep going for an additional half hour to give myself a half hour walk back so it would be time to meet the Signal-man.

Before beginning my stroll, I stepped to the edge and looked down from where I had first seen him. I cannot describe the thrill I felt when – close to the mouth of the tunnel – I saw the figure of a man with his left sleeve across his eyes, frantically waving his right arm.

The nameless horror that struck me passed in a moment when I saw that this man was indeed only a man; there was a small group of men standing nearby, to whom he seemed to be making the gesture. The Danger-light was not yet lit. An entirely new, low structure sat against the light-post; it was made of wooden supports and a tarp, and was no bigger than a bed.

With a strong sense that something was wrong, and – cursing myself for leaving the man alone with no one to supervise or correct him – I descended the path as quickly as possible.

“What is the matter?” I asked the men.

“The Signal-man was killed this morning, sir.”

“Not the man who works in that box?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not the man I know?”

“You will recognise him if you knew him, sir – his face is in good condition.” The man said, solemnly, removing his hat and raising one end of the tarp.

“Oh, how did this happen – how?” I asked, turning from one to another as the tarp fell back into place.

“He was cut down by a train, sir. No man in England was better at his job, but for some reason, he was not clear of the outer rail. It happened in broad daylight; he turned on the light and had the lamp in his hand. As the train came out of the tunnel, his back was towards her, and she cut him down. That man drove her, and he was demonstrating how it happened; show the gentleman, Tom.”

The man wore a rough, dark suit and returned to his former position at the mouth of the tunnel.

“Coming round the curve in the tunnel, sir, I saw him at the end – as if I were seeing him through a telescope. There was no time to check speed, and I knew him to be very careful. He didn’t seem to take notice of the whistle; I shut it off when we were getting close and called to him as loud as I could.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, ‘down there! Look out! For God’s sake, clear the way!’”

I gasped.

“Ah! it was dreadful, sir. I never stopped calling to him. I put one arm over my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see, and I waved this arm until the last moment, but it was no use.”

Without prolonging the story to dwell on any one curious situation more than another – I may point out the coincidence of the train driver’s warning. It included not only the same words the Signal-man repeated to me, but also the words that only I had attached to the gesture he imitated.

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.