Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce - Classic Horror Short Story 17 in Andrew Barger's Countdown

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

Similar to Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce was an American short story writer and flame-throwing critic. Bierce also many stories that centered on the macabre. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is one of his most famous, but for purposes of my countdown of the best horror short stories from 1850-1899, his finest horror tale is "The Damned Thing."

Published on December 7, 1893 in Town Topics: The Journal of Society, a New York literary magazine, "The Damned Thing" at first blush addresses invisibility. The scary story was derided as a result because Fitz James O'Brien penned the first invisible monster horror story in 1859 and it was seen as an imitation on the theme.

Bierce, however, staunchly fought this notion by claiming his story involved a non-supernatural creature whose color was merely invisible to the human eye whereas O'Brien's beast was supernatural.

Enjoy horror short story 17 in my countdown to kick off the launch of my new annotated horror anthology, Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Horror Anthology.

The Damned Thing


BY the light of a tallow candle, which had been placed on one end of a rough table, a man was reading something written in a book. It was an old account book, greatly worn; and the writing was not, apparently, very legible, for the man sometimes held the page close to the flame of the candle to get a stronger light upon it.
The shadow of the book would then throw into obscurity a half of the room, darkening a number of faces and figures; for besides the reader, eight other men were present. Seven of them sat against the rough log walls, silent and motionless, and, the room being small, not very far from the table. By extending an arm any one of them could have touched the eighth man, who lay on the table, face upward, partly covered by a sheet, his arms at his side. He was dead.
The man with the book was not reading aloud, and no one spoke; all seemed to be waiting for something to occur; the dead man only was without expectation. From the blank darkness outside came in, through the aperture that served for a window, all the ever unfamiliar noises of night in the wilderness——the long nameless note of a distant coyote; the stilly pulsing thrill of tireless insects in trees; strange cries of night birds, so different from those of the birds of day; the drone of great blundering beetles, and all that mysterious chorus of small sounds that seem always to have been but half heard when they have suddenly ceased, as if conscious of an indiscretion. But nothing of all this was noted in that company; its members were not over-much addicted to idle interest in matters of no practical importance; that was obvious in every line of their ruddy faces—obvious even in the dim light of the single candle. They were evidently men of the vicinity-farmers and woodmen.
The person reading was a trifle different: one would have said of him that he was o the world worldly, albeit there was that in his attire which attested a certain fellowship with the organisms of his environment. His coat would hardly have passed muster in San Francisco; his foot-gear was not of urban origin, and the hat that lay by him on the floor (he was the only one uncovered) was such that if one had considered it as an article of mere personal adornment he would have missed its meaning. In countenance the man was rather prepossessing, with just a hint of sternness; though that he may have assumed or cultivated, as appropriate to one in authority. For he was a coroner. It was by virtue of his office that he had possession of the book in which he was reading; it had been found among the dead man's effects—in his cabin. where the inquest was now taking place.
When the coroner had finished reading he put the book into his breast pocket. At that moment the door was pushed open and a young man entered. He, clearly, was not of mountain birth and breeding: he was clad as those who dwell in cities. His clothing was dusty, however, as from travel. He had, in fact, been riding hard to attend the inquest.
The coroner nodded; no one else greeted him.
“We have waited for you," said the coroner. "It is necessary to have done with this business to-night." The young man smiled "I am sorry to have kept you," he said. "I went away. not to evade your summons, but to post to my newspaper an account of—of what l suppose I am called back to relate."
The coroner smiled.
"The account that you posted to your newspaper," he said, "differs, probably, from that which you will give here under oath."
"That," replied the other, rather hotly and with a visible flush. “is as you choose. 1 used manifold paper and have a copy of what I sent. It was not written as news, for it is incredible, but as fiction. It may go as a,part of my testimony under oath."
"But you say it is incredible."
"That is nothing to you, sir, if I also swear that it is true."
The coroner was apparently not greatly affected by the young man's manifest resentment. I-Ie was silent for some moments, his eyes upon the floor. The men about the sides of the cabin talked in whispers. but seldom withdrew their gaze from the face of the corpse. Presently the coroner lifted his eyes and said: "We will resume the inquest."
The men removed their hats. The witness was sworn.
"What is our name?" the coroner asked.
"William I-Iarker."
"You knew the deceased. Hugh Morgan?"
"You were with him when he died?"
"Near him."
"How did that happen—your presence, I mean?"
"I was visiting him at this place to shoot and fish. A part of my purpose, however, was to study him, and his odd, solitary way of life. He seemed a good model for a character in fiction. I sometimes write stories."
"I sometimes read them."
"Thank you."
"Stories in general—not yours."
The witness was not visibly affected in any way, but some of the jurors laughed. Against a sombre background humor shows high lights. Soldiers in the intervals of battle laugh easily, and a jest in the death chamber conquers by surprise.
"Relate the circumstances of this man's death," said the coroner. "You may use any notes or memoranda that you please."
The witness understood. Pulling a manuscript from his breast pocket he held it near the candle, and turning the leaves until he found the passage that he wanted began to read.



“ . . . The sun had hardly risen when we left the house. We were looking for quail, each with a shotgun, but we had but one dog. Morgan said that our best ground was beyond a certain ridge that he pointed out, and we crossed it by a trail through the chapparal. On the other side was comparatively level ground, thickly covered with wild oats. As we emerged from the chapparal, Morgan was a few yards in advance. Suddenly, we heard. at a little distance to our right, and partly in front, a noise as of some animal thrashing about in the bushes, which we could see were violently agitated.
"'We've started a deer,' I said. ‘I wish we had brought a rifle.'
"Morgan, who had stopped and was intently watching the agitated chapparal, said nothing, but had cocked both barrels of his gun, and was holding it in readiness to aim. I thought him a trifle excited, which surprised me, for he had a reputation for exceptional coolness, even in moments of sudden and imminent peril.
"'O, come!' I said. ‘You are not going to fill up a deer with quail-shot, are you?’
"Still he did not reply; but, catching a. sight of his face as he turned it slightly toward me, I was struck by the pallor of it. Then I understood that we had serious business on hand, and my first conjecture was that we had 'jumped' a grizzly. I advanced to Morgan's side, cocking my piece as I moved.
"The bushes were now quiet, and the sounds had ceased, but Morgan was as attentive to the place as before.
"'What is it? What the devil is it?' I asked.
"'That Damned Thing!' he replied, without turning his head. His voice was husky and unnatural. He trembled visibly.
"I was about to speak further, when I observed the wild oats near the place of the disturbance moving in the most inexplicable way. I can hardly describe it. It seemed as if stirred by a streak of wind, which not only bent it, but pressed it down—crushed it so that it did not rise, and this movement was slowly prolonging itself directly toward us.
"Nothing that I had ever seen had affected me so strangely as this unfamiliar and unaccountable phenomenon yet I am unable to recall any sense of fear. I remember—an relate it here because, singularly enough, I recollected it then——at once, in looking carelessly out of an open window. I momentarily took a small tree close at hand for one of a group of larger trees at a little distance away. It looked the same size as the others, but, being more distinctly and sharply defined in mass and detail, seemed out of harmony with  them. It was a mere falsification of the law of aerial perspective, but it startled, almost terrified me. We so rely upon the orderly operation of familiar natural laws that any seeming suspension of them l\' noted as a menace to our safety, a warning 0 unthinkable calamity. So now the apparently causeless movement of the herbage and the slow, undeviating approach of the line of disturbance were distinctly disquieting. My companion appeared actually frightened, and I could hardly credit my senses when I saw him suddenly throw his gun to his shoulder and fire both barrels at the agitated grass! Before the smoke of the discharge had cleared away I heard a loud savage cry—a scream like that of a wild animal—and, flinging his gun upon the ground, Morgan sprang away and ran swiftly from the spot. At the same instant I was thrown violently to the ground by the impact of something unseen in the smoke--some soft, heavy substance that seemed thrown against me with great force.
"Before l could get upon my feet and recover my gun, which seemed to have been struck from my hands, I heard Morgan crying out as if in mortal agony, and mingling with his cries were such hoarse savage sounds as one hears from fighting dogs. Inexpressibly terrified,I struggled to my feet and looked in the direction of Morgan's retreat; and may Heaven in mercy spare me from another sight like that! At a distance of less than thirty yards was my friend, down upon one knee, his head thrown back at a frightful angle, hatless, his long hair in disorder and his whole body in violent movement from side to side, backward and forward. His right arm was lifted and seemed to lack the hand—at least, I could see none. The other arm was invisible. At times, as my memory now reports this extraordinary scene, I could discern but a art of his body; it was as if he had been partly blotted out—I cannot otherwise express it—then a shifting of his position would bring it all into view again.
"All this must have occurred within a few seconds, yet in that time Morgan assumed all the postures of a determined wrestler vanquished by superior weight and strength. 1 saw nothing but him, and him not always distinctly. During the entire incident his shouts and curses were heard, as if through an enveloping uproar of such sounds of rage and fury as I had never heard from the throat of man or brute!
"For a moment only I stood irresolute, then, throwing down my gun, I ran forward to my friend's assistance. I had a vague belief that he was suffering from a fit, or some form of convulsion. Before I could reach his side he was down and quiet. All sounds had ceased, but, with a feeling of such terror as even these awful events had not inspired, l now saw the same mysterious movement of the wild oats prolonging itself from the trampled area about the prostrate man towards the edge of a wood. It was only when it had reached the wood that I was able to withdraw my eyes and look at my companion. He was dead. . .



The coroner rose from his seat and stood beside the dead man. Lifting an edge of the sheet he pulled it away, exposing the entire body, altogether naked, and showing, in the candle light, a claylike yellow. It had, however, broad maculations of bluish black, obviously caused by extravasated blood from contusions. The chest and sides looked as if they had been beaten with a bludgeon. There were dreadful lacerations; the skin was torn in strips and shreds.
The coroner moved round to the end of the table and undid a silk handkerchief, which had been passed under the chin and knotted on the top of the head. When the handkerchief was drawn away it exposed what had been the throat. Some of the witnesses who had risen to get a better view repented their curiosity, and turned away their faces. Witness Harker went to the open window and leaned out across the sill, faint and sick. Dropping the handkerchief upon the dead man's neck the coroner stepped to an angle of the room, and from a pile of clothing produced one garment after another, each of which he held up a moment for inspection. All were torn and stiff with blood.
"The jurors did not make a closer inspection. They seemed rather uninterested. They had, in truth, seen all this before; the only thing that was new to them being Harker's testimony.
"Gentlemen," the coroner said, “we have no more evidence; I think. Your duty has been already explained to you; if there is anything you wish to ask you may go outside and consider your verdict.
The foreman rose-a tall bearded man of sixty, coarsely clad. "i should like to ask one question, Mr. Coroner," he said. "What asylum mdid this yer last witness escape from?"
"Mr. Harker," said the coroner, gravely and tranquilly, "from what asylum did you last escape?"
Harker flushed crimson again, but said nothing, and the seven jurors rose and solemly filed out of the cabin.
"If you have done insulting me, sir," said Harker, as soon as he and the officer were left alone with the dead man. "I suppose I am at liberty to go?"
Harker started to leave, but paused, with his hand on the door latch. The habit of his profession was strong in him--stonger than his sense of personal dignity. He turned about and said: "The book that you have there--I recognize it as Morgan's diary. You seemed greatly interested in it; you read in it while I was testifying. May I see it? The public would like—"
"The book will cut no figure in this matter," replied the official, slipping it into his coat pocket; "all the entries in it were made before the writer's death."
As Harker passed out of the house the jury re-entered and stood about the table, on which the now covered corpse showed under the sheet with sharp definition. The foreman seated himself near the candle, produced from his breast pocket a pencil and scrap of paper, and wrote, rather laboriously, the following verdict, which with various degrees of effort all signed:
"We, the jury, do find that the remains come to their death at the hands of a mountain lion, but some of us thinks, all the same, they had fits."



In the diary of the late Hugh Morgan are certain interesting entries having, possibly, a scientific value as suggestions. At the inquest upon his body the book was not put in evidence; possibly the coroner thought it not worth while to confuse the jury. The date of the first of the entries mentioned cannot be ascertained; the upper part of the leaf is torn away; the part of the entry remaining is as follows:
" . . . up his bristles, growling and uncovering his teeth, making sudden dashes, then backing away, as if in fear. Sometimes he would run in a half circle, keeping his head turned always toward the centre. and again he would stand still, barking furiously. At last he ran away into the brush as fast as he could go. I thought at first that he had gone mad, but on returning to the house found no other alteration in his manner than what was obviously due to fear of punishment.
"Can a dog see with his nose? Do odors impress some olfactory centre with images of the thing emitting them? . . . .
"Sept. 2.-—Looking at the stars last night as they rose above the crest of the ridge east of the house, I observed them successively disappear—from left to right. Each was eclipsed but an instant, and only a few at the same time, but along the entire length of the ridge all that were within a degree or two of the crest were blotted out. It was as if something had passed along between me and them; but I could not see it, and the stars were not thick enough to define its outline. Ugh! I don't like this. . . ."
Several weeks' entries are missing, three leaves being torn from the book.
"Sept. 27.—It has been about here again—I find evidences of its presence every day. I watched again all of last night in the same cover, gun in hand, double-charged with buckshot. In the morning the fresh footprints were there, as before. Yet I would have sworn that I did not sleep-—indeed, I hardly sleep at all. It is terrible, insupportable If these amazing experiences are real I shall go mad; if they are fanciful I am mad already. . . .
"Oct. 3.——l shall not go—it shall not drive me away. No. this is my house, my land. God hates a coward. . . .
"Oct. 5.—l can stand it no longer; I have invited Harker to pass a few weeks with me—he has a level head. I can judge from his manner if he thinks me mad. . . .
"Oct. 7.—I have -the solution of the problem; it came to_me last night—suddenly, as by revelation. How simple—how terribly simple!
“There are sounds that we cannot hear. At either end of the scale are notes that stir no cord of that imperfect instrument. the human ear. They are too high or too grave. I have observed a flock of blackbirds occupying an entire tree-top— the tops of several trees—an(l all in full song. Suddenly—in a moment—at absolutely the same instant—all spring into the air and fly away. How? They could not all see one another—whole tree-tops intervened. At no point could a leader have been visible to all. There must have been a signal of warning or command, high and shrill above the din, but by me unheard. I have observed, too, the same simultaneous flight when all were silent. among not only blackbirds, but other birds——quail, for example. widely separated by bushes——even on opposite sides of a hill.
"It is known to seamen that a school of whales basking Or sporting on the surface of the ocean, miles apart. with the convexity of the earth between them, will sometimes dive at the same instant—all gone out of sight in a second. The signal has been sounded—too grave for the ear of the sailor at the masthead and his comrades on the deck—who nevertheless feel its vibration in the ship as the stones of a cathedral are stirred by the bass of the organ.
"As with sounds, so with colors. At each end of the solar spectrum the chemist can detect the presence of what are known 'actinic' rays. They represent colors—integral colors in ll"? composition of light—which we are unable to discern. The human eye is an imperfect instrument; its range is but a few octaves of the real ‘chromatic scale.’ I am not mad; there are colors that we cannot see.
"And, God help me! the Damned Thing is of that color!"

Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899 Annotated

Exciting news in the horror world. This week I have pre-published my latest horror anthology - Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899: A 6a66le Horror Anthology. It will launch October 8th just in time for the bewitching season. You can purchase it on Kindle for $2.99 during the pre-launch period. Order today!

#DamnedThing #AmbroseBierceStory

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sleepyhead by Anton Chekhov - Story 18 in Andrew Barger's Top 20 Horror Short Story Countdown from 1850-1899

Anton Chekhov

The next scary tale in my Top 20 horror short story countdown from 1850-1899 comes to us compliments of Anton Chekhov. The Russian author and playwright was known for his numerous short stories that were precise and often contained repetitive phrases. Chekhov also practiced as a medical doctor for a number of years. He once said, "Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress."

"Sleepy," also titled "Let Me Sleep" in the original was first published in Russia on January 25, 1888. The print version appeared as "Sleepy-Eye" in Cosmopolitan Magazine, volume 41, New York, May, 1906. It one of the best treatments of insanity for the last half of the nineteenth century and nearly rivals that of "The Yellow Wallpaper." In 1915 it was published in a collection of short stories by Chekhov called The Black Monk and Other Stories as "Sleepyhead." This is the version provided below.

Anton Chekhov

NIGHT. Nursemaid Varka, aged thirteen, rocks the cradle where baby lies, and murmurs almost inaudibly:
"Bayu, bayushki, bayu! 
  Nurse will sing a song to you! . . ." 

In front of the ikon burns a green lamp; across the room from wall to wall stretches a cord on which hang baby-clothes and a great pair of black trousers. On the ceiling above the lamp shines a great green spot, and the baby-clothes and trousers cast long shadows on the stove, on the cradle, on Varka . . . When the lamp flickers, the spot and shadows move as if from a draught. It is stifling. There is a smell of soup and boots.

The child cries. It has long been hoarse and weak from crying, but still it cries, and who can say when it will be comforted? And Varka wants to sleep. Her eyelids droop, her head hangs, her neck pains her. . . . She can hardly move her eyelids or her lips, and it seems to her that her face is sapless and petrified, and that her head has shrivelled up to the size of a pinhead.

"Bayu, bayushki, bayu!" she murmurs, "Nurse is making pap for you.

In the stove chirrups a cricket. In the next room behind that door snore Varka's master and the journeyman Athanasius. The cradle creaks plaintively, Varka murmurs—and the two sounds mingle soothingly m a lullaby sweet to the ears of those who lie in bed. But now the music is only irritating and oppressive, for it inclines to sleep, and sleep is impossible. If Varka, which God forbid, were to go to sleep, her master and mistress would beat her.

The lamp flickers. The green spot and the shadows move about, they pass into the half-open, motionless eyes of Varka, and in her half-awakened brain blend in misty images. She sees dark clouds chasing one another across the sky and crying like the child. And then a wind blows; the clouds vanish; and Varka sees a wide road covered with liquid mud; along the road stretch wagons, men with satchels on their backs crawl along, and shadows move backwards and forwards; on either side through the chilly, thick mist are visible hills. And suddenly the men with the satchels, and the shadows collapse in the liquid mud.

"Why is this?" asks Varka. "To sleep, to sleep!" comes the answer. And they sleep soundly, sleep sweetly; and on the telegraph wires perch crows, and cry like the child, and try to awaken them.

"Bayu, bayushki, bayu. Nurse will sing a song to you," murmurs Varka; and now she sees herself in a dark and stifling cabin.

On the floor lies her dead father, Yefim Stepanoff. She cannot see him, but she hears him rolling from side to side, and groaning. In his own words he " has had a rupture." The pain is so intense that he cannot utter a single word, and only inhales air and emits through his lips a drumming sound.

"Bu, bu, bu, bu, bu. . . ."

Mother Pelageya has run to the manor-house to tell the squire that Yefim is dying. She has been gone a long time . . . will she ever return? Varka lies on the stove, and listens to her father's "Bu, bu, bu, bu." And then someone drives up to the cabin door. It is the doctor, sent from the manor-house where he is staying as a guest. The doctor comes into the hut; in the darkness he is invisible, but Varka can hear him coughing and hear the creaking of the door.

"Bring a light!" he says.

"Bu, bu, bu," answers Yefim.

Pelageya runs to the stove and searches for a jar of matches. A minute passes in silence. The doctor dives into his pockets and lights a match himself.

"Immediately, batiushka, immediately!" cries Pelageya, running out of the cabin. In a minute she returns with a candle end.

Yefim's cheeks are flushed, his eyes sparkle, and his look is piercing, as if he could see through the doctor and the cabin wall.

"Well, what's the matter with you?" asks the doctor, bending over him. "Ah! You have been like this long?"

"What's the matter? The time has come, your honor, to die. ... I shall not live any longer. . . ."

"Nonsense. . . . We'll soon cure you!"

"As you will, your honor. Thank you humbly . . . only we understand. ... If we must die, we must die. . . ."

Half an hour the doctor spends with Yefim; then he rises and says: "I can do nothing. . , . You must go to the hospital; there they will operate on you. You must go at once . . . without fail! It is late, and they will all be asleep at the hospital . . . but never mind, I will give you a note. . . . Do you hear?"

"Batiushka, how can he go to the hospital?" asks Pelageya. "We have no horse."

"Never mind, I will speak to the squire, he will lend you one."

The doctor leaves, the light goes out, and again Varka hears: "Bu, bu, bu." In half an hour someone drives up to the cabin. . . . This is the cart for Yefim to go to hospital in. . . . Yefim gets ready and goes. . . .

And now comes a clear and fine morning. Pelageya is not at home; she has gone to the hospital to find out how Yefim is. . . . There is a child crying, and Varka hears someone singing with her own voice: "Bayu, bayushki, bayu! , Nurse will sing a song to you. . .

Pelageya returns, she crosses herself and whispers: "Last night he was better, towards morning he gave his soul to God. . . . Heavenly kingdom, eternal rest!. . . They say we brought him too late. . . . We should have done it sooner. . .

Varka goes into the wood, and cries, and suddenly someone slaps her on the nape of the neck with such force that her forehead bangs against a birch tree. She lifts her head, and sees before her her master, the shoemaker.

"What are you doing, scabby?" he asks. "The child is crying and you are asleep.'"

He gives her a slap on the ear; and she shakes her head, rocks the cradle, and murmurs her lullaby. The green spot, the shadows from the trousers and the baby-clothes, tremble, wink at her, and soon again possess her brain. Again she sees a road covered with liquid mud. Men with satchels on their backs, and shadows lie down and sleep soundly. When she looks at them Varka passionately desires to sleep; she would lie down with joy; but mother Pelageya comes along and hurries her. They are going into town to seek situations.

"Give me a kopeck for the love of Christ,'' says her mother to everyone she meets. "Show the pity of God, merciful gentleman!"

"Give me here the child," cries a well-known voice. "Give me the child," repeats the same voice, but this time angrily and sharply. "You are asleep, beast!"

Varka jumps up, and looking around her remembers where she is; there is neither road, nor Pelageya, nor people, but only, standing in the middle of the room, her mistress who has come to feed the child. While the stout, broad-shouldered woman feeds and soothes the baby, Varka stands still, looks at her, and waits till she has finished.

And outside the window the air grows blue, the shadows fade and the green spot on the ceiling pales. It will soon be morning.

"Take it," says her mistress buttoning her nightdress. "It is crying. The evil eye is upon it!"

Varka takes the child, lays it in the cradle, and again begins rocking. The shadows and the green spot fade away, and there is nothing now to set her brain going. But, as before, she wants to sleep, wants passionately to sleep. Varka lays her head on the edge of the cradle and rocks it with her whole body so as to drive away sleep; but her eyelids droop again, and her head is heavy.

"Varka, light the stove!" rings the voice of her master from behind the door.

That is to say: it is at last time to get up and begin the day's work. Varka leaves the cradle, and inns to the shed for wood. She is delighted. When she runs or walks she does not feel the want of sleep as badly as when she is sitting down. She brings in wood, lights the stove, and feels how her petrified face is waking up, and how her thoughts are clearing.

"Varka, get ready the samovar!" cries her mistress. Varka cuts splinters of wood, and has hardly lighted them and laid them in the samovar when another order comes: "Varka, clean your master's goloshes!"

Varka sits on the floor, cleans the goloshes, and thinks how delightful it would be to thrust her head into the big, deep golosh, and slumber in it awhile. . . . And suddenly the golosh grows, swells, and fills the whole room. Varka drops the brush, but immediately shakes her head, distends her eyes, and tries to look at things as if they had not grown and did not move in her eyes.

"Varka, wash the steps outside . . . the customers will be scandalized!"

Varka cleans the steps, tidies the room, and then lights another stove and runs into the shop. There is much work to be done, and not a moment free.

But nothing is so tiresome as to stand at the kitchen-table and peel potatoes. Varka's head falls on the table, the potatoes glimmer in her eyes, the knife drops from her hand, and around her bustles her stout, angry mistress with sleeves tucked up, and talks so loudly that her voice rings in Varka's ears. It is torture, too, to wait at table, to wash up, and to sew. There are moments when she wishes, notwithstanding everything around her, to throw herself on the floor and sleep.

The day passes. And watching how the windows darken, Varka presses her petrified temples, and smiles, herself not knowing why. The darkness caresses her drooping eyelids, and promises a sound sleep soon. But towards evening the bootmaker's rooms are full of visitors.

"Varka, prepare the samovar!" cries her mistress.

It is a small samovar, and before the guests are tired of drinking tea, it has to be filled and heated five times. After tea Varka stands a whole hour on one spot, looks at the guests, and waits for orders.

"Varka, run and buy three bottles of beer!"

Varka jumps from her place, and tries to run as quickly as possible so as to drive away sleep.

"Varka, go for vodka! Varka, where is the corkscrew? Varka, clean the herrings!"

At Lost the guests are gone; the fires are extinguished; master and mistress go to bed.

"Varka, rock the cradle!" echoes the last order.

In the stove chirrups a cricket; the green spot on the ceiling, and the shadows from the trousers and baby-clothes again twinkle before Varka's half-opened eyes, they wink at her, and obscure her brain.
"Bayu, bayushki, bayu," she murmurs, "Nurse will sing a song to you. . . ."

But the child cries and wearies itself with crying. Varka sees again the muddy road, the men with satchels, Felageya, and father Yefim. She remembers, she recognizes them all, but in her semi-slumber she cannot understand the force which binds her, hand and foot, and crushes her, and ruins her life. She looks around her, and seeks that force that she may rid herself of it. But she cannot find it. And at last, tortured, she strains all her strength and sight; she looks upward at the winking green spot, and as she hears the cry of the baby, she finds the enemy who is crushing her heart.

The enemy is the child.

Varka laughs. She is astonished. How was it that never before could she understand such a simple thing? The green spot, the shadows, and the cricket, it seems, all smile and are surprised at it.

An idea takes possession of Varka. She rises from the stool, and, smiling broadly with unwinking eyes, walks up and down the room. She is delighted and touched by the thought that she will soon be delivered from the child who has bound her, hand and foot. To kill the child, and then to sleep, sleep, sleep . . .

And smiling and blinking and threatening the green spot with her fingers, Varka steals to the cradle and bends over the child. . . . And having smothered the child she drops on the floor, and, laughing with joy at the thought that she can sleep, in a moment sleeps as soundly as the dead child.

Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899 Annotated

Exciting news in the horror world. This week I have pre-published my latest horror anthology - Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899: A 6a66le Horror Anthology. It will launch October 8th just in time for the bewitching season. You can purchase it on Kindle for $2.99 during the pre-launch period. Order today!

#Sleepyhead #ChekhovBestStories #BestHorrorShortStories

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899 Anthology Cover Reveal

Excuse me while I interrupt my countdown of the 20 scariest short stories for the last half of the 19th century to drop a my new ghost short stories cover. I wanted a simple cover that would stand out even when a thumbnail-sized image on the Internet, hence the Victorian ghost woman on the front.

The full title is Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Ghost Anthology and it officially launches in two weeks. But you can buy it now on Google Books by clicking the link above.

More on the contents later along with a haunting countdown of what I believe to be the top 20 ghost stories for the last half of the Victorian Age.

#bestghostshortstories #NewGhostAnthology