He Was Last Heard from in Mexico in 1914…*


Ambrose Bierce’s “The Man and the Snake”

“A snake in a bedroom of a modern city dwelling of the better sort is, happily, not so common a phenomenon as to make explanation altogether needless.”

This story may be read for free on-line at http://www.online-literature.com/poe/174/

My granddad would NOT have liked this story. Among his possessions was a life-long hatred for snakes. Once, he recoiled from a gift my parents had bought for him when they travelled in Australia – an aboriginal boomerang with snakes among the painted figures along its length (not what’s pictured below, but you get the idea). It was then we realized how truly powerful his hatred – and fear – of snakes was.


The main character in this short story, Harker Drayton, is above such an irrational fear as the one that possessed my granddad. Or so he thinks.

He is staying at the house of a friend who is a herpetologist – and who also has a small menagerie on the premises where many exotic snakes are kept. Braxton is reading by the light of a small gas jet in a mostly darkened room one evening, when he lowers the book to his lap and sees two points of light “about an inch apart” shining back at him from across the room. After a few moments he realizes they’re the eyes of a snake, doubtless a fugitive from his host’s menagerie.

His eyes are held by the gaze of his intruder and he ponders the myth that reptiles have the power of a kind of hypnosis over their victims. Not wishing to make any sudden movements to antagonize the snake, he resolves to arise slowly and inch his way out of the room. Much to his surprise – and horror! – he realizes that his body will only inch FORWARD, toward the snake.The final two pages of this very short story describe his struggle against the animal’s magnetic power over him, followed by its ending and the later discovery by his host and wife, brought to the room by an alarming sound.

It was a good little story, with a neat little twist, but it doesn’t rank among my favorites from this year’s project; this story was represented by the nine of spades – drawn by me saturday morning from my deal me in short story project deck.


What will next week bring? (and I know I have failed to write about many of my stories from this year, but I have hopes of combining several mini-reviews into one post in order to catch up. I have, at least, been keeping up with my one story per week pace so far in 2013)

*The death and disappearance of Ambrose Bierce is one of the great American literary mysteries. Some day I’d like to read more about this. Does anyone know of a good source? Update 3/2014 Paula Cappa tipped me off to this site which has some info on the many theories about his disappearance.

(below: Ambrose Bierce’s house in Washington, D.C.)



  1. Dale said,

    March 18, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I didn’t know that Bierce had a mysterious demise. Interesting! Do most of his stories have an odd twist at the end?


    • Jay said,

      March 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm

      I think all three (?) of his stories that I’ve read have ended with a twist (such as An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge which, as Al from our book club said, “keeps you hanging until the end.”) hahaha 🙂


      • Dale said,

        March 18, 2013 at 6:58 pm

        That was good! Both the story and Al’s comment!


  2. bookworm said,

    September 23, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    I do enjoy Ambrose Bierce’s short stories, and this one sounds like an okay one. That’s a nice house! I wonder if there is more info on his disappearance.


    • Jay said,

      September 24, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      I did some searching today for a Bierce biography and couldn’t immediately find anything that was written recently. The search continues… 🙂

      (re: the house) Yeah, who knew 19th century writers lived in such luxury!


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