I’ve often mentioned how much I enjoy looking for or noting coincidences in the random order of short story reading that the Deal Me In Challenge provides. Lately in this year’s edition of the challenge, DMI has often just missed dealing me up a perfect short story for the week – e.g., just after Columbus Day, it dealt up a story with The Admiral of the Ocean Sea himself in the title. Then last Saturday, November 1st, one day after Halloween, it led me to a goosebump-inducing ghost story by one of the masters, Ambrose Bierce.
The narrator of our story begins by providing a lengthy sketch of its subject, a man named Dampier, a “strong fellow of scholarly tastes, with an aversion to work and a marked indifference to many of the things which the world cares for, including wealth.” (Though he has plenty of it, and is of the uppermost class). Our narrator is going to visit him in San Francisco after a long separation. While talking to his friend in a ‘tower room’ of his mansion (on a stormy night, of course) a pause in the noise of the storm is suddenly filled by a tapping on the wall:
“The sound was such as might have been made by a human hand, not as upon a door by one asking admittance, but rather, I thought, as an agreed signal, an assurance of someone’s presence in an adjoining room…”
There is no adjoining room.
Somewhat discombobulated, the narrator prepares to leave, as he has “no interest in spooks.” Dampier seems to wish not to be alone though and tells his friend that he has heard the sound before and “it is no illusion.” Urging him to stay, he says “Have a fresh cigar and a good stock of patience while I tell you the story.”
I continued reading (sans cigar, but with patience) and learned the sad and tragic story behind the tapping on the wall. If you possess a similar patience or a good cigar – or both – maybe you’d like to read this story as well. It’s in the public domain and available online in many places. Like this one: http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/btw.html
Have you read any Ambrose Bierce stories? His most famous one is probably “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” – frequently anthologized and rightly so. I own this story as part of his book, “Terror by Night – Classic Ghost & Horror Stories” which includes about fifty tales.
Personally speaking, I remain fascinated by Bierce’s biography as well, as he is famous for having “Disappeared” about 1914. The last communication known to have been received by him was just over 100 years ago, when he wrote in a letter dated December 13, 1913. “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.”
Below: From the Ambrose Bierce site http://donswaim.com/bierce-lienert.html one (of many) hypothesized resting place for the writer is in Sierra Mojada, Mexico. There is a marker set up in that location.