The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Clubs is my suit for “Stories by ‘legendary’ Indiana authors”
The Selection: “The Haunted Valley” which may be read for free online. It was actually Bierce’s first published story, seeing print in 1871.
The Author: Ambrose Bierce – though actually born in Ohio, Bierce served in an Indiana Regiment during the Civil War and went on to be one of the most famous writers of weird or ‘occult’ stories in the 19th century. I’ve blogged about a few of his stories in the past: Beyond the Wall, and The Man and the Snake to name a couple.
What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.
The Haunted Valley
“Looking in the same direction, I saw that the knothole in the wall had indeed become a human eye — a full, black eye, that glared into my own with an entire lack of expression more awful than the most devilish glitter.”
This story is probably my least favorite of the Ambrose Bierce stories that I’ve read thus far, but it is certainly not without merit and, though the story line itself didn’t exactly grab me, the writing was up to his usual high standards. It’s a story I’ve “almost heard” several times before – a narrator describes a road or route that he commonly travels that takes him through some eerie terrain (in this case a dark ravine) that gives him the impression of a lurking evil presence.
The unnamed narrator of this story goes on to give us a little of the backstory. It seems the valley was once inhabited by a “Jo. Dunfer,” a rather unlikable man who at one pointed hired “a Chinaman” to work as a laborer on his property, though he had virulently racist attitudes toward the Asian race, who he considered to be attacking the country like locusts. At one point, he decides to build a cabin in the darkest part of the ravine and a dispute arises about how best to cut down the lumber required. Apparently, the Chinaman, “Ah Wee”, instead of the traditional ‘chopping down’ method we use, fells trees by cutting in a shallow manner all around the circumference near the base of the tree. For some reason, this method throws Mr. Dunfer into a rage.
Eventually, Ah Wee is killed by Dunfer, who more or less gets away with the crime, prejudice against Chinese immigrants being what it was in those days, yet there remains a haunting presence in the valley, particularly near the aborted construction site of the second cabin. When visiting the site years later, the narrator notes that, in addition to the trees that had been ‘worked on’ by Ah Wee, others were once partially felled in the more traditional manner. He notes that:
“It was as if the Old-World barbarism and the New-World civilization had reconciled their differences by the arbitration of an impartial decay — as is the way of civilizations.”
Dunfer has also since died and is buried next to the unfortunate Ah Wee at this location, which adds to its haunted-ness. Have you read anything by Ambrose Bierce? What are your favorites among his short stories?