“The Boarded Window” by Ambrose Bierce – Selection #45 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♣3♣ Three of Clubs

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Clubs is my suit for “legendary Indiana authors.”

The Selection: “The Boarded Window” which I own via a paperback copy of “Terror by Night: Classic Ghost & Horror Stories”

The Author: Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914(?)) – his death and disappearance remain a mystery not wholly solved… Though born (in a log cabin) in Ohio, he grew up in Kosciusko County, Indiana. He served in the Union Army in the Civil War, as part of the 9th Indiana Infantry.

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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 legacy project seal of approval 2deck. 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/storyroster 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 Boarded Window

“I penetrated to the place and ventured near enough to the ruined cabin to throw a stone against it, and ran away to avoid the ghost which every well-informed boy thereabout knew haunted the spot. But there is an earlier chapter – that supplied by my grandfather.”

Old Man Murlock was a widow who lived alone in remote cabin in an “immense and unbroken forest” near Cincinnati. He was a first generation pioneer but unlike many of his comrades of that ilk, did not get a second case of itchy foot and move further west.  Bierce tells us this story kind of second hand, the narrator used to cavort near the ‘haunted’ cabin in his youth, but was not a contemporary of Murlock and leaves the telling of that man’s story to a repetition of what was once told to him by his grandfather.

It seems one day in the distant past, while he was out hunting, Murlock’s wife was stricken ill from a fever “from which she never recovered” and which claimed her life. Her death hit Murlock hard:

“He had no experience in grief, his capacity had not been enlarged by use. His heart could not contain it all, nor his imagination rightly conceive it. He did not know he was so hard struck; that knowledge would come later, and never go. Grief is an artist of powers as various as the instruments upon which he plays his dirges for the dead, evoking form some the sharpest shrillest notes, from others the low, grave chords that throb recurrent like the slow beating of a distant drum. Some natures it startles, some it stupefies. To one it comes like the stroke of an arrow, stinging all the sensibilities to a keener life, to another as the blow of a bludgeon, which in crushing benumbs. We may conceive Murlock to have been that (latter) way affected…”

Murlock’s bludgeoning by grief and his preparations for his wife’s burial lead to the climax of the story, in which a giant panther plays a role and the supernatural (perhaps, anyway) makes an appearance as well. The final page of the story gave me chills.  It’s only five pages long and be read for free online at… http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/bordwind.html

Have you read Ambrose Bierce before? I find I really enjoy his writing style, and the passage I quoted above regarding grief really blew me away.  I’ve also been looking for a good biography of him for awhile – do you know if any exist?

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“The Haunted Valley” by Ambrose Bierce – Selection #42 in Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♣K♣ of Clubs

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.

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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.

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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?

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Deal Me In – Week 49 Wrap Up

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The cards in our short story decks are dwindling like the remaining days of 2014. Here are links to new posts since the last update:

Randall read the Ray Bradbury classic “The Illustrated Man“; see his thoughts at http://timeenuf.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-illustrated-man-by-ray-bradbury.html

Dale waited until winter to draw the five of diamonds for Bernard Malamud’s “A Summer’s Readinghttp://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/bernard-malamud-a-summers-reading/

Katherine also read a classic, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/deal-me-in-week-49-an-occurrence-at-owl-creek-bridge/

I read Edith Wharton’s “The Eyes” scroll down to my prior post to see. 🙂

That’s it for this week! Three weeks to go before it’ll be time to shuffle up and deal again…

Below: actor Rod Steiger portrayed “The Illustrated Man” on film. (Don’t EVER call them Tattoos!)

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“Beyond the Wall” a ghost story by Ambrose Bierce

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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.”

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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.

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He Was Last Heard from in Mexico in 1914…*

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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“Stories Time!”

Tonight is my book club’s annual “Short Story Month” (where instead of reading a single book, we read short stories; each member picks a story for the group to read); this year we had eight of our nine members suggest a short story. I finished reading the last of them last night and… I liked them all! A few brief thoughts follow:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”

This story was totally NOT what I was expecting. I guess I should’ve known that Fitzgerald was capable of a story like this since we read his “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” a couple of years ago, but this one blew me away. The protagonist is a young man sent off to prep school where he disappointedly marvels at the “exceeding sameness” of his classmates. He does bond with one of them however, and is invited to spend a holiday with the family at their home out west. His new friend Percy brags that his father is the richest man in the whole world and owns a diamond “as big as the a Ritz Carlton” hotel. The visit leads him to a kind of domestic Shangri-La which Percy’s father stops at nothing to protect. A fantastical story which I enjoyed quite a bit. I also discovered on YouTube a copy of an old radio theater adaptation of the story which I listened to with amusement. I’ll try to add a link to that when I find it again.

Jack London’s “A Piece of Steak”

This one was my pick. I read it during one of my favorite high school English classes. It’s a classic story of the age old struggle between youth and experience. Dramatically taking the form of a wily old prizefighter’s bout against an “up and coming” contender who has strength but not experience. London’s descriptions of the characters are extremely well done. Sadly, I’m reaching the age where this theme is of more interest to me than I’d like to admit…

Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

This was probably the third or fourth time I’ve read this story, which is found in many anthologies. Taking place during the American Civil War, it deals with the execution – by hanging – of a man who tried to sabotage the bridge in the title of the story. What the reader is treated to is a Twilight Zone-esque tale with a twist of an ending. Good stuff.

Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki Tikki Tavi”

I haven’t read Kipling in awhile, but he did happen to write one of my all-time favorite stories, “The Brushwood Boy.” <insert goosebumps> This particular story deals with the time honored, proverbial fight between a Cobra and a Mongoose, and is set in colonial India. It reads a bit like a children’s tale but, I believe, still makes great reading for adults. It called to mind for me a book I read one summer during my college years that dealt with the history of The British East India Company and all the exotic lands it controlled. Sadly, looking back today, I can recall almost nothing of the details of that book. 😦

“Casey at the Bat” – a poem by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

Short and sweet. This famous poem is not dissimilar from the “Tortoise and the Hare” fable where overconfidence meets its comeuppance. Today’s readers can scarcely know how popular this poem was in its day, and how deeply woven into the public consciousness it was.  My dad would frequently quote from it (a favorite taunt of his during any kind of game where he held the advantage was “it’s looking dark in Mudville…”) and I suspect it was well known in his family when he was growing up. This poem, like several of our stories this month, touches on a classic theme too – in this case the “hubris” of “The Mighty Casey.”

“A Shameful Affair” by Kate Chopin

This one may have been the least memorable of this group, and I’m not sure I like the ending, where the readers kind of left to speculate about just what has happened. I think I know, but am also anxious to hear what my fellow club members think tonight. The story, in a nutshell, is about a bored “aristocratic” girl who has a dalliance with a rough around the edges farmhand (who is an eminently more likable character than she is) and the consequences that follow.

Alice Hoffman’s “The Conjurer’s Notebook”

This author may be the “discovery” of this year’s Short Story Month for me. It certainly wins the Oscar for “Best Character” in the form of the female character, Dorey, who lived (by her wits) through the holocaust, marries an American soldier and returns to America, where she meets his possessive grandmother, Violet. I loved this story and am eager to read more by this author. As Hoffman describes, Dorey is one of those people who “knew how to deal with what happened to them in this world” while “others do not.”

A.M. Burrage’s “Smee”

I’ve read this story many times. It’s one of my favorite ghost stories ever, and I’ve written about it here on this blog before, so I’ll just refer you my previous post.

Links to most of these stories are posted at my book club’s website (see blogroll to the left) if you’d like to read some of them for free.

What about you, do you have experience with any of these authors or stories? Are any of them among your favorites? Would you recommend other stories by them?

“Bumper Crop”

 

Without fail it’s my favorite book club meeting each year:  “Short Story Month!”  We’ve been doing this every July now, starting with 2008.  Each of our nine members picks a short story for the members to read.  Most of them pick a ‘famous’ story that’s available in the public domain and thus on the internet, while a couple share an actual copy or copied pages from a book.  I love the variety and the change of pace from our normal meetings.  And there are always a few previously unknown gems discovered (at least by me, anyway.)

This time around, we even have a couple repeat stories.  With some member turnover since inception, a couple stories that have been picked before were picked again (well, one was a short story picked during our “Ghost Story Month” – another favorite meeting of mine), but we decided to just read them again anyway.  Some members hadn’t read them the first time, or weren’t part of the club the first time, and heck, they’re just darn good stories too.

So far, we’ve heard from all but one member (come on, Carla! 🙂 ), and here’s what we’ve got so far:

F. Scott Fitzgerald – “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz”

Kate Chopin – “A Shameful Affair”

Ernest Lawrence Thayer – “Casey at the Bat”

Jack London – “A Piece of Steak”

Rudyard Kipling – “Rikki Tikki Tavi”

Ambrose Bierce – “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

Alice Hoffman – “The Conjurer’s Handbook”

A.M. Burrage – “Smee”

I consider this a bumper crop of stories.  Yeah, yeah, I know Casey at the Bat is a poem (the member who picked that one is a chronic troublemaker…  🙂 ).  Also the member who selected An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge described it as “a dark story that keeps you hanging until the end.”  If you’ve read that story before, you may appreciate the humor in that description…  Chopin, Thayer, and Hoffman are all new authors for the club, whereas for some of the others we’ve read novels, and some are making their second appearance in Short Story Month.

What about you?  Have you read any of these stories?  Have you ever participated in a book club that read short stories (either every now and then, or exclusively)?  I’d love to hear about it…