Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"The Phantom Rickshaw." Rudyard Kipling.

One-minute review: India, part of the British Empire. Has a fling with the wife of another man. Grows tired of her. Distraught, she dies. He is now engaged to another woman, when, who should appear in a rickshaw, his now-dead mistress from the past.

No one can see the rickshaw with his former mistress riding in it. Horses pass right through it. But he can see it and the rickshaw canters along twenty paces away, whether he is on his horse or in a carriage. The rickshaw goes everywhere he goes. His behavior becomes erratic. His fiancée leaves him.

He implores his ghostly former mistress to stop tormenting him. The world outside becomes shadowy figures and the only reality is the phantom rickshaw. He has long conversations with his former mistress.

Slowly, oppressed by the dogged presence of the rickshaw, he is dying and he speculates how he will die. “For as surely as ever woman was killed by a man, I killed Mrs. Wessington. And the last portion of my punishment is even now upon me.”

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"The Monkey's Paw." WW Jacobs.

One-minute review: A soldier returns from India and visits his old friend, his wife and their son. He tells them about a monkey’s paw that grants three wishes, but the consequences of using the wishes are disastrous. He throws the paw on the fire, but his host rescues it. The soldier leaves to catch his train, and warns his host to burn the paw on the fire.

The family is lighthearted as they talk about the monkey’s paw. Finally, the father lifts it up in his right hand and wishes for two hundred pounds. Nothing happens. The father mentions that his friend the soldier said the wishes were granted almost naturally. They go to bed and the next day the son goes off to work.

A representative from the company where his son works comes to the house, tells them that their son has been mangled in a machine and, to recompense the couple for their loss, gives them two hundred pounds.

The couple mourn and then the wife remembers the monkey’s paw and demands that her husband wish that her son were alive again. Reluctantly he does, but nothing happens—until several hours later—the time needed for the remains to arrive from the cemetery. They hear a knock at the door. The husband believes that what is at the door is the mangled remains of their son and does not want them to be admitted. The wife demands that they let whatever it is in, but just as the door is about to open, the husband grasps the talisman and makes the third wish. The knocking stops.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"The Haunted and the Haunters." Edward Bulwer-Lytton

One-minute review: No one would stay in this London house more than a few hours. Each one who would talk about what had happened had experienced something different.

Sometime in the distant past a wealthy man had been killed by his sister, and his little son died soon after. The woman whose brother had died and her American husband were apparently the culprits. Her husband went off to sea. With the son dead, she gained her brother’s fortune.

The narrator, a calm, objective observer takes on the challenge, with his carefree servant, and his pugnacious dog, to stay the evening in the house. The servant soon leaves in terror. The dog is killed. And a whole series of ghostly events occur. The narrator is sure that some human is directing the events. Disembodied hands and feet and footsteps and all shapes and colors and sizes of presences seek to terrify anyone who stays in the house.

Narrowing the origin of the events to a single room, the narrator and the owner of the house find a portrait within which is a device and an anathema written against the house and all who dwell within it. The portrait is of the American husband who had gone off to sea and several years later had gone down with his ship. The device on the back of the portrait is like a compass, with a needle floating in fluid. The device slips out of the hands of the narrator, breaks, and the ghostly spell of the house is ended. That device, set up by the American husband, had directed the events as in dreams. That device had the power to project the malignant spirit of the American husband even from beyond the grave.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Hitchhiker

One-minute review: On the national highway between Baltimore and New York City is a particularly dangerous intersection at which many accidents have occurred. Dr. Eckersall was driving home form his country club one night when he saw a beautiful girl in a gown hitchhiking. He stopped. She said she needed to get home to 35 _____ Street in Baltimore. Dr. Eckersall asked her to get into the back seat of his car because his front seat was filled with golf clubs.

She said from the back seat, “I hope it’s not too far out of your way.” The doctor harrumphed, put the car in gear and drove to 35 _____ Street. When he pulled up and said, “Well, here we are….” he turned around and the girl was missing. She had vanished.

Flabbergasted, the doctor knocked at the door of 35 _____ Street. A tired-looking older man  answered. The doctor began: “The most amazing thing has happened….” When he had finished his story about the missing hitchhiker, the tired-looking man nodded. “I know,” he said. “Several people have stopped and told me the same story. That girl was my daughter. She was killed in an automobile accident two years ago.”

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Pawnbroker's Dress

The Pawnbroker’s Dress

One-minute review: An impoverished young girl was invited to a formal dance. She didn’t have the money to buy a new dress so she went to a pawnshop where she bought a dress that fit her perfectly for a reasonable price. At the party she had a magnificent time, dancing the night away.

But as the evening progressed, she began to feel nauseated and weak and she staggered out of the party,  weakly hailed a cab, and barely made it up the steps to her apartment.

As she lay, delirious, on her bed, she heard a voice say, “Give me back my dress. It belongs to the dead.” And indeed the young girl the next morning was found dead. The coroner said that she had been poisoned by embalming fluid that had seeped into her pores while she danced. The pawnbroker admitted that the dress had been given to him by an undertaker’s assistant who had taken it from a young girl just before the casket had been nailed down.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Ghostly Sailor

One-minute review: Two female college instructors drove to California and returned east. Driving through Kansas farm fields, their car broke down. No cars traveled the road that night. They knew they were going to have to wait until morning for another car to pass their way. They noticed a dilapidated farm house off the road, approached it, knocked, entered when no one answered, and it appeared to be uninhabited. They built a fire in the living room fire place and settled down on a couch to sleep.

Both suddenly jumped up. The door of the house had opened and a young man dressed as a seaman floated in toward the fireplace. The ladies screamed and the young man melted away leaving a piece of seaweed  by the fireplace. The nearest ocean was a thousand miles away. When they left the next morning, one of them put the piece of seaweed, still clammy, into her purse.

Towed to the nearest mechanic, they asked about the house in which they had slept. Seems that Old Man Newton had died and left the farm to his son who had no interest in farming and left to go off to sea, leaving the farm house deserted. When the ladies returned to their college, they gave the sea weed to the head of the botany department. He confirmed that it was sea weed, the kind that was always found on someone who had drowned. Ship records showed that a Thomas Newton had sailed aboard a freighter called the Robert B Anthony that had gone down with all hands aboard.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Out-of-Body Experience

One-minute review: John Sullivan was full of Irish charm. He could charm any girl he met. One day, he found himself walking on a  strange road in a strange town. Wondering where he was, he decided to use his boyish charm on two unfamiliar young ladies and asked them for the time. Both girls looked at John Sullivan and shrieked, running away as quickly as they could. After that, he noticed people looking at him in horror, and trying desperately to avoid him. He got into a taxicab, but before he could give the cabbie his address, the cabbie pushed him out and took off in a grinding of gears.

John decided to call his mother, but a strange voice answered the phone. “Now who would be calling Mrs. Sullivan at a time like this? Don’t you know Mrs. Sullivan lost her son who was caught by a machine at work and was mangled beyond recognition? She’s at the cemetery now burying him.

Famous Ghost Stories. Compiled by Bennett A. Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. 1944.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Dream Come True

One-minute review: Each night for three successive nights, a young girl has had the same dream. She is walking along a road, sees a lovely house at the top of a hill, walks up to it, knocks on the door and an old man with a long gray beard answers. He is about to speak and she wakes up.

One day she is driving to Litchfield and spots the house of her dreams upon a hill. She stops, and runs up the hill, remembering every detail of the path that led to the house from her dreams. She knocks impatiently on the door, the old man answers and she asks, “Is this house for sale?” The old man says, “Yes, it is, but I don’t advise you to buy it.” “Why not?” she asks. “Because it’s haunted,” the old man replies. “Haunted?” By whom?” She asks. “By you,” the old man says and closes the door.

Famous Ghost Stories. Compiled by Bennett A. Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. 1944.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


One-minute review: Commuter train. Agitated passenger. Finally, nervous passenger agrees to tell his story. Nine years ago, he was president of an exclusive fraternity at an exclusive college. He and eight other members of the fraternity took three freshmen pledges to a reputed haunted house out of town. Built a fire to warm themselves and sent the first freshman into the house with a directive to return in fifteen minutes. He did not return.

Sent the second freshman to retrieve the first. Didn’t return. Exasperated, they sent the third freshman, a future football star, to retrieve the first two freshmen pledges. Didn’t return. The agitated passenger went into the house himself. Found the future football star lying face down, covered with blood, his hair turned white, and tapping a hammer on a piece of board. He died. The other two pledges were never found.

On each succeeding anniversary of that day, one of the original nine who took the three pledges to the haunted house was found covered with blood, hair turned white and tapping a hammer, followed by his death. Each of the nine had met the same fate on succeeding anniversaries. Only one of the nine is left—the narrator—and the next day is the anniversary of what happened in that haunted house nine years ago.

Famous Ghost Stories. Compiled by Bennett A. Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. 1944.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"There's Room for One More."

“There’s Room for One More.”

One-minute review: A comely New York girl was invited to visit her cousins at a Carolina plantation. She was assigned to sleep in a wing away from the main house. The moon was bright as she readied for bed. Suddenly, she heard horses’ hooves on the path outside her window. Below, on a winding path, a horse-drawn carriage pulled up with a driver, ugly beyond imagining, who pointed a bony finger at her and said in a menacing tone, “There’s room for one more.” At that moment, as the girl recoiled in horror, the coach and its ugly driver vanished from the driveway.

She talked herself into believing it was a nightmare and in the light of day, she felt reassured and said nothing to her cousins. However, the next night, the coach and its ugly driver reappeared and, as happened the night before, the driver pointed a bony finger at her standing at the window and said in his menacing tone, “There’s room for one more.” And like the night before, coach and driver vanished from the path.

Genuinely scared, she made up some excuse and headed back to New York. She went right from the train in a taxi to her doctor’s office on the eighteenth floor, to whom she told her story. The doctor was matter of fact, and reassured her that she must have been dreaming. Relieved, she left the doctor’s office to go to the elevator, which opened with a car full of passengers.

She was about to squeeze in among the packed passengers when she heard the menacing voice of the ugly coachman say, now the elevator attendant, “There’s room for one more.” She screamed and jumped back outside the elevator. The door slammed shut and the building was rocked as the elevator broke loose form its moorings and plunged to the bottom of the building. Everyone on the elevator was crushed.

Famous Ghost Stories. Compiled by Bennett A. Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. 1944.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Introduction to Famous Ghost Stories

Compiled by Bennett A. Cerf:

“Do you suffer from dinner parties that sag after the soup course? Do spells of lethargy seize you at literary salons? Are you allergic to moonlight picnics? Try introducing a couple of neatly contrived ghost stories the next time the going is slow, and watch the electrifying results! Guests perk up, goose pimples do likewise, and soon everybody is remembering a story he heard about a haunted house, an ill-mannered ghost or a thing that behaved in no fashion that was human.”

In the following blogs will appear summaries of short ghost stories.

Famous Ghost Stories. Compiled by Bennett A. Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. 1944.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Ghost Story: "The Damned Thing." Ambrose Bierce.

One-minute review: Inquest. Who or what killed Mr. Morgan? There are sounds that cannot be heard by humans—as in flights of birds that arise from treetops all at once. And pods of whales that dive all at once with no visible signal. And there are colors that cannot be perceived by humans. Of such is the color of the “damned thing” that killed Morgan.

Famous Ghost Stories. Compiled by Bennett A. Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. 1944.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Foster." Claire Keegan.

One-minute review: “Foster” refers to a young girl who is a “foster” child for a summer, living with the Kinsellas on the farm. It’s an idyllic summer while her mother, back home, has another child. She grows especially close to Mr. Kinsella. Her relationship to him gradually changes to thinking of him as her father.

The New Yorker (February 15 and 22, 2010), pp. 86 – 137.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Trailhead." E. O. White.

One-minute review: The life and death of an ant colony in meticulous detail.

The New Yorker (January 25, 2010), pp. 56-62.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"A Death in Kitchawank." T. Coraghessan Boyle.

One-minute review: Summer. Miriam at the beach of a Lake community. Her children are growing. Everyone is young. Progressively, they all grow older and separate from each other. Flashbacks help to tell the story. With the death of her husband Sid, Miriam who has all the aches and pains of old age is on the beach once again, listening to the voices of grandchildren and young men playing paddleball as the husbands of her former friends had played it when they were young. The death of youth.

The New Yorker. January 18, 2010.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Safari" Jennifer Egan

One-minute review: A group of people, adults and children, on a safari in Africa. The gimmick in this story is that as they interact and reveal their personalities, the author tells what will happen in the future to the family of Lou, the father, Mindy, his mistress, and Charlene (age 14) and Rolph (age 12), their children. To them, this safari is the starting point of their lives: “…she’ll think longingly of this trip to Africa as the last perfect moment of her life, when she still had a choice, when she was free and unencumbered.” p. 73.

The New Yorker. January 11, 2010.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Baptizing the Gun." Uwen Akpan.

One-minute review: On a trip to ask for contributions from  rich Lagosian churches, the narrator’s Volkswagen Beetle dies. A native offers to help and then terrorizes the narrator with his words and actions. The reader experiences the chaotic country and its people. Most of the terrorizing is imagined by the narrator who is in an unfamiliar country. In the end the one who has helped him walks away, smiling, the imaginary gun in his back pocket simply an oversized handkerchief.
The New Yorker. January 4, 2010. 

Comment: The picture of the chaotic countryside is vivid.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"The Lady's Maid." Katherine Mansfield.

One-minute review: Monologue. Lady’s maid devotes her entire life to her lady who appears to be helpless without her. In fact, she has gone through several ladies and laid them to rest. Yes, she almost got married, but at the last minute, as she watched her leady helplessly trying to do things for herself, she decided against marrying, gives Harry back the ring and other things, in order to stay and help her helpless lady.

Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories. Ed. James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny. A Signet Classic. New York: The New American library, 1966.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"This Is My Living Room." Tom McAfee

One-minute review. Interior monologue. His living room represents his personality—tasteless. The narrator is low class in language and in his treatment of people. He is cruel, destroying an object on the mantle piece that his wife loves in order to make her cry. She is always crying. People who try to cheat him in his store, he will blow away with his 12-gauge shot gun. He has no respect for his daughters or his wife. His goal in life is to get the best of everybody else before they get him. If he needs to use his 12-gauge shot gun he will. Small Southern town. Sees everybody else as crooked or trying to get the best of him.

Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories. Ed. James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny. A Signet Classic. New York: The New American library, 1966.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"But the One on the Right." Dorothy Parker

One-minute review: Interior monologue. Dinner party. Narrator doesn’t want to be there. “That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.” The banalities of small talk. The man on her left has a soul that can not rise above the discussion of food. The one on the right? He says nothing to her. Seems to be absorbed with the beautiful lady on his right. When he finally speaks to her, she discovers that they both hate being there. She will complain of a headache and he will offer to take her home.

Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories. Ed. James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny. A Signet Classic. New York: The New American library, 1966.