The Screaming Skull by Francis Marion Crawford (1908)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror May 14, 2013
Consider this: a murder, a haunting, a tinned iron ladle, and a hatbox containing a skull. If the tinned ladle isn’t sinister enough for you, I promise, it will be.
The Screaming Skull is not about reading a horror story. The Screaming Skull is about listening, and listening not just with your ears, but with your imagination. As we avid supernatural readers know, ghosts are never only about ghosts.
Captain Charles Braddock, our narrator, is a rational man who absolutely does not believe in the supernatural or in ghosts. When he inherits a house by the sea from his cousin Luke Pratt (a country doctor who is found dead with a wicked bite in the throat by some unknown creature), Braddock is repeatedly tested in his beliefs.
Captain Braddock narrates this story while sitting in Luke’s chair, by Luke’s hearth, in Luke’s house. Braddock explains the events to a “friend” sitting opposite him in Luke’s wife’s chair. This friend is quite mysterious because he’s not only anonymous but doesn’t ever speak a single word. We learn his reactions only through Braddock. What an odd literary technique, to say the least, for our author to create a character so mute, so passive, so nondescript that he’s practically a ghost himself. This technique, though, is highly effective if you the reader, if you the “listener” sit in the wife’s chair and listen as if YOU are the friend. [I admit I’m in the realm of speculation here, but I do think the author intended his reader to be the friend to fully experience this little horror.]
To tell you more of this story would ruin the unfolding of the narrative method. The title tells you enough. Yes, there is unidentified shrieking in the house. Yes, there is a mysterious skull (I’m partial to skulls as some of you know who have read The Dazzling Darkness).
The question for Braddock is … is the screaming truly supernatural? Or is the screaming the effect of the wind, the gloomy tides, or even Braddock’s own psychological shrieking? The ending answers this explicitly!
“Hush!—if you don’t speak, you will hear it now.”
Read it at Gaslight etexts.
Or watch the vintage 1958 film adaptation on YouTube:
**MYSTERY BONUS SHORT STORY**
I’m thrilled to announce that my latest short story Abasteron House is now a narration by Folly Blaine, podcast at Every Day Fiction. And just in time for May National Short Story Month—my first literary podcast. And only 9 minutes long at the link below. If you like the story, I’d so appreciate a comment and a star rating on their Web site. Many thanks!
Next Week, A.C. Doyle in honor of his birth date on May 22nd.