Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Dark Soul of Magic

The Monkey’s Paw  by W.W. Jacobs  (1902)

Tuesday Tale of Terror, July 30, 2013


Inside the small parlour of Laburnam Villa in the deep countryside of England, father and son are sitting at a game of chess before the firelight. Mrs. White sits fireside, knitting, but watching their moves on the board.

“Hark at the wind,” said Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal mistake after it was too late, was amiably desirous of preventing his son from seeing it.

This mistake by Mr. White of putting his king at risk is the foreshadowing of a most tragic and frightening short story by author William Wymark Jacobs.

Dark magic. White Magic. Soul Magic. Which do you believe in? Or are you a skeptic about magical powers? Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw will test your most curious thoughts.

Three is the magical number in this story. Like mystic and master mathematician Pythagoras said, “Everything is number.”  And although this story is not about numerology, it is about the power of three. Three glasses of whiskey, three knocks at the door, three parts of this story, three main characters, three listeners to the tale. And the most thrilling, three wishes.

Sergeant-Major Morris is visiting the White family on this windy cold night. He has just returned from the far East where in India he obtained a mummified monkey’s paw: black, hairy, stiff and shriveled. The grim Morris tells his tale of three wishes granted by the magical paw to the previous owners. Herbert, the White’s grown son, is skeptical and makes fun of the fairy tale.


“Pitch it in the fire, like a sensible man,” Morris advises Mr. White.

White is half-tempted to toss it into the flames … but then, he thinks again. Three wishes!

One wish unfulfilled might be fate. But wishes fulfilled might unleash an uncontrollable power.

Read The Monkey’s Paw at Online Literature (20-minute read).

On YouTube, Lewisworks Studios has The Monkey’s Paw (2011 film, about 30 minutes) directed by Ricky Lewis Jr. that is an excellent adaptation—and the music adds just the perfect level of horror to this favorite classic.


p.s. Author Update: My novel Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural just won the Indie Book of the Day Award for July 28th.  And do watch for news of my newest short story, Between the Darkness and the Dawn, to be published at Whistling Shade Literary Journal this autumn (Of course, it’s supernatural. Do I write anything else?).

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Filed under dark fantasy, fiction, horror, literature, occult, paranormal, short stories, supernatural, suspense, tales of terror, weird tales

In the Shadows of the Guillotine, a Love Story

Solange: Dr. Ledru’s Story of  The  Reign of  Terror by Alexandre Dumas (1850s)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror,  July 23, 2013


During the Reign of Terror, did you know that a skilled guillotine executioner could behead two victims per minute? The death toll ran in the tens of thousands. It was thought at the time that the victim would likely only feel a quick cold chill tingling rapidly at the base of the head, as the blade struck the flesh. And what if the executioner was not so skilled? I’ve got a wicked stabbing at my neck just thinking of it!

Some of Alexandre Dumas’ fans might know that this author was more than just a little interested in beheadings of the era. Dumas often speculated if a guillotined person suffered pain during the beheading, so of course these beheading themes runs through some of his stories.

Solange reflects this theme but is actually a little love story. However, don’t underestimate the horrific executions  in this particular fiction  because it carries a riveting reality.

We are in the streets of terrified France, at Rue Tournon, when a beautiful young woman called Solange is about to be hauled off to the guard house for not having a pass (which surely meant death on the scaffold).


Pale and trembling, “with feet like a child’s,” Solange is saved by M. Albert, our gallant and generous narrator. Albert is a physician/scientist investigating beheadings by examining and testing the severed heads and trunks of the victims. A gruesome task beyond the imagination. Albert is of high devotion to his work. He soldiers on to his goal of convincing the lawmakers that capital punishment must be abolished “for the good of humanity.”

French manimages

To this effort, Albert acts not only to save Solange from the guardhouse and guillotine, but he falls wildly in love with this very pretty young thing.  With the revolutionary police ever present and aggressive, escape or hiding was Solange’s only hope.

While their tears mix with their kisses for Solange and Albert, the plot takes a wicked turn that you may or may not find predictable. I was nearly breathless at the end expecting the worst for these two lovers. And the worse was certainly fulfilled for Dumas doesn’t spare you a moment’s relief. This haunting ending will not fade away easily and is truly a tale of terror and woe.

Read it at OnLine Literature.

Are you a Dumas fan? What other stories/novels would you like to suggest here for the readers?

Maybe, if you are up for more about beheadings, you might like Horror at Fontenay. I couldn’t find the text as an online read but the novel is on Amazon or likely at your local library.



Filed under dark fantasy, fiction, ghost stories, horror, literature, novels, occult, short stories, supernatural, tales of terror

Virginia Woolf’s Ghostly Couple

A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf  (1944)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror  July 16, 2013


Virginia Woolf? A tale of terror? Really? I agree this author is not known for her supernatural horror, but this story does possess a haunting and beautiful darkness. I can hear many of you saying, Oh no, Virginia Woolf with her high modernistic style and all that stream of consciousness prose is too dense. I’m not a fan of Woolf either, but A Haunted House (very short at 700 words) will likely surprise you at how entertaining this little tale is for a 7-minute read.

Here’s the key. Do not approach reading this story for plot or action. Woolf’s narrative style requires a close reading, slow and careful, to get the impact of her stunning language, the imagery, and the ghostliness. Create a blank page in your reading mind and expect nothing.

We are in an old English house with a garden, apple trees spinning darkness, wood pigeons bubbling their coos from wells of silence. We meet a ghostly couple in the first paragraph. They are searching for a buried treasure in the house. The live occupants of the house are fully aware of the ghosts from knockings, shutting of doors, wandering footsteps and … from “the pulse of the house.”

Try not to slide over a single line as they all carry a beauty and symbol of their own.

“Death was the glass; death was between us …”  What possible buried treasure could these two ghosts desire to find for themselves now?

Woolf will keep you suspended until the very last line and, once you absorb it, I dare you not to murmur a small gasp.

Read this flash fiction at University of Adelaide:


Listen to the narration by David Federmen, Librivox, Ghost Story Collection on YouTube:

If you liked the literary darkness of A Haunted House by Woolf, do leave me a message. This type of story is quite a diversion from the typical tales of terror on this blog. Did you find it refreshing? boring? too literary? stimulating?




Virginia Woolf, born  January 25, 1882 –  died March 28, 1941.

“I want to write a novel about Silence,” he said; “the things people don’t say.”  The Voyage Out.

“She seemed a compound of the autumn leaves and the winter sunshine …”  Night and Day

“The wave paused, and then drew out again, sighing like a sleeper whose breath comes and goes unconsciously.”  The Waves


“And somehow or other, the windows being open, and the book held so that it rested upon a background of escallonia hedges and distant blue, instead of being a book it seemed as if what I read was laid upon the landscape not printed, bound, or sewn up, but somehow the product of trees and fields and the hot summer sky, like the air which swam, on fine mornings, round the outline of things.”  The Essays, Vol 3: 1919-1924.

Virginia Woolf’s advice on life, women, writing, and the world:

Also, click this link to visit March 28, 2017 here at Reading Fiction Blog to view Virginia Woolf’s Suicide Letter post.

Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free reading. This is a compendium of over 200 short stories by more than 100 famous storytellers of mystery, supernatural, ghost stories,  suspense, crime, sci-fi, and ‘quiet horror.’ Follow or sign up to join me in reading two short stories every month. Comments are welcome.

Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Kirkus Mystery & Thrillers Reviews

Books & Such    Bibliophilica   NewYorkerFictionOnline

 Lovecraft Ezine   Parlor of Horror   

Slattery’s Art of Horror Magazine   Chuck Windig’s Terrible Minds     Horror Novel Reviews     

Monster Librarian 

 Rob Around Books      The Story Reading Ape Blog


Filed under fiction, ghost stories, Ghosts, Hauntings, horror, literature, quiet horror, short stories, soft horror, supernatural, suspense, tales of terror

On the Dark Side of the Moon, The Sandman

The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann  (1817)

Tuesday’s Tale of  Terror  July 9, 2013


A 200-year old story. German Romantic Literature. Fantasy. Horror. Alchemy. Madness. And a hint of Frankensteinian fiction. Are you game for this one?

Some of you may know this author from The Nutcracker & the King of Mice, which was adapted into the famous ballet by Tchaikovsky or his novel The Devil’s Elixir. Hoffman is famous for his supernatural tales with the most sinister characters and The Sandman, with its dramatic but very realistic narrative style lives up to that reputation.

Did your mom ever tell you the story of The Sandman? A fairy-type image of a good soul who sprinkles sand over your eyelids while you slept so you stay asleep? Well, this sandman by Hoffman is nothing like that.

The sandman comes to children who won’t go to sleep and “throws handfuls of sand in their eyes until, streaming with blood, they pop out of their heads. Then he throws the eyes in a sack and carries them off to the dark of the moon to feed his little ones with; they sit there in a nest with their hooked beaks, like owls’, with which they peck away at the naughty human children’s eyes.”

Try that for a bedtime story.

Our character, Nathanael, poor dear sweet Nathanael is told this bedtime story by his wicked nurse. Take this tale, add to it a fevered imagination, a father who dabbles in alchemy, a visitor named Coppelius with repulsive sneering lips, red ears, and dark glittering eyes who hates children (“the little beasties”) and watch it launch into a horror story that blurs the lines between phantasm and madness.

Symbolically, Freud wrote that The Sandman was about fear of castration. There might be a psychopathology going on here, especially when Nathanael grows up and falls in love with a strange stiff-backed woman named Olympia who is kept behind a locked glass door by her father. And there’s Klara, the beautiful and smart young maiden who truly loves Nathanael with her whole heart … but can Klara save our Nathanael from his phantoms? Will he let her?

Read the full text at The University of Adelaide Library

Leave a comment. Tell us about your  childhood scariest bedtime stories. Do they compare to Hoffmann’s The Sandman?


Hoffmann portrait

Art is by Paul Gavarni


Filed under dark fantasy, Dreams, fiction, horror, literature, short stories, supernatural, suspense, tales of terror, weird tales

The Chilly and Darksome Vale of Years

Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne  (1837)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   July 2, 2013

Since it’s Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birth date anniversary on July 4, I chose this week to feature one of his short stories.  Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment deals with aging, a dash of morality, and the tampering with nature.

Hawthorn HEADis

Do we shun the old? Do we fear our own old age and decline, or do we value the wisdom of experience? What horrors to find ourselves wrinkled, sagging, grey, stumbling through our end years with knotted joints and weakened muscles. What if you found the legendary fountain of youth? Would you drink the elixir? Then what?

Dr. Heidegger is an eccentric old man who lost his bride-to-be, Sylvia, the night before their wedding. It is some fifty years later since Sylvia gave him a rose to wear on their wedding day—a rose he kept inside a book all this time. We are in his study, a chamber with cobwebs and books, a skeleton in the closet, a bust of Hippocrates who is said to converse with the good doctor from time to time.

Such a chamber would not be complete without a magic mirror whose glass might reveal faces of the good doctor’s deceased patients. And of course, a black book of magic.

Dr. Heidegger has invited four of his oldest friends to his study: a politician, a merchant, a womanizer, and a once beautiful woman. Heidegger is conducting an experiment. On the table is Sylvia’s withered rose, a tall vase of water, four goblets. He pours from the vase, filling the goblets. Out comes a clear bubbling liquid that sparkles like diamonds. He places the withered dry rose into the water and the four friends watch the rose curl back into a moist bloom, fresh, green, with delicate bright red leaves.

A pretty deception? Or does that water have true healing powers?

“Drink!” says the good doctor.

With palsied and veined hands, the four friends raise the glasses to their lips.

If you know Hawthorne’s work, you know he wrote rather dark views of human nature; his uses of symbolism and allegory to communicate his messages are classic. So, what happens to these four friends? Watch for the dark chill of the butterfly as it flutters in the chamber. Do you think the good doctor knew the results of his experiment ahead of time?

For a full text read, go to  Online Literature:

Also, I have two film adaptations of the short story that are quite good if you happen to enjoy vintage productions.

Heidegger369207.1010.AYouTube presents Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment (30 minutes) as part of Twice-Told Tales  (three tales including House of Seven Gables and  Rappaccini’s Daughter) starring Vincent Price, Richard Denning, and Sebastian Cabot. This adaptation is much altered, the story line different, and the ending has an interesting twist. I actually liked this film better than the original short story:

Short Story Showcase presents Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment on film at Encyclopedia, a precise classic adaptation of the story as Hawthorne wrote it:

I’d love to hear your comments about the Vincent Price film.


Filed under fiction, Hawthorne, horror, literature, psychological horror, short stories, supernatural, suspense, tales of terror