The Furnished Room by O. Henry (1906)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror September 3, 2013
Enter the redbrick house. Foul and tainted air pervade. Go up the darkened staircase. At each turn are vacant niches.
It may be that statues of the saints had stood there, but it was not difficult to conceive that imps and devils had dragged them forth in the darkness and down to the unholy depths of some furnished pit below.
Imps and devil may not be the only residents of this boarding house in old New York at the turn of the century. Possibly a few vagrant ghosts preside? If there is such a thing as a ghostly fragrance, you’ll smell it here at Mrs. Purdy’s house with rooms to let to the fashionably bohemian stage people.
A weary young man rents the back room on the third floor. He is in a ceaseless pursuit, searching New York for his love, an actress, a singer, a fair beauty with reddish gold hair: Missing … Miss Eloise Vashner.
He sees that hundreds of lodgers have come and gone from this tiny room, leaving their ghostly remnants: fingerprints on the walls, a medicine bottle, the name “Marie” scrawled on the window glass, hairpins, scarf, buttons. Who has lived in this room? the young man wants to know.
Mrs. Purdy has her answer ready.
If you like wordplay, inverted sentences, similes and metaphors, and a clever twist ending, O. Henry is your guy. Who else but Henry could describe such keen visual imagery of a fireplace mantel’s outline … veiled behind some pert drapery drawn rakishly askew like the sashes of the Amazonian ballet. Amazonian ballet!
Henry rarely wrote about the supernatural and that’s what makes this short story so extra special and one that absolutely belongs in my Tales of Terror.
Read it here at East of the Web
Listen to the narration at LibriVox Recording on YouTube (16 minutes)
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