Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson (1885)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror December 17, 2013
The jingle of Christmas Day does not ring loud enough for Markheim, a man doomed to evil ways. We meet him in an antique shop with a lonely dealer. Markheim claims to be looking for a Christmas gift for a lady. Of course, this is a lie and the dealer suspects as much: Markheim is a thief. The dealer is impatient and suggests a hand mirror. The shop is filled with mirrors and clocks … reflections … time … and something else. And soon enough Markheim makes his deadly move.
Christmas Day is a time when bells ring with joy and light fills most everyone’s heart, but Markheim finds gross blots of darkness and shivering shadows after he strikes. Are the mirrors reflecting his guilt? Are the clocks ticking louder now? He becomes haunted by the incessant ticking. And then all goes silent as falling snow. He even thinks he hears the dead getting up. Murder is a salty crime.
Illustration by Michael Lark
When Markheim meets a strange visitor who tells him, “I know you to the soul, Markheim,” the story takes a deliciously sinister turn. Markheim knows clearly this stranger is not of earth and not of God.
Robert Louis Stevenson published this in 1885 in The Broken Shaft: Tales of Mid-Ocean as part of Unwin’s Christmas Annual. Stevenson was a literary celeb who died far too young at age 44. Some have compared Markheim to Dickens’ Scrooge who was visited by Christmas ghosts. Some find similarities to Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Surely this is a story that begs the question … is evil a mask we choose to wear or a power that comes forth from the human soul? For Markheim to survive at all, he must choose on Christmas Day.
Read the full text of Markheim at East of the Web .
Listen to the narration by Librivox (19 minutes) by William Coon .
Listen to the adapted radio drama at Weird Circles (24 minutes) .
Happy Holidays to all, and I wish you Happy New Year readings at Tales of Terror for 2014!
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