The Dead Smile by Francis Marion Crawford (1899)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror March 15, 2015
Let’s go to Ireland for the month of March as we near St. Patrick’s Day. Come to this Irish castle, ivy-covered, deep windows, a chapel, and a vault with the dead.
Enter Ockram Hall and meet Sir Hugh Ockram.
‘Sir Hugh’s face seemed, at best, to be made of fine parchment drawn skin-tight over a wooden mask, in which two sunken eyes peered from far within. The eyes peered from under wrinkled lids, alive and watchful like toads in their holes, side by side and exactly alike. But as the light changed, a little yellow glare flashed in each. He smiled, stretching pale lips across discoloured teeth in an expression of profound self-satisfaction, blended with the most unforgiving hatred and contempt.’
I can write no better introduction to Ockram Hall than the above opening to The Dead Smile. Family secrets, the patriarch near death, his son Gabriel, and a beautiful young cousin, Evelyn. One thing you need to know before reading this compelling story: the history of old Sir Vernon Ockram, an ancestor who lies within the family crypt.
‘Sir Vernon was beheaded for treason under James II. The family brought his body back from the scaffold in an iron coffin with heavy locks and put it in the north vault. But ever afterwards, whenever the vault was opened to bury another of the family, they found the coffin wide open, the body standing upright against the wall, and the head rolled away in a corner smiling at it.’
The writing and language in this ghost story is the best you’ll read, and I think rivals Poe. Author Francis Marion Crawford was born in Bagni di Lucca, Italy in 1854.
He is most famous for his short story The Screaming Skull.
Read the short story The Dead Smile online at Gutenberg.net.au
You can listen to a podcast about The Dead Smile at H. P. Lovecraft Literary Craft (there are spoilers in this discussion but so worth a listen after you’ve read the story).
Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free Tales of Terror. This is a compendium of over 170 short stories by over 100 master storytellers of mystery, supernatural, horror, and ghost stories. Join me in reading one short story every week!
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