Guy de Maupassant was born in France in 1850. He studied under French novelist Gustave Flaubert before enlisting in the military during The Franco-Prussian War. He wrote numerous short stories during his life and is widely regarded as a master of the form. In his twenties, he began suffering from syphilis. Years of dealing with the illness may have contributed to his attempt to kill himself by cutting his own throat, which led him to be committed to an asylum. He remained there for 18 months until his death in 1893. During that time he wrote several of his supernatural tales.
1. “The Flayed Hand” (1883) – A young student acquires a decrepit, severed hand from a deceased shaman. He keeps it as an curiosity, until its owner comes looking for it.
2. “The Horla” (1887) – This is probably De Maupassants most popular supernatural tale. It’s about a man who sees an impressive Brazilian ship from his window as it’s passing through the Seine. For reasons he can’t explain, he salutes it. Soon afterwards he starts to feel feverish, ill, and depressed. As time passes, he begins to sense an invisible presence lurking near him and starts having nightmares about a creature strangling him in his bed at night. Later he senses it following him as he walks through the forest. Deciding he needs to get away, he leaves to travel, and during that time the darkness assailing him vanishes. A local man tells him that people have heard strange bleating voices on the wind, and some claim to have seen a shepherd leading two goats, one with the face of a man and one with the face of a woman arguing in an unknown language. The illness, depression and nightmares begin anew upon his return to his home. It worsens, and soon he feels the dominating invisible entity around him. This is a true classic of the genre.
3. “Was It A Dream?” (1887) – A man in deep mourning following the recent death of his wife, hides out in the graveyard where her body now lies in order to spend evenings crying over her grave. One night he sneaks into the graveyard after the cemetery’s closed but has trouble finding his way back to her tomb. On the way, he witnesses the dead rising from their graves in order to alter their epitaph’s to reflect secret evil deeds from their former lives. When he comes across his wife’s tomb, it reveals a dark secret about her.
4. “Who Knows?” (1890) – A man, who likes to be alone (as De Maupassant himself did), returns to his secluded estate after attending a play one evening. When he opens his door he sees every piece of furniture he owns animated with life, marching out of the house. He tries to halt their movements to no avail. He reports it as a theft, but no suspect is found, and he chooses to keep what he saw to himself for fear of being committed. He sets forth to travel abroad in order to relieve the mental strain the strange affair. To his shock he discovers his missing pieces in a second hand furniture ran by a mysterious owner. This is a bizarre fantasy tale that I found very enjoyable.
5. “Vendetta” by Guy de Maupassant (?) – A woman vows to get revenge on the man who stabbed her son to death. There’s no one besides herself and her son’s loyal dog to exact that vengeance, so she comes up with a plan to carry out her Vendetta.
6. “The Hostelry” (?) – Two men become caretakers for a mountain inn during a rough winter season while it’s closed. They will be completely secluded during the five-month commitment. They pass the days playing cards, and tending to a dog they brought along for companionship. The older man often goes hunting in the mountainous region. One night when he fails to return, his companion takes the dog and goes searching for him, but the area is vast and the wintry weather is terrible. He returns despondent to the inn. He begins to hear his name being called from outside and believes it to be the ghost of his lost comrade. Trapped alone in the inn with his dog, he begins to believe something outside wants him, something horrible and dead.
Article by Matt Cowan