Ambrose Bierce was a successful and prolific American journalist and fiction writer born in 1842 in Ohio. During the Civil War he enlisted in the 9th Indiana Infantry and went on to be noted for his bravery and heroism. After the war, he worked as both journalist and editor for several newspapers and periodicals. He enjoyed much success and notoriety in these fields during the course of his life. His death has been shrouded in mystery following his mysterious disappearance after leaving to travel as an observer of Pancho Villa’s army in Mexico in 1913. Here we’re going to look at a selection of his supernatural tales.
- “The Discomfited Demon” (1870) – Stealing the bones that are being relocated from a graveyard leads the protagonist to encounter a surly demon in this comedic short.
- “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” (1886) – A man wakes to find himself outside in an overgrown place he doesn’t recognize. Grey clouds blot out the sun overhead as an air of menace pervades the area. His last memory is of lying in his bed with a fever at home in Carcosa. He tries to figure out where he is as he wanders through an ancient burial ground full of time-ravaged tombstones. Author Robert W. Chambers incorporated Carcosa into his King In Yellow stories.
- “The Boarded Window” (1889) – A reclusive frontier hermit has a terrifying encounter following the death of his beloved wife in this classic horror tale with a chilling finale.
- “The Spook House” (1889) – A man and his friend take refuge in an abandoned plantation house during a storm. Inside, they come across a room full of corpses. The room is fashioned to lock anyone who enters inside it with the bodies, but does the house truly even exist?
- “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1890) – Set during the American Civil War, a plantation owner named Peyton Farquhar, a Conferate sympathizer, is in the process of being hung from a railroad bridge by a contingent of Union soliders after being caught attempting to sabotage the bridge. By an apparent extreme stroke of luck, the rope around his neck snaps as he drops from the bridge allowing him to swim away from his captures who pursue him. He begins the long journey back to his plantation, but in the end all is not as it appears. This story has been anthologized and adapted many times over the years having appeared in episodes of The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and several others.
- “The Middle Toe of the Right Foot” (1890) – A man who murdered his wife, a woman who’d been missing the middle toe of her right foot, and his kids returns to the town where it happened. Once there, he’s tricked into getting locked inside his old, abandoned house by locals who recognized him. The house has a reputation for being haunted, something which seems to be true.
- “The Secret of Macarger’s Gulch” (1891) – A hunter stumbles upon an abandoned old cabin wherein he chooses to stay the night. He has a strange dream about a couple from Edinburgh he’s never met before. Upon awakening he begins to fear something stalking around outside. Eventually, he learns about the dark history of the cabin.
- “The Damned Thing” (1893) – An inquiry into the brutal killing of a man while he was out hunting brings forth evidence to suggest he was attacked by an emensly powerful, invisible monster.
- “The Moonlit Road” (1893) – A young man attending college at Yale University learns his mother has been murdered. When the son and his father are traveling down a moonlit road, the father becomes terrified by something he alone sees down the path. Through the various viewpoints, one of which is from the victim’s ghost, we learn what happened.
- “One Summer Night” (1906) – A man who’d been very sick named Henry Armstrong is mistakenly thought dead and buried alive. The grave robbers who dig him up are terrified when he sits up upon being unearthed. I won’t give away more here, but a ghost does make an appearance at the story’s finale.
- “Beyond the Wall” (1907) – A man goes to visit a friend from his youth only to find him looking haggard and prematurely aged. While conversing, they hear a gentle tapping at the tower wall where no one could possibly be. The friend then tells him the heartbreaking story of why the knockings are occurring. It goes back to a beautiful, young woman he met while living elsewhere and his insecurity to make more than subtle hints of interest to her. This is one of the saddest ghost stories I’ve ever read.
- “Three and One Are One” (1908) – During the Civil War, a solider from the South chooses to fight for the North against his family’s wishes. When he returns home years later to visit them, they each pass by him without speaking or acknowledging his presence in this very short, yet chilling tale.
- “The Stranger” (1909) – A stranger approaches a group of men who are sitting around a campfire. He tells them about another group who explored the area in the past who were driven into a cave by a band of Indians. These Indians waited for them to either come out and be killed or to starve death. Eventually, the men begin to commit suicide instead, but how does this stranger know so many details if all the men involved killed themselves?
Article by Matt Cowan