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
10 thoughts on “13 SPOOKY TALES BY AMBROSE BIERCE”
Finally! A list where I know the majority of the stories. And no knock on the story but the tv versions of Owl Creek Bridge bored me to tears.
The story’s definitely better, but I’ve always loved The Twilight Zone version of it as that’s the first time Ibever I encountered it.
The final episode, I think, and not produced by them. They bought it and it might have aired elsewhere previously, I’m pretty sure. It has a different pedigree than the typical TZ.
I don’t think it was the final episode of the Twilight Zone, but it was an excellent adaptation of the story.
You’re right. Episode 22 out of 35 or 36 in the last season.
That one has always stuck out in my memory. It was very well done.
Wonderful website this Matt…
Just read the latest update a few days ago and went on to watch The Twilight Zone version of Ambrose Bierce’s story: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.
I actually thought it was well done, and having not seen it before or read the story, the ending, although I could kind of guess it, was still unknown to me. I’m now digging out the story itself, along with a number of other recommendations provided by your list. As I say, great site; really enjoying dipping into it and finding excellent reading lists.
I notice you don’t have any reading list up Anton Chekhov’s tales, though Guy de Maupassant is covered. Is this because Chekhov didn’t cover the ’ghost story’ genre, or will it be one of your future lists?
Anyway, keep up the good work. I’ve noticed that recently, since I’ve been visiting your site, that I’ve been quoting it on other blogs as a fab resource for the horror/fantasy story and a lot more.
Thank you ver much for the kind words, Gary! It’s great to hear you’re enjoying the site.
I’ve always really enjoyed the Twilight Zone adaptation of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. I feel they captured the essence of the story perfectly.
As to Chekhov, I haven’t actually read any of his stories and none of them appear in the anthologies I own. I like to keep the site primarily focused on supernatural horror, and I tend not to think of him as writing that type of tale. I’d definitely consider him for a future article if I could find enough of stories that fit, though.
Thank you very much for helping to bring more attention to Horror Delve. I have a lot of fun doing it, primarily because I like the idea of bringing more eyes on these often sublime horror stories and the gifted writers who penned them.
Again, thank you so much for taking the time to leave your comment here. Feedback can be hard to come by, and this really made my day!
Horror in Anton Chekhov…
It seems what you say about Chekhov is right; there aren’t many ghost-type stories and certainly not any that resemble the weirdness or creepiness that you associate with Lovecraft. I know this because I just did a few searches on the topic looking for horror by Anton Chekhov and the only four stories mentioned that have any ‘fitting’ with the genre at all are: ‘The Drop of Water’, ‘The Dead Body’, ‘The Black Monk’ and, one I’d never heard of before, titled ‘Nerves’, which I found on Youtube as a LibriVox recording.
One blogger said that the Italian movie starring Boris Karloff titled ‘Black Sabbath’ was based on the Chekhov story ‘The Drop of Water’, which, if true, suggests it fits the criteria to some extent. ‘The Dead Boy’ I’ve never read but apparently I’ve read it appears in an anthology titled: Twilight Creatures; and The Black Monk, which I have read and I think is a very good story, according to the one blogger, has no real ‘horror dimension’ to it. When I read it, I felt the same.
It is possible there are other stories by Chekhov that touch on the genre, but he wrote so many, and reading them all would be quite some feat, simply to find out whether they contain horror, or elements of the supernatural that make them appropriate stories for inclusion on Horror Delve.
Hope this information is useful. I’ll certainly be reading these few stories by Anton Chekhov to check them out for myself.
That does at least help narrow down the field of perspective stories for me. I do have an author awaiting a future Horror Delve post who’s stories aren’t really supernatural in Maurice Level, so I do occasionally look at other sub-genres. Thanks for your help in identifying possible Anton Chekhov stories I could use. 🙂