AMBROSE BIERCE

THE DAMNED THING AND OTHER HORRORS 

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He was the successor of Edgar Allan Poe and a harbinger of H. P. Lovecraft, penning some of the most shocking, savage horror stories in the English language. His dark, literary universe was haunted by shadowy monsters who never quite revealed themselves, only stalking in the dim background like woodland predators around a campfire. And what better stories for any campfire’s company: he wrote twilight tales of seductive werewolves, zombie resurrections, nights spent with corpses in empty houses, haunted cabins, killer robots, wartime ghost stories, invisible predators, reincarnated spirits, family curses, ghoul-haunted graveyards, jilted ghosts’ violent revenges, mysterious disappearances, spectral visions, guilt-maddened murderers, and battlefield carnage. There was never a better author to read around the snapping flare of a lonely campsite than the rustic, existential horror stories of Ambrose Bierce.

 

In death, as in life, Bierce is defined by contradictions. He was a mystical materialist, a cynical idealist, and a compassionate curmudgeon. His stories – especially those which we can classify as horror or fantasy – illustrate a world which fails to live up to its promises. As he wrote in “The Devil’s Dictionary,” a ghost is the outward sign of an inward fear – a visual signifier of a spiritual sickness. His stories are loaded with spooks of this sort. These are the ghosts of what should be. They are the ghosts of a murdered potential: the potential to do life well – properly, as it should be. His stories are haunted by monsters of automated technology (“Moxon’s Master”), intellectual insecurity (“The Damned Thing”), sexual anxiety (“Eyes of the Panther”), and hereditary corruption. Failure is the chief of all these phantoms, however. Failure to do what one ought, and become what one should. This was a deeply personal boogeyman for Bierce. One which cast its shadow over his life and stamped its footprints into his fiction. What he left behind him, after vanishing into the dusty Mexican air, was a universe bedeviled by disappointment – in mankind, in the universe, and in himself. It is a raw and savage universe, but one dimly illuminated by Bierce’s frustrated idealism. We can see the shadows for that light, but in those shadows, what monsters lurk.  ​      

TALES INCLUDED in this ANNOTATED EDITION:

The Isle of Pines

A Fruitless Assignment 

A Vine on a House

At Old Man Eckert's

The Spook House

The Other Lodgers

The Thing at Nolan

A Man with Two Lives

Three and One are One

A Baffled Ambuscade

Two Military Executions

Chickamagua 

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge 

Present at a Hanging

A Cold Greeting

A Wireless Message

An Arrest

The Moonlit Road

The Middle-Toe of the Right Foot

The Man and the Snake

The Eyes of the Panther

Maxon's Master

The Damned Thing

The Boarded Window

A Watcher by the Dead

The Suitable Surroundings 

Beyond the Wall

The Death of Halpin Frayser

The Haunted Valley 

An Adventure at Brownville

Macarger's Gulch

The Night-Doings at Deadman's  

A Jug of Sirup

An Inhabitant of Carcosa

Visions of the Night

John Bartine's Watch

An Unfinished Race

Charles Ashmore's Trail

The Difficulty of Crossing a Field

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