A classic collection of eighteen chilling stories from a little known American master
Born in 1854, Morrow was the son of Baptist minister, hotelier and farmer in Mobile, Alabama. Moving to California in 1879, he began selling stories to ‘The Argonaut’ periodical where the famous author Ambrose Bierce had been working for the previous two years. Bierce recognised Morrow’s talent as a writer of short stories and it is believed that it was due to Bierce’s patronage that several of Morrows best known and highly regarded stories appeared in William Randolph Hearst’s ‘San Francisco Examiner’ newspaper. Although Morrow’s fame has not endured in to the same degree as some of his contemporaries, it is considered in modern academic circles that his was an enormous talent and that he deserves a place in the pantheon of significant 19th century American authors. Of course, to the aficionado of the supernatural and bizarre what matters most is whether he tells a genuinely chilling tale. Bierce certainly believed that he could and as he was no mean exponent of ghostly and horrific fiction himself he was well placed to deliver a considered judgment. However, perhaps Morrow’s highest accolade came in one of Bierce’s own satirical pieces in which a character exclaims, ‘I have one of Will Morrow’s tales in my pocket, but I don’t dare to go where there is light enough to read it!’ High praise indeed!
In this collection readers will discover the story that is arguably Morrow’s most famous, the horrible tale of dismemberment that is ‘The Unconquerable Enemy’ together with ‘The Inmate of the Dungeon,’ ‘Treacherous Velasco,’ ‘The Faithful Amulet,’ ‘The Haunted Burglar,’ ‘The Gloomy Shadow,’ ‘The Haunted Automaton,’ ‘The Woman of the Inner Room’ and nine more short stories of the disturbing and unusual.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
At one o’clock the next morning a cautious, scratching sound might have been heard in the ceiling of the surgeon’s operating-room. Shortly afterwards the skylight sash was carefully raised and laid aside. A man peered into the opening. Nothing could be heard.<br>
“That is singular,” thought the detective.<br>
He cautiously lowered himself to the floor by a rope, and then stood for some moments listening intently. There was a dead silence. He shot the slide of a dark-lantern, and rapidly swept the room with the light. It was bare, with the exception of a strong iron staple and ring, screwed to the floor in the centre of the room, with a heavy chain attached. The detective then turned his attention to the outer room; it was perfectly bare. He was deeply perplexed. Returning to the inner room, he called softly to the men to descend. While they were thus occupied he re-entered the outer room and examined the door. A glance sufficed. It was kept closed by a spring attachment, and was locked with a strong spring-lock that could be drawn from the inside.<br>
“The bird has just flown,” mused the detective. “A singular accident! The discovery and proper use of this thumb-bolt might not have happened once in fifty years, if my theory is correct.”<br>
By this time the men were behind him. He noiselessly drew the spring-bolt, opened the door, and looked out into the hall. He heard a peculiar sound. It was as though a gigantic lobster was floundering and scrambling in some distant part of the old house. Accompanying this sound was a loud, whistling breathing, and frequent rasping gasps.<br>
These sounds were heard by still another person—the surgeon’s wife; for they originated very near her rooms, which were a considerable distance from her husband’s. She had been sleeping lightly, tortured by fear and harassed by frightful dreams. The conspiracy into which she had recently entered, for the destruction of her husband, was a source of great anxiety. She constantly suffered from the most gloomy forebodings, and lived in an atmosphere of terror. Added to the natural horror of her situation were those countless sources of fear which a fright-shaken mind creates and then magnifies. She was, indeed, in a pitiable state, having been driven first by terror to desperation, and then to madness.<br>
Startled thus out of fitful slumber by the noise at her door, she sprang from her bed to the floor, every terror that lurked in her acutely tense mind and diseased imagination starting up and almost overwhelming her. The idea of flight—one of the strongest of all instincts—seized upon her, and she ran to the door, beyond all control of reason. She drew the bolt and flung the door wide open, and then fled wildly down the passage, the appalling hissing and rasping gurgle ringing in her ears apparently with a thousandfold intensity. But the passage was in absolute darkness, and she had not taken a half-dozen steps when she tripped upon an unseen object on the floor. She fell headlong upon it, encountering in it a large, soft, warm substance that writhed and squirmed, and from which came the sounds that had awakened her. Instantly realizing her situation, she uttered a shriek such as only an unnamable terror can inspire. But hardly had her cry started the echoes in the empty corridor when it was suddenly stifled. Two prodigious arms had closed upon her and crushed the life out of her.