The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, Part 3

The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press; Reprint edition (January 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0803260717

Brett’s Horror Book Collection

This is a recurring weekly series covering around ten short stories of Ambrose Bierce, Civil War veteran and well known satirist.

NOTE: I have provided links to the various stories in this series. Simply left click on the title of each story to read it for yourself.

Part I: The World of Horror (cont.)

“An Arrest”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 8/10
Quote: “Orrin Brower had no further curiosity.”

Comments: This was a short but good little ghost story, and as usual with Bierce, the ending contains a twist.

“A Jug of Sirup”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “Jane, I have gone mad–that is it.”

Comments: Bierce’s legendary wit shows through in this tale of a dead storekeeper coming back to life to mind his store. Bierce’s commentary on various aspects of society was as interesting as the plot of the story.

“The Isle of Pines”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 6/10
Quote: “How came you to go in there?”

Comments: Bierce, in his dark humor, describes a doctor’s verdict of two deaths as due to “the visititation of God”. One gets the sense that if Victorians had the 😉 emoticon, Bierce would have used it quite often, and in ways most other people wouldn’t!

“At Old Man Eckert’s”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “Palmer did not keep the engagement…”

Comments: I am finding that Bierce likes to keep many of his endings vague and uncertain. This fits in well with his cynical nature. Rarely do we see the proverbial “Hollywood ending” in a Bierce story, and this one is no exception. Two men disappear without a trace, and only the reader’s imagination can conjure up what horrible things might have happened to them. In many ways, I prefer ghost stories of this nature. A reader’s imagination is boundless, and in many cases can conjure up a far worse fate than even the best horror writers (Lovecraft, Poe, and Bierce in America) can write on a page.

“The Spook House”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 8/10
Quote: “I do not despair of yet bringing about such a search, and it is a source of deep grief to me that it has been delayed by the undeserved hostility and unwise incredulity of the family and friends of the late Judge Veigh.”

Comments: Is Colonel McArdle insane or did the events he decscribed after visiting “the Spook House” really occur?

“The Middle Toe of the Right Foot”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “By God! This is a trick, and it looks to me as if you were in it.”

Comments: This to me is one of Bierce’s better “haunted house” tales. In addition to the details of a possible haunting, we also have plot events which cause a man to return to the scene of the crime.

“The Thing at Nolan”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “You will die for that.”

Comments: There is quite a bit of irony by the end of this story. In it, a son swears to kill his father for hitting him in the face. The father, apparently an incredibly forgiving sort, does his son a favor from beyond the grave. Wait until you read exactly what this favor was!

“The Difficulty of Crossing a Field”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 5/10
Quote: “He is gone, he is gone! O God! what an awful thing!”

Comments: Mr. Williamson is most definitely gone after having disappeared crossing a flat field unoccupied by any other natural objects in broad daylight. The pressing question is, where’d he go?

“An Unfinished Race”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “He did not fall to the earth–he vanished before touching it.”

Comments: It seems we have a bit of what we modern horror buffs would call a Fortean phenomenon in this story. Were these men telling the truth, or were they covering up foul play? As is usual with Bierce, we get to decide for ourselves…

“Charles Ashmore’s Trail”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “What is the matter father?”

Comments: Here is another example of a Fortean phenomena with an almost Lovecraftian twist. Charles Ashmore’s footprints abruptly stopped in the snow, and his family couldn’t find him. They could HEAR him though…

There were quite a few interesting tales this week. Several involved the mysterious disappearances or deaths of reputed former pirates or thieves, many involved haunted houses, a few converned strange disappearances in broad daylight, and they all contain Bierce’s famous cynical humor. Even the least ranked story here was solid in my view. After reading three-fourths of Bierce’s horror output I am beginning to see some of the influence he had on H. P. Lovecraft.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5 – Part 6


3 responses to “The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, Part 3”

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