The October Country: Oct. 5: “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs

In celebration of the month of October, I’ll be sharing 31 of my favorite spooky, eerie and creepy stories, one per day. The stories will range over an array of genres: horror, suspense, science fiction, mysteries and dark fantasy.

The October Country

that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…

— Ray Bradbury

October 5:

The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs

Found In:

Our Lady of the Barge

Opening Line:

Without, the night was cold and wet, but in a the small parlous of Laburnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly.”

Little doubt you’ve heard of this particular bit of spooky storytelling. Anthologized again and again, a feature of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, adapted into films and radio plays, The Monkey’s Paw is one of the most successful short stories in the history of the world.

The tale of Mr. and Mrs. White begins on a wintry night in which the Whites are enjoying a cozy night by the fire. Mr. White is playing chess with his adult son, Herbert. A knock on the door announced the arrival of an old friend, Sergeant-Major Morris.

Morris warms himself by the fire and tells the Whites a shifty little tale about a monkey’s paw, which he claims grants three wishes to anyone who possesses it. The wishes, however, are always granted in ways that seem perfectly natural.

Oh, and by the way, the last person who had it used his final wish to wish for death.

Well, if that doesn’t just spoil the mood.

It’s not particularly difficult to see where all of this is going. But only because Jacobs’ story has been so successful and so oft imitated, that you’ve heard this little ditty a number of times before.

Mr. White wishes for 200 pounds to cover the mortgage. Poor old Herbert dies in an accident at work. His employer offers the Whites a goodwill payment of 200 pounds. And so it goes.

But that’s not the end. How could it be? There are still two more wishes.

The other two wishes,” she replied rapidly. “We’ve only had one.”

Was that not enough?” he demanded fiercely.

No,” she cried, triumphantly. “We’ll have one more. Go down and get it quickly, and wish our boy alive again.”

It’s a true testament to Jacobs’ brilliance that the story never goes off the rails. There are so many places where the narrative ought to grind to a clumsy halt, but it never does. And the fact that we, as readers, see the destination clearly long in advance somehow never spoils the ride. Indeed, The Monkey’s Paw is a perfect example of the Impending Train Wreck Tale. We know it’s coming, but instead of jumping clear we grit our teeth and dig in our nails.

Shortly after that second wish is made, some dark thing is heard pounding at the White’s front door. We never see it. Mr. White wishes it away before the door is opened. Which in itself is a beautiful move.

We’ll never know what was there on the doorstep, but we don’t need to. Jacobs knew the truth: whatever we imagined was there knocking would be far worse than anything he could put down on the page.

More October Stories

For the month of October, you can download

Tyler Miller’s The Other Side of the Door 

FREE.

In celebration of my favorite month, I’m giving away my collection The Other Side of the Door. These are stories inspired by so many of my favorite writers: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson.

Stories like the award-winning Til Death Do Us, about a man who believes he’s gotten away with his wife’s murder…at least until her severed finger is delivered to him in a box. Somebody knows the truth…

Or another first-place winner: Not Dead, Not Even Past, the story of a small-town sheriff confronted with a string of suicides he can’t explain. Each of the victims share a disturbing trait: no matter how they died, all of them have lungs full of water.

I loved working on these stories, and I truly believe that you’ll enjoy reading them just as much as I enjoyed writing them. Check them out. For the entire month, they’re free. What have you got to lose?

Except a little sleep…

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