Ghost Stories and Tall Tales of the American South

The Boarded Window: Ambrose Bierce Ghost Story

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Ambrose Bierce’s classic ghost story “The Boarded Window,” audio story produced by Freshwater Seas Audiobooks . Used by permission.

In 1830, only a few miles away from what is now the great city of Cincinnati, lay an immense and almost unbroken forest. The whole region was sparsely settled by people of the frontier–restless souls who no sooner had hewn fairly habitable homes out of the wilderness and attained to that degree of prosperity which today we should call indigence, than, impelled by some mysterious impulse of their nature, they abandoned all and pushed farther westward, to encounter new perils and privations in the effort to regain the meager comforts which they had voluntarily renounced. Many of them had already forsaken that region for the remoter settlements, but among those remaining was one who had been of those first arriving. He lived alone in a house of logs surrounded on all sides by the great forest, of whose gloom and silence he seemed a part, for no one had ever known him to smile nor speak a needless word. His simple wants were supplied by the sale or barter of skins of wild animals in the river town, for not a thing did he grow upon the land which, if needful, he might have claimed by right of undisturbed possession. There were evidences of “improvement”–a few acres of ground immediately about the house had once been cleared of its trees, the decayed stumps of which were half concealed by the new growth that had been suffered to repair the ravage wrought by the ax. Apparently the man’s zeal for agriculture had burned with a failing flame, expiring in penitential ashes.

Log House

The little log house, with its chimney of sticks, its roof of warping clapboards weighted with traversing poles and its “chinking” of clay, had a single door and, directly opposite, a window. The latter, however, was boarded up–nobody could remember a time when it was not. And none knew why it was so closed; certainly not because of the occupant’s dislike of light and air, for on those rare occasions when a hunter had passed that lonely spot the recluse had commonly been seen sunning himself on his doorstep if heaven had provided sunshine for his need. I fancy there are few persons living today who ever knew the secret of that window, but I am one, as you shall see.

The man’s name was said to be Murlock. He was apparently seventy years old, actually about fifty. Something besides years had had a hand in his aging. His hair and long, full beard were white, his gray, lusterless eyes sunken, his face singularly seamed with wrinkles which appeared to belong to two intersecting systems. In figure he was tall and spare, with a stoop of the shoulders–a burden bearer. I never saw him; these particulars I learned from my grandfather, from whom also I got the man’s story when I was a lad. He had known him when living near by in that early day.

One day Murlock was found in his cabin, dead. It was not a time and place for coroners and newspapers, and I suppose it was agreed that he had died from natural causes or I should have been told, and should remember. I know only that with what was probably a sense of the fitness of things the body was buried near the cabin, alongside the grave of his wife, who had preceded him by so many years that local tradition had retained hardly a hint of her existence. That closes the final chapter of this true story–excepting, indeed, the circumstance that many years afterward, in company with an equally intrepid spirit, I penetrated to the place and ventured near enough to the ruined cabin to throw a stone against it, and ran away to avoid the ghost which every well-informed boy thereabout knew haunted the spot. But there is an earlier chapter–that supplied by my grandfather.

When Murlock built his cabin and began laying sturdily about with his ax to hew out a farm–the rifle, meanwhile, his means of support–he was young, strong and full of hope. In that eastern country whence he came he had married, as was the fashion, a young woman in all ways worthy of his honest devotion, who shared the dangers and privations of his lot with a willing spirit and light heart. There is no known record of her name; of her charms of mind and person tradition is silent and the doubter is at liberty to entertain his doubt; but God forbid that I should share it! Of their affection and happiness there is abundant assurance in every added day of the man’s widowed life; for what but the magnetism of a blessed memory could have chained that venturesome spirit to a lot like that?

One day Murlock returned from gunning in a distant part of the forest to find his wife prostrate with fever, and delirious. There was no physician within miles, no neighbor; nor was she in a condition to be left, to summon help. So he set about the task of nursing her back to health, but at the end of the third day she fell into unconsciousness arid so passed away, apparently, with never a gleam of returning reason.

Boarded Window

From what we know of a nature like his we may venture to sketch in some of the details of the outline picture drawn by my grandfather. When convinced that she was dead, Murlock had sense enough to remember that the dead must be prepared for burial. In performance of this sacred duty he blundered now and again, did certain things incorrectly, and others which he did correctly were done over and over. His occasional failures to accomplish some simple and ordinary act filled him with astonishment, like that of a drunken man who wonders at the suspension of familiar natural laws. He was surprised, too, that he did not weep–surprised and a little ashamed; surely it is unkind not to weep for the dead. “Tomorrow,” he said aloud, “I shall have to make the coffin arid dig the grave; and then I shall miss her, when she is no longer in sight; but now–she is dead, of course, but it is all right–it must be all right, somehow. Things cannot be so bad as they seem.”

He stood over the body in the fading light, adjusting the hair and putting the finishing touches to the simple toilet, doing all mechanically, with soulless care. And still through his consciousness ran an undersense of conviction that all was right–that he should have her again as before, and everything explained. He had had no experience in grief; his capacity had not been enlarged by use. His heart could not contain it all, nor his imagination rightly conceive it. He did not know he was so hard struck; that knowledge would come later, and never go. Grief is an artist of powers as various as the instruments upon which he plays his dirges for the dead, evoking from some the sharpest, shrillest notes, from others the low, grave chords that throb recurrent like the slow beating of a distant drum. Some natures it startles; some it stupefies. To one it comes like the stroke of an arrow, stinging all the sensibilities to a keener life; to another as the blow of a bludgeon, which in crushing benumbs. We may conceive Murlock to have been that way affected, for (and here we are upon surer ground than that of conjecture) no sooner had he finished his pious work than, sinking into a chair by the side of the table upon which the body lay, and noting how white the profile showed in the deepening gloom, he laid his arms upon the table’s edge, and dropped his face into them, tearless yet and unutterably weary. At that moment came in through the open window a long, wailing sound like the cry of a lost child in the far deeps of the darkening woods! But the man did not move. Again, and nearer than before, sounded that unearthly cry upon his failing sense. Perhaps it was a wild beast; perhaps it was a dream. For Murlock was asleep.

Some hours later, as it afterward appeared, this unfaithful watcher awoke and lifting his head from his arms intently listened–he knew not why. There in the black darkness by the side of the dead, recalling all without a shock, he strained his eyes to see–he knew not what. His senses were all alert, his breath was suspended, his blood had stilled its tides as if to assist the silence. Who–what had waked him, and where was it?

Suddenly the table shook beneath his arms, and at the same moment he heard, or fancied that he heard, a light, soft step–another–sounds as of bare feet upon the floor!

He was terrified beyond the power to cry out or move. Perforce he waited–waited there in the darkness through seeming centuries of such dread as one may know, yet live to tell. He tried vainly to speak the dead woman’s name, vainly to stretch forth his hand across the table to learn if she were there. His throat was powerless, his arms and hands were like lead. Then occurred something most frightful. Some heavy body seemed hurled against the table with an impetus that pushed it against his breast so sharply as nearly to overthrow him, and at the same instant he heard and felt the fall of something upon the floor with so violent a thump that the whole house was shaken by the impact. A scuffling ensued, and a confusion of sounds impossible to describe. Murlock had risen to his feet. Fear had by excess forfeited control of his faculties. He flung his hands upon the table. Nothing was there!

There is a point at which terror may turn to madness; and madness incites to action. With no definite intent, from no motive but the wayward impulse of a madman, Murlock sprang to the wall, with a little groping seized his loaded rifle, and without aim discharged it. By the flash which lit up the room with a vivid illumination, he saw an enormous panther dragging the dead woman toward the window, its teeth fixed in her throat! Then there were darkness blacker than before, and silence; and when he returned to consciousness the sun was high and the wood vocal with songs of birds.

The body lay near the window, where the beast had left it when frightened away by the flash and report of the rifle. The clothing was deranged, the long hair in disorder, the limbs lay anyhow. From the throat, dreadfully lacerated, had issued a pool of blood not yet entirely coagulated. The ribbon with which he had bound the wrists was broken; the hands were tightly clenched. Between the teeth was a fragment of the animal’s ear.

  • THE END –

More ghost stories from Ambrose Bierce are in our Bookshop!

Here is a short film adaptation of “The Boarded Window.”. Don’t know much about its origins, but the YouTube poster says it’s from 1970s public television. Groovy:

Part One:

Part Two:



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51 Responses to “The Boarded Window: Ambrose Bierce Ghost Story”


Faye:

That was a very interesting story…although I have had things happen to me in my lifetime, and only close friends and family I told…if I told the world then they would try and lock me away….because it is to real …to be real.

Batoul:

It is a VERY interesting and haunting story though I don’t understand why it’s called “The Boarded Window”

Dee:

Am I the only one who doesn’t get it?

HJ0HN50N:

She had a fever and it got bad enough to the point her body shut down and committed itself to fighting it. He thought she was dead. A cougar got in through the window and killed her but she regained consciousness and fought back which is why there were pieces of its ear in her mouth. And why he boarded up the window

sarah:

true, true, but i dont think it was a cougar.the man had lived there for a few years by then and would have reconized what it sounded like.

ChicaChilena:

I still don’t get what that ha to do with the window being boarded??

Virginia:

I had thought (mistakenly, I guess) that Murlock’s wife had briefly returned from the dead to save her husband, until HJ0HN50N gave that explanation. If that’s what happened, I feel even worse for the poor man.

What Happened? | American Lit:

[…] optional: Bierce, “The Boarded Window” (1891) — text, Audio Dramatization, and short film adaptation @ The Moonlit Road […]

jakayla:

i really like this

Jennifer Clancy:

Message to HCSC 10ESL from Jennifer Clancy. I am expecting you all to post at least two messages about the story ‘Boarded Window’.
1. Tell about your reaction to this story. Did you find it scary, sad, amazing, unbelievable? Why?
2. Reply to a message that one of your classmates posted about this story.

I will be reading and replying to your posts.

aeler tru moo:

i feel sad about this story.

themoonlitroad:

Jennifer, I had to delete many of these posts, they were cluttering up our message boards. Most were students just talking to each other. Hope this doesn’t mess up your lesson plan. We need to only keep comments that have something to do with the story. Thanks!

paw:

i feeel sorry for the man but the story give me the creep

Sia Jai:

I am expecting you all to post at least two messages about the story ‘Boarded Window’.

I will be reading and replying to your posts.

m:

it was very interesting story.because i like ghost story and this one is the bes

nee nee:

i feel sad and scared because the man excited killed his wife and his wife was look like ghost when his wife dead

nee nee:

i think his wife was ghost and will killed he

nee nee:

his wife eye look scared

Sunny:

It wasnt scary because the story is not spoken in a way that i can imagine because their was two voices wich made it hard to follow, one voice was reading fast and the other was reading slow

su su:

i feeling so sad to the men because his wife dead. it is scary to me.

thadah htoo:

i feeling sad 4 the man

thadah htoo:

love u wife

m:

me 2 i feel sorry for the man

nee nee:

i scared about the ghost or ghost moive i never watch a moive alone … i think it true the ghost was live everywhere in the world is that true or not i dont know but i scared about it when i was young i scared about when people die

Sia Jai:

i’m feel so sorry for the man also feel so sad with the man. his wife dead it really scary..:(

Jennifer Clancy:

To the moonlit road: Sorry about clogging up the message board. I think my students will soon get the hang of making relevant comments.

Jennifer Clancy:

Some thoughtful responses to this story coming in from 10ESL and 9ESL. For your second response, please reply to what one of your classmates has said. Do you agree or disagree with them? Why?

Jennifer Clancy:

What made this story so sad to me was that the poor man really lost his wife twice. the first time, he thought she had died but she was in some kind of deep sleep which meant she looked like she was dead. Then when the husband fell asleep, the wife woke up and fought with a wild animal that entered the room. When the husband woke he found his wife dead from the fight with the animal. He knew she must have been alive to fight the animal because part of its ear was between her teeth.

There are lots of stories about people “coming back to life” after everyone thought they were dead.

nightingale:

nice story..!!
but it alittle bit scary me…..

Raynaldo:

This story is a sad story because the old man has to lose his wife. Not once but twice.
The first was when he found his wife was falling a death sleep during day time and noo responses from her whe his husban tried to wake him up….
So later when the husband falls a sleep, his wife tries to wake him up to help her withfighting the animals that entres their house. And the next thing when the husband knew when he wakes up was finding his wife dead again from lastt night.

U read this, u are awesome……….
u make fun of this, u r an AS**HOLE……..
LOL
DOn’t DRY!

William daniel:

a very entertaining story,it was pretty good and i would never have guessd the end

THAW RE PO:

This story make me sad…..because the old man lose his wife and have to live alone…:(

Chinaman:

The story is good, the end is not good enough,it’s not horribe in the end.

Htoo Tha Lah Paw:

this story is very sad story. he was lonely and not happy after his wife die.

William daniel:

it was a nice story i enjoyed it but then at the end i would never have expected what would have happened good ending

iglan:

i kind of enojyed this story because it was kind of sad when the layd was killed by the animal.

BlackndYellow:

I ENJOYED THE STORY IT WAS REALLLY INTERSTING KIND OF SAD I FOUND THE ENDING LAME

c:

Let’s hope he doesn’t lose his wife 3x–highly unlikely considering the context of the story.

Rachel:

ummmm…….confusing??

Shawn Esch:

There is a black and white version of this film out there that I have been looking for; it’s much better. Any suggestions on how I might find it.

themoonlitroad:

YouTube? Otherwise don’t know. Let us know if you find it.

Devonte Dubois:

it was so scary at first, but sooner it was sad when they died

micheal the first:

confusing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! D:<

ashley:

this is alittle scary but realy. >:)

YEA BUDDY:

this is retarded! <:O oh well byeee 🙂

Bub:

Too many words >_<
The creepy part for me though is the fact that the man decided to live in a secluded area with his wife.

billy:

not scary at all

Somer:

this story is creepy the creepy part for me though is the fact that the man decided to live in a secluded area with his wife

Gwen:

…Well at least she died relatively quickly, and fighting. He probably still wouldn’t have noticed that she was alive the next day. I think if I had to pick between cougar attack and the slow terrifying death of being buried alive I would definitely pick cougar. Heh, that’s why they used to install bells, horns, and other ways to alert anyone around that the dearly departed was not so departed. IF there was anyone around to hear. And IF you could afford it.

Erica:

You know what I found crazy interesting? The music in the background during the intro while the male was first speaking, ending at 02:31. That is an LDS hymn, “Have I Done Any Good?” I kept thinking I recognized it. I think a lot of the music playing softly in the background of this story are hymns…..

Cris:

The beauty and brilliance of this work is that the author left the interpretation as to what had happened up to the reader. What happened at the end of the story is up to your imagination.

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