This is a small volume with lots of very short stories, arranged in three categories: Civil War Stories (9); Horror Stories (10); Tall Tales (4). Bierce himself served in the Civil War, and these tales express the horrors of war, often with biting satire. The horror stories are a bit strange and some a little silly, (the war stories are creepier than the horror stories), and the tall tales are over-the-edge bizarre. Bierce was apparently a very uncommon sort of person, and these tales all reflect his odd perceptions of life. If you are looking for unique, you will probably really enjoy this book. Here are a few examples:
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge tells the tale of Peyton Farquhar, a wealthy land owner, slave holder, and loyalist to the South. He was captured while interfering with Yankee advancement and sentenced to be hanged. We meet him as he is on Owl Creek Bridge, at the point of hanging. But something has changed, it seems. He is aware of the sharp pain around his neck, but apparently the rope has broken. He struggles to free himself, to swim to safety. He surfaces down the stream, but then realizes that soldiers are firing at him. With all his might, he makes it to the bank, out of the reach of bullets, then runs through the forest. He travels for what seems like days, yet there is no one around. He doesn't remember the forest being that thick. Something is not right. . .
Chickamauga is perhaps the most disturbing of all the war stories. It is about a little six-year-old boy who strays from his farm into the woods. He has his wooden sword, and bravely fights through the trees and brush, losing track of time and his sense of direction, then lies down to take a nap. When he awakens evening has set in, and he witnesses the horror of broken soldiers who have barely survived a battle, crawling through the brush, bloodied, maimed, ghastly. To his young eyes and brain, it seems like pretend, all in fun like the slaves would do for his amusement. But it is not amusement. . .
In A Watcher by the Dead, three physicians place a bet that a certain man, a Mr. Jarette, who was known to have no fear, could not spend the night locked in a room in the dark with a corpse without going mad. The joke is, however, that the corpse is really the very much alive Dr. Mancher. Things do not go quite as planned, necessitating the other two doctors to very quickly book a tour of Europe.
The Man and the Snake is a very humorous story about a runaway imagination that proves to be fatal. Harker Brayton is staying at the home of his friend Dr. Druring, a scientist devoted to the study of reptiles and collector of snakes. As Brayton sits in his room, he notices what seems to be a coiled serpent under his bed, escaped, no doubt, from Druring's "Snakery." Determined not to be fearful, he finds himself inching closer to the animal, which is apparently mesmerizing him. Well, maybe not. . .
The Damned Thing is included in this collection. It is also included in the collection entitled Great Horror Stories: Tales by Stoker, Poe, Lovecraft, and Others. You may read my review of this story on that page.
Oil of Dog is about a young man named Boffer Bings, whose father (who is also a deacon at the church), manufactures dog-oil, and his mother has a studio behind the church where she disposes of unwanted babes, usually in the river. Neighbors with plump, healthy dogs seem to avoid allowing Boffer to play with them. One night as he is carrying a body to be disposed of from his mother's handiwork, while walking past his father's factory, he sees a constable. He slips through the door and locks it. He wonders what to do with the body he has collected, and decides to throw it in the vat, thinking his father will never know the difference. Unfortunately, the next day, his father is delighted over the exceptional quality of his oil. His mother then moves her studio to a wing of the factory, and pursues her profession with gusto. Production in the factory booms until a public meeting is held censuring the couple from further activity. Boffer tells this story with deep regret for the events which followed. . . Yeah, this one is really disgusting, but it's a TALL TALE, remember, and totally tongue-in-cheek!
Give this book a read if you enjoy the unique and bizarre. There's certainly lots of it here!
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