Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ghost Stories: The Monkey's Paw

Over a hundred years ago, an old couple lived in the English countryside with their adult son. Henry White worked in a saw mill for the Meggins Lumber Company, helping to support his parents.

One cold and rainy night, an old friend came to visit. He was a retired Army sergeant who had spent years in India. The family rarely had visitors in their lonely little homestead, so to hear the sergeant's stories was quite a treat. They listened raptly while he told of his adventures in India.

During a lull in the narrative, Mr. White said, "What were you starting to tell me about a monkey's paw the other day?"

The sergeant looked flustered, "Oh, that. Nothing worth hearing."

After some pursuasion, however, the sergeant finally relented. "It's a trifle, really, but I have this monkey's paw." He pulled a mummified, dry monkey paw out of his shirt pocket. "A fakir put a spell on it so it will grant three wishes to three people."

The Whites looked incredulous. Henry jokingly asked, "So why don't you have your three, sir?"

The sergeant gravely responded, "I have."

Mrs. White whispered, "And did they come true?"

"They did. As did the wishes of the previous owner. His third wish was for death, which is how I came to be in possession of this thing." The sergeant stared blankly into the fire as he absent-mindedly rubbed the paw. Suddenly, he threw the paw into the flames.

"Hey now!" Mr. White shouted and jumped up, rescuing the paw from the fire. "If you've no more need of it, I'll certainly take possession of the thing."

"Best to let it burn, my friend."

Mr. White examined the monkey's paw in his hand, turning it around and around. "How does it work?" he asked.

"Just remember I threw it on the fire. Whatever happens, don't blame me, for I did not give it to you," the old sergeant said quietly. "But if you're determined to keep it and use it, hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud."

Mr. White immediately held it up, but before he could speak, his friend grabbed his arm in alarm. "For God's sake, if you're going to wish, wish for something sensible."

Mr. White put the paw in his own pocket and the thing was largely forgotten as the group sat down to dinner. After their guest left, the Whites cheerfully joked about becoming rich and famous with their wishes.

Henry didn't believe the talisman had any magic to it, but told his father that if he wanted to wish for something, he should wish for enough money to clear his debts. "With five hundred pounds, you could pay off this house, father, along with the rest of your bills. Wish for that." Henry left the room to tend to his evening chores.

Mr. White looked at his wife, and she smiled. He held up the monkey's paw in his right hand and said, "I wish for five hundred pounds."

Mr. White felt the monkey's paw move in his hand, and dropped it with a yell. Henry came running back to check on the commotion. "I'm sure it's in your head, father, but why don't you go up to bed. The money is probably tied up in a bag under your pillow!"

After Henry finished his chores in the barn, the three of them sat quietly around the fire, listening to the wind and rain. Finally, with a sense of disappointment, the elder Whites went to bed. Henry stayed up, staring into the fire. He thought he saw faces in the dying flames, and when he saw the clear outline of a monkey's face, he felt a chill go down his spine. He reached for a glass of water on the table next to him, hoping to douse the flames. Instead, he accidentally touched the monkey's paw. He wiped his hand off with disgust and went to bed himself.

In the light of day the next morning, Henry forgot about his anxieties regarding the monkey's paw, and continued making jokes about it. He cheerfully left for work, whistling as he walked down the country lane towards town.

Mr. and Mrs. White spent the day quietly reading and talking, much as any other day. Around noon, Mrs. White noticed a strange man walking toward the house. He stood outside their gate for some time, seeming undecided about whether or not he should enter. Finally he did and walked up to the door.

"I was sent from the Meggins Lumber Company," he began.

Mrs. White looked alarmed, "Oh! Is something wrong with Henry?"

"I'm sorry. I'm afraid he was caught in the machinery, ma'am."

Henry was dead. Mrs. White nearly lost her senses, such was her grief.

Mr. White finally spoke quietly, "He was all we had left in this world. It's very hard."

The stranger nodded sympathetically, then said, "The company wished for me to convey their deepest condolences. And...I was told to say...they disavow any responsibility for the accident. However, to aid you in this time of suffering, they want to give you a monetary gift."

Mrs. White went quiet.

Mr. White looked pale. "How much?"

"Five hundred pounds."

Mrs. White screamed.

Mr. White fell to the floor.

Henry was buried in the cemetery, and his parents slowly walked back to their lonely old home. They spent their days in listless mourning, unable to cope with their grief.

One night, the old man wakened to the sounds of sobbing. His wife was sitting by the window. He spoke quietly, "Come back to bed. It's too cold to be sitting up."

"It's colder for my son," she responded. Then, suddenly, she jumped up from her seat. "The monkey's paw!"

The old man was alarmed, "What?"

"Why didn't I think of it sooner? Why didn't you think of it? Wish our son back!"

"He's been in the ground for two weeks. I couldn't even identify him other than his clothes. Imagine how he'd look!"

"I don't care! Wish him back to me!"

Finally, the old man gave in and held the monkey's paw up in his right hand. "I wish my son was alive."

The couple waited, and nothing. Nothing happened. Mrs. White looked expectantly out the window towards the gate, but nothing was there. Finally they went back to bed, but a knock at the door sounded just as they were falling asleep.

Mrs. White leapt from the bed. "My son!"

Mr. White was terrified. He only imagined the mangled body of their son, buried for two weeks, digging its way out of its grave and walking the two miles to their house. And now it was knocking at their door.

Mrs. White was already downstairs, pulling the heavy bolts open on the door. Mr. White frantically grabbed for the monkey's paw to make his third and final wish.

He heard his wife open the door, followed by her disappointed cries.

No one was there.

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