A Ghost Story

by Mark Twain
(public domain)


I took a large room, far up Broadway, in a huge old building whose upper

stories had been wholly unoccupied for years, until I came. The place

had long been given up to dust and cobwebs, to solitude and silence. I

seemed groping among the tombs and invading the privacy of the dead,

that first night I climbed up to my quarters. For the first time in my

life a superstitious dread came over me; and as I turned a dark angle of

the stairway and an invisible cobweb swung its slazy woof in my face and

clung there, I shuddered as one who had encountered a phantom.

I was glad enough when I reached my room and locked out the mould and

the darkness. A cheery fire was burning in the grate, and I sat down

before it with a comforting sense of relief. For two hours I sat there,

thinking of bygone times; recalling old scenes, and summoning

half-forgotten faces out of the mists of the past; listening, in fancy,

to voices that long ago grew silent for all time, and to once familiar

songs that nobody sings now. And as my reverie softened down to a sadder

and sadder pathos, the shrieking of the winds outside softened to a

wail, the angry beating of the rain against the panes diminished to a

tranquil patter, and one by one the noises in the street subsided, until

the hurrying foot-steps of the last belated straggler died away in the

distance and left no sound behind.

The fire had burned low. A sense of loneliness crept over me. I arose

and undressed, moving on tiptoe about the room, doing stealthily what I

had to do, as if I were environed by sleeping enemies whose slumbers it

would be fatal to break. I covered up in bed, and lay listening to the

rain and wind and the faint creaking of distant shutters, till they

lulled me to sleep.

I slept profoundly, but how long I do not know. All at once I found

myself awake, and filled with a shuddering expectancy. All was still.

All but my own heart -- I could hear it beat. Presently the bed- clothes

began to slip away slowly toward the foot of the bed, as if some one

were pulling them! I could not stir; I could not speak. Still the

blankets slipped deliberately away, till my breast was uncovered. Then

with a great effort I seized them and drew them over my head. I waited,

listened, waited. Once more that steady pull began, and once more I lay

torpid a century of dragging seconds till my breast was naked again. At

last I roused my energies and snatched the covers back to their place

and held them with a strong grip. I waited. By and by I felt a faint

tug, and took a fresh grip. The tug strengthened to a steady strain --

it grew stronger and stronger. My hold parted, and for the third time

the blankets slid away. I groaned. An answering groan came from the foot

of the bed! Beaded drops of sweat stood upon my forehead. I was more

dead than alive. Presently I heard a heavy footstep in my room -- the

step of an elephant, it seemed to me -- it was not like anything human.

But it was moving FROM me -- there was relief in that. I heard it

approach the door -- pass out without moving bolt or lock -- and wander

away among the dismal corridors, straining the floors and joists till

they creaked again as it passed -- and then silence reigned once more.

When my excitement had calmed, I said to myself, "This is a dream --

simply a hideous dream." And so I lay thinking it over until I convinced

myself that it WAS a dream, and then a comforting laugh relaxed my lips

and I was happy again. I got up and struck a light; and when I found

that the locks and bolts were just as I had left them, another soothing

laugh welled in my heart and rippled from my lips. I took my pipe and

lit it, and was just sitting down before the fire, when -- down went the

pipe out of my nerveless fingers, the blood forsook my cheeks, and my

placid breathing was cut short with a gasp! In the ashes on the hearth,

side by side with my own bare footprint, was another, so vast that in

comparison mine was but an infant's! Then I had HAD a visitor, and the

elephant tread was explained.

I put out the light and returned to bed, palsied with fear. I lay a long

time, peering into the darkness, and listening. Then I heard a grating

noise overhead, like the dragging of a heavy body across the floor; then

the throwing down of the body, and the shaking of my windows in response

to the concussion. In distant parts of the building I heard the muffled

slamming of doors. I heard, at intervals, stealthy footsteps creeping in

and out among the corridors, and up and down the stairs. Sometimes these

noises approached my door, hesitated, and went away again. I heard the

clanking of chains faintly, in remote passages, and listened while the

clanking grew nearer -- while it wearily climbed the stairways, marking

each move by the loose surplus of chain that fell with an accented

rattle upon each succeeding step as the goblin that bore it advanced. I

heard muttered sentences; half-uttered screams that seemed smothered

violently; and the swish of invisible garments, the rush of invisible

wings. Then I became conscious that my chamber was invaded -- that I was

not alone. I heard sighs and breathings about my bed, and mysterious

whisperings. Three little spheres of soft phosphorescent light appeared

on the ceiling directly over my head, clung and glowed there a moment,

and then dropped -- two of them upon my face and one upon the pillow.

They spattered, liquidly, and felt warm. Intuition told me they had

turned to gouts of blood as they fell -- I needed no light to satisfy

myself of that. Then I saw pallid faces, dimly luminous, and white

uplifted hands, floating bodiless in the air -- floating a moment and

then disappearing. The whispering ceased, and the voices and the sounds,

and a solemn stillness followed. I waited and listened. I felt that I

must have light or die. I was weak with fear. I slowly raised myself

toward a sitting posture, and my face came in contact with a clammy

hand! All strength went from me apparently, and I fell back like a

stricken invalid. Then I heard the rustle of a garment -- it seemed to

pass to the door and go out.

When everything was still once more, I crept out of bed, sick and

feeble, and lit the gas with a hand that trembled as if it were aged

with a hundred years. The light brought some little cheer to my spirits.

I sat down and fell into a dreamy contemplation of that great footprint

in the ashes. By and by its outlines began to waver and grow dim. I

glanced up and the broad gas flame was slowly wilting away. In the same

moment I heard that elephantine tread again. I noted its approach,

nearer and nearer, along the musty halls, and dimmer and dimmer the

light waned. The tread reached my very door and paused -- the light had

dwindled to a sickly blue, and all things about me lay in a spectral

twilight. The door did not open, and yet I felt a faint gust of air fan

my cheek, and presently was conscious of a huge, cloudy presence before

me. I watched it with fascinated eyes. A pale glow stole over the Thing;

gradually its cloudy folds took shape -- an arm appeared, then legs,

then a body, and last a great sad face looked out of the vapor. Stripped

of its filmy housings, naked, muscular and comely, the majestic Cardiff

Giant loomed above me!

All my misery vanished -- for a child might know that no harm could come

with that benignant countenance. My cheerful spirits returned at once,

and in sympathy with them the gas flamed up brightly again. Never a

lonely outcast was so glad to welcome company as I was to greet the

friendly giant. I said:

"Why, is it nobody but you? Do you know, I have been scared to death for

the last two or three hours? I am most honestly glad to see you. I wish

I had a chair -- Here, here, don't try to sit down in that thing!

But it was too late. He was in it before I could stop him, and down he

went -- I never saw a chair shivered so in my life.

"Stop, stop, You'll ruin ev--"

Too late again. There was another crash, and another chair was resolved

into its original elements.

"Confound it, haven't you got any judgment at all? Do you want to ruin

all the furniture on the place? Here, here, you petrified fool--"

But it was no use. Before I could arrest him he had sat down on the bed,

and it was a melancholy ruin.

"Now what sort of a way is that to do? First you come lumbering about

the place bringing a legion of vagabond goblins along with you to worry

me to death, and then when I overlook an indelicacy of costume which

would not be tolerated anywhere by cultivated people except in a

respectable theater, and not even there if the nudity were of YOUR sex,

you repay me by wrecking all the furniture you can find to sit down on.

And why will you? You damage yourself as much as you do me. You have

broken off the end of your spinal column, and littered up the floor with

chips of your hams till the place looks like a marble yard. You ought to

be ashamed of yourself -- you are big enough to know better."

"Well, I will not break any more furniture. But what am I to do? I have

not had a chance to sit down for a century." And the tears came into his


"Poor devil," I said, "I should not have been so harsh with you. And you

are an orphan, too, no doubt. But sit down on the floor here -- nothing

else can stand your weight -- and besides, we cannot be sociable with

you away up there above me; I want you down where I can perch on this

high counting-house stool and gossip with you face to face."

So he sat down on the floor, and lit a pipe which I gave him, threw one

of my red blankets over his shoulders, inverted my sitz-bath on his

head, helmet fashion, and made himself picturesque and comfortable. Then

he crossed his ankles, while I renewed the fire, and exposed the

shoulders, inverted my sitz-bath on his head, helmet fashion, and made


"What is the matter with the bottom of your feet and the back of your

legs, that they are gouged up so?"

"Infernal chillblains -- I caught them clear up to the back of my head,

roosting out there under Newell's farm. But I love the place; I love it

as one loves his old home. There is no peace for me like the peace I

feel when I am there."

We talked along for half an hour, and then I noticed that he looked

tired, and spoke of it. "Tired?" he said. "Well, I should think so. And

now I will tell you all about it, since you have treated me so well. I

am the spirit of the Petrified Man that lies across the street there in

the Museum. I am the ghost of the Cardiff Giant. I can have no rest, no

peace, till they have given that poor body burial again. Now what was

the most natural thing for me to do, to make men satisfy this wish?

Terrify them into it! -- haunt the place where the body lay! So I

haunted the museum night after night. I even got other spirits to help

me. But it did no good, for nobody ever came to the museum at midnight.

Then it occurred to me to come over the way and haunt this place a

little. I felt that if I ever got a hearing I must succeed, for I had

the most efficient company that perdition could furnish. Night after

night we have shivered around through these mildewed halls, dragging

chains, groaning, whisperhe said. "Well, I should think so. And now I

will tell you all about it, since you have treated me so well. I am the

spirit of the Petrified Man that lies across the street there in the

Museum. I am the ghost of the Cardiff Giant. I can have no rest, no

peace, till they have given that poor

I lit off my perch in a burst of excitement, and exclaimed:

"This transcends everything -- everything that ever did occur! Why you

poor blundering old fossil, you have had all your trouble for nothing --

you have been haunting a PLASTER CAST of yourself -- the real Cardiff

Giant is in Albany!

[Footnote by Twain: A fact. The original fraud was ingeniously and

fraudfully duplicated, and exhibited in New York as the "only genuine"

Cardiff Giant (to the unspeakable disgust of the owners of the real

colossus) at the very same time that the latter was drawing crowds at a

museum in Albany.]

Confound it, don't you know your own remains?"

I never saw such an eloquent look of shame, of pitiable humiliation,

overspread a countenance before.

The Petrified Man rose slowly to his feet, and said:

"Honestly, IS that true?"

"As true as I am sitting here."

He took the pipe from his mouth and laid it on the mantel, then stood

irresolute a moment (unconsciously, from old habit, thrusting his hands

where his pantaloons pockets should have been, and meditatively dropping

his chin on his breast), and finally said:

"Well -- I NEVER felt so absurd before. The Petrified Man has sold

everybody else, and now the mean fraud has ended by selling its own

ghost! My son, if there is any charity left in your heart for a poor

friendless phantom like me, don't let this get out. Think how YOU would

feel if you had made such an ass of yourself."

I heard his stately tramp die away, step by step down the stairs and out

into the deserted street, and felt sorry that he was gone, poor fellow

-- and sorrier still that he had carried off my red blanket and my bath


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