The Middle Toe of the Right Foot

by Ambrose Bierce

It is well known that the old Manton house is haunted. In all the rural district near about, and even in the town of Marshall, a mile away, not one person of unbiased mind entertains a doubt of it; incredulity is confined to those opinionated persons who will be called ‘cranks’ as soon as the useful word shall have penetrated the intellectual demesne of the Marshall Advance. The evidence that the house is haunted is of two kinds: the testimony of disinterested witnesses who have had ocular proof, and that of the house itself. The former may be disregarded and ruled out on any of the various grounds of objection which may be urged against it by the ingenious; but facts within the observation of all are material and controlling.

In the first place, the Manton house has been unoccupied by mortals for more than ten years, and with its outbuildings is slowly falling into decay – a circumstance which in itself the judicious will hardly venture to ignore. It stands a little way off the loneliest reach of the Marshall and Harriston road, in an opening which was once a farm and is still disfigured with strips of rotting fence and half covered with brambles overrunning a stony and sterile soil long unacquainted with the plough. The house itself is in tolerably good condition, though badly weather-stained and in dire need of attention from the glazier, the smaller male population of the region having attested in the manner of its kind its disapproval of dwelling without dwellers. It is two stories in height, nearly square, its front pierced by a single doorway flanked on each side by a window boarded up to the very top. Corresponding windows above, not protected, serve to admit light and rain to the rooms of the upper floor. Grass and weeds grow pretty rankly all about, and a few shade trees, somewhat the worse for wind, and leaning all in one direction, seem to be making a concerted effort to run away. In short, as the Marshall town humorist explained in the columns of the Advance, ‘the proposition that the Manton house is badly haunted is the only logical conclusion from the premises.’ The fact that in this dwelling Mr. Manton thought it expedient one night some ten years ago to rise and cut the throats of his wife and two small children, removing at once to another part of the country, has no doubt done its share in directing public attention to the fitness of the place for supernatural phenomena.

To this house, one summer evening, came four men in a wagon. Three of them promptly alighted, and the one who had been driving hitched the team to the only remaining post of what had been a fence. The fourth remained seated in the wagon. ‘Come,’ said one of his companions, approaching him, while the others moved away in the direction of the dwelling – ‘this is the place.’

The man addressed did not move. ‘By God!’ he said harshly, ‘this is a trick, and it looks to me as if you were in it.’

‘Perhaps I am,’ the other said, looking him straight in the face and speaking in a tone which had something of contempt in it. ‘You will remember, however, that the choice of place was with your own assent left to the other side. Of course if you are afraid of spooks — ‘ MORE HERE

9 Comments on The Middle Toe of the Right Foot

  1. If I could suggest a few others:

    Clark Ashton Smith – “The Coming of the White Worm”

    Edgar Pangborn – “Longtooth”

    T.H. White – “The Troll”

    Joseph Payne Brennan – “Slime”

    Anthony Boucher – “They Bite”

    Not quite the same genre, but still quite good.

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  2. I love old ghost stories. Try “The Wendigo” and “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood. Also “The Dead Valley” by Ralph Adams Cram.

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  3. I saw a program a few years ago about Ambrose Bierce. Great storyteller. Incident at Owl Creek bridge is one of my favorites. He disappeared without a trace in the Zone of Silence in Mexico. He was embedded with Pancho Villa’s army as a war reporter. He was fascinated by the supernatural & strange doings. He does not get as much credit as he deserves. Some of his works rivaled or were better than Edgar Allan Poe.

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