A Ghost Story by Mark Twain

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

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 bedclothes 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, 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 eyes.

"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 flat, honey-combed bottoms of his prodigious feet to the grateful warmth.

"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,
whispering, tramping up and down stairs, till, to tell you the truth, I am almost worn out. But
when I saw a light in your room tonight I roused my energies again and went at it with a deal
of the old freshness. But I am tired out -- entirely fagged out. Give me, I beseech you, give
me some hope!"

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 a fool 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 tub.
Robert Burns

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