A Wireless Message
Categories: THE WAYS OF GHOSTS
Scary Books: Present At A Hanging
In the summer of 1896 Mr. William Holt, a wealthy manufacturer of
Chicago, was living temporarily in a little town of central New
York, the name of which the writer's memory has not retained. Mr.
Holt had had "trouble with his wife," from whom he had parted a year
before. Whether the trouble was anything more serious than
"incompatibility of temper," he is probably the only living person
that knows: he is not addict
d to the vice of confidences. Yet he
has related the incident herein set down to at least one person
without exacting a pledge of secrecy. He is now living in Europe.
One evening he had left the house of a brother whom he was visiting,
for a stroll in the country. It may be assumed--whatever the value
of the assumption in connection with what is said to have occurred--
that his mind was occupied with reflections on his domestic
infelicities and the distressing changes that they had wrought in
Whatever may have been his thoughts, they so possessed him that he
observed neither the lapse of time nor whither his feet were
carrying him; he knew only that he had passed far beyond the town
limits and was traversing a lonely region by a road that bore no
resemblance to the one by which he had left the village. In brief,
he was "lost."
Realizing his mischance, he smiled; central New York is not a region
of perils, nor does one long remain lost in it. He turned about and
went back the way that he had come. Before he had gone far he
observed that the landscape was growing more distinct--was
brightening. Everything was suffused with a soft, red glow in which
he saw his shadow projected in the road before him. "The moon is
rising," he said to himself. Then he remembered that it was about
the time of the new moon, and if that tricksy orb was in one of its
stages of visibility it had set long before. He stopped and faced
about, seeking the source of the rapidly broadening light. As he
did so, his shadow turned and lay along the road in front of him as
before. The light still came from behind him. That was surprising;
he could not understand. Again he turned, and again, facing
successively to every point of the horizon. Always the shadow was
before--always the light behind, "a still and awful red."
Holt was astonished--"dumfounded" is the word that he used in
telling it--yet seems to have retained a certain intelligent
curiosity. To test the intensity of the light whose nature and
cause he could not determine, he took out his watch to see if he
could make out the figures on the dial. They were plainly visible,
and the hands indicated the hour of eleven o'clock and twenty-five
minutes. At that moment the mysterious illumination suddenly flared
to an intense, an almost blinding splendor, flushing the entire sky,
extinguishing the stars and throwing the monstrous shadow of himself
athwart the landscape. In that unearthly illumination he saw near
him, but apparently in the air at a considerable elevation, the
figure of his wife, clad in her night-clothing and holding to her
breast the figure of his child. Her eyes were fixed upon his with
an expression which he afterward professed himself unable to name or
describe, further than that it was "not of this life."
The flare was momentary, followed by black darkness, in which,
however, the apparition still showed white and motionless; then by
insensible degrees it faded and vanished, like a bright image on the
retina after the closing of the eyes. A peculiarity of the
apparition, hardly noted at the time, but afterward recalled, was
that it showed only the upper half of the woman's figure: nothing
was seen below the waist.
The sudden darkness was comparative, not absolute, for gradually all
objects of his environment became again visible.
In the dawn of the morning Holt found himself entering the village
at a point opposite to that at which he had left it. He soon
arrived at the house of his brother, who hardly knew him. He was
wild-eyed, haggard, and gray as a rat. Almost incoherently, he
related his night's experience.
"Go to bed, my poor fellow," said his brother, "and--wait. We shall
hear more of this."
An hour later came the predestined telegram. Holt's dwelling in one
of the suburbs of Chicago had been destroyed by fire. Her escape
cut off by the flames, his wife had appeared at an upper window, her
child in her arms. There she had stood, motionless, apparently
dazed. Just as the firemen had arrived with a ladder, the floor had
given way, and she was seen no more.
The moment of this culminating horror was eleven o'clock and twenty-
five minutes, standard time.