IT is, I confess, with considerable diffidence that I approach the
strange narrative which I am about to relate. The events which I
purpose detailing are of so extraordinary and unheard-of a character
that I am quite prepared to meet with an unusual amount of incredulity
and scorn. I accept all such beforehand. I have, I trust, the literary
courage to face unbelief. I have, after mature consideration, resolved
to narrate, in as simple and straightforward a manner as I can compass,
some facts that passed under my observation in the month of July last,
and which, in the annals of the mysteries of physical science, are
I live at No.---Twenty-sixth Street, in this city. The house is in
some respects a curious one. It has enjoyed for the last two years the
reputation of being haunted. It is a large and stately residence,
surrounded by what was once a garden, but which is now only a green
inclosure used for bleaching clothes. The dry basin of what has been a
fountain, and a few fruit-trees, ragged and unpruned, indicate that
this spot, in past days, was a pleasant, shady retreat, filled with
fruits and flowers and the sweet murmur of waters.
The house is very spacious. A hall of noble size leads to a vast
spiral staircase winding through its center, while the various
apartments are of imposing dimensions. It was built some fifteen or
twenty years since by Mr. A--, the well-known New York merchant, who
five years ago threw the commercial world into convulsions by a
stupendous bank fraud. Mr. A--, as every one knows, escaped to Europe,
and died not long after of a broken heart. Almost immediately after the
news of his decease reached this country, and was verified, the report
spread in Twenty-sixth Street that No.---was haunted. Legal measures
had dispossessed the widow of its former owner, and it was inhabited
merely by a care taker and his wife, placed there by the house agent
into whose hands it had passed for purposes of renting or sale. These
people declared that they were troubled with unnatural noises. Doors
were opened without any visible agency. The remnants of furniture
scattered through the various rooms were, during the night, piled one
upon the other by unknown hands. Invisible feet passed up and down the
stairs in broad daylight, accompanied by the rustle of unseen silk
dresses, and the gliding of viewless hands along the massive balusters.
The care taker and his wife declared that they would live there no
longer. The house agent laughed, dismissed them, and put others in
their place. The noises and supernatural manifestations continued. The
neighborhood caught up the story, and the house remained untenanted for
three years. Several persons negotiated for it; but somehow, always
before the bargain was closed, they heard the unpleasant rumors, and
declined to treat any further.
It was in this state of things that my landlady--who at that time
kept a boarding-house in Bleecker Street, and who wished to move
farther up town--conceived the bold idea of renting No.---Twenty-sixth
Street. Happening to have in her house rather a plucky and
philosophical set of boarders, she laid down her scheme before us,
stating candidly everything she had heard respecting the ghostly
qualities of the establishment to which she wished to remove us. With
the exception of two timid persons,--a sea captain and a returned
Californian, who immediately gave notice that they would leave,--all of
Mrs. Moffat's guests declared that they would accompany her in her
chivalric incursion into the abode of spirits.
Our removal was effected in the month of May, and we were all
charmed with our new residence. The portion of Twenty-sixth Street
where our house is situated--between Seventh and Eighth Avenues--is one
of the pleasantest localities in New York. The gardens back of the
houses, running down nearly to the Hudson, form, in the summer time, a
perfect avenue of verdure. The air is pure and invigorating, sweeping,
as it does, straight across the river from the Weehawken heights, and
even the ragged garden which surrounded the house on two sides,
although displaying on washing days rather too much clothesline, still
gave us a piece of greensward to look at, and a cool retreat in the
summer evenings, where we smoked our cigars in the dusk, and watched
the fireflies flashing their dark-lanterns in the long grass.
Of course we had no sooner established ourselves at No.---than we
began to expect the ghosts. We absolutely awaited their advent with
eagerness. Our dinner conversation was supernatural. One of the
boarders, who had purchased Mrs. Crowe's "Night Side of Nature" for his
own private delectation, was regarded as a public enemy by the entire
household for not having bought twenty copies. The man led a life of
supreme wretchedness while he was reading this volume. A system of
espionage was established, of which he was the victim. If he
incautiously laid the book down for an instant and left the room, it
was immediately seized and read aloud in secret places to a select few.
I found myself a person of immense importance, it having leaked out
that I was tolerably well versed in the history of supernaturalism, and
had once written a story, entitled "The Pot of Tulips," for Harper's
Monthly, the foundation of which was a ghost. If a table or a wainscot
panel happened to warp when we were assembled in the large
drawing-room, there was an instant silence, and every one was prepared
for an immediate clanking of chains and a spectral form.
After a month of psychological excitement, it was with the utmost
dissatisfaction that we were forced to acknowledge that nothing in the
remotest degree approaching the supernatural had manifested itself.
Once the black butler asseverated that his candle had been blown out by
some invisible agency while he was undressing himself for the night;
but as I had more than once discovered this colored gentleman in a
condition when one candle must have appeared to him like two, I thought
it possible that, by going a step farther in his potations, he might
have reversed his phenomenon, and seen no candle at all where he ought
to have beheld one.
Things were in this state when an incident took place so awful and
inexplicable in its character that my reason fairly reels at the bare
memory of the occurrence. It was the tenth of July. After dinner was
over I repaired with my friend, Dr. Hammond, to the garden to smoke my
evening pipe. The Doctor and myself found ourselves in an unusually
metaphysical mood. We lit our large meerschaums, filled with fine
Turkish tobacco; we paced to and fro, conversing. A strange perversity
dominated the currents of our thought. They would not flow through the
sun-lit channels into which we strove to divert them. For some
unaccountable reason they constantly diverged into dark and lonesome
beds, where a continual gloom brooded. It was in vain that, after our
old fashion, we flung ourselves on the shores of the East, and talked
of its gay bazaars, of the splendors of the time of Haroun, of harems
and golden palaces. Black afreets continually arose from the depths of
our talk, and expanded, like the one the fisherman released from the
copper vessel, until they blotted everything bright from our vision.
Insensibly, we yielded to the occult force that swayed us, and indulged
in gloomy speculation. We had talked some time upon the proneness of
the human mind to mysticism, and the almost universal love of the
Terrible, when Hammond suddenly said to me, "What do you consider to be
the greatest element of Terror?"
The question, I own, puzzled me. That many things were terrible, I
knew. Stumbling over a corpse in the dark; beholding, as I once did, a
woman floating down a deep and rapid river, with wildly lifted arms,
and awful, upturned face, uttering, as she sank, shrieks that rent
one's heart, while we, the spectators, stood frozen at a window which
overhung the river at a height of sixty feet, unable to make the
slightest effort to save her, but dumbly watching her last supreme
agony and her disappearance. A shattered wreck, with no life visible,
encountered floating listlessly on the ocean, is a terrible object, for
it suggests a huge terror, the proportions of which are veiled. But it
now struck me for the first time that there must be one great and
ruling embodiment of fear, a King of Terrors to which all others must
succumb. What might it be? To what train of circumstances would it owe
"I confess, Hammond," I replied to my friend, "I never considered
the subject before. That there must be one Something more terrible than
any other thing, I feel. I cannot attempt, however, even the most vague
"I am somewhat like you, Harry," he answered. "I feel my capacity to
experience a terror greater than anything yet conceived by the human
mind,--something combining in fearful and unnatural amalgamation
hitherto supposed incompatible elements. The calling of the voices in
Brockden Brown's novel of 'Wieland' is awful; so is the picture of the
Dweller of the Threshold, in Bulwer's 'Zanoni'; but," he added, shaking
his head gloomily, "there is something more horrible still than
"Look here, Hammond," I rejoined, "let us drop this kind of talk,
for Heaven's sake!"
"I don't know what's the matter with me to-night," he replied, "but
my brain is running upon all sorts of weird and awful thoughts. I feel
as if I could write a story like Hoffman to night, if I were only
master of a literary style."
"Well, if we are going to be Hoffmanesque in our talk, I'm off to
bed. How sultry it is! Good night, Hammond."
"Good night, Harry. Pleasant dreams to you."
"To you, gloomy wretch, afreets, ghouls, and enchanters."
We parted, and each sought his respective chamber. I undressed
quickly and got into bed, taking with me, according to my usual custom,
a book, over which I generally read myself to sleep. I opened the
volume as soon as I had laid my head upon the pillow, and instantly
flung it to the other side of the room. It was Goudon's "History of
Monsters"--a curious French work, which I had lately imported from
Paris, but which, in the state of mind I had then reached, was anything
but an agreeable companion. I resolved to go to sleep at once; so,
turning down my gas until nothing but a little blue point of light
glimmered on the top of the tube, I composed myself to rest.
The room was in total darkness. The atom of gas that still remained
lighted did not illuminate a distance of three inches round the burner.
I desperately drew my arm across my eyes, as if to shut out even the
darkness, and tried to think of nothing. It was in vain. The confounded
themes touched on by Hammond in the garden kept obtruding themselves on
my brain. I battled against them. I erected ramparts of would-be
blankness of intellect to keep them out. They still crowded upon me.
While I was lying still as a corpse, hoping that by a perfect physical
inaction I should hasten mental repose, an awful incident occurred. A
Something dropped, as it seemed, from the ceiling, plumb upon my chest,
and the next instant I felt two bony hands encircling my throat,
endeavoring to choke me.
I am no coward, and am possessed of considerable physical strength.
The suddenness of the attack, instead of stunning me, strung every
nerve to its highest tension. My body acted from instinct, before my
brain had time to realize the terrors of my position. In an instant I
wound two muscular arms around the creature, and squeezed it, with all
the strength of despair, against my chest. In a few seconds the bony
hands that had fastened on my throat loosened their hold, and I was
free to breathe once more. Then commenced a struggle of awful
intensity. Immersed in the most profound darkness, totally ignorant of
the nature of the Thing by which I was so suddenly attacked, finding my
grasp slipping every moment, by reason, it seemed to me, of the entire
nakedness of my assailant, bitten with sharp teeth in the shoulder,
neck, and chest, having every moment to protect my throat against a
pair of sinewy, agile hands, which my utmost efforts could not
confine--these were a combination of circumstances to combat which
required all the strength and skill and courage that I possessed.
At last, after a silent, deadly, exhausting struggle, I got my
assailant under by a series of incredible efforts of strength. Once
pinned, with my knee on what I made out to be its chest, I knew that I
was victor. I rested for a moment to breathe. I heard the creature
beneath me panting in the darkness, and felt the violent throbbing of a
heart. It was apparently as exhausted as I was; that was one comfort.
At this moment I remembered that I usually placed under my pillow,
before going to bed, a large yellow silk pocket handkerchief, for use
during the night. I felt for it instantly; it was there. In a few
seconds more I had, after a fashion, pinioned the creature's arms.
I now felt tolerably secure. There was nothing more to be done but
to turn on the gas, and, having first seen what my midnight assailant
was like, arouse the household. I will confess to being actuated by a
certain pride in not giving the alarm before; I wished to make the
capture alone and unaided.
Never losing my hold for an instant, I slipped from the bed to the
floor, dragging my captive with me. I had but a few steps to make to
reach the gas-burner; these I made with the greatest caution, holding
the creature in a grip like a vice. At last I got within arm's-length
of the tiny speck of blue light which told me where the gas-burner lay.
Quick as lightning I released my grasp with one hand and let on the
full flood of light. Then I turned to look at my captive.
I cannot even attempt to give any definition of my sensations the
instant after I turned on the gas. I suppose I must have shrieked with
terror, for in less than a minute afterward my room was crowded with
the inmates of the house. I shudder now as I think of that awful
moment. I saw nothing! Yes; I had one arm firmly clasped round a
breathing, panting, corporeal shape, my other hand gripped with all its
strength a throat as warm, and apparently fleshly, as my own; and yet,
with this living substance in my grasp, with its body pressed against
my own, and all in the bright glare of a large jet of gas, I absolutely
beheld nothing! Not even an outline,--a vapor!
I do not, even at this hour, realize the situation in which I found
myself. I cannot recall the astounding incident thoroughly. Imagination
in vain tries to compass the awful paradox.
It breathed. I felt its warm breath upon my cheek. It struggled
fiercely. It had hands. They clutched me. Its skin was smooth, like my
own. There it lay, pressed close up against me, solid as stone,--and
yet utterly invisible!
I wonder that I did not faint or go mad on the instant. Some
wonderful instinct must have sustained me; for, absolutely, in place of
loosening my hold on the terrible Enigma, I seemed to gain an
additional strength in my moment of horror, and tightened my grasp with
such wonderful force that I felt the creature shivering with agony.
Just then Hammond entered my room at the head of the household. As
soon as he beheld my face--which, I suppose, must have been an awful
sight to look at--he hastened forward, crying, "Great heaven, Harry!
what has happened?"
"Hammond! Hammond!" I cried, "come here. Oh! this is awful! I have
been attacked in bed by something or other, which I have hold of; but I
can't see it--I can't see it!"
Hammond, doubtless struck by the unfeigned horror expressed in my
countenance, made one or two steps forward with an anxious yet puzzled
expression. A very audible titter burst from the remainder of my
visitors. This suppressed laughter made me furious. To laugh at a human
being in my position! It was the worst species of cruelty. Now, I can
understand why the appearance of a man struggling violently, as it
would seem, with an airy nothing, and calling for assistance against a
vision, should have appeared ludicrous. Then, so great was my rage
against the mocking crowd that had I the power I would have stricken
them dead where they stood.
"Hammond! Hammond!" I cried again, despairingly, "for God's sake
come to me. I can hold the--the Thing but a short while longer. It is
overpowering me. Help me! Help me!"
"Harry," whispered Hammond, approaching me, "you have been smoking
"I swear to you, Hammond, that this is no vision," I answered, in
the same low tone. "Don't you see how it shakes my whole frame with its
struggles? If you don't believe me, convince yourself. Feel it,--touch
Hammond advanced and laid his hand on the spot I indicated. A wild
cry of horror burst from him. He had felt it!
In a moment he had discovered somewhere in my room a long piece of
cord, and was the next instant winding it and knotting it about the
body of the unseen being that I clasped in my arms.
"Harry," he said, in a hoarse, agitated voice, for, though he
preserved his presence of mind, he was deeply moved, "Harry, it's all
safe now. You may let go, old fellow, if you're tired. The Thing can't
I was utterly exhausted, and I gladly loosed my hold.
Hammond stood holding the ends of the cord that bound the Invisible,
twisted round his hand, while before him, self-supporting as it were,
he beheld a rope laced and interlaced, and stretching tightly round a
vacant space. I never saw a man look so thoroughly stricken with awe.
Nevertheless his face expressed all the courage and determination which
I knew him to possess. His lips, although white, were set firmly, and
one could perceive at a glance that, although stricken with fear, he
was not daunted.
The confusion that ensued among the guests of the house who were
witnesses of this extraordinary scene between Hammond and myself,--who
beheld the pantomime of binding this struggling Something,--who beheld
me almost sinking from physical exhaustion when my task of jailer was
over--the confusion and terror that took possession of the bystanders,
when they saw all this, was beyond description. The weaker ones fled
from the apartment. The few who remained clustered near the door, and
could not be induced to approach Hammond and his Charge. Still
incredulity broke out through their terror. They had not the courage to
satisfy themselves, and yet they doubted. It was in vain that I begged
of some of the men to come near and convince themselves by touch of the
existence in that room of a living being which was invisible. They were
incredulous, but did not dare to undeceive themselves. How could a
solid, living, breathing body be invisible, they asked. My reply was
this. I gave a sign to Hammond, and both of us--conquering our fearful
repugnance to touch the invisible creature--lifted it from the ground,
manacled as it was, and took it to my bed. Its weight was about that of
a boy of fourteen.
"Now, my friends," I said, as Hammond and myself held the creature
suspended over the bed, "I can give you self-evident proof that here is
a solid, ponderable body which, nevertheless, you cannot see. Be good
enough to watch the surface of the bed attentively."
I was astonished at my own courage in treating this strange event so
calmly; but I had recovered from my first terror, and felt a sort of
scientific pride in the affair which dominated every other feeling.
The eyes of the bystanders were immediately fixed on my bed. At a
given signal Hammond and I let the creature fall. There was the dull
sound of a heavy body alighting on a soft mass. The timbers of the bed
creaked. A deep impression marked itself distinctly on the pillow, and
on the bed itself. The crowd who witnessed this gave a sort of low,
universal cry, and rushed from the room. Hammond and I were left alone
with our Mystery.
We remained silent for some time, listening to the low, irregular
breathing of the creature on the bed, and watching the rustle of the
bedclothes as it impotently struggled to free itself from confinement.
Then Hammond spoke.
"Harry, this is awful."
"But not unaccountable."
"Not unaccountable! What do you mean? Such a thing has never
occurred since the birth of the world. I know not what to think,
Hammond. God grant that I am not mad, and that this is not an insane
"Let us reason a little, Harry. Here is a solid body which we touch,
but which we cannot see. The fact is so unusual that it strikes us with
terror. Is there no parallel, though, for such a phenomenon? Take a
piece of pure glass. It is tangible and transparent. A certain chemical
coarseness is all that prevents its being so entirely transparent as to
be totally invisible. It is not theoretically impossible, mind you, to
make a glass which shall not reflect a single ray of light--a glass so
pure and homogeneous in its atoms that the rays from the sun shall pass
through it as they do through the air, refracted but not reflected. We
do not see the air, and yet we feel it."
"That's all very well, Hammond, but these are inanimate substances.
Glass does not breathe, air does not breathe. This thing has a heart
that palpitates,--a will that moves it,--lungs that play, and inspire
"You forget the strange phenomena of which we have so often heard of
late," answered the Doctor, gravely. "At the meetings called 'spirit
circles,' invisible hands have been thrust into the hands of those
persons round the table--warm, fleshly hands that seemed to pulsate
with mortal life."
"What? Do you think, then, that this thing is--"
"I don't know what it is," was the solemn reply; "but please the
gods I will, with your assistance, thoroughly investigate it."
We watched together, smoking many pipes, all night long, by the
bedside of the unearthly being that tossed and panted until it was
apparently wearied out. Then we learned by the low, regular breathing
that it slept.
The next morning the house was all astir. The boarders congregated
on the landing outside my room, and Hammond and myself were lions. We
had to answer a thousand questions as to the state of our extraordinary
prisoner, for as yet not one person in the house except ourselves could
be induced to set foot in the apartment.
The creature was awake. This was evidenced by the convulsive manner
in which the bedclothes were moved in its efforts to escape. There was
something truly terrible in beholding, as it were, those second-hand
indications of the terrible writhings and agonized struggles for
liberty which themselves were invisible.
Hammond and myself had racked our brains during the long night to
discover some means by which we might realize the shape and general
appearance of the Enigma. As well as we could make out by passing our
hands over the creature's form, its outlines and lineaments were human.
There was a mouth; a round, smooth head without hair; a nose, which,
however, was little elevated above the cheeks; and its hands and feet
felt like those of a boy. At first we thought of placing the being on a
smooth surface and tracing its outline with chalk, as shoemakers trace
the outline of the foot. This plan was given up as being of no value.
Such an outline would give not the slightest idea of its
A happy thought struck me. We would take a cast of it in plaster of
Paris. This would give us the solid figure, and satisfy all our wishes.
But how to do it? The movements of the creature would disturb the
setting of the plastic covering, and distort the mold. Another thought.
Why not give it chloroform? It had respiratory organs--that was evident
by its breathing. Once reduced to a state of insensibility, we could do
with it what we would. Doctor X---was sent for; and after the worthy
physician had recovered from the first shock of amazement, he proceeded
to administer the chloroform. In three minutes afterward we were
enabled to remove the fetters from the creature's body, and a
well-known modeler of this city was busily engaged in covering the
invisible form with the moist clay. In five minutes more we had a mold,
and before evening a rough fac simile of the mystery. It was shaped
like a man,--distorted, uncouth, and horrible, but still a man. It was
small, not over four feet and some inches in height, and its limbs
revealed a muscular development that was unparalleled. Its face
surpassed in hideousness anything I had ever seen. Gustave Doré,
or Callot, or Tony Johannot, never conceived anything so horrible.
There is a face in one of the latter's illustrations to "Un Voyage
où il vous plaira," which somewhat approaches the countenance of
this creature, but does not equal it. It was the physiognomy of what I
should have fancied a ghoul to be. It looked as if it was capable of
feeding on human flesh.
Having satisfied our curiosity, and bound every one in the house to
secrecy, it became a question what was to be done with our Enigma. It
was impossible that we should keep such a horror in our house; it was
equally impossible that such an awful being should be let loose upon
the world. I confess that I would have gladly voted for the creature's
destruction. But who would shoulder the responsibility? Who would
undertake the execution of this horrible semblance of a human being?
Day after day this question was deliberated gravely. The boarders all
left the house. Mrs. Moffat was in despair, and threatened Hammond and
myself with all sorts of legal penalties if we did not remove the
Horror. Our answer was, "We will go if you like, but we decline taking
this creature with us. Remove it yourself if you please. It appeared in
your house. On you the responsibility rests." To this there was, of
course, no answer. Mrs. Moffat could not obtain for love or money a
person who would even approach the Mystery.
The most singular part of the transaction was that we were entirely
ignorant of what the creature habitually fed on. Everything in the way
of nutriment that we could think of was placed before it, but was never
touched. It was awful to stand by, day after day, and see the clothes
toss, and hear the hard breathing, and know that it was starving.
Ten, twelve days, a fortnight passed, and it still lived. The
pulsations of the heart, however, were daily growing fainter, and had
now nearly ceased altogether. It was evident that the creature was
dying for want of sustenance. While this terrible life struggle was
going on, I felt miserable. I could not sleep of nights. Horrible as
the creature was, it was pitiful to think of the pangs it was
At last it died. Hammond and I found it cold and stiff one morning
in the bed. The heart had ceased to beat, the lungs to inspire. We
hastened to bury it in the garden. It was a strange funeral, the
dropping of that viewless corpse into the damp hole. The cast of its
form I gave to Dr. X--, who keeps it in his museum in Tenth Street.
As I am on the eve of a long journey from which I may not return, I
have drawn up this narrative of an event the most singular that has
ever come to my knowledge.
NOTE.--It was rumored that the proprietors of a well-known museum in
this city had made arrangements with Dr. X---to exhibit to the public
the singular cast which Mr. Escott deposited with him. So extraordinary
a history cannot fail to attract universal attention.