Staley Flaming’s Hallucination by Ambrose Bierce


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STALEY FLEMING’S HALLUCINATION
by Ambrose Bierce

OF two men who were talking one was a physician.
‘I sent for you, Doctor,’ said the other, ‘but I don’t think you can
do me any good. Maybe you can recommend a specialist in psychopathy. I
fancy I’m a bit loony.’
‘You look all right,’ the physician said.
‘You shall judge–I have hallucinations. I wake every night and see
in my room, intently watching me, a big black Newfoundland dog with a
white forefoot.’
‘You say you wake; are you sure about that? “Hallucinations” are
sometimes only dreams.’
‘Oh, I wake all right. Sometimes I lie still a long time, looking at
the dog as earnestly as the dog looks at me–I always leave the light
going. When I can’t endure it any longer I sit up in bed–and nothing is
there!
”M, ‘m–what is the beast’s expression?’
‘It seems to me sinister. Of course I know that, except in art, an
animal’s face in repose has always the same expression. But this is not
a real animal. Newfoundland dogs are pretty mild looking, you know;
what’s the matter with this one?”
‘Really, my diagnosis would have no value: I am not going to treat
the dog.’
The physician laughed at his own pleasantry, but narrowly watched
his patient from the corner of his eye. Presently he said: ‘Fleming,
your description of the beast fits the dog of the late Atwell Barton.’
Fleming half rose from his chair, sat again and made a visible
attempt at indifference. ‘I remember Barton,’ he said; ‘I believe he
was–it was re- ported that–wasn’t there something suspicious in his
death?’
Looking squarely now into the eyes of his patient, the physician
said: ‘Three years ago the body of your old enemy, Atwell Barton, was
found in the woods near his house and yours. He had been stabbed to
death. There have been no arrests; there was no clue. Some of us had
“theories.” I had one. Have you?”
‘I? Why, bless your soul, what could I know about it? You remember
that I left for Europe almost immediately afterward–a considerable time
after- ward. In the few weeks since my return you could not expect me to
construct a “theory.” In fact, I have not given the matter a thought.
What about his dog?”
‘It was first to find the body. It died of starva- tion on his
grave.’
We do not know the inexorable law underlying coincidences. Staley
Fleming did not, or he would perhaps not have sprung to his feet as the
night wind brought in through the open window the long wailing howl of a
distant dog. He strode several times across the room in the steadfast
gaze of the physician; then, abruptly confronting him, almost shouted:
‘What has all this to do with my trouble, Dr. Halderman? You forget why
you were sent for.’ Rising, the physician laid his hand upon his pa-
tient’s arm and said, gently: ‘Pardon me. I cannot diagnose your
disorder offhand–to-morrow, per- haps. Please go to bed, leaving your
door unlocked; I will pass the night here with your books. Can you call
me without rising?”
‘Yes, there is an electric bell.’
‘Good. If anything disturbs you push the button without sitting up.
Good night.’
Comfortably installed in an arm-chair the man of medicine stared
into the glowing coals and thought deeply and long, but apparently to
little purpose, for he frequently rose and opening a door leading to the
staircase, listened intently; then resumed his seat. Presently, however,
he fell asleep, and when he woke it was past midnight. He stirred the
failing fire, lifted a book from the table at his side and looked at the
title. It was Denneker’s Meditations. He opened it at random and began
to read:
‘Forasmuch as it is ordained of God that all flesh hath spirit and
thereby taketh on spiritual powers, so, also, the spirit hath powers of
the flesh, even when it is gone out of the flesh and liveth as a thing
apart, as many a violence performed by wraith and lemure sheweth. And
there be who say that man is not single in this, but the beasts have the
like evil inducement, and–‘
The reading was interrupted by a shaking of the house, as by the
fall of a heavy object. The reader flung down the book, rushed from the
room and mounted the stairs to Fleming’s bed-chamber. He tried the door,
but contrary to his instructions it was locked. He set his shoulder
against it with such force that it gave way. On the floor near the
disor- dered bed, in his night-clothes, lay Fleming, gasping away his
life.
The physician raised the dying man’s head from the floor and
observed a wound in the throat. ‘I should have thought of this,’ he
said, believing it suicide.
When the man was dead an examination disclosed the unmistakable
marks of an animal’s fangs deeply sunken into the jugular vein.
But there was no animal.

 

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