What Was It? – Ghost Story (1940's)

(Before beginning this story each guest has been asked to select from a magazine the name of some advertised product. When the story-teller asks, “What was it?”, he points in turn to various guests,’ and they reply with the name they have selected.)

It was a dark, dark night, and the young man walking along the lonely road could hardly see his hand in front of his face. The way was rough, and he stumbled and fell at times. Off in the west there were occasional flashes of lightning, and after a few seconds would come threatening mutters of thunder. Then the wind began to rise, and he could hear its low moan as it sifted through the pine trees along the roadside, and its shrieking wail as it rushed past the telephone poles. Suddenly it started to rain; a few swift drops at first, then a lull; then the storm broke furiously.

By a flash of lightning, the young man saw to his left, at the end of a short lane, a house, and he began running toward it, hoping to find shelter. He could see, by the lightning, that it was a large, gloomy building made of stone. Not a light appeared in any window. The young man stumbled up the stone steps and lifted the great brass knocker in his hand, intending to give a loud knock. But the knocker slid from his hand as the door slowly swung open, creaking on rusty hinges. There stood a bent and twisted man with a candle in his hand.

“Come in,” he said, and laughed horribly. “We have been expecting you.” The young man stepped in, and the door was closed, bolted and barred.

“We have waited for you a long time. Follow me.”

The young man decided that he was being mistaken for some expected guest but resolved to keep up the pretense temporarily. Up a long narrow stairway they crept, and their shadows behind them swayed and wavered on the floor. The hunchback stopped before a door, which he pushed open. He stepped in and placed the candle on the table, and then pointed to the wall.

“Look.”

Stepping forward a pace or two, the young man strained his eyes, but he could see nothing. From the doorway there came a low, insane laugh, and as the young man turned, the door slammed and the key turned in the lock. He tried with all his might to force open the door, but it was impossible. Sitting down in a chair he pondered. Suddenly he saw the heavy window curtains part, with a hand holding a dagger slowly appearing. In terror he turned to the opposite side of the room only to see a hand thrust from the door of the clothes closet, painting a revolver at his heart.

There was a slithering sound from above, and looking toward the ceiling he saw a long green snake uncurling itself from around the chandelier. A strange clicking noise was heard, and the young man was struck motionless with fear to see hundreds of red-hot iron rods, thrust through holes in the opposite wall, slowly moving forward. There seemed to be no way of escape.

Then suddenly his eyes came to rest on a familiar object on the mantel. With a cry of joy he ran forward and grasped it.

WHAT WAS IT?