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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson


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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson

"A-w, dawn't noo, docther."

"Bother! It's for yourself, mind. Take it. There. And now unlock the door. That's it. Good night, Mrs. Flanagan."

"An' meh thuh Hawly Vurgin hape bless'n's on ye, Docther Rinton, wud a-ll thuh compliments uv thuh sehzin, for yur thuh--"

He lost the end of Mrs. Flanagan's parting benedictions in the moonlit street. He did not pause till he was at the door of the oyster-room. He paused then, to make way for a tipsy company of four, who reeled out,--the gaslight from the bar-room on the edges of their sodden, distorted faces,--giving three shouts and a yell, as they slammed the door behind them.

He pushed after a party that was just entering. They went at once for a drink to the upper end of the room, where a rowdy crew, with cigars in their mouths, and liquor in their hands, stood before the bar, in a knotty wrangle concerning some one who was killed. Where is the keeper? O, there he is, mixing hot brandy punch for two! Here, you, sir, go up quietly, and tell Mr. Rollins Dr. Renton wants to see him. The waiter came back presently to say Mr. Rollins would be right along. Twenty-five minutes past twelve. Oyster trade nearly over. Gaudy-curtained booths on the left all empty but two. Oyster-openers and waiters--three of them in all--nearly done for the night, and two of them sparring and scuffling behind a pile of oysters on the trough, with the colored print of the great prize fight between Tom Hyer and Yankee Sullivan, in a veneered frame above them on the wall. Blower up from the fire opposite the bar, and stewpans and griddles empty and idle on the bench beside it, among the unwashed bowls and dishes. Oyster trade nearly over. Bar still busy.

Here comes Rollins in his shirt-sleeves, with an apron on. Thick-set, muscular man,--frizzled head, low forehead, sharp, black eyes, flabby face, with a false, greasy smile on it now, oiling over a curious, stealthy expression of mingled surprise and inquiry, as he sees his landlord here at this unusual hour.

"Come in here, Mr. Rollins; I want to speak to you."

"Yes, sir. Jim" (to the waiter), "go and tend bar." They sat down in one of the booths, and lowered the curtain. Dr. Renton, at one side of the table within, looking at Rollins, sitting leaning on his folded arms, at the other side.

"Mr. Rollins, I am told the man who was stabbed here last night is dead. Is that so?"

"Well, he is, Dr. Renton. Died this afternoon."

"Mr. Rollins, this is a serious matter; what are you going to do about it?"

"Can't help it, sir. Who's a-goin' to touch _me_? Called in a watchman. Whole mess of 'em had cut. Who knows 'em? Nobody knows 'em. Man that was stuck never see the fellers as stuck him in all his life till then. Didn't know which one of 'em did it. Didn't know nothing. Don't now, an' never will, 'nless he meets 'em in hell. That's all. Feller's dead, an' who's a-goin' to touch _me_? Can't do it. Ca-n-'t do it."

"Mr. Rollins," said Dr. Renton, thoroughly disgusted with this man's brutal indifference, "your lease expires in three days."

"Well, it does. Hope to make a renewal with you, Dr. Renton. Trade's good here. Shouldn't mind more rent on, if you insist,--hope you won't,--if it's anything in reason. Promise sollum, I sha'n't have no more fightin' in here. Couldn't help this. Accidents _will_ happen, yo' know."

"Mr. Rollins, the case is this: if you didn't sell liquor here, you'd have no murder done in your place,--murder, sir. That man was murdered. It's your fault, and it's mine, too. I ought not to have let you the place for your business. It _is_ a cursed traffic, and you and I ought to have found it out long ago. _I_ have. I hope _you_ will. Now, I advise you, as a friend, to give up selling rum for the future; you see what it comes to,--don't you? At any rate, I will not be responsible for the outrages that are perpetrated in my building any more,--I will not have liquor sold here. I refuse to renew your lease. In three days you must move."