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THE PHANTOM RICKSHAW AND OTHER GHOST STORIES (Rudyard Kipling) online

The Phantom Rickshaw

MY OWN TRUE GHOST STORY

Between the pauses of the wind I heard the game go forward--stroke after stroke. I tried to believe that I could not hear voices; but that attempt was a failure.

Do you know what fear is? Not ordinary fear of insult, injury or death, but abject, quivering dread of something that you cannot see--fear that dries the inside of the mouth and half of the throat--fear that makes you sweat on the palms of the hands, and gulp in order to keep the uvula at work? This is a fine Fear--a great cowardice, and must be felt to be appreciated. The very improbability of billiards in a dÔk-bungalow proved the reality of the thing. No man--drunk or sober--could imagine a game at billiards, or invent the spitting crack of a "screw-cannon."

A severe course of dÔk-bungalows has this disadvantage--it breeds infinite credulity. If a man said to a confirmed dÔk-bungalow-haunter:--"There is a corpse in the next room, and there's a mad girl in the next but one, and the woman and man on that camel have just eloped from a place sixty miles away," the hearer would not disbelieve because he would know that nothing is too wild, grotesque, or horrible to happen in a dÔk-bungalow.

This credulity, unfortunately, extends to ghosts. A rational person fresh from his own house would have turned on his side and slept. I did not. So surely as I was given up as a bad carcass by the scores of things in the bed because the bulk of my blood was in my heart, so surely did I hear every stroke of a long game at billiards played in the echoing room behind the iron-barred door. My dominant fear was that the players might want a marker. It was an absurd fear; because creatures who could play in the dark would be above such superfluities. I only know that that was my terror; and it was real.

After a long, long while the game stopped, and the door banged. I slept because I was dead tired. Otherwise I should have preferred to have kept awake. Not for everything in Asia would I have dropped the door-bar and peered into the dark of the next room.

When the morning came, I considered that I had done well and wisely, and inquired for the means of departure.

"By the way, _khansamah_," I said, "what were those three doolies doing in my compound in the night?"

"There were no doolies," said the _khansamah_.

I went into the next room and the daylight streamed through the open door. I was immensely brave. I would, at that hour, have played Black Pool with the owner of the big Black Pool down below.

"Has this place always been a dÔk-bungalow?" I asked.

"No," said the _khansamah_. "Ten or twenty years ago, I have forgotten how long, it was a billiard room."

"A how much?"

"A billiard room for the Sahibs who built the Railway. I was _khansamah_ then in the big house where all the Railway-Sahibs lived, and I used to come across with brandy-_shrab_. These three rooms were all one, and they held a big table on which the Sahibs played every evening. But the Sahibs are all dead now, and the Railway runs, you say, nearly to Kabul."

"Do you remember anything about the Sahibs?"

"It is long ago, but I remember that one Sahib, a fat man and always angry, was playing here one night, and he said to me:--'Mangal Khan, brandy-_pani do_,' and I filled the glass, and he bent over the table to strike, and his head fell lower and lower till it hit the table, and his spectacles came off, and when we--the Sahibs and I myself--ran to lift him. He was dead. I helped to carry him out. Aha, he was a strong Sahib! But he is dead and I, old Mangal Khan, am still living, by your favor."

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