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Showing posts from November, 2014

Short Story #333: My Favorite Murder by Ambrose Bierce

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Title:  My Favorite MurderAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe narrator explains that he has been in trial for seven years for the murder of his mother.  His lawyer explains that if the court understood how brutally he had killed his uncle that the death of his mother would seem anything but the kindest of acts.  The judge takes the bait and asks for the narrator to explain.  The narrator begins with his childhood and how they were converted by a preacher from stealing on people on the road to setting up a dance hall.  The father gives the business to his brother and some years later, the narrator is held up by the uncle with other passengers.  The narrator plays the part but later goes to his uncle to get his money back.  The uncle denies everything and in escalating talks, decides to open up a dance hall nearby to ruin the narrator's father's business.  The narrator decides the uncle must die and joins the Knights of Murder.  He visits the uncle's house one day and finds his…

Short Story #332: The Little Story by Ambrose Bierce

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Title:  The Little StoryAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe story is presented as a very short play (3 pages) between a Supernumerary Editor and a Probationary Contributor.  When the contributor enters, he asks for the editor and the supernumerary editor says he's dead, which the contributor is grateful for and begins to tell the man his "little story."  The contributor begins to tell his story about a girl sitting outside in the rain wishing she could be a variety of delicious food from inside the bake-shop as a means of passing the time.  The editor remarks that he has heard it before and the contributor explains that he has because the story has never been rejected where he's looked to publish it but that the editor should heed to the end as it is largely improved upon.  The clock in the story strikes midnight and it is a new year.  The editor interrupts again to note the different details and the contributor explains this is because he has read Byron and looks to im…

Short Story #331: Mr. Swiddler's Flip-Flap by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: Mr. Swiddler's Flip-FlapAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe narrator reports that his friend, Jerome is to be executed soon and that he has tried everything in his power to get him pardoned.  At a late hour, he finally secures a pardon but must get to the town where Jerome is being executed.  Unfortunately, every attempt to secure transportation and communication is interfered with.  The townsfolk know what he is up to but would rather see Jerome killed.  Thus, the telegraph office is closed, there are no more trains to the town, and no horses available.  Finally, he sets to walk to the town in hopes of getting there in time.  As he sets off, That Jim Peasely begins to follow.  Around the half-way point, Jim asks the narrator about his background in the circus and bets the narrator cannot do somersaults like he used to.  The narrator answers his challenge and as he does, That Jim knocks into him as he's somersaulting and then continues on to get ahead of the narrator.  The…

Short Story #330: A Providential Intimation by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: A Providential IntimationAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryJarvis awakes in an angry mood.  He stumbles through his morning and finds himself at a pool table.  He makes a great shot and then decides to try it again, when Mr. Stenner bets him that he cannot repeat it.  The result is that Mr. Stenner ends up with Jarvis's coat.  In the pockets, he finds a telegraph instructing him to buy Sally Meker.  Upon reflection, he realizes it is the name of a horse and that this must mean the race is fixed.  He gathers up as much money as he can and contacts the only man he knows in San Francisco to buy Sally Meker.  When he arrives, he learns that the horse was injured but also learns that the horse was named after a mine and the mine just struck it rich.  The man is devastated to think he has lost his money but only to find out that the man, a parson, to whom he had sent instructions had actually bought the stock for the mine. 

ReflectionThe story was a bit bland.  It seems more like an ex…

Blog post on On Campus: Degrees of Angst Part 1

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The following is part one of a two part guest blog post that I wrote which was published on WGBH's On Campus blog.  It's in response to the most recent report, Degrees of Urgency from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education.


"In late October, the Massachusetts’ Department of Higher Education released its “Degrees of Urgency” Vision Project report. It addresses challenges for state colleges and universities as demographic shifts in the next decade will result in smaller student enrollments. In New England, colleges can anticipate a 9 percent or more population loss.   

The report arrives on the heels of a dramatic shift in Massachusetts funding for higher education.  The new funding formula focuses significantly on completion rates of students who start full time and complete a program within the expected time. The formula seems likely to exasperate existing problems since state institution populations have continued to grow significantly since 2000, despite over 30…

Short Story #329: The Failure of Hope and Wandel by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: The Failure of Hope and WandelAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe story is a series of letters between two men who run a business together, Hope and Wandel.  Hope is writing from Chicago where he was unable to send items to Wandel to sell in New Orleans because Lake Michigan is frozen solid.  However, this gives Hope an idea about starting an ice business to ship to New Orleans since ice is so rare.  He includes a piece of ice in his letter to Wandel, which only melts and smudges the letter.  The two write back and forth and Hope promises him a giant warehouse of ice that he can deliver to New Orleans and make a massive profit.  However, as spring comes and Hope attempts to send the ice, disaster strikes and it melts.  Hope tells Wandel that he should beat it from the creditors.  

ReflectionIt's a short but pithy story with the quick back and forth between the two partners.  It's amusing but not much to consider beyond that. 

Short Story #329 out of 365 Rating: 2 (out of 5 st…

Short Story #328: The Baptism of Dobsho by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: The Baptism of DobshoAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe narrator explains that in youth, we often play jokes that we find tasteless in later years.  He is no less guilty.  He shares about his younger days in the town of Harding when a revival of "Rampageanism" was rampant and his friend Thomas Dobsho had been swept up in the excitement.  Deciding that he couldn't stand to see his friend fall for it, the narrator decides to take matters into his own hands.  First, he goes to the reverend leading the revival.  He explains that he isn't there to convince him not to baptize Dobsho but to make sure he covers him in water because Dobsho might need some extra convincing unless he slides back into wicked ways.  The reverend agrees to do so.  On the day of the baptism, the narrator helps to prepare Dobsho and does everything he can to distract him while getting him ready.  They arrive at the event early and are first in line to be baptized.  When the reverend starts, he …

Short Story #327: The Widower Turmore by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: The Widower TurmoreAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe narrator, Joram Turmore, explains that how he became a widower has never been clear and that his late-wife may relate the tale, no one is likely to believe her.  Joram explains that he married his wife in part because she was rich and he comes from famous family line that insists that labor is wrong.  However, as a Turmore, he is at a lost on how to kill his wife in a way that is proper and distinct for his lineage.  In contemplating his options, he goes into the basement to his family archives and artifacts to see what he can find to help him in his quest.  Afterward, he decided that he would wall up his wife alive in the basement.  She doesn't resist this and only asks that her limbs are free while being walled up.  The next day, he reported what had happened to the Court of Successions and Inheritances and even showed them.  They provided the death certificate and he was free to inherit.  However, over the ensuing month…

Short Story #326: Curried Cow by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: Curried CowAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe narrator introduces the reader to his Aunt Patience who is a widow living on a farm in Michigan with her favorite cow.  The cow is entirely disagreeable to everyone and she has not been capable of having anyone help her with it.  She continues to go through farm-hands who leave on account of the cow and how nasty it can be to everyone.  However, after her husband's departure, she starts to look for a new husband.  This triggers a marrying frenzy throughout the state to avoid her, but one man, the Reverend Berosus Huggins is available and Patience secures him as a husband.  After they are married, Patience insists that he go and take care of the cow. However, he reports to know nothing of the cow but promises to go and take care of her.  Huggins goes out to look at the cow but does not directly approach her.  He studies her at length before setting to action.  He takes his clothing and sets them upon a cast-iron pump to make it loo…

Short Story #325: The City of Gone Away by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: The City of Gone AwayAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe narrator awakes one day to realize that his honest upbringing has been in folly and that lying and cheating is the best way to live.  He leaves his home and goes to a City of Gone Away to set up as a physician.  He becomes highly successful as someone family members hire in order to provide medicine for a person to die so the family members can gain inheritance or some other fortune.  All of this creates a good deal of fortune in the city for the narrator and others who benefit.  This also contributed to the city's growth and with that came a desire to take down the cemetery, which the narrator did not want.  Despite his attempts to keep the cemetery and all its corpses in place, the day comes when they plan to unbury the dead.  At this point, the narrator flees the city but hears from his father about what happened afterward.  As they begin digging, they are shocked to find no bodies in any of the graves.  The narrator …

Short Story #324: A Bottomless Grave by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: A Bottomless GraveAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe narrator begins by introducing himself as John Brenwalter and explains that his father was a drunk and inventor.  However, his father was not ruthless enough in his inventions to be entirely successful and so whatever money his patents earned were often used up in lawsuits.  One day, the mother explains to the children that the father is dead after a meal.  The mother insists she did not do it but it would be useful if John would go dispatch the Coroner so that a cause of murder cannot be deduced.  In court, John pleads not guilt on account of the Coroner being a Democrat, and he a Republican.  The Judge agrees that there was no point and lets him off.  By the time John returns to the house the father has been buried in the backyard.  When the mother applies for a death certificate and to claim the inheritance of his most latest invention which would make them rich, it falls into the hands of burreacracy and cronyism and is whi…

Short Story #323: The Major's Tale by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: The Major's TaleAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe narrator explains that in the early days of the Civil War, young men still had their sense of humor.  He provides the camp setting for a joke that he and the other soldiers set to spring for a man named Haberton who often bragged about being a ladies' man.  The men came upon a collection of fine women's clothing and enlist a young soldier, Arman who has feminine qualities to dress up as a woman to fool Haberton.  They set up a situation in which Haberton will hopefully have to engage with Arman posing as a woman.  Eventually, they get Haberton and Arman in a room together and continue to be amused by the interaction between the two.  During the interaction, a shell explodes in the room above the men and it is enough to scare Arman enough to strip away at his clothes much to Haberton's surprise.  However, he pretends as if he knew all along. ReflectionThe story felt like it was working towards something that never f…

Short Story #322: Three and One Are One by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: Three and One Are OneAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryBarr Lassiter comes from a poor Southern family and chooses to fight for the North despite this putting him at odds with his family.  While with the Federal army, they at one point return to his city of origin during a campaign.  The city has been taken by the Federal troops and so Barr decides to visit his home.  Inside his home, h finds his family members.  He tries to talk to them and explain to them but they merely ignore him and leave him.  He leaves and as he returns the next day, he encounters a friend who offers to accompany him.  As they arrive at the house, it is a burnt out shell and the friend explains that the family had died a year ago when it was bombed.  

Reflection Once Barr arrived at the house and none of his family members would talk to him, I largely assumed that he was talking to ghosts.  

Short Story #322 out of 365 Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars) Date Read: 9/15/2014 Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose B…

Short Story #321: Killed at Resaca by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: Killed at ResacaAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryThe narrator introduces Herman Brayle, whom he considers one of the best soldiers of the staff.  The narrator describes him as tall and strong and well liked by everyone.  However, he has the strange quirk of being in the thick of battle, sitting tall on his horse or standing while being exposed to gunfire.  This happens regularly, even in situations where he does not need to be in danger.  His style of brazenly risking himself is admonished to which he accepts and tells people that he hopes people will say "I told you so" should he ever come to harm by his methods.  In a later battle, Brayle once again rushes forward to bring notice to someone.  However, while he is shot at ceaselessly, his fellow soldiers spring to support him.  However, during his movement further, he did not anticipate running into a barrier that he couldn't negotiate and thus, is left trapped and shot down.  In recovering his body, they find a lett…

Short Story #320: George Thurston by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: George ThurstonAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryGeorge Thurston is a first lieutenant and aide to federal Colonel Brough, a man only briefly in command of the group that the narrator, a topographer, is part of.  Others express a dislike of him that the narrator isn't entirely sure he shares.  On one occasion, Thurston asks to go with the narrator while he scouts the territory.  As a spectator, he is without arms as they move through the woods.  Inevitably, a skirmish ensues and Thurston stands up against the attackers with arms folded, refusing to retreat.  He survives and some time later, he is wounded during another skirmish and must be at a hospital for some time.  However, the narrator learns that the incident happened as a result of Thurston being surrounded and folding his arms in the face of numerous bayonets.  Upon hearing this, another person explains to the narrator that this is Thurston's means of overcoming his fear and desire to run away.  The final incident ha…

Short Story #319: The Mocking Bird by Ambrose Bierce

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Title: The Mocking BirdAuthor: Ambrose BierceSummaryPrivate Grayrock is on look out for the Federal army.  He sits still waiting to see if anyone of the Confederacy comes his way.  But in the dark of night, he circles around the tree he was leaning against to get some perspective but loses track of which way he was originally facing.  Unfortunately, this is a problem because in one direction is his men and in the other are the enemy.  If he can't remember where he should be facing, he may accidentally shoot one of his own.  At one point, he does shoot at someone in the dark and this sets off a shooting match before the Federal and Confederate armies.  In the wake of the battle, Grayrock searches for the man he shot at and knows he hit but cannot find any sign.  The missing person haunts Grayrock and he keeps trying to discover the body.  While searching, he thinks about his twin brother and how they used to score the woods.  His mind then descends into thinking about how the famil…