Monday, October 15, 2012

Mysterious Mondays: "The Shadows on the Wall" by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

"'What is that?' he demanded in a strange voice."
(from The Literary Gothic)

Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman's short story "The Shadows on the Wall" is a dark tale of strange deaths and even stranger supernatural happenings.  Four siblings have gathered for the funeral of a fifth, one of two brothers named Edward Glynn who has died suddenly and mysteriously.  The other brother, Henry, a physician, has pronounced his death a natural one, but the three sisters, Caroline, Rebecca Ann, and Emma (now Mrs. Stephen Brigham), are not so sure.  While preparing for the funeral, the sisters carry on a stilted and fearful conversation.  It is apparent that something is on their minds, but that they cannot bring themselves to discuss it.  However, from what is left unsaid as they speak, it becomes clear that the three women suspect foul play in the death of their brother, and that they feel their other brother may be the perpetrator.

But the suspicious death of their brother Edward is not all that is on the minds of Caroline and Rebecca Ann.  As evening approaches and lamps are needed, Rebecca is asked to bring a light into the study which the women are occupying.  She is strangely reluctant, but the more forceful personalities of the other two sisters finally compel her to do so.  She is told to place the lamp in the middle of the room, and upon doing so, a bizarre supernatural phenomenon is revealed.  How the sisters cope with this event, and the reaction of their brother Henry when he discovers it, lead to a terrifying conclusion for this story.

Once again Freeman's skill as a writer paints a picture of sturdy New England women coping with harrowing situations, this time both real and supernatural, in their own unique way.  In fact, it almost seems as if the women are more willing to face the supernatural occurrence of the shadows on the wall, frightening though they are, than the real-life horror of fratricide.  While not overtly scary, an unsettling feeling of apprehension and unease permeate this tale from start to finish, and one has to wonder how the hapless sisters left behind will cope with the shades of two brothers who seem destined to spend a passive yet defiant eternity together.

"'Oh, my God,' gasped Mrs. Brigham.  'There are -- there are two shadows!'"
(from The Literary Gothic)

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