Staley Fleming's Hallucination by Ambrose Bierce
OF two men who were talking one was a physician.
'I sent for you, Doctor,' said the other, 'but I
don't think you can do me any good. Maybe you
can recommend a specialist in psychopathy. I fancy
I'm a bit loony.'
'You look all right,' the physician said.
'You shall judge--I have hallucinations. I wake
every night and see in my room, intently watching
me, a big black Newfoundland dog with a white
'You say you wake; are you sure about that?
"Hallucinations" are sometimes only dreams.'
'Oh, I wake all right. Sometimes I lie still a long
time, looking at the dog as earnestly as the dog
looks at me--I always leave the light going. When
I can't endure it any longer I sit up in bed--and
nothing is there!
''M, 'm--what is the beast's expression?'
'It seems to me sinister. Of course I know that,
except in art, an animal's face in repose has always
the same expression. But this is not a real animal.
Newfoundland dogs are pretty mild looking, you
know; what's the matter with this one?"
'Really, my diagnosis would have no value: I am
not going to treat the dog.'
The physician laughed at his own pleasantry, but
narrowly watched his patient from the corner of his
eye. Presently he said: 'Fleming, your description
of the beast fits the dog of the late Atwell Barton.'
Fleming half rose from his chair, sat again and
made a visible attempt at indifference. 'I remember
Barton,' he said; 'I believe he was--it was reported
that--wasn't there something suspicious in
Looking squarely now into the eyes of his patient,
the physician said: 'Three years ago the body of
your old enemy, Atwell Barton, was found in the
woods near his house and yours. He had been
stabbed to death. There have been no arrests; there
was no clue. Some of us had "theories." I had one.
'I? Why, bless your soul, what could I know
about it? You remember that I left for Europe almost
immediately afterward--a considerable time afterward.
In the few weeks since my return you could
not expect me to construct a "theory." In fact, I have
not given the matter a thought. What about his
'It was first to find the body. It died of starvation
on his grave.'
We do not know the inexorable law underlying
coincidences. Staley Fleming did not, or he would
perhaps not have sprung to his feet as the night
wind brought in through the open window the long
wailing howl of a distant dog. He strode several
times across the room in the steadfast gaze of the
physician; then, abruptly confronting him, almost
shouted: 'What has all this to do with my trouble,
Dr. Halderman? You forget why you were sent for.'
Rising, the physician laid his hand upon his patient'
s arm and said, gently: 'Pardon me. I cannot
diagnose your disorder offhand--to-morrow, perhaps.
Please go to bed, leaving your door unlocked;
I will pass the night here with your books. Can you
call me without rising?"
'Yes, there is an electric bell.'
'Good. If anything disturbs you push the button
without sitting up. Good night.'
Comfortably installed in an arm-chair the man of
medicine stared into the glowing coals and thought
deeply and long, but apparently to little purpose,
for he frequently rose and opening a door leading to
the staircase, listened intently; then resumed his
seat. Presently, however, he fell asleep, and when
he woke it was past midnight. He stirred the failing
fire, lifted a book from the table at his side and
looked at the title. It was Denneker's Meditations.
He opened it at random and began to read:
'Forasmuch as it is ordained of God that all flesh
hath spirit and thereby taketh on spiritual powers,
so, also, the spirit hath powers of the flesh, even
when it is gone out of the flesh and liveth as a thing
apart, as many a violence performed by wraith and
lemure sheweth. And there be who say that man is
not single in this, but the beasts have the like evil
The reading was interrupted by a shaking of the
house, as by the fall of a heavy object. The reader
flung down the book, rushed from the room and
mounted the stairs to Fleming's bed-chamber. He
tried the door, but contrary to his instructions it was
locked. He set his shoulder against it with such
force that it gave way. On the floor near the disordered
bed, in his night-clothes, lay Fleming, gasping
away his life.
The physician raised the dying man's head from
the floor and observed a wound in the throat. 'I
should have thought of this,' he said, believing it
When the man was dead an examination disclosed
the unmistakable marks of an animal's fangs deeply
sunken into the jugular vein.
But there was no animal.