Posted in Short Story

Deal Me In, Week 3 ~ “The Damned Thing”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce

Card picked: Two of Spades – A WILD card

From: Project Gutenberg


Week 3 and I already pick a wild card! Since my first two stories of the year were both 50-ish pages, I decided to look to my Obscure Literary Monsters list and pick something shorter. Shorter, this story was. A mere eight pages in Epub form. My only dissatisfaction was that I was enjoying it so much and it was over too soon!

Like “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Bierce tells this story in several parts, juggling chronology. We start in a cabin with a coroner, a dead body, and a “jury.” We are soon joined by William Harker, a journalist who witnessed the strange death of Hugh Morgan. The second chapter is Harker’s testimony which he has also submitted to his newspaper.

It was not written as news, for it is incredible, but as fiction.

While out hunting quail, Morgan and Harker come upon something in the bushes, something which Morgan refers to as the Damned Thing. Here Bierce points out one of the fundamental tenants of horror fiction:

We so rely upon the orderly operation of familiar natural laws that any seeming suspension of them is noted as a menace to our safety, a warning of unthinkable calamity.

The third chapter reveals the dire wounds on the body and the verdict of assembly. They decide that Hugh Morgan was killed by a mountain lion because, obviously, Harker isn’t entirely in his right mind. And in the fourth chapter (yes, all this in eight pages!), we are allowed to read some of the contents of Hugh Morgan’s diary which has been kept a secret by the coroner. Morgan had his own ideas about the Damned Thing.

***Potentially Spoilery Bits***

JW McCormack’s take on the Damned Thing is quite occult and wants to tie it more closely with Lovecraft’s indescribable monsters even though Bierce gives it, through Morgan’s diary, a more scientific treatment. I disagree with McCormack. The unknown doesn’t have to be necessarily unnatural. It just has to be beyond our current understanding of natural. One of my favorite sub-genres is science fiction horror where the horror is the thing we don’t understand yet. “The Damned Thing” reminds me of one of my favorite scary bits of sci-fi: the monster in Forbidden Planet.

***End Potentially Spoilery Bits***

About the Author: My first brush with Ambrose Bierce was only a month ago and I’m still kicking myself for not reading him sooner. There is something the feels very American to me about Bierce. I’m going to assume for the moment that this is because he’s not a New Englander like Poe or Hawthorne. Nothing against New England, but there’s a difference in perspective between the East Coast and out “West.” In “The Damned Thing,” we hear coyotes and hunt in the chaparral.