Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson


  The slight framework of the cottage was not strong enough to withstand the city noises, the music and the voices, from the radio, and the Allisons could hear them far off echoing across the lake, the saxophones in the New York dance band wailing over the water, the flat voice of the girl vocalist going inexorably out into the clean country air. Even the announcer, speaking glowingly of the virtues of razor blades, was no more than an inhuman voice sounding out from the Allisons’ cottage and echoing back, as though the lake and the hills and the trees were returning it unwanted.

  During one pause between commercials, Mrs. Allison turned and smiled weakly at her husband. “I wonder if we’re supposed to . . . do anything,” she said.

  “No,” Mr. Allison said consideringly. “I don’t think so. Just wait.”

  Mrs. Allison caught her breath quickly, and Mr. Allison said, under the trivial melody of the dance band beginning again, “The car had been tampered with, you know. Even I could see that.”

  Mrs. Allison hesitated a minute and then said very softly, “I suppose the phone wires were cut.”

  “I imagine so,” Mr. Allison said.

  After a while, the dance music stopped and they listened attentively to a news broadcast, the announcer’s rich voice telling them breathlessly of a marriage in Hollywood, the latest baseball scores, the estimated rise in food prices during the coming week. He spoke to them, in the summer cottage, quite as though they still deserved to hear news of a world that no longer reached them except through the fallible batteries on the radio, which were already beginning to fade, almost as though they still belonged, however tenuously, to the rest of the world.

  Mrs. Allison glanced out the window at the smooth surface of the lake, the black masses of the trees, and the waiting storm, and said conversationally, “I feel better about that letter of Jerry’s.”

  “I knew when I saw the light down at the Hall place last night,” Mr. Allison said.

  The wind, coming up suddenly over the lake, swept around the summer cottage and slapped hard at the windows. Mr. and Mrs. Allison involuntarily moved closer together, and with the first sudden crash of thunder, Mr. Allison reached out and took his wife’s hand. And then, while the lightning flashed outside, and the radio faded and sputtered, the two old people huddled together in their summer cottage and waited.

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  Shirley Jackson, Dark Tales

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