Find today’s 2281 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/066.html
In today’s story, a man tells us of the three instances in his life that freaked him out. The first experience is visual. He gets the heebee-jeebies when seeing a twinkling light “like that of a smoldering lamp, at one moment dying down, at another flickering up” from a belfry in the night. The creepy sensation starts off casual, but grows into “a feeling of loneliness, misery, and horror, as though I had been flung down against my will into this great hole full of shadows..” Many details are given about the road, the town, and his traveling companion, Pashka, an eight year old boy. I liked that the man was soothed when the boy was not frightened, but then re-disturbed (I’m coining that phrase) after the boy changes his feelings. The second incident is more about sound. The narrator hears “a monotonous sound, a rumbling, rather like the roar of a great stream.” Then, seeing a black mass fly across railroad tracks, he still can’t figure out what it is. “If I had been superstitious I should have made up my mind it was a party of demons and witches journeying to a devils’ sabbath.” Every sound spooks him from that moment until he talks to the signal man. He learns that it was a runaway train, and unlike the previous encounter, is able to fall asleep. His third freak-out moment has consequences. I was afraid that the narrator might shoot the kind, lost dog after he lets his obsessive mind fixate on Faust’s bulldog. Fortunately he runs, but by doing so he screws over his friend who has lost his canine trying to find the narrator’s house. It was interesting that the story ends here. The cowardly narrator has no more instances to relate and we’re left feeling sorry for the dog’s owner. I suppose this is the denouement that Chekhov wanted to hit, but it didn’t really blow me away. I wanted the men to go search for the dog or for the narrator to own up to the friend that he is a coward.
Today we have 3 stories in one told as recollections of terrifying events in the life of an unknown narrator. I was reminded of similar stories from the past including Nerves and Overdoing It. The most recent incarnation of the superstitiously paranoid is not identified by name or profession but starts immediately recalling 3 events in his life as if prompted by an inquisitor. I tried to discern a theme between the three stories such as panic induced by the senses as alluded to by Travis (sight, sound, and ?smell?). Regrettably, there was only the self-professed realization that the narrator was “stupid” to have such fears, proclaiming “that phenomenon is only terrible because I don’t understand it; everything we don’t understand is mysterious.” I thought about ascribing a medical reason for his panic including anxiety disorder, hallucinations, and even atypical migraine but found it difficult given the other witnesses to the phenomenon. By the end of the story I realized I was putting too much effort in to rationalizing what I can only assume Chekhov meant to be a simple story of man’s propensity to get the heebie-jeebies. The abrupt ending left me wanting more details about why the narrator was even telling these stories. Perhaps it was in response to his visitor as the narrator suddenly found himself in need of an explanation for his tendency to freak out in light of loosing his friend’s dog? Better yet, maybe we are being given a glimpse into the final thoughts of the final seconds of his life as a legitimate terrifying event is forcing upon our narrator a sudden recollection of the absurdity of his past events. Who knows…I think Chekhov just got bored and ended the story a bit too soon.