The Haunted Mind by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1835
The magic trick:
An early section that reads like an essay about the strange early-morning hour between sleep and wake
I very much enjoy this story as an essay about that odd feeling between wake and sleep. It is beautifully written, using elegant sentences to perfectly describe a moment to which I’m sure everyone can relate.
Soon, however, things turn toward the psychologically dark – this being Hawthorne, after all. The beautifully described moment becomes more of a consideration of the dark dungeon of the soul that we can only access in the middle of the night. I’d argue the story makes this case less elegantly, less originally, and less interestingly.
But that early section is well worth the price of admission.
And that’s quite a trick on Hawthorne’s part.
What a singular moment is the first one, when you have hardly begun to recollect yourself after starting from midnight slumber! By unclosing your eyes so suddenly, you seem to have surprised the personages of your dream in full convocation round your bed, and catch one broad glance at them before they can flit into obscurity. Or, to vary the metaphor, you find yourself, for a single instant, wide awake in that realm of illusions, whither sleep has been the passport, and behold its ghostly inhabitants and wondrous scenery, with a perception of their strangeness, such as you never attain while the dream is undisturbed. The distant sound of a church-clock is borne faintly on the wind. You question with yourself, half seriously, whether it has stolen to your waking ear from some gray tower, that stood within the precincts of your dream. While yet in suspense, another clock flings its heavy clang over the slumbering town, with so full and distinct a sound, and such a long murmur in the neighboring air, that you are certain it must proceed from the steeple at the nearest corner. You count the strokes—one—two, and there they cease, with a booming sound, like the gathering of a third stroke within the bell.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.