“The Damned” Thing by Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose Bierce, The Damned Thing is a cynical and ironic telling of an investigation of Hugh Morgan’s death. The story begins with a few men are gathered around Hugh Morgan’s dead body, attempting to get to the bottom of how he passed away. One man by the name of William Harker, is sworn in and tells the tale. William speaks of the titular “damned thing” they encountered while out hunting and fishing multiple times, the final time – killing Morgan. William explains how Hugh fired his weapon, and then appeared to be violently attacked – by nothing. Harker ran to Morgan, who was now dead. The coroner, along with the rest of the men, don’t believe Harker – attributing this story to insanity and looking to his diary that says nothing of the “damned thing”.
The story then details Morgan’s diary, that details what occurred before his death. He invited Harker with him to ensure he was not insane. Carol Oates, Joyce “Seven American Nights” The Dark Descent, Edited by David G. Hartwell, Tor Books, 1997. Dick, Philip K. “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts” The Dark Descent, Edited by David G. Hartwell, Tor Books, 1997. Philip K. Dick’s A Little Something for Us Tempunauts is a cynical short story that follows time travelers by the name of tempunauts. Though they were meant to be sent a century in the future, they are only sent forward a few days. They learn that their return from time traveling is fatal. As the story continues, Addison, a tempunaut, comes to the conclusion that they, along with Earth, are stuck in an infinite time loop – stuck reliving the few day period between their departure and arrival. Now they must decide – return back and die to save the rest of humanity, or stay, and doom humanity in an eternal time loop.
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The team decides the former and readies to go back, though they are oblivious to Doug’s plan to smuggle car parts into the time machine. Doug succeeds in his mission, and while killing the time travelers he also dooms humanity in an endless time loop. This story is a tale on the age old moral questions: do you want to live forever or do you want to die? The eternal time loop is an allegory that begs the question: is life meaningless if it goes on forever? Philip K. Dick’s is a rather cynical one, in that the question is not answered until the Earth is gone entirely. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown” The Dark Descent, Edited by David G. Hartwell, Tor Books, 1997. Young Goodman Brown is a tragic story that chronicles the deterioration of of a community’s moral fabric. It follows the titular Goodman Brown, who despite his wife Faith’s wishes, has to travel for a night through a dangerous forest.
As Goodman makes his way through the forest, he meets a man with a peculiar walking stick adorned with a seemingly lifelike snake. Suddenly, the two run into Goody Cloyse, a wise respected woman from back home. She reveals she is a witch and the man as the devil – and she is on her way to his forest ceremony. Goodman is now confused and scared – he wants to return home to Faith. As Goodman sits and tries to comprehend the situation, he sees the minister of the Church and others making their way towards the ceremony. Hearing Faith’s voice coming from the forest, he grabs the staff – which quickly takes him to the ceremony. He is dragged to be converted with another person, who is revealed to be Faith. Goodman resists and tells Faith to do the same.
It isn’t explicitly clear if the events were a dream (or rather a nightmare) or reality, but for the rest of his days, Goodman Brown’s outlook has changed. The biblical imagery of the snake, the devil, Goodman’s wife Faith, are all to show the deterioration of the villages morality. Jackson, Shirley “The Beautiful Stranger” The Dark Descent, Edited by David G. Hartwell, Tor Books, 1997. James, M.R. “The Ash Tree” The Dark Descent, Edited by David G. Hartwell, Tor Books, 1997. Wolfe, Gene “Seven American Nights” The Dark Descent, Edited by David G. Hartwell, Tor Books, 1997.