The Horla Or Modern Ghosts
_May 8th._ What a lovely day! I have spent all the morning lying in the
grass in front of my house, under the enormous plantain tree which
covers it, and shades and shelters the whole of it. I like this part of
the country and I am fond of living here because I am attached to it by
deep roots, profound and delicate roots which attach a man to the soil
on which his ancestors were born and died, which attach him to what
people think and what they eat, to the usages as well as to the food,
local expressions, the peculiar language of the peasants, to the smell
of the soil, of the villages and of the atmosphere itself.
I love my house in which I grew up. From my windows I can see the Seine
which flows by the side of my garden, on the other side of the road,
almost through my grounds, the great and wide Seine, which goes to
Rouen and Havre, and which is covered with boats passing to and fro.
On the left, down yonder, lies Rouen, that large town with its blue
roofs, under its pointed Gothic towers. They are innumerable, delicate
or broad, dominated by the spire of the cathedral, and full of bells
which sound through the blue air on fine mornings, sending their sweet
and distant iron clang to me; their metallic sound which the breeze
wafts in my direction, now stronger and now weaker, according as the
wind is stronger or lighter.
What a delicious morning it was!
About eleven o'clock, a long line of boats drawn by a steam tug, as big
as a fly, and which scarcely puffed while emitting its thick smoke,
passed my gate.
After two English schooners, whose red flag fluttered toward the sky,
there came a magnificent Brazilian three-master; it was perfectly white
and wonderfully clean and shining. I saluted it, I hardly know why,
except that the sight of the vessel gave me great pleasure.
_May 12th._ I have had a slight feverish attack for the last few days,
and I feel ill, or rather I feel low-spirited.
Whence do these mysterious influences come, which change our happiness
into discouragement, and our self-confidence into diffidence? One might
almost say that the air, the invisible air is full of unknowable
Forces, whose mysterious presence we have to endure. I wake up in the
best spirits, with an inclination to sing in my throat. Why? I go down
by the side of the water, and suddenly, after walking a short distance,
I return home wretched, as if some misfortune were awaiting me there.
Why? Is it a cold shiver which, passing over my skin, has upset my
nerves and given me low spirits? Is it the form of the clouds, or the
color of the sky, or the color of the surrounding objects which is so
changeable, which have troubled my thoughts as they passed before my
eyes? Who can tell? Everything that surrounds us, everything that we
see without looking at it, everything that we touch without knowing it,
everything that we handle without feeling it, all that we meet without
clearly distinguishing it, has a rapid, surprising and inexplicable
effect upon us and upon our organs, and through them on our ideas and
on our heart itself.
How profound that mystery of the Invisible is! We cannot fathom it with
our miserable senses, with our eyes which are unable to perceive what
is either too small or too great, too near to, or too far from us;
neither the inhabitants of a star nor of a drop of water ... with our
ears that deceive us, for they transmit to us the vibrations of the air
in sonorous notes. They are fairies who work the miracle of changing
that movement into noise, and by that metamorphosis give birth to
music, which makes the mute agitation of nature musical ... with our
sense of smell which is smaller than that of a dog ... with our sense
of taste which can scarcely distinguish the age of a wine!
Oh! If we only had other organs which would work other miracles in our
favor, what a number of fresh things we might discover around us!
_May 16th._ I am ill, decidedly! I was so well last month! I am
feverish, horribly feverish, or rather I am in a state of feverish
enervation, which makes my mind suffer as much as my body. I have
without ceasing that horrible sensation of some danger threatening me,
that apprehension of some coming misfortune or of approaching death,
that presentiment which is, no doubt, an attack of some illness which
is still unknown, which germinates in the flesh and in the blood.
_May 18th._ I have just come from consulting my medical man, for I
could no longer get any sleep. He found that my pulse was high, my eyes
dilated, my nerves highly strung, but no alarming symptoms. I must have
a course of shower-baths and of bromide of potassium.
_May 25th._ No change! My state is really very peculiar. As the evening
comes on, an incomprehensible feeling of disquietude seizes me, just as
if night concealed some terrible menace toward me. I dine quickly, and
then try to read, but I do not understand the words, and can scarcely
distinguish the letters. Then I walk up and down my drawing-room,
oppressed by a feeling of confused and irresistible fear, the fear of
sleep and fear of my bed.
About ten o'clock I go up to my room. As soon as I have got in I double
lock, and bolt it: I am frightened--of what? Up till the present time I
have been frightened of nothing--I open my cupboards, and look under my
bed; I listen--I listen--to what? How strange it is that a simple
feeling of discomfort, impeded or heightened circulation, perhaps the
irritation of a nervous thread, a slight congestion, a small disturbance
in the imperfect and delicate functions of our living machinery, can
turn the most lighthearted of men into a melancholy one, and make a
coward of the bravest! Then, I go to bed, and I wait for sleep as a man
might wait for the executioner. I wait for its coming with dread, and
my heart beats and my legs tremble, while my whole body shivers beneath
the warmth of the bedclothes, until the moment when I suddenly fall
asleep, as one would throw oneself into a pool of stagnant water in
order to drown oneself. I do not feel coming over me, as I used to do
formerly, this perfidious sleep which is close to me and watching me,
which is going to seize me by the head, to close my eyes and annihilate
I sleep--a long time--two or three hours perhaps--then a dream--no--a
nightmare lays hold on me. I feel that I am in bed and asleep--I feel
it and I know it--and I feel also that somebody is coming close to me,
is looking at me, touching me, is getting on to my bed, is kneeling on
my chest, is taking my neck between his hands and squeezing
it--squeezing it with all his might in order to strangle me.
I struggle, bound by that terrible powerlessness which paralyzes us in
our dreams; I try to cry out--but I cannot; I want to move--I cannot; I
try, with the most violent efforts and out of breath, to turn over and
throw off this being which is crushing and suffocating me--I cannot!
And then, suddenly, I wake up, shaken and bathed in perspiration; I
light a candle and find that I am alone, and after that crisis, which
occurs every night, I at length fall asleep and slumber tranquilly till
_June 2d._ My state has grown worse. What is the matter with me? The
bromide does me no good, and the shower-baths have no effect whatever.
Sometimes, in order to tire myself out, though I am fatigued enough
already, I go for a walk in the forest of Roumare. I used to think at
first that the fresh light and soft air, impregnated with the odor of
herbs and leaves, would instill new blood into my veins and impart
fresh energy to my heart. I turned into a broad ride in the wood, and
then I turned toward La Bouille, through a narrow path, between two
rows of exceedingly tall trees, which placed a thick, green, almost
black roof between the sky and me.
A sudden shiver ran through me, not a cold shiver, but a shiver of
agony, and so I hastened my steps, uneasy at being alone in the wood,
frightened stupidly and without reason, at the profound solitude.
Suddenly it seemed to me as if I were being followed, that somebody was
walking at my heels, close, quite close to me, near enough to touch me.
I turned round suddenly, but I was alone. I saw nothing behind me
except the straight, broad ride, empty and bordered by high trees,
horribly empty; on the other side it also extended until it was lost in
the distance, and looked just the same, terrible.
I closed my eyes. Why? And then I began to turn round on one heel very
quickly, just like a top. I nearly fell down, and opened my eyes; the
trees were dancing round me and the earth heaved; I was obliged to sit
down. Then, ah! I no longer remembered how I had come! What a strange
idea! What a strange, strange idea! I did not the least know. I started
off to the right, and got back into the avenue which had led me into
the middle of the forest.
_June 3d._ I have had a terrible night. I shall go away for a few
weeks, for no doubt a journey will set me up again.
_July 2d._ I have come back, quite cured, and have had a most
delightful trip into the bargain. I have been to Mont Saint-Michel,
which I had not seen before.
What a sight, when one arrives as I did, at Avranches toward the end of
the day! The town stands on a hill, and I was taken into the public
garden at the extremity of the town. I uttered a cry of astonishment.
An extraordinarily large bay lay extended before me, as far as my eyes
could reach, between two hills which were lost to sight in the mist;
and in the middle of this immense yellow bay, under a clear, golden
sky, a peculiar hill rose up, somber and pointed in the midst of the
sand. The sun had just disappeared, and under the still flaming sky the
outline of that fantastic rock stood out, which bears on its summit a
At daybreak I went to it. The tide was low as it had been the night
before, and I saw that wonderful abbey rise up before me as I
approached it. After several hours' walking, I reached the enormous
mass of rocks which supports the little town, dominated by the great
church. Having climbed the steep and narrow street, I entered the most
wonderful Gothic building that has ever been built to God on earth, as
large as a town, full of low rooms which seem buried beneath vaulted
roofs, and lofty galleries supported by delicate columns.
I entered this gigantic granite jewel which is as light as a bit of
lace, covered with towers, with slender belfries to which spiral
staircases ascend, and which raise their strange heads that bristle
with chimeras, with devils, with fantastic animals, with monstrous
flowers, and which are joined together by finely carved arches, to the
blue sky by day, and to the black sky by night.
When I had reached the summit, I said to the monk who accompanied me:
"Father, how happy you must be here!" And he replied: "It is very
windy, Monsieur;" and so we began to talk while watching the rising
tide, which ran over the sand and covered it with a steel cuirass.
And then the monk told me stories, all the old stories belonging to the
place, legends, nothing but legends.
One of them struck me forcibly. The country people, those belonging to
the Mornet, declare that at night one can hear talking going on in the
sand, and then that one hears two goats bleat, one with a strong, the
other with a weak voice. Incredulous people declare that it is nothing
but the cry of the sea birds, which occasionally resembles bleatings,
and occasionally human lamentations; but belated fishermen swear that
they have met an old shepherd, whose head, which is covered by his
cloak, they can never see, wandering on the downs, between two tides,
round the little town placed so far out of the world, and who is
guiding and walking before them, a he-goat with a man's face, and a
she-goat with a woman's face, and both of them with white hair; and
talking incessantly, quarreling in a strange language, and then
suddenly ceasing to talk in order to bleat with all their might.
"Do you believe it?" I asked the monk. "I scarcely know," he replied,
and I continued: "If there are other beings besides ourselves on this
earth, how comes it that we have not known it for so long a time, or
why have you not seen them? How is it that I have not seen them?" He
replied: "Do we see the hundred thousandth part of what exists? Look
here; there is the wind, which is the strongest force in nature, which
knocks down men, and blows down buildings, uproots trees, raises the
sea into mountains of water, destroys cliffs and casts great ships onto
the breakers; the wind which kills, which whistles, which sighs, which
roars--have you ever seen it, and can you see it? It exists for all
I was silent before this simple reasoning. That man was a philosopher,
or perhaps a fool; I could not say which exactly, so I held my tongue.
What he had said, had often been in my own thoughts.
_July 3d._ I have slept badly; certainly there is some feverish
influence here, for my coachman is suffering in the same way as I am.
When I went back home yesterday, I noticed his singular paleness, and I
asked him: "What is the matter with you, Jean?" "The matter is that I
never get any rest, and my nights devour my days. Since your departure,
monsieur, there has been a spell over me."
However, the other servants are all well, but I am very frightened of
having another attack, myself.
_July 4th._ I am decidedly taken again; for my old nightmares have
returned. Last night I felt somebody leaning on me who was sucking my
life from between my lips with his mouth. Yes, he was sucking it out of
my neck, like a leech would have done. Then he got up, satiated, and I
woke up, so beaten, crushed and annihilated that I could not move. If
this continues for a few days, I shall certainly go away again.
_July 5th._ Have I lost my reason? What has happened, what I saw last
night, is so strange, that my head wanders when I think of it!
As I do now every evening, I had locked my door, and then, being
thirsty, I drank half a glass of water, and I accidentally noticed that
the water bottle was full up to the cut-glass stopper.
Then I went to bed and fell into one of my terrible sleeps, from which
I was aroused in about two hours by a still more terrible shock.
Picture to yourself a sleeping man who is being murdered and who wakes
up with a knife in his chest, and who is rattling in his throat,
covered with blood, and who can no longer breathe, and is going to die,
and does not understand anything at all about it--there it is.
Having recovered my senses, I was thirsty again, so I lit a candle and
went to the table on which my water bottle was. I lifted it up and
tilted it over my glass, but nothing came out. It was empty! It was
completely empty! At first I could not understand it at all, and then
suddenly I was seized by such a terrible feeling that I had to sit
down, or rather I fell into a chair! Then I sprang up with a bound to
look about me, and then I sat down again, overcome by astonishment and
fear, in front of the transparent crystal bottle! I looked at it with
fixed eyes, trying to conjecture, and my hands trembled! Somebody had
drunk the water, but who? I? I without any doubt. It could surely only
be I? In that case I was a somnambulist. I lived, without knowing it,
that double mysterious life which makes us doubt whether there are not
two beings in us, or whether a strange, unknowable and invisible being
does not at such moments, when our soul is in a state of torpor,
animate our captive body which obeys this other being, as it does us
ourselves, and more than it does ourselves.
Oh! Who will understand my horrible agony? Who will understand the
emotion of a man who is sound in mind, wide awake, full of sound sense,
and who looks in horror at the remains of a little water that has
disappeared while he was asleep, through the glass of a water bottle?
And I remained there until it was daylight, without venturing to go to
_July 6th._ I am going mad. Again all the contents of my water bottle
have been drunk during the night--or rather, I have drunk it!
But is it I? Is it I? Who could it be? Who? Oh! God! Am I going mad?
Who will save me?
_July 10th._ I have just been through some surprising ordeals.
Decidedly I am mad! And yet!--
On July 6th, before going to bed, I put some wine, milk, water, bread
and strawberries on my table. Somebody drank--I drank--all the water
and a little of the milk, but neither the wine, bread nor the
strawberries were touched.
On the seventh of July I renewed the same experiment, with the same
results, and on July 8th, I left out the water and the milk and nothing
Lastly, on July 9th I put only water and milk on my table, taking care
to wrap up the bottles in white muslin and to tie down the stoppers.
Then I rubbed my lips, my beard and my hands with pencil lead, and went
Irresistible sleep seized me, which was soon followed by a terrible
awakening. I had not moved, and my sheets were not marked. I rushed to
the table. The muslin round the bottles remained intact; I undid the
string, trembling with fear. All the water had been drunk, and so had
the milk! Ah! Great God!--
I must start for Paris immediately.
_July 12th._ Paris. I must have lost my head during the last few days!
I must be the plaything of my enervated imagination, unless I am really
a somnambulist, or that I have been brought under the power of one of
those influences which have been proved to exist, but which have
hitherto been inexplicable, which are called suggestions. In any case,
my mental state bordered on madness, and twenty-four hours of Paris
sufficed to restore me to my equilibrium.
Yesterday after doing some business and paying some visits which
instilled fresh and invigorating mental air into me, I wound up my
evening at the _Theatre Francais_. A play by Alexandre Dumas the
Younger was being acted, and his active and powerful mind completed my
cure. Certainly solitude is dangerous for active minds. We require men
who can think and can talk, around us. When we are alone for a long
time we people space with phantoms.
I returned along the boulevards to my hotel in excellent spirits. Amid
the jostling of the crowd I thought, not without irony, of my terrors
and surmises of the previous week, because I believed, yes, I believed,
that an invisible being lived beneath my roof. How weak our head is,
and how quickly it is terrified and goes astray, as soon, as we are
struck by a small, incomprehensible fact.
Instead of concluding with these simple words: "I do not understand
because the cause escapes me," we immediately imagine terrible
mysteries and supernatural powers.
_July 14th._ _Fete_ of the Republic. I walked through the streets, and
the crackers and flags amused me like a child. Still it is very foolish
to be merry on a fixed date, by a Government decree. The populace is an
imbecile flock of sheep, now steadily patient, and now in ferocious
revolt. Say to it: "Amuse yourself," and it amuses itself. Say to it:
"Go and fight with your neighbor," and it goes and fights. Say to it:
"Vote for the Emperor," and it votes for the Emperor, and then say to
it: "Vote for the Republic," and it votes for the Republic.
Those who direct it are also stupid; but instead of obeying men they
obey principles, which can only be stupid, sterile, and false, for the
very reason that they are principles, that is to say, ideas which are
considered as certain and unchangeable, in this world where one is
certain of nothing, since light is an illusion and noise is an
_July 16th._ I saw some things yesterday that troubled me very much.
I was dining at my cousin's Madame Sable, whose husband is colonel of
the 76th Chasseurs at Limoges. There were two young women there, one of
whom had married a medical man, Dr. Parent, who devotes himself a great
deal to nervous diseases and the extraordinary manifestations to which
at this moment experiments in hypnotism and suggestion give rise.
He related to us at some length, the enormous results obtained by
English scientists and the doctors of the medical school at Nancy, and
the facts which he adduced appeared to me so strange, that I declared
that I was altogether incredulous.
"We are," he declared, "on the point of discovering one of the most
important secrets of nature, I mean to say, one of its most important
secrets on this earth, for there are certainly some which are of a
different kind of importance up in the stars, yonder. Ever since man
has thought, since he has been able to express and write down his
thoughts, he has felt himself close to a mystery which is impenetrable
to his coarse and imperfect senses, and he endeavors to supplement the
want of power of his organs by the efforts of his intellect. As long as
that intellect still remained in its elementary stage, this intercourse
with invisible spirits assumed forms which were commonplace though
terrifying. Thence sprang the popular belief in the supernatural, the
legends of wandering spirits, of fairies, of gnomes, ghosts, I might
even say the legend of God, for our conceptions of the workman-creator,
from whatever religion they may have come down to us, are certainly the
most mediocre, the stupidest and the most unacceptable inventions that
ever sprang from the frightened brain of any human creatures. Nothing
is truer than what Voltaire says: 'God made man in His own image, but
man has certainly paid Him back again.'
"But for rather more than a century, men seem to have had a
presentiment of something new. Mesmer and some others have put us on an
unexpected track, and especially within the last two or three years, we
have arrived at really surprising results."
My cousin, who is also very incredulous, smiled, and Dr. Parent said to
her: "Would you like me to try and send you to sleep, Madame?" "Yes,
She sat down in an easy-chair, and he began to look at her fixedly, so
as to fascinate her. I suddenly felt myself somewhat uncomfortable,
with a beating heart and a choking feeling in my throat. I saw that
Madame Sable's eyes were growing heavy, her mouth twitched and her
bosom heaved, and at the end of ten minutes she was asleep.
"Stand behind her," the doctor said to me, and so I took a seat behind
her. He put a visiting card into her hands, and said to her: "This is a
looking-glass; what do you see in it?" And she replied: "I see my
cousin." "What is he doing?" "He is twisting his mustache." "And now?"
"He is taking a photograph out of his pocket." "Whose photograph is
it?" "His own."
That was true, and that photograph had been given me that same evening
at the hotel.
"What is his attitude in this portrait?" "He is standing up with his
hat in his hand."
So she saw on that card, on that piece of white pasteboard, as if she
had seen it in a looking glass.
The young women were frightened, and exclaimed: "That is quite enough!
Quite, quite enough!"
But the doctor said to her authoritatively: "You will get up at eight
o'clock to-morrow morning; then you will go and call on your cousin at
his hotel and ask him to lend you five thousand francs which your
husband demands of you, and which he will ask for when he sets out on
his coming journey."
Then he woke her up.
On returning to my hotel, I thought over this curious _seance_ and I
was assailed by doubts, not as to my cousin's absolute and undoubted
good faith, for I had known her as well as if she had been my own
sister ever since she was a child, but as to a possible trick on the
doctor's part. Had not he, perhaps, kept a glass hidden in his hand,
which he showed to the young woman in her sleep, at the same time as he
did the card? Professional conjurers do things which are just as
So I went home and to bed, and this morning, at about half-past eight,
I was awakened by my footman, who said to me: "Madame Sable has asked
to see you immediately, Monsieur," so I dressed hastily and went to
She sat down in some agitation, with her eyes on the floor, and without
raising her veil she said to me: "My dear cousin, I am going to ask a
great favor of you." "What is it, cousin?" "I do not like to tell you,
and yet I must. I am in absolute want of five thousand francs." "What,
you?" "Yes, I, or rather my husband, who has asked me to procure them
I was so stupefied that I stammered out my answers. I asked myself
whether she had not really been making fun of me with Doctor Parent,
if it were not merely a very well-acted farce which had been got up
beforehand. On looking at her attentively, however, my doubts
disappeared. She was trembling with grief, so painful was this step
to her, and I was sure that her throat was full of sobs.
I knew that she was very rich and so I continued: "What! Has not your
husband five thousand francs at his disposal! Come, think. Are you sure
that he commissioned you to ask me for them?"
She hesitated for a few seconds, as if she were making a great effort
to search her memory, and then she replied: "Yes ... yes, I am quite
sure of it." "He has written to you?"
She hesitated again and reflected, and I guessed the torture of her
thoughts. She did not know. She only knew that she was to borrow five
thousand francs of me for her husband. So she told a lie. "Yes, he has
written to me." "When, pray? You did not mention it to me yesterday."
"I received his letter this morning." "Can you show it me?" "No; no ...
no ... it contained private matters ... things too personal to
ourselves.... I burnt it." "So your husband runs into debt?"
She hesitated again, and then murmured: "I do not know." Thereupon I
said bluntly: "I have not five thousand francs at my disposal at this
moment, my dear cousin."
She uttered a kind of cry as if she were in pain and said: "Oh! oh! I
beseech you, I beseech you to get them for me...."
She got excited and clasped her hands as if she were praying to me! I
heard her voice change its tone; she wept and stammered, harassed and
dominated by the irresistible order that she had received.
"Oh! oh! I beg you to ... if you knew what I am suffering.... I want
I had pity on her: "You shall have them by and by, I swear to you."
"Oh! thank you! thank you! How kind you are!"
I continued: "Do you remember what took place at your house last
night?" "Yes." "Do you remember that Doctor Parent sent you to sleep?"
"Yes." "Oh! Very well then; he ordered you to come to me this morning
to borrow five thousand francs, and at this moment you are obeying that
She considered for a few moments, and then replied:
"But as it is my husband who wants them...."
For a whole hour I tried to convince her, but could not succeed, and
when she had gone I went to the doctor. He was just going out, and he
listened to me with a smile, and said: "Do you believe now?" "Yes, I
cannot help it." "Let us go to your cousin's."
She was already dozing on a couch, overcome with fatigue. The doctor
felt her pulse, looked at her for some time with one hand raised toward
her eyes which she closed by degrees under the irresistible power of
this magnetic influence, and when she was asleep, he said:
"Your husband does not require the five thousand francs any longer! You
must, therefore, forget that you asked your cousin to lend them to you,
and, if he speaks to you about it, you will not understand him."
Then he woke her up, and I took out a pocketbook and said: "Here is
what you asked me for this morning, my dear cousin." But she was so
surprised that I did not venture to persist; nevertheless, I tried to
recall the circumstance to her, but she denied it vigorously, thought
that I was making fun of her, and in the end very nearly lost her
* * * * *
There! I have just come back, and I have not been able to eat any
lunch, for this experiment has altogether upset me.
_July 19th._ Many people to whom I have told the adventure have laughed
at me. I no longer know what to think. The wise man says: Perhaps?
_July 21st._ I dined at Bougival, and then I spent the evening at
a boatmen's ball. Decidedly everything depends on place and
surroundings. It would be the height of folly to believe in the
supernatural on the _ile de la Grenouilliere ... but on the top
of Mont Saint-Michel? ... and in India? We are terribly under the
influence of our surroundings. I shall return home next week.
_July 30th._ I came back to my own house yesterday. Everything is going
_August 2d._ Nothing fresh; it is splendid weather, and I spend my days
in watching the Seine flow past.
_August 4th._ Quarrels among my servants. They declare that the glasses
are broken in the cupboards at night. The footman accuses the cook, who
accuses the needlewoman, who accuses the other two. Who is the culprit?
A clever person, to be able to tell.
_August 6th._ This time I am not mad. I have seen ... I have seen ... I
have seen!... I can doubt no longer ... I have seen it!...
I was walking at two o'clock among my rose trees, in the full sunlight ...
in the walk bordered by autumn roses which are beginning to fall. As I
stopped to look at a _Geant de Bataille_, which had three splendid
blooms, I distinctly saw the stalk of one of the roses bend, close to
me, as if an invisible hand had bent it, and then break, as if that
hand had picked it! Then the flower raised itself, following the curve
which a hand would have described in carrying it toward a mouth, and it
remained suspended in the transparent air, all alone and motionless, a
terrible red spot, three yards from my eyes. In desperation I rushed at
it to take it! I found nothing; it had disappeared. Then I was seized
with furious rage against myself, for it is not allowable for a
reasonable and serious man to have such hallucinations.
But was it a hallucination? I turned round to look for the stalk, and I
found it immediately under the bush, freshly broken, between two other
roses which remained on the branch, and I returned home then, with a
much disturbed mind; for I am certain now, as certain as I am of the
alternation of day and night, that there exists close to me an
invisible being that lives on milk and on water, which can touch
objects, take them and change their places; which is, consequently,
endowed with a material nature, although it is imperceptible to our
senses, and which lives as I do, under my roof....
_August 7th_. I slept tranquilly. He drank the water out of my
decanter, but did not disturb my sleep.
I ask myself whether I am mad. As I was walking just now in the sun by
the riverside, doubts as to my own sanity arose in me; not vague doubts
such as I have had hitherto, but precise and absolute doubts. I have
seen mad people, and I have known some who have been quite intelligent,
lucid, even clear-sighted in every concern of life, except on one
point. They spoke clearly, readily, profoundly on everything, when
suddenly their thoughts struck upon the breakers of their madness and
broke to pieces there, and were dispersed and foundered in that furious
and terrible sea, full of bounding waves, fogs and squalls, which is
I certainly should think that I was mad, absolutely mad, if I were not
conscious, did not perfectly know my state, if I did fathom it by
analyzing it with the most complete lucidity. I should, in fact, be a
reasonable man who was laboring under a hallucination. Some unknown
disturbance must have been excited in my brain, one of those
disturbances which physiologists of the present day try to note and to
fix precisely, and that disturbance must have caused a profound gulf in
my mind and in the order and logic of my ideas. Similar phenomena occur
in the dreams which lead us through the most unlikely phantasmagoria,
without causing us any surprise, because our verifying apparatus and
our sense of control has gone to sleep, while our imaginative faculty
wakes and works. Is it not possible that one of the imperceptible keys
of the cerebral finger-board has been paralyzed in me? Some men lose
the recollection of proper names, or of verbs or of numbers or merely
of dates, in consequence of an accident. The localization of all the
particles of thought has been proved nowadays; what then would there be
surprising in the fact that my faculty of controlling the unreality of
certain hallucinations should be destroyed for the time being!
I thought of all this as I walked by the side of the water. The sun was
shining brightly on the river and made earth delightful, while it
filled my looks with love for life, for the swallows, whose agility is
always delightful in my eyes, for the plants by the riverside, whose
rustling is a pleasure to my ears.
By degrees, however, an inexplicable feeling of discomfort seized me.
It seemed to me as if some unknown force were numbing and stopping me,
were preventing me from going farther and were calling me back. I felt
that painful wish to return which oppresses you when you have left a
beloved invalid at home, and when you are seized by a presentiment that
he is worse.
I, therefore, returned in spite of myself, feeling certain that I
should find some bad news awaiting me, a letter or a telegram. There
was nothing, however, and I was more surprised and uneasy than if I had
had another fantastic vision.
_August 8th._ I spent a terrible evening yesterday. He does not show
himself any more, but I feel that he is near me, watching me, looking
at me, penetrating me, dominating me and more redoubtable when he hides
himself thus, than if he were to manifest his constant and invisible
presence by supernatural phenomena. However, I slept.
_August 9th._ Nothing, but I am afraid.
_August 10th._ Nothing; what will happen to-morrow?
_August 11th._ Still nothing; I cannot stop at home with this fear
hanging over me and these thoughts in my mind; I shall go away.
_August 12th._ Ten o'clock at night. All day long I have been trying to
get away, and have not been able. I wished to accomplish this simple
and easy act of liberty--go out--get into my carriage in order to go to
Rouen--and I have not been able to do it. What is the reason?
_August 13th._ When one is attacked by certain maladies, all the
springs of our physical being appear to be broken, all our energies
destroyed, all our muscles relaxed, our bones to have become as soft as
our flesh, and our blood as liquid as water. I am experiencing that in
my moral being in a strange and distressing manner. I have no longer
any strength, any courage, any self-control, nor even any power to set
my own will in motion. I have no power left to _will_ anything, but
some one does it for me and I obey.
_August 14th._ I am lost! Somebody possesses my soul and governs it!
Somebody orders all my acts, all my movements, all my thoughts. I am no
longer anything in myself, nothing except an enslaved and terrified
spectator of all the things which I do. I wish to go out; I cannot. He
does not wish to, and so I remain, trembling and distracted in the
armchair in which he keeps me sitting. I merely wish to get up and to
rouse myself, so as to think that I am still master of myself: I
cannot! I am riveted to my chair, and my chair adheres to the ground in
such a manner that no force could move us.
Then suddenly, I must, I must go to the bottom of my garden to pick
some strawberries and eat them, and I go there. I pick the strawberries
and I eat them! Oh! my God! my God! Is there a God? If there be one,
deliver me! save me! succor me! Pardon! Pity! Mercy! Save me! Oh! what
sufferings! what torture! what horror!
_August 15th._ Certainly this is the way in which my poor cousin was
possessed and swayed, when she came to borrow five thousand francs of
me. She was under the power of a strange will which had entered into
her, like another soul, like another parasitic and ruling soul. Is the
world coming to an end?
But who is he, this invisible being that rules me? This unknowable
being, this rover of a supernatural race?
Invisible beings exist, then! How is it then that since the beginning
of the world they have never manifested themselves in such a manner
precisely as they do to me? I have never read anything which resembles
what goes on in my house. Oh! If I could only leave it, if I could only
go away and flee, so as never to return, I should be saved; but I
_August 16th_. I managed to escape to-day for two hours, like a
prisoner who finds the door of his dungeon accidentally open. I
suddenly felt that I was free and that he was far away, and so I gave
orders to put the horses in as quickly as possible, and I drove to
Rouen. Oh! How delightful to be able to say to a man who obeyed you:
"Go to Rouen!"
I made him pull up before the library, and I begged them to lend me Dr.
Herrmann Herestauss's treatise on the unknown inhabitants of the
ancient and modern world.
Then, as I was getting into my carriage, I intended to say: "To the
railway station!" but instead of this I shouted--I did not say, but I
shouted--in such a loud voice that all the passers-by turned round:
"Home!" and I fell back onto the cushion of my carriage, overcome by
mental agony. He had found me out and regained possession of me.
_August 17th_. Oh! What a night! what a night! And yet it seems to me
that I ought to rejoice. I read until one o'clock in the morning!
Herestauss, Doctor of Philosophy and Theogony, wrote the history and
the manifestation of all those invisible beings which hover around man,
or of whom he dreams. He describes their origin, their domains, their
power; but none of them resembles the one which haunts me. One might
say that man, ever since he has thought, has had a foreboding of, and
feared a new being, stronger than himself, his successor in this world,
and that, feeling him near, and not being able to foretell the nature
of that master, he has, in his terror, created the whole race of hidden
beings, of vague phantoms born of fear.
Having, therefore, read until one o'clock in the morning, I went and
sat down at the open window, in order to cool my forehead and my
thoughts, in the calm night air. It was very pleasant and warm! How I
should have enjoyed such a night formerly!
There was no moon, but the stars darted out their rays in the dark
heavens. Who inhabits those worlds? What forms, what living beings,
what animals are there yonder? What do those who are thinkers in those
distant worlds know more than we do? What can they do more than we can?
What do they see which we do not know? Will not one of them, some day
or other, traversing space, appear on our earth to conquer it, just as
the Norsemen formerly crossed the sea in order to subjugate nations
more feeble than themselves?
We are so weak, so unarmed, so ignorant, so small, we who live on this
particle of mud which turns round in a drop of water.
I fell asleep, dreaming thus in the cool night air, and then, having
slept for about three quarters of an hour, I opened my eyes without
moving, awakened by I know not what confused and strange sensation. At
first I saw nothing, and then suddenly it appeared to me as if a page
of a book which had remained open on my table, turned over of its own
accord. Not a breath of air had come in at my window, and I was
surprised and waited. In about four minutes, I saw, I saw, yes I saw
with my own eyes another page lift itself up and fall down on the
others, as if a finger had turned it over. My armchair was empty,
appeared empty, but I knew that he was there, he, and sitting in my
place, and that he was reading. With a furious bound, the bound of an
enraged wild beast that wishes to disembowel its tamer, I crossed my
room to seize him, to strangle him, to kill him!... But before I could
reach it, my chair fell over as if somebody had run away from me ... my
table rocked, my lamp fell and went out, and my window closed as if
some thief had been surprised and had fled out into the night, shutting
it behind him.
So he had run away: he had been afraid; he, afraid of me!
So ... so ... to-morrow ... or later ... some day or other ... I should
be able to hold him in my clutches and crush him against the ground! Do
not dogs occasionally bite and strangle their masters?
_August 18th._ I have been thinking the whole day long. Oh! yes, I will
obey him, follow his impulses, fulfill all his wishes, show myself
humble, submissive, a coward. He is the stronger; but an hour will
_August 19th_. I know, ... I know ... I know all! I have just read the
following in the _Revue du Monde Scientifique_: "A curious piece of
news comes to us from Rio de Janeiro. Madness, an epidemic of madness,
which may be compared to that contagious madness which attacked the
people of Europe in the Middle Ages, is at this moment raging in the
Province of San-Paulo. The frightened inhabitants are leaving their
houses, deserting their villages, abandoning their land, saying that
they are pursued, possessed, governed like human cattle by invisible,
though tangible beings, a species of vampire, which feed on their life
while they are asleep, and who, besides, drink water and milk without
appearing to touch any other nourishment.
"Professor Dom Pedro Henriques, accompanied by several medical savants,
has gone to the Province of San-Paulo, in order to study the origin and
the manifestations of this surprising madness on the spot, and to
propose such measures to the Emperor as may appear to him to be most
fitted to restore the mad population to reason."
Ah! Ah! I remember now that fine Brazilian three-master which passed in
front of my windows as it was going up the Seine, on the 8th of last
May! I thought it looked so pretty, so white and bright! That Being was
on board of her, coming from there, where its race sprang from. And it
saw me! It saw my house which was also white, and it sprang from the
ship onto the land. Oh! Good heavens!
Now I know, I can divine. The reign of man is over, and he has come.
He whom disquieted priests exorcised, whom sorcerers evoked on dark
nights, without yet seeing him appear, to whom the presentiments of
the transient masters of the world lent all the monstrous or graceful
forms of gnomes, spirits, genii, fairies, and familiar spirits. After
the coarse conceptions of primitive fear, more clear-sighted men
foresaw it more clearly. Mesmer divined him, and ten years ago physicians
accurately discovered the nature of his power, even before he exercised
it himself. They played with that weapon of their new Lord, the sway
of a mysterious will over the human soul, which had become enslaved.
They called it magnetism, hypnotism, suggestion ... what do I know? I
have seen them amusing themselves like impudent children with this
horrible power! Woe to us! Woe to man! He has come, the ... the ...
what does he call himself ... the ... I fancy that he is shouting
out his name to me and I do not hear him ... the ... yes ... he is
shouting it out ... I am listening ... I cannot ... repeat ... it ...
Horla ... I have heard ... the Horla ... it is he ... the Horla ...
he has come!...
Ah! the vulture has eaten the pigeon, the wolf has eaten the lamb; the
lion has devoured the buffalo with sharp horns; man has killed the lion
with an arrow, with a sword, with gunpowder; but the Horla will make of
man what we have made of the horse and of the ox: his chattel, his
slave and his food, by the mere power of his will. Woe to us!
But, nevertheless, the animal sometimes revolts and kills the man who
has subjugated it.... I should also like ... I shall be able to ... but
I must know him, touch him, see him! Learned men say that beasts' eyes,
as they differ from ours, do not distinguish like ours do ... And my
eye cannot distinguish this newcomer who is oppressing me.
Why? Oh! Now I remember the words of the monk at Mont Saint-Michel:
"Can we see the hundred-thousandth part of what exists? Look here;
there is the wind which is the strongest force in nature, which knocks
men, and blows down buildings, uproots trees, raises the sea into
mountains of water, destroys cliffs and casts great ships onto the
breakers; the wind which kills, which whistles, which sighs, which
roars--have you ever seen it, and can you see it? It exists for all
And I went on thinking: my eyes are so weak, so imperfect, that they
do not even distinguish hard bodies, if they are as transparent as
glass!... If a glass without tinfoil behind it were to bar my way, I
should run into it, just as a bird which has flown into a room breaks
its head against the window panes. A thousand things, moreover, deceive
him and lead him astray. How should it then be surprising that he
cannot perceive a fresh body which is traversed by the light?
A new being! Why not? It was assuredly bound to come! Why should we be
the last? We do not distinguish it, like all the others created before
us. The reason is, that its nature is more perfect, its body finer and
more finished than ours, that ours is so weak, so awkwardly conceived,
encumbered with organs that are always tired, always on the strain like
locks that are too complicated, which lives like a plant and like a
beast, nourishing itself with difficulty on air, herbs and flesh, an
animal machine which is a prey to maladies, to malformations, to decay;
broken-winded, badly regulated, simple and eccentric, ingeniously badly
made, a coarse and a delicate work, the outline of a being which might
become intelligent and grand.
We are only a few, so few in this world, from the oyster up to man. Why
should there not be one more, when once that period is accomplished
which separates the successive apparitions from all the different
Why not one more? Why not, also, other trees with immense, splendid
flowers, perfuming whole regions? Why not other elements besides fire,
air, earth and water? There are four, only four, those nursing fathers
of various beings! What a pity! Why are they not forty, four hundred,
four thousand! How poor everything is, how mean and wretched!
grudgingly given, dryly invented, clumsily made! Ah! the elephant and
the hippopotamus, what grace! And the camel, what elegance!
But, the butterfly you will say, a flying flower! I dream of one that
should be as large as a hundred worlds, with wings whose shape, beauty,
colors, and motion I cannot even express. But I see it ... it flutters
from star to star, refreshing them and perfuming them with the light
and harmonious breath of its flight!... And the people up there look
at it as it passes in an ecstasy of delight!...
* * * * *
What is the matter with me? It is he, the Horla who haunts me, and who
makes me think of these foolish things! He is within me, he is becoming
my soul; I shall kill him!
_August 19th._ I shall kill him. I have seen him! Yesterday I sat down
at my table and pretended to write very assiduously. I knew quite well
that he would come prowling round me, quite close to me, so close that
I might perhaps be able to touch him, to seize him. And then!... then
I should have the strength of desperation; I should have my hands, my
knees, my chest, my forehead, my teeth to strangle him, to crush him,
to bite him, to tear him to pieces. And I watched for him with all my
I had lighted my two lamps and the eight wax candles on my mantelpiece,
as if by this light I could have discovered him.
My bed, my old oak bed with its columns, was opposite to me; on my
right was the fireplace; on my left the door which was carefully
closed, after I had left it open for some time, in order to attract
him; behind me was a very high wardrobe with a looking-glass in it,
which served me to make my toilet every day, and in which I was in the
habit of looking at myself from head to foot every time I passed it.
So I pretended to be writing in order to deceive him, for he also was
watching me, and suddenly I felt, I was certain that he was reading
over my shoulder, that he was there, almost touching my ear.
I got up so quickly, with my hands extended, that I almost fell. Eh!
well?... It was as bright as at midday, but I did not see myself in
the glass!... It was empty, clear, profound, full of light! But my
figure was not reflected in it ... and I, I was opposite to it! I saw
the large, clear glass from top to bottom, and I looked at it with
unsteady eyes; and I did not dare to advance; I did not venture to make
a movement, nevertheless, feeling perfectly that he was there, but that
he would escape me again, he whose imperceptible body had absorbed my
How frightened I was! And then suddenly I began to see myself through a
mist in the depths of the looking-glass, in a mist as it were through a
sheet of water; and it seemed to me as if this water were flowing
slowly from left to right, and making my figure clearer every moment.
It was like the end of an eclipse. Whatever it was that hid me, did not
appear to possess any clearly defined outlines, but a sort of opaque
transparency, which gradually grew clearer.
At last I was able to distinguish myself completely, as I do every day
when I look at myself.
I had seen it! And the horror of it remained with me and makes me
shudder even now.
_August 20th_. How could I kill it, as I could not get hold of it?
Poison? But it would see me mix it with the water; and then, would our
poisons have any effect on its impalpable body? No ... no ... no doubt
about the matter.... Then?... then?...
_August 21st_. I sent for a blacksmith from Rouen, and ordered iron
shutters of him for my room, such as some private hotels in Paris have
on the ground floor, for fear of thieves, and he is going to make me a
similar door as well. I have made myself out as a coward, but I do not
care about that!...
_September 10th_. Rouen, Hotel Continental. It is done; ... it is
done ... but is he dead? My mind is thoroughly upset by what I have
Well, then, yesterday the locksmith having put on the iron shutters and
door, I left everything open until midnight, although it was getting
Suddenly I felt that he was there, and joy, mad joy, took possession of
me. I got up softly, and I walked to the right and left for some time,
so that he might not guess anything; then I took off my boots and put
on my slippers carelessly; then I fastened the iron shutters and going
back to the door quickly I double-locked it with a padlock, putting the
key into my pocket.
Suddenly I noticed that he was moving restlessly round me, that in his
turn he was frightened and was ordering me to let him out. I nearly
yielded, though I did not yet, but putting my back to the door I half
opened it, just enough to allow me to go out backward, and as I am very
tall, my head touched the lintel. I was sure that he had not been able
to escape, and I shut him up quite alone, quite alone. What happiness!
I had him fast. Then I ran downstairs; in the drawing-room, which was
under my bedroom, I took the two lamps and I poured all the oil onto
the carpet, the furniture, everywhere; then I set fire to it and made
my escape, after having carefully double-locked the door.
I went and hid myself at the bottom of the garden in a clump of laurel
bushes. How long it was! how long it was! Everything was dark, silent,
motionless, not a breath of air and not a star, but heavy banks of
clouds which one could not see, but which weighed, oh! so heavily on my
I looked at my house and waited. How long it was! I already began to
think that the fire had gone out of its own accord, or that he had
extinguished it, when one of the lower windows gave way under the
violence of the flames, and a long, soft, caressing sheet of red flame
mounted up the white wall and kissed it as high as the roof. The light
fell onto the trees, the branches, and the leaves, and a shiver of fear
pervaded them also! The birds awoke; a dog began to howl, and it seemed
to me as if the day were breaking! Almost immediately two other windows
flew into fragments, and I saw that the whole of the lower part of my
house was nothing but a terrible furnace. But a cry, a horrible,
shrill, heartrending cry, a woman's cry, sounded through the night, and
two garret windows were opened! I had forgotten the servants! I saw the
terrorstruck faces, and their frantically waving arms!...
Then, overwhelmed with horror, I set off to run to the village,
shouting: "Help! help! fire! fire!" I met some people who were already
coming onto the scene, and I went back with them to see!
By this time the house was nothing but a horrible and magnificent
funeral pile, a monstrous funeral pile which lit up the whole country,
a funeral pile where men were burning, and where he was burning also,
He, He, my prisoner, that new Being, the new master, the Horla!
Suddenly the whole roof fell in between the walls, and a volcano of
flames darted up to the sky. Through all the windows which opened onto
that furnace I saw the flames darting, and I thought that he was there,
in that kiln, dead.
Dead? perhaps?... His body? Was not his body, which was transparent,
indestructible by such means as would kill ours?
If he was not dead?... Perhaps time alone has power over that
Invisible and Redoubtable Being. Why this transparent, unrecognizable
body, this body belonging to a spirit, if it also had to fear ills,
infirmities and premature destruction?
Premature destruction? All human terror springs from that! After man
the Horla. After him who can die every day, at any hour, at any moment,
by any accident, he came who was only to die at his own proper hour and
minute, because he had touched the limits of his existence!
No ... no ... without any doubt ... he is not dead. Then ... then ... I
suppose I must kill myself!
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