Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852–1930)
From American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps
By the end of the 1880s, her first decade as a published writer, Mary Eleanor Wilkins had become one of America’s most popular short story writers, publishing nearly fifty stories for Harper’s several periodicals and collecting many of them in two book publications. During the following decades, she expanded her repertoire from the realism that pervaded her earlier work to other genres, including ghost stories. In 1902, the year she married Charles Manning Freeman, she wrote “Luella Miller,” one of her most enduringly popular stories, describing a local woman who saps the life out of everyone who cares for her and featuring the narrator Lydia Anderson, whose “thoughts were clothed in the rude vernacular of her native village.”
Close to the village street stood the one-story house in which Luella Miller, who had an evil name in the village, had dwelt. She had been dead for years, yet there were those in the village who, in spite of the clearer light which comes on a vantage-point from a long-past danger, half believed in the tale which they had heard from their childhood. In their hearts, although they scarcely would have owned it, was a survival of the wild horror and frenzied fear of their ancestors who had dwelt in the same age with Luella Miller. Young people even would stare with a shudder at the old house as they passed, and children never played around it as was their wont around an untenanted building. Not a window in the old Miller house was broken: the panes reflected the morning sunlight in patches of emerald and blue, and the latch of the sagging front door was never lifted, although no bolt secured it. Since Luella Miller had been carried out of it, the house had had no tenant except one friendless old soul who had no choice between that and the far-off shelter of the open sky. This old woman, who had survived her kindred and friends, lived in the house one week, then one morning no smoke came out of the chimney, and a body of neighbours, a score strong, entered and found her dead in her bed. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!