an entry in OLA Scary Story Contest 2000

The Golden Arm
by Michael, age eight


One day there was an old man. And he had a golden arm. And some one stole it. And a year later he died. And two guys stole it. On holloween the old mans ghost came back and came in to the house. And said were is my golden arm? Were is my golden arm? And the men Got scared. And they ran off. The End

"The Golden Arm" is a classic jump story in American folklore. Samuel Clemens heard it as a boy, probably from the family's hired hand, "Uncle Ned." He included this "negro ghost story," as he called it, in his essay, "How to Tell a Story."
Once 'pon a time dey wuz a monsus mean man, en he live 'way out in de prairie all 'lone by hisself, 'cep'n he had a wife. En bimeby she died, en he tuck en toted her way out dah in de prairie en buried her. Well, she had a golden arm -- all solid gold, fum de shoulder down. He wuz pow'ful mean -- pow'ful; en dat night he couldn't sleep, caze he want dat golden arm so bad.

When it come midnight he couldn't stan' it no mo'; so he git up, he did, en tuck his lantern en shoved out thoo de storm en dug her up en got de golden arm; en he bent his head down 'gin de win', en plowed en plowed en plowed thoo de snow. Den all on a sudden he stop (make a considerable pause here, and look startled, and take a listening attitude) en say: "My lan', what's dat!"

En he listen -- en listen -- en de win' say (set your teeth together and imitate the wailing and wheezing singsong of the wind), "Bzzz-z-zzz" -- en den, way back yonder what de grave is, he hear a voice! -- he hear a voice all mix' up in de win' -- can't hardly tell 'em 'part -- "Bzzz-zzz -- W-h-o -- g-o-t -- m-y -- g-o-l-d-e-n -- arm? -- zzz -- zzz -- W-h-o g-o-t m-y g-o-l-d-e-n arm?" (You must begin to shiver violently now.)

En he begin to shiver en shake, en say, "Oh, my! Oh, my lan'!" en de win' blow de lantern out, en de snow en sleet blow in his face en mos' choke him, en he start a-plowin' knee-deep toward home mos' dead, he so sk'yerd -- en pooty soon he hear de voice agin, en (pause) it 'us comin' after him! "Bzzz -- zzz -- zzz -- W-h-o -- g-o-t -- m-y g-o-l-d-e-n -- arm?"

When he git to de pasture he hear it agin -- closter now, en a-comin'! -- a-comin' back dah in de dark en de storm -- (repeat the wind and the voice). When he git to de house he rush up-stairs en jump in de bed en kiver up, head and years, en lay dah shiverin' en shakin' -- en den way out dah he hear it agin! -- en a-comin'! En bimeby he hear (pause -- awed, listening attitude) -- pat -- pat -- pat -- hit's a-comin' up-stairs! Den he hear de latch, en he know it's in de room!

Den pooty soon he know it's a-stannin' by de bed! (Pause.) Den -- he know it's a-bendin' down over him -- en he cain't skasely git his breath! Den -- den -- he seem to feel someth'n c-o-l-d, right down 'most agin his head! (Pause.)

Den de voice say, right at his year -- "W-h-o -- g-o-t -- m-y -- g-o-l-d-e-n arm?" (You must wail it out very plaintively and accusingly; then you stare steadily and impressively into the face of the farthest-gone auditor, -- a girl, preferably, -- and let that awe-inspiring pause begin to build itself in the deep hush. When it has reached exactly the right length, jump suddenly at that girl and yell, "You've got it!"

If you've got the pause right, she'll fetch a dear little yelp and spring right out of her shoes. But you must get the pause right; and you will find it the most troublesome and aggravating and uncertain thing you ever undertook.)

Source: Mark Twain, How to Tell a Story and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1897)).

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