I encountered Ambrose Bierce for the first time during last year's "Dead Me in Challenge" with An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and it turned out to be one of the finest short-stories that I have ever read. Talk about a "twist" ending! Unfortunately, I did not end up writing any review on it but Bierce immediately became a permanent fixture on my radar. It is difficult for me to describe his unique style but he often relishes in dark imagery and creates an imposing sense of dread but I would be hard pressed to call him a horror writer in the same vein as, say, Stephen King. His cynicism and ominous depiction of death crops up in a lot of his stories so it makes sense that many would consider him as a horror writer but perhaps it would be more accurate to classify his writing as psychological horror that has more in common with H.P. Lovecraft's 'weird fiction.' Having fought in the American Civil War and being wounded, a lot of Bierce's stories usually revolve around the horrors of war although The Boarded Window is a little different. Here, we get a grim depiction of isolated frontier life with elements of the supernatural. So, indeed, one can certainly read this particular story as "horror" but it must be reiterated that this is not always the case in Ambrose Bierce's work.
As a ghost story, The Boarded Window is steeped in mysticism and ambiguity. With the expansion of the American frontier, many settlers found themselves living in remote areas, far removed from civilization. The unnamed narrator relates a story passed down from his grandfather about a man named Murlock who settled in these parts many years ago and became isolated from the community by moving deeper into the forest with his wife. We are never given any explanation as to why they become social outcasts, nor do we get the wife's perspective at any point. He seems wholly dependent on her and yet she seems entirely compliant to give into his desire to become hermits. Very odd. She eventually dies of an illness and then Murlock becomes even more of a recluse in his grief. He then gets super creepy, locking himself up in the cabin with his dead wife's corpse by boarding up the windows (wink, wink) to literally shut out the external world but this particular act also serves as a metaphor for his own psychological imprisonment. Paralyzed by such immense loss, he wallows in despair and stubbornly refuses to let go of the past. The ending threw me for a loop and I am still not sure what to make of it. During one of Murolock's emotional breakdowns as he is clutching his wife's corpse in agonizing grief, she mysteriously disappears and a vicious panther breaks through the window and kills him. So, yeah, very weird. Does this really happen or is he suffering from some kind of hallucination? Bierce purposefully leaves the ending shrouded in ambiguity although I found the whole encounter with the panther to be rather silly, which greatly diminished the quality of an otherwise decent story.