“The Landlady” by Roald Dahl is a great example of a horror story that you don’t realize is a horror story until the very end.
Our story begins with young Billy Weaver. He traveled from London to Bath, and it had gotten late. When searching for somewhere to stay the night, the porter recommended the Bell and Dragon for lodging, a quarter-mile from his current position.
While walking to the Bell and Dragon, Billy was distracted by a nice looking bed and breakfast. The inside was furbished nicely, but Billy decided that he would go to the Bell and Dragon anyhow. Suddenly, the letters in the window – Bed and Breakfast – caught his eye. He couldn’t look away and finally went to ring the bell. However, literally as soon as he rang the bell, the door opened and inside stood an old, gentle-looking woman.
The woman promptly invited him inside, offering a fee of five and sixpence, much cheaper than the Bell and Dragon. Billy’s first impression of the old woman was that she was terribly nice, but slightly dotty. He also finds it odd that the boardinghouse is not filled with applicants, but just shrugs off any bad premonitions he has.
The old woman takes Billy up to his room, then offers him dinner, which Billy refuses. The landlady then adds that he must go downstairs and sign the guestbook, because it is the law. He agrees, then gets settled in the room before finally heading down to sitting room to sign the guestbook.
The first thing he notices is the fire in the hearth and the dachshund sleeping in front of it. He found the guestbook and signed it, noticing that there were only two entries before his – Christopher Mulholland and Gregory Temple. As he is studying the book, the landlady walks into the room carrying a large silver tea tray. She sits down on the sofa and offers some tea to Billy as he continues thinking aloud about where he had heard the two names in the guestbook before.
The first odd clue he notices is the fact that Gregory Temple’s entry was dated two years previously, and Chris Mulholland’s was dated a year before that one! Suspicion abounds, as Billy gets closer to finding out the truth. Then, Billy remembers a story about a young man disappearing while on a cross-country trip – the young man being Christopher Mulholland. Billy inquires about Mulholland’s whereabouts as of late, and the landlady tells him that neither Mulholland nor Temple had ever left the establishment. We then find out that the dachshund and a parrot in the den are both stuffed and that the woman did it herself. The story ends with Billy double-checking about any other guests, with the woman simply replying “No, my dear… only you.”
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