A Shape of Light Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Boney Benson, a man obsessed with a singular quest, lived in a town where it was his job to flag the midnight trains with a red lantern. Wizened, scary, almost ghostlike in appearance, but gentle, he awakened the imagination of the town. The people would whisper his story, passing down what they knew to the younger generation. Some said he spent his days in the graveyard, sprawled on the earth over the place where Allie, his wife, and their unborn child lay buried. It was said that the baby murdered Allie, that in the last month of her pregnancy the child had risen in her body until it lodged beneath her heart and nested there, a kind of vampire, until Allie could not breathe.

Allie died in terror, fighting for air without knowing what was strangling her. It might have been her husband, for all she knew, for he often left her without warning, to pursue “a lighted shape, much like a scrap of light rising like a ghost from the ground.” They might be sitting at the supper table when the powerful urge to follow the light would strike him, and then he would rise, go saddle his purple horse, King, and be off, to wander over the countryside all night long, until, at daybreak, the light vanished into the ground.

In a fit of conscience, Boney turned against himself and mutilated his body; he buried his severed member in the grave with his wife and child. It was said that the child was born in the grave and lived underground, like a mole, but rose each night in the shape of a ball of light. Mexicans who lived at the edge of the graveyard first saw the specter. Fishermen and campers also reported an eerie shape of floating light. When Boney heard about the haunting, he attempted to seal the light in the dirt with a slab of slate, holding it down with the weight of his body. Finding it impossible to contain the light, he began to wait in the graveyard each night, mounted on King, for the light to rise. Then he followed it wherever it led. Three young men, who went with Boney on one of his nightly...

(The entire section is 823 words.)