Can anyone identify this story which traumatised me as a child?

The story concerned a small boy at a boarding house, or apartment and his creeping upstairs to spy on the old woman who lived upstairs. He was watching her through the keyhole.

He watched her singing a strange song and slicing the heads off mice with a carving knife in a strange ritualistic way. She then changed songs and somehow magically reattached and resurrected the dead mice, before looking directly at the protagonist and telling him that he'd seen too much and...

That's where my memory fails me, and I think as a child I had a fit of fright, threw the book away and ran screaming to my parents.

I think that this was a Roald Dahl short story - possibly one of the Tales of the Unexpected, or in his 'Henry Sugar' collection (though I can't find it in those collections.) like the Swans story which also upset me.

Sadly googling for "Roald Dahl" and Mice just brings up the sweet-shop story in 'Boy' or 'The Witches.' I may be entirely mistaken by the Dahl connection, but it's stuck in my mind and haunted my nightmares for years. It seems gruesome and weird enough for him.


  • 1
    It does sound like Roald Dahl but I've read Kiss Kiss and the Henry Sugar collection (especially the hitchhiker one!) many time and don't recall that story. Sep 23, 2016 at 11:46
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    Checking with Kris Howard at RoaldDahlfans.com revealed that this is not a Roald Dahl short story which she is aware of, and therefore probably not a Roald Dahl story at all, even though it sounds like him. Sep 25, 2016 at 15:15

1 Answer 1


This question was answered and accepted on Reddit as "The Loaf and the Knife" by Michael Rosen.

An old woman boasts that she can deal with vermin, but tells the narrator not to watch. They watch through a keyhole though, and see the woman sticking a knife, blade up, into a loaf of bread, then hypnotising the mice to slit their throats on it. She then comes over to the door and opens it: the narrator is crouching there frozen in fear, and the woman tells them that she warned them not to watch, and that now the memory will be with them forever.

The story appears in the collection Nasty! by Michael Rosen which can be borrowed from the Internet Archive.

You can also watch Michael Rosen tell the story on his YouTube channel.

  • 1
    Interestingly, despite the identical wording, the usernames suggest that it was not OP who asked the Reddit question but a commenter on this very question. Weird.
    – Laurel
    Feb 17, 2022 at 17:17

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