I read this short story in the 1960s and it was already old then, maybe 19th century. There are no science fiction elements, but it might be considered as fantasy, certainly as horror, given the uncanny intelligence of the cat. It is narrated by a traveler to Germany who takes up an acquaintance with a brash man from his own country. Early on, the brash man casually kills a litter of kittens, obviously taking pleasure in this to his companion's veiled distaste. The mother cat glowers. The man insists on seeing a historic torture chamber that is maintained for tourists, and the narrator describes the implements. The brash man (an early version of the Ugly American?) now pays the guide extra to be bound and placed in the Black Madonna, a coffin-like device that has two long prongs in the interior of the lid, situated so as to pierce the eyes and brain when the lid is dropped. Now he asks the guide to lower the lid slowly, holding a rope, so he can experience the thrill of danger as the prongs near his face. Suddenly the mother cat appears as if from nowhere and leaps to attack, not the Ugly American who is bound helpless in the torture device, but, with preternatural intelligence, the guide's face. The startled guide lets the rope go and the lid slams into place, but not before the narrator glimpses the horror on the bound man's face.

The story left a vivid impression on me; it was published in an English-language anthology and I must have read it more than once: Poe? Wells? "Black Madonna" yields so many results on Google searches that the story, if indeed I am right that the torture device was called "Black Madonna", is buried among hundreds of other references. Can we locate this story in time for Halloween?

1 Answer 1


Bram Stoker's "The Squaw" as per this article.

The story describes in gory detail how an American tourist in the German city of Nuremberg accidentally kills a kitten. It goes on to describe, in equally gory detail, how the kitten's mother gets revenge on the American.

From the text:

But at that instant, with a sort of hellish scream, she hurled herself, not as we expected at Hutcheson, but straight at the face of the custodian. Her claws seemed to be tearing wildly as one sees in the Chinese drawings of the dragon rampant, and as I looked I saw one of them light on the poor man’s eye, and actually tear through it and down his cheek, leaving a wide band of red where the blood seemed to spurt from every vein.

With a yell of sheer terror which came quicker than even his sense of pain, the man leaped back, dropping as he did so the rope which held back the iron door. I jumped for it, but was too late, for the cord ran like lightning through the pulley-block, and the heavy mass fell forward from its own weight.

As the door closed I caught a glimpse of our poor companion’s face. He seemed frozen with terror. His eyes stared with a horrible anguish as if dazed, and no sound came from his lips.

And then the spikes did their work. Happily the end was quick, for when I wrenched open the door they had pierced so deep that they had locked in the bones of the skull through which they had crushed, and actually tore him—it—out of his iron prison till, bound as he was, he fell at full length with a sickly thud upon the floor, the face turning upward as he fell.

Found with a search for horror story cat iron maiden.

As a side note, the title of this story uses a term that is currently considered offensive although its etymology is more innocuous than you'd hear many places online.

  • This is certainly the story, as I remember some of the other elements that are described here, though I failed to recall others. Thank you very much! I don't know where I read it -- probably not in any of the collections listed on its ISFDB page, numerous though they are, as I don't recognize the covers or accompanying stories. I see now that the "Black Madonna" was actually the "Iron Maiden" and that the "litter of kittens" was just one kitten, killed unintentionally but callously. Commented Oct 24, 2021 at 15:43
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    The short story can be read on Project Gutenberg here. Commented Oct 24, 2021 at 15:48
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    Correction: In the story it's called the Iron Virgin, not Iron Maiden. It's unclear whether such devices were ever actually used, though replicas were made to show to tourists in the 19th century. And so I am able to exorcise a horror that was lodged in my brain at all too early an age. Commented Oct 24, 2021 at 15:52
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    Indeed, that's what got me there, horror story cat iron maiden
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Oct 24, 2021 at 15:53
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    @Clockwork: Quite honestly, it just means "young woman", but it gained an unsavory reputation somewhere in the late 19th century where it was alleged to be a synecdoche referring to female reproductive anatomy.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 14:08

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