Ron Breznay’s The Old Masters Of Horror:
Frank Belknap Long
[The following is a reprint of a column which originally appeared in the February 24, 2005, issue of Hellnotes.]
Frank Belknap Long, Jr., had a long and prolific writing career, penning hundreds of stories and a number of novels in the genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy (or scientifantasy, as Long himself put it). He was a frequent contributor to Weird Tales and other pulp magazine. He received the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award in 1978 and the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988.
Long was born on April 27, 1903 (some sources incorrectly say 1901), in New York City to well-to-do parents. His father was a prominent dentist, and the family lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Long’s interest in fantastic fiction started in his youth when he read the Oz books and works by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and his idol, Edgar Allan Poe.
Long studied journalism at New York University for less than two years. His studies were cut short by a long hospitalization for appendicitis, after which he decided to pursue a career as a writer. He was able to do this for a while without the bother of having to earn a living as he stayed under his parents’ roof.
When he was 16, Long won an essay-writing contest in The Boy’s World, which led to his invitation to join the United Amateur Press Association. His first published work was “Dr. Whitlock’s Price,” which appeared in the UAPA journal United Amateur in March 1920. His next story, “The Eye Above the Mantel,” was published in the same magazine in March 1921. This tale, which involved ancient horror, other dimensions, and forbidden knowledge, caught the eye of H.P. Lovecraft, who wrote Long a letter praising the work. Long’s prose-poem “At the Home of Poe” appeared in the May 1922 issue of United Amateur. His first book was A Man from Genoa and Other Poems (1926).
In 1922, the young Long met Lovecraft when the latter visited New York. This started a close personal and professional friendship that would last until Lovecraft’s death. Lovecraft’s admiration of Long was evidenced by his laudatory critical essay “The Work of Frank Belknap Long, Jr.” (United Amateur, March 1924). Long was often the first-reader of Lovecraft’s stories, and he was one of six writers authorized by Lovecraft to use his Cthulhu mythos and idea-book. He was the first person after Lovecraft to write a story in the mythos, “The Hounds of Tindalos” (1929). Long wrote a biography of Lovecraft, Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Night Side (1975), which won a World Fantasy Special Award in 1976.
Long’s professional career started when “The Desert Lich” appeared in the November 1924 issue of Weird Tales, to which he would become a frequent contributor. He also sold many stories to the science fiction pulp magazines, starting in 1930 with “The Thought Materializer” in Science Wonder Stories Quarterly, followed by appearances in Astounding Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and others. His SF stories departed from the stereotypical SF of the era, which centered around gadgetry and gargantuan insects, as his themes were the environment, mankind’s treatment of the planet, and the human condition.
The golden age of science fiction began in 1939 when John W. Campbell, Jr., took over Astounding Stories, which became Astounding Science Fiction, and started a fantasy magazine called Unknown. Around this time, Weird Tales began to flounder and Long devoted himself almost entirely to science fiction. However, it took Long over two years to satisfy Campbell’s rigorous editorial policies and sell him a story. Long’s submission of “Dark Vision” to Astounding was instead published in the first issue of the fantasy pulp Unknown (March 1939). He finally got into Astounding with “Brown” (July 1941). In all, Long sold 12 stories to Astounding and ten to Unknown during the period of 1939 to 1950. He shared the pages with such masters of science fiction as Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and A.E. van Vogt.
In 1946, Arkham House published The Hounds of Tindalos, a collection of 21 stories which first appeared in the pulps. This collection was critically acclaimed in such literary venues as the New York Times. In 1949, Long’s first science fiction novel appeared, John Carstairs, Space Detective. This tale of Carstairs, who used alien plants as a means of foiling mysteries, combined a humorous tone and a hard-boiled detective style. The novel was actually a blending of six previously published Carstairs short stories.
In the late 1940s, the pulp magazine field began to shrink, and paperback science fiction novels and anthologies gained in popularity. The first such original SF paperback anthology, The Girl with the Hungry Eyes and Other Stories (1949), included Long’s “Maturity Night,” and his stories appeared in many of these anthologies. His first paperback SF novel was Space Station No. 1 (1957), published by Ace, which sold 100,000 copies in the first six months, probably his greatest exposure to date. This was followed in 1962 by Mars Is My Destination. In 1963 and 1964, Long saw the publication of several books. Belmont reprinted Tindalos in a two-volume paperback edition; published It Was the Day of the Robot, a revised, expanded version of the earlier “Made to Order”; and put out an anthology that included a reprint of “The Horror from the Hills.” And Arkham reprinted The Horror from the Hills in book form.
Long married fairly late in life when he wed Lyda Arco in 1961. They had no children (“my children were all Martians” was the way Long described his progeny).
Long continued to write SF into the 1970s. His last SF novel, The Night of the Wolf, came out in 1972. From then until his death, he published a gothic novel, The Lemonyne Heritage (1975), the biography of Lovecraft, a memoir, and several stories in magazines and anthologies. His final published work was “Sauce for the Gander,” which appeared in the January 1988 issue of Astro-Adventures. At the time of his death, he was working on a novel-length version of his short story “Cottage Tenant” (Fantastic, April 1975).
Long made his final public appearance at the Lovecraft Centennial Conference in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1990. He passed away in New York City on January 2, 1994.
Long’s novels and collections seem to be out of print but are readily available on the secondary market. Several in-print anthologies contain some of his stories, including Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and New Horizons (Arkham House).
The Hounds of Tindalos
"I'm glad you came," said Chalmers. He was sitting by the window and his face was very pale. Two tall candles guttered at his elbow and cast a sickly amber light over his long nose and slightly receding chin.
Chalmers would have nothing modern about his apartment. He had the soul of a mediaeval ascetic, and he preferred illuminated manuscripts to automobiles, and leering stone gargoyles to radios and adding-machines.
As I crossed the room to the settee he had cleared for me, I glanced at his desk and was surprised to discover that he had been studying the mathematical formulae of a celebrated contemporary physicist, and that he had covered many sheets of thin yellow paper with curious geometric designs.
"Einstein and John Dee are strange bedfellows," I said as my gaze wandered from his mathematical charts to the sixty or seventy quaint books that comprised his strange little library. Plotinus and Emanuel Moscopulus, St. Thomas Aquinas and Frenicle de Bessy stood elbow to elbow in the somber ebony bookcase, and chairs, table, and desk were littered with pamphlets about mediaeval sorcery and witchcraft and black magic, and all of the valiant glamorous things that the modern world has repudiated.
Chalmers smiled engagingly, and passed me a Russian cigarette on a curiously carved tray. "We are just discovering now," he said, "that the old alchemists and sorcerers were two-thirds right, and that your modern biologist and materialist is nine-tenths wrong."
"You have always scoffed at modern science," I said, a little impatiently.
"Only at scientific dogmatism," he replied. "I have always been a rebel, a champion of originality and lost causes; that is why I have chosen to repudiate the conclusions of contemporary biologists."
"And Einstein?" I asked.
"A priest of transcendental mathematics!" he murmured reverently. "A profound mystic and explorer of the great suspected."
"Then you do not entirely despise science."
"Of course not," he affirmed. "I merely distrust the scientific positivism of the past fifty years, the positivism of Haeckel and Darwin and of Mr. Bertrand Russell. I believe that biology has failed pitifully to explain the mystery of man's origin and destiny."
"Give them time," I retorted.
Chalmers's eyes glowed. "My friend," he murmured, "your pun is sublime. Give them time. That is precisely what I would do. But your modern biologist scoffs at time. He has the key but he refuses to use it. What do we know of time, really? Einstein believes that it is relative, that it can be interpreted in terms of space, of curved space. But must we stop there? When mathematics fails us can we not advance by — insight?"
"You are treading on dangerous ground," I replied. "That is a pitfall that your true investigator avoids.
That is why modern science has advanced so slowly. It accepts nothing that it cannot demonstrate. But you-"
"I would take hashish, opium, all manner of drugs. I would emulate the sages of the East. And then perhaps I would apprehend — "
"The fourth dimension."
"Perhaps. But I believe that drugs expand human consciousness. William James agreed with me. And I have discovered a new one."
"A new drug?"
"It was used centuries ago by Chinese alchemists, but it is virtually unknown in the West. Its occult properties are amazing. With its aid and the aid of my mathematical knowledge I believe that I can go back through time."
"I do not understand."
"Time is merely our imperfect perception of a new dimension of space. Time and motion are both illusions. Everything that has existed from the beginning of the world exists now. Events that occurred centuries ago on this planet continue to exist in another dimension of space. Events that will occur centuries from now exist already. We cannot perceive their existence because we cannot enter the dimension of space that contains them. Human beings as we know them are merely fractions, infinitesimally small fractions of one enormous whole. Every human being is linked with all the life that has preceded him on this planet. All of his ancestors are parts of him. Only time separates him from his forebears, and time is an illusion and does not exist."
"I think I understand," I murmured.
"It will be sufficient for my purpose if you can form a vague idea of what I wish to achieve. I wish to strip from my eyes the veils of illusion that time has thrown over them, and see the beginning and the end."
"And you think this new drug will help you?"
"I am sure that it will. And I want you to help me. I intend to take the drug immediately. I cannot wait. I must see." His eyes glittered strangely. "I am going back, back through time."
He rose and strode to the mantel. When he faced me again he was holding a small square box in the palm of his hand. "I have here five pellets of the drug Liao. It was used by the Chinese philospher Lao Tze, and while under its influence he visioned Tao. Tao is the most mysterious force in the world; it surrounds and pervades all things; it contains the visible universe and everything we call reality. He who apprehends the mysteries of Tao sees clearly all that was and will be."
"Rubbish!" I retorted.
"Tao resembles a great animal, recumbent, motionless, containing in its enormous body all the worlds of our universe, the past, the present, and the future. We see portions of this great monster through a slit, which we call time. With the aid of this drug I shall enlarge the slit. I shall behold the great figure of life, the great recumbent beast in its entirety."
"And what do you wish me to do?"
"Watch, my friend. Watch and take notes. And if I go back too far, you must recall me to reality. You can recall me by shaking my violently. If I appear to be suffering acute physical pain you must recall me at once."
"Chalmers," I said, "I wish you wouldn't make this experiment. You are taking dreadful risks. I don't believe that there is any fourth dimension and I emphatically do not believe in Tao. And I don't approve of your experimenting with unknown drugs."
"I know the properties of this drug," he replied. "I know precisely how it affects the human animal and I know its dangers. The risk does not reside in the drug itself. My only fear is that I may become lost in time. You see, I shall assist the drug. Before I swallow this pellet I shall give my undivided attention to the geometric and algebraic symbols that I have traced on this paper." He raised the mathematical chart that rested on his knee. "I shall prepare my mind for an excursion into time. I shall approach the fourth dimension with my conscious mind before I take the drug with will enable me to exercise occult powers of perception. Before I enter the dream world of the Eastern mystic I shall acquire all of the mathematical help that modern science can offer. This mathematical knowledge, this conscious approach to an actual apprehension of the fourth dimension of time, will supplement the work of the drug. The drug will open up stupendous new vistas- the mathematical perparation will enable me to grasp them intellectually. I have often grasped the fourth dimension in dreams, emotionally, intuitively, but I have never been able to recall, in waking life, the occupt splendors that were momentarily revealed to me.
"But with your aid, I believe that I can recall them. You will take down everything that I say while I am under the influence of the drug. No matter how strange or incoherent my speech may become you will omit nothing. When I awake I may be able to supply the key to whatever is mysterious or incredible. I am not sure that I shall succeed, but if I do succeed"-his eyes were strangely luminous- "time will exist for me no longer!"
He sat down abruptly. "I shall make the experiment at once. Please stand over there by the window and watch. Have you a fountain pen?"
I nodded gloomily and removed a pale green Waterman from my upper vest pocket.
"And a pad, Frank?"
I groaned and produced a memorandum book. "I emphatically disapprove of this experiment," I muttered. "You're taking a frightful risk."
"Don't be an asinine old woman!" he admonished. "Nothing that you can say will induce me to stop now.
I entreat you to remain silent while I study these charts."
He raised the charts and studied them intently. I watched the clock on the mantel as it ticked out the seconds, and a curious dread clutched at my heart so that I choked.
Suddenly the clock stopped ticking, and exactly at that moment Chalmers swallowed the drug.
I rose quickly and moved toward him, but his eyes implored me not to interfere. "The clock has stopped," he murmured. "The forces that control it approve of my experiment. Time stopped, and I swallowed the drug. I pray God that I shall not lose my way."
He closed his eyes and leaned back on the sofa. All of the blood had left his face and he was breathing heavily. It was clear that the drug was acting with extraordinary rapidity.
"It is beginning to get dark," he murmured. "Write that. It is beginning to get dark and the familiar objects in the room are fading out. I can discern them vaguely through my eyelids, but they are fading swiftly."
I shook my pen to make the ink come and wrote rapidly in shorthand as he continued to dictate.
"I am leaving the room. The walls are vanishing and I can no longer see any of the familiar objects. Your face, though, is still visible to me. I hope that you are writing. I think that I am about to make a great leap-a leap through space. Or perhaps it is through time that I shall make the leap. I cannot tell.
Everything is dark, indistinct."
"He sat for a while silent, with his head sunk upon his breast. Then suddenly he stiffened and his eyelids fluttered open. "God in heaven!" he cried. "I see!"
He was straining forward in his chair, staring at the opposite wall. But I knew that he was looking beyond the wall and that the objects in the room no longer existed for him. "Chalmers," I cried, "Chalmers, shall I wake you?"
"Do not!" he shrieked. "I see everything. All of the billions of lives that preceded me on this planet are before me at this moment. I see men of all ages, all races, all colors. They are fighting, killing, building, dancing, singing. They are sitting about rude fires on lonely gray deserts, and flying through the air in monoplanes. They are riding the seas in bark canoes and enormous steamships; they are painting bison and mammoths on the walls of dismal caves and covering huge canvases with queer futuristic designs. I watch the migrations from Atlantis. I watch the migrations from Lemuria. I see the elder races-a strange horde of black dwarfs overwhelming Asia, and the Neanderthalers with lowered heads and bent knees ranging obscenely across Europe. I watch the Achaeans streaming into the Greek islands, and the crude beginnings of Hellenic culture. I am in Athens and Pericles is young. I am standing on the soil of Italy. I assist in the rape of the Sabines; I march with the Imperial Legions. I tremble with awe and wonder as the enormous standards go by and the ground shakes with the tread of the victorious hastati. A thousand naked slaves grovel before me as I pass in a litter of gold and ivory drawn by night-black oxen from Thebes, and the flower-girls scream 'Ave Caesar' as I nod and smile. I am myself a slave on a Moorish galley. I watch the erection of a great cathedral. Stone by stone it rises, and through months and years I stand and watch each stone as it falls into place. I am burned on a cross head downward in the thyme-scented gardens of Nero, and I watch with amusement and scorn the torturers at work in the chambers of the Inquisition.
"I walk in the holiest sanctuaries; I enter the temples of Venus. I kneel in adoration before the Magna Mater; and I throw coins on the bare knees of the sacred courtesans who sit with veiled faces in the groves of Babylon. I creep into an Elizabethan theater and with the stinking rabble about me I applaud The Merchant of Venice. I walk with Dante through the narrow streets of Florence. I meet the young Beatrice, and the hem of her garment brushes my sandals as I stare enraptured. I am a priest of Isis, and my magic astounds the nations. Simon Magus kneels before me, imploring my assistance, and Pharaoh trembles when I approach. In India I talk with the Masters and run screaming from their presence, for their revelations are as salt on wounds that bleed.
"I perceive everything simultaneously. I perceive everything from all sides; I am a part of all the teeming billions about me. I exist in all men and all men exist in me. I perceive the whole of human history in a single instant, the past and the present.
"By simply straining I can see farther and farther back. Now I am going back through strange curves and angles. Angles and curves multiply about me. I perceive great segments of time through curves.
There is curved time, and angular time. The beings that exist in angular time cannot enter curved time.
It is very strange.
"I am going back and back. Man has disappeared from the earth. Gigantic reptiles crouch beneath enormous palms and swim through the loathly black waters of dismal lakes. Now the reptiles have disappeared. No animals remain upon the land, but beneath the waters, plainly visibleto me, dark forms move slowly over the rotting vegetation.
"These forms are becoming simpler and simpler. Now they are single cells. All about me there are angles-strange angles that have no counterparts on the earth. I am desperately afraid."
"There is an abyss of being which man has never fathomed."
I stared. Chalmers had risen to his feet and he was gesticulating helplessly with his arms. "I am passing through unearthly angles; I am approaching-oh, the burning horror of it."
"Chalmers!" I cried. "Do you wish me to interfere?"
He brought his right hand quickly before his face, as though to shut out a vision unspeakable. "Not yet!" he cried. "I will go on. I will see — what — lies — beyond-"
A cold sweat streamed from his forehead and his shoulders jerked spasmodically. "Beyond life there are" — his face grew ashen with terror- "things that I cannot distinguish. They move slowly through angles. They have no bodies, and they move slowly through outrageous angles."
It was then that I became aware of the odor in the room. It was a pungent, indescribable odor, so nauseous that I could scarcely endure it. I stepped quickly to the window and threw it open. When I returned to Chalmers and looked into his eyes I nearly fainted.
"I think they have scented me!" he shrieked. "They are slowly turning toward me."
He was trembling horribly. For a moment he clawed at the air with his hands. Then his legs gave way beneath him and he fell forward on his face, slobbering and moaning.
I watched him in silence as he dragged himself across the floor. He was no longer a man. His teeth were bared and saliva dripped from the corners of his mouth.
"Chalmers," I cried. "Chalmers, stop it! Stop it, do you hear?"
As if in reply to my appeal he commenced to utter hoarse convulsive sounds which resembled nothing so much as the barking of a dog, and began a sort of hideous writhing in a circle about the room. I bent and seized him by the shoulders. Violently, desperately, I shook him. He turned his head and snapped at my wrist. I was sick with horror, but I dared not release him for fear that he would destroy himself in a paroxysm of rage.
"Chalmers," I muttered, "you must stop that. There is nothing in this room that can harm you. Do you understand?"
I continued to shake and admonish him, and gradually the madness died out of his face. Shivering convulsively, he crumpled into a grotesque heap on the Chinese rug.
I carried him to the sofa and deposited him upon it. His features were twisted in pain, and I knew that he was still struggling dumbly to escape from abominable memories.
"Whiskey," he muttered. "You'll find a flash in the cabinet by the window-upper-left-hand drawer."
When I handed him the flash his fingers tightened about it until the knuckles showed blue. "They nearly got me," he gasped. He drained the stimulant in immoderate gulps, and gradually the color crept back into his face.
"That drug was the very devil!" I murmured.
"It wasn't the drug," he moaned.
His eyes no longer glared insanely, but he still wore the look of a lost soul.
"They scented me in time," he moaned. "I went too far."
"What were they like?" I said, to humor him.
He leaned forward and gripped my arm. He was shivering horribly. "No words in our language can describe them!" He spoke in a hoarse whisper. "They are symbolized vaguely in the myth of the Fall, and in an obscene form which is occasionally found engraved on ancient tablets. The Greeks had a name for them, which veiled their essential foulness. The tree, the snake, and the apple-these are the vague symbobls of a most awful mystery."
His voice had risen to a scream. "Frank, Frank, a terrible and unspeakable deed was done in the beginning. Before time, the deed, and from the deed-"
He had risen and was hysterically pacing the room. "The deeds of the dead move through angles in dim recesses of time. They are hungry and athirst!"
"Chalmers," I pleaded to quiet him. "We are living in the third decade of the Twentieth Century."
"They are lean and athirst!" he shrieked. "The Hounds of Tindalos!"
"Chalmers, shall I phone for a physician?"
"A physician cannot help me now. They are horrors of the soul, and yet" — he hid his face in his hands and groaned- "they are real, Frank. I saw them for a ghastly moment. For a moment I stood on the other side. I stood on the pale gray shores beyond time and space. In an awful light that was not light, in a silence that shrieked, I saw them.
"All the evil in the universe was concentrated in their lean, hungry bodies. Or had they bodies? I saw them only for a moment; I cannot be certain. But I heard them breathe. Indescribably for a moment I felt their breath upon my face. They turned toward me and I fled screaming. In a single moment I fled screaming through time. I fled down quintillions of years.
"But they scented me. Men awake in them cosmic hungers. We have escaped, momentarily, from the foulness that rings them round. They thirst for that in us which is clean, which emerged from the deed without stain. There is a part of us which did not partake in the deed, and that they hate. But do not imagine that they are literally, prosaically evil. They are beyond good and evil as we know it. They are that which in the beginning fell away from cleanliness. Through the deed they became bodies of death, receptacles of all foulness. But they are not evil in our sense because in the spheres through which they move there is no thought, no moral, no right or wrong as we understand it. There is merely the pure and the foul. The foul expresses itself through angles; the pure through curves. Man, the pure part of him, is descended from a curve. Do not laugh. I mean that literally."
I rose and searched for my hat. "I'm dreadfully sorry for you, Chalmers," I said, as I walked toward the door. "But I don't intend to stay and listen to such gibberish. I'll send my physician to see you. He's an elderly, kindly chap, and he won't be offended if you tell him to go to the devil. But I hope you'll respect his advice. A week's rest in a good sanitarium should benefit you immeasurably."
I heard him laughing as I descended the stairs, but his laughter was so utterly mirthless that it moved me to tears.
When Chalmers phoned the following morning my first impulse was to hang up the receiver immediately.
His request was so unusual and his voice was so wildly hysterical that I feared any further association with him would result in the impairment of my own sanity. But I could not doubt the genuineness of his misery, and when he broke down completely and I heard him sobbing over the wire, I decided to comply with his request.
"Very well," I said. "I will come over immediately and bring the plaster."
En route to Chalmers's home I stopped at a hardware store and purchased twenty pounds of plaster of Paris. When I entered my friend's room he was crouching by the window watching the opposite wall out of eyes that were feverish with fright. When he saw me he rose and seized the parcel containing the plaster with an avidity that amazed and horrified me. He had extruded all the furniture, and the room presented a desolate appearance.
"It is just conceivable that we can thwart them!" he exclaimed. "But we must work rapidly. Frank, there is a stepladder in the hall. Bring it here immediately. And then fetch a pail of water."
"What for?" I murmured.
He turned sharply and there was a flush on his face. "To mix the plaster, you fool!" he cried. "To mix the plaster that will save our bodies and souls from a contamination unmentionable. To mix the plaster that will save the world from-Frank, they must be kept out!"
"Who?" I murmured.
"The Hounds of Tindalos!" he muttered. "They can only reach us through angles. We must eliminate all angles from this room. I shall plaster up all the corners, all the crevices. We must make this room resemble the interior of a sphere."
I knew that it would have been useless to argue with him. I fetched the stepladder, Chalmers mixed the plaster, and for three hours we labored. We filled in the four corners of the wall and the intersections of the floor and wall and the wall and ceiling, and we rounded the sharp angles of the window-seat.
"I shall remain in this room until they return in time," he affirmed when our task was completed. "When they discover that the scent leads through curves they will return. They will return ravenous and snarling and unsatisfied to the foulness that was in the beginning, before time, beyond space."
He nodded graciously and lit a cigarette. "It was good of you to help," he said.
"Will you not see a physician, Chalmers?" I pleaded.
"Perhaps-tomorrow," he murmured. "But now I must watch and wait."
"Wait for what?" I urged.
Chalmers smiled wanly. "I know that you think me insane," he said. "You have a shrewd but prosaic mind, and you cannot conceive of an entity that does not depend for its existence on force and matter.
But did it ever occur to you, my friend, that force and matter are merely the barriers to perception imposed by time and space? When one knows, as I do, that time and space are identical and that they are both deceptive because they are merely imperfect manifestations of a higher reality, one no longer seeks in the visible world for an explanation of the mystery and terror of being."
I rose and walked toward the door.
"Forgive me," he cried. "I did not mean to offend you. You have a superlative intellect, but I–I have a superhuman one. It is only natural that I should be aware of your limitations."
"Phone if you need me," I said, and descended the stairs two steps at a time. "I'll send my physician over at once," I muttered, to myself. "He's a hopeless maniac, and heaven knows what will happen if someone doesn't take charge of him immediately."
The following is a condensation of two announcements which appeared in the Partridgeville Gazette for July 3, 1928:
Earthquake Shakes Financial District
At 2 o'clock this morning an earth tremor of unusual severity broke several plate-glass windows in Central Square and completely disorganized the electric and street railway systems. The tremor was felt in the outlying districts, and the steeple of the First Baptist Church on Angell Hill (designed by Christopher Wren in 1717) was entirely demolished. Firemen are now attempting to put out a blaze which threatens to destroy the Partridgeville Glue Works. An investigation is promised by the mayor, and an immediate attempt will be made to fix responsibility for this disastrous occurrence.
OCCULT WRITER MURDERED BY UNKNOWN GUEST
Horrible Crime in Central Square
Mystery Surrounds Death of Halpin Chalmers
At 9 A.M. today the body of Halpin Chalmers, author and journalist, was found in an empty room above the jewelry store of Smithwick and Isaacs, 24 Central Square. The coroner's investigation revealed that the room had been rented furnished to Mr. Chalmers on May 1, and that he had himself disposed of the furniture a fortnight ago. Chalmers was the author of several recondite themes, and a member of the Bibliographic Guild. He formerly resided in Brooklyn, New York.
At 7 A.M., Mr. L. E. Hancock, who occupies the apartment opposite Chalmers's room in the Smithwick and Isaacs establishment, smelt a peculiar odor when he opened his door to take in his cat and the morning edition of the Partridgeville Gazette. The odor he describes as extremely acrid and nauseous, and he affirms that it was so strong in the vicinity of Chalmers's room that he was obliged to hold his nose when he approached that section of the hall.
He was about to return to his own apartment when it occurred to him that Chalmers might have accidentally forgotten to turn off the gas in his kitchenette. Becoming considerably alarmed at the thought, he decided to investigate, and when repeated tappings on Chalmers's door brought no response he notified the superintendent. The latter opened the door by means of a pass key, and the two men quickly made their way into Chalmers's room. The room was utterly destitute of furniture, and Hancock asserts that when he first glanced at the floor his heart went cold within him, and that the superintendent, without saying a word, walked to the open window and stared at the building opposite for fully five minutes.
Chalmers lay stretched upon his back in the center of the roo. He was starkly nude, and his chest and arms were covered with a peculiar bluish pus or ichor. His head lay grotesquely upon his chest. It had been completely severed from his body, and the features were twisted and town and horribly mangled.
Nowhere was there a trace of blood.
The room presented a most astonishing appearance. The intersections of the walls, celing, and floor had been thickly smeared with plaster of Paris, but at intervals fragments had cracked and fallen off, and someone had grouped these upon the floor about the murdered man so as to form a perfect triangle.
Beside the body were several sheets of charred yellow paper. These bore fantastic geometric designs and symbols and several hastily scrawled sentences. The sentences were almost illegible and so absurd in content that they furnished no possible clue to the perpetrator of the crime. "I am waiting and watching,"
Chalmers wrote. "I sit by the window and watch walls and ceiling. I do not believe they can reach me, but I must beware the Doels. Perhaps they can help them break through. The satyrs will help, and they can advance through the scarlet circles. The Greeks knew a way of preventing that. It is a great pity that we have forgotten so much."
On another sheet of paper, the most badly charred of the seven or eight fragments found by Detective-Sergeant Douglas (of the Partridgeville Reserve), was scrawled the following:
"Good God, the plaster is falling! A terrific shock has loosened the plaster and it is falling. An earthquake perhaps! I never could have anticipated this. It is growing dark in the room. I must phone Frank. But can he get here in time? I will try. I will recite the Einstein formulate. I will-God, they are breaking through!
They are breaking through! Smoke is pouring from the corners of the wall. Their tongues- ahhhh-"
In the opinion of Detective-Sergeant Douglas, Chalmers was poisoned by some obscure chemical. He has sent specimens of the strange blue slime found on Chalmers's body to the Partidgeville Chemical Laboratories; and he expects the report will shed new light on one of the most mysterious crimes in recent years. That Chalmers entertained a guest on the evening preceding the earthquake is certain, for his neighbor distinctly heard a low murmur of conversation in the former's room as he passed it on his way to the stairs. Suspicion points strongly to this unknown visitor, and the police are diligently endeavoring to discover his identity.
Report of James Morton, chemist and bacteriologist:
My dear Mr. Douglas:
The fluid sent to me for analysis is the most peculiar that I have ever examined. It resembles living protoplasm, but it lacks the peguliar substances known as enzymes. Enzymes catalyze the chemical reactions occurring in living cells, and when the cell dies they cause it to disintegrate by hydrolyzation.
Without enzymes protoplasm should possess enduring vitality, i.e., immortality. Enzymes are the negative components, so to speak, of the unicellular organism, which is the basis of all life. That living matter can exist without enzymes biologists emphatically deny. And yet the substance that you have sent me is alive and it lacks these "indispensable" bodies. Good God, sir, do you realize what astounding new vistas this opens up?
Excerpt from The Secret Watcher by the late Halpin Chalmers; What if, parallel to the life we know, there is another life that does not die, which lacks the elements that destroy our life? Perhaps in another dimension there is a different force from that which generates our life. Perhaps this force emits energy, or something similar to energy, which passes from the unknown dimension where it is and creates a new form of cell life in our dimension. No one knows that such new cell life does exist in our dimension. Ah, but i have seen its manifestations. I have talked with them. In my room at night I have talked with the Doels. And in dreams I have seen their maker. I have stood on the dim shore beyond time and matter and seen it. It moves through strange curves and outrageous angles.
Someday I shall travel in time and meet it face to face.
The cross is not a passive agent. It protects the pure of heart, and it has often appeared in the air above our sabbats, confusing and dispersing the powers of Darkness.
The horror came to Partridgeville in a blind fog.
All that afternoon thick vapors from the sea had swirled and eddied about the farm, and the room in which we sat swam with moisture. The fog ascended in spirals from beneath the door, and its long, moist fingers caressed my hair until it dripped. The square-paned windows were coated with a thick, dewlike moisture; the air was heavy and dank and unbelievably cold.
I stared gloomily at my friend. He had turned his back to the window and was writing furiously. He was a tall, slim man with a slight stoop and abnormally broad shoulders. In profile his face was impressive. He had an extremely broad forehead, long nose, and slightly protuberant chin — a strong, sensitive face which suggested a wildly imaginative nature held in restraint by a skeptical and truly extraordinary intellect.
My friend wrote short stories. He wrote to please himself, in defiance of contemporary taste, and his tales were unusual. They would have delighted Poe; they would have delighted Hawthorne, or Ambrose Bierce, or Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. They were studies of abnormal men, abnormal beasts, abnormal plants. He wrote of remote realms of imagination and horror, and the colors, sounds, and odors which he dared to evoke were never seen, heard, or smelt on the familiar side of the moon. He projected his creations against mind-chilling backgrounds. They stalked through tall and lonely forests, over ragged mountains, and slithered down the stairs of ancient houses, and between the piles of rotting black wharves.
One of his tales, "The House of the Worm," had induced a young student at a Midwestern university to seek refuge in an enormous redbrick building where everyone approved of his sitting on the floor and shouting at the top of his voice: "Lo, my beloved is fairer than all the lilies among the lilies in the lily garden." Another, "The Defilers," had brought him precisely one hundred and ten letters of indignation from local readers when it appeared in the Partridgeville Gazette.
As I continued to stare at him he suddenly stopped writing and shook his head. "I can't do it," he said. "I should have to invent a new language. And yet I can comprehend the thing emotionally, intuitively, if you will. If I could only convey it in a sentence somehow— the strange crawling of its fleshless spirit!"
"Is it some new horror?" I asked.
He shook his head. "It is not new to me. I have known and felt it for years — a horror utterly beyond anything your prosaic brain can conceive."
"Thank you," I said.
"All human brains are prosaic," he elaborated. "I meant no offense. It is the shadowy terrors that lurk behind and above them that are mysterious and awful. Our little brains — what can they know of vampire-like entities which may lurk in dimensions higher than our own, or beyond the universe of stars? I think sometimes they lodge in our heads, and our brains feel them, but when they stretch out tentacles to probe and explore us, we go screaming mad." He was staring at me steadily now.
"But you can't honestly believe in such nonsense!" I exclaimed.
"Of course not!" He shook his head and laughed. "You know damn well I'm too profoundly skeptical to believe in anything. I have merely outlined a poet's reactions to the universe. If a man wishes to write ghostly stories and actually convey a sensation of horror, he must believe in everything — and anything. By anything I mean the horror that transcends everything, that is more terrible and impossible than everything. He must believe that there are things from outer space that can reach down and fasten themselves on us with a malevolence that can destroy us utterly — our bodies as well as our minds."
"But this thing from outer space — how can he describe it if he doesn't know its shape — or size or color?"
"It is virtually impossible to describe it. That is what I have sought ¦to do — and failed. Perhaps someday — but then, I doubt if it can ever be accomplished. But your artist can hint, suggest…"
"Suggest what?" I asked, a little puzzled.
"Suggest a horror that is utterly unearthly; that makes itself felt in terms that have no counterparts on Earth."
I was still puzzled. He smiled wearily and elaborated his theory.
"There is something prosaic," he said, "about even the best of the classic tales of mystery and terror. Old Mrs. Radcliffe, with her hidden vaults and bleeding ghosts; Maturin, with his allegorical Faust-like hero-villains, and his fiery flames from the mouth of hell; Edgar Poe, with his blood-clotted corpses, and black cats, his telltale hearts and disintegrating Valdemars; Hawthorne, with his amusing preoccupation with the problems and horrors arising from mere human sin (as though human sins were of any significance to a coldly malign intelligence from beyond the stars). Then we have modern masters — Algernon Blackwood, who invites us to a feast of the high gods and shows us an old woman with a harelip sitting before a ouija board fingering soiled cards, or an absurd nimbus of ectoplasm emanating from some clairvoyant ninny; Bram Stoker with his vampires and werewolves, mere conventional myths, the tag-ends of mediaeval folklore; Wells with his pseudo-scientific bogies, fish-men at the bottom of the sea, ladies in the moon, and the hundred and one idiots who are constantly writing ghost stories for the magazines — what have they contributed to the literature of the unholy?
"Are we not made of flesh and blood? It is but natural that we should be revolted and horrified when we are shown that flesh and blood in a state of corruption and decay, with the worms passing over and under it. It is but natural that a story about a corpse should thrill us, fill us with fear and horror and loathing. Any fool can awake these emotions in us — Poe really accomplished very little with his Lady Ushers, and liquescent Valdemars. He appealed to simple, natural, understandable emotions, and it was inevitable that his readers should respond.
"Are we not the descendants of barbarians? Did we not once dwell in tall and sinister forests, at the mercy of beasts that rend and tear? It is but inevitable that we should shiver and cringe when we meet in literature dark shadows from our own past. Harpies and vampires and werewolves — what are they but magnifications, distortions of the great birds and bats and ferocious dogs that harassed and tortured our ancestors? It is easy enough to arouse fear by such means. It is easy enough to frighten men with the flames at the mouth of hell, because they are hot and shrivel and burn the flesh — and who does not understand and dread a fire? Blows that kill, fires that burn, shadows that horrify because their substances lurk evilly in the black corridors of our inherited memories — I am weary of the writers who would terrify us by such pathetically obvious and trite unpleasantness."
Real indignation blazed in his eyes.
"Suppose there were a greater horror? Suppose evil things from some other universe should decide to invade this one? Suppose we couldn't see them? Suppose we couldn't feel them? Suppose they were of a color unknown on Earth, or rather, of an appearance that was without color?
"Suppose they had a shape unknown on Earth? Suppose they were four-dimensional, five-dimensional, six-dimensional? Suppose they were a hundred-dimensional? Suppose they had no dimensions at all and yet existed? What could we do?
"They would not exist for us? They would exist for us if they gave us pain. Suppose it was not the pain of heat or cold or any of the pains we know, but a new pain? Suppose they touched something besides our nerves — reached our brains in a new and terrible way? Suppose they made themselves felt in a new and strange and unspeakable way? What could we do? Our hands would be tied. You cannot oppose what you cannot see or feel. You cannot oppose the thousand-dimensional. Suppose they should eat their way to us through space!"
He was speaking now with an intensity of emotion which belied his avowed skepticism of a moment before.
"That is what I have tried to write about. I wanted to make my readers feel and see that thing from another universe, from beyond space. I could easily enough hint at it or suggest it — any fool can do that — but I wanted actually to describe it. To describe a color that is not a color! a form that is formless! "A mathematician could perhaps slightly more than suggest it. There would be strange curves and angles that an inspired mathematician in a wild frenzy of calculation might glimpse vaguely. It is absurd to say that mathematicians have not discovered the fourth dimension. They have often glimpsed it, often approached it, often apprehended it, but they are unable to demonstrate it. I know a mathematician who swears that he once saw the sixth dimension in a wild flight into the sublime skies of the differential calculus.
"Unfortunately I am not a mathematician. I am only a poor fool of a creative artist, and the thing from outer space utterly eludes me."
Someone was pounding loudly on the door. I crossed the room and drew back the latch. "What do you want?" I asked. "What is the matter?"
"Sorry to disturb you, Frank," said a familiar voice, "but I've got to talk to someone."
I recognized the lean, white face of my nearest neighbor, and stepped instantly to one side. "Come in," I said. "Come in, by all means. Howard and I have been discussing ghosts, and the things we've conjured up aren't pleasant company. Perhaps you can argue them away."
I called Howard's horrors ghosts because I didn't want to shock my commonplace neighbor. Henry Wells was immensely big and tall, and as he strode into the room he seemed to bring a part of the night with him.
He collapsed on a sofa and surveyed us with frightened eyes. Howard laid down the story he had been reading, removed and wiped his glasses, and frowned. He was more or less tolerant of my bucolic visitors. We waited for perhaps a minute, and then the three of us spoke almost simultaneously. "A horrible night!" "Beastly, isn't it?" "Wretched."
Henry Wells frowned. "Tonight," he said, "I–I met with a funny accident. I was driving Hortense through Mulligan Wood…"
"Hortense?" Howard interrupted.
"His horse," I explained impatiently. "You were returning from Brewster, weren't you, Henry?"
"From Brewster, yes," he replied. "I was driving between the trees, keeping a sharp lookout for cars with their lights on too bright, coming right at me out of the murk, and listening to the foghorns in the bay wheezing and moaning, when something wet landed on my head. 'Rain,' I thought. 'I hope the supplies keep dry.'
"I turned round to make sure that the butter and flour were covered up, and something soft like a sponge rose up from the bottom of the wagon and hit me in the face. I snatched at it and caught it between my fingers.
"In my hands it felt like jelly. I squeezed it, and moisture ran out of it down my wrists. It wasn't so dark that I couldn't see it, either. Funny how you can see in fogs — they seem to make the night lighter. There was a sort of brightness in the air. I dunno, maybe it wasn't the fog, either. The trees seemed to stand out. You could see them sharp and clear. As I was saying, I looked at the thing, and what do you think it looked like? Like a piece of raw liver. Or like a calf's brain. Now that I come to think of it, it was more like a calf's brain. There were grooves in it, and you don't find many grooves in liver. Liver's usually as smooth as glass.
"It was an awful moment for me. 'There's someone up in one of those trees,' I thought. 'He's some tramp or crazy man or fool, and he's been eating liver. My wagon frightened him and he dropped it — a piece of it. I can't be wrong. There was no liver in my wagon when I left Brewster.'
"I looked up. You know how tall all of the trees are in Mulligan Wood. You can't see the tops of some of them from the wagon-road on a clear day. And you know how crooked and queer-looking some of the trees are.
"It's funny, but I've always thought of them as old men — tall old men, you understand, tall and crooked and very evil. I've always thought of them as wanting to work mischief. There's something unwholesome about trees that grow very close together and grow crooked.
"I looked up.
"At first I didn't see anything but the tall trees, all white and glistening with the fog, and above them a thick, white mist that hid the stars. And then something long and white ran quickly down the trunk of one of the trees.
"It ran so quickly down the tree that I couldn't see it clearly. And it was so thin anyway that there wasn't much to see. But it was like an arm. It was like a long, white, and very thin arm. But of course it wasn't an arm. Who ever heard of an arm as tall as a tree? I don't know what made me compare it to an arm, because it was really nothing but a thin line — like a wire, a string. I'm not sure that I saw it at all. Maybe I imagined it. I'm not even sure that it was as wide as a string. But it had a hand. Or didn't it? When I think of it my brain gets dizzy. You see, it moved so quickly I couldn't see it clearly at all.
"But it gave me the impression that it was looking for something that it had dropped. For a minute the hand seemed to spread out over the road, and then it left the tree and came toward the wagon. It was like a huge white hand walking on its fingers with a terribly long arm fastened to it that went up and up until it touched the fog, or perhaps until it touched the stars.
"I screamed and slashed Hortense with the reins, but the horse didn't need any urging. She was up and off before I could throw the liver, or calf's brain, or whatever it was, into the road. She raced so fast she almost upset the wagon, but I didn't draw in the reins. I'd rather lie in a ditch with a broken rib than have a long, white hand squeezing the breath out of my throat.
"We had almost cleared the wood and I was just beginning to breathe again when my brain went cold. I can't describe what happened in any other way. My brain got as cold as ice inside my head. I can tell you I was frightened.
"Don't imagine I couldn't think clearly. I was conscious of everything that was going on about me, but my brain was so cold I screamed with the pain. Have you ever held a piece of ice in the palm of your hand for as long as two or three minutes? It burnt, didn't it? Ice burns worse than fire. Well, my brain felt as though it had lain on ice for hours and hours. There was a furnace inside my head, but it was a cold furnace. It was roaring with raging cold.
"Perhaps I should have been thankful that the pain didn't last. It wore off in about ten minutes, and when I got home I didn't think I was any the worse for my experience. I'm sure I didn't think I was any the worse until I looked at myself in the glass. Then I saw the hole in my head."
Henry Wells leaned forward and brushed back the hair from his right temple.
"Here is the wound," he said. "What do you make of it?" He tapped with his fingers beneath a small round opening in the side of his head. "It's like a bullet-wound," he elaborated, "but there was no blood and you can look in pretty far. It seems to go right in to the center of my head. I shouldn't be alive."
Howard had risen and was staring at my neighbor with angry and accusing eyes.
"Why have you lied to us?" he shouted. "Why have you told us this absurd story? A long hand! You were drunk, man. Drunk — and yet you've succeeded in doing what I'd have sweated blood to accomplish. If I could have made my readers feel that horror, know it for a moment, that horror that you described in the woods, I should be with the immortals — I should be greater than Poe, greater than Hawthorne. And you — a clumsy drunken liar…"
I was on my feet with a furious protest.
"He's not lying," I said. "He's been shot — someone has shot him in the head. Look at this wound. My God, man, you have no call to insult him!"
Howard's wrath died and the fire went out of his eyes. "Forgive me," he said. "You can't imagine how badly I've wanted to capture that ultimate horror, to put it on paper, and he did it so easily. If he had warned me that he was going to describe something like that I would have taken notes. But of course he doesn't know he's an artist. It was an accidental tour de force that he accomplished; he couldn't do it again, I'm sure. I'm sorry I went up in the air — I apologize. Do you want me to go for a doctor? That is a bad wound."
My neighbor shook his head. "I don't want a doctor," he said. "I've seen a doctor. There's no bullet in my head — that hole was not made by a bullet. When the doctor couldn't explain it, I laughed at him. I hate doctors, — and I haven't much use for fools who think I'm in the habit of lying. I haven't much use for people who won't believe me when I tell 'em I saw the long, white thing come sliding down the tree as clear as day."
But Howard was examining the wound in defiance of my neighbor's indignation. "It was made by something round and sharp," he said. "It's curious, but the flesh isn't torn. A knife or bullet would have torn the flesh, left a ragged edge."
I nodded, and was bending to study the wound when Wells shrieked, and clapped his hands to his head. "Ah-h-h!" he choked. "It's come back — the terrible, terrible cold."
Howard stared. "Don't expect me to believe such nonsense!" he exclaimed disgustedly.
But Wells was holding on to his head and dancing about the room in a delirium of agony. "I can't stand it!" he shrieked. "It's freezing up my brain. It's not like ordinary cold. It isn't. Oh, God! It's like nothing you've ever felt. It bites, it scorches, it tears. It's like acid."
I laid my hand upon his shoulder and tried to quiet him, but he pushed me aside and made for the door.
"I've got to get out of here," he screamed. "The thing wants room. My head won't hold it. It wants the night — the vast night. It wants to wallow in the night."
He threw back the door and disappeared into the fog. Howard wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his coat and collapsed into a chair.
"Mad," he muttered. "A tragic case of manic-depressive psychosis. Who would have suspected it? The story he told us wasn't conscious art at all. It was simply a nightmare-fungus conceived by the brain of a lunatic."
"Yes," I said, "but how do you account for the hole in his head?"
"Oh, that!" Howard shrugged. "He probably always had it — probably was born with it."
"Nonsense," I said. "The man never had a hole in his head before. Personally, I think he's been shot. Something ought to be done. He needs medical attention. I think I'll phone Dr. Smith."
"It is useless to interfere," said Howard. "That hole was not made by a bullet. I advise you to forget him until tomorrow. His insanity may be temporary, it may wear off; and then he'd blame us for interfering. If he's still emotionally disturbed tomorrow, if he comes here again and tries to make trouble, you can notify the proper authorities. Has he ever acted queerly before?"
"No," I said. "He was always quite sane. I think I'll take your advice and wait. But I wish I could explain the hole in his head."
"The story he told interests me more," said Howard. "I'm going to write it out before I forget it. Of course I shan't be able to make the horror as real as he did, but perhaps I can catch a bit of the strangeness and glamour."
He unscrewed his fountain pen and began to cover a sheet of paper with curious phrases.
I shivered and closed the door.
For several minutes there was no sound in the room save the scratching of his pen as it moved across the paper. For several minutes there was silence — and then the shrieks commenced. Or were they wails?
We heard them through the closed door, heard them above the moaning of the foghorns and the wash of the waves on Mulligan's Beach. We heard them above the million sounds of night that had horrified and depressed us as we sat and talked in that fog-enshrouded and lonely house. We heard them so clearly that for a moment we thought they came from just outside the house. It was not until they came again and again — long, piercing wails — that we discovered in them a quality of remoteness. Slowly we became aware that the wails came from far away, as far away, perhaps, as Mulligan Wood.
"A soul in torture," muttered Howard. "A poor, damned soul in the grip of the horror I've been telling you about — the horror I've known and felt for years."
He rose unsteadily to his feet. His eyes were shining and he was breathing heavily.
I seized his shoulders and shook him. "You shouldn't project yourself into your stories that way," I exclaimed. "Some poor chap is in distress. I don't know what's happened. Perhaps a ship foundered. I'm going to put on a slicker and find out what it's all about. I have an idea we may be needed."
"We may be needed," repeated Howard slowly. "We may be needed indeed. It will not be satisfied with a single victim. Think of that great journey through space, the thirst and dreadful hungers it must have known! It is preposterous to imagine that it will be content with a single victim!"
Then, suddenly, a change came over him. The light went out of his eyes and his voice lost its quiver. He shivered.
"Forgive me," he said. "I'm afraid you'll think I'm as mad as the yokel who was here a few minutes ago. But I can't help identifying myself with my characters when I write. I'd described something very evil, and those yells — well, they are exactly like the yells a man would make if — if…"
"I understand," I interrupted, "but we've no time to discuss that now. There's a poor chap out there" — I pointed vaguely toward the door—"with his back against the wall. He's fighting off something — I don't know what. We've got to help him."
"Of course, of course," he agreed, and followed me into the kitchen.
Without a word I took down a slicker and handed it to him. I also handed him an enormous rubber hat.
"Get into these as quickly as you can," I said. "The chap's desperately in need of us."
I had gotten my own slicker down from the rack and was forcing my arms through its sticky sleeves. In a moment we were both pushing our way through the fog.
The fog was like a living thing. Its long fingers reached up and slapped us relentlessly on the face. It curled about our bodies and ascended in great, grayish spirals from the tops of our heads. It retreated before us, and as suddenly closed in and enveloped us.
Dimly ahead of us we saw the lights of a few lonely farms. Behind us the sea drummed, and the foghorns sent out a continuous, mournful ululation. The collar of Howard's slicker was turned up over his ears, and from his long nose moisture dripped. There was grim decision in his eyes, and his jaw was set.
For many minutes we plodded on in silence, and it was not until we approached Mulligan Wood that he spoke.
"If necessary," he said, "we shall enter the wood."
I nodded. "There is no reason why we should not enter the wood," I said. "It isn't a large wood."
"One could get out quickly?"
"One could get out very quickly indeed. My God, did you hear that?"
The shrieks had grown horribly loud.
"He is suffering," said Howard. "He is suffering terribly. Do you suppose — do you suppose it's your crazy friend?"
He had voiced a question which I had been asking myself for some time.
"It's conceivable," I said. "But we'll have to interfere if he's as mad as that. I wish I'd brought some of the neighbors with me."
"Why in heaven's name didn't you?" Howard shouted. "It may take a dozen men to handle him." He was staring at the tall trees that towered before us, and I didn't think he really gave Henry Wells so much as a thought.
"That's Mulligan Wood," I said. I swallowed to keep my heart from rising to the top of my mouth. "It isn't a big wood," I added idiotically.
"Oh, my God!" Out of the fog there came the sound of a voice in the last extremity of pain. "They're eating up my brain. Oh, my God!"
I was at that moment in deadly fear that I might become as mad as the man in the woods. I clutched Howard's arm.
"Let's go back," I shouted. "Let's go back at once. We were fools to come. There is nothing here but madness and suffering and perhaps death."
"That may be," said Howard, "but we're going on."
His face was ashen beneath his dripping hat, and his eyes were thin blue slits.
"Very well," I said grimly. "We'll go on."
Slowly we moved among the trees. They towered above us, and the thick fog so distorted them and merged them together that they seemed to move forward with us. From their twisted branches the fog hung in ribbons. Ribbons, did I say? Rather were they snakes of fog— writhing snakes with venomous tongues and leering eyes. Through swirling clouds of fog we saw the scaly, gnarled boles of the trees, and every bole resembled the twisted body of an evil old man. Only the small oblong of light cast by my electric torch protected us against their malevolence.
Through great banks of fog we moved, and every moment the screams grew louder. Soon we were catching fragments of sentences, hysterical shoutings that merged into prolonged wails. "Colder and colder and colder… they are eating up my brain. Colder! Ah-h-h!"
Howard gripped my arm. "We'll find him," he said. "We can't turn back now."
When we found him he was lying on his side. His hands were clasped about his head, and his body was bent double, the knees drawn up so tightly that they almost touched his chest. He was silent. We bent and shook him, but he made no sound.
"Is he dead?" I choked out. I wanted desperately to turn and run. The trees were very close to us.
"I don't know," said Howard. "I don't know. I hope that he is dead."
I saw him kneel and slide his hand under the poor devil's shirt. For a moment his face was a mask. Then he got up quickly and shook his head.
"He is alive," he said. "We must get him into some dry clothes as quickly as possible."
I helped him. Together we lifted the bent figure from the ground and carried it forward between the trees. Twice we stumbled and nearly fell, and the creepers tore at our clothes. The creepers were little malicious hands grasping and tearing under the malevolent guidance of the great trees. Without a star to guide us, without a light except the little pocket lamp which was growing dim, we fought our way out of Mulligan Wood.
The droning did not commence until we had left the wood. At first we scarcely heard it, it was so low, like the purring of gigantic engines far down in the earth. But slowly, as we stumbled forward with our burden, it grew so loud that we could not ignore it.
"What is that?" muttered Howard, and through the wraiths of fog I saw that his face had a greenish tinge.
"I don't know," I mumbled. "It's something horrible. I never heard anything like it. Can't you walk faster?"
So far we had been fighting familiar horrors, but the droning and humming that rose behind us was like nothing that I had ever heard on Earth. In excruciating fright, I shrieked aloud. "Faster, Howard, faster! For God's sake, let's get out of this!"
As I spoke, the body that we were carrying squirmed, and from its cracked lips issued a torrent of gibberish: "I was walking between the trees looking up. I couldn't see their tops. I was looking up, and then suddenly I looked down and the thing landed on my shoulders. It was all legs — all long, crawling legs. It went right into my head. I wanted to get away from the trees, but I couldn't. I was alone in the forest with the thing on my back, in my head, and when I tried to run, the trees reached out and tripped me. It made a hole so it could get in. It's my brain it wants. Today it made a hole, and now it's crawled in and it's sucking and sucking and sucking. It's as cold as ice and it makes a noise like a great big fly. But it isn't a fly. And it isn't a hand. I was wrong when I called it a hand. You can't see it. I wouldn't have seen or felt it if it hadn't made a hole and got in. You almost see it, you almost feel it, and that means that it's getting ready to go in."
"Can you walk, Wells? Can you walk?"
Howard had dropped Wells's legs, and I could hear the harsh intake of his breath as he struggled to rid himself of his slicker.
"I think so," Wells sobbed. "But it doesn't matter. It's got me now. Put me down and save yourselves."
"We've got to run!" I yelled.
"It's our one chance," cried Howard. "Wells, you follow us. Follow us, do you understand? They'll burn up your brain if they catch you. We're going to run, lad. Follow us!"
He was off through the fog. Wells shook himself free, and followed like a man in a trance. I felt a horror more terrible than death. The noise was dreadfully loud; it was right in my ears, and yet for a moment I couldn't move. The wall of fog was growing thicker.
"Frank will be lost!" It was the voice of Wells, raised in a despairing shout.
"We'll go back!" It was Howard shouting now. "It's death, or worse, but we can't leave him."
"Keep on," I called out. "They won't get me. Save yourselves!"
In my anxiety to prevent them from sacrificing themselves I plunged wildly forward. In a moment I had joined Howard and was clutching at his arm.
"What is it?" I cried. "What have we to fear?"
The droning was all about us now, but no louder.
"Come quickly or we'll be lost!" he urged frantically. "They've broken down all barriers. That buzzing is a warning. We're sensitives— we've been warned, but if it gets louder we're lost. They're strong near Mulligan Wood, and it's here they've made themselves felt. They're experimenting now — feeling their way. Later, when they've learned, they'll spread out. If we can only reach the farm…"
"We'll reach the farm!" I shouted as I clawed my way through the fog.
"Heaven help us if we don't!" moaned Howard.
He had thrown off his slicker, and his seeping wet shirt clung tragically to his lean body. He moved through the blackness with long, furious strides. Far ahead we heard the shrieks of Henry Wells. Ceaselessly the foghorns moaned; ceaselessly the fog swirled and eddied about us.
And the droning continued. It seemed incredible that we should ever have found a way to the farm in the blackness. But find the farm we did, and into it we stumbled with glad cries.
"Shut the door!" shouted Howard.
I shut the door.
"We are safe here, I think," he said. "They haven't reached the farm yet."
"What has happened to Wells?" I gasped, and then I saw the wet tracks leading into the kitchen. Howard saw them too. His eyes flashed with momentary relief.
"I'm glad he's safe," he muttered. "I feared for him."
Then his face darkened. The kitchen was unlighted and no sound came from it.
Without a word Howard walked across the room and into the darkness beyond. I sank into a chair, flicked the moisture from my eyes, and brushed back my hair, which had fallen in soggy strands across my face. For a moment I sat, breathing heavily, and when the door creaked, I shivered. But I remembered Howard's assurance: "They haven't reached the farm yet. We're safe here."
Somehow, I had confidence in Howard. He realized that we were threatened by a new and unknown horror, and in some occult way he had grasped its limitations.
I confess, though, that when I heard the screams that came from the kitchen, my faith in my friend was slightly shaken. There were low growls, such as I could not believe came from any human throat, and the voice of Howard raised in wild expostulation. "Let go, I say! Are you quite, mad? Man, man, we have saved you! Don't, I say — let go of my leg. Ah-h-h!"
As Howard staggered into the room I sprang forward and caught him in my arms. He was covered with blood from head to foot, and his face was ashen.
"He's gone raving mad," he moaned. "He was running about on his hands and knees like a dog. He sprang at me, and almost killed me. I fought him off, but I'm badly bitten. I hit him in the face — knocked him unconscious. I may have killed him. He's an animal — I had to protect myself."
I laid Howard on the sofa and knelt beside him, but he scorned my aid.
"Don't bother with me!" he commanded. "Get a rope, quickly, and tie him up. If he comes to, we'll have to fight for our lives."
What followed was a nightmare. I remember vaguely that I went into the kitchen with a rope and tied poor Wells to a chair; then I bathed and dressed Howard's wounds, and lit a fire in the grate. I remember also that I telephoned for a doctor. But the incidents are confused in my memory, and I have no clear recollection of anything until the arrival of a tall, grave man with kindly and sympathetic eyes and a presence that was as soothing as an opiate.
He examined Howard, nodded, and explained that the wounds were not serious. He examined Wells, and did not nod. He explained slowly, "His pupils don't respond to light," he said. "An immediate operation will be necessary. I tell you frankly, I don't think we can save him."
"That wound in his head, Doctor," I said. "Was it made by a bullet?"
The doctor frowned. "It puzzles me," he said. "Of course it was made by a bullet, but it should have partially closed up. It goes right into the brain. You say you know nothing about it. I believe you, but I think the authorities should be notified at once. Someone will be wanted for manslaughter, unless" — he paused—"unless the wound was self-inflicted. What you tell me is curious. That he should have been able to walk about for hours seems incredible. The wound has obviously been dressed, too. There is no clotted blood at all."
He paced slowly back and forth. "We must operate here — at once. There is a slight chance. Luckily, I brought some instruments. We must clear this table and — do you think you could hold a lamp for me?"
I nodded. "I'll try," I said.
The doctor busied himself with preparations while I debated whether or not I should phone for the police.
"I'm convinced," I said at last, "that the wound was self-inflicted. Wells acted very strangely. If you are willing, Doctor…"
"We will remain silent about this matter until after the operation. If Wells lives, there would be no need of involving the poor chap in a police investigation."
The doctor nodded. "Very well," he said. "We will operate first and decide afterward."
Howard was laughing silently from his couch. "The police," he snickered. "Of what use would they be against the things in Mulligan Wood?"
There was an ironic and ominous quality about his mirth that disturbed me. The horrors that we had known in the fog seemed absurd and impossible in the cool, scientific presence of Dr. Smith, and I didn't want to be reminded of them.
The doctor turned from his instruments and whispered into my ear. "Your friend has a slight fever, and apparently it has made him delirious. If you will bring me a glass of water I will mix him a sedative."
I raced to secure a glass, and in a moment we had Howard sleeping soundly.
"Now then," said the doctor as he handed me the lamp. "You must hold this steady and move it about as I direct."
The white, unconscious form of Henry Wells lay upon the table that the doctor and I had cleared, and I trembled all over when I thought of what lay before me: I should be obliged to stand and gaze into the living brain of my poor friend as the doctor relentlessly laid it bare.
With swift, experienced fingers the doctor administered an anesthetic. I was oppressed by a dreadful feeling that we were committing a crime, that Henry Wells would have violently disapproved, that he would have preferred to die. It is a dreadful thing to mutilate a man's brain. And yet I knew that the doctor's conduct was above reproach, and that the ethics of his profession demanded that he operate.
"We are ready," said Dr. Smith. "Lower the lamp. Carefully now!"
I saw the knife moving in his competent, swift fingers. For a moment I stared, and then I turned my head away. What I had seen in that brief glance made me sick and faint. It may have been fancy, but as I stared at the wall I had the impression that the doctor was on the verge of collapse. He made no sound, but I was almost certain that he had made some horrible discovery.
"Lower the lamp," he said. His voice was hoarse and seemed to come from far down within his throat.
I lowered the lamp an inch without turning my head. I waited for him to reproach me, to swear at me perhaps, but he was as silent as the man on the table. I knew, though, that his fingers were still at work, for I could hear them as they moved about. I could hear his swift, agile fingers moving about the head of Henry Wells.
I suddenly became conscious that my hand was trembling. I wanted to lay down the lamp; I felt that I could no longer hold it.
"Are you nearly through?" I gasped in desperation.
"Hold that lamp steady!" The doctor screamed the command. "If you move that lamp again — I–I won't sew him up. I don't care if they hang me! I'm not a healer of devils!"
I knew not what to do. I could scarcely hold the lamp, and the doctor's threat horrified me.
"Do everything you can," I urged, hysterically. "Give him a chance to fight his way back. He was kind and good — once!"
For a moment there was silence, and I feared that he would not heed me. I momentarily expected him to throw down his scalpel and sponge, and dash across the room and out into the fog. It was not until I heard his fingers moving about again that I knew he had decided to give even the damned a chance.
It was after midnight when the doctor told me that I could lay down the lamp. I turned with a cry of relief and encountered a face that I shall never forget. In three-quarters of an hour the doctor had aged ten years. There were dark hollows beneath his eyes, and his mouth twitched convulsively.
"He'll not live," he said. "He'll be dead in an hour. I did not touch his brain. I could do nothing. When I saw — how things were- I… I… sewed him up immediately."
"What did you see?" I half-whispered.
A look of unutterable fear came into the doctor's eyes. "I saw — I saw…" His voice broke and his whole body quivered. "I saw… oh, the burning shame of it… evil that is without shape, that is formless…"
Suddenly he straightened and looked wildly about him.
"They will come here and claim him!" he cried. "They have laid their mark upon him and they will come for him. You must not stay here. This house is marked for destruction!"
I watched him helplessly as he seized his hat and bag and crossed to the door. With white, shaking fingers he drew back the latch, and in a moment his lean figure was silhouetted against a square of swirling vapor.
"Remember that I warned you!" he shouted back; and then the fog swallowed him.
Howard was sitting and rubbing his eyes.
"A malicious trick, that!" he was muttering. "To deliberately drug me! Had I known that glass of water…"
"How do you feel?" I asked as I shook him violently by the shoulders. "Do you think you can walk?"
"You drug me, and then ask me to walk! Frank, you're as unreasonable as an artist. What is the matter now?"
I pointed to the silent figure on the table. "Mulligan Wood is safer," I said. "He belongs to them now!"
Howard sprang to his feet and shook me by the arm.
"What do you mean?" he cried. "How do you know?"
"The doctor saw his brain," I explained. "And he also saw something that he would not — could not describe. But he told me that they would come for him, and I believe him."
"We must leave here at once!" cried Howard. "Your doctor was right. We are in deadly danger. Even Mulligan Wood — but we need not return to the wood. There is your launch!"
"There is the launch!" I echoed, faint hope rising in my mind.
"The fog will be a most deadly menace," said Howard grimly. "But even death at sea is preferable to this horror."
It was not far from the house to the dock, and in less than a minute Howard was seated in the stern of the launch and I was working furiously on the engine. The foghorns still moaned, but there were no lights visible anywhere in the harbor. We could not see two feet before our faces. The white wraiths of the fog were dimly visible in the darkness, but beyond them stretched endless night, lightless and full of terror.
Howard was speaking. "Somehow I feel that there is death out there," he said.
"There is more death here," I said as I started the engine. "I think I can avoid the rocks. There is very little wind and I know the harbor."
"And of course we shall have the foghorns to guide us," muttered Howard. "I think we had better make for the open sea."
"The launch wouldn't survive a storm," I said, "but I've no desire to remain in the harbor. If we reach the sea, we'll probably be picked up by some ship. It would be sheer folly to remain where they can reach us."
"How do we know how far they can reach?" groaned Howard. "What are the distances of Earth to things that have traveled through space? They will overrun Earth. They will destroy us all utterly."
"We'll discuss that later," I cried as the engine roared into life. "We're going to get as far away from them as possible. Perhaps they haven't learned yet! While they've still limitations we may be able to escape."
We moved slowly into the channel, and the sound of the water splashing against the sides of the launch soothed us strangely. At a suggestion from me, Howard had taken the wheel and was slowly bringing her about.
"Keep her steady," I shouted. "There isn't any danger until we get into the Narrows!"
For several minutes I crouched above the engine while Howard steered in silence. Then, suddenly, he turned to me with a gesture of elation.
"I think the fog's lifting," he said.
I stared into the darkness before me. Certainly it seemed less oppressive, and the white spirals of mist that had been continually ascending through it were fading into insubstantial wisps. "Keep her head on," I shouted. "We're in luck. If the fog clears, we'll be able to see the Narrows. Keep a sharp lookout for Mulligan Light."
There is no describing the joy that filled us when we saw the light. Yellow and bright it streamed over the water and illuminated sharply the outlines of the great rocks that rose on both sides of the Narrows.
"Let me have the wheel," I shouted as I stepped quickly forward. "This is a ticklish passage, but we'll come through now with colors flying."
In our excitement and elation we almost forgot the horror that we had left behind us. I stood at the wheel and smiled confidently as we raced over the dark water. Quickly the rocks drew nearer until their vast bulk towered above us.
"We shall certainly make it!" I cried.
But no response came from Howard. I heard him choke and gasp.
"What is the matter?" I asked suddenly, and turning, saw that he was crouching in terror above the engine. His back was turned toward me, but I knew instinctively in which direction he was gazing.
The dim shore that we had left shone like a flaming sunset. Mulligan Wood was burning. Great flames shot up from the highest of the tall trees, and a thick curtain of black smoke rolled slowly eastward, blotting out the few remaining lights in the harbor.
But it was not the flames that caused me to cry out in fear and horror. It was the shape that towered above the trees, the vast, formless shape that moved slowly to and fro across the sky.
God knows I tried to believe that I saw nothing. I tried to believe that the shape was a mere shadow cast by the flames, and I remember that I gripped Howard's arm reassuringly.
"The wood will be destroyed completely," I cried, "and those ghastly things with us will be destroyed with it."
But when Howard turned and shook his head, I knew that the dim, formless thing that towered above the trees was more than a shadow.
"If we see it clearly, we are lost!" he warned, his voice vibrant with terror. "Pray that it remains without form!"
It is older than the world, I thought, older than all religion. Before the dawn of civilization men knelt in adoration before it. It is present in all mythologies. It is the primal symbol. Perhaps, in the dim past, thousands and thousands of years ago, it was used to — repel the invaders. I shall fight the shape with a high and terrible mystery.
Suddenly I became curiously calm. I knew that I had hardly a minute to act, that more than our lives were threatened, but I did not tremble. I reached calmly beneath the engine and drew out a quantity ot cotton waste.
"Howard," I said, "light a match. It is our only hope. You must strike a match at once."
For what seemed eternities Howard stared at me uncomprehendingly. Then the night was clamorous with his laughter.
"A match!" he shrieked. "A match to warm our little brains! Yes, we shall need a match."
"Trust me!" I entreated. "You must — it is our one hope. Strike a match quickly."
"I do not understand!" Howard was sober now, but his voice quivered.
"I have thought of something that may save us," I said. "Please light this waste for me."
Slowly he nodded. I had told him nothing, but I knew he guessed what I intended to do. Often his insight was uncanny. With fumbling fingers he drew out a match and struck it.
"Be bold," he said. "Show them that you are unafraid. Make the sign boldly."
As the waste caught fire, the form above the trees stood out with a frightful clarity.
I raised the flaming cotton and passed it quickly before my body in a straight line from my left to my right shoulder. Then I raised it to my forehead and lowered it to my knees.
In an instant Howard had snatched the brand and was repeating the sign. He made two crosses, one against his body and one against the darkness with the torch held at arm's length.
For a moment I shut my eyes, but I could still see the shape above the trees. Then slowly its form became less distinct, became vast and chaotic — and when I opened my eyes it had vanished. I saw nothing but the flaming forest and the shadows cast by the tall trees.
The horror had passed, but I did not move. I stood like an image of stone staring over the black water. Then something seemed to burst in my head. My brain spun dizzily, and I tottered against the rail.
I would have fallen, but Howard caught me about the shoulders. "We're saved!" he shouted. "We've won through."
"I'm glad," I said. But I was too utterly exhausted to really rejoice. My legs gave way beneath me and my head fell forward. All the sights and sounds of Earth were swallowed up in a merciful blackness.
Howard was writing when I entered the room.
"How is the story going?" I asked.
For a moment he ignored my question. Then he slowly turned and faced me. He was hollow-eyed, and his pallor was alarming.
"It's not going well," he said at last. "It doesn't satisfy me. There are problems that still elude me. I haven't been able to capture all of the horror of the thing in Mulligan Wood."
I sat down and lit a cigarette.
"I want you to explain that horror to me," I said. "For three weeks I have waited for you to speak. I know that you have some knowledge which you are concealing from me. What was the damp, spongy thing that landed on Wells's head in the woods? Why did we hear a droning as we fled in the fog? What was the meaning of the shape that we saw above the trees? And why, in heaven's name, didn't the horror spread as we feared it might? What stopped it? Howard, what do you think really happened to Wells's brain? Did his body burn with the farm, or did they — claim it? And the other body that was found in Mulligan Wood — that lean, blackened horror with riddled head — how do you explain that?" (Two days after the fire a skeleton had been found in Mulligan Wood. A few fragments of burnt flesh still adhered to the bones, and the skullcap was missing.)
It was a long time before Howard spoke again. He sat with bowed head fingering his notebook, and his body trembled all over. At last he raised his eyes. They shone with a wild light and hi's lips were ashen.
"Yes," he said. "We will discuss the horror together. Last week I did not want to speak of it. It seemed too awful to put into words. But I shall never rest in peace until I have woven it into a story, until I have made my readers feel and see that dreadful, unspeakable thing. And I cannot write of it until I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that I understand it myself. It may help me to talk about it.
"You have asked me what the damp thing was that fell on Wells's head. I believe that it was a human brain — the essence of a human brain drawn out through a hole, or holes, in a human head. I believe the brain was drawn out by imperceptible degrees, and reconstructed again by the horror. I believe that for some purpose of its own it used human brains — perhaps to learn from them. Or perhaps it merely played with them. The blackened, riddled body in Mulligan Wood? That was the body of the first victim, some poor fool who got lost between the tall trees. I rather suspect the trees helped. I think the horror endowed them with a strange life. Anyhow, the poor chap lost his brain. The horror took it, and played with it, and then accidentally dropped it. It dropped it on Wells's head. Wells said that the long, thin, and very white arm he saw was looking for something that it had dropped. Of course Wells didn't really see the arm objectively, but the horror that is without form or color had already entered his brain and clothed itself in human thought.
"As for the droning that we heard and the shape we thought we saw above the burning forest — that was the horror seeking to make itself felt, seeking to break down barriers, seeking to enter our brains and clothe itself with our thoughts. It almost got us. If we had seen the white arm, we should have been lost."
Howard walked to the window. He drew back the curtains and gazed for a moment at the crowded harbor and the tall, white buildings that towered against the moon. He was staring at the skyline of lower Manhattan. Sheer beneath him the cliffs of Brooklyn Heights loomed darkly.
"Why didn't they conquer?" he cried. "They could have destroyed us utterly. They could have wiped us from Earth — all our wealth and power would have gone down before them."
I shivered. "Yes… why didn't the horror spread?" I asked.
Howard shrugged his shoulders. "I do not know. Perhaps they discovered that human brains were too trivial and absurd to bother with. Perhaps we ceased to amuse them. Perhaps they grew tired of us. But it is conceivable that the sign destroyed them — or sent them back through space. I think they came millions of years ago, and were frightened away by the sign. When they discovered that we had not forgotten the use of the sign they may have fled in terror. Certainly there has been no manifestation for three weeks. I think that they are gone."
"And Henry Wells?" I asked.
"Well, his body was not found. I imagine they came for him."
"And you honestly intend to put this — this obscenity into a story? Oh, my God! The whole thing is so incredible, so unheard of, that I can't believe it. Did we not dream it all? Were we ever really in Partridgeville? Did we sit in an ancient house and discuss frightful things while the fog curled about us? Did we walk through that unholy wood? Were the trees really alive, and did Henry Wells run about on his hands and knees like a wolf?"
Howard sat down quietly and rolled up his sleeve. He thrust his thin arm toward me. "Can you argue away that scar?" he said. "There are the marks of the beast that attacked me — the man-beast that was Henry Wells. A dream? I would cut off this arm immediately at the elbow if you could convince me that it was a dream."
I walked to the window and remained for a long time staring at Manhattan. There, I thought, is something substantial. It is absurd to imagine that anything could destroy it. It is absurd to imagine that the horror was really as terrible as it seemed to us in Partridgeville. I must persuade Howard not to write about it. We must both try to forget it.
I returned to where he sat and laid my hand on his shoulder.
"You'll never give up the idea of putting it into a story?" I urged gently.
"Never!" He was on his feet, and his eyes were blazing. "Do you think I would give up now when I've almost captured it? I shall write a story that will penetrate to the inmost core of a horror that is without form and substance, but more terrible than a plague-stricken city when the cadences of a tolling bell sound an end to all hope. I shall surpass Poe. I shall surpass all the masters."
"Surpass them and be damned then," I said angrily. "That way madness lies, but it is useless to argue with you. Your egoism is too colossal."
I turned and walked swiftly out of the room. It occurred to me as I descended the stairs that I had made an idiot of myself with my fears, but even as I went down I looked fearfully back over my shoulder, as though I expected a great stone weight to descend from above and crush me to the earth. He should forget the honor, I thought. He should wipe it from his mind. He will go mad if he writes about it.
* * *
Three days passed before I saw Howard again.
"Come in," he said in a curiously hoarse voice when I knocked on his door.
I found him in dressing-gown and slippers, and I knew as soon as I saw him that he was terribly exultant.
"I have triumphed, Frank!" he cried. "I have reproduced the form that is formless, the burning shame that man has not looked upon, the crawling, fleshless obscenity that sucks at our brains!" Before I could so much as gasp, he placed the bulky manuscript in my hands.
"Read it, Frank," he commanded. "Sit down at once and read it!"
I crossed to the window and sat down on the lounge. I sat there oblivious to everything but the typewritten sheets before me. I confess that I was consumed with curiosity. I had never questioned Howard's power. With words he wrought miracles; breaths from the unknown blew always over his pages, and things that had passed beyond Earth returned at his bidding. But could he even suggest the horror that we had known? Could he even so much as hint at the loathsome, crawling thing that had claimed the brain of Henry Wells?
I read the story through. I read it slowly, and clutched at the pillows beside me in a frenzy of loathing. As soon as I had finished it Howard snatched it from me. He evidently suspected that I desired to tear it to shreds.
"What do you think of it?" he cried exultantly.
"It is indescribably foul!" I exclaimed. "It violates privacies of the mind that should never be laid bare."
"But you will concede that I have made the horror convincing?"
I nodded and reached for my hat. "You have made it so convincing that I cannot remain and discuss it with you. I intend to walk until morning. I intend to walk until I am too weary to care, or think, or remember."
"It is a very great story!" he shouted at me, but I passed down the stairs and out of the house without replying.
It was past midnight when the telephone rang. I laid down the book I was reading and lowered the receiver.
"Hello. Who is there?" I asked.
"Frank, this is Howard!" The voice was strangely high-pitched. "Come as quickly as you can. They've come back! And Frank, the sign is powerless. I've tried the sign, but the droning is getting louder, and a dim shape…" Howard's voice trailed off disastrously.
I fairly screamed into the receiver. "Courage, man! Do not let them suspect that you are afraid. Make the sign again and again. I will come at once."
Howard's voice came again, more hoarsely this time. "The shape is growing clearer and clearer. And there is nothing I can do! Frank, I have lost the power to make the sign. I have forfeited all right to the protection of the sign. I've become a priest of the Devil. That story — I should not have written that story."
"Show them that you are unafraid!" I cried.
"I'll try! I'll try! Ah, my God! The shape is…"
I did not wait to hear more. Frantically seizing my hat and coat, I dashed down the stairs and out into the street. As I reached the curb a dizziness seized me. I clung to a lamp-post to keep from falling, and waved my hand madly at a fleeing taxi. Luckily the driver saw me. The car stopped, and I staggered out into the street and climbed into it.
"Quick!" I shouted. "Take me to 10 Brooklyn Heights!"
"Yes, sir. Cold night, ain't it?"
"Cold!" I shouted. "It will be cold indeed when they get in. It will be cold indeed when they start to…"
The driver stared at me in amazement. "That's all right, sir," he said. "We'll get you home all right, sir. Brooklyn Heights, did you say, sir?"
"Brooklyn Heights," I groaned, and collapsed against the cushions.
As the car raced forward I tried not to think of the horror that awaited me. I clutched desperately at straws. It is conceivable, I thought, that Howard has gone temporarily insane. How could the horror have found him among so many millions of people} It cannot be that they have deliberately sought him out. It cannot be that they would deliberately choose him from among such multitudes. He is too insignificant — all human beings are too insignificant. They would never deliberately angle for human beings. They would never deliberately trawl for human beings — but they did seek Henry Wells. And what did Howard say ("I have become a priest of the Devil." Why not their priest! What if Howard has become their priest on Earth) What if his story has made him their priest!
The thought was a nightmare to me, and I put it furiously from me. He will have courage to resist them, I thought. He will show them that he is not afraid. "Here we are, sir. Shall I help you in, sir?"
The car had stopped, and I groaned as I realized that I was about to enter what might prove to be my tomb. I descended to the sidewalk and handed the driver all the change that I possessed. He stared at me in amazement.
"You've given me too much," he said. "Here, sir…"
But I waved him aside and dashed up the stoop of the house before me. As I fitted a key into the door I could hear him muttering: "Craziest drunk I ever seen! He gives me four bucks to drive him ten blocks, and doesn't want no thanks or nothin'…"
The lower hall was unlighted. I stood at the foot of the stairs and shouted. "I'm here, Howard! Can you come down?"
There was no answer. I waited for perhaps ten seconds, but not a sound came from the room above.
"I'm coming up!" I shouted in desperation, and started to climb the stairs. I was trembling all over. They've got him, I thought. I'm too late. Perhaps I had better not — great God, what was that!
I was unbelievably terrified. There was no mistaking the sounds. In the room above, someone was volubly pleading and crying aloud in agony. Was it Howard's voice that I heard? I caught a few words indistinctly. "Crawling — ugh! Crawling — ugh! Oh, have pity! Cold and clear. Crawling — ugh! God in heaven!"
I had reached the landing, and when the pleadings rose to hoarse shrieks I fell to my knees, and made against my body, and upon the wall beside me, and in the air — the sign. I made the primal sign that had saved us in Mulligan Wood, but this time I made it crudely, not with fire, but with fingers that trembled and caught at my clothes, and I made it without courage or hope, made it darkly, with a conviction that nothing could save me.
And then I got up quickly and went on up the stairs. My prayer was that they would take me quickly, that my sufferings should be brief under the stars.
The door of Howard's room was ajar. By a tremendous effort I stretched out my hand and grasped the knob. Slowly I swung it inward.
For a moment I saw nothing but the motionless form of Howard lying upon the floor. He was lying upon his back. His knees were drawn up and he had raised his hand before his face, palms outward, as if to blot out a vision unspeakable.
Upon entering the room I had deliberately, by lowering my eyes, narrowed my range of vision. I saw only the floor and the lower section of the room. I did not want to raise my eyes. I had lowered them in self-protection because I dreaded what the room held.
I did not want to raise my eyes, but there were forces, powers at work in the room, which I could not resist. I knew that if I looked up, the horror might destroy me, but I had no choice.
Slowly, painfully, I raised my eyes and stared across the room. It would have been better, I think, if I had rushed forward immediately and surrendered to the thing that towered there. The vision of that terrible, darkly shrouded shape will come between me and the pleasures of the world as long as I remain in the world.
From the ceiling to the floor it towered, and it threw off blinding light. And pierced by the shafts, whirling around and around, were the pages of Howard's story.
In the center of the room, between the ceiling and the floor, the pages whirled about, and the light burned through the sheets, and descending in spiraling shafts entered the brain of my poor friend. Into his head, the light was pouring in a continuous stream, and above, the Master of the light moved with a slow swaying of its entire bulk. I screamed and covered my eyes with my hands, but still the Master moved — back and forth, back and forth. And still the light poured into the brain of my friend.
And then there came from the mouth of the Master a most awful sound… I had forgotten the sign that I had made three times below in the darkness. I had forgotten the high and terrible mystery before which all of the invaders were powerless. But when I saw it forming itself in the room, forming itself immaculately, with a terrible integrity above the downstreaming light, I knew that I was saved.
I sobbed and fell upon my knees. The light dwindled, and the Master shriveled before my eyes.
And then from the walls, from the ceiling, from the floor, there leapt flame — a white and cleansing flame that consumed, that devoured and destroyed forever.
But my friend was dead.
The Horror from the Hills
1. The Coming of the Stone Beast
In a long, low-ceilinged room adorned with Egyptian, Graeco-Roman, Minoan and Assyrian antiquities a thin, careless-seeming young man of twenty-six sat jubilantly humming. As nothing in his appearance or manner suggested the scholar — he wore gray tweeds of Ivy League cut, a pin-striped blue shirt with a buttoned-down collar and a ridiculously brilliant necktie — the uninitiated were inclined to regard him as a mere supernumerary in his own office. Strangers entered unannounced and called him “young man” at least twenty times a week, and he was frequently asked to convey messages to a non-existent superior. No one suspected, no one dreamed until he enlightened them, that he was the lawful custodian of the objects about him; and even when he revealed his identity people surveyed him with distrust and were inclined to suspect that he was ironically pulling their legs.
Algernon Harris was the young man’s name and postgraduate degrees from Yale and Oxford set him distinctly apart from the undistinguished majority. But it is to his credit that he never paraded his erudition, nor succumbed to the impulse — almost irresistible in a young man with academic affiliations — to put a Ph. D. on the title page of his first book.
It was this book which had endeared him to the directors of the Manhattan Museum of Fine Arts and prompted their unanimous choice of him to succeed the late Halpin Chalmers as Curator of Archeology when the latter retired in the fall of the previous year.
In less than six months young Harris had exhaustively familiarized himself with the duties and responsibilities of his office and was becoming the most successful curator that the museum had ever employed. So boyishly ebullient was he, so consumed with investigative zeal, that his field workers contracted his enthusiasm as though it were a kind of fever and sped from his presence to trust their scholarly and highly cultivated lives to the most primitive of native tribes in regions where an outsider was still looked upon with suspicion, and was always in danger of bringing down the thunder.
And now they were coming back — for days now they had been coming back — occasionally with haggard faces, and once or twice, unfortunately, with something radically wrong with them. The Symons tragedy was a case in point. Symons was a Chang Dynasty specialist, and he had been obliged to leave his left eye and a piece of his nose in a Buddhist temple near a place called Fen Chow Fu. But when Algernon questioned him he could only mumble something about a small malignant face with corpsy eyes that had glared and glared at him out of a purple mist. And Francis Hogarth lost eighty pounds and a perfectly good right arm somewhere between Lake Rudolph and Naivasha in the Anglo Egyptian Sudan.
But a few inexplicable and hence, from a scientific point of view, unfortunate occurrances were more than compensated for by the archeological treasures that the successful explorers brought back and figuratively dumped at Algernon’s feet. There were mirrors of Graeco-Bactrian design and miniature tiger-dragons or too-tiehs from Central China dating from at least 200 B.C., enormous diorite Sphinxes from the Valley of the Nile, “Geometric” vases from Mycenaean Crete, incised pottery from Messina and Syracuse, linens and spindles from the Swiss Lakes, sculptured lintels from Yucatan and Mexico, Mayan and Manabi monoliths ten feet tall, Paleolithic Venuses from the rock caverns of the Pyrenees, and even a series of rare bilingual tablets in Hamitic and Latin from the site of Carthage.
It is not surprising that so splendid a garnering should have elated Algernon immoderately and impelled him to behave like a college junior at a fraternity-house jamboree. He addressed the attendants by their names, slapped them boisterously upon their shoulders whenever they had occasion to approach him, and went roaming haphazardly about the building immersed in ecstatic reveries. So far indeed did he descend from his pedestal that even the directors were disturbed, and it is doubtful if anything short of the arrival of Clark Ulman could have jolted him out of it.
Ulman may have been aware of this, for he telephoned first to break the news mercifully. He had apparently heard of the success of the other expeditions and hated infernally to intrude his skeleton at the banquet. Algernon, as we have seen, was humming, and the jingling of a phone-bell at his elbow was the first intimation he had of Ulman’s return. Hastily detaching the receiver he pressed it against his ear and injected a staccato “What is it?’ into the mouthpiece.
There ensued a silence. Then Ulman’s voice, disconcertingly shrill, forced him to hold the receiver a little further from his ear. “I’ve got the god, Algernon, and I’ll be over with it directly. I’ve three men helping me. It’s four feet high and as heavy as granite. Oh, it’s a strange, loathsome thing, Algernon. An unholy thing. I shall insist that you destroy it!"
“What’s that?” Algernon raised his voice incredulously.
“You may photograph it and study it, but you’ve got to destroy it. You’ll understand when you see what—what I have become!"
There came a hoarse sobbing, whilst Algernon struggled to comprehend what the other was driving at.
“It has wreaked its malice on me — on me…”
With a frown Algernon re-cradled the receiver and began agitatedly to pace the room. “The elephant-god of Tsang!" he muttered to himself. “The horror Richardson drew before — before they impaled him. It’s unbelievable. Ulman has crossed the desert plateau on foot — he’s crossed above the graves of Steelbrath, Talman, McWilliams, Henley and Holmes. Richardson swore the cave was guarded night and day by hideous yellow abnormalities. I’m sure that’s the phrase he used — abnormalities without faces — subhuman worshippers only vaguely manlike, in thrall to some malign wizardry. He averred they moved in circles about the idol on their hands and knees, and participated in a rite so foul that he dared not describe it.
"His escape was a sheer miracle. He had displayed extraordinary courage and endurance when they had tortured him, and it was merely because they couldn’t kill him that the priest was impressed. A man who can curse valiantly after three days of agonizing torture must of necessity be a great magician and wonder-worker. But it couldn’t have happened twice. Ulman could never have achieved such a break. He is too frail — a day on their cross would have finished him. They would never have released him and decked him out with flowers and worshipped him as a sort of subsidiary elephant-god. Richardson predicted that no other white man would ever get into the cave alive. And as for getting out…
“I can’t imagine how Ulman did it. If he encountered even a few of Richardson’s beast-men it isn’t surprising he broke down on the phone. ‘Destroy the statue!’ Imagine! Sheer insanity, that. Ulman is evidently in a highly nervous and excitable state and we shall have to handle him with gloves.”
There came a knock at the door.
“I don’t wish to be disturbed,” shouted Algernon irritably.
“We’ve got a package for you, sir. The doorman said for us to bring it up here.”
“Oh, all right. I’ll sign for it.”
The door swung wide and in walked three harshly- breathing, shabbily dressed men staggering beneath a heavy burden.
“Put it down there,” said Algernon, indicating a spot to the rear of his desk.
The men complied with a celerity that amazed him.
“Did Mr. Ulman send you?” he demanded curtly.
“Yes, sir.” The spokesman’s face had formed into a molding of relief. “The poor guy said he’d be here himself in half an hour.”
Algernon started. “What kind of talk is that?” he demanded. “He doesn’t happen to be a ‘guy’ but I’ll pretend you didn’t say it. Why the ‘poor’? That’s what I’m curious about.”
The spokesman shuffled his feet. “It’s on account of his face. There’s something wrong with it. He keeps it covered and won’t let nobody look at it.”
“Good God!” murmured Algernon. “They’ve mutilated him!”
“What’s that, sir? What did you say?”
Algernon collected himself with an effort. “Nothing. You may go now. The doorman will give you a dollar. I’ll phone down and tell him.”
Silently the men filed out. As soon as the door closed behind them Algernon strode into the center of the room and began feverishly to strip the wrappings from the thing on the floor. He worked with manifest misgivings, the distaste in his eyes deepening to disgust and horror as the massive idol came into view.
Words could not adequately convey the repulsiveness of the thing. It was endowed with a trunk and great, uneven ears, and two enormous tusks protruded from the corners of its mouth. But it was not an elephant. Indeed, its resemblance to an actual elephant was, at best, sporadic and superficial, despite certain unmistakable points of similarity. The ears were webbed and tentacled, the trunk terminated in a huge flaring disk at least a foot in diameter, and the tusks, which intertwined and interlocked at the base of the statute, were as translucent as rock crystal.
The pedestal upon which it squatted was of black onyx: the statue itself, with the exception of the tusks, had apparently been chiseled from a single block of stone, and was so hideously mottled and eroded and discolored that it looked, in spots, as though it had been dipped in sanies.
The thing sat bolt upright. Its forelimbs were bent stiffly at the elbow, and its hands — it had human hands — rested palms upward on its lap. Its shoulders were broad and square and its breasts and enormous stomach sloped outward, cushioning the trunk. It was as quiescent as a Buddha, as enigmatical as a sphinx, and as malignantly poised as a gorgon or cockatrice. Algernon could not identify the stone out of which it had been hewn, and its greenish sheen disturbed and puzzled him.
For a moment he stood staring uncomfortably into its little malign eyes. Then he shivered, and taking down a woolen scarf from the coatrack in the corner he cloaked securely the features which repelled him.
Ulman arrived unannounced. He advanced unobtrusively into the room and laid a tremulous hand on Algernon’s shoulder. “Well, Algernon, how are you?” he murmured. “I–I’m glad to get back. Just to see — an old friend — is a comfort. I thought — but, well it doesn’t matter. I was going to ask — to ask if you knew a good physician, but perhaps— I–I…
Startled, Algernon glanced backward over his shoulder and straight into the other’s eyes. He saw only the eyes, for the rest of Ulman’s face was muffled by a black silk scarf. “Clark!” he exclaimed. “By God, but you gave me a start!” Rising quickly, he sent his chair spinning against the wall and gripped his friend affectionately by the shoulders. “It’s good to see you again, Clark,” he said, with a warm cordiality in his voice. “It’s good — why, what’s the matter?” Ulman had fallen upon his knees and was choking and gasping for breath.
“I should have warned you not to touch me,” he moaned. “I can’t stand — being touched.”
“The wounds haven’t healed,” he sobbed, "It doesn’t want them to heal. Every night it comes and lays — the disk on them. I can’t stand being touched.”
Algernon nodded sympathetically. “I can imagine what you’ve been through, Clark,” he said. “You must take a vacation. I’ll have a talk with the directors about you tomorrow. In view of what you’ve done for us I’m sure I can get you at least four months. You can go to Spain and finish your Glimpses into Pre-History. Paleontological anthropology is a soothing science, Clark. You’ll forget all about the perplexities of mere archeological research when you start poking about among bones and artifacts that haven’t been disturbed since the Pleistocene.”
Ulman had gotten to his feet and was staring at the opposite wall.
“You think that I have become — irresponsible?”
A look of sadness crept into Algernon’s eyes. “No, Clark.” I think you're merely suffering from — from non-psychotic, very transitory visual hallucinations. An almost unbearable strain can sometimes produce hallucinations when one’s sanity is in no way impaired, and considering what you’ve been through…”
“What I’ve been through!” Ulman caught at the phrase. “Would it interest you to know precisely what they did to me?”
Algernon nodded, meeting the other’s gaze steadily. “Yes, Clark. I wish to hear everything.”
“They said that I must accompany Chaugnar Faugn into the world.”
“That is the name they worship it by. When I told them I had come from the United States they said that Great Chaugnar had willed that I should be his companion.
‘“It must be carried,’ they explained, ‘and it must be nursed. If it is nursed and carried safely beyond the rising sun it will possess the world. And then all things that are now in the world, all creatures and plants and stones will be devoured by Great Chaugnar. All things that are and have been will cease to be, and Great Chaugnar will fill all space with its Oneness. Even its Brothers it will devour, its Brothers who will come down from the mountains ravening for ecstasy when it calls to them.’ They didn’t use precisely that term, because ‘ecstasy’ is a very sophisticated word, peculiar to our language. But that’s the closest I can come to it. In their own aberrant way they were the opposite of unsophisticated.
“I didn’t protest when they explained this to me. It was precisely the kind of break I had been hoping for. I had studied Richardson’s book, you see, and I had read enough between the lines to convince me that Chaugnar Faugn's devotees were growing a little weary of it. It isn’t a very pleasant deity to have around. It has some regrettable and very nasty habits.”
A horror was taking shape in Ulman’s eyes.
“You must excuse my levity. When one is tottering on the edge of an abyss it isn’t always expedient to dispense with irony. Were I to become wholly serious for a moment, were I to let the — what I believe, what I know to be the truth behind all that I’m telling you coalesce into a definite construction in my mind I should go quite mad. Let us call them merely regrettable habits.
“I guessed, as I say, that the guardians of the cave were not very enthusiastic about retaining Chaugnar Faugn indefinitely. It made — depredations. The guardians would disappear in the night and leave their clothes behind them, and the clothes, upon examination, would yield something rather ghastly.
“But however much your savage may want to dispose of his god the thing isn’t always feasible. It would be the height of folly to attempt to send an omnipotent deity on a long journey without adequate justification. An angered god can take vengeance even when he is on the opposite side of the world. And that is why most barbarians who find themselves saddled with a deity they fear and hate are obliged to put up with it indefinitely.
“The only thing that can help them is a legend — some oral or written legend that will enable them to send their ogre packing without ruffling its temper. The devotees had such a legend. At a certain time, which the prophecy left gratifyingly indefinite, Chaugnar Faugn was to be sent out into the world. It was to be sent out to possess the world to its everlasting glory, and it was also written that those who sent it forth should be forever immune from its anger.
“I knew of the existence of this legend, and when I read Richardson and discovered what a vile and unpleasant customer the god was I decided I'd risk a trip across the desert plateau of Tsang.”
“You crossed on foot?” interrupted Algernon with undisguised admiration.
“There were no camels available,” assented Ulman. “I made it on foot. On the fourth day my water ran short and I was obliged to open a vein in my arm. On the fifth day I began to see mirages — probably of a purely hallucinatory nature. On the seventh day”—he paused and stared hard at Algernon—”on the seventh day I consumed the excrements of wild dogs.”
Algernon shuddered. “But you reached the cave?”
“I reached the cave. The — the faceless guardians whom Richardson described found me groveling on the sands in delirium a half-mile to the west of their sanctuary. They restored me by heating a flint until it was white-hot and laying it on my chest. If the high priest hadn’t interfered I should have shared Richardson’s fate.”
“The high priest was called Chung Ga and he was devilishly considerate. He took me into the cave and introduced me to Chaugnar Faugn.
“You’ve Chaugnar there,” Ulman pointed to the enshrouded form on the floor, “and you can imagine what the sight of it squatting on its haunches at the back of an evil smelling, atrociously lighted cave would do to a man who had not eaten for three days.
“I began to say very queer things to Chung Ga. I confided to him that Great Chaugnar Faugn was not just a lifeless statue in a cave, but a great universal god filling all space— that it had created the world in a single instant by merely expelling its breath, and that when eventually it decided to inhale, the world would disappear. ‘It also made this cave,’ I hastened to add, ‘and you are its chosen prophet.’
“The priest stared at me curiously for several moments without speaking. Then he approached the god and prostrated himself before it. ‘Chaugnar Faugn,' he intoned, ‘the White Acolyte has confirmed that you are about to become a great universal god filling all space. He will carry you safely into the world, and nurse you until you have no further need of him. The prophecy of Mu Sang has been most gloriously fulfilled.’
“For several minutes he remained kneeling at the foot of the idol. Then he rose and approached me. ‘You shall depart with Great Chaugnar tomorrow,’ he said. ‘You shall become Great Chaugnar’s companion and nurse.’
“I felt a wave of gratitude for the man. Even in my befuddled state I was sensible that I had achieved a magnificent break. ‘I will serve him gladly,’ I murmured, ‘if only I may have some food.’
“Chung Ga nodded. ‘It is my wish that you eat heartily,’ he said. ‘If you are to nurse Great Chaugnar you must consume an infinite diversity of fruits. And the flesh of animals. Red blood — red blood is Chaugnar’s staff. Without it my god would suffer tortures no man could endure. It is impossible for a man to know how great can be the suffering of a god.’ “He tapped a drum and immediately I was confronted with a wooden bowl filled to the brim with pomegranate juice.
“‘Drink heartily,’ he urged, I have reason to suspect that Chaugnar Faugn will be ravenous tonight.’
“I was so famished that I scarcely gave a thought to what he was saying and for fifteen minutes I consumed without discrimination everything that was set before me — evil smelling herbs, ewe’s milk, eggs, peaches and the fresh blood of antelopes.
“The priest watched me in silence. At last when I could eat no more he went into a corner of the cave and returned with a straw mattress. ‘You have supped most creditably,’ he murmured, ‘and I wish you pleasant dreams.’
“With that he withdrew, and I crawled gratefully upon the mat. My strength was wholly spent and the dangers I still must face, the loathsome proximity of Great Chaugnar and the possibility that the priest had been deliberately playing a part and would return to kill me, were swallowed up in a physical urgency that bordered on delirium. Relaxing upon the straw I shut my eyes, and fell almost instantly into a deep sleep.
“I awoke with a start and a strange impression that I was not alone in the cave. Even before I opened my eyes I knew that something unspeakably malign was crouching or squatting on the ground beside me. I could hear it breathing in the darkness and the stench of it strangled the breath in my throat.
“Slowly, very slowly, I endeavored to rise. An unsurpassably ponderous weight descended upon my chest and hurled me to the ground. I stretched out my hand to disengage it and met with an iron resistance. A solid wall of something cold, slimy and implacable rose up in the darkness to thwart me.
“In an instant I was fully awake and calling frantically for assistance. But no one came to me. And even as I screamed the wall descended perpendicularly upon me and lay clammily upon my chest. An odor of corruption surged from it and when I tore at it with my fingers it made a low, gurgling sound, which gradually increased in volume till it woke echoes in the low-vaulted ceiling.
“The thing had pinioned my arms, and the more I twisted and squirmed the more agonizingly it tightened about me. The constriction increased until breathing became a torture, until all my flesh palpitated with' pain. I wriggled and twisted, and bit my lips through in an extremity of horror.
“Then, abruptly, the pressure ceased and I became aware of two blinking, fish-white eyes glaring truculently at me through the darkness. Agonizingly I sat up and ran my hands over my chest and arms. My fingers encountered a warm wetness and with a hideous clarity it was borne in on me that the thing had been feasting on my blood! The revelation was very close to mind-shattering. I was on my feet in an instant, trying desperately not to succumb to panic, but knowing, deep in my mind, that it would be a losing battle.
“A most awful terror was upon me, and so unreasoning became my desire to escape from that fearsome, vampirish obscenity that I retreated straight toward the throne of Chaugnar Faugn.
“It loomed enormous in the darkness, a refuge and a sanctuary. The wild thought came to me that if I could scale the throne and climb upon the lap of the god the horror might cease to molest me. Malignant beyond belief it undoubtedly was. But I refused to credit it with more than
animalistic intelligence. Even in that moment of infinite peril, as I roped shakingly toward the rear of the cave, my mind was evolving a conceit to account for it.
“It was undoubtedly, I told myself, some cave-lurking survival from the age of reptiles — some atavistic and predatory abnormality that had experienced no necessity to advance on the course of evolution. It is more than probable that all backboned animals above the level of fishes and amphibians originated in Asia, and I had recklessly conveyed myself to the hoariest section of that primeval continent. Was it after all so amazing that I should have encountered, in a dark and inaccessible cave on a virtually uninhabited plateau, a reptilian predator endowed with the rapacity of that most hideous of blood-sucking animals— the vampire bat of the tropics?
“It was a just-short-of-destructive conceit and it sustained me and made my desperate groping for some kind of certainty seem the opposite of wasted until I reached the throne of Great Chaugnar. I fear that up to that instant my failure to suspect the truth was downright idiotic. There was only one adequate explanation for what had occurred. But it wasn’t until I actually ascended the throne and began to feel about in the darkness for the body of Chaugnar that the truth rushed in upon me.
“Great Chaugnar had forsaken its throne! It had descended into the cave and was roaming about in the darkness. In its vampirish explorations it had stumbled upon my sleeping form, and had felled me with its trunk so that it might satisfy its thirst for blood with quick and hideous ferocity.
“For an instant I crouched motionless upon the stone, screaming inwardly, feeling the darkness tightening about me like a shroud. Then, quickly, I began to descend. But I had not lowered more than my right leg when something ponderous collided with the base of the throne. The entire structure shook and I was almost hurled to the ground.
“I refuse to dwell on what happened after that. There are experiences too revolting for sane description. Were I to tell how the horror began slowly, to mount, to recount at length how it heaved its slabby and mucid vastness to the pinnacle of its throne and began nauseatingly to breathe upon me, the slight uncertainty I now entertain as to my sanity would be dispelled in short order.
“Neither shall I describe how it picked me up in its corpse- cold hands and began detestably to maul me, and how I nearly fainted beneath the foulness which drooled from its mouth. Eventually it wearied of its malign sport. After sinking its slimy black nails into my throat and chest until the pain became almost unbearable, it experienced a sudden access of wrath and hurled me violently from the pedestal.
“The fall stunned me and for many minutes I lay on my back on the stones, dimly conscious only of a furtive whispering in the darkness about me. Then, slowly, my vision cleared and under the guidance of some nebulous and sinister influence my eyes were drawn upward until they encountered the pedestal from which I had fallen and the enormous, ropy bulk of Chaugnar Faugn loathsomely waving his great trunk in the dawn.
“It isn’t surprising that when Chung Ga found me deliriously gibbering at the cavern’s mouth he was obliged to carry me into the sunlight and force great wooden spoonfuls of revivifying wine down my parched throat. If there was anything inexplicable in the sequel to that hideous nightmare it was the matter-of-fact reception which he accorded my story.
“He nodded his head sympathetically when I recounted my experiences on the throne, and assured me that the incident accorded splendidly with the prophecies of Mu Sang. ‘I was afraid,’ he said, ‘that Great Chaugnar would not accept you as its companion and nurse — that it would destroy you as utterly as it has the guardians — more of the guardians than you might suppose, for a god is not motivated by our kind of expediency.’
“He studied me for a moment intensely. ‘No doubt you think me a superstitious savage, a ridiculous barbarian. Would it surprise you very much if I should tell you that I have spent eight years in England and that I am a graduate of the University of Oxford?'
“I could only stare at him in stunned disbelief for a moment, but so unbelievable and ghastly had been the coming to life of Chaugnar Faugn that lesser wonders made little impression on me and my incredulity passed quickly. Had he told me that he had an eye in the middle of his back or a tail twenty feet long which he kept continuously coiled about his body I should have evinced little surprise. I doubt indeed if anything short of a universal cataclysm could have roused me from my dazed acceptance of revelations which, under ordinary circumstances, I should have dismissed as preposterous.
“‘It-astonishes you perhaps that I should have cast my lot with Filthy primitives in this loathsome place and that I should have so uncompromisingly menaced your countrymen.’ A wistfulness crept into his eyes. ‘Your Richardson was a brave man. Even Chaugnar Faugn was moved to compassion by his valor. He gave no cry when we drove wooden stakes through his hands and impaled him. For three days he defied us. Then Chaugnar tramped toward him in the night and set him at liberty.
“‘You may be sure that from that instant we accorded him every consideration. But to return to what you would undoubtedly call my perverse and atavistic attitude. Why do you suppose I chose to serve Chaugnar?’
“His recapitulation of what he had done to Richardson had awakened in me a confused but violent resentment. ‘I don’t know,’ I muttered. ‘There are degrees of human vileness—’
“‘Spare me your opprobrium, I beg of you,’ he exclaimed. ‘It was Great Chaugnar speaking through me that dictated the fate of Richardson. I am merely Chaugnar’s interpreter and instrument. For generations my forebears have served Chaugnar, and I have never attempted to evade the duties that were delegated to me when our world was merely a thought in the mind of my god. I went to England and acquired a little of the West’s decadent culture merely that I might more worthily serve Chaugnar.
“‘Don’t imagine for a moment that Chaugnar is a beneficent god. In the West you have evolved certain amiabilities of intercourse, to which you presumptuously attach cosmic significance, such as truth, kindliness, generosity, forbearance and honor, and you quaintly imagine that a god who is beyond good and evil and hence unamenable to your ‘ethics’ can not be omnipotent.
“‘But how do you know that there are any beneficent laws in the universe, that the cosmos is friendly to man? Even in the mundane sphere of planetary life there is nothing to sustain such an hypothesis.
“‘Great Chaugnar is a terrible god, an utterly cosmic and unanthropomorphic god. It is akin to the fire mists and the primordial ooze, and before it incarned itself in Time it contained within itself the past, the present and the future. Nothing was and nothing will be, but all things are. And Chaugnar Faugn was once the sum of all things that are.’
“I remained silent and a note of compassion crept into his voice. I think he perceived that I had no inclination to split hairs with him over the paradoxes of transcendental metaphysics.
“‘Chaugnar Faugn,’ he continued, ‘did not always dwell in the East. Many thousands of years ago it abode with its Brothers in a cave in Western Europe, and made from the flesh of toads a race of small dark shapes to serve it. In bodily contour these shapes resembled men, but they were incapable of speech and their thoughts were the thoughts of Chaugnar.
“‘The cave where Chaugnar dwelt was never visited by men, for it wound its twisted length through a high and inaccessible crag of the mysterious Pyrenees, and all the regions beneath were rife with abominable hauntings.
“‘Twice a year Chaugnar Faugn sent its servants into the villages that dotted the foothills to bring it the sustenance its belly craved. The chosen youths and maidens were preserved with spices and stored in the cave till Chaugnar had need of them. And in the villages men would hurl their first-borns into the flames and offer prayers to their futile little gods, hoping thereby to appease the wrath of Chaugnar’s mindless servants.
“‘But eventually there came into the foothills men like gods, stout, eagle-visaged men who carried on their shields the insignia of invincible Rome. They scaled the mountains in pursuit of the servants and awoke a cosmic foreboding in the mind of Chaugnar.
“‘It is true that its Brethren succeeded without difficulty in exterminating the impious cohorts — exterminating them unspeakably — before they reached the cave, but it feared that rumors of the attempted sacrilege would bring legions of the empire-builders into the hills and that eventually its sanctuary would be defiled.
“‘So in ominous conclave it debated with its Brothers the advisability of flight. Rome was but a dream in the mind of Chaugnar and it could have destroyed her utterly in an instant, but having incarned itself in Time it did not wish to resort to violence until the prophecies were fulfilled.
“‘Chaugnar and its Brothers conversed by means of thought-transference in an idiom incomprehensible to us and it would be both dangerous and futile to attempt to repeat the exact substance of their discourse. But it is recorded in the prophecy of Mu Sang that Great Chaugnar spoke approximately as follows:
“‘Our servants shall carry us eastward to the primal continent, and there we shall await the arrival of the White Acolyte.”
“‘His Brothers demurred. “We are safe here,” they affirmed. “No one will scale the mountains again, for the doom that came to Pompelo will reverberate in the dreams of prophets till Rome is less to be feared than moon-dim Nineveh, or Medusa-girdled Ur.”
“‘At that Great Chaugnar waxed ireful and affirmed that it would go alone to the primal continent, leaving its Brothers to cope with the menace of Rome. “When the timeframes are dissolved I alone shall ascend in glory,” it told them. “All of you I shall devour before I ascend to the dark altars. When the hour of my transfiguration approaches you will come down from the mountains cosmically athirst for That Which is Not to be Spoken of, but even as your bodies raven for the time-dissolving sacrament I shall consume them.”
“‘Then it called for the servants and had them carry it to this place. And it caused Mu Sang to be born from the womb of an ape and the prophecies to be written on imperishable parchment, and into the care of my fathers it surrendered its body.’
“I rose gropingly to my feet. ‘Let me leave this place,’ I pleaded. ‘I respect your beliefs and I give you my solemn word I will never attempt to return. Your secrets are safe with me. Only let me go—’
“Chung Ga’s features were convulsed with pity. ‘It is stated in the prophecy that you must be Chaugnar’s companion and accompany it to America. In a few days it will experience a desire to feed again. You must nurse it unceasingly.’
“‘I am ill,’ I pleaded. ‘I can not carry Chaugnar Faugn across the desert plateau.'
“‘I will have the guardians assist you,’ murmured Chung Ga soothingly. ‘You shall be conveyed in comfort to the gates of Lhasa, and from Lhasa to the coast it is less than a week’s journey by caravan.’
“I realized then how impossible it would be for me to depart without Great Chaugnar. ‘Very well, Chung Ga,’ I said. ‘I submit to the prophecy. Chaugnar shall be my companion and I shall nurse it as diligently as it desires.’ “There was a ring of insincerity in my speech which was not lost on Chung Ga. He approached very close to me and peered into my eyes. ‘If you attempt to dispose of my god,’ he warned, ‘it’s Brothers will come down from the mountains and tear you indescribably.’
“He saw perhaps that I wasn’t wholly convinced, for he added in an even more ominous tone, ‘It has laid upon you the mark and seal of a flesh-dissolving sacrament. Destroy it, and the sacrament will be consummated in an instant. The flesh of your body will turn black and melt like tallow in the sun. You will become a seething mass of corruption.’” Ulman paused, a look of unutterable torment in his eyes. “There isn’t much more to my story, Algernon. The guardians carried us safely to Lhasa and a fortnight later I reached the Bay of Bengal, accompanied by half a hundred ragged, gaunt-visaged mendicants from the temples of obscure Indian villages. There was something about our caravan that had attracted them. And all during the voyage from Bengal to Hongkong the Indian and Tibetan members of our crew would steal stealthily to my cabin at night and look in on me, and I had never before seen human face quite so distorted with superstitious terror.
“Don’t imagine for a moment that I didn’t share their awe and fear of the thing I was compelled to companion. Continuously I longed to carry it on deck and cast it into the sea. Only the memory of Chung Ga’s warning and the thought of what might happen to me if I disregarded it kept me chained and submissive.
“It was not until weeks later, when I had left the Indian and most of the Pacific Ocean behind me, that I discovered how unwise I had been to heed his vile threats. If I had resolutely hurled Chaugnar into the sea the shame and the horror might never have come upon me!”
Ulman’s voice was rising, becoming shrill and hysterical. “Chaugnar Faugn is an awful and mysterious being, a repellent and obscene and lethal being, but how do I know that it is omnipotent? Chung Ga may have maliciously lied to me. Chaugnar Faugn may be merely an extension or distortion of inanimate nature. Some hideous process, as yet unobserved and unexplained by the science of the West, may be noxiously at work in desert places all over our planet to produce such fiendish anomalies. Perhaps parallel to protoplasmic life on the earth’s crust is this other aberrant and hidden life — the revolting sentiency of stones that aspire, of earth-shapes, parasitic and bestial, that wax agile in the presence of man.
“Did not Cuvier believe that there had been not one but an infinite number of ‘creations,’ and that as our earth cooled after its departure from the sun a succession of vitalic phenomena appeared on its surface? Conceding as we must the orderly and continuous development of protoplasmic life from simple forms, which Cuvier stupidly and ridiculously denied, is it not still conceivable that another evolutionary cycle may have preceded the one which has culminated in us? A non-protoplasmic cycle?
“Whether we accept the planetesimal or the three or four newer theories of planetary formation it is permissible to believe that the earth coalesced very swiftly into a compact mass after the segregation of its constituents in space and that it achieved sufficient crustal stability to support animate entities one, or two, or perhaps even five billion years ago.
“I do not claim that life as we know it would be possible in the earliest phases of planetary consolidation, but is it possible to assert dogmatically that beings possessed of intelligence and volition could not have evolved in a direction merely parallel to the cellular? Life as we know it is complexly bound up with such substances as chlorophyll and protoplasm, but does that preclude that possibility of an evolved sentiency in other forms of matter?
“How do we know that stones can not think; that the earth beneath our feet may not once have been endowed with a hideous intelligence? Entire cycles of animate evolution may have occurred on this planet before the most primitive of ‘living’ cells were evolved from the slime of warm seas.
“There may have been eons of — experiments! Three billion years ago in the fiery radiance of the rapidly condensing earth who knows what monstrous shapes crawled — or shambled?
“And how do we know that there are not survivals? Or that somewhere beneath the stars of heaven complex and hideous processes are not still at work, shaping the inorganic into forms of primal malevolence?
“And what more inevitable than that some such primiparous spawn should have become in my eyes the apotheosis of all that was fiendish and accursed and unclean, and that I should have ascribed to it the attributes of divinity, and imagined in a moment of madness that it was immune to destruction? I should have hurled it into the depths of the seas and risked boldly the fulfillment of Chung Ga’s prophecy. For even had it proved itself omnipotent and omniscient by rising in fury from the waves or summoning its Brothers to destroy me I should have suffered indescribably for no more than a moment.”
Ulman’s voice had risen to a shrill scream. “I should have passed quickly enough into the darkness had I encountered merely the wrath of Chaugnar Faugn. It was not the fury but the forbearance of Chaugnar that has wrought an uncleanliness in my body’s flesh, and blackened and shriveled my soul, till a furious hate has grown up in me for all that the world holds of serenity and joy.”
Ulman’s voice broke and for a moment there was silence in the room. Then, with a sudden, convulsive movement of his right arm he uncloaked the whole of his face.
He was standing very nearly in the center of the office and the light from its eastern window illumed with a hideous clarity all that remained of his features. But Algernon didn’t utter a sound, for all that the sight was appalling enough to revolt a corpse. He simply clung shakingly to the desk and waited with ashen lips for Ulman to continue.
“It came to me again as I slept, drinking its fill, and in the morning I woke to find that the flesh of my body had grown fetid and loathsome, and that my face — my face…”
“Yes, Clark, I understand.” Algernon’s voice was vibrant with compassion. “I’ll get you some brandy.”
Ulman’s eyes shone with an awful light.
“Do you believe me?” he cried. “Do you believe that Chaugnar Faugn has wrought this uncleanliness?”
Slowly Algernon shook his head. “No, Clark. Chaugnar Faugn is nothing but a stone idol, sculptured by some Asian artist with quite exceptional talent, however primitive he may have been in other respects. I believe Chung Ga kept you under the influence of some potent drug until he had— had cut your face, and that he also hypnotized you and suggested every detail of the story you have just told me. I believe you are still actually under the spell of that hypnosis.”
“When I boarded the ship at Calcutta there was nothing wrong with my face!” shrilled Ulman.
“Conceivably not. But some minion of the priest may have administered the drug and performed the operation on shipboard. I can only guess at what happened, of course, but it is obvious that you are the victim of some hideous charlatanry. I’ve visited India, Clark, and I have a very keen respect for the hypnotic endowments of the Oriental. It’s ghastly and unbelievable how much a Hindoo or a Tibetan can accomplish by simple suggestion.”
“I feared — I feared that you would doubt!” Ulman’s voice had risen to a shriek. “But I swear to you…
The sentence was never finished. A hideous pallor overspread the archeologist’s face, his jaw sagged and into his eyes there crept a look of panic fight. For a second he stood clawing at his throat, like a man in the throes of an epileptic fit.
Then something, some invisible force, seemed to propel him backward. Choking and gasping he staggered against the wall and threw out his arms in a gesture of frantic appeal. “Keep it off!” he sobbed. “I can’t breathe. I can’t. ”
With a cry Algernon leapt forward, but before he reached the other’s side the unfortunate man had sunk to the floor and was moaning and gibbering and rolling about in a most sickening way.
2. The Atrocity at the Museum
Algernon Harris emerged from the B.M.T. subway at the Fifty-ninth Street and Fifth Avenue entrance and began nervously to pace the sidewalk in front of a large yellow sign, which bore the discouraging caption: “Buses do not stop here.” Harris was most eager to secure a bus and it was obvious from the expectant manner in which he hailed the first one to pass that he hadn’t the faintest notion he had taken up his post on the wrong side of the street. Indeed, it was not until four buses had passed him by that he awoke to the gravity of his predicament and began to propel his person in the direction of the legitimate stop-zone.
Algernon Harris was abnormally and tragically upset. But even a man trembling on the verge of a neuropathic collapse can remain superficially politic, and it isn’t surprising that when he ascended into his bus and encountered on a conspicuous seat his official superior. Doctor George Francis Scollard, he should have nodded, smiled and responded with an unwavering amiability to the questions that were shot at him.
“I got your telegram yesterday,” murmured the president of the Manhattan Museum of Fine Arts, “and I caught the first train down. Am I too late for the inquest?”
Algernon nodded. “The coroner — a chap named Henry Weigal — took my evidence and rendered a decision on the spot. The condition of Ulman’s body would not have permitted of delay. I never before imagined that — that putrefaction could proceed with such incredible rapidity.” Scollard frowned. “And the verdict?”
“Heart failure. The coroner was very positive that anxiety and shock were the sole causes of Ulman’s total collapse.”
“But you said something about his face being horribly disfigured.”
“Yes. It had been rendered loathsome by — by plastic surgery. Weigal was hideously agitated until I explained that Ulman had merely fallen into the hands of a skillful Oriental surgeon with sadistic inclination in the course of his archaeological explorations. I explained to him that many of our field workers returned slightly disfigured and that Ulman had merely endured an exaggeration of the customary martyrdom.”
“And you believe that plastic surgery could account for the repellent and gruesome changes you mentioned in your night-letter — the shocking prolongation of the poor devil’s nose, the flattening and broadening of his ears…”
Algernon winced. “I must believe it, sir. It is impossible sanely to entertain any other explanation. The coroner’s assistant was a little incredulous at first, until Weigal pointed out to him what an unwholesome precedent they would set by even so much as hinting that the phenomenon wasn’t pathologically explicable. ‘We would play right into the hands of the spiritualists,’ Weigal explained. ‘An officer of the police isn’t at liberty to adduce an hypothesis that the district attorney’s office wouldn’t approve of. The newspapers would pounce on a thing like that and play it up disgustingly. Mr. Harris has supplied us with an explanation which seems adequately to cover the facts, and with your permission I shall file a verdict of natural death.’”
The president coughed and shifted uneasily in his seat. “I am glad that the coroner took such a sensible view of the matter. Had he been a recalcitrant individual and raised objections we should have come in for considerable unpleasant publicity. I shudder whenever I see a reference to the Museum in the popular press. It is always the morbid and sensational aspects of our work that they stress and there is never the slightest attention paid to accuracy.”
For the moment Doctor Scollard was silent. Then he cleared his throat, and recapitulated, in a slightly more emphatic form, the question that he had put to Algernon originally. “But you said in your letter that Ulman’s nose revolted and sickened you — that it had become a loathsome greenish trunk almost a foot in length which continued to move about for hours after Ulman’s heart stopped beating. Could — could your operation hypothesis account for such an appalling anomaly?”
Algernon took a deep breath. “I can’t pretend that I wasn’t astounded and appalled and — and frightened. And so lost to discretion that I made no attempt to conceal the way I felt from the coroner. I could not remain in the room while they were examining the body.”
“And yet you succeeded in convincing the coroner that he could justifiably render a verdict of natural death!”
“You misunderstood me, sir. The coroner wanted to render such a verdict. My explanation merely supplied him with a straw to clutch at. I was trembling in every limb when I made it and it must have been obvious to him that we were in the presence of something unthinkable. But without the plastic surgery assumption we should have had nothing whatever to cling to.”
“And do you still give your reluctant assent to such an assumption?”
“Now more than ever. And my assent is no longer reluctant, for I’ve succeeded in convincing myself that a surgeon endowed with miraculous skill could have affected the transformation I described in my letter.”
“I use the word in a merely mundane sense. When one stops to consider what astounding advances plastic surgery has made in England and America during the past decade it is impossible to disbelieve that the human frame will soon become more malleable than wax beneath the scalpels of our surgeons and that beings will appear in our midst with bodies so grotesquely distorted that the superstitious will ascribe their advent to the supernatural.
“And we can adduce more than a surgical ‘miracle’ to account for the horror that poor Ulman became without for a moment encroaching on the dubious domain of the superphysical. Everyone knows how extensively the ductless glands regulate the growth and shape of our bodies. A change in the quantity or quality of secretion in any one of the glands may throw the entire human mechanism out of gear. Terrible and unthinkable changes have been known to occur in the adult body during the course of diseases involving glandular instability. We once thought that human beings invariably ceased to grow at twenty-one or twenty-two, but we now know that growth may continue till middle age, and even till the very onset of senility, and that frequently such growth does not culminate in a mere increase in stature or in girth.
“Doubtless you have heard of that rare, and hideously deforming glandular malady acromegaly. It is characterized by an abnormal over-growth of the skull and face, and the small bones of the extremities, and its victims become in a short time tragic caricatures of humanity. The entire face assumes a more massive cast but the over-growth is most pronounced in the region of the jawbones. In exceptional cases the face has been known to attain a length of nearly a foot. But it is not so much the size as the revolting primitiveness of the face which sets the victims of this hideous disease so tragically apart from their fellows. The features not only grow, but they take on an almost apelike aspect, and as the disease advances even the skull becomes revoltingly simian in its conformation. In brief, the victims of Acromegaly become in a short while almost indistinguishable from very primitive and brutish types of human ancestors, such as Homo neanderthalensis and the unmentionable, enormous-browed caricature from Broken Hill, Rodesia, which Sir Arthur Keith has called the most unqualifiedly repulsive physiognomy in the entire gallery of fossil men.
“The disease of Acromegaly is perhaps a more certain indication of man’s origin than all the ‘missing links’ that anthropologists have exhumed. It proves incontestably that we still carry within our bodies the mechanism of evolutionary retrogression, and that when something interferes with the normal functioning of our glands we are very apt to return, at least physically, to our aboriginal status.
“And since we know that a mere insufficiency or superabundance of glandular secretions can work such devasting changes, can turn men virtually into Neanderthalers, or great apes, what is there really unaccountable in the alteration I witnessed in poor Ulman?
“Some Oriental diabolist merely ten years in advance of the West in the sphere of plastic surgery and with a knowledge of glandular therapeutics no greater than that possessed by Doctors Noel Paton and Schafer might easily have wrought such an abomination. Or suppose, as I have hinted before, that no surgery was involved, suppose this fiend has learned so much about our glands that he can send men back and back through the mists of time — back past the great apes and the primitive mammals and the carnivorous dinosaurs to their primordial sires! Suppose — it is an awful thought, I know — suppose that some creature closely resembling what Ulman became was once our ancestor, that a hundred million years ago a gigantic batrachian shape with trunk-like appendages and great flapping ears paddled through the warm primeval seas or stretched its leathery length on banks of Permian slime!”
Mr. Scollard turned sharply and plucked at his subordinate’s sleeve. “There’s a crowd in front of the Museum,” he muttered. "See there!”
Algernon started, and rising instantly, pressed the signal bell above his companion’s head. “We’ll have to walk back,” he muttered despondently. “I should have watched the street numbers.”
His pessimism proved well-founded. The bus continued relentlessly on its way for four additional blocks and then came so abruptly to a stop that Mr. Scollard was subjected to the ignominy of being obliged to sit for an instant on the spacious lap of a middle-aged stout woman who resented the encroachment with a furious glare.
“I’ve a good mind to report you,” he shouted to the bus conductor as he lowered his portly person to the sidewalk. “I’ve a damn good mind…”
“Let it pass, sir.” Algernon laid a pacifying arm on his companion’s arm. “We’ve got no time to argue. Something dreadful has occurred at the Museum. I just saw two policemen enter the building. And those tall men walking up and down on the opposite side of the street are reporters. There’s Wells of the Tribune and Thompson of the Times, and…”
Mr. Scollard gripped his subordinate’s arm. “Tell me,” he demanded, “did you put the — the statue on exhibition?"
Algernon nodded. “I had it carried to Alcove K, Wing C last night. After the inquest on poor Ulman I was besieged by reporters. They wanted to know all about the fetish, and of course I had to tell them that it would go on exhibition eventually. They would have returned everyday for weeks to pester me if I hadn’t assured them that we’d respect the public clamor to that extent at least.”
“Yesterday afternoon all the papers ran specials about it. The News-Graphic gave it a front-page write-up. I remained at my office until eleven, and all evening at half-minute intervals some emotionally-overcharged numbskull would ring up and ask me when I was going to exhibit the thing and whether it really looked as repulsive as its photographs, and what kind of stone it was made of and — oh, God! I was too nervous and wrought-up to be bothered that way and I decided it would be best to satisfy the public’s idiotic curiosity by permitting them to view the thing today.”
The two men were walking briskly in the direction of the Museum.
“Besides, there was no longer any necessity of my keeping it in the office. I had had it measured and photographed and I knew that Harrison and Smithstone wouldn’t want to take a cast of it until next week. And I couldn’t have chosen a safer place for it than Alcove K. It’s roped off, you know, and only two paces removed from the door. Cinney can see it all night from his station in the corridor.”
By the time that Algernon and Mr. Scollard arrived at the Museum the crowd had reached alarming proportions. They were obliged to fight their way through a solid phalanx of excited men and women who impeded their progress with elbow-thrusting aggressiveness, and scant respect for their dignity. And even in the vestibules they were repulsed with discourtesy.
A red-headed policeman glared savagely at them from behind horn-rimmed spectacles and brought them to a halt with a threatening gesture. “You’ve got to keep out!” he shouted. “If you ain’t got a police card you’ve got to keep out!”
“What’s happened here?” demanded Algernon authoritatively.
“A guy’s been bumped off. If you ain’t got a police card you’ve got to.. ”
Algernon produced a calling-card and thrust it into the officer’s face. “I’m the curator of archeology,” he affirmed angrily. “I guess I’ve a right to enter my own museum.” The officer’s manner softened perceptibly. “Then I guess it’s all right. The chief told me I wasn’t to keep out any of the guys that work here. How about your friend?”
“You can safely admit him,” murmured Algernon with a smile. "He’s president of the Museum.”
The policeman did not seem too astonished. He regarded Mr. Scollard dubiously for a moment. Then he shrugged his shoulders and stepped complacently aside.
An attendant greeted them excitedly as they emerged from the turnstile. “It’s awful, sir,” he gasped, addressing Mr. Scollard. “Cinney has been murdered — knifed, sir. He’s all cut and mangled. I shouldn’t have recognized him if it
weren’t for his clothes. There’s nothing left on his face, sir.” Algernon turned pale. “When — when did this happen?” he gasped.
The attendant shook his head. “I can’t say, Mr. Harris. It must’ve been some time last night, but I can’t say exactly when. The first we knew of it was when Mr. Williams came running down the stairs with his hands all bloodied. That was at eight this morning, about two hours ago. I’d just got in, and all the other attendants were in the cloak room getting into their uniforms. That is, all except Williams. Williams usually arrives about a half-hour before the rest of us. He likes to come early and have a chat with Cinney before the doors open.”
The attendant’s face was convulsed with terror and he spoke with considerable difficulty. “I was the only one to see him come down the stairs. I was standing about here and as soon as he came into sight I knew that something was wrong with him. He went from side to side of the stairs and clung to the rails to keep himself from falling. And his face was as white as paper.”
Algernon’s eyes did not leave the attendant’s face. “Go on,” he urged.
“He opened his mouth very wide when he saw me. It was like as if he wanted to shout and couldn’t. There wasn’t a sound came out of him.”
The attendant cleared his throat. “I didn’t think he’d ever reach the bottom of the stairs and I called out for the boys in the cloak room to lend me a hand.”
“What happened then?”
“He didn’t speak for a long time. One of the boys gave him some whiskey out of a flask and the rest of us just stood about and said soothing things to him. But he was trembling all over and we couldn’t quiet him down. He kept throwing his head about and pointing toward the stairs. And foam collected all over his mouth. It was ghastly.”
“‘What’s wrong. Jim?’ I said to him. ‘What did you see?’ “‘The worm of hell!’ he said. ‘The Devil’s awful mascot!’ He said other things I can’t repeat, sir. I’m a God-fearing man, and there are blasphemies it’s best to forget you ever
heard. But I’ll tell you what he said when he got through talking about the worm out of hell. He said: ‘Cinney’s upstairs stretched out on his back and there ain’t a drop of blood in his veins.’
“We got up the stairs quicker than lightning after he’d told us that. We didn’t know just what his crazy words meant, but the blood on his hands made us sure that something pretty terrible had happened. They kind of confirmed what we feared, sir — if you get what I mean.”
Algernon nodded. “And you found Cinney — dead?”
“Worse than that, sir. All black and shrunken and looking as though he’d been wearing clothes about four sizes too large for him. His face was all gone, sir — all eaten away, like. We picked him up — he wasn’t much heavier than a little boy — and laid him out on a bench in Corridor H. I never seen so much blood in my life — the floor was all slippery with it. And the big stone animal you had us carry down to Alcove K. last night was all dripping with it, ’specially its trunk. It made me sort of sick. I never like to look at blood.”
“You think someone attacked Cinney?”
“It looked that way, Mr. Harris. Like as if someone went for him with a knife. It must have been an awful big knife — a regular butcher’s knife. That ain’t a very nice way of putting it, sir, but that’s how it struck me. Like as if someone mistook him for a piece of mutton.”
“And what else did you find when you examined him?”
“We didn’t do much examining. We just let him lie on the bench till we got through phoning for the police. Mr. Williamson did the talking, sir.” A look of relief crept into the attendant’s eyes. “The police said we wasn’t to disturb the body further, which suited us fine. There wasn’t one of us didn’t want to give poor Mr. Cinney a wide berth.”
“And what did the police do when they arrived?”
“Asked us about a million crazy questions, sir. Was Mr. Cinney disfigured in the war? And was Mr. Cinney in the habit of wearing a mask over his face? And had Mr. Cinney received any threatening letters from Chinamen or Hindoos? And when we told them no, they seemed to get kind of frightened. ‘If it ain’t murder,’ they said, ‘we’re up against something that ain’t natural. But it’s got to be murder. All we have to do is get hold of the Chinaman.’”
Algernon didn’t wait to hear more. Brushing the attendant ungratefully aside he went dashing up the stairs three steps at a time. Mr. Scollard followed with ashen face.
They were met in the upper corridor by a tall, loose-jointed man in shabby, ill-fitting clothes who arrested their progress with a scowl and a torrent of impatient abuse. “Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded. “Didn’t I give orders that no one was to come up here? I’ve got nothing to say to you. You’re too damn nosy. If you want the lowdown on this affair you’ve got to wait outside till we get through questioning the attendants.”
“See here,” said Algernon impatiently. “This gentleman is president of the Museum and he has a perfect right to go where he chooses.”
The tall man waxed apologetic. “I thought you were a couple of newspaper Johns,” he murmured confusedly. “We haven’t anything even remotely resembling a clue, but those guys keep popping in here every ten minutes to cross- examine us. They’re worse than prosecuting attorneys. Come right this way, sir.”
He led them past a little knot of attendants and photographers and fingerprint experts to the northerly part of the corridor. “There’s the body,” he said, pointing toward a sheeted form which lay sprawled on a low bench near the window. “I’d be grateful if you gentlemen would look at the poor lad’s face.”
Algernon nodded, and lifting a corner of the sheet peered for an instant intently into what remained of poor Cinney’s countenance. Then, with a shudder, he surrendered his place to Mr. Scollard.
It is to Mr. Scollard's credit that he did not cry out. Only the trembling of his lower lip betrayed the revulsion which filled him..
“He was found on the floor in the corridor about two hours ago,” explained the detective. “But the guy who found him isn’t here. They’ve got him in a straitjacket down at Bellevue, and it doesn’t look as though he’ll be much help to us. He was yelling his head off about something he said came out of hell when they put him in the ambulance. That’s what drew the crowd.”
“You don’t think Williams could have done it?” murmured Algernon.
“Not a chance. But he saw the murderer all right, and if we can get him to talk… He wheeled on Algernon abruptly. “You seem to know something about this, sir.”
“Only what we picked up downstairs. We had a talk with one of the attendants and he explained about Williams — and the Chinaman.”
The detective’s eyes glowed. “The Chinaman? What Chinaman? Is there a Chinaman mixed up in this? It’s what I’ve been thinking all along, but I didn’t have much to go on.”
“I fear we’re becoming involved in a vicious circle,” said Algernon. “It was your Chinaman I was referring to. Willy said you were laboring under the impression that all you had to do to solve this distressing affair was to catch a Chinaman.”
The detective shook his head. “It’s not as simple as that,” he affirmed. “We haven’t any positive evidence that a Chinaman did it. It might have been a Jap or Hindoo or even a South Sea Islander. That is, if South Sea Islanders eat rice!”
“Rice?” Algernon stared at the detective incredulously.
“That’s right. In a bowl with long sticks. I’m no authority on et-eternalogy, but it’s my guess they don’t use chopsticks much outside of Asia.”
He went into Alcove K and returned with a wooden bowl and two long splinters of wood. “All those dark spots near the rim are blood stains,” he explained, as he surrendered the gruesome exhibits to Algernon. “Even the rice is all smeared with blood.” Algernon shuddered and passed the bowl to Scollard, who almost dropped it in his haste to return it to the detective.
“Where did you find it?” the president spoke in a subdued whisper.
“On the floor in front of the big stone elephant. That’s where Cinney was killed. There’s blood all over the elephant — if it’s supposed to be an elephant.”
“It isn’t, strictly speaking, an elephant,” said Algernon. “Well, whatever it is, it could tell us what Cinney’s murderer looked like. I'd give the toes off my left foot if it could talk.”
“It doesn’t talk,” said Algernon decisively.
“I wasn’t wisecracking,” admonished the detective. “I was simply pointing out that that elephant could give us the lowdown on a mighty nasty murder.”
Algernon accepted the rebuke in silence.
“There ain’t no doubt whatever that a Chinaman or Hindoo or some crazy foreigner sneaked in here last night, set himself down in front of that elephant and began eating rice. Maybe he was in a church-going mood and mistook the beast for one of his heathen gods. It kind of looks like an oriental idol — the ferocious-looking kind you sometimes see in Chinatown store windows.”
Algernon smiled ironically. “But unquestionably unique,” he murmured.
The detective nodded. “Yeah. Larger and uglier-looking, but a heathen statue for all that. I bet it actually was worshipped once. Hindu… Chinese… I wouldn’t know. But it sure has that look.”
“Yes,” admitted Algernon, “it is indubitably in the religious tradition. For all its hideousness it has all the earmarks of a quiescent Eastern divinity.”
“There ain’t anything more dangerous than interfering with an Oriental when he’s saying his prayers,” continued the detective. “I’ve been in Chinatown raids, and I know. Now here’s what I think happened. Cinney is standing in the corridor and suddenly he hears the Chinaman muttering and mumbling to himself in the dark. He’s naturally frightened and so he rushes in with his pocketlight where an angel would be fearing to tread. The light gets in the Chinaman’s eyes and sets him off.
“It’s like putting a match to a ton of TNT to throw a light on a Chinaman when he’s squatting in the dark in a worshipful mood. So the Chinaman goes for the kid with a knife. He feels outraged in a religious way, isn’t really himself, thinks he’s avenging an insult to the idol.”
Algernon nodded impatiently. “There may be something in your theory, sergeant. But there’s a great deal it doesn’t explain. What was it that Williams saw?”
“Nothing but Cinney lying dead in the corridor. Nothing but Cinney looking up at him without a face and that awful heathen animal looking down at him with blood all over its mouth.”
Algernon stared. “Blood on its mouth?”
“Sure. All over its mouth, trunk and tusks. Never seen so much blood in my life. That’s what Williams saw. I don’t wonder it crumpled the kid up.”
There was a commotion in the corridor. Someone was sobbing and pleading in a most fantastic way a few yards from where the three men were standing. The detective turned and shouted out a curt command. “Whoever that is, bring him here!”
Came an appalling, ear-harassing shriek and two plain-clothesmen emerged around a bend in the corridor with a diminutive and weeping Oriental spread-eagled between their extended arms.
“The Chinaman!” muttered Scollard in amazement.
For a second the detective was too startled to move, and his immobility somehow emboldened the Chinese to break from his captors and prostrate himself on the floor at Algernon’s feet.
“You are my friend,” he sobbed. “You are a very good man. I saw you in green-fire dream. In dream when big green animals came down from mountain I saw you and Gautama Siddhartha. Big green animals all wanted blood — all very much wanted blood. In dream Gautama Siddhartha said: ‘They want you! They have determined they make you all dark fire glue.’
“I said, ‘No! Please,’ I said. Then Gautama Siddhartha let fall jewel of wisdom. ‘Go to museum. Go to big museum round block, and big green animal will eat you quick. He will eat you quick — before he make American man dark fire glue.’
“All night I have sat here. All night I said: ‘Eat me. Please!’ But big green animal slept till American man came. Then he moved. Very quickly he moved. He gave American man very bad hug. American man screamed and big green animal drank all American man’s blood.”
The little Oriental was sobbing unrestrainedly. Algernon stooped and lifted him gently to his feet. “What is your name?” he asked, to soothe him. “Where do you live?”
“I’m boss big laundry down street,” murmured the Chinaman. “My name is Hsieh Ho. I am a good man, like you.”
“Where did you go when — when the elephant came to lifer'
The Chinaman’s lower lip trembled convulsively. “I hid back of big white lady.”
In spite of the gravity of the situation Algernon couldn’t repress a smile. The “big white lady” was a statue of Venus Erycine and so enormous was it that it occupied almost the whole of Alcove K. It was a perfect sanctuary, but there was something ludicrously incongruous in a Chinaman’s seeking refuge in such a place.
One of the detectives, however, confirmed the absurdity. “That’s where we found him, sir. He was lying on his back, wailing and groaning and making faces at the ceiling. He’s our man, all right. We’ll have the truth out of him in ten minutes.”
The chief sergeant nodded. “You bet we will. Put the bracelets on him, Jim.”
Reluctantly Algernon surrendered Hsieh Ho to his captors. “I suggest you treat him kindly,” he said. “He had the misfortune to witness a ghastly and unprecedented exaggeration of what Eddington would call the random element in nature. But he’s as destitute of criminal proclivities as Mr. Scollard here.”
The detective raised his eyebrows. “I don’t get it, sir. Are you suggesting we just hold him as a material witness?” Algernon nodded. “If you try any of your revolting third-degree tactics on that poor little man you’ll answer in court to my lawyer. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll have a look at Alcove K.”
The detective scowled. He wanted to tell Algernon to go to hell, but somehow the inflection of authority in the latter’s voice glued the invective to his tongue, and with a surly shrug he escorted the group into the presence of Chaugnar Faugn.
Sanguinary baptism becomes some gods. Were the gracious figures of the Grecian pantheon to appear to us with blood upon their garments we should recoil in horror, but we should think the terrible Mithra or the heart- devouring Huitzilopochitli a trifle unconvincing if they came on our dreams untarnished by the ruddy vintage of sacrifice.
Algernon did not at first look directly at Chaugnar Faugn. He studied the tiled marble floor about the base of the idol and tried to make out in the gloom the precise spot where Cinney had lain. The attempt proved confusing. There were dark smudges on almost every other tile and they were nearly all of equal circumference.
“Right there is where we found the corpse,” said the detective impatiently. “Right beneath the trunk of the elephant.”
Algernon’s blood ran cold. Slowly, very slowly, for he feared to confront what stood before him, he raised his eyes until they were level with the detective’s shoulders. The detective’s shoulders concealed a portion of Chaugnar Faugn, but all of the thing’s right side and the extremity of its trunk were hideously visible to Algernon as he stared. He spoke no word. He did not even move. But all of the blood drained out of his lips, leaving them ashen.
Mr. Scollard was staring at his subordinate with frightened eyes. “You act as though — as though — good God, man, what is it?”
“It has moved its trunk!” Algernon’s voice was vibrant with horror. “It has moved its trunk since — since yesterday. And most hideously. I can not be mistaken. Yesterday it was vertical — today it is in a slightly upraised position.”
Mr. Scollard gasped. “Are you sure?” he muttered. “Are you absolutely certain that the trunk wasn’t in that position when the god arrived here?”
“Yes, yes. Not until today. In the excitement no one has
noticed it, but if you will call the attendants — wait!”
The president had started to do that very thing, but Algernon’s admonition brought him up short. “I shouldn’t have suggested that,” he murmured in Scollard’s ear. “The attendants mustn’t be questioned. It’s all too unutterably ghastly and inexplicable and — and mad. We’ve got to keep it out of the papers, seek a solution secretly. I know someone who may be able to help us. The police can’t. That’s obvious.”
The detective was staring at them pityingly. “You gentlemen better get out of here,” he said. “You aren’t used to sights like this. When I was new at this game I made a lot of mistakes. I could hardly stand the sight of a dead man, for instance. Used to hurry things along when there was no real need for haste, which is just about the worst mistake you can make at the preliminary examination stage.”
With an effort Algernon mastered his agitation. “You’re right, sergeant,” he said. “Mr. Scollard and I realize that this business is a little too disturbing for sane contemplation. So we’ll retire, as you suggest. But I must warn you again that you’d better think twice about treating poor Hsieh Ho as a convicted murderer.”
In the corridor he drew Mr. Scollard aside and conversed for a moment urgently in a low voice. Then he approached the detective and handed him a card. “If you want me within the next few hours you’ll find me at this address,” he said. “Mr. Scollard is returning to his home in Brooklyn. You’ll find his phone number in the directory, but I hope you won’t disturb him unless something really grave turns up.”
The detective nodded and read aloud the address on Algernon’s card. “Dr. Henry C. Imbert, F.R.S., F.A.G.S.”
“A friend of yours?” he asked impertinently.
Algernon nodded. “Yes, sergeant. The foremost American ethnologist. Ever hear of him?”
To Algernon’s amazement the sergeant nodded. “Yes. I got kind of interested in eternalogy once. I was on a queer case about two years ago. An old lady got bumped off by a poisoned arrow and we had him in for a powwow. He’s clever all right. He gave us all the dope soon as he saw the corpse. Said a little negro had done it — one of those African pigmies you read about. We followed up the tip and caught the murderer just as he was giving the little fellow a cyanide cigarette to smoke. He was a shrewd Italian. He got the pigmy in Africa, hid him in a room down on Houston Street and sent him out to rob and bump off old ladies. He was as spry as a monkey and could shinny up a drainpipe on the side of a house in ten seconds. If it hadn’t been for Imbert we’d never have got our hands on the guy that owned him.”
Mr. Scollard and Algernon descended the stairs together. But in the vestibule they parted, the president proceeding down the still crowded outer steps in the direction of a bus whilst Algernon sought his office in Wing W.
“When Imbert sees this,” Algernon murmured, as he extracted a photograph of Chaugnar Faugn from his chaotically littered desk, “he’ll be the most disturbed ethnologist that this planet has harbored since the Pleistocene Age.”
3. An Archeological Digression
“The Figure is totally unfamiliar,” said Doctor Imbert. “Nothing even remotely resembling it occurs in Asian or African mythology.”
He scowled and returned the photograph to his youthful visitor, who deposited it on the arm of his chair.
“I confess,” he continued, “that it puzzles and disturbs me. It’s preposterously archeological, if you get what I mean. It isn’t the sort of thing that one would — imagine.”
Harris nodded. “I doubt if I could have imagined it from scratch. Without imaginative prompting or guidance from someone who had actually set eyes on it, it would be very difficult to conceive of anything so — so—”
“Racial,” put in Doctor Imbert. “I believe that is the word you were groping for. That thing is a symbolic embodiment of the massed imaginative heritage of an entire people. It’s a composite — like the Homeric epics or the Sphinx of Giza. It’s the kind of art manifestation you would expect a primitive people to produce collectively. It’s so perversely diabolical and contradictory in conception that one can scarcely conceive of a mere individual anywhere in the world deliberately sitting down and creating it out of his own imagination. I will concede that an unusually gifted artist might be capable of imagining it, but I doubt if such an obscenity would ever form in the human brain without a raison d'tre. And no individual living in a civilized state would experience the need, the desire to imagine such a thing, and least of all, to give it objective expression.
“Mental illness, of course, might account for it, but the so- called interpretative reveries of psychotics are nearly always of predictable nature. Grotesque and absurd as they, may sometimes be, certain images occur in them again and again and these images are definitely meaningful. They follow prescribed patterns, are crude and distorted representations of familiar objects and people. The morbidities out of which they arise have been studied and classified and a psychiatrist who knows his business can usually decipher them. If you have ever examined a batch of drawings from a mental institution you will have noticed how the same motifs occur repeatedly and how utterly unimaginative such things are from a sane and sophisticated point of view.
“It is of course true that the folk creations of primitive peoples usually embody or symbolize definite human preoccupations, but more boldly and imaginatively, and occasionally they depart from the predictable to such an extent that even our expert is obliged to throw up his hands.
“I have always believed that most of the major and minor monstrosities that figure so conspicuously in the pantheons of barbarian races — feathered serpents, animal-headed priests, grimacing sphinxes, etc., are synthetic conceptions. Let us suppose, for instance, that a tribe of reasonably enlightened barbarians is animated by the unique social impulse of co-operative agriculture and is moved to embody its ideals in some colossal fetish designed to suggest both fertility and brotherhood — in, let us say, a great stone Magna Mater with arms outstretched to embrace all classes and conditions of men. Then let us suppose that co-operative agriculture falls into disrepute and the tribe becomes obsessed by dreams of martial conquest. What happens? To an obbligato of tomtoms and war drums the Mother Goddess is transfigured. A spear is placed between her extended arms, the expression of her face altered from benignity to ferocity, great gashes chiseled in her cheeks, red paint smeared on her arms, breasts and shoulders and her ears lopped off. Let another generation pass and the demoniac goddess of war will be transformed into something else — perhaps into a symbol of the most abandoned kind of debauchery.
“In a hundred years the original fetish will have become a monstrous caricature, a record in stone of the thoughts and emotions of generations of men.
“It is the business of the ethnologist and the archeologist to decipher such records, and if our scientist is sufficiently learned and diligent he can, as you know, supply a reason for every peculiarity of configuration. Competent scholars have traced, in a rough way, the advance or retrogression of racial groups in ethical and esthetic directions merely by studying and comparing their objects of worship and there does not exist a more fruitful science than idolography.
“But occasionally our ethnologist encounters a nut that he cannot crack, a god or goddess so diabolical or grotesque or loathsome in conformation that it is impossible to link it associatively with even the most revolting of tribal retrogressions. It is a notorious fact that human races are less apt to advance than circle back on the course of evolution, and that idols and fetishes that were originally conceived in a comparatively noble spirit very often become, in the course of time, embodiments of the bestial and the obscene. Some of the degraded objects of worship now employed by African bushmen and Australian aborigines may conceivably have been considerably less revolting ten or fifteen thousand years ago. It is impossible to predict the depths to which a race may descend and the appalling transformation which may occur in its ‘sacred’ imagery.
“And so occasionally we encounter shapes that we scarcely like to speculate about, shapes so complicatedly vile that they haven’t even analogous counterparts in comparative mythology. Your fetish is of that nature. It is, as I say, preposterously archeological and it differs unmistakably— although I am willing to concede a superficial resemblance— from the distorted dream images conjured up by psychotics and surrealistic artists. Only racial dissolution and decay extending over wide wastes of years could, in my opinion, account for such a ghastly anomaly.”
He leaned forward and tapped Algernon significantly upon the knee. “You haven’t told me its history,” he admonished. “Reticence is an archeologist’s prerogative, and in our work it is always an asset, but for a young man you’re almost abnormally addicted to it.”
Algernon blushed to the roots of his hair. “I’m seldom actually reticent,” he said. “At the Museum they all think I talk too much. I’ve an exuberant, officious way at times that positively appalls Mr. Scollard. But this affair is so — so outside all normal experience that I’ve been dreading to tax your credulity with a resume of it.”
Doctor Imbert smiled. “Your books reveal that you are a very cautious and honest scholar,” he said. “I don’t believe I’d be inclined to question the veracity of whatever you may choose to tell me.”
“Very well,” said Algernon. “But I must entreat that you suspend judgment until you’ve heard all of the evidence. One can adduce rational explanations for each of the incidents I shall describe, but when one views them in the sequence in which they occurred they resolve themselves into a devastatingly hideous enigma.”
Very tersely, without self-consciousness or affectation, Algernon then related all that he knew and all that he surmised and suspected about the thing whose image spread defilement on the paper before him.
Doctor Imbert heard him out in silence. But his eyes, as he listened, grew bright with horror.
“I doubt if I can help you,” he said, when Algernon was done. “This thing transcends all of my experience.”
There ensued a silence. Then Algernon said in a tone of desperate urgency, “But what are we to do? Surely you’ve something to suggest!”
Doctor Imbert rose shakingly to his feet. “I have — yes. I know someone who can, perhaps, help. He’s a recluse, a psychic — a magnificent intellect obsessed by mysteries and mysticisms. I put little faith in such things — to me it’s a degradation. But I’ll take you to him. I’ll take you anyway. God knows you’re in trouble — that is obvious to me. And this man may be able to suggest something. Roger Little is his name. No doubt you’ve heard of him. He used to be a criminal investigator. A good one — a psychologist — discerning, erudite, shrewd — no mere detective-novel sleuth.” Algernon nodded understandingly. “Let us go to him at once,” he said.
4. The Horror On the Hills
It was while Algernon and Doctor Imbert were journeying in the subway toward Roger Little’s residence in the Borough of Queens that the Horror was announced to the world. An account of its initial manifestation had been flashed from Spain at midday to a great American news syndicate and all of the New York papers had something about it in their evening editions. The News-Graphic's account was perhaps the most ominously disturbing in its implications. A copywriter on that enterprising sheet had surmised that the atrocities were distinguished by something outre, something altogether inexplicable, and by choosing his diction with unusual care he had succeeded in conveying to his unappreciative readers a tingling intimation of shockingness, of terror.
Beneath half-inch headlines which read: HIDEOUS MASSACRE IN THE PYRENEES, he had written:
“The authorities are completely baffled. Who would wish to assassinate fourteen simple peasants? They were found at sundown on the mountain’s crest. All in a row they lay, very still, very pale — very silent and pale beneath the soft Spanish sky. All about them stretched new-fallen snow and beside them on the white expanse were marks, peculiar and baffling. Men do not make footprints a yard wide. And why were all the victims laid so evenly in a row? What violence was it that could deprive them of their heads, drain the blood from their bodies and lay them stark and naked in a row upon the snow?”
5. Little's Dream
“Someone has been murdered and so you wish my advice,” murmured Roger Little wearily. “You wish the advice of a retired and eccentric recluse, well on in years, who has ceased to traffic with crime. I am quoting from a profile which did not appear in the New Yorker." He was staring into the fire and the bright radiance which streamed roomward from the grate so illumed the sharp outlines of his profile that Algernon was struck silent with awe.
“A positively Satanic presence,” he murmured, to himself. “The exact facsimile of a sorcerer from the Malleus Maleficarum. They would have burned him in the Fifteenth Century.”
“Murder,” resumed Little, “has become a shabbily synthetic art and even the most daring masterpieces of the contemporary school are composed of inferior ingredients clumsily combined. Men no longer live in fear of the unknown, and that utter and absymal disintegration of soul which the wise still call psychic evil no longer motivates our major atrocities. Anger, jealousy, and a paltry desire for material gain are pitiful emotional substitutes for the perverse and lonely egoism which inspired the great crimes of the Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. When men killed with the deliberate certainty that they were jeopardizing their immortal souls and when the human body was regarded as a tabernacle for something more — or less— than human the crime of murder assumed epic and unholy proportions. The mere discovery of a mutilated cadaver in an age when men still believed in something — at least in something—filled everyone with terror and with awe. Men, women and children took refuge behind barricaded doors and the more devout fell upon their knees, crossed themselves, lighted candles and chanted exorcisms.
“But in this decadent age when a human being is assassinated society merely shrugs it's shoulders and relinquishes the sequel to the police. What have the police to do with a sacrament of evil in our midst? The sense of virtually immitigable evil, of stark unreasoning fear which murder once left in its wake, and the intense esthetic enjoyment which certain individuals derived from merely studying such crimes as works of perverse and diabolical art have no parallels in contemporary experience. Hence it is that all modern murderers commit commonplace crimes — kill prosaically and almost indifferently without any suspicion that they are destroying more than lives of their unfortunate victims. And people go calmly about their business and are apparently not displeased to rub shoulders with the unholy ones in theaters, restaurants and subways!”
Algernon shifted excitedly in his chair. “But the problem we bring to you is enmeshed in the supernatural more hideously than any atrocity of the Ages of Faith. It transcends normal experience. If you will listen while I…” Little shook his head. “I have written books — many books — describing dozens of instances of possession, of return, of immolation, of divination, and of transformation. I have confirmed the reality of the concubitus daemonum; have proved incontestably the existence of vampires, succubi and lamias, and I have slipped not too unwillingly, into the warm and clinging arms of women five centuries dead.”
He shuddered. “But what I have experienced in this very room is no more than a flickering shadow, swift-passing and obscurely glimpsed, of the horror that lurks Godlessly in undimensioned space. In my dreams I have heard the nauseous piping of its glutinous flutes and I have seen, terribly for an instant, the nets and trawls with which it angles for men.”
“If you are convinced that such a horror exists…” Algernon began, but Little would not let him finish.
“My books have left most of my readers totally unconvinced, for it would disturb them to believe that I am not mentally unbalanced,” he went on quickly.
“Erudite and brilliant, but as mad as Bruno when he was burned at the stake for refusing to keep his speculations about the nature of the physical universe to himself.”
He rose passionately to his feet. “So I’ve definitely renounced the collection and correlation of facts,” he said. “Hereafter I shall embody my unique convictions in the eloquent and persuasive guise of a fable. I shall write a novel. The art of fiction as a purveyor of essential truth has innumerable advantages which detached and impersonal utterance must of necessity lack. The fictioneer can familiarize his readers gradually with new and startling doctrines and avoid shocking them into a precipitous retreat into the shell of old and conventional beliefs. He can prevent them from succumbing to prejudice before they have grasped one-quarter of the truths he is intent upon promulgating. Then, too, the artist can be so much more persuasive and eloquent than the scientist, and it can never be sufficiently emphasized that eloquence is never so effective in convincing men that certain things which are obviously false are momentarily true as it is in inducing them to discover that which is ultimately true beneath all the distortions of reality which can leave reason stranded in minds dominated by wishful thinking and a deep-seated fear of the unknown. Human wishes and desires are so eloquent in themselves that certainly some eloquence must be used in combating them. And that is why the mere scientist is so hopelessly at a loss when he seeks to convert others to what he himself believes to be the truth.
“He doesn’t perceive that new truths must be presented to the human mind vividly, uniquely, as though one were initiating a mystery or instituting a sacrament, and that every failure to so present them decreases the likelihood that they will gain proponents, and that an entire civilization may pass away before any one arises with sufficient imagination and sufficient eloquence to take truths which have been enunciated once or twice coldly and forgotten because of the repugnance with which the common man regards fact barely
recited and to clothe them in garments of terror and splendor and awe and so link them with far stars and the wind that moves above the waters and the mystery and strangeness that will be in all things until the end of time.”
Little’s eyes were shining. “I have determined,” he said, “to thrust aside the veil as fearlessly as Blake must have done when he wrote of a new heaven and a new earth, to fashion a garment so mind-beguiling in its beauty that the ultimate revelation will remain cloaked until a spell has been cast which will permit of no drawing back, no craven surrender to fear.”
He stopped suddenly, as if sobriety and an awareness o his surroundings had returned with a blood-rush to hi entranced brain. “I have raved, no doubt. Like Blake, like Poe, like Gerard De Nerval I am always dreaming dreams seeing visions. And to worldly men, calm and objective toward everyday realities, skeptical of all else, such visions such glimpses are wholly incomprehensible. And you, no doubt, are inwardly pitying me and wondering how offended I would be if you should get up abruptly and plead a pressing engagement elsewhere. But if you only knew.
“There are things from outside watching always, secretly watching our little capers, our grotesque pranks. Men have disappeared. You’re aware of that, aren’t you? Men have disappeared within sight of their homes — at high noon, in the sunlight. Malignant and unknowable entities, fishers from outside have let down invisible tentacles, nets, trawl and men and women have been caught up in a kind of pulsing darkness. A shadow seems to pass over them, to envelop them for an instant and then they are gone. Am others have gone mad, witnessing such things.
“When a man ascends a flight of stairs it does not inevitably follow that he will arrive at the top. When a man crosses a street or a field or a public square it is no foreordained that he will reach the other side. I have seen strange shadows in the sky. Other worlds impinging on ours I know that there are other worlds, but perhaps they do no dimensionally impinge. Perhaps from fourth-, fifth-, sixth- dimensional worlds things with forms invisible to us, with faces veiled to us, reach down and take — instantaneously, mercilessly. Feeding on us perhaps? Using our brains for fodder? A few have glimpsed the truth for a terrifying instant in dreams. But it takes infinite patience and self-discipline, and years of study to establish waking contact, even for an instant, with the bodiless shapes that flicker appallingly in the void a thousand billion light years beyond the remotest of the spiral nebulae.
“Yet I — can do this. And you,” he laughed, “come to me with a little mundane murder.”
For an instant there was silence in the room. Then Algernon stood up, his face brightened by the flames that were still crackling in the grate. “You say,” he exclaimed, “a little mundane murder. But to me it is more hideous, more alien to sanity and the world we know than all your cosmic trawlers, and ‘intrusions’ from beyond.”
Little shook his head. “No,” he said. “I cannot believe that you are not exaggerating. It is so easy for men of exceptional intelligence to succumb at times to the fears, dreads, forebodings of ordinary men. Imaginative in a worldly sense, but blinder and dumber than clods cosmically. I am sure that I could unravel your puzzle with the most superficial layer of my waking mind, the little conscious mind that is so weak, so futile to grapple with anything more disturbing than what the body shall eat and drink and wear.”
“If I had not seen,” said Algernon, speaking very deliberately, “a stone thing shift its bulk, doing what the inanimate has never done in all the ages man has looked rationally upon it, I would have seriously doubted your sanity. It would be dishonest for me to pretend otherwise.”
“A stone, you say, moved?” For the first time Little’s interest quickened and a startled look came into his eyes.
“Yes, in the shape in which something — nature primeval perhaps, in eons primeval — shaped it. Moved in the night, unwatched by me. When Chaugnar Faugn…”
He stopped, was silent. For from his chair Little had sprung with a cry, his face bloodless, a cry of terror issuing from his thin lips.
“What is the matter?” gasped Doctor Imbert, and Algernon turned pale, not knowing what to make of so strange an occurrence. For Little seemed wholly undone, a mystic gone so completely mad that a violent outburst was only to be expected and might well be repeated, if he were not placed under immediate restraint. But at last he sank again into the chair from which he had so shockingly arisen, and a trace of color returned to his cheeks.
“Forgive me,” he murmured brokenly. “Letting go like that was inexcusable. But when you mentioned Chaugnar Faugn I was for an instant mortally terrified.”
He drew a deep breath. “The dream was so vivid that my mind rejected instantly a symbolic or allegorical interpretation. That name especially — Chaugnar Faugn. I was certain that something, somewhere, bore it — that the ghastliness that took Publius Libo on the high hills was an actuality, but not, I had hoped, an actuality for us. Something long past, surely, a horror of the ancient world that would never return to… He broke off abruptly, seemingly lost in thought.
“Tell me about it,” he entreated, after a moment.
With bloodless lips Algernon related once again the history of Chaugnar Faugn as it had been related to him by Ulman, enhancing a little its hideousness by half-guesses and surmises of his own. Little listened in tight-lipped silence, his face a mask, only the throbbing of the veins on his temples betraying the agitation which wracked him. As Algernon concluded, the clock on the mantel, a tall, negro-colored clock with wings on its shoulders and a great yellow ocean spider painted on its opalescent face, struck the hour: eleven I even strokes pealed from it, shattering the stillness that had settled for an instant on the room. Algernon shivered, apprehensive at the lateness of the hour, fearful that in his absence Chaugnar Faugn might move again.
But now Little was speaking, striving painfully to keep his voice from sinking to a whisper.
“I had the dream last Halloween,” he began, “and for detail, color and somber, brooding menace it surpasses; anything of the kind I have experienced in recent years. It took form slowly, beginning as a nervous move from the atrium of my house into a scroll-lined library to escape the sound of a fountain, and continuing as an earnest and friendly argument with a stout, firm-lipped man of about thirty-five, with strong, pure Roman features and the rather cumbersome equipment of a legatus in active military service. Impressions of identity and locale were so nebulous and gradual in their unfoldment as to be difficult to trace to a source, but they seem in retrospect to have been present from the first.
“The place was not Rome, nor even Italy, but the small provincial municipium of Calagurris on the south bank of the Iberus in Hispania Citerior. It was in the Republican age, because the province was still under a senatorial proconsul instead of a legatus of the Imperator. I was a man of about my own waking age and build. I was clad in a civilian toga of yellowish color with the two thin reddish stripes of the equestrian order. My name was L. Caelius Rufus and my rank seemed to be that of a provincial quaestor. I was definitely an Italian-born Roman, the province of Calagurris being alien, colonial soil to me. My guest was Cnaeus Balbutius, legatus of the XII Legion, which was permanently encamped just outside the town on the riverbank. The home in which I was receiving him was a suburban villa on a hillside south of the compact section, and it overlooked both town and river.
“The day before I had received a worried call from one Tib. Annaeus Mela, edile of the small town of Pompelo, three days’ march to the north in the territory of the Vascones at the foot of the mysterious Pyrenees. He had been to request Balbutius to spare him a cohort for a very extraordinary service on the night of the Kalends of November and Balbutius had emphatically refused. Therefore, knowing me to be acquainted with P. Scribonius Libo, the proconsul at Tarraco, he had come to ask me to lay his case by letter before that official. Mela was a dark, lean man of middle age, of presentable Roman features but with the coarse hair of a Celtiberian.
“It seems that there dwelt hidden in the Pyrenees a strange face of small dark people unlike the Gauls and Celtiberians in speech and features, who indulged in terrible rites and practices twice every year, on the Kalends of Maius and November. They lit fires on the hilltops at dusk, beat continuously on strange drums and horribly all through the night. Always before these orgies people would be found missing from the village and none of them were ever known to return. It was thought that they were stolen for sacrificial purposes, but no one dared to investigate, and eventually the semi-annual loss of villagers came to be regarded as a regular tribute, like the seven youths and maidens that Athens was forced to send each year to Crete for King Minos and the Minotaur.
“The tribal Vascones and even some of the semi-Romanized cottagers of the foothills were suspected by the inhabitants of Pompelo of being in league with the strange dark folk — Miri Nigri was the name used in my dream. These dark folk were seen in Pompelo only once a year — in summer, when a few of their number would come down from the hills to trade with the merchants. They seemed incapable of speech and transacted business by signs.
“During the preceding summer the small folk had come to trade as usual — five of them — but had became involved in a general scuffle when one of them had attempted to torture a dog for pleasure in the forum. In this fighting two of them had been killed and the remaining three had returned to the hills with evil faces. Now it was autumn and the customary quota of villagers had not disappeared. It was not normal for the Miri Nigri thus to spare Pompelo. Clearly they must have reserved the town for some terrible doom, which they would call down on their unholy Sabbathnight as they: drummed and howled and danced outrageously on thej mountain’s crest. Fear walked through Pompelo and the edile Mela had come to Calagurris to ask for a cohort to invade the hills on the sabbath night and break up the obscene rites before the ceremony might be brought to a head. But Balbutius had laughed at him and refused. He thought it poor policy for the Roman administration to meddle in local quarrels. So Mela had been obliged to come to me. I enheartened him as best I could, and promised help, and he returned to Pompelo at least partly reassured.
“Before writing the proconsul I had thought it best to argue with Balbutius himself, so I had been to see him at the camp, found him out and left word with a centurion that I would welcome a call from him. Now he was here and had reiterated his belief that we ought not to complicate our administration by arousing the resentment of the tribesmen, as we undoubtedly would if we attempted to suppress a rite with which they were obviously in ill-concealed sympathy.
“I seemed to have read considerable about the dark rites of certain unknown and wholly barbaric races, for I recall feeling a sense of monstrous impending doom and trying my best to induce Balbutius to put down the sabbath. To his objections I replied that it had never been the custom of the Roman people to be swayed by the whims of the barbarians when the fortunes of Roman citizens were in danger and that he ought not to forget the status of Pompelo as a legal colony, small as it was. That the good-will of the tribal Vascones was little to be depended upon at best, and that the trust and friendship of the Romanized townsfolk, in whom was more than a little of our own blood after three generations of colonization, was a matter of far greater importance to the smooth working of that provincial government on which the security of the Roman imperium primarily rested. Furthermore, that I had reason to believe, from my studies, that the apprehensions of the Pompelonians were disturbingly well-founded, and that there was indeed brewing in the high hills a monstrous doom which it would ill become the traditions of Rome to countenance. That I would be surprized to encounter laxity in the representatives of those whose ancestors had not hesitated to put to death large numbers of Roman citizens for participation in the orgies of Bacchus and had ordered engraved on public tablets of bronze the Senatus Consulturn de Bacchanalibus.
“But I could not influence Balbutius. He went away courteously but unmoved. So I at once took a reed pen and wrote a letter to the proconsul Libo, sealing it and calling for a wiry young slave — a Greek called Antipater — to take it to Tarraco.
'The following morning I went out on foot, down the hill to the town and through the narrow block-paved streets witl high whitewashed dead-walls and gaudily painted shop with awnings. The crowds were very vivid. Legionaries of al races, Roman colonists, tribal Celtiberi, Romanized natives, Romanized and Iberized Carthaginians, mongrels of al sorts. I spoke to only one person, a Roman named AEbutius, about whom I recall nothing. I visited the camp — a great area with an earthen wall ten feet high and streets of wooden huts inside, and I called at the praetorium to tell Balbutius that I had written the proconsul. He was still pleasant but unmoved. Later I went home, read in the garden, bathed, dined, talked with the family and went to bed — having, a little later, a nightmare within the dream which centered about a dark terrible desert with cyclopean ruins of stones and a malign presence over all.
“About noon the next day — I had been reading in the garden— the Greek returned with a letter and enclosure from Libo. I broke the seal and read: ‘P. SCRIBONIVS L. CAELIO. S. D. SI. TV. VALES. VALEO. QVAE. SCRIPSISTI. AVDIVI. NEC. ALIAS. PVTO.’
“In a word, the proconsul agreed with me — had known about the Miri Nigri himself — and enclosed an order for the advance of the cohort to Pompelo at once, by forced marches, in order to reach the doom-shadowed town on the day before the fatal Kalends. He requested me to accompany it because of my knowledge of what the mysterious rites were whispered to be, and furthermore declared his design of going along himself, saying that he was even then on the point of setting out and would be in Pompelo before we could be.
“I lost not a second in going personally to the camp and handing the orders to Balbutius, and I must say he took his defeat gracefully. He decided to send Cohors V, under Sextus Asellius, and presently summoned that legatus — a slim, supercilious youth with frizzed hair and a fashionable fringe of beard-growth on his under jaw. Asellius was openly hostile to the move but dared not disregard orders. Balbutius said he would have the cohort at the bridge across the Iberus in an hour and I rushed home to prepare for the rough day and night march.
“I put on a heavy paenula and ordered a litter with six Illyrian bearers, and reached the bridge ahead of the cohort. At last, though, I saw the silver eagles flashing along the street to my left, and Balbutius — who had decided at the last moment to go along himself— rode out ahead and accompanied my litter ahead of the troops as we crossed the bridge and struck out over the plains toward the mystic line of dimly glimpsed violet hills. There was no long sleep during all the march, but we had naps and brief halts and bites of lunch — cakes and cheese. Balbutius usually rode by my litter in conversation (it was infantry, but he and Asellius were mounted) but sometimes I read — M. Porcius Cato De Re Rustica, and a hideous manuscript in Greek, which made me shudder even to touch or look at but of which I can not remember a single word.
“The second morning we reached the whitewashed houses of Pompelo and trembled at the fear that was on the place. There was a wooden amphitheater east of the village, and a large open plain on the west. All the immediate ground was flat, but the Pyrenees rose up green and menacing on the north, looking nearer than they were. Scribonius Libo had reached there ahead of us with his secretary, Q. Trebellius Pollio, and he and the edile Mela greeted us in the forum. We all — Libo, Pollio, Mela, Balbutius, Asellius and I— went into the curia (an excellent new building with a Corinthian portico) and discussed ways and means, and I saw that the proconsul was with me heart and soul.
“But Balbutius and Asellius continued to argue and at times the discussion grew very tense. Libo was an utterly admirable old man, and he insisted on going into the hills with the rest of us and seeing the awful revelations of the night. Mela, ghastly with fright, promised horses to those of us who were not mounted. He had pluck — for he meant to go himself.
“It is impossible even to suggest the stark and ghastly terror which hung over this phase of the dream.
“Surely there never was such evil as that which brooded over the accursed town as the sinking sun threw long menacing shadows amidst the reddening afternoon. The legionaries fancied they heard the rustling of stealthy, unseen and ominously deliberate presences in the black encircling woods. Occasionally a torch had to be lighted momentarily in order to keep the frightened three hundred together, but for the most part it was a dreadful scramble through the dark. A slit of northern sky was visible ahead between the terrible, cliff-like slopes that encompassed us and I marked the chair of Cassiopeia and the golden powder of the Via Lactea. Far, far ahead and above and appearing to merge imperceptibly into the heavens, the lines of remoter peaks could be discerned, each capped by a sickly point of unholy flame. And still the distant, hellish drums pounded incessantly on.
“At length the route grew too steep for the horses and the six of us who were mounted were forced to take to our feet. We left the horses tethered to a clump of scrub oaks and stationed ten men to guard them, though heaven knows it was no night nor place for petty thieves to be abroad! Am then we scrambled on — jostling, stumbling and sometimes climbing with our hands’ help up places little short of perpendicular. Suddenly a sound behind us made every man pause as if hit by an arrow. It was from the horses we had left, and it did not cease. They were not neighing but screaming. They were screaming, mad with some terror beyond any this earth knows. No sound came up from the men we had left with them. Still they screamed on, and the soldiers around us stood trembling and whimpering and muttering fragments of a prayer to Rome’s gods, and the gods of the East and the gods of the barbarians.
“Then there came a sharp scuffle and yell from the front of the column which made Asellius call quaveringly for a torch. There was a prostrate figure weltering in a growing and glistening pool of blood and we saw by the faint flare that it was the young guide Accius. He had killed himself because of the sound he had heard. He, who had been born and bred at the foot of those terrible hills and had heard dark whispers of their secrets, knew well why the horses had screamed. And because he knew, he had snatched a sword from the scabbard of the nearest soldier — the centurion P. Vibulanus — and had plunged it full-length into his own breast.
“At this point pandemonium broke loose because of something noticed by such of the men as were able to notice anything at all. The sky had been snuffed out. No longer did Cassiopeia and the Via Lactea glimmer betwixt the hills, but stark blackness loomed behind the continuously swelling fires on the distant peaks. And still the horses screamed and the far-off drums pounded hideously and incessantly on.
“Cackling laughter broke out in the black woods of the vertical slopes that hemmed us in and around the swollen fires of the distant peaks we saw prancing and leaping the awful and cyclopean silhouettes of things that were neither men nor beasts, but fiendish amalgams of both — things with huge flaring ears and long waving trunks that howled and gibbered and pranced in the skyless night. And a cold wind coiled purposively down from the empty abyss, winding sinuously about us till we started in fresh panic and struggled like Laocoon and his sons in the serpent’s grasp.
“There were terrible sights in the light of the few shaking torches. Legionaries trampled one another to death and screamed more hoarsely than the horses far below. Of our immediate party Trebellius Pollio had long vanished, and I saw Mela go down beneath the heavy caligae of a gigantic Aquitanian. Balbutius had gone mad and was grinning and simpering out an old Fescennine verse recalled from the Latin countryside of his boyhood. Asellius tried to cut his own throat, but the sentient wind held him powerless, so that he could do nothing but scream and scream and scream above the cackling laughter and the screaming horses and the distant drums and the howling colossal shapes that capered about the demon-fires on the peaks.
“I myself was frozen to the helplessness of a statue and could not move or speak. Only old Publius Libo the Proconsul was strong enough to face it like a Roman Publius Scribonius Libo, who had gone through the Jugurthine and Mithridatic and social wars — Publius Libo three times praetor and three times consul of the republic, in whose atrium stood the ancestral forms of a hundred heroes.
He and he alone had the voice of a man and of a general an triumphator. I can see him now in the dimming light of those horrible torches, among that fear-struck stampede of the doomed. I can hear him still as he spoke his last words gathering up his toga with the dignity of a Roman and a consul: ‘Malitia vetus — malilia vetus est — venit — tanden, venit…’
“And then the wooded encircling slopes burst forth with louder cackles and I saw that they were slowly moving. The hills — the terrible living hills — were closing up upon their prey. The Miri Nigri had called their terrible gods out of the void.
“Able to shriek at last, I awoke in a sea of cold perspiration.
“Calagurris, as you probably know, is a real and well-known town of Roman Spain, famed as the birthplace of the rhetorician Quintilianus. Upon consulting a classical dictionary I found Pompelo also to be real, and surviving today as the Pyrenean Village of Pampelona.”
He ceased speaking, and for a moment the three men were silent. Then Algernon said: “The Chinaman had a strange dream too. He spoke of the horror on the mountains — of great things that came clumping down from the hills at nightfall.”
Little nodded. “Mongolians as a rule are extremely psychic,” he said. “I have known several whose clairvoyant gifts were superior to a yoga adept’s often astounding feats of precognition.”
“And you think that Hsieh Ho’s dream was a prophecy? whispered Imbert.
“I do. Some monstrous unfettering is about to take place. That which for two thousand years has lain somnolent will stir again and the ‘great things’ will descend from their frightful lair on the Spanish hills drawn cityward through' the will of Chaugnar Faugn. We are in propinquity to the primal, hidden horror that festers at the root of being, with, the old, hidden loathsomeness which the Greeks andj Romans veiled under the symbolical form of a man-beast— the feeder, the all. The Greeks knew, for the horror left its lair to ravage, striding eastward in the dawn across Europe, wading waist-deep in the dark Ionian seas, looming monstrous at nightfall over Delos, and Samothrace and far-off Crete. A nimbus of starfoam engirdled its waist; suns, constellations gleamed in its eyes. But its breath brought madness, and its embrace, death. The feeder — the all.”
The telephone bell at Little’s elbow was jangling disconcertingly. Stretching forth a tremulous hand he grasped the receiver firmly and laid it against his cheek. “Hello,” he whispered into the mouthpiece. “What is it? Who is speaking?”
“From the Manhattan Museum.” The words smote ominously upon his ear. “Is Mr. Algernon Harris there? I phoned Doctor Imbert’s house and they gave me this number.”
“Yes, Harris is here.” Little’s voice was vibrant with apprehension. “I’ll call him.”
He turned the instrument over to Algernon and sank back exhaustedly in his chair. For a moment the latter conversed in a low tone; then an expression of stunned incredulity appeared on his face. His hand shook as he put back the receiver and tottered toward the fireplace. For an instant he stood staring intensely into the coals, his fingers gripping the mantel’s edge so tightly that his knuckles showed white. When he turned there was a look of utter consternation in his eyes.
“Chaugnar Faugn has disappeared,” he cried. “Chaugnar Faugn has left the museum. No one saw him go and the idiot who phoned thinks that a thief removed him. Or possibly one of the attendants. But we know how unlikely that is.”
“I’m afraid we do,” Little said, grimly. “I am to blame,” Algernon went on quickly. “I should have insisted they patrol the alcove. I should have at least explained to them that someone might try to steal Chaugnar Faugn, even if Ulman’s story had to be kept from them.”
He shook his head in helpless frustration.
“No… no… that would have done no good. A watchman would have been utterly impotent to cope with such a horror. Chaugnar Faugn would have destroyed him
hideously in an instant. And now it is loose in the streets!”
He walked to the window and stared across the glittering harbor at the darkly looming skyline of lower Manhattan. “It is loose over there,” he cried, raising his arm and pointing. “It is crouching in the shadows somewhere, alert and waiting, preparing to…” He broke off abruptly, as if the vision his mind had conjured up was too ghastly to dwell upon.
Little rose and laid a steadying hand on Algernon’s arm. “I haven’t said I couldn’t help,” he said. “Though Chaugnar Faugn is a very terrible menace it isn’t quite as omnipotent as Ulman thought. It and its brothers are incarnate manifestations of a very ancient, a very malignant hyperdimensional entity. Or call it a principle, if you wish — a principle so antagonistic to life as we know it that it becomes a spreading blight, as destructive as a nest of cancer cells would be if cancer could be transplanted by surgical means into healthy tissue, and continue to grow and proliferate until every vestige of healthy tissue has been destroyed. But it is a cancer whose growth I can at least retard. And if I am successful I can send it back to its point of origin beyond the galactic universe, can cut it asunder forever from our three-dimensional world. Had I known that the horror still lurked in the Pyrenees I should have gone, months ago, to send it hack. Yes, even though the thought of it now fills me with a loathing unspeakable, I should have gone.
“I am not,” he continued, “a merely theoretical dreamer. Though I am by temperament disposed toward speculations of a mystical nature, I have forged a very concrete and effective weapon to combat the cosmic malignancies. If you’ll step into my laboratory I’ll show you something which should restore your confidence in the experimental capacity of the human mind when there is but one choice confronting it — to survive or go down forever into everlasting night and darkness.”
6. The Time-Space Machine
Roger Little’s laboratory was illumed by a single bluish lamp imbedded in the concrete of its sunken floor. An infinite diversity of mechanisms lined the walls and sprawled their precise lengths on long tables and dangled eerily from hooks set in the high, domed ceiling; mechanisms a — glitter in blue-lit seclusion, a strange, bizarre foreglimpse into the alchemy and magic of a far-distant future, with spheres and condensers and gleaming metal rods in lieu of stuffed crocodiles and steaming elixirs.
All of the contrivances were arresting, but one was so extraordinary in size and complexity that it dominated the others and riveted Algernon’s attention. He seemed unable to drag his gaze from the thing. It was a strange agglomeration of metallic spheres and portions of spheres, of great bluish globes surrounded by tiny clusters of halfglobes and quarter-globes, whose surfaces converged in a most fantastic way. And from the globes there sprouted at grotesque angles metallic crescents with converging tips.
To Algernon’s excited imagination the thing wore a quasi-reptilian aspect. “It’s like a toad’s face,” he muttered. “Bulbous and bestial.”
Little nodded. “It’s a triumph of mechanical ugliness, isn’t it? Yet it would have been deified in Ancient Greece — by Archimedes especially. He would have exalted it above all his Conoids and Parabolas.”
“What function does it perform?” asked Algernon.
“A sublime one. It’s a time-space machine. But I’d rather not discuss its precise function until I’ve shown you how it works. I want you to study its face as it waxes non-Euclidean. When you’ve glimpsed a fourth-dimensional figure you’ll be prepared to concede, I think, that the claims I make for it are not extravagant. I know of no more certain corrective for an excess of skepticism. I was the Critique of Pure Reason personified until I looked upon a skinned sphere — then I grew very humble, reverent toward the great Suspected.
“Watch now.” He reached forward, grasped a switch and with a swift downward movement of his right arm set the machine in motion. At first the small spheres and the crescents revolved quickly and the large spheres slowly; then the large spheres literally spun while the small spheres lazed and then both small spheres and large spheres moved in unison. Then the spheres stopped altogether, but only for an instant, while something of movement seemed to flow into them from the revolving crescents. Then the crescents stopped and the spheres moved, in varying tempo, faster and faster, and their movement seemed to flow back into the crescents. Then both crescents and spheres began to move in unison, faster and faster and faster, until the entire mass seemed to merge into a shape paradoxical, outrageous, unthinkable — a sphenoid with a non-Euclidean face, a geometric blasphemy that was at once isosceles and equilateral, convex and concave.
Algernon stared in horror. “What in God’s name is that?” he cried.
“You are looking on a fourth-dimensional figure,” said Little soothingly. “Steady now.”
For an instant nothing happened; then a light, greenish, blinding, shot from the center of the crazily distorted figure and streamed across the opposite wall, limning on the smooth cement a perfect circle.
But only for a second was the wall illumed. With an abrupt movement Little shot the lever upward and its radiance dimmed, and vanished. “Another moment, and that wall would have crumbled away,” he said.
With fascination Algernon watched the outrageous sphenoid grow indistinct, watched it blur and disappear amidst a resurgence of spheres.
“That light,” cried Little exultantly, “will send Chaugnar Faugn back through time. It will reverse its decadent randomness—disincarnate and disembody it, and send it back forever.”
“But I don’t understand,” murmured Algernon. “What do you mean by randomness."
“I mean that this machine can work havoc with entropy!” There was a ring of exaltation in Little’s voice.
“Entropy?” Algernon scowled. “I’m not sure that I understand. I know what entropy is in thermodynamics, of course, but I’m not sure…”
“I’ll explain,” said Little. “You are of course familiar with the A B C’s of Einsteinian physics and are aware that time is relatively arrowless, that the sequence in which we view events in nature is not a cosmic actuality and that our conviction that we are going somewhere in time is a purely human illusion conditioned by our existence on this particular planet and the limitations which our five senses impose upon us. We divide time into past, present and future, but in reality an event’s sequence in time depends wholly on the position in space from which it is viewed. Events which occurred thousands of years ago on this planet haven’t as yet taken place to a hypothetical observer situated billions and billions of light years remote from us. Thus, cosmically speaking, we can not say of an event that it has happened and will never happen again or that it is about to happen and has never happened before, because “before” to us is “after” to intelligences situated elsewhere in space and time.
“But though our familiar time-divisions are purely arbitrary there is omnipresent in nature a principle called entropy which, as Eddington has pointed out, equips time with a kind of empirical arrow. The entire universe appears to be ‘running down.’ It is the consensus of astronomical opinion that suns and planets and electrons are constantly breaking up, becoming more and more disorganized. Billions of years ago some mysterious dynamic, which Sir James Jeans has likened to the Finger of God, streamed across primeval space and created the universe of stars in a state of almost perfect integration, welded them into a system so highly organized that there was only the tiniest manifestation of the random element anywhere in it. The random element in nature is the uncertain element — the principle which brings about disorganizations, disintegration, decay.
“Let us suppose that two mechanical men, robots, are tossing a small ball to and fro, to and fro. The process may go on indefinitely, for the mechanical creatures do not tire and there is nothing to make the ball swerve from its course. But now let us suppose that a bird in flight collides with the hall, sends it spinning so that it misses the hand of the receiving robot. What happens? Both robots begin to behave grotesquely. Missing the ball, their arms sweep through the empty air, making wider and wider curves and they stagger forward perhaps, and collapse in each other’s arms. The random, the uncertain element has entered their organized cosmos and they have ceased to function.
“This tendency of the complex to disintegrate, of the perfectly-balanced to run amuck, is called entropy. It is entropy that provides time with an arrow and, disrupting nebulae, plays midwife to the birth of planets from star- wombs incalculable. It is entropy that cools great orbs, hotter than Betelgeuse, more fiery than Arcturus through all the outer vastnesses, reducing them to sterility, to whirling motes of chaos.
“It is the random element that is slowly breaking up, destroying the, universe of stars. In an ever widening circle, with an ever increasing malignancy — if one may ascribe malignancy to a force, a tendency — it works its awful havoc. It is analogous to a grain of sand dropped into one of the interstices of a vast and intricate machine. The grain creates a small disturbance which in turn creates a larger one, and so on ad infinitum.
“And with every event that has occurred on this earth since its departure from the sun there has been an increase of the random element. Thus we can legitimately ‘place’ events in time. Events which occurred tens of thousands of years ago may be happening now to intelligences situated elsewhere, and events still in the offing, so to speak, may exist already in another dimension of space-time. But if an earth-event is very disorganized and very decadent in its contours even our hypothetical distant observer would know that it has occurred very late in the course of cosmic evolution and that a series of happier events, with less of the random element in them, must have preceded it in time. In brief, that sense of time’s passing which we experience in our daily lives is due to our intuitive perception that the structure of the universe is continuously breaking down. Everything that ‘happens,’ every event, is an objective manifestation of matter’s continuous and all-pervasive decay and disintegration.”
Algernon nodded. “I think I understand. But doesn’t that negate all that we have been taught to associate with the word ‘evolution’? It means that not advancement but an inherent degeneration has characterized all the processes of nature from the beginning of time. Can we apply it to man? Do you mean to suggest…”
Little shrugged. “One can only speculate. It may be that mediaeval theology wasn’t so very wrong after all — that old Augustine and the Angelic Doctor and Abelard and the others surmised correctly, that man was once akin to the angels and that he joined himself to nature’s decay through a deliberate rejection of heaven’s grace. It may be that by some mysterious and incomprehensibly perverse act of will he turned his face from his Maker and let evil pour in upon him, made of himself a magnet for all the malevolence that the cosmos holds. There may have been more than a little truth in Ulman’s identification of Chaugnar with the Lucifer of mediaeval myth.”
“Is this,” exclaimed Imbert reproachfully, “a proper occasion for a discussion of theology?”
“It isn’t,” Little acknowledged. “But I thought it desirable to outline certain — possibilities. I don’t want you to imagine that I regard the intrusion of Chaugnar Faugn into our world as a scientifically explicable occurrence in a facilely dogmatic sense.”
“I don’t care how you regard it,” affirmed Algernon, “so long as you succeed in destroying it utterly. I am a profound agnostic as far as religious concepts are concerned. But the universe is mysterious enough to justify divergent speculations on the part of intelligent men as to the ultimate nature of reality.”
“I quite agree,” Little said. “I was merely pointing out that modern science alone has very definite limitations.”
“And yet you propose to combat this… this horror with science,” exclaimed Imbert.
“With a concrete embodiment of the concepts of transcendental mathematics,” corrected Little. “And such concepts are merely empirically scientific. I am aware that science may be loosely defined as a systematized accumulation of tendencies and principles, but classically speaking, its prime function is to convey some idea of the nature of reality by means of an inductive logic. Yet our mathematical physicist has turned his face from induction as resolutely as did the mediaeval scholastics in the days of the Troubadours. He insists that we must start from the universal assumption that we can never know positively the real nature of anything, and that whatever ‘truth’ we may deduce from empirical generalities will be chiefly valuable as a kind of mystical guidepost, at best merely roughly indicative of the direction in which we are travelling; but withal, something of a sacrament and therefore superior to the dogmatic ‘knowledge’ of Nineteenth Century science. The speculations of mathematical physicists today are more like poems and psalms than anything else. They embody concepts wilder and more fantastic than anything in Poe or Hawthorne or Blake.”
He stepped forward and seized the entropy-reversing machine by its globular neck. “Two men can carry it very easily,” he said, as he lifted it a foot from the floor by way of experiment. “We can train it on Chaugnar Faugn from a car.
“If it keeps to the open streets,” interjected Algernon. “We can’t follow it up a fire-escape or into the woods in a car.”
“I’d thought of that. It could hide itself for days in Central Park or Inwood or Van Cortland Park or the wider stretches of woodland a little further to the north but still close to the city. But we won’t cross that bridge until we come to it.” His I expression was tense, but he spoke with quiet deliberation, “We could dispense with the car in an emergency,” he said. “Two men could advance fairly rapidly with the machine on a smooth expanse.
“We must make haste,” he continued, after a moment. “It’s my chauffeur’s day off, but I’ll take a taxi down to the garage and get the car myself.” He turned to Algernon. “If you want to help, locate Chaugnar Faugn.”
Algernon stared. “But how…” he gasped.
“It shouldn't be difficult. Get in touch with the police — Assistance and Ambulance Division. Ask if they’ve received any unusually urgent calls, anything of a sensational nature. If Chaugnar has slain again they’ll know about it.”
He pointed urgently toward a phone in the corner and strode from the laboratory.
7. A Cure for Skepticism
When Algernon had completed his phone call he lit a cigarette very calmly and deliberately and crossed to where Doctor Imbert was standing. Only the trembling of his lower lip betrayed the agitation he was having difficulty in controlling. “There have been five emergency calls,” he said, “all from the midtown section — between Thirty-fifth and Forty-eighth Streets.”
Imbert grew pale. “And — and deaths?”
Algernon nodded. “And deaths. Two of the ambulances have just returned.”
“How many were killed?”
“They don't know yet. There were five bodies in the first ambulance — three men, a woman and a little girl — a negress. All horribly mutilated. They’ve gone wild over there. The chap who spoke to me wanted to know what I knew, why I had phoned — he shouted at me, broke down and sobbed.”
“There’s nothing we can do till Little gets back,” Algernon said.
“And then? What do you suppose we can do then?”
“The machine…” Algernon began and stopped. He couldn’t endure putting the way he felt about Little's machine. and the doubts he had entertained concerning it into words. It was necessary to believe in the machine, to have confidence in Little’s sagacity — supreme confidence. It would have been disastrous to doubt in such a moment that a blow would eventually be struck, that Little and his machine together would dispose, forever, of the ghastly menace of Chaugnar Faugn. But to defend such a faith rationally, to speak boldly and with confidence of a mere intuitive
conviction was another matter.
“You know perfectly well that Little’s mentally unbalanced,” affirmed Imbert, “that it would be madness to credit his assertions.” He gestured toward the machine. "That thing is merely a mechanical hypnotizer. Ingenious, I concede — it can induce twilight sleep with a rapidity I wouldn’t have thought possible — but it is quite definitely three-dimensional. It brings the subconscious to the fore, the subconscious that believes everything it is told, induces temporary somnolence while Imbert whispers: ‘You are gazing on a fourth-dimensional figure. You are gazing on a fourth-dimensional figure.’ Such deceptions aren’t difficult to implant when the mind is in a dreamlike state.”
“I’d rather not discuss it,” murmured Algernon. “I can’t believe the figure we saw was wholly a deception. It was too ghastly and unbelievable. And remember that we both saw the same figure. I was watching you at the time — you looked positively ill. And mass hypnotism is virtually an impossibility. You ought to know that. No two men will respond to suggestion in the same way. We both saw a four-dimensional figure — an outrageous figure.”
“But how do you know we both saw the same figure? We may easily have responded differently to Little’s suggestion. Group hypnotism is possible in that sense. I saw something decidedly disturbing and so did you, but that doesn’t prove that we weren’t hypnotized.”
“I’ll convince you that we weren’t,” exclaimed Algernon. “A time-space machine of this nature isn’t theoretically inconceivable, for physicists have speculated on the possibility of reversing entropy in isolated portions of matter for years. Watch now!”
Deliberately he walked to the machine and shot the lever upward.
8. What Happened in the Laboratory
Algernon raised himself on his elbow and stared in horror at the gaping hole in the wall before him. It was a great circular hole with jagged edges and through it the skyline of lower Manhattan glimmered nebulously, like an etching under glass. His temples throbbed painfully; his tongue was dry and swollen and adhered to the roof of his mouth.
Someone was standing above him. Not Imbert, for Imbert wore spectacles. And this man’s face was destitute of glitter, a blurred oval faultlessly white. Confusedly Algernon recalled that Little did not wear spectacles. This, then, was Little. Little, not Imbert. It was coming back now. He had sought, to convince Imbert that the machine wasn't a mechanical hypnotizer. He had turned it on and then— Good God! what had happened then? Something neither of them had anticipated. An explosion! But first for an instant they had seen the figure. And the light. And he and Imbert had been too frightened — too frightened to turn it off. How very clear it was all becoming. They had stood for an instant facing the wall, too utterly bewildered to turn off the light. And then Little had entered the room, and had shouted a warning — a frenzied warning.
“Help me, please,” exclaimed Algernon weakly.
Little bent and gripped him by the shoulders. “Steady, now,” he commanded, as he guided him toward a chair. “You're not hurt. You’ll be all right in a moment. Imbert, too, is all right. A piece of plaster struck him in the temple, gave him a nasty cut, but he’ll be quite all right.”
“But — what happened?” Algernon gestured helplessly toward the hole in the wall. “I remember that there was an explosion and that — you shouted at me, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I shouted for you to get back into the room. You were standing too close to the wall. Another instant and the floor would have crumbled too and you'd have had a nasty tumble — a tumble from which you wouldn’t have recovered.”
He smiled grimly and patted Algernon on the shoulder. “Just try to calm down a bit. I’ll get you a whiskey and soda.”
“But what, precisely happened?” persisted Algernon.
“The light decreased the wall’s randomness, sent it back through time. I warned you that the wall would crumble if the light rested on it for more than an instant. But you had t(experiment.”
“I’m sorry,” muttered Algernon shamefacedly. “I fear I’ve ruined your apartment.”
“Not important, really. It’s eery, of course, having all one’s secrets open to the sky, but my landlord will rectify that.’ He gazed at Algernon curiously. “Why did you do it?” hi asked.
“To convince Imbert. He said the machine was merely a mechanical hynotizer.”
“I see, Imbert thought I was rather pathetically ‘touched’.
“Not exactly. I think he wanted to believe you…
“But couldn’t. Well, I can’t blame him. Five years ago I would have doubted too — laughed all this to scorn. I approve of skeptics. They’re dependable — when you’ve succeeded in convincing them that unthinkable and outrageous things occasionally have at least a pragmatic potency. I doubt if even now Imbert would concede that this is an entropy-reversing machine, but you may be sure his respect for it has grown. He’ll follow my instructions now without hesitation. And I want you to. We must act in unison, or we’ll be defeated before we start.”
Algernon began suddenly to tremble. “We haven't an instant to lose,” he exclaimed. “I got in touch with the police just before you came back — they’re sending out ambulance calls from all over the city. Chaugnar has begun to slay—" Algernon had risen and was striding toward the door.
“Wait!” Little’s voice held a note of command. “We’ve got to wait for Imbert. He’s downstairs in the bathroom dressing his wound.”
Reluctantly, Algernon returned into the room.
“A few minutes’ delay won’t matter,” continued Little, his voice surprisingly calm. “We’ve such a hideous ordeal before us that we should be grateful for this respite.”
“But Chaugnar is killing now,” protested Algernon. “And we are sitting here letting more lives…”
“Be snuffed out? Perhaps. But at the same instant all over the world other lives are being snuffed out by diseases which men could prevent if they energetically bestirred themselves.” He drew a deep breath. “We’re doing the best we can, man. This respite is necessary for our nerves’ sake. Try to view the situation sanely. If we are going to eradicate the malignancy which is Chaugnar Faugn we’ll need a surgeon’s calm. We’ve got to steel our wills, extrude from our minds all hysterical considerations, and all sentiment.”
“But it will kill thousands,” protested Algernon. “In the crowded streets…
“No,” Little shook his head. “It’s no longer in the streets. It has left the city.”
“How do you know?”
“There has been a massacre on the Jersey coast — near Asbury Park. I stopped for an instant in the Brooklyn Standard office on my way up from the garage. The night staffs in turmoil. They’re rushing through a sensational morning extra. I found out something else. There’s been a similar massacre in Spain! If we hadn’t been talking here we’d have known. All the papers ran columns about it— hours ago. They’re correlating the dispatches now and by tomorrow everyone will know of the menace. What I fear is mass hysteria.”
“Yes, they’ll go mad in the city tomorrow — there’ll be a stampede. Unreasoning superstition and blind terror always culminate in acts of violence. Hundreds of people will run amuck, pillage, destroy. There’ll be more lives lost than Chaugnar destroyed tonight.”
“But we can do something. We must.”
“I said that we were merely waiting for Doctor Imbert.” Little crossed to the eastern window and stared for a moment into the lightening sky. Then he returned to where Algernon was standing. “Do you feel better?” he asked. “Have you pulled yourself together?”
“Yes,” muttered Algernon. “I’m quite alright.”
The door opened and Imbert came in. His face was distraught and of a deathly pallor, but a look of relief came into his eyes when they rested on Algernon. “I feared you were seriously hurt,” he cried. “We were quite mad to experiment with — with that thing.”
“We must experiment again, I fear.”
Imbert nodded. “I’m ready to join you. What do you war us to do?”
“I want you and Harris to carry that machine downstairs and put it into my car. I’ll need a flashlight and a few other things. I won’t be long…”
9. The Horror Moves
“We must overtake it before it reaches the crossroads,” shouted Little.
They were speeding by the sea, tearing at seventy-miles an hour down a long, white road that twisted and turned between ramparts of sand. On both sides there towered dunes, enormous, majestic, morning stars a-glitter on the dark waters intermittently visible beyond their seaward walls. The horseshoe-shaped isthmus extended for six miles into the sea and then doubled back toward the Jersey coast. At the point where it changed its direction stood a crossroad explicitly sign-posted with two pointing hands. One of these junctions led directly toward the mainland, the other into a dense, ocean-defiled waste, marshy and impregnable, a kind of morass where anything or anyone might hide indefinitely.
And toward this retreat Chaugnar fled. For hours Little's car had pursued it along the tarred and macadamized roads that fringe the Jersey coast — over bridges and viaducts and across wastes of sand, in a straight line from Asbury Park to Atlantic City and then across country and back again to the coast, and now down a thin terrain lashed by Atlantic spray, deserted save for a few ramshackle huts of fishermen and a vast congregation of gulls.
Chaugnar Faugn had moved with unbelievable rapidity, from the instant when they had first encountered it crouching somnolently in the shadows beneath a deserted, bathhouse at Long Branch and had turned the light on it and watched it awake to the moment when it had gone shambling away through the darkness its every movement had been ominous with menace.
Twice it had stopped in the road and waited for them to approach and once its great arm had raised itself against them in a gesture of malignant defiance. And on that occasion only the entropy machine had saved them. Its light Chaugnar could not bear, and when Little had turned the ray upon the creature’s flanks the great obscene body had heaved and shuddered and a ghastly screeching had issued from its bulbous lips. And then forward again it had forged, its thick, stumpy legs moving with the rapidity of pistons — carrying it over the ground so rapidly that the car could not keep pace.
But always its tracks had remained visible, for a phosphorescence streamed from them, illuming its retreat. And always its hoarse bellowing could be heard in the distance, freighted with fury and a hatred incalculable. And by the stench, too, they trailed it, for all the air through which it passed was acridly defiled — pungent with an uncleanliness that evades description.
“It is infinitely old,” cried Little as he maneuvered the car about the base of a sea-lashed dune. “As old as the earth’s crust. Otherwise, it would have crumbled. You saw how the bathhouse crumbled — how the shells beneath its feet dissolved and vanished. It is only its age that saves it.”
“You had the light on it for five minutes,” shouted Algernon. His voice was hoarse with excitement. “And it still lives. What can we do?”
“We must corner it — keep the light directed at it for— many minutes. To send it back we must decrease the random element in it by a billion years. It has remained substantially as it is now for at least that long. Perhaps longer.”
“How many years of earth-time does the machine lop off a minute?” shouted Imbert.
“Can’t tell exactly. It works differently with different objects. Metals, stone, wood all have a different entropy- rhythm. But roughly, it should reverse entropy throughout a billion years of earth-time in ten or fifteen minutes.”
“There it is!” shouted Algernon. “It’s reached the cross-roads. Look!”
Against a windshield glazed with sea mist Imbert laid his forehead, peering with bulging eyes at the form of Chaugnar, phosphorescently illumed a quarter-mile before them on the road, and even as he stared, the distance between the car and the loathsome horror diminished by fifty yards.
“It isn’t moving,” cried Little. He had half risen from his seat and was gripping the wheel as though it were a live thing. “It’s waiting for us. Turn on the light, sir. Quick! for God’s sake! We're almost on top of it!”
Algernon fell upon his knees in the dark and groped about for the switch. The engine’s roar increased as Little stepped furiously upon the accelerator. “The light, quick!” Little almost screamed the words.
Algernon’s fingers found the switch and thrust it sharply upward. There ensued the drone of revolving spheres. “It’s moving again. God, it’s moving!”
Algernon rose shakingly to his feet. “Where is it?” he shouted. “I don’t see it!”
“It’s making for the marshes,” shouted Little. “Look. Straight ahead, through here.” He pointed toward a clear spot in the windshield. Craning hysterically, Algernon described a phosphorescent bulk making off over the narrowest of the bisecting roads.
With a frantic spin of the wheel, Little turned the car about and sent the speedometer soaring. The road grew narrower and more uneven as they advanced along it and the car careened perilously. “Careful.” Algernon called out warningly. “We’ll get ditched. Better slow up.”
“No,” cautioned Little, his voice sharp with alarm. “We can’t stop now.”
The light from the machine was streaming unimpeded into the darkness before them.
“Keep it trained on the road,” shouted Little. “It would destroy a man in an instant.”
They could smell the mud flats now. A pungent, salty odor of stagnant brine and putrescent shellfish drifted toward them, whipped by the wind. A sickly yellow light was spreading sluggishly in the eastern sky. Across the road ahead of them a turtle shambled and vanished hideously in a flash.
“See that?” cried Little. “That’s how Chaugnar would go if it wasn’t as old as the earth.”
“Be ready with the brakes,” Algernon shouted back.
The end of the road had swept into view. It ran swiftly downhill for fifty yards and terminated in a sandy waste that was half submerged at its lower levels. The illumed bulk of Chaugnar paused for an instant on a sandy hillock. Then it moved rapidly downward toward the flats, arms spread wide, body swaying strangely, as though it were in awe of the sea.
Little steered the car to the side of the road and threw on the brakes. “Out — both of you!” he shouted.
Algernon descended to the ground and stood for an instant shakingly clinging to the door of the car. Then, in a sudden access of determination, he sprang back and began tugging at the machine, whilst Imbert strove valiantly to assist him.
There came a bellow from the great form that was advancing into the marsh. Algernon drew close to Little, and gripped him firmly by the arm. “Hadn’t we better wait here?” he asked, his voice tight with strain. “It seems to fear the sea. We can entrench ourselves here and attack it with the light when it climbs back.”
“No,” Little’s reply was emphatic. “We haven’t a second to waste. It may — mire itself. It’s too massive to flounder through the mud without becoming hopelessly bogged down. We’ll drive it forward into the marsh.”
Resolutely he stopped and beckoned to his companions to assist him in raising and supporting the machine. Dawn was spreading in the east as the three men staggered downward over the sandy waste, a planet’s salvation in the glittering shape they carried.
Straight into the morass they went, quaking with terror but impelled by a determination that was oblivious to caution. From Chaugnar there now came an insistent screeching and bellowing, a noise that smote so ominously on Algernon’s ear that he wanted, desperately, to drop the machine and head back toward the car. But above the obscene bellowings of the horror rose Little’s voice in courageous exhortation. “Don’t stop for an instant,” he cried. “We must keep it from circling back to the road. It will turn in a moment. It’s sinking deeper and deeper. It will have to turn.”
Their shoes sank into the sea-soaked marsh weeds, while luridly across the glistening morass the greenish light from the machine, effacing everything in its path save the mud itself, which bubbled and heaved, made younger in an instant by ten thousand years. And then, suddenly, the great thing turned and faced them.
Knee-deep in the soft mud it turned, its glowing flanks quivering with ire, its huge trunk malignly upraised, a flail of flame. For an instant it loomed thus terribly menacing, the soul of all malignancy and horror, a cancerous cyclops oozing fetor. Then the light swept over it, and it recoiled with a convulsive trembling of its entire bulk. Though half mired, it retreated swayingly, and its bellows turned to hoarse gurglings, such as no animal throat had uttered in all earth’s eons of sentient evolution.
And then, slowly, it began to change. As the light streamed over and enveloped it, it began unmistakably to shrivel and darken.
“Keep the light steady,” Little cried out, his voice tremulous with concern, his features set in an expression of utter revulsion.
Algernon and Imbert continued to advance with the machine, as sickened as Little was by what they saw but supported now by the disappearance of all uncertainity as to the truth of Little’s claims.
And now that which had taken to itself an earth-form in j eons primordial began awfully to disincarn and before their j gaze was enacted a drama so revolting as to imperil reason! A burning horror withdrew from its garments of clay and retraced in patterns of unspeakable dimness the history of its enshrinement. Not instantly had it incarned itself, but by stages slow and fantasmal and sickening. To ascend, Chaugnar had had to feast, not on men at first, for there were no men when it lay venomously outspread on the earth’s crust; but on entities no less malignant than itself, the spawn of star-births incalculable. For before the earth cooled she had drawn from the skies a noxious progeny. Drawn earthward by her holocaust they had come, and relentlessly Chaugnar had devoured them.
And now as that which had occurred in the beginning was enacted anew these blasphemies were disgorged, and above the dark wrack defilement spread. And at last from a beast- shape to a jelly Chaugnar passed, a jelly enveloped in darting filaments of corpse-pale flame. For an instant it moved above the black marsh, as it had moved in the beginning when it had come from beyond the universe of stars to wax bestial in the presence of Man. And then the flames vanished and nothing remained but a cold wind blowing across the estuary from the open sea.
Little let out a great cry and Algernon released his hold on the machine and dropped to his knees on the wet earth. Imbert, too, relinquished the machine but before doing so he shot back the lever at its base.
Only for an instant did the victory go unchallenged. For before the spheres on the machine had ceased to revolve, before even the light had vanished from the gleaming waste, the malignancy that had been Chaugnar Faugn reshaped itself in the sky above them.
Indescribably it loomed through the gray sea-mists, its bulk magnified a thousandfold, its long, dangling trunk swaying slowly back and forth.
For an instant it towered above them, glaring venomously. Then, like a racer, it stooped and floundered forward and went groping about with its monstrous hands for the little shapes it hated. It was still groping when it dimmed and vanished into the depth of the hazy, dawn-brightened sky.
10. Little’s Explanation
It was the fifth day since Chaugnar Faugn had been sent back through time. Algernon and Little sat in the latter’s
laboratory and discussed the destruction of the horror over cups of black coffee.
“You think, then, that the last manifestation we saw was a kind of spectral emanation, without physical substance.”
“Not wholly, perhaps,” replied Little. “An odor of putrefaction came from it. I should regard the phenomenon as a kind of tenuous reassembling rather than an apparition in a strict sense. Chaugnar had been incarnate for so long in the hideous shape with which we are familiar that its disembodied intelligence could reclothe itself in a kind of porous mimesis before it returned to its hyperdimensional sphere. So rapidly did our machine reverse entropy that perhaps tiny fragments of its terrestrial body survived, and these, by a tremendous exercise of will, it may have reassembled and, figuratively, blown up. That is to say, it may have taken these tiny fragments and so increased their porosity beyond the normal porosity of matter that they produced the cyclopean apparition we saw. All matter, you know, is tremendously porous, and if I could remove all the ‘vacuums’ from your body you would shrink to the size of a pin-head.”
Algernon nodded, and was silent for a moment. Then he stood up, laid his coffee cup on the windowsill and crossed to where Little was sitting. “We agreed,” he said, “that we wouldn’t discuss Chaugnar further until… well, until we were in a little calmer frame of mind than we were a few days ago. It was a wise decision, I think. But I’m now so certain that what we both witnessed was not an illusion that I must insist you return an honest answer to two questions. I shall not expect a comprehensive and wholly satisfying explanation, for I’m aware that you are not completely sure yourself as to the exact nature of Chaugnar. But you have at least formed an hypothesis, and there are a good many things you haven’t told me which I’ve earned the right to know.”
“What do you wish to know?” Little’s voice was constrained, reluctant.
“What destroyed the horror in the Pyrenees? Why were there no more massacres after — after that night?”
Little smiled wanly. “Have you forgotten the pools of black slime which were found on the melting snow a thousand feet above the village three days after we sent Chaugnar back?”
Little nodded. “Chaugnar’s kin, undoubtedly. They accompanied Chaugnar back, but left like their master, a few remainders. Little round pools of putrescent slime — a superfluity of rottenness that somehow resisted the entropy- reversing action of the machine.”
“You mean that the machine sent entropy-reversing emanations half across the world?”
Little shook his head. “I mean simply that Chaugnar Faugn and its hideous brethren were joined together hyperdimensionally and that we destroyed them simultaneously. It is an axiom of virtually every speculative philosophy based on the newer physics and the concepts of non-Euclidean mathematics that we can’t perceive the real relations of objects in the external world, that since our senses permit us to view them merely three-dimensionally we can’t perceive the hyperdimensional links which unite them.
“If we could see the same objects — men, trees, chairs, houses — on a fourth-dimensional plane, for instance, we’d notice connections that are now wholly unsuspected by us. Your chair, to pick an example at random, may actually be joined to the window-ledge behind you or… to the Woolworth Building. Or you and I may be but infinitesimally tiny fragments of some gigantic monster occupying vast segments of space-time. You may be a mere excrescence on the monster’s back, and I a hair of its head — I speak metaphorically, of course, since in higher dimensions of space-time there can be nothing but analogies to objects on the terrestrial globe — or you and I and all men, and everything in the world, every particle of matter, may be but a single fragment of this larger entity. If anything should happen to the entity you and I would both suffer, but as the monster would be invisible to us, no one — no one equipped with normal human organs of awareness — would suspect that we were suffering because we were parts of it. To a three- dimensional observer we should appear to be suffering from different causes and our invisible hyperdimensional solidarity would remain wholly unsuspected.
“If two people were thus hyperdimensionally joined, like Siamese twins, and one of them were destroyed by a machine similar to the one we used against Chaugnar Faugn, the other would suffer effacement at the same instant, though he were on the opposite side of the world.”
Algernon looked puzzled.
“But why should the link be invisible? Assuming that Chaugnar Faugn and the Pyrenean horrors were hyperdimensionally joined together — either because they were parts of one great monster, or merely because they were one in the hyperdimensional sphere, why should this hyperdimensional connecting link be invisible to us?”
“Well — perhaps an analogy will make it clearer. If you were a two instead of a three-dimensional entity, and if, when you regarded objects about you — chairs, houses, animals — you saw only their length and breadth, you wouldn’t be able to form any intelligible conception of their relations to other objects in the dimension you couldn’t apprehend — the dimension of thickness. Only a portion of an ordinary three-dimensional object would be visible to you and you could only make a mystical guess as to how it would look with another dimension added to it. In that, to you, unperceivable dimension of thickness it might join itself to a thousand other objects and you’d never suspect that such a connection existed. You might perceive hundreds of flat surfaces about you, all disconnected, and you would never imagine that they formed one object in the third dimension.
“You would live in a two-dimensional world and when three-dimensional objects intruded into that world you would be unaware of their true objective conformation — or relatively unaware, for your perceptions would be perfectly valid so long as you remained two-dimensional.
“Our perceptions of the three-dimensional world are only valid for that world — to a fourth-dimensional or fifth- or sixth-dimensional entity our conceptions of objects external to us would seem utterly ludicrous. And we know that such entities exist. Chaugnar Faugn was such an entity. And because of its hyperdimensional nature it was joined to the horror on the hills in a way we weren’t able to perceive. We can perceive connections when they have length, breadth and thickness, but when a new dimension is added they pass out of our ken, precisely as a solid object passes out of the ken of an observer in a dimension lower than ours. Have I clarified your perplexities?”
Algernon nodded. “I think — yes, I am sure that you have. But I should like to ask you another question. Do you believe that Chaugnar Faugn is a transcendent world-soul endowed with a supernatural incorporeality, or just — just a material entity? I mean, was Ulman’s priest right and was Chaugnar an incarnation of the Oneness of the Brahmic mysteries, the portentous all-in-all of theosophists and occultists, or merely a product of physical evolution on a plane incomprehensible to us?”
Little took a long sip of coffee and very deliberately lowered his head, as though he were marshalling his convictions for a debate. “I believe I once told you,” he said at last, “that I didn’t believe Chaugnar could be destroyed by any agent less transcendental than that which we used against it. It certainly wasn’t protoplasmic or mineral, and no mechanical device not based on relativist concepts could have effected the dissolution we witnessed. An infra-red ray machine, for instance, or a cyclotron would have been powerless to send it back. Yet despite the transcendental nature of even its carnate shell, despite the fact that even in its earth-shape it was fashioned of a substance unknown on the earth and that we can form no conception of its shape in the multidimensional sphere it now inhabits, it is my opinion that it is inherently, like ourselves, a circumscribed entity— the spawn of remote worlds and unholy dimensions, but a creature and not a creator, a creature obeying inexorable laws and occupying a definite niche in the cosmos.
“In a way we can never understand it had acquired the ability to roam and could incarn itself in dimensions lower than its own. But I do not believe it possessed the attributes of deity. It was neither beneficent nor evil, but simply amorally virulent — a vampire-like life form from beyond the universe of stars strayed by chance into our little, walled-in three-dimensional world. One unguarded gate may be standing ajar…”
“But do you believe that it actually made a race of men to serve it — that the Miri Nigri were fashioned from the flesh of primitive amphibians?”
Little frowned. “I don’t know. Conditions on the cooling earth two billion years ago may once have been such that creations of that nature antedated the process of biological evolution with which we are familiar. And we may be sure that Chaugnar Faugn with its inscrutable endowments could have fashioned men-shapes had it so desired — could have fashioned them even from the planktonlike swarms of small organisms which must have drifted with the tides through the ancient oceans.”
Little lowered his voice and looked steadily at Algernon. “Some day,” he murmured, “Chaugnar may return. We sent it back through time, but in five thousand or a hundred thousand years it may return to ravage. Its return will be presaged in dreams, for when its brethren stirred restlessly on the Spanish hills both I and Hsieh Ho were disturbed in our sleep by harbingers from beyond. Telepathically Chaugnar spoke to sleeping minds, and if it returns it will speak again, for Man is not isolated among the sentient beings of earth but is linked to all that moves in hyperdimensional continuity.”
"When Chaugnar Wakes"
A billion miles beyond the suns
Which gild the edge of space,
Great Chaugnar dreams, and there is hate
And fury on its face.
Beyond the universe of stars
Where red moons wane and swim,
Great Chaugnar stirs, and heaves its bulk
Upon a crater's rim.
Its ropy arms descend to suck
Dark nurture from the deeps
Of lava-pools within a cone
That shines whilst Chaugnar sleeps.
Explorers from the outer stars
Have glimpsed that glowing cone;
Have glimpsed the vast and silent shape
Asleep upon its throne.
Explorers from the world we know
Have seen that shape in dreams;
Have watched its shadow fall and spread
On dim, familiar streams.
When Chaugnar wakes, its mindless hate
Will send it voyaging far;
It may set Sirius adrift,
Or seek a humbler star.
A humbler star with satellites,
Small planets in its train:
And that is why I kneel and kneel
Before Great Chaugnar's fane.
John Dee’s Necronomicon: A Fragment
(contributed by Frank Belknap Long who refuses to discuss how these few lines came into his possession)
(Retranslated into slightly more modern phrase patterns here and there, but without the slightest departure from the original text otherwise.)
Paragraphs Seven and Eight — Page 30, Book Three:
It must not be thought that the powers capable of the greatest wickedness appear to us in the form of repellent familiars, and other, closely related demons. They do not. Small, visible demons are merely the effluvia which those vast forms of destructiveness have left in Their wake skin scrapings and even more tenuous shreds of evil that attach themselves to the living like leeches from some great slain leviathan of the deep that has wreaked havoc on a hundred coastal cities before plunging to its death with a thousand hurled harpoons quivering in its flesh.
For the mightiest powers there can be no death, and the hurled harpoons inflict, at most, surface injuries which heal quickly. I have said before and I shall say again until my tardily earned wisdom is accepted by my brethren as fact — in confronting that which has always been and always will be a master of magic can know only self-reproach and despair if he mistakes a temporary victory for one that he can never hope permanently to win.
It was just the right place for an encounter with an enchantress. There was a long stretch of shining beach, with a sand dune towering up behind it, and in the near distance a high white steeple and the sun-gilded roofs of a small New England village from which I had just departed for a dip in the sea. It was vacation time, always a good time to be a guest at an inn that you like straight off, if only because not a single jarring note accompanies your arrival with a worn and battered suitcase and an eye for oak paneling that dates back a century or more.
The village seemed sleepy and unchanged, always a splendid thing in midsummer when you’ve had yqur fill of city noises and smoke and bustle and the intolerable encroachments of the “do this” and “do that” brigade.
I’d seen her at breakfast time, with her two small children, a boy and a girl, taking up all of her attention until I sat down at a table a short distance away and stared steadily at her for a moment. I couldn’t help it. She would have drawn all eyes in a parade of glamorous models. A widow? I wondered. A divorcee? Or — banish the thought — a happily married woman whose thoughts never strayed?
It was impossible to know, of course. But when she looked up and saw me she nodded slightly and smiled, and for a moment nothing seemed to matter but the fear that she was so very beautiful my stare would reveal my inmost thoughts.
New arrivals at small village inns are often greeted with a smile and a nod by the kindly disposed, solely to put them at their ease and make them feel that they are the opposite of outsiders. I wasn’t deceived on that score. But still—
Meeting her now, between the dune and the sea, with her children still on opposite sides of her, I was unprepared for more than another smile and nod. I had emerged from around the dune, coming into view so abruptly that she might well have looked merely startled, and it made the explicit nature of her greeting seem astonishing indeed.
She raised her arm and waved to me, and called out: “Oh, hello! I didn’t expect to see anyone from the inn here so early. You can be of great help to me.”
“In what way?” I asked, trying to keep from looking as flustered as I felt and crossing to her side in several not-too-hurried strides.
“I cut my hand rather badly just now on a razor-sharp shell,” she said. “But I’m not in the least worried. It’s just that — it was terribly stupid of me, and I haven’t a handkerchief. If you have one—”
“Of course,” I said. “We’ll get it bound up in short order. But you’d better let me look at it first.”
Her hand was velvety soft in my clasp, and so beautiful that for a moment I hardly noticed the cut on her palm. It was bleeding a little but not profusely, even though it wasn’t exactly a scratch. It took me only a moment to wrap a handkerchief twice around the middle of her hand and knot it securely just below her wrist.
“That should take care of it,” I said. “For now. If you’re not returning to the inn soon you can take the bandage off when the bleeding stops and douse it in seawater. There’s no better antiseptic. A rusty nail and a seashell are worlds apart, antiseptically speaking.”
“You’ve been most helpful,” she said, seeming not to care that I was taking my time in releasing her hand. “I’m more grateful than I can say.”
The children were fidgeting about with their toes turned in, looking reproachfully from their mother to me and back again. There is nothing children resent more than to be totally ignored when an introduction can be achieved in a matter of seconds. The gulf that yawns between a child and an adult can be spanned to an incredible extent at times with no more than & gesture, and most children are wise enough to know when they are being cheated of an enriching experience for no reason at all.
It seemed suddenly to occur to her that she had failed even to introduce herself, and she made amends quickly in a threefold way. “I’m Helen Rathbourne,” she said. “When my husband died I didn’t think I’d ever find myself at the inn again. I felt that coming here would bring back — well, too many things. But I do love this place. Everything about it is irresistibly enchanting. The children adore it too.
She patted her son on the shoulder and took a strand of her daughter’s windblown hair and twined it about her finger. “John is eight and Susan is six,” she said. “John is a young explorer. When he goes adventuring every land is a far land, no matter how near it may be geographically.”
She smiled. “He prefers simple weapons. A bow and a sheaf of arrows suit him quite well. He has slain some incredible beasts just through the accuracy of his aim.”
“I don’t doubt that for a moment,” I said. “Hello, John.”
He had seemed a little on the shy side, but there was no trace of shyness in the prideful way he held himself when we shook hands. It was as if, in some hidden recess of his mind, he believed every word his mother had just said about him.
“Susan’s quite different,” she went on, her eyes crinkling in a wholly enchanting way. “Most of her adventuring is done on ‘wings of bright imagining,’ as some poet must have phrased it sometime in the past, perhaps far back in the Victorian age. I’m not good at making such lines up.”
“I’m sure you’re mistaken,” I told her. “I read a great deal of poetry, both traditional and avant-garde, and I can’t recall ever having encountered that particular line.”
“ ‘Stumbled over’ would be better,” she said.
“It’s a little grandiose,” I conceded. “But when you say it, it doesn’t sound that way at all. I know exactly what you have in mind. Susan likes to dream away the hours sitting by a window ledge, with potted geraniums obscuring just a little of the view — a seascape or rolling hills with a snow-capped mountain looming in the distance.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I can shoot down a compliment like that faster than you might suspect, as a rule, armed with just one of John’s arrows. But when you say it—”
We both laughed.
“Susan’s not a tomboy,” she added thoughtfully. “But she won’t take any guff from John or any of his friends. You should have seen how fast she was running along the beach just now, outdistancing him in a few seconds. They are both children to be proud of, don’t you think?”
“Indeed I do,” I assured her. “I sensed that straight off. It doesn’t really need to be pointed up in any way.”
“Thank you again,” she said. “I must confess that, on rare occasions, I have a few doubts. But it’s amazing how quickly children can make an adult change his mind about them when forgiveness becomes of paramount importance—”
I should have known that if what she had said about her son’s exploring urge was true — and I had no reason to doubt it — it would have been impossible to keep him still for more than a moment or two. But I was not prepared for the harm he did to our conversation just as it was reaching a most rewarding stage by turning about and dashing off so abruptly that concern for his safety drove every other thought from her mind.
“John, come back here!” she called. “Right this minute.1"
She had followed him out across the beach, almost running, before I saw what had alarmed her. He had not merely bypassed the surf line and headed for a section of the beach strewn with the wreckage of a recent storm. He had climbed up on rotting boards of a washed-ashore, storm-shattered breakwater and was staring down at a side channel of swirling dark water which almost bisected the beach at precisely that point. Just below where he stood on one of the boards, precariously perched, the water had widened out into a pool that was unrippled by the wind and had a deep, black, extremely ominous look. It had been made more hazardous by the way the wreckage extended out over it here and there, with edges so jagged a pitchfork would have seemed far less menacing.
I caught up with her before she could quite accomplish what her son had achieved with close to miraculous speed. There is no accounting for the swift way a small boy can travel from place to place when some wildly impulsive notion takes firm root in his mind.
“Don’t be alarmed,” I urged, hurrying along at her side. “Kids his age do reckless things at times simply because they just don’t think. But we do, and it will take only a moment to get him down.”
“He’s not listening to me!” she protested. “That’s what alarms me. I’ve never known him to be so stubborn.”
“He’ll listen to me," I assured her. “He may just be starting to feel the need for some stern father-to-son talk. If a kid has to go without something he’s once known too long—”
“I don’t want him to fall!” she said, as if she hadn’t heard me, and before I could go on. “I’m so terribly worried.”
“You can stop worrying,” I assured her. “He’ll climb straight down the instant I raise my voice.”
I was far from sure that he would. But it wasn’t just an idle boast to impress her. I was genuinely concerned for the boy’s safety, and there was no excuse for what he was doing now. He could, I felt, have at least answered his mother’s almost frantic appeals. Refusing to obey was one thing, totally ignoring her concern quite another.
When I reached the piled-up mass of wreckage he had moved even closer to the edge of the demolished breakwater, and the board on which he was standing seemed rickety in the extreme. It was so rotted away in spots that the swirling dark tides just beyond the almost rippleless pool were visible through the warped and nearly vertical far end of it. Something about the shape of it struck a chill to my heart. The supporting beams of a gallows might well have had just such a look, with both vertical and horizontal aspects, to the blurring vision of a condemned man awaiting swift oblivion.
Being parentally harsh is very difficult for me, because I’ve always felt that the young are frequently justified in their rebellion, and as often as not I find myself on their side. But now I was very angry and felt not the slightest trace of sympathy for a boy who could cause his mother so much unnecessary anguish.
“John, get down!” I shouted at him. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”
I suddenly felt that shouting was not needed and went on just loudly enough to make sure he’d catch every word. “I see I was wrong in believing everything your mother told me about you. No courageous explorer I’ve ever known took meaningless risks with his life. You’ve got to think of other people. How can you be so cruel, so thoughtless? Your mother—”
I stopped abruptly, noticing for the first time that there was a faraway look in his eyes and that he did not appear to be listening. He was clasping something in his right hand, and suddenly he opened his fingers and stared down at it, as if only the object mattered, and everything I had said had gone unheeded.
And that was when it happened. That was when the terrible mistake I’d made by not climbing up without saying a word and grabbing hold of him dawned on me. But perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered. Even if he failed to put up a struggle, just my added weight on the board might have caused it to collapse anyway.
It collapsed with a dreadful splintering sound. The warped and upended, almost rotted away, portion fell first into the dark beach- bisecting channel, followed quickly by the part of it on which he had been standing. He went with that part so swiftly into the water that no slightest sound came from below the wreckage for ten full seconds. Then I heard only the gurgling of the water as it subsided, the initial splash having been a great deal louder. Despite that loudness I was quite sure that if he had made some outcry before vanishing I would have heard it.
My immediate, overwhelming emotion was one of horror, mingled with disbelief and a sudden gratefulness. The gratefulness was due solely to the fact that I had come to the beach to go swimming, and wore only bathing trunks beneath a light summer bathrobe.
I kicked off my sneakers first and discarded the bathrobe almost simultaneously with my swift ascent of the wreckage adjacent to the vanished part of the storm-shattered breakwater. I had no way of knowing how deep the water might be at that particular spot, but when a narrow channel widens out into a pool it is likely to have a greater depth as well, and I was nine-tenths sure it was the opposite of shallow.
I remained for a moment staring down at that dark expanse of water, until I became convinced that no bobbing young head seemed likely to send a great wave of relief surging over me, for more additional seconds than I cared to risk wasting.
To have dived in would have risked a stunning blow to my head from the cluttered wreckage, which projected out over the pool in a dozen directions. So I let myself down slowly and cautiously before swimming out into the sluggishly moving current.
I abandoned my overhand strokes to plunge into the depths at about the spot where it seemed most likely John had been swallowed up. The farther I descended the less sluggish the current became, and I was soon being carried erratically back and forth in a tide-buffeted fashion.
It was my first attempt to save anyone from drowning, and I was lacking in all of the qualities that can make such a rescue attempt quickly successful.
I began to fear I would have to come up for air and descend a second time when I saw him, through a blurry film of dark water. Only vaguely at first and then more distinctly, revolving slowly about as if on some small underwater treadmill that was causing him neither to rise nor to descend farther.
Fortunately he did not struggle when I got to him, as close-to- drowning people are supposed to do unless you caution them in the open air where your voice carries. In another moment I had a tight grip on his arm and was ascending with him through what now seemed a depth of at least twenty fathoms.
Five minutes later he was lying stretched out on the sand at the base of the wreckage, with his mother bending over him. She was sobbing softly and looking up at me, her eyes shining with gratefulness.
No seven-year-old could have looked more capable of summoning to his aid all the innate vitality of the very young of sturdy constitution. The color was flooding back into his cheeks, and his eyes were fluttering open with the stubborn, resolute look of a young explorer who refuses to give up, despite the worst buffetings that fate can inflict.
I suppose I should have felt nothing but relief and sympathy. But I was still angry, and the first words I spoke to him were so harsh that 1 almost instantly found myself regretting them.
“You should have known better than to put your mother through something like this. It’s a good thing you’re not my son. If you were there would be no baseball or anything else for you for one solid month. You’d just have to sit at the window and call down to your friends. Probably they are as bad as you are. Unruly, selfish, totally undisciplined kids run together in wolf cub packs.”
The instant I stopped his eyes opened very wide, and he stared up at me without the slightest trace of hostility or resentment in his gaze. It was as if he realized I had spoken like the kind of person I wasn’t and really could never be.
“I couldn’t help it,” he said. “There was something there I knew I’d find if I looked around for it. I didn’t want to find it. But you can’t help it when you dream about something you don’t want to find, and you can’t wake up in time—”
“You dreamed about it?”
“Not like when I go to sleep. I was just thinking about what it would look like when I found it.”
“And that’s why you ran off the way you did, without warning your mother that you were about to do something dangerous?”
“I couldn’t help it. It was like something was pulling me.”
“You were looking at it when I spoke to you,” I said. “So you must have found it. It’s too bad you lost it when you fell into the water. If you still had it, what you want us to believe might make a little more sense. Not much — but a little.”
“I didn’t lose it,” he said. “It’s right here in my hand.”
“But that’s impossible.”
“No, it isn’t,” his mother said, interrupting us for the first time. “Look how tightly clenched his right hand is.”
I could hardly believe it, if only because it made far more sense to assume that the hands of a boy falling from a collapsing board would have opened and closed many times in a desperate kind of grasping, first at the empty air and then at a smothering wall of water rushing in upon him. What I had failed to recognize was that in such an extremity one may hold on to some small object that has just been picked up — a pebble or a shell — even more tightly.
There might even be — more to it than that. Not only adult men and women, but not a few children, had endured unspeakable torments without relinquishing, even in death, some small object precious to them, or feared by them in some terrible secret way. The Children’s Crusade—
It was hard for me to imagine what could have put such thoughts into my mind, for I hadn’t as much as caught a glimpse of the object which John had seemingly found very quickly. Surely what he had said about it could be dismissed as childish prattle. A dreamlike compulsion, coming upon him suddenly, and forcing him to go in search of it, as if drawn by a magnet. Powerless to resist, unable to break that mysterious binding influence. Not wanting to find it at all, but aware that he had been given no choice. Not wanting—
Susan had joined us beneath the wreckage, ignoring the wishes of her mother, who had waved her back to make her son’s recovery less of a problem. Another small child, hopping about in the sand, would have made it difficult for her to give all of her attention to what I’d just been saying to her son.
But now she was looking at me as if I had added a new, unexpected complication by my two full minutes of silence.
“Let him see what it was you picked up, John,” she said. “Just open your hand and show it to him. You’re making some strange mystery out of it, and so is he. I’d like to see it too. Then we’ll all be happier.”
“I can’t,” John said.
“You can’t what?” I demanded, startled by the look of astonishment and pain that had come into his eyes.
“I can’t move my fingers,” he said. “I just found out. I didn’t try before.”
“Oh, that’s nonsense,” I said. “Listen to me, before you say anything even more foolish. You must have at least tried to move your fingers a dozen or more times before I rescued you. Just as often afterward.”
He shook his head. “That’s not true.”
“It has to be true. That’s your right hand. You use it all the time. Everyone does.”
“I can’t move my fingers,” he reiterated. “If I’d opened my hand it would have fallen out—”
“I know all that,” I said. “But you could have at least found out before this whether you could so much as move your fingers. It would have been a natural thing to do.”
It had been difficult for me to think of his mother in a very special way, so overwrought had she become since I had gone to his rescue. But something of the beach-temptress look had returned when her son had opened his eyes and had seemed no worse for the tragedy that had almost overtaken him. But now she looked distraught again. Sudden fear flamed in her eyes.
“Could it be — hysterical paralysis?” she asked. “It can happen, I’ve been told, in quite young children.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Just try to stay calm. We’ll know in a moment.”
I took her son’s hand, raised it, and looked at it closely. He made no protest. The fingers could not have been more tightly clenched. The nails, I felt, must be biting painfully into the flesh of his palms. His knuckles looked bluish.
I began to work on his fingers, trying my best to force them open. I had no success for a moment. Then, gradually, they seemed to become more flexible and some of the stiffness went out of them.
Quite suddenly his entire hand opened, as if my persistent tugging at each individual finger in turn had broken some kind of spell.
The small object which rested on his palm did not seem to have been compressed or injured in any way by the tight constriction to which it had been subjected. I thought at first it was of metal, so brightly did it gleam in the sunlight. But when I picked it up and looked at it closely I saw that it was of some rubbery substance with merely the sheen of metal.
I had never before looked at any inanimate object quite so horrible. Superficially it resembled a tiny many-tentacled octopus, but there was something about it which would have made the ugliest of sea monsters seem merely fishlike in a slightly repulsive way. It had a countenance, of a sort, a shriveled, sunken old man’s face that was no more than suggestively human. Not a human face at all, really, but the suggestion was there, a hint, at least, of anthropoid intelligence of a wholly malignant nature. But the longer I stared at it the less human it seemed, until I began to feel that I had read into it something that wasn’t there. Intelligence, yes— awareness of some kind, but so much the opposite of anthropoid that my mind reeled at trying to imagine what intelligence would be like if it was as cold as the dark night of space and could exercise a wholly merciless authority over every animate entity in the universe of stars.
I looked at Helen Rathbourne and saw that she was trembling and had turned very pale. I had lowered my hand just enough to enable her to see it clearly, and I knew that her son had seen it again too. He said nothing, just looked at me as if, young as he was, the thought that such an object had been taken from his hand made him feel in some strange way contaminated.
“You picked it up without knowing,” I wanted to shout at him. “Forget it, child — blot it from your mind. I’ll take it to the pool you almost drowned in and let it sink from sight, and we’ll forget we ever saw it.”
But before I could say a word to John or his mother, something began to happen to my hand. It began to happen even before I realized the object was attached to a rusted metal chain and had clearly been designed to be worn as an amulet around someone’s neck.
My fingers closed over it, contracting more and more until I was holding it in as tight a grip as John had done. I couldn’t seem to open them again or hurl the object from me as I suddenly wanted to do.
Something happened then to more than just my hand. Everything about me seemed subtly to change, the contours of near objects becoming less sharply silhouetted against the sky and more distant objects not only losing their sharpness, but seeming almost to dissolve. There was a roaring in my ears, and a strange, terrifying feeling of vastness, of emptiness — I can describe it in no other way — swept over me.
Nothing actually vanished, nothing was gone, but I had the feeling that I was in two places at once — suspended in some vast abyss of emptiness wider than the universe of stars, and still on the beach beneath the wreckage, with Helen Rathbourne, John, and Susan all looking at me in alarm.
They were staring in alarm because I was moving, I felt, in some strange, almost unnatural way, as men and women were not supposed to move. Like some mindless automaton perhaps, a robot shape with no way of preserving its balance because its cybernetic brain had exploded into fragments and it could only stagger about in the grip of an utter mindlessness that was about to cause it to go crashing to the sand.
Then my perceptions steadied a little, and when I looked down over myself I saw that no change had taken place in my physical body at least. But I had swung about and was walking toward the surf line.
Nearer and nearer I came to it, and suddenly I was not alone. John had gotten to his feet, and both children were pursuing me across the sand. Their mother was following them, frantic with concern, but unable to catch up with them because they, were running so fast to join me before I started wading out into the waves that were cresting into foam a few feet from shore.
The instant they reached my side, my hand went out toward Susan and her small trembling fingers crept between mine. I could not give John my other hand, but he was not in need of support. He had become his sturdy young self again and was striding along very rapidly at my side. The water was swirling about my ankles, and Susan was stumbling a little because it had risen to her knees when I spoke the words that had not even formed in my mind, in a voice that I did not recognize as my own:
“The Deep Ones await their followers, and we must not fail to be present at the Great Awakening. It is written that all shall arise and join. We who carry the emblem and those who have looked upon it. From the ends of the earth the summons, the call has come and we must not delay.
“In watery R’lyeh Great Cthulhu is stirring. Shub-Niggurath! Yog-Sothoth! Ia! The Goat with a Thousand Young!”
“He will be all right now,” the young resident physician was saying. “I am sure he will be all right. It was your son who deserves all of the credit by prying that lost amulet from his hand just as he was about to go under, after lifting your daughter above the waves.”
I could hear the voices clearly, although my head was still in a whirl. The crisp white hospital sheets had been so stiffly starched that they cut into the flesh of my throat when I tried to raise my head. So I gave up trying, and went on listening instead.
“It’s strange,” came in a voice I would have recognized if nothing had been left of me but a hollow shell, on the darkest of days, “how quickly children can become attached to a total stranger. Susan risked her life to save him, and so did my son. When he took that hideous thing from my son’s hand and I saw it, I thought I was going to faint. I can’t begin to tell you how unnerving it was.”
“He didn’t know about—”
“How it came to be there? Apparently not. He just arrived at the inn this morning. Since it happened two weeks ago everyone had stopped talking about it. It was so horrible a thing that it doesn’t surprise me in the least.”
“The man was a member of an esoteric cult, I understand. A halfcrazed, uncouth fellow with a waist-length beard. There were eight or ten of them roaming about here at one time, but now they have all disappeared. After what happened, it’s not in the least surprising, as you say.”
“I can’t bear to think about it, even now. His body was dismembered, and horribly mangled. One of his legs was missing. He was found right where my son picked up the amulet, so it must have belonged to him. Of course everyone has a ready explanation for such horrors. Sheriff Wilcox believes that where the channel widens out by that demolished breakwater there is sufficient depth of water to provide a kind of swimming pool for a shark. And if he had stumbled and fallen—”
“Do you think he did?”
“You either have to believe that, or that he went down deliberately into the water. Are you familiar with the writings of H. P. Lovecraft? He was a genius, of a sort. He resided in Providence until his death in 1937.”
“Yes, I’ve read a few of his stories.”
“Those bearded, uncouth cult members you mention must have read them all. Perhaps that’s why they’ve disappeared. Perhaps they made the mistake of taking Lovecraft’s stories a little too seriously.”
“You can’t really believe that.”
“I don’t quite know what I believe. Just suppose — Lovecraft didn’t put everything he knew or suspected into his stories. That would have left a quite wide margin for future exploration.”
“Ah, yes,” the resident physician said. “That’s what he claimed before I gave him that second seconal injection. I’m sure he’ll feel quite differently about all of this when he wakes up.”
“I hope he doesn’t feel differently about Susan’s heroic, close to sacrificial act. Love for a total stranger. It’s curious, but do you know — I can understand just why Susan felt that way about him.”
It was what I’d been waiting to hear. I closed my eyes and started humming softly to myself, waiting for the second seconal to work.
But when it drew me down, the seconal felt like water. Something like a shriveled face came floating up from immeasurable distances, and I remembered my own words: “It is written that all shall arise and join — we who carry the emblem and those who have looked upon it…”
The Ocean Leech
I heard Boucke beating with his bare fists upon the cabin door and the wind whistling under the cracks. I objected to both and I opened the door wide. Boucke came in then, with a fierce rush of wind. He was a curious little man, with the sea and sky in his eyes, and he spoke in pantomime. He pointed towards the door and ran his fingers savagely through his reddish hair, and I knew that something had nearly finished him — I mean finished him spiritually, damaged his soul, his outlook.
I didn’t know whether to be pleased or horrified. Boucke seemed more human with his queer, vivid gestures and flaming eyes, but I couldn’t imagine what he had seen up on deck. Of course I found out soon enough.
The men were sitting about in idiotic groups of two and three and no one saluted me when I stepped out from the shadows of twisted cordage into a luminous stripe of moonlight.
“Where’s the boatswain?” I asked.
Several of the men heard my question, but they simply turned and stared at me without replying.
“It took the boatswain!” said Oscar.
Oscar seldom spoke to anyone. He was tall and lean and his jaundiced scalp was fringed with yellow hair. I distinctly recall his dark, hungry eyes and his fringe of hair glistening in the moonlight. But the rest of Oscar I can no longer visualize. He has faded into an indefinite ghost of memory. It is curious, though, how clearly I, remember every other shape and incident of that amazing night.
Oscar was standing by my elbow, and I turned suddenly and gripped his arm. It reassured me to grip his strong, muscular arm. But I knew that I had hurt him, for his shoulder jerked and he looked at me reproachfully. I presume Oscar wanted me to stand upon my own feet. But he made a sweeping motion with his arm to assure me that it didn’t matter. The wind whistled about our ears and the tattered sails flapped and wheezed. Sails can speak, you know. I have heard sails protest in chorus, each sail with a slightly different accent. You get to understand their conversation in time. On still mornings it is wonderful to come up on deck and hear the sails whispering among themselves. They make gestures, too, and when they are tired they sway pathetically against the sky.
I took a turn about the deck and bawled out the men and told them to go to the devil. Then I got my pipe out and blew grotesque yellow effigies into the cold air. They danced in the moonlight and made the situation irredeemable. I came back to Oscar eventually and asked him point-blank what he meant by “it.” But Oscar didn’t answer me. He simply turned, and pointed.
Something white and gelatinous oozed over the rail and ran or slid for several feet along the deck. Then a larger bulk seethed out of the darkness and stood poised above the black stern-post. A second object descended upon the deck, coming down with a thud and running at a tangent with the first over the smooth, polished boards.
I saw two of the men get quickly to their feet and I heard Oscar shout out a curt command.
The thing upon the deck spread out and became broader at its base. It reared into the air a livid appendage encircled with monstrous pink suckers. We could see the suckers loathsomely at work in the moonlight, opening and closing and opening again. We were affected by a queer aromatic stench and we felt an overpowering sense of physical nausea. I saw one of the men reel backward and collapse upon the boards. Then a second idiot keeled over, and a third — a third actually advanced towards the loathsome object on his hands and knees, as if fascinated.
At that moment the moon seemed to draw nearer, to actually careen down the sky and hang above the cordage. Then suddenly the amorphous tentacles shot forward, like released hawsers, and struck against the nearest mast, and I heard a splintering, and a noise like thunder. The arms quivered and seemed to fly in all directions. Then they flopped back over the side.
I fastened my eyes upon our black topsail mast-heads, and questioned Oscar in a very low voice. “Did that take the boatswain?”
Oscar nodded and shuffled his feet. The men on the deck whispered among themselves, and I knew intuitively that a spirit of rebellion was rife among them. And yet even Oscar exonerated me!
“Where would we have been if you hadn’t brought us in here? A-drifting, probably — rudderless and sailless. Our sails may look like the skin on a water-logged corpse, but we can use ‘em — when we can get the masts into shape. The lagoon looked innocent enough, and most of us were for coming in here. But now they whine like yellow puppies — and blame it on you. The idiots! If you just say the word-”
I stopped him, for I didn’t want the men to take his proposal seriously, and he spoke loud enough for them to hear. The men, I felt, were scarcely to blame — under the circumstances!
“How many times has the thing crawled over the side?” I asked.
“Eight times!” said Oscar. “It took the boatswain on the third trip. He shrieked and threw up his arms, and turned yellow! It twined itself about his leg, and set its great pink suckers to work on him; and the rest of us could do nothing — nothing! We tried to get him away, but you cannot imagine the sheer pull of that white arm. It oozed slime all over him, and all over the deck. Then jt flopped back into the water, and carried him with it! I “After that we were more careful. I told the men to go below, but they only glowered at me. The thing fascinates them. They sit there and deliberately wait for it to return. You saw what happened just now. The thing can strike like a cobra, and it sticks closer than a lamprey; but the idiots won’t be warned. And when I think of those quivering pink suckers I feel sorry for them — and for myself! He didn’t utter a sound, you understand, but he turned livid under the gills and his tongue stuck out horribly, and just before he disappeared over the side I noticed that his lips were all black and swollen. But as I told you, he was immersed in yellowish slime, in ooze, and the life must have gone out of him almost at once. I’m sure that he didn’t really suffer. With God’s help, it’s we who have to suffer!”
K “Oscar,” I said, “I want you to be quite frank, and if necessary, even brutal. Do you think that you can explain that thing? I don’t want any wretched theories, Oscar. I want you to fashion a prop for me, Oscar, something for me to lean upon. I’m so very tired, and I haven’t much authority here. Oh, yes, I’m supposed to be in command, but when there is nothing to go upon, Oscar, what can I say to them? How can I get them down into the cabin? I pity them so. What do you think it is, my friend?”
“The thing is obviously a cephalopod,” said Oscar, quite simply, but there was a look of shame and horror in his eyes, which I didn’t like.
“An octopus, Oscar?”
“Perhaps. Or a monstrous squid! Or some hideous unclassified species!”
A fabric of greenish cloud covered the face of the moon, and I saw one of the men crawling on his hands and knees along the deck. Then he gave a sudden, defiant scream, ran to the rail and held out his arms. A white exudation ran the entire length of the rail. It rose up and quivered amidst illimitable shadows, and then it poured in an abominable stream over the scuppers and enveloped the hectic form of the wretch, and it made no sound. The poor fool tried to get away. He screamed, made shocking grimaces, fell down upon the deck and tried to draw himself along by his hands. He pawed at the smooth, slippery surface, but the thing had wound its tentacles about his leg, and it pulled him slowly and hideously.
His head struck against the scuppers, and a crimson stream, no wider than a hawser rope, ran down the deck and formed a miniature pool at Oscar’s feet. A sucker fastened upon his right temple, and another got in under his shirt and set to work upon his bare chest. I tried to get to him, but Oscar held fast to my arm, and would not tell me why. The body became white, slimy, changed before our eyes. And not one man stepped forward to prevent it. Suddenly, while we watched, the dead man, whose eyes had already glazed, was jerked forcefully towards the scuppers, again and again.
But he wouldn’t go through. His head was soon pounded into ah unimaginable resemblance of something we didn’t care to think about, and we became deadly sick. But we watched, strangely fascinated, even perhaps more than a little resentful. We were watching something brutal and incredibly alive, and we beheld it in an unrestrained exercise of all its faculties. There, under a shrouded moon, in the phosphorescent wilderness of exotic waters, we saw the law of man outraged by something mute, misshapen, blasphemous, and we saw industrious retching matter, brainless and self-sufficient, obeying a law older than man, older than morality. Here was life absorbing another life, and doing it forcefully, and without conscience, and becoming stronger and more exultant through the doing of it.
But it couldn’t get the body through the scuppers. It pulled and pulled, and finally let go. The wind had gone down, and oddly enough as it let go and fell back into the dead calm of water, we heard an ominous splash. We rushed forward, and surrounded the body. It seemed to swim in a river of white jelly. Oscar called for something which had become necessary, and we wrapped it up decently and threw it overboard. But Oscar repeated a few words mechanically out of the little black prayer- book, which he imagined were appropriate. I stood and stared at the dark opening in the forecastle.
I don’t know to this day how I got the men through the dark opening. But I did it — with Oscar’s aid. I can see Oscar standing with his glistening head against a voiceless wilderness of stars. I can see him shaking his fists at the slinking cowards on the deck, and shrieking out commands. Or were they insults? I know that I stepped forward and helped him, and I think I must have used my fists, for later on I discovered that my knuckles were bruised and discoloured, and Oscar had to bandage them. It is queer how Oscar has faded in my memory, for I thought a great deal of him, in spite of his queer ways, and his large hungry eyes, and his fringe of yellow hair. He helped me get the men into the forecastle, and so did Boucke. Boucke, with a perfectly horrified face, and with lips quivering and struggling with a vicious inarticulateness!
I We drove them in like sheep, but sheep often rebel and are troublesome. But we got them in, and then we turned and looked back at the gaunt masts, swaying soul-lessly against the lifeless, sombre regularity of calm sea and sky, at the hanging ropes and frizzled sails, and at the long, moon-washed rails, and the encrimsoned scuppers. We heard Boucke inside, blubbering idiotically to the men. Then something made a dreadful gurgling sound in the water, and we heard a loud splash.
“It’s risen again,” said Oscar, in a tone of despair.
* * *
I sat in my cabin, reading a book. Oscar had bandaged up my hands, and left, and he had promised not to disturb me. I endeavoured to follow the little printed signs on the white page before me, but they called up no images, stimulated me to no response. The words did not take shape in my mind, and I did not know whether the stupid phrases that I sought to understand formed part of an essay or a short-story. The title of the book itself I cannot now recall, although I think that it had something to do with ships and the sea, and derelicts, and the pitfalls of overimaginative skippers. I fancied that I could hear the water lapping against the side of the ship, and now and then a great splash.
But I knew that a portion of my brain hotly repudiated both the lapping and the splash, and I assured myself that the nervous excitement under which I laboured was but physical and momentary, and in no sense psychical or due to outside causes. My senses had been appalled, and I now suffered a natural reaction from the shock; but no new danger threatened me.
Something pounded upon the door. I got quickly to my feet, and it did not occur to me at that moment that Oscar had promised that no one should disturb me.
“What is it you want?” I asked.
There was no direct or satisfactory answer, but a queer gurgling noise came to me through the door, and I fancied that I could hear a quick intake of breath. A horrible, intense fear took grim possession of me.
I looked at the door in white horror. It shook like broadyards in a gale. It bent inward under a terrific impact.
Thud followed thud, as if some monstrous body had hurled itself forward only to withdraw and to come back with additional momentum. I quelled an impulse to cry out, and I opened my mouth and shut it, and opened it again. I ran forward to assure myself that I had really bolted the door. I fingered the bolt caressingly, and then I retreated until my back was against an opposite beam.
The door bulged inward hideously, and immediately afterward there followed a great crash, and a splintering and a sundering of wood and a retching of hinges. The door gave, fell inward and was lifted up on the back of something white and unspeakable. Then the panel was hurled violently against the wall, and the thing under it rolled forward, with terrible and increasing velocity. It was a long, gelatinous arm, an amorphous tentacle with pink suckers that slid or oozed towards me across the smooth floor.
I stood with my back pressed against the beam, with only my harsh, stertorous breathing to keep it at bay. I could see that it did not fear me, that arm, and I could do nothing. It was long and white and it slid towards me. Can I make you understand? And Oscar had bandaged my hands, and they were but feeble fumbling instruments. And that thing was utterly intent upon its purpose, and it did not need eyes to guide it across the floor.
I. An ungodly, aromatic odour had entered the cabin with the thing, and it over-powered me almost before the tentacles seized upon me. I endeavoured to slough off the great, loathsome folds with my bandaged hands, but my crippled fingers sank into the jelly-like tissue as in soft mud. It was palpitating, living tissue, but it seemed to lack substantial body, and it gave horribly. It gave! My hands went right through it, and yet when it gripped me it was elastic and it could tighten its grip. It strangled me. I felt that I could not breathe. I bent and twisted but it had wound itself about me, and it held me, and I could do nothing.
I remember that I called for Oscar. I shouted myself hoarse, and then I think I was dragged ruthlessly across the floor, through the smashed-in door, and up the stairs. I remember now how my head pounded upon the stairs as we ascended, I and the thing, and I think that my scalp bled, and I know that I lost three teeth. I received dreadful blows, cuffs, from the comers of stairs, from the edges of doors, and from the smooth, hard boards of the deck itself.
The thing dragged me out across the deck, and I remember that I saw the moon through folds upon folds of obscenely bloating jelly. I was buried deep down within fatty, obscure folds that shivered and shook and palpitated in the moonlight.
I no longer felt any desire to protest or to cry out, and the thought of Oscar and a possible rescue did not fill me with elation. I began to experience sensations of pleasure. How am I to describe them? A peculiar warmth pulsed through me; my limbs quivered with a weird expectancy. I saw through the folds of animated jelly a great reddish sucker, or disk, lined with silver teeth. I saw it descend rapidly through the folds. It fastened upon my chest, and a momentary revulsion made me claw ludicrously at the nauseous tissues surrounding me. There was a kind of cruelty in the refusal of the flimsy stuff to offer any resistance. One could go on that way for ever, clawing and tearing at the fatty folds, and feeling them give, and yet knowing that nothing could possibly come of it. For one thing, it was utterly impossible to get a hold on the stuff, to get it between your hands and squeeze it. It simply flipped away from you and then it rushed back and solidified. It could condense and dilate at will.
My feeling of horror and antipathy disappeared, and a new tide of exaltation, of warmth, of vigour, surged over me. I could have wept or screamed with ecstasy.
I knew that the monster was actually drawing up my blood through its fumbling, convulsive suckers. I knew that in a moment I should be drained as dry as a grilled carbonado, but I actually welcomed my inevitable dissolution. I made no effort to conceal my glee. I was frankly hilarious, although it seemed unjust to me that Oscar should have to explain to the men. Poor Oscar! He tied up the loosened ends of things, smoothed over vulgar and disagreeable realities, made the raw, ungarnished facts almost acceptable, almost romantic. He was a precious stoic, and gloriously self-reliant. That I knew, and I pitied him. I distinctly recalled my last conversation with him. He was slouching along the docks, with his hands in his pockets, and a cigarette between his teeth. “Oscar,” I said, “I didn’t really suffer when that thing fastened upon me! I didn’t, really. I enjoyed it!” He scowled, and scratched his ridiculous fringe of hair. “Then I saved you from yourself!” he cried. His eyes blazed, and I saw that he wanted to knock me down. That was the last I saw of Oscar. He faded into the shadows after that, but had I kept him with me I might have been wiser.
That jelly about me seemed to increase in volume. It must have been three feet thick about my head, and I am sure that I saw the moon and the swaying mastheads through a prism of varying colours. Waves of blue and scarlet and purple would pass before my eyes, and a taste of salt came into my mouth. For a moment I thought, not without a certain resentment and hurt pride, that the thing had really absorbed me, that I was a portion and parcel of that quivering, gelatinous mass — and then I saw Oscar!
I saw him looming above my obscene prison-house with a lighted torch in his hand. The torch, viewed through the magnifying folds of jelly, was a thing of flawless beauty. The flames shot out and appeared to cover the entire deck, and to go flying up against the darkness. The cordage and the luminous rails seemed afire, and a red and ravening serpent lengthened parallel with the scuppers. I saw Oscar clearly, and I saw the great spiral of smoke that streamed from the tails of flame, and I saw the swaying, encrimsoned masts, and the black sinister opening in the forecastle. The darkness seemed to part to let Oscar through with his torch and his stoicism. He swayed in the darkness above me, that silent, quixotic man, and I knew that Oscar could be trusted to put an end to things. I had no clear idea of what Oscar would do, but I knew that he would make some sort of brilliant and satisfying end.
I was not disappointed, and when I saw Oscar bend and touch the folds of jelly with his great, flaming torch I wanted to sing or shout. The folds quivered, and changed colour. A maddening kaleidoscope of colour passed before my eyes — flaming scarlet and yellow and silver and green and gold. The sucker released its hold upon my chest and shot upward through the voluminous folds. A terrific stench assailed my nostrils. The odour was unbearable: I threw out my arms and fought savagely to break through to reach the air and fight and Oscar.
Then I felt the heat of Oscar’s torch upon my cheek, and I knew that the tissue about me was falling away and burning to shreds. I saw that it was dissolving and I felt it hotly trickling down my knees and arms and thighs. I closed my lips tight to keep from swallowing large quantities of the nauseous fluid, and I turned my face to the deck to protect my eyes from the falling fragments of sizzling tissue. The creature was literally being burnt alive, and in my heart of hearts I pitied it!
When Oscar at length helped me to my feet I saw the last of the thing disappear over the side. Its arms were horribly charred and the suckers were gone, and I caught a momentary glimpse of dangling, frayed ends and reddish knobs and bulging protuberances. Then we heard a splash and a queer gurgling sound. We looked at the deck and saw that it was covered with greenish oil, and here and there great solid chunks of burnt tissue swam in the hideous porridge. Oscar bent and picked up one of the fragments. He turned it right side up in his hand, so that the moonlight fell upon it. It contained in its five-inch expanse a four-inch sucker. And the sucker opened and closed while Oscar held the thing in his hand. It fell from Oscar’s hand like a leaden weight and bounded into the air. Oscar kicked it overboard and looked at me. I looked away towards the black topsail mast-head.
The Man with a Thousand Legs
1. Statement of Horace Randall, Psychoanalyst
SOMEONE rapped loudly on the door of my bedroom. It was past midnight but I had been unable to sleep and I welcomed the disturbance.
“Who’s there?” I asked.
“A young man what insists on being admitted, sir,” replied the raucous voice of my housekeeper. “A young man — and very thin and pale he is, sir— what says he’s business what won’t wait. ‘He’s in bed,’ I says, but then he says as how you’re the only doctor what can help him now. He says as how he hasn’t slept or ate for a week, and he ain’t nothing but a boy, sir!”
“Tell him he can come in,” I replied as I slid into my dressing gown and reached for a cigar.
The door opened to admit a thin shaft of light and a young man so incredibly emaciated that I stared at him in horror. He was six feet tall and extremely broad-shouldered, but I don’t think he weighed one hundred pounds. As he approached me he staggered and leaned against the wall for support. His eyes fairly blazed. It was obvious that some tremendous idea swayed him. I gently indicated a chair and he collapsed into it.
For a moment he sat and surveyed me. When I offered him a cigar he brushed it aside with a gesture of contempt.
“Why should I poison my body with such things?” he snapped. “Tobacco is for weaklings and children.”
I studied him curiously. He was apparently an extraordinary young man. His forehead was high and broad, his nose was curved like a scimitar, and his lips were so tightly compressed that only a thin line indicated his mouth.
I waited for him to speak, but silence enveloped him like a rubber jacket. “I shall have to break the ice somehow.” I reflected; and then suddenly I heard myself asking: “You have something to tell me — some confession, perhaps, that you wish to make to me?”
My question aroused him. His shoulders jerked, and he leaned forward, gripping both arms of his chair. “I have been robbed of my birthright,” he said. “I am a man of genius, and once, for a brief moment, I had power— tremendous power. Once I projected my personality before vast multitudes of people, and every word that I uttered increased my fame and flattered my vanity.”
He was trembling and shaking so violently that I was obliged to rise and lay a restraining hand upon his shoulder. “Delusions of magnificence,” I murmured, “undoubtedly induced by a malignant inferiority-complex.”
“It is not that,” he snapped. “I am a poet, an artist, and I have within me a tremendous force that must be expanded. The world has denied me self- expression through legitimate channels and now I am justified in hating the world. Let society beware!”
He threw back his head and laughed. His hilarity seemed to increase the tension that had somehow crept into the room.
“Call me a madman if you will,” he exclaimed, “but I crave power. I can not rest until my name is on a million lips.”
“A conservative course of treatment—” I began.
“I want no treatment,” he shouted, and then, in a less agitated voice, “You would be surprised, perhaps, if I told you my name!”
“What is your name?” I asked.
“Arthur St. Amand,” he replied, and stood up.
I was so astonished that I dropped my cigar. I may even add that I was momentarily awed. Arthur St. Amand!
“Arthur St. Amand,” he repeated. “You are naturally amazed to discover that the pale, harassed and half-insane youth that you see before you was once called the peer of Newton and Leonardo Da Vinci. You are amazed to discover that the starving lad with an inferiority-complex was once feted, by kings and praised by men whose lightest words will go thundering down Time. It is all so amazing and so uproariously funny, but the tragedy remains. Like Dr. Faustus I once looked upon the face of God, and now I’m less than any schoolboy.”
“You are still very young,” I gasped. “You can’t be more than twenty-four.” “I am twenty-three,” he said. “It was precisely three years ago that I published my brochure on etheric vibrations. For six months I lived in a blaze of glory. I was the marvelous boy of the scientific world, and then that
Frenchman advanced his theory ”
“I suppose you mean Monsieur Paul Rondoli,” I interrupted. “I recall the sensation his startling refutation made at the time. He Completely eclipsed you in the popular mind, and later the scientific world declared you a fraud. Your star set very suddenly.”
“But it will rise again,” exclaimed my young visitor. “The world will discuss me again, and this time I shall not be forgotten. I shall prove my theory. I shall demonstrate that the effect of etheric vibration on single cells is to change'—to change—.” He hesitated and then suddenly shouted, “But no, I shall not tell you. I shall tell no one. I came here tonight to unburden my mind to you. At first I thought of going to a priest. It is necessary that I should confess to someone.
“When my thoughts are driven in upon themselves they become monstrous. I have an active and terrible brain, and I must speak out occasionally. I chose you because you are a man of intelligence and discrimination and you have heard many confessions. But I shall not discuss etheric vibrations with you. When you see it you will understand.”
He turned abruptly and walked out of the room and out of my house without once looking back. I never saw him again.
2. Diary of Thomas Shiel, Novelist and Short-Story Writer
]uly 21. This is my fourth day at the beach. I’ve already gained three pounds, and I’m so sunbaked that I frightened a little girl when I went swimming this morning. She was building sand castles and when she saw me she dropped her shovel and ran shrieking t6 her mother. “Horrible black man!” she shouted. I’suppose she thought I was a genie out of the Arabian Nights. It’s pleasant here — I’ve almost got the evil taste of New York out of my mouth. Elsie’s coming down for the week-end.
July 22. The little girl I frightened yesterday has disappeared. The police are searching for her and it is generally believed that she has been kidnaped. The unfortunate occurrence has depressed everyone at the beach. All bathing parties have been abandoned, and even the children sit about sad-eyed and dejected. No footprints were found on the sands near the spot where the child was last seen…
July 23. Another child has disappeared, and this time the abductor left a clue. A young man’s walking stick and hat were found near the scene of a violent struggle. The sand for yards around was stained with blood. Several mothers left the New Beach Hotel this morning with their children.
July 24. Elsie came this morning. A new crime occurred at the very moment of her arrival, and I scarcely had the heart to explain the situation to her. My paleness evidently frightened her. “What is the matter?” she asked "you look ill.’ “I am ill,” I replied. “I saw something dreadful on the beach this morning.” “Good heavens!” she exclaimed; “have they found one of the children?” It was a great relief to me that she had read about the children in the New York papers. “No,” I said. “They didn’t find the children, but they found the body of a man and he- didn’t have a drop of blood in him. He had been drained dry. And all about his body the investigators found curious little mounds of yellowish slime — of ooze. When the sunlight struck this substance it glittered.” “Has it been examined under a microscope?” asked Elsie. “They are examining it now,” I explained. “We shall know the results by this evening.” “God pity us all,” said Elsie, and she staggered and nearly fell. I was obliged to support her as we entered the hotel.
July 25. Two curious developments. The chemist who examined the jellyfish substance found near the body on the beach declares that it is living protoplasm, and he has sent it to the Department of Health for classification by one of their expert-biologists. And a deep pool some eight yards in diameter has been discovered in a rock fissure about a mile from the New Beach Hotel, which evidently harbors some queer denizens. The water in this pool is as black as ink and strongly saline. The pool is eight or ten feet from the ocean, but it is affected by the tides and descends a foot every night and morning. This morning one of the guests of the hotel, a young lady named Clara Phillips, had come upon the pool quite by accident, and being fascinated by its sinister appearance had decided to sketch it. She had seated herself on the rim of the rock fissure and was in the act of sketching in several large boulders and a strip of beach when something made a curious noise beneath her. “Gulp,” it said. “Gulp!” She gave a little cry and jumped up just in time to escape a long golden tentacle which slithered toward her over the rocks. The tentacle protruded from the very center of the pool, out of the black water, and it filled her with unutterable loathing. She stepped quickly forward and stamped upon it, and her attack was so sudden that the thing was unable to flip away from her and escape back into the water. And Miss Phillips was an amazingly strong young woman. She ground the end of the tentacle into a bloody pulp with her heel. Then she turned and ran. She ran as she had not run since her “prep” school days. But as she raced across the soft beach she fancied she could hear a monstrous, lumbering something pursuing her. It is to her credit that she did not look back.
And this is the story of little Harry Doty. I offered him a beautiful new dime, but he told it to me gratis. I give it in his own words.
“Yes sir, I’ve always knowed about that pool. I used to fish for crabs and sea-cucumbers and big, purple anemones in it, sir. But up until last week I allus knowed what I’d bring up. Onct or twice I used to get somethin’ a bit out o’ the ordinary, such as a bleedin'-tooth shell or a headless worm with green suckers in its tail and lookin’ like the devil on a Sunday outin’ or a knowin’-lookin’ skate what ud glare and glare at me, sir. But never nothin’ like this thing, sir. I caught it on the top o’ its head and it had the most human-lookin’ eyes I ever saw. They were blue and soulless, sir. It spat at me, and I throws down my line and beats it. I beats it, sir. Then I hears it come lumbering after me over the beach. It made a funny gulpin’ noise as if it was a-lickin’ its chops.”
July 26. Elsie and I are leaving tomorrow. I’m on the verge of a lethal collapse. Elsie stutters whenever she tries to talk. I don’t blame her for stuttering but I can’t understand why she wants to talk at all after what we’ve seen… There are some things that can only be expressed by silence.
The local chemist got a report — this morning from the Board of Health. The stuff found on the beach consisted of hundreds of cells very much like the cells that compose the human body. And yet they weren’t human cells. The biologists were completely mystified by ' them, and a small culture is now on its way to Washington, and another is being sent to the American Museum of Natural History.
This morning the local authorities investigated the curious black pool in the rocks. Elsie and I and most of the other vacationists were on hand to watch operations. Thomas Wilshire, a member of the New Jersey constabulary, threw a plummet line into the pool and we all watched it eagerly as it paid out. “A hundred feet,” murmured Elsie as the police looked at one another in amazement. “It probably went into the sea,” someone exclaimed. “I don’t think the pool itself is that deep.” Thomas Wilshire shook his head. “There’s queer things in that pool,” he said. “I don’t like the looks of it.” The diver was a bristling, brave little man with some obscure nervous affliction that made him tremble violently. “You’ll have to go down at once,” said Wilshire. The diver shook his head and shuffled his feet.
“Get him into his suit, boys!” ordered Wilshire, and the poor wretch was lifted bodily upon strong shoulders and transformed into a loathsome, goggle- eyed monster.
In a moment he had advanced to the pool and vanished into its sinister black depths. Two men worked valiantly at the pumps, while Wilshire nodded sleepily and scratched his chin. “I wonder what he’ll find,” he mused. “Personally, I don’t think he’s got much chance of ever coming up. I wouldn’t be in his shoes for all the money in the United States mint.”
After several minutes the rubber tubing began to jerk violently. “The poor lad!” muttered Wilshire. “I knew he didn’t have a chance. Pull, boys, pull!” The tubing was rapidly pulled in. There was nothing attached to it, but the lower portion was covered with glittering golden slime. Wilshire picked up the severed end and examined it casually. “Neatly clipped,” he said. “The poor devil!”
The rest of us looked at one another in horror. Elsie grew so pale that I thought she was about to faint. Wilshire was speaking again: “We’ve made one momentous discovery,” he said. We crammed eagerly forward. Wilshire paused for the fraction of a second, and a faint smile of triumph curled his lips. “There’s something in that pool,” he finished. “Our friend’s life has not been given in vain.”
I had an absurd desire to punch his fat, triumphant face, and might have done so, but a scream from the others quelled the impulse.
“Look,” cried Elsie. She was pointing at the black surface of the pool. It was changing color. Slowly it was assuming a reddish hue; and then a hellish something shot up and bobbed for a moment on its surface. “A human arm!” groaned Elsie and hid her face in her hands. Wilshire whistled softly. Two more objects joined the first and then something round which made Elsie stare,and stare through the spaces between her fingers.
“Come away!” I commanded. “Come away at once.” I seized her by the arm and was in the act of forcefully leading her from the edge of that dreadful charnel, for charnel it had become, when I was arrested by a shout from Wilshire.
“Look at it! Look at it!” he yelled. “That’s the horrid thing. God, it isn’t human!”
We both turned back and stared. There are blasphemies of creation that can not be' described, and the thing which rose up to claim the escaping fragments of its dismantled prey was of that order. I remember vaguely, as in a nightmare of Tartarus, that it had long golden arms which shone and sparkled in the sunlight, and a monstrous curved beak below two piercing black eyes in which I saw nothing but unutterable malice.
The idea of standing there and watching it munch the fragmentary remains of the poor little diver was intolerable to me, and in spite of the loud protests of Wilshire, who wanted us, I suppose, to try and do something about it, I turned and ran, literally dragging Elsie with me. This was, as it turned out, the wisest thing that I could have done, because the thing later emerged from the pool and nearly got several of the vacationists. Wilshire fired at it twice with a pistol, but the thing flopped back into the water apparently unharmed and submerged triumphantly.
3. Statement of Henry Greb, Prescription Druggist
I usually shut up shop at 10 o’clock, but at closing time, that evening I was leaning over the counter reading a ghost story, and it was so extremely interesting that I couldn’t walk out on it. My nose was very close to the page and I didn’t notice anything that was going on about me when suddenly I happened to look up and there he was standing and watching me.
I’ve seen some pale people in my time (most people that come with prescriptions are pale) and I've seen some skinny people, but I never have seen anyone as thin and pale as the young man that stood before me.
“Good heavens!” I said, and shut the book.
The young man’s lips were twisted into a sickly smile. “Sorry to bother you,” he says. “But I’m in a bad way. I’m in desperate need of medical attention!”
“What can I do to. help you?” I says.
He looks at me very solemnly, as if he were making up his mind whether he could trust me. “This is really a case for a physician,” he says.
“It’s against the law for us to handle such cases,” I told him.
Suddenly he held out his hand. I gasped. The fingers were smashed into a bloody pulp, and blood was running down his wrist. “Do something to stop the bleeding,” he says. “I’ll see a physician later.”
Well, I got out some gauze and bound the hand up as best I could. “See a doctor at once,” I told him. “Blood-poisoning will set in if you’re not careful. Luckily, none of the-bones are fractured.”
He nodded, and for a moment his eyes flashed. “Damn that woman!” he muttered. “Damn her!”
“What’s that?” I asked, but he had got himself together again and merely smiled. “I’m all upset,” he said. “Didn’t know just what I was saying — you must pardon me. By the way, I’ve got a little gash on my scalp which you might look at.”
He removed his cap and I noticed that his hair was dripping wet. He parted it with his hand and revealed a nasty abrasion about an inch wide. I examined it carefully.
“Your friend wasn’t very careful when he cast that plug,” I says at length. “I never believe in fly-fishing when there’s two in the boat. A friend of mine lost an eye that way.”
“It was made by a fish-hook,” he confessed. “You’re something of a Sherlock Holmes, aren’t you?”
I brushed aside his compliment with a careless gesture and turned for the bottle of carbolic acid which rested on the shelf behind me. It was then that I heard something between a growl and a gulp from the young man.
I wheeled abruptly, and.caught him in the act of springing upon me. He was foaming at the mouth and his eyes bulged. I reached forward and seized him by the shoulders and in a moment we were engaged in a desperate struggle upon the floor. He bit and scratched and kicked at me; and I was obliged to silence him by pummeling his face. It was at that moment that I noticed a peculiar fishy odor in the room, as if a breeze from the sea hSTd entered through the open door.
For several moments I struggled and fought and strained and then something seemed to give suddenly beneath me. The young man slipped from my grasp and made for the door. I endeavored to follow, but I stumbled over something slippery and fell flat upon my face.
When I got up, the young man was gone, and in my hand I held something so weird that I could scarcely believe that it was real, and later I flung it from me with a cry of disgust. It was a reddish, rubbery substance about five inches long, and its under edge was lined with little golden suckers that opened and closed while I stared at them.
I was still laboring under a fearful strain when Harry Morton entered the shop. He was trembling violently, and I noticed that he gazed fearfully behind him as he approached the counter.
“What’s the best thing you have for highfalutin-acting nerves?” he asks.
“Bromides,” I says. “I can mix you some. But what’s the trouble with your nerves, Harry?”
“Hallucinations,” he groans. “Them, and other things.”
“Tell me about it,” I says.
“I was leanin’ ’gainst a lamppost,” he says, “and-1 sees a big lumbering yellowish thing walkin’ along the street like a man. It wasn’t natural, Henry. I’m not superstitious, but that there thing wasn’t natural. And then it flops into the gutter and runs like a streak of lightnin’. It made a funny noise, too. It said ‘Gulp.’ ”
I mixed the bromides and handed him the glass over the counter. “I understand, Harry,” I says. “But don’t go about blowing your head off. No one would believe you.”
4. Statement of Helen Bowan
I was sitting on the porch knitting when a young man with a bag stops in front of the house and looks up at me. “Good morning, madam,” he says, “have you a room with bath?”
“Look at the sign, young man,” I says to him. “I’ve a nice light room on the second floor that should just suit you.”
Up he comes and smiles at me. But as soon as I saw him close I didn’t like him. He was so terribly thin, and his hand was bandaged, and he looked as if he had been in a fight.
“How much do you want for the room?” he asks.
“Twelve dollars,” I told him. I wanted to get rid of him and I thought the.high rate would scare him off, but his hand goes suddenly into his pocket and he brings out a roll of bills, and begins counting them. I gets up very quickly and bows politely to him and takes his grip away from him, and rushes into the hall with it. I didn’t want to lose a prospect like that. Cousin Hiram has a game which he plays with shells, and I knew that the young man would be Cousin Hiram’s oyster.
I takes him upstairs and shows him the room and he; seems quite pleased with it. But when he sees the bathtub he begins jumping up and down like a schoolboy, and clapping his hands and acting so odd that I begins to suspect that he is going out of his mind. “It’s just the right size!” he shouts. “I hope you won’t mind my keeping it filled all day. I bathe quite often. But I must have some salt to put into it. I can’t bathe in fresh water!”
“He’s certainly a queer one,” I thought, “but I ain’t complaining. It isn’t often, Hiram and I land a fish as rich as this one.”
Finally he calms down and pushes me out of the room. “Everything’s all right,” he says. “But I don’t want to be disturbed. When you get the salt, put it down in the hall and knock on the door. Under no circumstances must anyone enter this room.”
He closed the door in my face and I heard the key grate in the lock. I didn’t like it, and I didn’t like the sounds that began to come from behind that door. First I heard a great sigh as if somehow he had got something disagreeable of? his chest, and then I heard a funny gulping sound that I didn’t like. He didn’t waste any time in turning on the water either. I heard a great splashing and wallowing, and then, after about fifteen minutes, everything became as quiet as death.
We didn’t hear anything more from him until that evening, when I sent Lizzie up with the salt. At first she tried the door, but it was locked, and she was obliged to put the bag down in the hall. But she didn’t go away. She squeezed up close against the wall and waited. After about ten minutes the door opened slowly and a long, thin arm shot out and took in the bag. Lizzie said that the arm was yellow and dripping wet, and the thinnest arm she had ever seen. “But he’s a thin young man, Lizzie,” I explains to her. “That may be,” she says, “but I never saw a human being with an arm like that before!”
Later, along about 10 o’clock I should say, I was sitting in the parlor sewing when I felt something wet land on my hand. I looked up and the ceiling was dripping red. I mean just what I say. The ceiling was all moist and dripping red.
I jumped up and ran out into the hall. I wanted to scream, but I bit my lips until the blood begins running down my chin and that makes me sober and determined. “That young man must go,” I says to myself. “I can’t have anything that isn’t proper going on in this house.”
I climbs the stairs looking as grim as death and pounds on the young man’s door. “I won’t stand for whatever’s going on in there!” I shouted. “Open that door.”
I heard something flopping about inside, and then the young man speaking to himself in a very low voice. “Its demands are insatiable. The vile, hungry beast! Why doesn’t it think of something besides its stomach? I didn’t want it to come then. But it doesn’t need the ray now. When its appetite is aroused it changes without the ray. God, but I had a hard time getting back! Longer and longer between!”
Suddenly he seemed to hear the pounding. 'His queer chattering stops and I hear the key turn in the lock. The door opens ever so slightly and his face looks out at me. He is horrible to look at. His cheeks are sunken and there are big horrid rings under his eyes. There is a bandage tied about his head.
“I want you to leave at once,” I tells him. “There’s queer things going on here and I can’t stand for queer things. You’ve got to leave.”
He sighed and nodded. “It’s just as well perhaps,” he says. “I was thinking of going anyway. There are rats here.”
‘Rats!’ I gasped. But I wasn’t really surprised. I knew there were rats in the house. They made life miserable for me. I was never able to get rid of them. Even the cats feared them.
“I can’t stand rats,” he continues. “I’m packing up — clearing out now.” He shuts the door in my face and I hears him throwing his things into a bag. Then the door opens again and he comes out on the landing. He is terribly pale, and he leans against the wall to catch himself, and then he starts descending the stairs.
I watches him as he goes down, and when he reaches the first landing he staggers and leans against the wall. Then he seems to grow shorter and he goes down the last flight three steps at a time. Then he makes a running leap toward the door. I never saw anyone get through a door so quick, and I begins to suspect that he’s done something that he’s ashamed of.
So I turns about and goes into the room. When I looks at the floor I nearly faints. It’s all slippery and wet, and seven dead rats are lying on their backs in the center of the room. And they are the palest-looking rats I’ve ever seen. Their noses and tails are pure white and they looks as if they didn’t have a drop of blood in them. And then I goes into the alcove and looks at the bathtub. I won’t tell you what I see there. But you remember what I says about the ceiling downstairs? I says it was dripping red, and the alcove wasn’t so very different.
I gets out of that room as quick as I can, and I shuts and locks the door; and then I goes downstairs and telephones to Cousin Hiram. “Come right over, Hiram,” I says. “Something^ terrible has been here!”
5. Statement of Walter Noyes, Lighthouse Keeper
I was pretty well done up. I’d been polishing the lamps all afternoon, and there were calluses on my hands as big as hen’s eggs. I went up into the tower and shut myself in and got out a book that I’d been reading off and on for a week. It was a translation of the Arabian Nights- by a fellow named Lang. Imaginative stuff like that is a great comfort to a chap when he’s shut up by himself away off on the rim of the world, and I always enjoyed reading about Schemselnihar and Deryabar and the young King of the Black Isles.
I was reading the first part of The King of the Black Isles and had reached the sentence: “And then the youth drew away his robe and the Sultan perceived with horror that he was a man only to his waist, and from thence to his feet he had been changed into marble,” when I happened to look toward the window.
An icy south wind was driving the rain furiously against the panes, and at first I saw nothing but a translucent glitter on the wet glass and vaguely beyond that the gleaming turmoil of dark, enormous waves. Then a dazzling and indescribable shape flattened itself against the window and blotted out the black sea and sky. I gasped and jumped up.
“A monstrous squid!” I muttered. “The storm must have blown it ashore. That tentacle will smash the glass if I don’t do something.”
I reached for my slicker and hat and in a moment I was descending the spiral stairway three steps at a time. Before emerging into the storm I armed myself with a revolver and the contents of a tumbler of strong Jamaica rum.
I paused for a moment in the doorway and stared about me. But from where I stood I could see nothing but the tall gray boulders fringing the southern extremity of the island and a stretch of heaving and rolling water. The rain beat against my face and nearly blinded me, and a deep murmur arose from the intolerable wash of the waves. Before me lay only a furious and tortured immensity; behind my back was the warmth and security of my miniature castle, a mellow pipe and a book of valiant stories — but I couldn’t ignore the menace of the loathsome shape that had pressed itself against the glass.
I descended three short steps to the rocks and made my way rapidly toward the rear of the lighthouse. Drops of rain more acrid than tears ran down my cheeks and into my mouth and dripped from the corners of my mustache. The overpowering darkness clung like a leech to my clothes. I hadn’t gone twenty paces before I came upon a motionless figure.
At first I saw nothing but the head and shoulders of a well-shaped man; but as I drew cautiously nearer I collided with something that made me cry out in terror. A hideous tentacle shot out and wound itself about my leg.
With a startled cry I turned and attempted to run. But out of the macrocarpus darkness leaped another slimy arm, and another. My fingers tightened on the revolver in my pocket. I whipped it out and opened fire on the writhing brutes.
The report of my gun echoed from the surrounding boulders. A sudden, shrill scream of agony broke the comparative quiet that followed. Then there came a voluble, passionate pleading. “Don’t shoot again! Please don’t! I’m done up. I was done up when I came here, and I wanted help! I didn’t intend to harm you. Before God, I didn’t intend that they should attack you. But I can’t control ’em now. They’re too much for me. It’s too much for me. Pity me’!”
For a moment I was too dazed to think. I stared stupidly at the smoking revolver in my hand and then my eyes sought the cataclysmic ocean. The enormous waves calmed me. Slowly I brought my eyes to bear on the thing before me.
But even as I stared at it my brain reeled again, and a deadly nausea came upon me.
“And then the youth drew away his robe and the Sultan perceived that he was a man only to his waist…”
Several feet from where I stood, a monstrous jelly spread itself loathsomely over the dripping rocks, and from its veined central mass a thousand tentacles depended and writhed like the serpents on the head of Medusa. And growing from the middle of this obscenity was the torso and head of a naked young man. His hair was matted and covered with sea-weed; and there were bloodstains upon his high, white forehead. His nose was so sharp that it reminded me of a sword and I momentarily expected to see it glitter in the dim, mysterious light. His teeth chattered so loudly that I could hear them from where I stood; and as I stared and stared at him he coughed violently and foamed at the lips.
“Whisky!” he muttered. “I’m all done up! I ran into a ship!”
I was unable to speak, but I believe I made some strange noises in my throat. The young man nodded hysterically.
“I knew you’d understand,” he muttered. “I’m up against it, but I knew you’d help me pull through. A glass of whisky ”
“How did that thing get you?” I shrieked. I had found my voice at last, and was determined to fight my way back to sanity. “How did that thing get its loathsome coils on you?”
“It didn’t get me,” groaned the young man. “I’m It!”
“A part of It," replied the young man.
“Isn’t that thing swallowing you?” I screamed at him. “Aren’t you going down into its belly at this moment?”
The young man sadly shook his head. “It’s part of me,” he said again, and then, more wildly, “I must have something to brace me up! I’m all in. I was swimming on the surface, and a ship came and cut off six of my legs. I’m weak from loss of blood, and I can’t stand.”
A lean hand went up and brushed the water from battered eyes. “A few of ’em are still lively,” he said, “and I can’t control ’em. They nearly got you — but the others are all in. I can’t walk on ’em.”
With as much boldness as I could muster I raised my revolver and advanced upon the thing. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I cried. “But I’m going to blow this monster to atoms.”
“For heaven’s sake don’t!” he shrieked. “That would be murder. We’re a human being.”
A flash of scarlet fire answered him. Almost unconsciously I had pressed upon the trigger, and now my weapon was speaking again. “I’ll blow it to tatters!” I muttered between my teeth. “The vile, crawling devil!”
“Don’t! don’t!” shrieked the young man, and then an unearthly yell made the night obscene. I saw the thing before me quiver in all its folds, and then it suddenly rose up and towered above me. Blood spurted from its huge, bloated body, and a crimson shower descended upon me. High above me, a hundred feet in the air', I saw the pale, agonized face of the young man. He was screaming blasphemies. He appeared to be walking on stilts. “You can’t kill me,” he yelled. “I’m stronger than I thought. I’ll win out yet.”
I raised my revolver to fire again, but before I could take aim the thing swept by me and plunged into the sea. It was perhaps fortunate for me that I did not attempt to follow it. My knees gave beneath me and I fell flat upon my face. When I came to so far as to be able to speak I found myself between clean white sheets and staring into the puzzled blue eyes of a government inspector.
“You’ve had a nasty time of it, lad,” he said. “We had to give you stimulants. Didja have a shock of a sort?”
“Of a sort, — yes,” I replied. “But it came out of the Arabian Nights.’’
6. The Marvelous Boy
[Curious Manuscript Found in a Bottle]
I was the marvelous boy. My genius amazed the world. A magnificent mind, a sublime destiny! My enemies… combined to ruin me. A punctured balloon…
A little box, and I put a dog under it. He changed… Jelly! Etheric vibrations generate curious changes in living cells… Process starts and nothing can stop it. Growth! Enormous growth! Keeps sending out shoots — legs! arms! Marvelous growth! Human being next. Put a little girl under it. She changed. Beautiful jellyfish! It kept getting larger. Fed it mice. Then I destroyed it.
So interesting. Must try it on myself. I know how to get back. Will-power. A child’s will is too weak, but a man can get back. No actual change in cell- content.
A tremendous experience! I picked out a deep pool where I could hide. Hunger. Saw man on beach.
The police suspect. I must be more careful. Why didn’t I take the body out to sea?
Horrible incident. Young lady artist. I almost caught her, but she stamped on a leg. Smashed it. Horrible pain. I certainly must be more careful.
Great humiliation. Little boy hooked me. But I gave him a scare. The varmint! I glared and glared at him. I tried to catch him, but he ran too fast. I wanted to eat him. He had very red cheeks. I hate women and children.
Of course they suspect. Little boys always babble. I wanted to eat him. But I gave them all a good scare, and I got a man. He came down after me in a diver’s suit, but I got him. I took him — to pieces. I mean that — literally to pieces. Then I let the fragments float up. I wanted to scare them. I think I did. They ran for their lives. The authorities are fools.
I got back. But it wasn’t easy. The thing fought and fought. “I’m master!” I said, and it gulped. It gulped and gulped and gulped; and then I got back. But my hand was smashed and bleeding!
That fool clerk! Why did he take so long? But he didn’t know how hungry his red face made me. The thing came back without the ray. I was standing before the counter and it came back. I sprang at him. I was lucky to get away.
Terrible trouble. I can’t keep it from coming back. I wake up in the night, and find it spread out on the bed and all over the floor. Its arms writhe and writhe. And its demands are insatiable. Every waking moment it demands food. Sometimes it completely absorbs me. But now as I write the upper portion of my body is human.
This afternoon I moved to furnished room near beach. Salt water has become a necessity. Change comes on more rapidly now. I can’t keep it off. My will is powerless. I filled the tub with water and put in some salt. Then I wallowed in it. Great comfort. Great relief. Hunger. Dreadful, insatiable hunger.
I am all beast, all animal. Rats. I have caught six rats. Delicious. Great comfort. But I’ve messed up the room. What if the old idiot downstairs should suspect?
She does suspect. Wants me to get out. I shall get out. There is only one refuge for me now. The sea! I shall go to the sea. I can’t pretend I’m human any longer. I’m all animal, all beast. What a shock I must have given the old hag! I could hear her teeth chattering as she came up the stairs. All I could do to keep from springing at her.
Into the sea at last. Great relief, great joy. Freedom at last!
A ship. I ran head on into it. Six arms gone. Terrible agony. Flopped about for hours.
Land. I climbed over the rocks and collapsed. Then I managed to get back.
Part of me got back. I called for help. A crazy fool came out of the lighthouse and stared at me. Five of my tentacles sprang at him. I couldn’t control them. They, got him about the leg. He lost his head. Got out a revolver and shot at them.
I got them under control. Tremendous effort. Pleaded with him, tried to explain. He would not listen. Shots — many shots. White-hot fire in my body — in my arms and legs. Strength returned to me. I rose up, and went back into the sea. I hate human beings. I am growing larger, and I shall make myself felt in the world.
Arthur St. Amand.
7. The Salmon Fishermen
[Statement of William Gamwell]
There were five of us in the boat: Jimmy Simms, Tom Snodgrass, Harry O’Brien, Bill Samson and myself. “Jimmy,” I said, “we may as well open the lunch. I’m not particularly hungry, but the salmon all have their noses stuck in the mud!”
“They sure ain’t biting,” said Jimmy. “I never seen such a bum run of the lazy critters.”
“Don’t go complaining,” Harry piped up. “We’ve only been here five hours.”
We were drifting toward the east shore and I yelled to Bill to pull on the oars, but he ignored me.
“We’ll drift in with the shipping,” I warned. “By the way, what’s that queer-looking tug with a broken smoke-stack?”
“It came in this morning,” said Jim. “It looks like a rum-runner to me.” “They’re taking an awful risk,” Harry put in. “The revenue cutter’s due by here any minute.”
“There she is now,” said Bill and pointed toward the flats.
Sure enough, there was the government boat, skirting the shore and looking like a lean wasp on the warpath. “She’s heading the tug off as sure as you’re born,” 3aid Bill. “I’ll say we’re in for a hot time!”
“Back water!” I shouted. “Do you want to get between ’em?”
Tom and Bill pulled sturdily on the oars and our boat swung out in the direction of the west shore; and then the current took us and carried us downstream.
A signal flag flashed for a moment on the deck of the cutter. Jimmy translated it to us. “ ‘Stand to, or we’ll fire’,” he exclaimed. “Now let’s see what the tug’s got to say to that!”
The tug apparently decided to ignore the command. It rose on a tremorless swell, and plunged doggedly forward. A vast black column ascended from its broken smoke-stack. “They’re putting on steam!” cried Bill. “But they haven’t a chance in the world.”
“Not a chance,” confirmed Tom. “One broadside will blow ’em to atoms.” Bill stood up and clapped his hands to his ears. The rest of us were nearly deafened by the thunderous report. “What did I tell you?” shouted Tom.
We looked at the tug. The smoke-stack was gone and she was wallowing in a heavy swell. “That was only a single shot across her bows,” said Bill. “But it did a lot of damage. Wait until they open fire with the big guns!” We waited, expecting to see something interesting. But we saw something that nearly frightened us out of our shoes. Between the cutter and the tug a gigantic, yellowish obscenity shot up from the water and towered thirty feet in the air. It thrashed wildly about and made a horrible gulping noise. We could hear the frenzied shrieks of the men on the tug, and from the deck of the cutter someone yelled. “Look at it! Look at it! Oh, my God!” “Mercy in heaven!” groaned Bill.
“We’re in for it!” sobbed Tom.
For a moment the thing simply towered and vibrated between the two boats and then it made for the cutter. It had at least a thousand legs and they waved loathsomely in the sunlight. It had a hooked beak and a great mouth that opened and closed and gulped, and it was larger than a whale. It was horribly, hideously large. It towered to the mounting zenith, and in its mephitic, blasphemous immensity it dwarfed the two boats and all the tangled shipping in the harbor.
“Are we alive?” shrieked Bill. “And is that there shore really Long Island? I don’t believe it. We’re in the Indian Ocean, or the Persian Gulf or the middle of the Hyperborean sea…That there thing is a Jormungandar!”
“What’s a Jormungandar?” yelled Tom. He was at the end of his rope and clutching valiantly at straws.
“Them things what live on the bottom of the arctic seas,” groaned Bill. “They comes up for air once in a hundred years. I’ll take my oath that there thing’s a Jormungandar.”
Jormungandar or not, it was apparent to all of us that the monster meant business. It was bearing down upon the cutter with incredible ferocity. The water boiled and bubbled in its wake. On the other boats men rushed hysterically to the rails and stared with wide eyes.
The officers of the cutter had recovered from their momentary astonishment and were gesticulating furiously and running back and forth on the decks. Three guns were lowered into position and directed at the onrushing horror. A little man with gilt braid on his sleeves danced about absurdly on his toes and shouted out commands at the top of his voice.
“Don’t fire until you can look into his eyes,” he yelled. “We can’t afford to miss him. We’ll give him a broadside he won’t forget.”
“It isn’t human,' sir!” someone yelled. “There never was nothing like it before in this world.”
The men aboard the tug were obviously rejoicing. Caps and pipes ascended into the air and loud shouts of triumph issued from a hundred drunken throats.
“Fire!” shouted the blue-coated midget on the cutter.
“It won’t do ’em no good!” shouted Bill, as the thunder of the guns smote our ears. “It won’t do ’em a bit o’ good.”
As it turned out, Bill was right. The tremendous discharge failed to arrest the progress of the obscene monster.
It rose like a cloud from the Water and flew at the cutter like a flying-fish. Furiously it stretched forth its enormous arms, and embraced the cutter. It wrenched the little vessel from the trough of the wave in which it wal-,lowed and lifted it violently into the air.
Its great golden sides shone like the morning star, but red blood trickled from a gaping hole in its throat. Yet it ignored its wounds. It lifted the small steel ship into the air in its gigantic, weaving arms.
I shall never forget that moment. I have but to shut my eyes and it is before me now. I see again that Brobdingnagian horror from measureless abysses, that twisting, fantastic monstrosity from sinister depths of blackest midnight. And in its colossal arms and legs I see a tiny ship from whose deck a hundred little men fall shrieking and screaming into the black maelstrom beneath its churning maws.
Yards and yards it towered, and its glittering bulk hid the sun. It towered to the zenith and its weaving arms twisted the cutter into a shapeless mass of glistening steel.
“We’re next!” muttered Bill. “There ain’t nothing can save us now. A man ain’t got a chance when he runs head-on against a Jormungandar!” “That ain’t qo Jormungandar,” piped Tom. “It’s a human being what’s been out all night. But I ain’t saying we’re not in for it.”
My other companions fell upon their knees and little Harry O’Brien turned yellow under the gills. But the thing did not attack us. Instead with a heartbreaking scream that seemed outrageously human it sank beneath the waves, carrying with it the flattened, absurd remains of the valiant little cutter and the crushed and battered bodies of innumerable men. And as it sank loathsomely from sight the water about it flattened out into a tremorless plateau and turned the color of blood.
Bill was at the oars now, shouting and cursing to encourage the rest of us. “Pull, boys,” he commanded. “Let’s try to make the south shore before that there fish comes up for breath. There ain’t one of us here what wants to live for the rest of his life on the bottom of the sea. There ain’t one of us here what ud care to have it out with a Jormungandar.”
In a moment we had swung the boat about and were making for the shore.
Men on the other ships were crying and waving to us, but we didn’t stop to hand in any reports. We weren’t thinking of anything but a huge monstrosity that we would see towering and towering into the sky as long as our brains hung together in our foolish little heads.
8. News item in the Long Island Gazette
The body of a young man, about 25 years old, was found this morning on a deserted beach near Northport. The body was horribly emaciated and the coroner, Mr. E. Thomas Bogart, discovered three small wounds on the young man’s thigh. The edges of the wounds were stained as though from gunpowder. The body scarcely weighed one hundred pounds. It is thought that the youth was the victim of foul play and inquiries are being made in the vicinity.
9. The Box of Horror
[Statement of Harry Olson]
I hadn’t had a thing to eat for three days, and I was driven to the cans. Sometimes you find something valuable in the cans and sometimes you don’t; but anyhow, I was working ’em systematically. I had gone up the street and down the street, and hadn’t found a thing for my pains except an old pair of suspenders and a tin of salmon. But when I came to the last house I stopped and stared. Then I stretched out a lean arm and picked up the box. It was a funny-looking box, with queer glass sides and little peek-holes in the side of it, and a metal compartment about three inches square in back of it, and a slide underneath large enough to hold a man’s hand.
I looked up at the windows of the house, but there wasn’t anyone watching me, and so I slipped the box under my coat and made off down the street. “It’s something expensive, you can bet your life on that,” I thought. “Probably some old doctor’s croaked and his widow threw the thing away without consulting anyone… This is a real scientific affair, this is, and I ought to.get a week’s board out of it.”
I wanted to examine the thing better and so I made for a vacant lot where I wouldn’t be interrupted. Once there I sat myself down behind a signboard and took the contraption from under my coat and looked at it.
Well, sir, it interested me. There was a little lever on top of it you pressed and the slide fell down and something clicked in the metal box in back of it, and the thing lighted up.
I realized at once that something was meant to go on the slide. I didn’t know just what, but my curiosity was aroused. “That light isn’t there for nothing,” I thought. “This box means business.”
I began to wonder what would happen if something alive were put on the slide. There was a clump of bushes near where I was sitting and I got up and made for it. It took me some time to get what I was after; but when I caught it I held it firmly between my thumb and forefinger so it couldn’t escape, and then I talked to it. “Grasshopper,” I said. “I haven’t any grudge against you personally, but the scientific mind is no respecter of persons.”
The infernal varmint wriggled and wriggled and covered my thumb with molasses, but I didn’t let up on him. I held him firmly and pushed him onto the slide. Then I turned on the lever and peeped through the holes.
The poor devil squirmed and fluttered for several minutes and then he began to dissolve. He got flabbier and flabbier and soon I could see right through him. When he was nothing but ooze he began to wriggle. I dumped him on the ground and he scurried away faster than a centipede.
“I’m deluding myself,” I thought. “I’m seeing things that never happened.” Then I did a very foolish thing. I thrust my hand into the box and turned on the lever. For several moments nothing happened and then my hand began to get cold. I peeped through the holes and what I saw made me scream and scream and draw my hand out and go running about the lot like a madman. My hand was a mass of writhing, twisting snakes! Leastwise, they looked like snakes at first, but later I saw that they were soft and yellow and rubbery and much worse than snakes.
But even then I didn’t altogether lose my head. Leastwise, I didn’t lose it for long. “This is a sheer hallucination,” I said to myself, “and I’m going to argue myself out of it.”
I sat down on a big boulder and held my hand up and looked at it. It had a thousand fingers and they dripped, but I made myself look at ’em. I did some tall arguing. “Snap out of it,” I said. “You’re imagining things!” I thought the fingers began to shorten and stiffen a little. “You’re imagining all this,” I continued. “It’s the sheerest bunk. That box isn’t anything out of the ordinary!”
Well sir, you may not believe it, but I argued myself back into sanity. I argued my hand back to normal. The wriggling, twisting things got shorter and fatter and joined together and before very long I had a hand with fingers.
Then I stood up and shouted. Luckily no one heard me, and there wasn’t anyone to watch me dancing about on my toes either. When I got out of breath I picked the infernal box up and walked away with it. I made directly for the river. “You’ve had your day,” I said. “You won’t turn any more poor critters into jelly-fish!”
Well sir, I threw the vile thing into the river, but first I smashed it against the planks on the wharf until it looked like nothing on earth under the stars.
And that’s the end of you!” I shouted as it sank. I ought to have got a medal for that, but I ain’t complaining. It isn’t every man has the pleasure of calling himself a disinterested benefactor of humanity.