- Playing with Fire by Arthur Conan Doyle
PLAYING WITH FIRE
I cannot pretend to say what occurred on the 14th of April last at No. 17, Badderly Gardens. Put down in black and white, my surmise might seem too crude, too grotesque, for serious consideration. And yet that something did occur, and that it was of a nature which will leave its mark upon every one of us for the rest of our lives, is as certain as the unanimous testimony of five witnesses can make it. I will not enter into any argument or speculation. I will only give a plain statement, which will be submitted to John Moir, Harvey Deacon, and Mrs. Delamere, and withheld from publication unless they are prepared to corroborate every detail. I cannot obtain the sanction of Paul Le Duc, for he appears to have left the country.
It was John Moir (the well-known senior partner of Moir, Moir, and Sanderson) who had originally turned our attention to occult subjects. He had, like many very hard and practical men of business, a mystic side to his nature, which had led him to the examination, and eventually to the acceptance, of those elusive phenomena which are grouped together with much that is foolish, and much that is fraudulent, under the common heading of spiritualism. His researches, which had begun with an open mind, ended unhappily in 130dogma, and he became as positive and fanatical as any other bigot. He represented in our little group the body of men who have turned these singular phenomena into a new religion.
Mrs. Delamere, our medium, was his sister, the wife of Delamere, the rising sculptor. Our experience had shown us that to work on these subjects without a medium was as futile as for an astronomer to make observations without a telescope. On the other hand, the introduction of a paid medium was hateful to all of us. Was it not obvious that he or she would feel bound to return some result for money received, and that the temptation to fraud would be an overpowering one? No phenomena could be relied upon which were produced at a guinea an hour. But, fortunately, Moir had discovered that his sister was mediumistic—in other words, that she was a battery of that animal magnetic force which is the only form of energy which is subtle enough to be acted upon from the spiritual plane as well as from our own material one. Of course, when I say this, I do not mean to beg the question; but I am simply indicating the theories upon which we were ourselves, rightly or wrongly, explaining what we saw. The lady came, not altogether with the approval of her husband, and though she never gave indications of any very great psychic force, we were able, at least, to obtain those usual phenomena of message-tilting which are at the same time so puerile and so inexplicable. Every Sunday evening we met in Harvey Deacon’s studio at Badderly Gardens, the next house to the corner of Merton Park Road.
Harvey Deacon’s imaginative work in art would 131prepare any one to find that he was an ardent lover of everything which was outré and sensational. A certain picturesqueness in the study of the occult had been the quality which had originally attracted him to it, but his attention was speedily arrested by some of those phenomena to which I have referred, and he was coming rapidly to the conclusion that what he had looked upon as an amusing romance and an after-dinner entertainment was really a very formidable reality. He is a man with a remarkably clear and logical brain—a true descendant of his ancestor, the well-known Scotch professor—and he represented in our small circle the critical element, the man who has no prejudices, is prepared to follow facts as far as he can see them, and refuses to theorize in advance of his data. His caution annoyed Moir as much as the latter’s robust faith amused Deacon, but each in his own way was equally keen upon the matter.
And I? What am I to say that I represented? I was not the devotee. I was not the scientific critic. Perhaps the best that I can claim for myself is that I was the dilettante man about town, anxious to be in the swim of every fresh movement, thankful for any new sensation which would take me out of myself and open up fresh possibilities of existence. I am not an enthusiast myself, but I like the company of those who are. Moir’s talk, which made me feel as if we had a private pass-key through the door of death, filled me with a vague contentment. The soothing atmosphere of the séance with the darkened lights was delightful to me. In a word, the thing amused me, and so I was there.
132It was, as I have said, upon the 14th of April last that the very singular event which I am about to put upon record took place. I was the first of the men to arrive at the studio, but Mrs. Delamere was already there, having had afternoon tea with Mrs. Harvey Deacon. The two ladies and Deacon himself were standing in front of an unfinished picture of his upon the easel. I am not an expert in art, and I have never professed to understand what Harvey Deacon meant by his pictures; but I could see in this instance that it was all very clever and imaginative, fairies and animals and allegorical figures of all sorts. The ladies were loud in their praises, and indeed the colour effect was a remarkable one.
“What do you think of it, Markham?” he asked.
“Well, it’s above me,” said I. “These beasts—what are they?”
“Mythical monsters, imaginary creatures, heraldic emblems—a sort of weird, bizarre procession of them.”
“With a white horse in front!”
“It’s not a horse,” said he, rather testily—which was surprising, for he was a very good-humoured fellow as a rule, and hardly ever took himself seriously.
“What is it, then?”
“Can’t you see the horn in front? It’s a unicorn. I told you they were heraldic beasts. Can’t you recognize one?”
“Very sorry, Deacon,” said I, for he really seemed to be annoyed.
He laughed at his own irritation.
“Excuse me, Markham!” said he; “the fact is 133that I have had an awful job over the beast. All day I have been painting him in and painting him out, and trying to imagine what a real live, ramping unicorn would look like. At last I got him, as I hoped; so when you failed to recognize it, it took me on the raw.”
“Why, of course it’s a unicorn,” said I, for he was evidently depressed at my obtuseness. “I can see the horn quite plainly, but I never saw a unicorn except beside the Royal Arms, and so I never thought of the creature. And these others are griffins and cockatrices, and dragons of sorts?”
“Yes, I had no difficulty with them. It was the unicorn which bothered me. However, there’s an end of it until to-morrow.” He turned the picture round upon the easel, and we all chatted about other subjects.
Moir was late that evening, and when he did arrive he brought with him, rather to our surprise, a small, stout Frenchman, whom he introduced as Monsieur Paul Le Duc. I say to our surprise, for we held a theory that any intrusion into our spiritual circle deranged the conditions, and introduced an element of suspicion. We knew that we could trust each other, but all our results were vitiated by the presence of an outsider. However, Moir soon reconciled us to the innovation. Monsieur Paul Le Duc was a famous student of occultism, a seer, a medium, and a mystic. He was travelling in England with a letter of introduction to Moir from the President of the Parisian brothers of the Rosy Cross. What more natural than that he should bring him to our 134little séance, or that we should feel honoured by his presence?
He was, as I have said, a small, stout man, undistinguished in appearance, with a broad, smooth, clean-shaven face, remarkable only for a pair of large, brown, velvety eyes, staring vaguely out in front of him. He was well dressed, with the manners of a gentleman, and his curious little turns of English speech set the ladies smiling. Mrs. Deacon had a prejudice against our researches and left the room, upon which we lowered the lights, as was our custom, and drew up our chairs to the square mahogany table which stood in the centre of the studio. The light was subdued, but sufficient to allow us to see each other quite plainly. I remember that I could even observe the curious, podgy little square-topped hands which the Frenchman laid upon the table.
“What a fun!” said he. “It is many years since I have sat in this fashion, and it is to me amusing. Madame is medium. Does madame make the trance?”
“Well, hardly that,” said Mrs. Delamere. “But I am always conscious of extreme sleepiness.”
“It is the first stage. Then you encourage it, and there comes the trance. When the trance comes, then out jumps your little spirit and in jumps another little spirit, and so you have direct talking or writing. You leave your machine to be worked by another. Hein? But what have unicorns to do with it?”
Harvey Deacon started in his chair. The Frenchman was moving his head slowly round and staring into the shadows which draped the walls.
135“What a fun!” said he. “Always unicorns. Who has been thinking so hard upon a subject so bizarre?”
“This is wonderful!” cried Deacon. “I have been trying to paint one all day. But how could you know it?”
“You have been thinking of them in this room.”
“But thoughts are things, my friend. When you imagine a thing you make a thing. You did not know it, hein? But I can see your unicorns because it is not only with my eye that I can see.”
“Do you mean to say that I create a thing which has never existed by merely thinking of it?”
“But certainly. It is the fact which lies under all other facts. That is why an evil thought is also a danger.”
“They are, I suppose, upon the astral plane?” said Moir.
“Ah, well, these are but words, my friends. They are there—somewhere—everywhere—I cannot tell myself. I see them. I could not touch them.”
“You could not make us see them.”
“It is to materialize them. Hold! It is an experiment. But the power is wanting. Let us see what power we have, and then arrange what we shall do. May I place you as I should wish?”
“You evidently know a great deal more about it than we do,” said Harvey Deacon; “I wish that you would take complete control.”
“It may be that the conditions are not good. But we will try what we can do. Madame will sit where 136she is, I next, and this gentleman beside me. Meester Moir will sit next to madame, because it is well to have blacks and blondes in turn. So! And now with your permission I will turn the lights all out.”
“What is the advantage of the dark?” I asked.
“Because the force with which we deal is a vibration of ether and so also is light. We have the wires all for ourselves now—hein? You will not be frightened in the darkness, madame? What a fun is such a séance!”
At first the darkness appeared to be absolutely pitchy, but in a few minutes our eyes became so far accustomed to it that we could just make out each other’s presence—very dimly and vaguely, it is true. I could see nothing else in the room—only the black loom of the motionless figures. We were all taking the matter much more seriously than we had ever done before.
“You will place your hands in front. It is hopeless that we touch, since we are so few round so large a table. You will compose yourself, madame, and if sleep should come to you you will not fight against it. And now we sit in silence and we expect——hein?”
So we sat in silence and expected, staring out into the blackness in front of us. A clock ticked in the passage. A dog barked intermittently far away. Once or twice a cab rattled past in the street, and the gleam of its lamps through the chink in the curtains was a cheerful break in that gloomy vigil. I felt those physical symptoms with which previous séances had made me familiar—the coldness of the feet, the tingling 137in the hands, the glow of the palms, the feeling of a cold wind upon the back. Strange little shooting pains came in my forearms, especially as it seemed to me in my left one, which was nearest to our visitor—due no doubt to disturbance of the vascular system, but worthy of some attention all the same. At the same time I was conscious of a strained feeling of expectancy which was almost painful. From the rigid, absolute silence of my companions I gathered that their nerves were as tense as my own.
And then suddenly a sound came out of the darkness—a low, sibilant sound, the quick, thin breathing of a woman. Quicker and thinner yet it came, as between clenched teeth, to end in a loud gasp with a dull rustle of cloth.
“What’s that? Is all right?” someone asked in the darkness.
“Yes, all is right,” said the Frenchman. “It is madame. She is in her trance. Now, gentlemen, if you will wait quiet you will see something, I think, which will interest you much.”
Still the ticking in the hall. Still the breathing, deeper and fuller now, from the medium. Still the occasional flash, more welcome than ever, of the passing lights of the hansoms. What a gap we were bridging, the half-raised veil of the eternal on the one side and the cabs of London on the other. The table was throbbing with a mighty pulse. It swayed steadily, rhythmically, with an easy swooping, scooping motion under our fingers. Sharp little raps and cracks came from its substance, file-firing, volley-firing, the sounds of a fagot burning briskly on a frosty night.
138“There is much power,” said the Frenchman. “See it on the table!”
I had thought it was some delusion of my own, but all could see it now. There was a greenish-yellow phosphorescent light—or I should say a luminous vapour rather than a light—which lay over the surface of the table. It rolled and wreathed and undulated in dim glimmering folds, turning and swirling like clouds of smoke. I could see the white, square-ended hands of the French medium in this baleful light.
“What a fun!” he cried. “It is splendid!”
“Shall we call the alphabet?” asked Moir.
“But no—for we can do much better,” said our visitor. “It is but a clumsy thing to tilt the table for every letter of the alphabet, and with such a medium as madame we should do better than that.”
“Yes, you will do better,” said a voice.
“Who was that? Who spoke? Was that you, Markham?”
“No, I did not speak.”
“It was madame who spoke.”
“But it was not her voice.”
“Is that you, Mrs. Delamere?”
“It is not the medium, but it is the power which uses the organs of the medium,” said the strange, deep voice.
“Where is Mrs. Delamere? It will not hurt her, I trust.”
“The medium is happy in another plane of existence. She has taken my place, as I have taken hers.”
“Who are you?”
139“It cannot matter to you who I am. I am one who has lived as you are living, and who has died as you will die.”
We heard the creak and grate of a cab pulling up next door. There was an argument about the fare, and the cabman grumbled hoarsely down the street. The green-yellow cloud still swirled faintly over the table, dull elsewhere, but glowing into a dim luminosity in the direction of the medium. It seemed to be piling itself up in front of her. A sense of fear and cold struck into my heart. It seemed to me that lightly and flippantly we had approached the most real and august of sacraments, that communion with the dead of which the fathers of the Church had spoken.
“Don’t you think we are going too far? Should we not break up this séance?” I cried.
But the others were all earnest to see the end of it. They laughed at my scruples.
“All the powers are made for use,” said Harvey Deacon. “If we can do this, we should do this. Every new departure of knowledge has been called unlawful in its inception. It is right and proper that we should inquire into the nature of death.”
“It is right and proper,” said the voice.
“There, what more could you ask?” cried Moir, who was much excited. “Let us have a test. Will you give us a test that you are really there?”
“What test do you demand?”
“Well, now—I have some coins in my pocket. Will you tell me how many?”
“We come back in the hope of teaching and of elevating, and not to guess childish riddles.”
140“Ha, ha, Meester Moir, you catch it that time,” cried the Frenchman. “But surely this is very good sense what the Control is saying.”
“It is a religion, not a game,” said the cold, hard voice.
“Exactly—the very view I take of it,” cried Moir. “I am sure I am very sorry if I have asked a foolish question. You will not tell me who you are?”
“What does it matter?”
“Have you been a spirit long?”
“We cannot reckon time as you do. Our conditions are different.”
“Are you happy?”
“You would not wish to come back to life?”
“Are you busy?”
“We could not be happy if we were not busy.”
“What do you do?”
“I have said that the conditions are entirely different.”
“Can you give us no idea of your work?”
“We labour for our own improvement and for the advancement of others.”
“Do you like coming here to-night?”
“I am glad to come if I can do any good by coming.”
“Then to do good is your object?”
“It is the object of all life on every plane.”
141“You see, Markham, that should answer your scruples.”
It did, for my doubts had passed and only interest remained.
“Have you pain in your life?” I asked.
“No; pain is a thing of the body.”
“Have you mental pain?”
“Yes; one may always be sad or anxious.”
“Do you meet the friends whom you have known on earth?”
“Some of them.”
“Why only some of them?”
“Only those who are sympathetic.”
“Do husbands meet wives?”
“Those who have truly loved.”
“And the others?”
“They are nothing to each other.”
“There must be a spiritual connection?”
“Is what we are doing right?”
“If done in the right spirit.”
“What is the wrong spirit?”
“Curiosity and levity.”
“May harm come of that?”
“Very serious harm.”
“What sort of harm?”
“You may call up forces over which you have no control.”
“You say they are dangerous. Dangerous to body or mind?”
142“Sometimes to both.”
There was a pause, and the blackness seemed to grow blacker still, while the yellow-green fog swirled and smoked upon the table.
“Any questions you would like to ask, Moir?” said Harvey Deacon.
“Only this—do you pray in your world?”
“One should pray in every world.”
“Because it is the acknowledgment of forces outside ourselves.”
“What religion do you hold over there?”
“We differ exactly as you do.”
“You have no certain knowledge?”
“We have only faith.”
“These questions of religion,” said the Frenchman, “they are of interest to you serious English people, but they are not so much fun. It seems to me that with this power here we might be able to have some great experience—hein? Something of which we could talk.”
“But nothing could be more interesting than this,” said Moir.
“Well, if you think so, that is very well,” the Frenchman answered, peevishly. “For my part, it seems to me that I have heard all this before, and that to-night I should weesh to try some experiment with all this force which is given to us. But if you have other questions, then ask them, and when you are finish we can try something more.”
But the spell was broken. We asked and asked, but the medium sat silent in her chair. Only her 143deep, regular breathing showed that she was there. The mist still swirled upon the table.
“You have disturbed the harmony. She will not answer.”
“But we have learned already all that she can tell—hein? For my part I wish to see something that I have never seen before.”
“You will let me try?”
“What would you do?”
“I have said to you that thoughts are things. Now I wish to prove it to you, and to show you that which is only a thought. Yes, yes, I can do it and you will see. Now I ask you only to sit still and say nothing, and keep ever your hands quiet upon the table.”
The room was blacker and more silent than ever. The same feeling of apprehension which had lain heavily upon me at the beginning of the séance was back at my heart once more. The roots of my hair were tingling.
“It is working! It is working!” cried the Frenchman, and there was a crack in his voice as he spoke which told me that he also was strung to his tightest.
The luminous fog drifted slowly off the table, and wavered and flickered across the room. There in the farther and darkest corner it gathered and glowed, hardening down into a shining core—a strange, shifty, luminous, and yet non-illuminating patch of radiance, bright itself, but throwing no rays into the darkness. It had changed from a greenish-yellow to a 144dusky sullen red. Then round this centre there coiled a dark, smoky substance, thickening, hardening, growing denser and blacker. And then the light went out, smothered in that which had grown round it.
“It has gone.”
“Hush—there’s something in the room.”
We heard it in the corner where the light had been, something which breathed deeply and fidgeted in the darkness.
“What is it? Le Duc, what have you done?”
“It is all right. No harm will come.” The Frenchman’s voice was treble with agitation.
“Good heavens, Moir, there’s a large animal in the room. Here it is, close by my chair! Go away! Go away!”
It was Harvey Deacon’s voice, and then came the sound of a blow upon some hard object. And then … And then … how can I tell you what happened then?
Some huge thing hurtled against us in the darkness, rearing, stamping, smashing, springing, snorting. The table was splintered. We were scattered in every direction. It clattered and scrambled amongst us, rushing with horrible energy from one corner of the room to another. We were all screaming with fear, grovelling upon our hands and knees to get away from it. Something trod upon my left hand, and I felt the bones splinter under the weight.
“A light! A light!” someone yelled.
“Moir, you have matches, matches!”
“No, I have none. Deacon, where are the matches? For God’s sake, the matches!”
145“I can’t find them. Here, you Frenchman, stop it!”
“It is beyond me. Oh, mon Dieu, I cannot stop it. The door! Where is the door?”
My hand, by good luck, lit upon the handle as I groped about in the darkness. The hard-breathing, snorting, rushing creature tore past me and butted with a fearful crash against the oaken partition. The instant that it had passed I turned the handle, and next moment we were all outside and the door shut behind us. From within came a horrible crashing and rending and stamping.
“What is it? In Heaven’s name, what is it?”
“A horse. I saw it when the door opened. But Mrs. Delamere——?”
“We must fetch her out. Come on, Markham; the longer we wait the less we shall like it.”
He flung open the door and we rushed in. She was there on the ground amidst the splinters of her chair. We seized her and dragged her swiftly out, and as we gained the door I looked over my shoulder into the darkness. There were two strange eyes glowing at us, a rattle of hoofs, and I had just time to slam the door when there came a crash upon it which split it from top to bottom.
“It’s coming through! It’s coming!”
“Run, run for your lives!” cried the Frenchman.
Another crash, and something shot through the riven door. It was a long white spike, gleaming in the lamplight. For a moment it shone before us, and then with a snap it disappeared again.
146“Quick! Quick! This way!” Harvey Deacon shouted. “Carry her in! Here! Quick!”
We had taken refuge in the dining-room, and shut the heavy oak door. We laid the senseless woman upon the sofa, and as we did so, Moir, the hard man of business, drooped and fainted across the hearthrug. Harvey Deacon was as white as a corpse, jerking and twitching like an epileptic. With a crash we heard the studio door fly to pieces, and the snorting and stamping were in the passage, up and down, up and down, shaking the house with their fury. The Frenchman had sunk his face on his hands, and sobbed like a frightened child.
“What shall we do?” I shook him roughly by the shoulder. “Is a gun any use?”
“No, no. The power will pass. Then it will end.”
“You might have killed us all—you unspeakable fool—with your infernal experiments.”
“I did not know. How could I tell that it would be frightened? It is mad with terror. It was his fault. He struck it.”
Harvey Deacon sprang up. “Good heavens!” he cried.
A terrible scream sounded through the house.
“It’s my wife! Here, I’m going out. If it’s the Evil One himself I am going out!”
He had thrown open the door and rushed out into the passage. At the end of it, at the foot of the stairs, Mrs. Deacon was lying senseless, struck down by the sight which she had seen. But there was nothing else.
147With eyes of horror we looked about us, but all was perfectly quiet and still. I approached the black square of the studio door, expecting with every slow step that some atrocious shape would hurl itself out of it. But nothing came, and all was silent inside the room. Peeping and peering, our hearts in our mouths, we came to the very threshold, and stared into the darkness. There was still no sound, but in one direction there was also no darkness. A luminous, glowing cloud, with an incandescent centre, hovered in the corner of the room. Slowly it dimmed and faded, growing thinner and fainter, until at last the same dense, velvety blackness filled the whole studio. And with the last flickering gleam of that baleful light the Frenchman broke into a shout of joy.
“What a fun!” he cried. “No one is hurt, and only the door broken, and the ladies frightened. But, my friends, we have done what has never been done before.”
“And as far as I can help it,” said Harvey Deacon, “it will certainly never be done again.”
And that was what befell on the 14th of April last at No. 17, Badderly Gardens. I began by saying that it would seem too grotesque to dogmatize as to what it was which actually did occur; but I give my impressions, our impressions (since they are corroborated by Harvey Deacon and John Moir), for what they are worth. You may, if it pleases you, imagine that we were the victims of an elaborate and extraordinary hoax. Or you may think with us that we underwent a very real and a very terrible experience. Or perhaps you may know more than 148we do of such occult matters, and can inform us of some similar occurrence. In this latter case a letter to William Markham, 146M, The Albany, would help to throw a light upon that which is very dark to us.
- The Diaries of Sun City by Mike Russell
The Diaries of Sun City
By Mike Russell
From short story collection Nothing Is Strange
Published by: StrangeBooks
Hello. It is Monday. I live in Sun City. Sun City is a city that is entirely contained inside an enormous concrete building in the shape of a sun. Its rays house our living quarters; its circular centre is where we work and shop. No one has ever been outside of the city; it is generally suspected that the environment outside of the city is uninhabitable.
People write diaries for a particular reason here, where our social etiquette is constricting. Diaries are so popular that they have their own shop. The shop is called ‘We Are Diaries’. I have not owned a diary until now. The idea of placing my most secret, most sacred feelings out in the world terrifies me but today I bought a small, black book with blank, white pages and the word ‘Diary’ embossed on its cover.
I walked from the shop and through the city centre with the diary in my pocket and caught the bus that runs up and down the concrete ray that houses my apartment. My apartment is at the very end of the concrete ray.
Inside my apartment, I sat facing the far wall. I lay the diary on my lap, opened it at the first page, then began to write in it with pen and ink.
Why can I not tell Miss Baraclough that I care for her? It would be wrong to of course, inappropriate. She would be offended, that would be expected of her. Reluctantly, her associates would be obliged to sever their relations with me; my associates would be informed and forced to sever their relations with me also. I would feel ashamed because it would be expected of me. Yet I would not feel ashamed when talking to you dear Diary; I would be proud. But I cannot say it to her so this ink is wasted.
It is Tuesday. Despite my dismissal of its worth, I have decided to write to you again. When I opened the diary this evening I discovered the first page to be blank! My memory of writing on the page is clear. Is my memory lying to me?
It is Wednesday. When I opened the diary this evening the first page was blank again. Is the ink fading? I am scared. Imagine saying that to a colleague. ‘Mr Barton, I am scared.’ Imagine his horror, his embarrassment, his contempt. Tomorrow, I will whisper it to his back.
It is Thursday. When I opened the diary this evening, the first page was blank again. I decided to count the pages. I counted 362. The pages are disappearing. Someone must be stealing the pages. I have begun constructing elaborate scenarios from my suspicions. Who would want to know my secret thoughts? But had I not once wished to see inside Miss Baraclough’s diary? If I had spied it when visiting her in her apartment and she had briefly left the room to make a cup of tea, would I not have been tempted to steal a glance at a few words? From this confession, dear Diary, I deduce that the pages could have been stolen by absolutely anyone.
I expect that by tomorrow evening this page will also have disappeared.
It is Friday. I was right; the page has gone. Today, on the bus, I wanted to shout obscenities and bare myself to the other passengers. My confessions to you, dear Diary, are becoming more honest with the thought that they are being read. I am no longer scared of my words being seen because they are evidently being read by someone who welcomes them, who needs them. But I am fantasising. My door is bolted from the inside at night and there are no windows in my apartment. How then are the pages disappearing? Am I destroying them myself in my sleep? Is there a part of me that abhors these words, that would rather I was a perfect citizen with no feelings that need to be hidden? I will stay at Miss Baraclough’s tonight.
It is Saturday. The page has gone. The ‘We Are Diaries’ shop is wrong; they are not diaries. I do not write to them and it is not this book that I am writing to either. I am not addressing these paper pages or their cardboard cover. Dear Diary, who are you?
It is Sunday. I want to leave the city. What is outside of the city? Is that where you reside? Do you have a throne on the other side of the world?
It is Monday. I am hammering a chisel into the far wall of my apartment, the end of the concrete ray. Bang follows bang with no lessening of passion. My desire grows as my energy fades. Bang. Bang. It falls away in chunks.
I can see a little light that grows.
The hole is big enough to crawl through.
I crawl through.
It is so bright! The ground is covered in pages, knee deep, for as far as I can see. White pages covered in writing in different hands lay naked, exposed, pressed against one another. It is overwhelming. I wade through them.
I walk in a straight line all day, bewildered but purposeful, towards Diary’s throne.
In the distance I can see other people. They are also wading through the pages, striding from every direction towards the same destination, fearless, with nothing to lose. Could it be that everyone has broken through their respective concrete rays at the same time and for the same reason as I?
When we reach a distance where Diary’s throne should be in sight, we all realise that it is not there, and that it is not the throne that we are walking towards but each other.
The air is full of unrestricted speech.
We now no longer live inside the sun but are illuminated by it.
Now we become the throne.
Now we are Diary.
Copyright © 2014 Mike Russell.
Interested in another short story from the book, check out “Dunce” here.
- Doom of the House of Duryea by Earl Peirce
Doom of the House of Duryea
By EARL PEIRCE, JR.
A powerful story of stark horror, and the dreadful thing that happened in a lone house in the Maine woods.
Arthur Duryea, a young, handsome man, came to meet his father for the first time in twenty years. As he strode into the hotel lobby—long strides which had the spring of elastic in them—idle eyes lifted to appraise him, for he was an impressive figure, somehow grim with exaltation.
The desk clerk looked up with his habitual smile of expectation; how-do-you-do-Mr.-so-and-so, and his fingers strayed to the green fountain pen which stood in a holder on the desk.
Arthur Duryea cleared his throat, but still his voice was clogged and unsteady. To the clerk he said:
“I’m looking for my father, Doctor Henry Duryea. I understand he is registered here. He has recently arrived from Paris.”
The clerk lowered his glance to a list of names. “Doctor Duryea is in suite 600, sixth floor.” He looked up, his eyebrows arched questioningly. “Are you staying too, sir, Mr. Duryea?”
Arthur took the pen and scribbled his name rapidly. Without a further word, neglecting even to get his key and own room number, he turned and walked to the elevators. Not until he reached his father’s suite on the sixth floor did he make an audible noise, and this was a mere sigh which fell from his lips like a prayer.
The man who opened the door was unusually tall, his slender frame clothed in tight-fitting black. He hardly dared to smile. His clean-shaven face was pale, an almost livid whiteness against the sparkle in his eyes. His jaw had a bluish luster.
“Arthur!” The word was scarcely a whisper. It seemed choked up quietly, as if it had been repeated time and again on his thin lips.
Arthur Duryea felt the kindliness of those eyes go through him, and then he was in his father’s embrace.
Later, when these two grown men had regained their outer calm, they closed the door and went into the drawing-room. The elder Duryea held out a humidor of fine cigars, and his hand shook so hard when he held the match that his son was forced to cup his own hands about the flame. They both had tears in their eyes, but their eyes were smiling.
Henry Duryea placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “This is the happiest day of my life,” he said. “You can never know how much I have longed for this moment.”
Arthur, looking into that glance, realized, with growing pride, that he had loved his father all his life, despite any of those things which had been cursed against him. He sat down on the edge of a chair.
“I—I don’t know how to act,” he confessed. “You surprize me, Dad. You’re so different from what I had expected.”
A cloud came over Doctor Duryea’s features. “What did you expect, Arthur?” he demanded quickly. “An evil eye? A shaven head and knotted jowls?”
“Please, Dad—no!” Arthur’s words clipped short. “I don’t think I ever really visualized you. I knew you would be a splendid man. But I thought you’d look older, more like a man who has really suffered.”
“I have suffered, more than I can ever describe. But seeing you again, and the prospect of spending the rest of my life with you, has more than compensated for my sorrows. Even during the twenty years we were apart I found an ironic joy in learning of your progress in college, and in your American game of football.”
“Then you’ve been following my work?”
“Yes, Arthur; I’ve received monthly reports ever since you left me. From my study in Paris I’ve been really close to you, working out your problems as if they were my own. And now that the twenty years are completed, the ban which kept us apart is lifted for ever. From now on, son, we shall be the closest of companions—unless your Aunt Cecilia has succeeded in her terrible mission.”
The mention of that name caused an unfamiliar chill to come between the two men. It stood for something, in each of them, which gnawed their minds like a malignancy. But to the younger Duryea, in his intense effort to forget the awful past, her name as well as her madness must be forgotten.
He had no wish to carry on this subject of conversation, for it betrayed an internal weakness which he hated. With forced determination, and a ludicrous lift of his eyebrows, he said,
“Cecilia is dead, and her silly superstition is dead also. From now on, Dad, we’re going to enjoy life as we should. Bygones are really bygones in this case.”
Doctor Duryea closed his eyes slowly, as though an exquisite pain had gone through him.
“Then you have no indignation?” he questioned. “You have none of your aunt’s hatred?”
“Indignation? Hatred?” Arthur laughed aloud. “Ever since I was twelve years old I have disbelieved Cecilia’s stories. I have known that those horrible things were impossible, that they belonged to the ancient category of mythology and tradition. How, then, can I be indignant, and how can I hate you? How can I do anything but recognize Cecilia for what she was—a mean, frustrated woman, cursed with an insane grudge against you and your family? I tell you, Dad, that nothing she has ever said can possibly come between us again.”
Henry Duryea nodded his head. His lips were tight together, and the muscles in his throat held back a cry. In that same soft tone of defense he spoke further, doubting words.
“Are you so sure of your subconscious mind, Arthur? Can you be so certain that you are free from all suspicion, however vague? Is there not a lingering premonition—a premonition which warns of peril?”
“No, Dad—no!” Arthur shot to his feet. “I don’t believe it. I’ve never believed it. I know, as any sane man would know, that you are neither a vampire nor a murderer. You know it, too; and Cecilia knew it, only she was mad.
“That family rot is dispelled, Father. This is a civilized century. Belief in vampirism is sheer lunacy. Wh-why, it’s too absurd even to think about!”
“You have the enthusiasm of youth,” said his father, in a rather tired voice. “But have you not heard the legend?”
Arthur stepped back instinctively. He moistened his lips, for their dryness might crack them. “The—legend?”
He said the word in a curious hush of awed softness, as he had heard his Aunt Cecilia say it many times before.
“That awful legend that you——”
“That I eat my children?”
“Oh, God, Father!” Arthur went to his knees as a cry burst through his lips. “Dad, that—that’s ghastly! We must forget Cecilia’s ravings.”
“You are affected, then?” asked Doctor Duryea bitterly.
“Affected? Certainly I’m affected, but only as I should be at such an accusation. Cecilia was mad, I tell you. Those books she showed me years ago, and those folk-tales of vampires and ghouls—they burned into my infantile mind like acid. They haunted me day and night in my youth, and caused me to hate you worse than death itself.
“But in Heaven’s name, Father, I’ve outgrown those things as I have outgrown my clothes. I’m a man now; do you understand that? A man, with a man’s sense of logic.”
“Yes, I understand.” Henry Duryea threw his cigar into the fireplace, and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder.
“We shall forget Cecilia,” he said. “As I told you in my letter, I have rented a lodge in Maine where we can go to be alone for the rest of the summer. We’ll get in some fishing and hiking and perhaps some hunting. But first, Arthur, I must be sure in my own mind that you are sure in yours. I must be sure you won’t bar your door against me at night, and sleep with a loaded revolver at your elbow. I must be sure that you’re not afraid of going up there alone with me, and dying——”
His voice ended abruptly, as if an age-long dread had taken hold of it. His son’s face was waxen, with sweat standing out like pearls on his brow. He said nothing, but his eyes were filled with questions which his lips could not put into words. His own hand touched his father’s, and tightened over it.
Henry Duryea drew his hand away.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and his eyes looked straight over Arthur’s lowered head. “This thing must be thrashed out now. I believe you when you say that you discredit Cecilia’s stories, but for a sake greater than sanity I must tell you the truth behind the legend—and believe me, Arthur; there is a truth!”
He climbed to his feet and walked to the window which looked out over the street below. For a moment he gazed into space, silent. Then he turned and looked down at his son.
“You have heard only your aunt’s version of the legend, Arthur. Doubtless it was warped into a thing far more hideous than it actually was—if that is possible! Doubtless she spoke to you of the Inquisitorial stake in Carcassonne where one of my ancestors perished. Also she may have mentioned that book,Vampyrs, which a former Duryea is supposed to have written. Then certainly she told you about your two younger brothers—my own poor, motherless children—who were sucked bloodless in their cradles….”
Arthur Duryea passed a hand across his aching eyes. Those words, so often repeated by that witch of an aunt, stirred up the same visions which had made his childhood nights sleepless with terror. He could hardly bear to hear them again—and from the very man to whom they were accredited.
“Listen, Arthur,” the elder Duryea went on quickly, his voice low with the pain it gave him. “You must know that true basis to your aunt’s hatred. You must know of that curse—that curse of vampirism which is supposed to have followed the Duryeas through five centuries of French history, but which we can dispel as pure superstition, so often connected with ancient families. But I must tell you that this part of the legend is true:
“Your two young brothers actually died in their cradles, bloodless. And I stood trial in France for their murder, and my name was smirched throughout all of Europe with such an inhuman damnation that it drove your aunt and you to America, and has left me childless, hated, and ostracized from society the world over.
“I must tell you that on that terrible night in Duryea Castle I had been working late on historic volumes of Crespet and Prinn, and on that loathsome tome,Vampyrs. I must tell you of the soreness that was in my throat and of the heaviness of the blood which coursed through my veins…. And of that presence, which was neither man nor animal, but which I knew was some place near me, yet neither within the castle nor outside of it, and which was closer to me than my heart and more terrible to me than the touch of the grave….
“I was at the desk in my library, my head swimming in a delirium which left me senseless until dawn. There were nightmares that frightened me—frightenedme, Arthur, a grown man who had dissected countless cadavers in morgues and medical schools. I know that my tongue was swollen in my mouth and that brine moistened my lips, and that a rottenness pervaded my body like a fever.
“I can make no recollection of sanity or of consciousness. That night remains vivid, unforgettable, yet somehow completely in shadows. When I had fallen asleep—if in God’s name it was sleep—I was slumped across my desk. But when I awoke in the morning I was lying face down on my couch. So you see, Arthur, I had moved during that night, and I had never known it!
“What I’d done and where I’d gone during those dark hours will always remain an impenetrable mystery. But I do know this. On the morrow I was torn from my sleep by the shrieks of maids and butlers, and by that mad wailing of your aunt. I stumbled through the open door of my study, and in the nursery I saw those two babies there—lifeless, white and dry like mummies, and with twin holes in their necks that were caked black with their own blood….
“Oh, I don’t blame you for your incredulousness, Arthur. I cannot believe it yet myself, nor shall I ever believe it. The belief of it would drive me to suicide; and still the doubting of it drives me mad with horror.
“All of France was doubtful, and even the savants who defended my name at the trial found that they could not explain it nor disbelieve it. The case was quieted by the Republic, for it might have shaken science to its very foundation and split the pedestals of religion and logic. I was released from the charge of murder; but the actual murder has hung about me like a stench.
“The coroners who examined those tiny cadavers found them both dry of all their blood, but could find no blood on the floor of the nursery nor in the cradles. Something from hell stalked the halls of Duryea that night—and I should blow my brains out if I dared to think deeply of who that was. You, too, my son, would have been dead and bloodless if you hadn’t been sleeping in a separate room with your door barred on the inside.
“You were a timid child, Arthur. You were only seven years old, but you were filled with the folk-lore of those mad Lombards and the decadent poetry of your aunt. On that same night, while I was some place between heaven and hell, you, also, heard the padded footsteps on the stone corridor and heard the tugging at your door handle, for in the morning you complained of a chill and of terrible nightmares which frightened you in your sleep…. I only thank God that your door was barred!”
Henry Duryea’s voice choked into a sob which brought the stinging tears back into his eyes. He paused to wipe his face, and to dig his fingers into his palm.
“You understand, Arthur, that for twenty years, under my sworn oath at the Palace of Justice, I could neither see you nor write to you. Twenty years, my son, while all of that time you had grown to hate me and to spit at my name. Not until your aunt’s death have you called yourself a Duryea…. And now you come to me at my bidding, and say you love me as a son should love his father.
“Perhaps it is God’s forgiveness for everything. Now, at last, we shall be together, and that terrible, unexplainable past will be buried for ever….”
He put his handkerchief back into his pocket and walked slowly to his son. He dropped to one knee, and his hands gripped Arthur’s arms.
“My son, I can say no more to you. I have told you the truth as I alone know it. I may be, by all accounts, some ghoulish creation of Satan on earth. I may be a child-killer, a vampire, some morbidly diseased specimen of vrykolakas—things which science cannot explain.
“Perhaps the dreaded legend of the Duryeas is true. Autiel Duryea was convicted of murdering his brother in that same monstrous fashion in the year 1576, and he died in flames at the stake. François Duryea, in 1802, blew his head apart with a blunderbuss on the morning after his youngest son was found dead, apparently from anemia. And there are others, of whom I cannot bear to speak, that would chill your soul if you were to hear them.
“So you see, Arthur, there is a hellish tradition behind our family. There is a heritage which no sane God would ever have allowed. The future of the Duryeas lies in you, for you are the last of the race. I pray with all of my heart that providence will permit you to live your full share of years, and to leave other Duryeas behind you. And so if ever again I feel that presence as I did in Duryea Castle, I am going to die as François Duryea died, over a hundred years ago….”
He stood up, and his son stood up at his side.
“If you are willing to forget, Arthur, we shall go up to that lodge in Maine. There is a life we’ve never known awaiting us. We must find that life, and we must find the happiness which a curious fate snatched from us on those Lombard sourlands, twenty years ago….”
Henry Duryea’s tall stature, coupled with a slenderness of frame and a sleekness of muscle, gave him an appearance that was unusually gaunt. His son couldn’t help but think of that word as he sat on the rustic porch of the lodge, watching his father sunning himself at the lake’s edge.
Henry Duryea had a kindliness in his face, at times an almost sublime kindliness which great prophets often possess. But when his face was partly in shadows, particularly about his brow, there was a frightening tone which came into his features; for it was a tone of farness, of mysticism and conjuration. Somehow, in the late evenings, he assumed the unapproachable mantle of a dreamer and sat silently before the fire, his mind ever off in unknown places.
In that little lodge there was no electricity, and the glow of the oil lamps played curious tricks with the human expression which frequently resulted in something unhuman. It may have been the dusk of night, the flickering of the lamps, but Arthur Duryea had certainly noticed how his father’s eyes had sunken further into his head, and how his cheeks were tighter, and the outline of his teeth pressed into the skin about his lips.
It was nearing sundown on the second day of their stay at Timber Lake. Six miles away the dirt road wound on toward Houtlon, near the Canadian border. So it was lonely there, on a solitary little lake hemmed in closely with dark evergreens and a sky which drooped low over dusty-summited mountains.
Within the lodge was a homy fireplace, and a glossy elk’s-head which peered out above the mantel. There were guns and fishing-tackle on the walls, shelves of reliable American fiction—Mark Twain, Melville, Stockton, and a well-worn edition of Bret Harte.
A fully supplied kitchen and a wood stove furnished them with hearty meals which were welcome after a whole day’s tramp in the woods. On that evening Henry Duryea prepared a select French stew out of every available vegetable, and a can of soup. They ate well, then stretched out before the fire for a smoke. They were outlining a trip to the Orient together, when the back door blew open with a terrific bang, and a wind swept into the lodge with a coldness which chilled them both.
“A storm,” Henry Duryea said, rising to his feet. “Sometimes they have them up here, and they’re pretty bad. The roof might leak over your bedroom. Perhaps you’d like to sleep down here with me.” His fingers strayed playfully over his son’s head as he went out into the kitchen to bar the swinging door.
Arthur’s room was upstairs, next to a spare room filled with extra furniture. He’d chosen it because he liked the altitude, and because the only other bedroom was occupied….
He went upstairs swiftly and silently. His roof didn’t leak; it was absurd even to think it might. It had been his father again, suggesting that they sleep together. He had done it before, in a jesting, whispering way—as if to challenge them both if they dared to sleep together.
Arthur came back downstairs dressed in his bath-robe and slippers. He stood on the fifth stair, rubbing a two-day’s growth of beard. “I think I’ll shave tonight,” he said to his father. “May I use your razor?”
Henry Duryea, draped in a black raincoat and with his face haloed in the brim of a rain-hat, looked up from the hall. A frown glided obscurely from his features. “Not at all, son. Sleeping upstairs?”
Arthur nodded, and quickly said, “Are you—going out?”
“Yes, I’m going to tie the boats up tighter. I’m afraid the lake will rough it up a bit.”
Duryea jerked back the door and stepped outside. The door slammed shut, and his footsteps sounded on the wood flooring of the porch.
Arthur came slowly down the remaining steps. He saw his father’s figure pass across the dark rectangle of a window, saw the flash of lightning that suddenly printed his grim silhouette against the glass.
He sighed deeply, a sigh which burned in his throat; for his throat was sore and aching. Then he went into the bedroom, found the razor lying in plain view on a birch table-top.
As he reached for it, his glance fell upon his father’s open Gladstone bag which rested at the foot of the bed. There was a book resting there, half hidden by a gray flannel shirt. It was a narrow, yellow-bound book, oddly out of place.
Frowning, he bent down and lifted it from the bag. It was surprizingly heavy in his hands, and he noticed a faintly sickening odor of decay which drifted from it like a perfume. The title of the volume had been thumbed away into an indecipherable blur of gold letters. But pasted across the front cover was a white strip of paper, on which was typewritten the word—INFANTIPHAGI.
He flipped back the cover and ran his eyes over the title-page. The book was printed in French—an early French—yet to him wholly comprehensible. The publication date was 1580, in Caen.
Breathlessly he turned back a second page, saw a chapter headed, Vampires.
He slumped to one elbow across the bed. His eyes were four inches from those mildewed pages, his nostrils reeked with the stench of them.
He skipped long paragraphs of pedantic jargon on theology, he scanned brief accounts of strange, blood-eating monsters, vrykolakes, and leprechauns. He read of Jeanne d’Arc, of Ludvig Prinn, and muttered aloud the Latin snatches from Episcopi.
He passed pages in quick succession, his fingers shaking with the fear of it and his eyes hanging heavily in their sockets. He saw vague reference to “Enoch,” and saw the terrible drawings by an ancient Dominican of Rome….
Paragraph after paragraph he read: the horror-striking testimony of Nider’s Ant-Hill, the testimony of people who died shrieking at the stake; the recitals of grave-tenders, of jurists and hang-men. Then unexpectedly, among all of this monumental vestige, there appeared before his eyes the name of—Autiel Duryea; and he stopped reading as though invisibly struck.
Thunder clapped near the lodge and rattled the window-panes. The deep rolling of bursting clouds echoed over the valley. But he heard none of it. His eyes were on those two short sentences which his father—someone—had underlined with dark red crayon.
… The execution, four years ago, of Autiel Duryea does not end the Duryea controversy. Time alone can decide whether the Demon has claimed that family from its beginning to its end….
Arthur read on about the trial of Autiel Duryea before Veniti, the Carcassonnean Inquisitor-General; read, with mounting horror, the evidence which had sent that far-gone Duryea to the pillar—the evidence of a bloodless corpse who had been Autiel Duryea’s young brother.
Unmindful now of the tremendous storm which had centered over Timber Lake, unheeding the clatter of windows and the swish of pines on the roof—even of his father who worked down at the lake’s edge in a drenching rain—Arthur fastened his glance to the blurred print of those pages, sinking deeper and deeper into the garbled legends of a dark age….
On the last page of the chapter he again saw the name of his ancestor, Autiel Duryea. He traced a shaking finger over the narrow lines of words, and when he finished reading them he rolled sideways on the bed, and from his lips came a sobbing, mumbling prayer.
“God, oh God in Heaven protect me….”
For he had read:
As in the case of Autiel Duryea we observe that this specimen of vrykolakas preys only upon the blood in its own family. It possesses none of the characteristics of the undead vampire, being usually a living male person of otherwise normal appearances, unsuspecting its inherent demonism.
But this vrykolakas cannot act according to its demoniacal possession unless it is in the presence of a second member of the same family, who acts as a medium between the man and its demon. This medium has none of the traits of the vampire, but it senses the being of this creature (when the metamorphosis is about to occur) by reason of intense pains in the head and throat. Both the vampire and the medium undergo similar reactions, involving nausea, nocturnal visions, and physical disquietude.
When these two outcasts are within a certain distance of each other, the coalescence of inherent demonism is completed, and the vampire is subject to its attacks, demanding blood for its sustenance. No member of the family is safe at these times, for the vrykolakas, acting in its true agency on earth, will unerringly seek out the blood. In rare cases, where other victims are unavailable, the vampire will even take the blood from the very medium which made it possible.
This vampire is born into certain aged families, and naught but death can destroy it. It is not conscious of its blood-madness, and acts only in a psychic state. The medium, also, is unaware of its terrible rôle; and when these two are together, despite any lapse of years, the fusion of inheritance is so violent that no power known on earth can turn it back.
The lodge door slammed shut with a sudden, interrupting bang. The lock grated, and Henry Duryea’s footsteps sounded on the planked floor.
Arthur shook himself from the bed. He had only time to fling that haunting book into the Gladstone bag before he sensed his father standing in the doorway.
“You—you’re not shaving, Arthur.” Duryea’s words, spliced hesitantly, were toneless. He glanced from the table-top to the Gladstone, and to his son. He said nothing for a moment, his glance inscrutable. Then,
“It’s blowing up quite a storm outside.”
Arthur swallowed the first words which had come into his throat, nodded quickly. “Yes, isn’t it? Quite a storm.” He met his father’s gaze, his face burning. “I—I don’t think I’ll shave, Dad. My head aches.”
Duryea came swiftly into the room and pinned Arthur’s arms in his grasp. “What do you mean—your head aches? How? Does your throat——”
“No!” Arthur jerked himself away. He laughed. “It’s that French stew of yours! It’s hit me in the stomach!” He stepped past his father and started up the stairs.
“The stew?” Duryea pivoted on his heel. “Possibly. I think I feel it myself.”
Arthur stopped, his face suddenly white. “You—too?”
The words were hardly audible. Their glances met—clashed like dueling-swords.
For ten seconds neither of them said a word or moved a muscle: Arthur, from the stairs, looking down; his father below, gazing up at him. In Henry Duryea the blood drained slowly from his face and left a purple etching across the bridge of his nose and above his eyes. He looked like a death’s-head.
Arthur winced at the sight and twisted his eyes away. He turned to go up the remaining stairs.
He stopped again; his hand tightened on the banister.
Duryea put his foot on the first stair, “I want you to lock your door tonight. The wind would keep it banging!”
“Yes,” breathed Arthur, and pushed up the stairs to his room.
Doctor Duryea’s hollow footsteps sounded in steady, unhesitant beats across the floor of Timber Lake Lodge. Sometimes they stopped, and the crackling hiss of a sulfur match took their place, then perhaps a distended sigh, and, again, footsteps….
Arthur crouched at the open door of his room. His head was cocked for those noises from below. In his hands was a double-barrel shotgun of violent gage.
… thud … thud … thud….
Then a pause, the clinking of a glass and the gurgling of liquid. The sigh, the tread of his feet over the floor….
“He’s thirsty,” Arthur thought—Thirsty!
Outside, the storm had grown into fury. Lightning zigzagged between the mountains, filling the valley with weird phosphorescence. Thunder, like drums, rolled incessantly.
Within the lodge the heat of the fireplace piled the atmosphere thick with stagnation. All the doors and windows were locked shut, the oil-lamps glowed weakly—a pale, anemic light.
Henry Duryea walked to the foot of the stairs and stood looking up.
Arthur sensed his movements and ducked back into his room, the gun gripped in his shaking fingers.
Then Henry Duryea’s footstep sounded on the first stair.
Arthur slumped to one knee. He buckled a fist against his teeth as a prayer tumbled through them.
Duryea climbed a second step … and another … and still one more. On the fourth stair he stopped.
“Arthur!” His voice cut into the silence like the crack of a whip. “Arthur! Will you come down here?”
“Yes, Dad.” Bedraggled, his body hanging like cloth, young Duryea took five steps to the landing.
“We can’t be zanies!” cried Henry Duryea. “My soul is sick with dread. Tomorrow we’re going back to New York. I’m going to get the first boat to open sea…. Please come down here.” He turned about and descended the stairs to his room.
Arthur choked back the words which had lumped in his mouth. Half dazed, he followed….
In the bedroom he saw his father stretched face-up along the bed. He saw a pile of rope at his father’s feet.
“Tie me to the bedposts, Arthur,” came the command. “Tie both my hands and both my feet.”
Arthur stood gaping.
“Do as I tell you!”
“Dad, what hor——”
“Don’t be a fool! You read that book! You know what relation you are to me! I’d always hoped it was Cecilia, but now I know it’s you. I should have known it on that night twenty years ago when you complained of a headache and nightmares…. Quickly, my head rocks with pain. Tie me!”
Speechless, his own pain piercing him with agony, Arthur fell to that grisly task. Both hands he tied—and both feet … tied them so firmly to the iron posts that his father could not lift himself an inch off the bed.
Then he blew out the lamps, and without a further glance at that Prometheus, he reascended the stairs to his room, and slammed and locked his door behind him.
He looked once at the breech of his gun, and set it against a chair by his bed. He flung off his robe and slippers, and within five minutes he was senseless in slumber.
He slept late, and when he awakened his muscles were as stiff as boards, and the lingering visions of a nightmare clung before his eyes. He pushed his way out of bed, stood dazedly on the floor.
A dull, numbing cruciation circulated through his head. He felt bloated … coarse and running with internal mucus. His mouth was dry, his gums sore and stinging.
He tightened his hands as he lunged for the door. “Dad,” he cried, and he heard his voice breaking in his throat.
Sunlight filtered through the window at the top of the stairs. The air was hot and dry, and carried in it a mild odor of decay.
Arthur suddenly drew back at that odor—drew back with a gasp of awful fear. For he recognized it—that stench, the heaviness of his blood, the rawness of his tongue and gums…. Age-long it seemed, yet rising like a spirit in his memory. All of these things he had known and felt before.
He leaned against the banister, and half slid, half stumbled down the stairs….
His father had died during the night. He lay like a waxen figure tied to his bed, his face done up in knots.
“He lay like a waxen figure tied to his bed.”
Arthur stood dumbly at the foot of the bed for only a few seconds; then he went back upstairs to his room.
Almost immediately he emptied both barrels of the shotgun into his head.
The tragedy at Timber Lake was discovered accidentally three days later. A party of fishermen, upon finding the two bodies, notified state authorities, and an investigation was directly under way.
Arthur Duryea had undoubtedly met death at his own hands. The condition of his wounds, and the manner with which he held the lethal weapon, at once foreclosed the suspicion of any foul play.
But the death of Doctor Henry Duryea confronted the police with an inexplicable mystery; for his trussed-up body, unscathed except for two jagged holes over the jugular vein, had been drained of all its blood.
The autopsy protocol of Henry Duryea laid death to “undetermined causes,” and it was not until the yellow tabloids commenced an investigation into the Duryea family history that the incredible and fantastic explanations were offered to the public.
Obviously such talk was held in popular contempt; yet in view of the controversial war which followed, the authorities considered it expedient to consign both Duryeas to the crematory….
- The Pharaoh’s Cat by Maria Luisa Lang This book is instant happiness in a little package!
- Letters to Strabo by David Smith
- People of the Sun by Jason Parent Thought-provoking and exciting science fiction!
- The Woman Behind the Waterfall by Leonora Meriel
Mesmerising and intriguing throughout.
- Telemachus by Peter Gray. Short and beautiful.
- Cut Corners, Volume 3 by Ray Garton, Kealan Patrick Burke and Bryan Smith. An excellent combination of fantastic horror authors.
- Mr. Gray by Nate Southard Amazingly creepy.
- Reflections by Clifton Kenny (ok, I’m actually still reading this but I’m loving it, so I know it’ll be in the top eight) Fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural coming of age.
I’m really looking forward to the rest of 2017!
This week’s painting is Max Ernst’s Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale.
The Pharaoh’s Cat by Maria Luisa Lang
The Pharaoh’s Cat, a tragicomic fantasy narrated in the present tense by the cat himself, tells of a free-spirited, wise-cracking stray in ancient Egypt who suddenly acquires human powers and immediately captivates the young Pharaoh, making him laugh for the first time since his parents’ death.
The cat becomes the Pharaoh’s constant companion and, at the royal palace and on a tour of Egypt, participates in the festivities, developing an insatiable appetite for good food, wine, and gossip. Gradually, he renews the Pharaoh’s ability to enjoy life and inspires him to become a stronger leader. The bond of selfless love they share will change Egypt’s destiny.
The cat has a good friend in the High Priest of the god Amun-Ra and seeks his help in solving the mystery of his human powers and the supernatural manifestations that plague him. He has a mortal enemy in the Vizier—the second most powerful man in Egypt–who hates him for his close relationship with the Pharaoh. The Vizier’s persecution of the cat ultimately results in his fleeing with the High Priest to present-day New York City, where they find an ally in an Egyptologist’s daughter.
Maria Luisa Lang was born in Rome and lives in New York City. She has a degree in art history and is an amateur Egyptologist. The Pharaoh’s Cat is her first novel. The Eye of Nefertiti, both a sequel to The Pharaoh’s Cat and a stand-alone novel, is also available on Amazon in paperback and in a Kindle edition. – Blurb
Oh wow, I loved this book! This is indie writing at its best. The Pharaoh’s Cat is a fantasy adventure with a sci-fi twist. A standard length book of 178 pages, this feels like a super-quick read and is a breeze to chomp through.
I’m not going to say too much because the blurb tells you all you need to know really. The Pharaoh’s Cat is often hilarious, made me cry on three occasions and is just pure, heartfelt goodness throughout.
I highly recommend it to readers of any genre as I’m sure all will find many things to love about this unique “tail”. I should point out that cats and pyramids are two of my favourite things, but that doesn’t make this a biased review 😉
I don’t always give star ratings for books, but The Pharaoh’s Cat definitely deserves a 5/5. I’m sad that the book has ended, but luckily I can now move on to The Eye of Nefertiti! Look out for a review coming soon.
This week’s Tuesday doodle comes from Yves Tanguy.
I recently reviewed David Smith’s excellent book, Letters to Strabo. David has very kindly agreed to give away a signed copy to three lucky Examining the Odd readers!
The competition will close on August 5th. I will then use the Rafflecopter random generator to choose three winners. Their details will be passed on to David and he will sign and send the books! 18+ only please.
I recently reviewed David Smith’s Love in Lindfield and I’ve just finished his Letters to Strabo. Although the former was a fun read, the latter is definitely more my style and I really enjoyed the adventure.
As Finn’s mother dies, he promises that he’ll find out what really happened to his father, a man Finn has never really known. This takes him on an epic quest and he very kindly allows us to tag along.
Along the way, he’s inspired through a series of adventures by the landscapes and people he meets travelling round the Mediterranean, but especially by the Letters to Strabo, written by Eve, his long-distance pen pal whom he dreams, one day, will become his wife… Through these letters, Finn gradually learns more about himself but also about how Eve is, in turn, struggling with an emotional trauma that she won’t fully reveal… This is both a love story and coming-of-age tale, painted on the canvas of the radiant literary, cultural and physical geography of the Mediterranean. It is funny and provocative as Finn recounts, with disarming honesty, the excitement and mistakes of youthful energy, but ultimately life-affirming in the emergence of new hope from personal tragedy. – Troubador
BEHIND EVERY GREAT LOVE IS AN EPIC STORY WAITING TO BE TOLD.
“One of the best coming of age novels in years” BookViral.
“Rich and intriguing with outstanding passages of lyrical prose.” S. Robinson
Intentionally, I believe, this novel reads like a travel guide, taking us to Greece, Persia, India, Egypt, North Africa and many more exciting destinations. We’re right beside Finn for his whole trip, sharing in his adventures, friendships and love affairs.
What makes this travel experience even more interesting is that it’s set in the late seventies and not the present day. Despite geography and history both being fascinating to me, neither are anywhere near to being my intellectual strengths and I felt as though I was casually learning throughout the book.
Each chapter begins with a quote from Mark Twain, echoing Finn’s journey with his own experiences. It does occasionally seem as though there’s too much going on in this book, from the search for information about the protagonist’s father, to his many love interests, the actual travel experiences themselves, and even some surprising action scenes.
I did enjoy the style of writing though, particularly when young Finn is behaving in a laddish way, playing the loveable fool and unwittingly getting into trouble. A surprising cameo role for Peggy Guggenheim also delighted me!
David Smith has also written Searching for Amber and Death in Leamington, as well as the aforementioned Love in Lindfield.
I’m pretty late to the party, but last night I finally got round to watching The Birds, the Hitchcock film based on Daphne du Maurier’s story of the same name (first published in The Apple Tree).
It stars Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren, both intriguing but slightly unlikable, at least in these roles anyway. The film begins with sweet little lovebirds and a wealthy woman with stalker-like behaviour (Hedren) and ends with murderous crows and seabirds.
The women of the film are intriguing and at times it can be hard to judge what the bird-loving Hitchcock or Hunter were getting at with these characters. Perhaps that’s why they made Taylor’s character so bland. I must admit, it was no Vertigo, but I still really enjoyed The Birds.
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Edited by||George Tomasini|
Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$11.4 million|
Running time: 119 minutes.
It is one of the most disturbing sequences in cinematic history: a woman tiptoes through a house until – in three staccato shots – she discovers the bloody corpse of its occupant on the bedroom floor, his eye sockets two black holes dripping with gore. – Telegraph
In this film, the female lead, Melanie Daniels is standing outside and you can see the playground behind her gradually filling up with birds. This could be perhaps my favorite scene in movie history. This scene is the best example of montage or Mise En Scene I could think of. Hitchcock was extremely impressive in his dramatic techniques. It helped to build the tension which also made this film horror and suspense. – Lighting the Birds
Is The Birds about feminism? I don’t know, and I’m less convinced of this now than I was a decade ago. – The Imaginative Conservative
Hitchcock initially wanted his 1950s leading lady Grace Kelly for the role of Melanie Daniels, but after she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956, she retired from acting and declined all offers to return to Hollywood. He’d also sought Anne Bancroft for the role, but even with his expansive budget, he couldn’t afford her. Others on his wish list included starlets Sandra Dee, Carol Lynley, Yvette Mimieux, and Pamela Tiffin… He discovered his eventual leading lady, Hedren, a model with no acting experience, when he spotted her in a TV commercial for a diet drink during NBC’s “Today” show… The director initially wanted Joseph Stefano, his “Psycho” screenwriter, to return for “The Birds,” but Stefano wasn’t interested in the story. – Movie Fone
Hunter began working on the screenplay in September 1961. He and Hitchcock developed the story, suggesting foundations such as the townspeople having a guilty secret to hide, and the birds an instrument of punishment. He suggested that the film begin using some elements borrowed from the screwball comedy genre then have it evolve into “stark terror”. This appealed to Hitchcock, according to the writer, because it conformed to his love of suspense: the title and the publicity would have already informed the audience that birds attack, but they do not know when. The initial humor followed by horror would turn the suspense into shock… Hitchcock at later stages consulted with his friends Hume Cronyn (whose wife Jessica Tandy was playing Lydia) and V.S. Pritchett, who both offered lengthy reflections on the work… The director commissioned Sala and Remi Gassmann to design an electronic soundtrack. They are credited with “electronic sound production and composition”, and Hitchcock’s previous musical collaborator Bernard Herrmann is credited as “sound consultant”… Source music includes the first of Claude Debussy‘s Deux arabesques, which Tippi Hedren’s character plays on piano, and “Risseldy Rosseldy”, an Americanized version of the Scottish folk song “Wee Cooper O’Fife“, which is sung by the schoolchildren. – Good old Wikipedia
Cover design: Mike Russell
“Mr Spencer’s scones are legendary.”
20 mind-expanding short stories.
Inspiring, liberating, otherworldly, magical, surreal, bizarre, funny, disturbing, unique… all of these words have been used to describe the stories of Mike Russell so put on your top hat, open your third eye and enjoy: Nothing Is Strange
When I began reading this collection I was more than addicted to Mike Russell’s strange fiction. The title Nothing is Strange caught my attention more than anything because it seemed to contradict everything I had encountered so far since delving into this odd world of peculiar characters.
I thought ‘will these stories be somehow…less strange?‘ and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I shouldn’t…
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