The Saturday Night Special: “The Fearsome Touch of Death” by Robert E. Howard (1930)

_As long as midnight cloaks the earth_
_With shadows grim and stark,_
_God save us from the Judas kiss_
_Of a dead man in the dark._

_Old Adam Farrel lay dead in the house wherein he had lived alone
for the last twenty years. A silent, churlish recluse, in his life he
had known no friends, and only two men had watched his passing._

Dr. Stein rose and glanced out the window into the gathering dusk.

“You think you can spend the night here, then?” he asked his
companion.

This man, Falred by name, assented.

“Yes, certainly. I guess it’s up to me.”

“Rather a useless and primitive custom, sitting up with the dead,”

Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard

commented the doctor, preparing to depart, “but I suppose in common
decency we will have to bow to precedence. Maybe I can find someone
who’ll come over here and help you with your vigil.”

Falred shrugged his shoulders. “I doubt it. Farrel wasn’t liked–
wasn’t known by many people. I scarcely knew him myself, but I don’t
mind sitting up with the corpse.”

Dr. Stein was removing his rubber gloves and Falred watched the
process with an interest that almost amounted to fascination. A
slight, involuntary shudder shook him at the memory of touching these
gloves–slick, cold, clammy things, like the touch of death.

“You may get lonely tonight, if I don’t find anyone,” the doctor
remarked as he opened the door. “Not superstitious, are you?”

Falred laughed. “Scarcely. To tell the truth, from what I hear of
Farrel’s disposition, I’d rather be watching his corpse than have been
his guest in life.”

The door closed and Falred took up his vigil. He seated himself in
the only chair the room boasted, glanced casually at the formless,
sheeted bulk on the bed opposite him, and began to read by the light
of the dim lamp which stood on the rough table.

Outside, the darkness gathered swiftly, and finally Falred laid
down his magazine to rest his eyes. He looked again at the shape which
had, in life, been the form of Adam Farrel, wondering what quirk in
the human nature made the sight of a corpse not so unpleasant, but
such an object of fear to man. Unthinking ignorance, seeing in dead
things a reminder of death to come, he decided lazily, and began idly
contemplating as to what life had held for this grim and crabbed old
man, who had neither relatives nor friends, and who had seldom left
the house wherein he had died. The usual tales of miser-hoarded wealth
had accumulated, but Falred felt so little interest in the whole
matter that it was not even necessary for him to overcome any
temptation to prey about the house for possible hidden treasure.

He returned to his reading with a shrug. The task was more
boresome than he had thought for. After a while he was aware that
every time he looked up from his magazine and his eyes fell upon the
bed with its grim occupant, he started involuntarily as if he had, for
an instant, forgotten the presence of the dead man and was
unpleasantly reminded of the fact. The start was slight and
instinctive, but he felt almost angered at himself. He realized, for
the first time, the utter and deadening silence which enwrapped the
house–a silence apparently shared by the night, for no sound came
through the window. Adam Farrel lived as far apart from his neighbors
as possible, and there was no other house within hearing distance.

Falred shook himself as if to rid his mind of unsavory
speculations, and went back to his reading. A sudden vagrant gust of
wind whipped through the window, in which the light in the lamp
flickered and went out suddenly. Falred, cursing softly, groped in the
darkness for matches, burning his fingers on the lamp chimney. He
struck a match, relighted the lamp, and glancing over at the bed, got
a horrible mental jolt. Adam Farrel’s face stared blindly at him, the
dead eyes wide and blank, framed in the gnarled gray features. Even as
Falred instinctively shuddered, his reason explained the apparent
phenomenon: the sheet that covered the corpse had been carelessly
thrown across the face and the sudden puff of wind had disarranged and
flung it aside.

Yet there was something grisly about the thing, something
fearsomely suggestive–as if, in the cloaking dark, a dead hand had
flung aside the sheet, just as if the corpse were about to rise….

Falred, an imaginative man, shrugged his shoulders at these
ghastly thoughts and crossed the room to replace the sheet. The dead
eyes seemed to stare malevolently, with an evilness that transcended
the dead man’s churlishness in life. The workings of a vivid
imagination, Falred knew, and he re-covered the gray face, shrinking
as his hand chanced to touch the cold flesh–slick and clammy, the
touch of death. He shuddered with the natural revulsion of the living
for the dead, and went back to his chair and magazine.

At last, growing sleepy, he lay down upon a couch which, by some
strange whim of the original owner, formed part of the room’s scant
furnishings, and composed himself for slumber. He decided to leave the
light burning, telling himself that it was in accordance with the
usual custom of leaving lights burning for the dead; for he was not
willing to admit to himself that already he was conscious of a dislike
for lying in the darkness with the corpse. He dozed, awoke with a
start and looked at the sheeted form of the bed. Silence reigned over
the house, and outside it was very dark.

The hour was approaching midnight, with its accompanying eerie
domination over the human mind. Falred glanced again at the bed where
the body lay and found the sight of the sheeted object most repellent.
A fantastic idea had birth in his mind, and grew, that beneath the
sheet, the mere lifeless body had become a strange, monstrous thing, a
hideous, conscious being, that watched him with eyes which burned
through the fabric of the cloth. This thought–a mere fantasy, of
course–he explained to himself by the legends of vampires, undead
ghosts and such like–the fearsome attributes with which the living
have cloaked the dead for countless ages, since primitive man first
recognized in death something horrid and apart from life. Man feared
death, thought Falred, and some of this fear of death took hold on the
dead so that they, too, were feared. And the sight of the dead
engendered grisly thoughts, gave rise to dim fears of hereditary
memory, lurking back in the dark corners of the brain.

At any rate, that silent, hidden thing was getting on his nerves.
He thought of uncovering the face, on the principle that familiarity
breeds contempt. The sight of the features, calm and still in death,
would banish, he thought, all such wild conjectures as were haunting
him in spite of himself. But the thought of those dead eyes staring in
the lamplight was intolerable; so at last he blew out the light and
lay down. This fear had been stealing upon him so insidiously and
gradually that he had not been aware of its growth.

With the extinguishing of the light, however, and the blotting out
of the sight of the corpse, things assumed their true character and
proportions, and Falred fell asleep almost instantly, on his lips a
faint smile for his previous folly.

He awakened suddenly. How long he had been asleep he did not know.
He sat up, his pulse pounding frantically, the cold sweat beading his
forehead. He knew instantly where he was, remembered the other
occupant of the room. But what had awakened him? A dream–yes, now he
remembered–a hideous dream in which the dead man had risen from the
bed and stalked stiffly across the room with eyes of fire and a horrid
leer frozen on his gray lips. Falred had seemed to lie motionless,
helpless; then as the corpses reached a gnarled and horrible hand, he
had awakened.

He strove to pierce the gloom, but the room was all blackness and
all without was so dark that no gleam of light came through the
window. He reached a shaking hand toward the lamp, then recoiled as if
from a hidden serpent. Sitting here in the dark with a fiendish corpse
was bad enough, but he dared not light the lamp, for fear that his
reason would be snuffed out like a candle at what he might see.
Horror, stark and unreasoning, had full possession of his soul; he no
longer questioned the instinctive fears that rose in him. All those
legends he had heard came back to him and brought a belief in them.
Death was a hideous thing, a brain-shattering horror, imbuing lifeless
men with a horrid malevolence. Adam Farrel in his life had been simply
a churlish but harmless man; now he was a terror, a monster, a fiend
lurking in the shadows of fear, ready to leap on mankind with talons
dipped deep in death and insanity.

Falred sat there, his blood freezing, and fought out his silent
battle. Faint glimmerings of reason had begun to touch his fright when
a soft, stealthy sound again froze him. He did not recognize it as the
whisper of the night wind across the windowsill. His frenzied fancy
knew it only as the tread of death and horror. He sprang from the
couch, then stood undecided. Escape was in his mind but he was too
dazed to even try to formulate a plan of escape. Even his sense of
direction was gone. Fear had so stultified his mind that he was not
able to think consciously. The blackness spread in long waves about
him and its darkness and void entered into his brain. His motions,
such as they were, were instinctive. He seemed shackled with mighty
chains and his limbs responded sluggishly, like an imbecile’s.

A terrible horror grew up in him and reared its grisly shape, that
the dead man was behind him, was stealing upon him from the rear. He
no longer thought of lighting the lamp; he no longer thought of
anything. Fear filled his whole being; there was room for nothing
else.

He backed slowly away in the darkness, hands behind him,
instinctively feeling the way. With a terrific effort he partly shook
the clinging mists of horror from him, and, the cold sweat clammy upon
his body, strove to orient himself. He could see nothing, but the bed
was across the room, in front of him. He was backing away from it.
There was where the dead man was lying, according to all rules of
nature; if the thing were, as he felt, behind him, then the old tales
were true: death did implant in lifeless bodies an unearthly
animation, and dead men did roam the shadows to work their ghastly and
evil will upon the sons of men. Then–great God!–what was man but a
wailing infant, lost in the night and beset by frightful things from
the black abysses and the terrible unknown voids of space and time?
These conclusions he did not reach by any reasoning process; they
leaped full-grown into his terror-dazed brain. He worked his way
slowly backward, groping, clinging to the thought that the dead man
must be in front of him.

Then his back-flung hands encountered something–something slick,
cold and clammy–like the touch of death. A scream shook the echoes,
followed by the crash of a falling body.

The next morning they who came to the house of death found two
corpses in the room. Adam Farrel’s sheeted body lay motionless upon
the bed, and across the room lay the body of Falred, beneath the shelf
where Dr. Stein had absent-mindedly left his gloves–rubber gloves,
slick and clammy to the touch of a hand groping in the dark–a hand of
one fleeing his own fear–rubber gloves, slick and clammy and cold,
like the touch of death.

###

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New Fiction by George Gad Economou: “Dark Room”

The darkness of the night had engulfed the room; the only light the edge of the lit cigarette, hanging from her lips. The night sky in front of her eyes, the full moon illuminating the calm ocean underneath. Her sighs were deep and silent, her mind occupied with thoughts of him. Suddenly a sound.

What the… what was that? No, it can’t… there’s no… I’m all alone in here. No, there’s… it did came from the closet. But… a moan from inside the closet? But… but I’m all alone in here! There’s no one in the house BUT me!
Fear overcame her, as the sigh was repeated. Her glare was fixated on the still close closet; she wished to open it,

"Distance" Photo by Phil Slattery circa 1993-1996

“Distance”
Photo by Phil Slattery
circa 1993-1996

to confirm its emptiness. Yet, she was afraid. Scared of what may hide in there. I’m going insane! There’s… there’s no one in there. All I got to do is… just open the damn door, Jill. Just… I can’t do it! What if… something is, in fact, hiding in there? What if… NO! I’m… It’s nothing! I have to…She got up; with small, uncertain steps she approached the now silent closet. Her heartbeat elevated, her heart pounding hard up against her ribs. Her breathing heavy; sweat ran down her eyes. The lit cigarette still hanging from her lips. A voice came from within the closet. No, no. It can’t… I just… Damn it Jill, get it together! I’m hallucinating, I’m… I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me! All I need to do is to open the closet, and… then what? She stared at the closet; observing it in fright. She knew it all too well, all her clothes were in there. She opened it just a couple of hours ago, to retrieve a clean pair of underwear. Then, there was no one in it. But now… she gulped, her gaze fixated on the closet.

“Jill, it’s me…” An eerie voice reached her ears, coming from within the closet; yet, seemingly from far away as well.
No, no, it can’t… there’s no way it’s… how could it be?! I can’t… Damn it, I have to stop drinking, I have to… No, it’s been three years since he… three damn years since… It can’t be him, it simply can’t….
“‘Tis me, my long lost love.” The voice repeated, distantly, and yet affectionately .
She jumped backwards, in bewilderment. “John…” She whispered, in sheer disbelief. She stared at the closet, eager to open it, yet terrified. For she didn’t know what to expect, what she’d find.
I’ll find nothing! Nothing but my own clothes and underwear. I’m going crazy, that’s it. I’ve been alone for far too long. Nothing less, nothing more. I’m sitting here, sobbing still for John, and… and suddenly I hear his voice. There’s nothing supernatural… No Jill, there’s nothing but your own mind playing games with you.
“Baby, please open the…” The voice started, then stopped. Another loud sigh came from within the closet, shattering, albeit slightly, the wooden doors.
No, no, no! I can’t accept that… there’s no way in Hell that this is…
“John?” She repeated ,her glance unable to move away from the closed closet. “Yes, ’tis me, honey. ‘Tis…” The voice paused ,and drew a deep breath .”I don’t have time, I… I need you to save me!”
I must stop drinking. I must… whiskey and vodka don’t go together. I’m hallucinating, I’m hearing voices. Damn it John, why did you have to… why did you have to die on me, damn it? And now… now I’m tormented by these… these hallucinations, or whatever they are… Why did you do this to me?
“I’m really here, my dear Jill.” The voice continued. “You have to open the door, release me from my… prison.” She gasped, her mind adamantly refusing to accept the situation; dead certain she was barely hallucinating, perhaps just dreaming.
That’s it! I’ll just pinch my arm and then… Ouch! Nope, still here, still… nothing’s changed. I’m not dreaming. Alright, then I’m barely hallucinating; I’ll just go to the couch, lay down, and…
“NO!” The voice yelled, causing the heavy closet to tremble, a horrible sound amidst the still of the night. She glared, scared and astonished, at the closet. She ran her fingers through her hair, then wiped the sweat off her forehead.
Can it really be? Can it… is this really John? My John? Can it really be, that… NO, no, it can’t be. It’s all my mind, playing dirty tricks on me. Just when I was about to forget… well, not forget but… get over the… overcome… who am I kidding? I never could forget him, never could move on… I could…
“You should.” The voice startled her once again. “You must move on, my dearest. Yet… first you must help me. Open the closet, and… and release me!” It demanded. She took a hesitant step towards the closet, suddenly overwhelmed by feelings previously unknown to her. She wanted to see for herself, she wanted to prove to her own mind she was merely imagining the entire thing.
I’ll just open the damn closet; see my clothes stare, blankly, back at me… then I’ll go lay down. Get some fucking sleep. I need it, apparently, more than anything else in the… why is there light coming out of the… what the Hell is going on?  She froze still, staring, perplexed, at the bright red light, emerging from the small opening between the closet’s two doors. She licked her upper lip, her heart beating violently fast within her chest. She drew a deep breath, unwilling to accept the sight of the horrific light.  No, it’s… just a part of the dream, or whatever this is. I… there’s nothing in my closet, but my damn clothes. The light, the voice… all this; they are not real. They ‘re nothing but ideas; nothing but my damn imagination. There’s nothing else… I can still open the closet, nothing will come out of it, nor will I see John. More certain, she moved closer to the closet, standing almost in front of it. She reached, hesitantly, for the handle. After a mere instant, she retracted her hand, with a painful scream.
What the…? The damn thing is HOT! It’s… it’s fucking burning. What’s going on? How’s it even… okay with the voices, even with the light… these I can imagine. But… but this? No, this is something more, something…
” Don’t be afraid.” The voice then reassured her. “Nothing can hurt you. You’re not…” The voice paused, and Jill heard its deep groan. “What is going on?” She demanded, still rubbing her aching hand on her blouse. “Nothing you can understand.” The voice coldly replied, then turned softer. “Yet, I have to plea with you, again; open the door, free me! Free the love of your life, I beg you, with… with all I have left!”
No, no, it’s insane. This whole damn thing is… I don’t know what to even make out of it… I… What the hell am I supposed to do, damn it? How can I… Get it together, girl!  There’s nothing wrong with opening your closet. Just prove to yourself you’re insane, and… and then try to sleep it off! That’s it, reach for the damn handle, the heat is not real; it’s all in your mind.  She bit her lips as her palm burned, and pulled the closet open. Instantly she backed away, stumbled and fell flat on the floor; incapable, at the same time, to avert her gaze from the closet’s inside.  What the fuck is this? How’s that… Where are my clothes? What happened to my… no, it’s not… nothing’s real. Just a very vivid hallucination; or an incredibly lucid dream, from which I refuse to wake up. There’s no other explanation, nothing else can possibly..
**********.
“‘Tis all real,” the voice said, more clearly now, “what you see, is Hell, Jill. Hell.”
NO! It can’t be! First of all… John in Hell? That’s… that’s insane. Secondly, even if… which I refuse to accept, but even if… how can it… how did it come inside my closet? How…
“No time for explanations!” The voice hastily added. “You have to… you need to…” The voice paused.
“No, I refuse to…” She complained loudly. “There’s… it’s not there! All this, is nothing but…”
“It’s all real, Jill.” The voice replied .”You have to… you need to save me! I’m trapped in…”
No, no. There’s no way this is real. I’ll just close my eyes, count to ten, and… and then I’ll wake up! I’ll find myself on my bed, or on the floor. I’ll have the worst hangover ever, I’ll go through seven stages of shit, but… But the closet will be closed, and my clothes will be the only thing in it! Yes, I’ll… She closed her eyes, and drew a deep breath. “STOP!” The voice demanded. “Jill, listen to me… I don’t have time… I can’t explain everything but…” The voice paused; Jill was staring into the awful scenery.  A tall mountain was expanding in front of her eyes. She could see it in its entirety, despite its massiveness. She also noticed several village-esque places , scattered all about the mountain.  In fear she glanced at the three headed figure sitting atop the mountain; an insanely tall, hugely built monster, munching on some unfortunate bodies, she couldn’t recognize. Near the mountain’s base some red-colored lakes laid, where a vast number of bodies were swimming, struggling to remain on the surface. Around the lakes walked demon-like creatures, with long tails and pointy nails, laughing and mocking the swimmers.
And then she saw him, John. Somewhere along the middle of the mountain. Standing on a small platform; huge, threatening snakes crawling around the platform. John was staring back at her, his eyes filled with both horror and hope. Her heart skipped a beat when she first noted him. She nearly fainted when one of the snakes jumped, extremely elegantly for a creature this size; yet it didn’t reach the top of the narrow platform, missing it for mere centimeters.
Oh my God, what is this? Can it be real? Is it even possible that I’m looking at… NO, it’s… I’m merely hallucinating. John is not in Hell, and I’m most certainly not staring into Hell, like a modern day Dante! It’s simply… I’m too drunk  and tired, that’s all! It’s nothing but…
“Jill, please help me!” The voice erupted. “I shouldn’t be here, I… I don’t deserve this punishment, I…”
She merely glared, unable to move. She examined the vast mountain, and noticed even more places of torture, pain  and despair. She saw legs coming out of the ground, devils poking them with large forks. She heard the moans of the buried heads; the foul smell of the ground they were buried in reached her nostrils, causing her a sudden urge to vomit.
“Stop focusing on them!” The voice pleaded. “I am the one who can be saved .I’m… I was your husband, I… I still love you. You still love me! You’ve got to help me!” The voice broke down in loud crying.
“What am I supposed to do?” She whispered, incapable of getting up from the floor; her breathing had become short and rapid, her eyesight blurry.
“Reach for me!” The voice explained, hurriedly. “Get me out of here! Only you can save me!”
No, it’s… It’s all in my mind. There’s no vision of Hell in my closet! There is no Hell, and even if there was… NO! This is all a dream, and nothing but a dream. A sick, vivid, dream.
“Please, my time’s running out!” The voice cried. “You must help me, you…” The voice was interrupted by a loud, sickening laughter.
Her skin cringed at the sound of it, and her heart stopped beating for a few seconds, as she noticed the changed expression on John’s face .
“Now it’s too late!” Another, very deep, voice announced. “Sinners are not meant to be saved; yet you were given the chance to do so! And you wasted it!” It laughed again, even louder and even more sinisterly; causing her a tremendous heartache.
What was that? How vivid is my imagination? How can it be… It’s… It can’t be real, can it?
In sheer despair she noticed the tears running freely on John’s face; suddenly, one of the snakes jumped again, and this time reached the platform. She was staring, in terror, at the large creature crawling around John, who was squirming in pure fear.
“No, please don’t!” She yelled. “I’ll do anything to…”
“Don’t say it!” John yelled back. “Don’t!”
“No, I can’t let you…” She tried to protest.
“Damn it, Jill!” John replied, angrily, whilst the snake slowly crawled around his legs. “Don’t you see it? You squandered your chance! Now… I will NOT let you sell your soul to Him too… I…” His voice was muffled, as another snake jumped on him, reaching his mouth with ease.
Oh my God! They’re choking him, they’re… please God, save him. I beg thee, do something! I must…
“It’s pointless to pray!” The deeper voice announced. “This is MY kingdom. He has no power in here. His is another realm. This is where the sinners pay for their crimes! He has no right to intervene. I gave you a chance to act, to save your friend. Yet…” The voice laughed .”Yet you did nothing! For you were too busy convincing yourself this was all but a dream. So…” The voice sighed. “So, take a last look of your friend, for the Gates of Hell are closed to you; for now!”
No, don’t… stop torturing him! He’s in pain; my God, what did I do? Was it really me, that… no, it can’t be, it…
She watched, involuntarily, John’s body being now covered by snakes, as four of the larger ones had found their way up on the platform, slowly squeezing the last traces of life out of him.
She sobbed loudly, as the vision of Hell vanished in an instant, and the closet door was shut violently from the inside.

The Saturday Night Special: “Ancient Lights” by Algernon Blackwood (1912)

From Southwater, where he left the train, the road led due west. That he knew; for the rest he trusted to luck, being one of those born walkers who dislike asking the way. He had that instinct, and as a rule it served him well. “A mile or so due west along the sandy road till you come to a stile onthe right; then across the fields. You’ll see the red house straight before you.” He glanced at the postcard’s instructions once again, and once again hetried to decipher the scratched-out sentence— without success. It had been so elaborately inked over that no word was legible. Inked-out sentences in a letter were always enticing. He wondered what it was that had to be so very carefully obliterated.

The afternoon was boisterous, with a tearing, shouting wind that blew from the sea, across the Sussex weald. Massive clouds with rounded, piled-up edges, cannoned across gaping spaces of bluesky. Far away the line of Downs swept the horizon, like an arriving wave. Chanctonbury Ring rode their crest—a scudding ship, hull down before the wind.  He took his hat off and walked rapidly, breathinggreat draughts of air with delight and exhilaration. The road was deserted; no horsemen, bicycles, or motors; not even a tradesman’s cart; no single walker. But anyhow he would never have asked the way. Keeping a sharp eye for the stile, he pounded along, while the wind tossed the cloak against his face, and made waves across the blue puddles in the yellow road. The trees showed their under leaves of white. The bracken and the high new grass bent all one way. Great life was in the day, high spirits and dancing everywhere. And for a Croydon surveyor’s clerk just out of an office this was like a holiday at the sea.
It was a day for high adventure, and his heart rose up to meet the mood of Nature. His umbrella with the silver ring ought to have been a sword, and his brown shoes should have been top-boots withspurs upon the heels. Where hid the enchanted Castle and the princess with the hair of sunny gold? His horse…
The stile came suddenly into view and nipped adventure in the bud. Everyday clothes took him prisoner again. He was a surveyor’s clerk, middle-aged, earning three pounds a week, coming  to see about a client’s proposed alterations in a wood—something to ensure a better view from the dining-room window. Across the fields, perhaps a mile away, he saw the red house gleaming in the sunshine; and resting on the stile a moment to get his breath he noticed a copse of oak and hornbeam on the right. “Aha,” he told himself “so that must bethe wood he wants to cut down to improve the view? I’ll ’ave a look at it.” There were boards up, of course, but there was an inviting little path as well.“I’m not a trespasser,” he said; “it’s part of my business, this is.” He scrambled awkwardly over the gate and entered the copse. A little round would bring him to the field again.
But the moment he passed among the trees the wind ceased shouting and a stillness dropped upon the world. So dense was the growth that the sunshine only came through in isolated patches.  was close. He mopped his forehead and put his green felt hat on, but a low branch knocked it off again at once, and as he stooped an elastic twig swung back and stung his face. There were flowers along both edges of the little path; glades opened on either side; ferns curved about in damper corners, and the smell of earth and foliage was rich and sweet. It was cooler here. What an enchanting little wood, he thought, turning down a small green glade where the sunshine flickered like silver wings. How it danced and fluttered and moved about! He put a dark blue flower in his buttonhole. Again his hat, caught by an oak branch as he rose, was knocked from his head, falling across his eyes. And this time he did not put it on again. Swinging his umbrella, he walked on with uncovered head, whistling rather loudly as he went. But the thick-ness of the trees hardly encouraged whistling, and something of his gaiety and high spirits seemed to leave him. He suddenly found himself treading circumspectly and with caution. The stillness in the wood was so peculiar.
There was a rustle among the ferns and leaves and something shot across the path ten yards ahead, stopped abruptly an instant with head cocked sideways to stare, then dived again beneath the under brush with the speed of a shadow. He started like a frightened child, laughing the next second that a mere pheasant could have made him jump. In the distance he heard wheels upon the road, and wondered why the sound was pleasant.“Good old butcher’s cart,” he said to himself—then realised that he was going in the wrong direction and had somehow got turned round. For the road should be behind him, not in front.
And he hurriedly took another narrow glade that lost itself in greenness to the right. “That’s my direction, of course,” he said; “the trees has mixed me up a bit, it seems”—then found himself abruptly by the gate he had first climbed over. He had merely made a circle. Surprise became almost discomfiture then. And a man, dressed like a game-keeper in browny green, leaned against the gate, hitting his legs with a switch. “I’m making for Mr.Lumley’s farm,” explained the walker. “This is his wood, I believe—” then stopped dead, because it was no man at all, but merely an effect of light andshade and foliage. He stepped back to reconstruct the singular illusion, but the wind shook the branches roughly here on the edge of the wood and the foliage refused to reconstruct the figure. The leaves all rustled strangely. And just then the sun went behind a cloud, making the whole wood look otherwise. Yet how the mind could be thus doubly deceived was indeed remarkable, for it almost seemed to him the man had answered, spoken—or was this the shuffling noise the branches made?—and had pointed with his switch to the notice-board upon the nearest tree. The words rang on in his head, but of course he had imagined them: “No, it’s not his wood. It’s ours.” And some village wit, moreover, had changed the lettering on the weather-beaten board, for it read quite plainly,“Trespassers will be persecuted.”
And while the astonished clerk read the words and chuckled, he said to himself, thinking what a tale he’d have to tell his wife and children later—“The blooming wood has tried to chuck me out. But I’ll go in again. Why, it’s only a matter of a square acre at most. I’m bound to reach the fields on the other side if I keep straight on.” He remembered his position in the office. He had a certain dignity to maintain.

The cloud passed from below the sun, and light splashed suddenly in all manner of unlikely places. The man went straight on. He felt a touch of puzzling confusion somewhere; this way the copse had of shifting from sunshine into shadow doubtless troubled sight a little. To his relief at last, a new glade opened through the trees and disclosed the fields with a glimpse of the red house in the distance at the far end. But a little wicket gate that stood across the path had first to be climbed, and as he scrambled heavily over—for it would not open—he got the astonishing feeling that it slid off sideways beneath his weight, and towards the wood. Like the moving staircases at Harrod’s and Earl’s Court, it began to glide off with him. It was quite horrible. He made a violent effort to get down before it carried him into the trees, but his feet became entangled with the bars and umbrella, so that he fell heavily upon the farther side,

Algernon Blackwood 1869-1951

Algernon Blackwood
1869-1951

arms spread across the grass and nettles, boots clutched between the first and second bars. He lay there  a moment like a man crucified upside down, and while he struggled to get disentangled—feet, bars,and umbrella formed a regular net—he saw the little man in browny green go past him with extreme rapidity through the wood. The man was laughing. He passed across the glade some fifty yards away, and he was not alone this time. A companion like himself went with him. The clerk, now upon his feet again, watched them disappear intothe gloom of green beyond. “They’re tramps, not gamekeepers,” he said to himself, half mortified, half angry. But his heart was thumping dreadfully ,and he dared not utter all his thought.

He examined the wicket gate, convinced it was a trick gate somehow—then went hurriedly on again, disturbed beyond belief to see that the glade no longer opened into fields, but curved away to the right. What in the world had happened to him? His sight was so utterly at fault.  Again the sunflamed out abruptly and lit the floor of the wood with pools of silver, and at the same moment a violent gust of wind passed shouting overhead. Drops fell clattering everywhere upon the leaves, making asharp pattering as of many footsteps. The whole copse shuddered and went moving.
“Rain, by George,” thought the clerk, and feelingfor his umbrella, discovered he had lost it. He turned back to the gate and found it lying on thefarther side. To his amazement he saw the fields at the far end of the glade, the red house, too, ashine in the sunset. He laughed then, for, of course, in his struggle with the gate, he had somehow got turnedround—had fallen back instead of forwards. Climbing over, this time quite easily, he retraced hissteps. The silver band, he saw, had been torn from the umbrella. No doubt his foot, a nail, or something had caught in it and ripped it off. The clerk began to run; he felt extraordinarily dismayed.
But, while he ran, the entire wood ran with him, round him, to and fro, trees shifting like living things, leaves folding and unfolding, trunks darting backwards and forwards, and branches disclosing enormous empty spaces, then closing up again before he could look into them. There were foot-steps everywhere, and laughing, crying voices, andcrowds of figures gathering just behind his back tillthe glade, he knew, was thick with moving life. The wind in his ears, of course, produced the voices andthe laughter, while sun and clouds, plunging thecopse alternately in shadow and bright dazzlinglight, created the figures. But he did not like it, and went as fast as ever his sturdy legs could take him.He was frightened now. This was no story for his wife and children. He ran like the wind. But his feetmade no sound upon the soft mossy turf.
Then, to his horror, he saw that the glade grew narrow, nettles and weeds stood thick across it, itdwindled down into a tiny path, and twenty yards ahead it stopped finally and melted off among the trees. What the trick gate had failed to achieve, this twisting glade accomplished easily—carried him inbodily among the dense and crowding trees.
There was only one thing to do—turn sharply and dash back again, run headlong into the life that followed at his back, followed so closely too that now it almost touched him, pushing him in. And with reckless courage this was what he did. Itseemed a fearful thing to do. He turned with a sortof violent spring, head down and shoulders for- ward, hands stretched before his face. He made theplunge; like a hunted creature he charged full tiltthe other way, meeting the wind now in his face.
Good Lord! The glade behind him had closed upas well; there was no longer any path at all. Turninground and round, like an animal at bay, he searched for an opening, a way of escape, searched frantically, breathlessly, terrified now in his bones. But foliage surrounded him, branches blocked the way; the trees stood close and still, unshaken by a breath of wind; and the sun dipped that moment behind agreat black cloud. The entire wood turned dark andsilent. It watched him.
Perhaps it was this final touch of sudden blackness that made him act so foolishly, as though he had really lost his head. At any rate, without pausing to think, he dashed headlong in among the trees again. There was a sensation of being stiflingly surrounded and entangled, and that he must break out at all costs—out and away into the open of the blessed fields and air. He did this ill-considered thing, and apparently charged straight into an oak that deliberately moved into his path to stop him.He saw it shift across a good full yard, and being ameasuring man, accustomed to theodolite and chain, he ought to know. He fell, saw stars, and felta thousand tiny fingers tugging and pulling at his hands and neck and ankles. The stinging nettles, no doubt, were responsible for this. He thought of it later. At the moment it felt diabolically calculated.
But another remarkable illusion was not so easily explained. For all in a moment, it seemed, the entire wood went sliding past him with a thick deep rustling of leaves and laughter, myriad footsteps,and tiny little active, energetic shapes; two men inbrowny green gave him a mighty hoist—and heopened his eyes to find himself lying in the meadow beside the stile where first his incredible adventure had begun. The wood stood in its usual place and stared down upon him in the sunlight. There wasthe red house in the distance as before. Above himgrinned the weather-beaten notice-board: “Trespassers will be prosecuted.”
Dishevelled in mind and body, and a good deal shaken in his official soul, the clerk walked slowly across the fields. But on the way he glanced once more at the postcard of instructions, and saw with dull amazement that the inked-out sentence was quite legible after all beneath the scratches madeacross it: “There is a short cut through the wood—the wood I want cut down—if you care to take it.”Only “care” was so badly written, it looked more like another word; the “c” was uncommonly like “d.”
“That’s the copse that spoils my view of the Downs, you see,” his client explained to him later, pointing across the fields, and referring to the ordnance map beside him. “I want it cut down and a path made so and so.” His finger indicated directionon the map. “The Fairy Wood—it’s still called, and it’s far older than this house. Come now, if you’re ready, Mr. Thomas, we might go out and have alook at it. . .”

Update: “The Slightest of Indiscretions”

Phil Slattery hiking in the Bisti Wilderness near Farmington, NM, circa 2013

Phil Slattery hiking in the Bisti Wilderness near Farmington, NM, circa 2013

So far I have received two nice comments on my short story, “The Slightest of Indiscretions”, which was published earlier today at www.fictionontheweb.co.uk.  Here they are:

Ceinwen Haydon April 19, 2016 at 8:25 AM

Excellent writing brings this poignant story to life and makes the reader work to understand more of what might be. Very many thanks for a satisfying, emotionally intelligent read,
Ceinwen

Nancy Lane April 19, 2016 at 3:45 PM

The back and forth in Quinn’s mind makes it an excellent read. Thank you, Phil.

Publication Announcement: “The Slightest of Indiscretions”

Today, my story “The Slightest of Indiscretions” is being published at Fiction on the Web in the United Kingdom.  “The Slightest of Indiscretions” is not horror, but rather more of dark mainstream literature.  It is a about a park ranger who encounters a strange couple, who enter the park’s bookstore, the weird “vibe” he receives from them,

Phil Slattery self-portrait October 28, 2015

Phil Slattery
self-portrait
October 28, 2015

and his very brief but eerie interaction with them.   The story is based in part on a personal experience in 2002.

I would like to thank Charlie Fish for electing to publish this story.  I enjoyed writing it and I believe it is a good story, but I have had a very hard time placing it, probably because of its offbeat nature.

Please drop by Fiction on the Web and check out the story when you have the opportunity.

Hanns Heinz Ewers Vampire is done!

Ewers’s Vampire is out!

Hanns Heinz Ewers

Its been a long time coming and finally its done! The complete uncensored Vampire book is in John Smith’s capable hands at Sidereal Press. In the meantime I’ve made it available as an ebook through Kindle at Amazon.com. Each country has its own version so go to your Amazon store and check it out. Here are a couple links just to try it out:

This has been a labor of love and I must say that it is certainly worth the wait! There have been over 150 pages added that were not in the John Day edition so you might not recognize the story when you read it.

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The Saturday Night Special: “The Drunkard’s Dream” by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1838)

Being a Fourth Extract from the Legacy of the Late F. Purcell, P. P. of Drumcoolagh

“All this he told with some confusion and
Dismay, the usual consequence of dreams
Of the unpleasant kind, with none at hand
To expound their vain and visionary gleams.
I’ve known some odd ones which seemed really planned
Prophetically, as that which one deems
‘A strange coincidence,’ to use a phrase
By which such things are settled now-a-days.”

BYRON.

 

Dreams–What age, or what country of the world has not felt and acknowledged the mystery of their origin and end? I have thought not a little upon the subject, seeing it is one which has been often forced upon my attention, and sometimes strangely enough; and yet I have never arrived at any thing which at all appeared a satisfactory conclusion. It does appear that a mental phenomenon so extraordinary cannot be wholly without its use. We know, indeed, that in the olden times it has been made the organ of communication between the Deity and his creatures; and when, as I have seen, a dream produces upon a mind, to all appearance hopelessly reprobate and depraved, an effect so powerful and so lasting as to break down the

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu 1814-1873

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu
1814-1873

inveterate habits, and to reform the life of an abandoned sinner. We see in the result, in the reformation of morals, which appeared incorrigible in the reclamation of a human soul which seemed to be irretrievably lost, something more than could be produced by a mere chimaera of the slumbering fancy, something more than could arise from the capricious images of a terrified imagination; but once prevented, we behold in all these things, in the tremendous and mysterious results, the operation of the hand of God. And while Reason rejects as absurd the superstition which will read a prophecy in every dream, she may, without violence to herself, recognize, even in the wildest and most incongruous of the wanderings of a slumbering intellect, the evidences and the fragments of a language which may be spoken, which has been spoken to terrify, to warn, and to command. We have reason to believe too, by the promptness of action, which in the age of the prophets, followed all intimations of this kind, and by the strength of conviction and strange permanence of the effects resulting from certain dreams in latter times, which effects ourselves may have witnessed, that when this medium of communication has been employed by the Deity, the evidences of his presence have been unequivocal. My thoughts were directed to this subject, in a manner to leave a lasting impression upon my mind, by the events which I shall now relate, the statement of which, however extraordinary, is nevertheless accurately correct.

About the year l7– having been appointed to the living of C—-h, I rented a small house in the town, which bears the same name: one morning, in the month of November, I was awakened before my usual time, by my servant, who bustled into my bedroom for the purpose of announcing a sick call. As the Catholic Church holds her last rites to be totally indispensable to the safety of the departing sinner, no conscientious clergyman can afford a moment’s unnecessary delay, and in little more than five minutes I stood ready cloaked and booted for the road in the small front parlour, in which the messenger, who was to act as my guide, awaited my coming. I found a poor little girl crying piteously near the door, and after some slight difficulty I ascertained that her father was either dead, or just dying.

“And what may be your father’s name, my poor child?” said I. She held down her head, as if ashamed. I repeated the question, and the wretched little creature burst into floods of tears, still more bitter than she had shed before. At length, almost provoked by conduct which appeared to me so unreasonable, I began to lose patience, spite of the pity which I could not help feeling towards her, and I said rather harshly, “If you will not tell me the name of the person to whom you would lead me, your silence can arise from no good motive, and I might be justified in refusing to go with you at all.”

“Oh! don’t say that, don’t say that,” cried she. “Oh! sir, it was that I was afeard of when I would not tell you–I was afeard when you heard his name you would not come with me; but it is no use hidin’ it now–it’s Pat Connell, the carpenter, your honour.”

She looked in my face with the most earnest anxiety, as if her very existence depended upon what she should read there; but I relieved her at once. The name, indeed, was most unpleasantly familiar to me; but, however fruitless my visits and advice might have been at another time, the present was too fearful an occasion to suffer my doubts of their utility as my reluctance to re-attempting what appeared a hopeless task to weigh even against the lightest chance, that a consciousness of his imminent danger might produce in him a more docile and tractable disposition. Accordingly I told the child to lead the way, and followed her in silence. She hurried rapidly through the long narrow street which forms the great thoroughfare of the town. The darkness of the hour, rendered still deeper by the close approach of the old fashioned houses, which lowered in tall obscurity on either side of the way; the damp dreary chill which renders the advance of morning peculiarly cheerless, combined with the object of my walk, to visit the death-bed of a presumptuous sinner, to endeavour, almost against my own conviction, to infuse a hope into the heart of a dying reprobate–a drunkard, but too probably perishing under the consequences of some mad fit of intoxication; all these circumstances united served to enhance the gloom and solemnity of my feelings, as I silently followed my little guide, who with quick steps traversed the uneven pavement of the main street. After a walk of about five minutes she turned off into a narrow lane, of that obscure and comfortless class which are to be found in almost all small old fashioned towns, chill without ventilation, reeking with all manner of offensive effluviae, dingy, smoky, sickly and pent-up buildings, frequently not only in a wretched but in a dangerous condition.

“Your father has changed his abode since I last visited him, and, I am afraid, much for the worse,” said I.

“Indeed he has, sir, but we must not complain,” replied she; “we have to thank God that we have lodging and food, though it’s poor enough, it is, your honour.”

Poor child! thought I, how many an older head might learn wisdom from thee–how many a luxurious philosopher, who is skilled to preach but not to suffer, might not thy patient words put to the blush! The manner and language of this child were alike above her years and station; and, indeed, in all cases in which the cares and sorrows of life have anticipated their usual date, and have fallen, as they sometimes do, with melancholy prematurity to the lot of childhood, I have observed the result to have proved uniformly the same. A young mind, to which joy and indulgence have been strangers, and to which suffering and self-denial have been familiarised from the first, acquires a solidity and an elevation which no other discipline could have bestowed, and which, in the present case, communicated a striking but mournful peculiarity to the manners, even to the voice of the child. We paused before a narrow, crazy door, which she opened by means of a latch, and we forthwith began to ascend the steep and broken stairs, which led upwards to the sick man’s room. As we mounted flight after flight towards the garret floor, I heard more and more distinctly the hurried talking of many voices. I could also distinguish the low sobbing of a female. On arriving upon the uppermost lobby, these sounds became fully audible.

“This way, your honor,” said my little conductress, at the same time pushing open a door of patched and half rotten plank, she admitted me into the squalid chamber of death and misery. But one candle, held in the fingers of a scared and haggard-looking child, was burning in the room, and that so dim that all was twilight or darkness except within its immediate influence. The general obscurity, however, served to throw into prominent and startling relief the death-bed and its occupant. The light was nearly approximated to, and fell with horrible clearness upon, the blue and swollen features of the drunkard. I did not think it possible that a human countenance could look so terrific. The lips were black and drawn apart–the teeth were firmly set–the eyes a little unclosed, and nothing but the whites appearing–every feature was fixed and livid, and the whole face wore a ghastly and rigid expression of despairing terror such as I never saw equalled; his hands were crossed upon his breast, and firmly clenched, while, as if to add to the corpse-like effect of the whole, some white cloths, dipped in water, were wound about the forehead and temples. As soon as I could remove my eyes from this horrible spectacle, I observed my friend Dr. D—-, one of the most humane of a humane profession, standing by the bedside. He had been attempting, but unsuccessfully, to bleed the patient, and had now applied his finger to the pulse.

“Is there any hope?” I inquired in a whisper.

A shake of the head was the reply. There was a pause while he continued to hold the wrist; but he waited in vain for the throb of life, it was not there, and when he let go the hand it fell stiffly back into its former position upon the other.

“The man is dead,” said the physician, as he turned from the bed where the terrible figure lay.

Dead! thought I, scarcely venturing to look upon the tremendous and revolting spectacle–dead! without an hour for repentance, even a moment for reflection–dead! without the rites which even the best should have. Is there a hope for him? The glaring eyeball, the grinning mouth, the distorted brow–that unutterable look in which a painter would have sought to embody the fixed despair of the nethermost hell–these were my answer.

The poor wife sat at a little distance, crying as if her heart would break–the younger children clustered round the bed, looking, with wondering curiosity, upon the form of death, never seen before. When the first tumult of uncontrollable sorrow had passed away, availing myself of the solemnity and impressiveness of the scene, I desired the heart-stricken family to accompany me in prayer, and all knelt down, while I solemnly and fervently repeated some of those prayers which appeared most applicable to the occasion. I employed myself thus in a manner which, I trusted, was not unprofitable, at least to the living, for about ten minutes, and having accomplished my task, I was the first to arise. I looked upon the poor, sobbing, helpless creatures who knelt so humbly around me, and my heart bled for them. With a natural transition, I turned my eyes from them to the bed in which the body lay, and, great God! what was the revulsion, the horror which I experienced on seeing the corpse-like, terrific thing seated half upright before me–the white cloths, which had been wound about the head, had now partly slipped from their position, and were hanging in grotesque festoons about the face and shoulders, while the distorted eyes leered from amid them–

“A sight to dream of, not to tell.”

I stood actually rivetted to the spot. The figure nodded its head and lifted its arm, I thought with a menacing gesture. A thousand confused and horrible thoughts at once rushed upon my mind. I had often read that the body of a presumptuous sinner, who, during life, had been the willing creature of every satanic impulse, after the human tenant had deserted it, had been known to become the horrible sport of demoniac possession. I was roused from the stupefaction of terror in which I stood, by the piercing scream of the mother, who now, for the first time, perceived the change which had taken place. She rushed towards the bed, but, stunned by the shock and overcome by the conflict of violent emotions, before she reached it, she fell prostrate upon the floor. I am perfectly convinced that had I not been startled from the torpidity of horror in which I was bound, by some powerful and arousing stimulant, I should have gazed upon this unearthly apparition until I had fairly lost my senses. As it was, however, the spell was broken, superstition gave way to reason: the man whom all believed to have been actually dead, was living! Dr. D—- was instantly standing by the bedside, and, upon examination, he found that a sudden and copious flow of blood had taken place from the wound which the lancet had left, and this, no doubt, had effected his sudden and almost preternatural restoration to an existence from which all thought he had been for ever removed. The man was still speechless, but he seemed to understand the physician when he forbid his repeating the painful and fruitless attempts which he made to articulate, and he at once resigned himself quietly into his hands.

I left the patient with leeches upon his temples, and bleeding freely–apparently with little of the drowsiness which accompanies apoplexy; indeed, Dr. D—- told me that he had never before witnessed a seizure which seemed to combine the symptoms of so many kinds, and yet which belonged to none of the recognized classes; it certainly was not apoplexy, catalepsy, nor delirium tremens, and yet it seemed, in some degree, to partake of the properties of all–it was strange, but stranger things are coming.

During two or three days Dr. D—- would not allow his patient to converse in a manner which could excite or exhaust him, with any one; he suffered him merely, as briefly as possible, to express his immediate wants, and it was not until the fourth day after my early visit, the particulars of which I have just detailed, that it was thought expedient that I should see him, and then only because it appeared that his extreme importunity and impatience were likely to retard his recovery more than the mere exhaustion attendant upon a short conversation could possibly do; perhaps, too, my friend entertained some hope that if by holy confession his patient’s bosom were eased of the perilous stuff, which no doubt, oppressed it, his recovery would be more assured and rapid. It was, then, as I have said, upon the fourth day after my first professional call, that I found myself once more in the dreary chamber of want and sickness. The man was in bed, and appeared low and restless. On my entering the room he raised himself in the bed, and muttered twice or thrice–“Thank God! thank God.” I signed to those of his family who stood by, to leave the room, and took a chair beside the bed. So soon as we were alone, he said, rather doggedly–“There’s no use now in telling me of the sinfulness of bad ways–I know it all–I know where they lead to–I seen everything about it with my own eyesight, as plain as I see you.” He rolled himself in the bed, as if to hide his face in the clothes, and then suddenly raising himself, he exclaimed with startling vehemence–“Look, sir, there is no use in mincing the matter; I’m blasted with the fires of hell; I have been in hell; what do you think of that?–in hell–I’m lost for ever–I have not a chance–I am damned already–damned–damned–.” The end of this sentence he actually shouted; his vehemence was perfectly terrific; he threw himself back, and laughed, and sobbed hysterically. I poured some water into a tea-cup, and gave it to him. After he had swallowed it, I told him if he had anything to communicate, to do so as briefly as he could, and in a manner as little agitating to himself as possible; threatening at the same time, though I had no intention of doing so, to leave him at once, in case he again gave way to such passionate excitement. “It’s only foolishness,” he continued, “for me to try to thank you for coming to such a villain as myself at all; it’s no use for me to wish good to you, or to bless you; for such as me has no blessings to give.” I told him that I had but done my duty, and urged him to proceed to the matter which weighed upon his mind; he then spoke nearly as follows:–“I came in drunk on Friday night last, and got to my bed here, I don’t remember how; sometime in the night, it seemed to me, I wakened, and feeling unasy in myself, I got up out of the bed. I wanted the fresh air, but I would not make a noise to open the window, for fear I’d waken the crathurs. It was very dark, and throublesome to find the door; but at last I did get it, and I groped my way out, and went down as asy as I could. I felt quite sober, and I counted the steps one after another, as I was going down, that I might not stumble at the bottom. When I came to the first landing-place, God be about us always! the floor of it sunk under me, and I went down, down, down, till the senses almost left me. I do not know how long I was falling, but it seemed to me a great while. When I came rightly to myself at last, I was sitting at a great table, near the top of it; and I could not see the end of it, if it had any, it was so far off; and there was men beyond reckoning, sitting down, all along by it, at each side, as far as I could see at all. I did not know at first was it in the open air; but there was a close smothering feel in it, that was not natural, and there was a kind of light that my eyesight never saw before, red and unsteady, and I did not see for a long time where it was coming from, until I looked straight up, and then I seen that it came from great balls of blood-coloured fire, that were rolling high over head with a sort of rushing, trembling sound, and I perceived that they shone on the ribs of a great roof of rock that was arched overhead instead of the sky. When I seen this, scarce knowing what I did, I got up, and I said, ‘I have no right to be here; I must go,’ and the man that was sitting at my left hand, only smiled, and said, ‘sit down again, you can never leave this place,’ and his voice was weaker than any child’s voice I ever heerd, and when he was done speaking he smiled again. Then I spoke out very loud and bold, and I said–‘in the name of God, let me out of this bad place.’ And there was a great man, that I did not see before, sitting at the end of the table that I was near, and he was taller than twelve men, and his face was very proud and terrible to look at, and he stood up and stretched out his hand before him, and when he stood up, all that was there, great and small, bowed down with a sighing sound, and a dread came on my heart, and he looked at me, and I could not speak. I felt I was his own, to do what he liked with, for I knew at once who he was, and he said, ‘if you promise to return, you may depart for a season’; and the voice he spoke with was terrible and mournful, and the echoes of it went rolling and swelling down the endless cave, and mixing with the trembling of the fire overhead; so that, when he sate down, there was a sound after him, all through the place like the roaring of a furnace, and I said, with all the strength I had, ‘I promise to come back; in God’s name let me go,’ and with that I lost the sight and the hearing of all that was there, and when my senses came to me again, I was sitting in the bed with the blood all over me, and you and the rest praying around the room.” Here he paused and wiped away the chill drops of horror which hung upon his forehead.

I remained silent for some moments. The vision which he had just described struck my imagination not a little, for this was long before Vathek and the “Hall of Iblis” had delighted the world; and the description which he gave had, as I received it, all the attractions of novelty beside the impressiveness which always belongs to the narration of an eye-witness, whether in the body or in the spirit, of the scenes which he describes. There was something, too, in the stern horror with which the man related these things, and in the incongruity of his description, with the vulgarly received notions of the great place of punishment, and of its presiding spirit, which struck my mind with awe, almost with fear. At length he said, with an expression of horrible, imploring earnestness, which I shall never forget–“Well, sir, is there any hope; is there any chance at all? or, is my soul pledged and promised away for ever? is it gone out of my power? must I go back to the place?”

In answering him I had no easy task to perform; for however clear might be my internal conviction of the groundlessness of his fears, and however strong my scepticism respecting the reality of what he had described, I nevertheless felt that his impression to the contrary, and his humility and terror resulting from it, might be made available as no mean engines in the work of his conversion from profligacy, and of his restoration to decent habits, and to religious feeling. I therefore told him that he was to regard his dream rather in the light of a warning than in that of a prophecy; that our salvation depended not upon the word or deed of a moment, but upon the habits of a life; that, in fine, if he at once discarded his idle companions and evil habits, and firmly adhered to a sober, industrious, and religious course of life, the powers of darkness might claim his soul in vain, for that there were higher and firmer pledges than human tongue could utter, which promised salvation to him who should repent and lead a new life.

I left him much comforted, and with a promise to return upon the next day. I did so, and found him much more cheerful, and without any remains of the dogged sullenness which I suppose had arisen from his despair. His promises of amendment were given in that tone of deliberate earnestness, which belongs to deep and solemn determination; and it was with no small delight that I observed, after repeated visits, that his good resolutions, so far from failing, did but gather strength by time; and when I saw that man shake off the idle and debauched companions, whose society had for years formed alike his amusement and his ruin, and revive his long discarded habits of industry and sobriety, I said within myself, there is something more in all this than the operation of an idle dream. One day, sometime after his perfect restoration to health, I was surprised on ascending the stairs, for the purpose of visiting this man, to find him busily employed in nailing down some planks upon the landing place, through which, at the commencement of his mysterious vision, it seemed to him that he had sunk. I perceived at once that he was strengthening the floor with a view to securing himself against such a catastrophe, and could scarcely forbear a smile as I bid “God bless his work.”

He perceived my thoughts, I suppose, for he immediately said,

“I can never pass over that floor without trembling. I’d leave this house if I could, but I can’t find another lodging in the town so cheap, and I’ll not take a better till I’ve paid off all my debts, please God; but I could not be asy in my mind till I made it as safe as I could. You’ll hardly believe me, your honor, that while I’m working, maybe a mile away, my heart is in a flutter the whole way back, with the bare thoughts of the two little steps I have to walk upon this bit of a floor. So it’s no wonder, sir, I’d thry to make it sound and firm with any idle timber I have.”

I applauded his resolution to pay off his debts, and the steadiness with which he pursued his plans of conscientious economy, and passed on.

Many months elapsed, and still there appeared no alteration in his resolutions of amendment. He was a good workman, and with his better habits he recovered his former extensive and profitable employment. Every thing seemed to promise comfort and respectability. I have little more to add, and that shall be told quickly. I had one evening met Pat Connell, as he returned from his work, and as usual, after a mutual, and on his side respectful salutation, I spoke a few words of encouragement and approval. I left him industrious, active, healthy–when next I saw him, not three days after, he was a corpse. The circumstances which marked the event of his death were somewhat strange–I might say fearful. The unfortunate man had accidentally met an early friend, just returned, after a long absence, and in a moment of excitement, forgetting everything in the warmth of his joy, he yielded to his urgent invitation to accompany him into a public house, which lay close by the spot where the encounter had taken place. Connell, however, previously to entering the room, had announced his determination to take nothing more than the strictest temperance would warrant. But oh! who can describe the inveterate tenacity with which a drunkard’s habits cling to him through life. He may repent–he may reform–he may look with actual abhorrence upon his past profligacy; but amid all this reformation and compunction, who can tell the moment in which the base and ruinous propensity may not recur, triumphing over resolution, remorse, shame, everything, and prostrating its victim once more in all that is destructive and revolting in that fatal vice.

The wretched man left the place in a state of utter intoxication. He was brought home nearly insensible, and placed in his bed, where he lay in the deep calm lethargy of drunkenness. The younger part of the family retired to rest much after their usual hour; but the poor wife remained up sitting by the fire, too much grieved and shocked at the recurrence of what she had so little expected, to settle to rest; fatigue, however, at length overcame her, and she sunk gradually into an uneasy slumber. She could not tell how long she had remained in this state, when she awakened, and immediately on opening her eyes, she perceived by the faint red light of the smouldering turf embers, two persons, one of whom she recognized as her husband noiselessly gliding out of the room.

“Pat, darling, where are you going?” said she. There was no answer–the door closed after them; but in a moment she was startled and terrified by a loud and heavy crash, as if some ponderous body had been hurled down the stair. Much alarmed, she started up, and going to the head of the staircase, she called repeatedly upon her husband, but in vain. She returned to the room, and with the assistance of her daughter, whom I had occasion to mention before, she succeeded in finding and lighting a candle, with which she hurried again to the head of the staircase. At the bottom lay what seemed to be a bundle of clothes, heaped together, motionless, lifeless–it was her husband. In going down the stairs, for what purpose can never now be known, he had fallen helplessly and violently to the bottom, and coming head foremost, the spine at the neck had been dislocated by the shock, and instant death must have ensued. The body lay upon that landing-place to which his dream had referred. It is scarcely worth endeavouring to clear up a single point in a narrative where all is mystery; yet I could not help suspecting that the second figure which had been seen in the room by Connell’s wife on the night of his death, might have been no other than his own shadow. I suggested this solution of the difficulty; but she told me that the unknown person had been considerably in advance of the other, and on reaching the door, had turned back as if to communicate something to his companion–it was then a mystery. Was the dream verified?–whither had the disembodied spirit sped?–who can say? We know not. But I left the house of death that day in a state of horror which I could not describe. It seemed to me that I was scarce awake. I heard and saw everything as if under the spell of a nightmare. The coincidence was terrible.

Press Release: Kevin Lucia’s Devourer of Souls from Crystal Lake Publishing

Press Release: Kevin Lucia’s Devourer of Souls from Crystal Lake Publishing   Kevin Lucia’s third installment of the Clifton Height Saga Welcome back to Clifton Heights.   In Kevin …

Source: Press Release: Kevin Lucia’s Devourer of Souls from Crystal Lake Publishing

The Farmington Writers Circle Meets Tonight

Caricature of Emile Zola by Leandre, circa 1900

Caricature of Emile Zola
by Leandre, circa 1900

The Farmington Writers Circle meets tonight, April 14, at 7:00 p.m. in the Hardback Café at the Hastings on 20th Street in Farmington, New Mexico.  The topics for the night will be writers’ conferences and blogging on a regular basis.  Participants are encouraged to bring information on writers conferences to share with the other participants in an open discussion.  The meeting is open to the general public.

The Farmington Writers Circle is a nascent organization of authors and writers, who are interested in publishing and marketing their works.

Please contact Phil Slattery via this website with any questions or comments.