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Zeno
By RD Rivero



"Zeno"
By RD Rivero
May 14, 2000

A friend told me:  "I found a haunted house here on third earth."
"Haunted, Cue?  By what?  Mutants?  Lunatics?"
He laughed and intermittently replied:  "I can't answer that for sure.
What I know is that a few months ago I wandered into one of the larger
Wollo cities in the West.  Naturally, I looked for an inn or for a
tavern.  I passed through a quiet street and I saw a note -- yellowed
and disfigured -- taped onto the inside of a window of a large house.
'Apartments Furnished,' it said so I entered.  The rooms suited me and I
rented the place for a week.  On the third day I left -- no power in the
universe could have forced me to stay a minute longer."
"Why?  What happened?"
"Oh, Cheetara you'll only --" he paused, he caught his breath.  "It
wasn't so much what I saw or what I heard that drove me away.  It was
terror undefinable."  He turned his face from the distant trees to me,
straight to me.  "Whenever I passed that door -- yes -- it was that
door, that one door from where I neither heard, neither saw anything.
No.  I couldn't stay another night."  He shook his head and continued.
"On that last day I went to the old woman who kept the house and I told
her something about the rooms not suiting me and that I'd have to leave
before the end of the week 'cause my situation had changed.
"Anyways, she saw through my excuses and spoke:
"'I know why.  You've stayed longer than anyone else ever has.  Few've
ever spent a second night -- but a third?  They must have liked you.'
"'They?  Who?'
"'They, them, whatever haunts this house.  I don't mind them.  I
remember them from many, many years ago, when I lived in the house, not
served in it.  They will be the end of me but I don't care.  I'm and old
woman and I'll die soon -- then I'll be with them in the house, too.'
"She spoke so sadly, so mournfully that I could not converse with her
any further.  I paid for the whole week and left immediately."

Cue gave me the full address and as soon as I could collect the free
time I headed right to that city, right to that block in town.  I found
the house shut-up, there was no note on the window, there was no respond
to my knocking.  I turned away disappointed only to stumble upon a small
Wollo boy, a neighborhood boy who then asked me:  "Do you want anyone in
that house, ma'am?"
"Why, yes."
"The old woman who kept it is dead -- for almost a whole month already."

"Can anyone be found to stay --"
"No, no one, why, the Doctor offered my mother three silver pieces a
week to open and to close the windows and she wouldn't."
"Three silver pieces?  Why not?"
The boy giggled.  "Why?  The house is haunted.  Only the old woman ever
stayed and she was found dead in bed, her eyes wide open, bulged open."
"This Doctor, does he own the house?"
"Yes, he does."
"Where is he?"

I gave the boy several gold coins that I had spare in my pocket and
proceeded onward on the instructions that I had been told.  The Doctor
lived not too far from the house and I was lucky enough to have found
him at home.  He was an elderly man with antiquated manners that would
put even Tygra to shame.  I said who I was.  I said what I had heard
about the haunted house and that I wanted to examine it.  I offered rent
for one night at what ever price he wished.
"Madam," he said, "the house is at your service for as short or for as
long as you would have it.  Payment is out of the question -- that
obligation would be on my side if perhaps you might discover the cause
responsible for depriving the property of all of its value.  The house
is haunted, if such is the word, by day, by night -- although at night
it is worse, far worse."  He arose and walked to the side of an open
window.  In the street below children played noisily.  "The old woman
who died in it was a pauper I took out of a workhouse because in her
childhood she had been well-loved by my family.  She was of superior
intelligence and of strong mind and, she was the only person I could get
to stay in that house.  I cannot rent it because I cannot get anyone to
keep it even to answer the door."  He turned to me:  "I would lease that
house free for a year to anyone who would pay the taxes."
"How long has that house been haunted?"
"I could not attempt to answer that -- except that it has been that way
forever.  The old woman said that it was haunted back fifty years ago
when she lived in it.  I know little about all that business, I have
spent my whole life in the North.  I only returned here to retire."
"Have you ever spent a night in the house?"
"In the eighty years of my life I have spend only three hours in there
and in the clear daylight too.  My curiosity was not satisfied but it
was quenched.  I have no desire to return."  The Doctor paused for a
moment then returned to the desk.  He spoke to me softly, slowly, slowly
barely over his breath.  "I implore you, madam, do not spend the night
in that house."
I was taken aback by the look, merely by the look in his eyes.  I sat up
and I answered:  "My nerves have been seasoned with experience and with
such a great variety of dangers that I have the right to rely on then --
even in a haunted house."
The Doctor's face returned to normal and he said very little after
that.  He took the keys of the house out of his desk and gave them to
me.  I thanked him for his candor and frankness.

I carried away my prize eager and impatient for the experiment.  I made
a call back to the Tower of Omens and I asked if Bengali could come join
me.  I had already told him of my intentions.  When he arrived with
Snarfer hours later he grinned with delight.
I gave Snarfer the keys and I told him to select the best bedroom and
since the house had not been inhabited for weeks, I told him to make
sure that the heat worked and that there was adequate power.  Bengali
and I spent the rest of the time buying supplies.  The tiger spotted an
old revolver -- a relic from first earth and he simply had to have it.
He already had quite an extensive collection.  For my own part I, too,
indulged, I bought a book and began to read it even while I ate dinner
in one of the local restaurants.
It was a fall evening, chilly but not cold outright.  The sky was gloomy
but clear and with the moon still rising in the west it seemed it would
be brighter later.  Right before sunset I put the book down and, with my
friend, I walked leisurely to the haunted house.  We reached the house
and knocked -- Snarfer opened with a sort of devious smile, the sort of
smile that always puts me on the edge.
I wondered if something had happened to him:  "It's all right and I've
been very comfortable."
"So you haven't seen anything?  Heard anything?"
"I did hear a few things out of the ordinary."
"What?  What?"  Bengali asked.  I, too, was anxious.
"The sound of feet behind me, mostly.  Once or twice I heard whispers --
close to my ears but that's all."
"You're not afraid?" I asked.
"No."
The three of us were in a hall, dark and barely lit from the open
windows next to the door which was itself closed.  The walls were
indiscernible -- wooden with textural ornateness but nothing more.  The
ceiling was low, the floor was covered with a thin, rectangular rug that
went up and down the length.
We went down to the basement.  The gray, concrete stairs were behind an
opened door in a nook adjacent to the main hall.  The railing was made
from cast iron pipes that had been painted a shiny, glossy black.  The
air was cool and breezy and oddly there was more light in the recesses
of the house than above.
The kitchen was not out of place and fully functional.  There was a
small table with three, wooden chairs of a design I had seen before --
in the Doctor's study.  The walls -- indeed all the walls down there --
were constructed of a yellowish concrete and though smooth and though
glossy there was still an element of roughness to them.  Cellars and
unoccupied offices followed but there was little of interest there,
except perhaps for massive cobwebs and dust, encrusted in layers inches
thick.
The main hall of the basement was lined with doors and small upper
windows recessed by inches or by feet into the walls.  The light came
from the end, from where it terminated into the back where there was a
small yard surrounded by high, very high walls that were coated in gray
mortar that every so often had broken to reveal the stones beneath.  The
soil of the yard was damp, our feet left slight impressions where we
walked on the ground.
I saw, right before me, the imprint of a foot form itself -- a naked
foot, small, from a child, no doubt.  I stopped, the others stopped, too
and I pointed out to them what had happened.  One new footprint followed
the other, advanced onward, onward.  The effect ceased when the pattern
reached one of the tall, gray walls and did not repeat.
We went back up to the ground floor into a dinning room and then through
a series of smaller, back rooms of equal area.  The three of us retired
for a while in what could be called a 'drawing' room that unlike the
rest of the house was fresh and cleanly new but as still as death.  I
sat on an arm chair.  Bengali and Snarfer lit some candles for the house
had no gas, no electricity.  In the yellow glow that then evolved from
the corners of that unwindowed room we saw clearly that a chair on the
far opposite end moved quickly but noiselessly -- levitated slightly,
slightly above the floor a distance of hairs only -- until it was no
more than a yard from me, before me.  I was struck by the thought that
someone was seated on that chair, someone face-to-face with me.
I laughed and I said something that I forgot almost immediately
afterward.  Bengali hissed, he angled his head back to reveal shiny,
pointy teeth.  Snarfer tried to comfort him back while I continued to
gaze at the chair.  Yes, I saw on it a pale blue misty outline of a
figure, but an outline so faint, so indistinct that I could not trust my
senses.
On my feet I arose and put the chair back where it had come from.  I was
struck on my shoulder -- I told them, I told the others I had just been
hit.  We did not stay long in that room.  It felt so damp and so chilly
that I was glad to get to the fireplace upstairs.  We locked the door of
that room, of all the rooms when we passed them.
The bedroom Snarfer had selected was the best on the floor -- large and
with two windows that faced the street.  A four-posted bed that took up
very little space was set before the fire.  On both sides of the mantle
were cabinets without locks, flush with the walls and covered in a dull,
brown paper.  I examined the cupboards -- inside there were only hooks
adequate to hang dresses.
A door in the wall to the left, between the bed and the window,
communicated with the room where Bengali was to sleep in.  That small
room of his had only a sofa bed and did not communicate with any other
room.
While he made himself at home as best as he could, Snarfer and I began
to sound the walls.  The walls were solid and when we finished that
survey we warmed ourselves in front of the fire.  The tiger had explored
his room to his satisfaction and joined us on the hardwood floor.
I remembered just then something about that hall outside -- that was not
really a hall but a large, landing in the central staircase.  We walked
out and we saw it immediately.  It was another door, closed firmly.
"Cheetara," Snarfer said in complete surprise, "I unlocked it along with
all the others when I arrived.  It couldn't have been locked from inside
because --"  Before he finished the sentence the door opened itself to a
gust of warm, stale air.  I coughed from the dust that had been emitted.

Without thought I rushed headfirst.  Inside I found a small, dreary room
without furniture -- only a few empty boxes and crates in the corner.
The shutters of the one and only window were tightly fastened.  With the
candle light we saw that there was no rug, no carpet -- the wood of the
floor was old, uneven and worm-eaten.
I had impulsively entered because I thought that there was someone in
the room but while I looked around I saw that there was no living being,
that there was no place for a living being to hide.
All three of us were within when the door from which we had entered, the
only door in that room, slammed closed as quietly and as determined as
it had opened.  We were imprisoned and for the first time I felt a craze
of undefinable horror.
Not so the men:  "I could break this door down, Cheetara, with the kick
of my foot."
"Try the knob first," Snarfer said.
I unshut the window to see what was outside.  I looked down onto the
backyard.  I had described it already -- the only difference was that
when I saw it then I perceived more of those small footprints not only
all over the ground but forming itself in new places too.  More
importantly, though, was that there was no ledge, there was no way to
break the fatalness of the fall below.
Meanwhile Bengali vainly attempted to open the door.  He had tried the
handle and when that did not work he began to use force and yet the door
did not even shake.  At the end he was breathless and panted and the
door remained unbudged -- not  millimeter out of place.
Once again I was struck and seized in that sense of horror but that time
it was colder.  I felt strange and suddenly a ghastly exhalation rose up
from the floor, from the gaps between the wooden planks of the floor to
fill the atmosphere in a fog of venomous influence.  Hostile.
Malignant.
Though to mock the tiger the door opened itself.
We all ran out of that place back to the landing.  Only I saw a large,
pale fog -- as large as a human figure -- shapeless and formless move
before me and ascent the stairs to the attic above.  I followed the
smoky mist with a candle -- the others remained close behind me.
I came upon a single door -- the rest of the scene of the floor above
remained in the vaporous distortion of shadow and of darkness.  Even
when I aimed the light to it I could see nothing.  Nothing.  I returned
to the business of the door -- it was wide open and once again I entered
impulsively.
I saw the blue mist rest over a bed in the corner.  It quivered, it
vanished before Bengali and Snarfer could see it.  We approached the bed
and examined it.  Small, no doubt the old woman's bed.  On top of the
chest that stood near it I found a handkerchief covered in dust.  I had
sufficient curiosity to open the cabinet and explore the drawers
within.  Odds and ends of female clothes and two letters tied around
with a ribbon of faded yellow were all that I found.  I took the letters
with me in my hand.
Since there was nothing else in that room worth noticing we turned to
leave.  We heard feet walking heavily on the floor behind us while we
searched the others rooms in that attic.  The noise of it followed us
everywhere we went always behind, always on our heels.
We approached the stairs to go back down to the bedroom.  My wrists had
been seized and I yelled.  Bengali turned toward me -- he held me by my
forearms that were oddly poised in the air.  Something tried to pry the
letters free from my grasp so I held them tighter and with that
resistance the unseen force ceased.
Back in the bedroom Snarfer thrust himself close to the fire -- he
trembled but I was impatient to examine the letters so I confess that I
paid little attention even when Bengali placed the revolver and a knife
on the night table next to the bed.  I read.  The correspondences were
short and dated fifty years ago.  They were from a lover to his mistress
or from a husband to his wide.  Not only the terms but the distinct
references to voyages indicated that the writer might have either been a
seafarer.  The spelling and the handwriting hinted of an imperfect
education, yet the language was forcible.  In the expressions of love
there was a rough endearment.  There was more, too, there was the dark,
unintelligible hint of the secret, of the criminal.
"We ought to love each other," was one sentence, "for how everyone else
would abandon us if all was known."  Again:  "Don't let anyone be in the
same room with you at night -- you talk in your sleep."  Again:  "What's
done can't be undone and there's nothing against us unless the dead can
come to life."  There, right there was underlined in a better
handwriting -- a female handwriting -- the words "They do!"  At the end
of the youngest letter was the fragment, again in that feminine letter:
"Lost at sea on the first of July, the same day as --"
I put the letters down on the table next to bed -- that was when I
noticed the weapons that the tiger had placed there -- and began to
wonder.  Fearing that the train of thought into which I would fall might
unsteady my nerves I turned, I stood and I paced around.  I was
determined to keep my mind fit to cope with whatever the night evolved
and brought forth.  I stirred up the fire that was still bright and
opened the book that I had bought that day.  I read quietly until eleven
thirty.
I threw myself on the bed and told the others to retire for the night
but to try to keep awake.  Bengali left the door to his room open.
Snarfer was curled on the floor in front of the fanning flames of the
fireplace.  I kept two candles lit on the table and continued to read
the tome.
After another half hour I felt cold air run past my cheek.  I thought
that the door that communicated with the landing of the staircase must
have opened but no, no, it was closed.  The flames on the candles swayed
violently, again caught in that gusty wind.  At the same instant the
revolver softly slid from the table -- softly, softly -- without a hand
visible and then, just then while it hovered in the air it was gone,
vanished.  I sprang up -- three loud knocks came from the wall above the
bed.
Bengali called:  "Is that you, Cheetara?  Is there something wrong?"
"No.  Be on your guard."
Snarfer had been roused, too and sat on his hind legs.  His ears moved
quickly backwards, forwards.  He kept his eyes fixed on me with that
selfsame smile, the smile I remembered from earlier that evening.  He
arose, his hair bristled and stood rigid.
Bengali appeared in my room and if I have ever seen horror in that
Thundercat's face it was then.  I could not have recognized him and I
could swear that even his black stripes where tinged with white.  He
passed quickly but he did not run and he spoke from under his breath,
from lips that scarcely parted:  "Run -- run.  It's after me."  He
opened the door to the landing and tan down the staircase several steps
at a time.  I heard the street door open and close in one instant.
For a while I remained undecided about whether or not to follow him.  I
closed the door to the room he had been in after I saw nothing within.
I then closed the door of the bedroom too.  Again I carefully examined
the walls to see if there was a concealed door but I could find no trace
of one, no seam in the brittle, brown paper that lined the walls.
The fire crackled and I looked -- Snarfer had moved away from the heat
in the meanwhile when I was not looking.  He slunk into an angle of the
wall, pressed himself close against it.  He tried, literally tried to
force himself into the wall.  I approached the animal and spoke but the
snarf was beside himself in terror.  He grinned in further exaggeration
and showed his teeth, all his teeth.  Saliva dripped from the jaws, from
the tongue that drooped from the side.  If I had touched him he would
have bitten me but more than anything I was shocked that Snarfer did not
seem to recognize me.
I left him alone and seated myself on the edge of the bed and continued
to read the volume.  But for some reason I put the book down and began
to think about what was happening.  In all that I have witnessed, a
living agent was always present, always required.  Sounds, writings on
paper spontaneously produced by no discernible hand, articles of
furniture that moved without apparent reason or the actual sight and
touch of hands to which no bodies seemed to belong -- still there must
be found a medium with constitutional peculiarities capable of creating
those omens even if a thousand miles distant.  For that reason I
believed that everything I had witnessed or expected to witness in that
haunted house originated from someone.
I shook my head and the thoughts went away.  I looked down on the closed
cover of the book -- it was overshadowed even though the candles were
next to it.  I looked up and what I saw I find difficult to describe.
It was darkness shaping itself from the air into a clear and definite
outline.  I could not and cannot say if it was human but its resemblance
was uncanny.  It stood apart, distinct from the air and the light around
it.  Its dimensions were gigantic -- it ran from floor to ceiling.
I gazed.  Intense cold seized me and I shivered for the first time but
it was not the cold caused by fear.  Yet, I saw, I distinguished two
eyes looking down, peering down at me from above, from within that
bellowing mass of smoke.  One moment I thought that I could see them
clearly, the next moment they were gone.  Two rays of pale blue light
shot through the darkness from where I had seen the eyes.
I wanted to speak.  I wanted to scream but my jaw was shut tight, my
voice had failed me.  I could think only:  "Is this fear?"  Resounded:
"This is not fear!"  I tried to stand but it seemed that I was weighed
down by an incredible force.  Opposed to my will was another will, as
far superior to my strength as a storm of nature.
The impression grew on me, the shadow grew on me.  I retained courage:
"This might be horror but this is not fear!  Unless I fear I cannot be
harmed!  I reject this illusion!"  With violent effort I succeeded at
last in stretching out my arm but I received a great shock and my arm
fell to my side powerless.
The light began to wane from the candles though the flames did not
extinguish.  Rather the energy was being withdrawn.  The same was
happening to the fireplace.  When the light seemed to have been fully
exhausted and unable to continue I found voice -- albeit a shriek -- "I
do not fear, I am a Thundercat!"  At the same time I found the strength
to rise and I rushed to one of the windows, tore to sunder the curtains
with my claws and flung open the shutters.
Light, moonlight, clear and calm.  I was joyous, I was relieved beyond
the capacity for words.  The dark shadow that had formed in the room was
gone, apparently, except for the pale blue light that beamed from the
eyes that stuck against the wall above the bed.
I saw from under the table that was neither clothed nor covered a hand
visible only as far as the wrist, seemingly made of flesh and blood but
disjointed, disconnected, disembodied.  It was the hand of an old woman,
lean and wrinkled.  It took hold of the letters and all vanished.
The three knocks from before returned louder, louder, louder.  The
entire room vibrated sensibly.  At he far end, from the floor arose
sparks of light, of bubble-trapped, multicolored light.  Up and down,
left and right, back and forth the little eyes of light moved around in
the air.  A chair advanced from the wall and placed itself opposite one
of the sides of the table.  Upon the chair grew a shape, a woman's
shape, distinct as the shape of life, ghastly as the shape of death.
The face was that of youth, of mournful beauty.  The throat and
shoulders were bare, the rest of the form was cloaked in a loose robe of
blue.  The female Wollo had sleek, long hair over her back, her eyes
were not toward me but to the door.  She seemed to be listening,
watching, waiting.  The shadow in the background grew darker and again I
thought I beheld those eyes gleaming out from the darkness, pale blue
eyes fixed upon that womanly shape.
As if from the door, though it did not open, there grew out another
shape, equally distinct, equally ghastly.  It was a man that time, a
young man. a human man.  He approached the female at the table, the dark
shadow started from the walls and for a moment all three were wrapped in
a sordid eeriness.  That was when I noticed that there was blood stained
on her breast.  The man leaned on a sword -- a phantom sword to be sure
-- blood had formed around his wrists and leaked onto the floor.  The
shadow darkness swallowed them up -- the bubbles of light returned and
sailed through the air in the confused, wild motions of chaos.
The cabinet door to the side of the fireplace opened and from there came
the form of an old woman.  In her hand she held the letters, the very
letters I had seen disappear before me.  Behind her came footsteps and
she turned around to listen and when satisfied she turned back to face
me.  She opened one of the letters and read it or seemed to read it.
There, just then and there I saw above her shoulder the face of that man
long drowned, bloated, bleached, green and blue, seaweed entangled in
his hair.  On the feet of the old woman was a child, miserable, squalid,
famined.
The wrinkled and lines vanished from the old woman's face and before me
she transfigured back to that image of mournful beauty that I had seen
only moments earlier.  The Wollo picked up the child, the infant and
then thrust it out of the open window.  I yelled and I screamed sprawled
on the floor.  The shadow darkened over the phantasms until there was
nothing left of the pair.
The orbs of light rose and fell and in that disordered, irregular maze,
tinged with the electric moonlight.  From those globules themselves,
though from eggs, monstrous things burst forth.  The air was filled with
jiggling larvae, bloody and hideous -- the things were transparent,
supple and agile and chased each other, devoured each other.  The shapes
were without symmetry and movement was without order.  The things came
around me, swarmed over my head then began to crawl around my right arm
that was outstretched involuntarily into the air.
Sometimes I felt that I was touched by hands, by invisible hands.  I
felt the clutch of cold, of soft fingers around my throat.  I was
equally conscious that had I given way to fear that I would be in mortal
peril.  I concentrated all my mind into the single focus, into resisting
and I turned my sight from the shadow, from its blue eyes that where
then distinctly visible.  I was more than ever aware of a will, a will
of intense evil that might crush me had I not been careful.
The atmosphere in the room reddened.  The larvae became the lurid beasts
that lived in fire.  Again at the same time the whole room vibrated,
again the three knocks on the wall.  Everything was swallowed in the
darkness.  The gloom receded and even the shadow disappeared.  The
flames of the candle and the fireplace returned.
The two doors on either side of the mantle were still closed.  The door
that communicated with Bengali’s room was still locked.  All was the way
it had been and then I remembered
Snarfer.
I called to him but there was no answer, no movement.  I approached
where I had last seen him and there he was -- dead, the eyes protruded,
the tongue stuck out of the mouth.  I took him into my arms and I
brought him to the fire.  I felt acute grief and guilt -- I knew then
that I was wholly responsible for his death.  I imagined that he had
died of freight, but I was surprised to find that his neck had been
broken.  Could it not have been done by a hand as physical as my own?
Could there have been someone in the room all the while?  I had good
cause to suspect but I could not tell for sure just yet.
The revolver and the knife had returned to the small night table next to
the bed from where it had mysteriously disappeared.
Nothing more happened for the rest of my stay and I did not have to wait
long before the day brake.  I wrapped Snarfer’s body in the heavy linens
from the mattress and in broad daylight I left the haunted house.
Before I did, though, I went into that little room where the three of us
had been ‘imprisoned’ for a while.  I was strongly impressed and for
reasons that I cannot explain I knew that from that room originated the
mechanism of the phenomena.  I entered in the clear day -- the sun poked
through the window --but still I felt while I stood on the rotted,
uneven wood of the floor the same craze of horror that I had before.  I
could not bear to stay longer than half-a-minute in that place.
I went down the stairs and again I heard the feet stepping behind me.
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end.  When I opened the street
door I heard a very low laugh.
I ran back home where I had to explain everything to Liono and to the
others.  Bengali was still spooked and days passed before he managed to
speak coherently again.  His black stripes retained that eerie, electric
white tinge.

My belief in my theory remained unfazed.  I returned a few days later to
bring back certain items that had unfortunately been left behind in the
haunted house.  In that menial task I was not disturbed -- except for
the feet stepping.
I went to see the Doctor.  He was at home, of course, I gave him back
the keys and I told him that my curiosity was very greatly satisfied.  I
was about to tell him what had happened that night when he stopped me
with much politeness.  He did not want to hear more about a mystery that
no one could ever solve.
I was determined to tell him of the two letters I had read, as well as
the extraordinary manner with which they disappeared.  I asked him if he
thought if they had been addressed to the old woman who had died in that
house and if there was anything in her history that could confirm the
dark suspicions that the letters contained.
The Doctor was startled at first but after a few moments he answered.
“I am only a little acquainted with her history except that her family
was known to mine.  But you have revived some vague notions and faded
memories -- I will inquire into that business and inform you of the
result.”
“I’ll say this only, that if we could get to the bottom of this mystery
we will find a living being responsible --”
“For the haunting?  You believe it is an imposture?  But why would
anyone do that?”
“Not an imposture in the ordinary sense -- or a hoax.  A sorcerer could
affect living beings and inanimate objects.  Impress our senses with the
notions of this haunting.  It would be a power rare in nature, given to
some individuals with peculiar characteristics, cultivated by practice
to an extraordinary degree.  It managed to kill one of my companions and
perhaps could have done the same to me too had I not resisted its will.
Such a power might extend over the dead, over the thoughts and the
memories that the dead retain.  Tables and chairs that move on their own
accord.  Shapes that appear and vanish.  Bodiless hands that rise and
remove physical objects.  I know that all that and more are merely
conveyed from one brain to another.  From someone as real and as living
as you or I.  The remote originator may or may not know the exact
effects that are produced and for that reason perhaps no two people have
ever had the same exact experience.  That brain, that other mind is of
considerable power, malignant and destructive.”
“I comprehend your theory -- although perhaps imperfectly.  I will
embrace your thoughts at once rather than accept the notion of ghosts.
Still, with my unfortunate house evil is the same.  What on third earth
can I do with that place?”
“I am convinced that the small, unfurnished room adjacent to the bedroom
I spent the night in is the starting point for the influence that haunts
the house.  Have the walls opened, the floor removed, the whole room
should be pulled down.  I saw that it is detached from the body of the
house, built over the small yard.  It could be removed with little
damage.”
“You think that if I did that --”
“You might cut off what’s been influencing the house.”
“I will do just that.  I will write to you to tell you how that business
goes.”

About ten days later I received a letter from the Doctor.  He told me
that he had visited the house since I had last seen him, that he had
found the two letters I had described back in the drawer from where I
had taken them.  He had read them and felt the same misgivings.
He instituted a quiet search inquiring into the past of the old woman
who I had rightly conjectured that the letters had been written to.
Fifty years ago she had married a human against the wishes of her family
-- he was a man of suspicious character who was generally believed to
have been a pirate.  She herself was from a very respectable merchant
family and had a brother.  He was a wealthy widower who had one child of
about two years old.  A month after the Wollo woman had married the body
of her brother was found floating in the harbor.  There were violent
marks around his throat but nothing that seemed fit to warrant a deeper
investigation so the case was closed with the verdict of ‘accidental
drowning.’
The man and his wife took charge of the little child -- the deceased
brother had left his sister guardian in his will.  In the event of the
child’s death the sister would be the sole inheritor.  The child died
six months afterward.  At the time is was supposed to have been caused
by neglect and ill-treatment.  The neighbors told the authorities that
they had heard it scream and yell at night.  The doctor who examined it
after death said that it was emaciated from lack of nourishment and that
the body was covered in deep, dark bruises.  One night the child had
tried to escape -- it crept out into the backyard, it tried to scale a
wall and fell back exhausted to be found the next morning on the stones
in the backyard of the haunted house where it had died.  Though there
was evidence of cruelty, there was none of murder -- the aunt and her
husband alleged that the child was half-witted to in some way account or
excuse the abuse.  In any event, the orphan’s death meant that she
inherited her brother’s fortune.  Before the year was out, though, the
man set out to sea where he was lost.  The widow was left in affluence
but she had befallen various reverses.  A bank broke, investments
failed, she sunk lower and lower.  Nothing was ever said against her
character -- she was considered sober, honest and quiet in her ways but
nothing ever prospered with her.  She had given way to the workhouse
from where the Doctor had taken her and placed in charge of that very
house, the haunted house.
The Doctor added that he had passed an hour alone in that unfurnished
room that I had urged him to destroy and that his dread was so great
that while he had neither heard nor seen anything he was more than eager
to have the walls bared and the floor removed as I had suggested.  He
had engaged persons for the work and would begin immediately on whatever
day I would name.
That day was accordingly fixed.  Yet again I returned to the haunted
house.  He and I went into that blind, dearly room and saw the workmen
take up the planks from the floors.  Under the rafters, covered with
rubbish, we found a trap door, large enough to let a man through.  It
was nailed down with clamps and rivets of iron.  When that was removed I
descended into the room below -- the existence of which had never been
suspected.  In that room there had been a window and a fireplace but
long since bricked over.  With the help of flashlights that I had
provided we all examined that place.  There was still furniture -- three
chairs and oak table.  There was a chest of drawers up against a wall in
which were molded, moth-eaten articles of a man’s dress.  The biggest
discovery was that of an iron safe fixed to the wall.  The lock was very
difficult but eventually we did get it open.
In that safe were three shelves and two lesser drawers.  Ranged on the
shelves were small bottles, small crystal bottles hermetically sealed.
Within were colorless liquids of which all I can say was that they were
not poisonous.  There were phosphors and ammonium, large rocks, pieces
of amber, a very powerful magnet and glass tubes with pointed rods of
iron.
In one of the minor drawers we found a miniature portrait set in gold --
it retained the freshness of its colors and that was remarkable
considering how long it might have been there.  The portrait was that of
a man with pale blue eyes in middle-age.  It was an impressive face
infused with a ruthless calm, a perverted self-assurance firmly rooted
in the knowledge of immense power.
I turned the miniature to examine the back where there was an engraved
pentacle and in the middle a ladder along with the date that confirmed
that it was well over a five hundred years old.
One of the drawers was not as easy to open as the others.  It was not
locked, it merely resisted all efforts until we inserted a chisel and
broke the front panel in half.  When we drew the shelf out we found a
very unusual contraption.  Upon a small book, rather a tablet, was a
crystal saucer.  The saucer itself was filled with a clear liquid and on
that fluid floated a compass of sorts.  The needle shifted rapidly
instead of north.  Instead of the usual symbols of north, south, east or
west and the various gradations there were seven strange characters
similar to the signs of the zodiac used by ancient, first earth
astrologers.
I removed the saucer and examined the tablet.  The needle went round and
round with increasing fervor -- I felt a shock throughout my body, I
dropped the saucer on the floor by accident.  The liquid spilt, the
saucer broke, the compass rolled onto the other end of the room and at
that instant the walls of the chamber shook to and fro.  The workmen
were so frightened that they ran up the ladder from which we had all
descended but when they saw that nothing more happened the Doctor and I
found it easy to coax those Wollos back down.
In the meanwhile I had opened the tablet.  It was bound in plain leather
with a silver clasp.  Within was one, single sheet of papyrus upon which
was inscribed a double pentacle and words that roughly translated to:
“To all who can reach these walls -- sentient or inanimate, living or
dead -- as moves the needle so works my will!  Accursed be the house and
restless be the house and so be the dwellers therein.”
There was nothing more, there was absolutely nothing more.  The Wollo
Doctor burnt the tablet, he demolished to the foundations that part of
the house that contained the secret chamber with the room over it.
Later he had the courage to spend a whole month in the house and he told
me that he had never had a better, quieter rest.  Subsequently he rented
the place to a large family that has since had no complaints.

Days later a local Berbil village was holding a harvest festival and I
decided to stop in and see.  I wandered onto an outdoor cafe that served
juices and ales brewed from candy fruit. Sitting at one of the round,
wobbly wooden tables I saw my friend Cue appear with a man -- the same
man whose picture I had seen in miniature.  No, it could not have been
but so it was, it was the same man, the same likeness exactly.  The face
of power, the eyes, the pale blue eyes -- I caught them once, briefly
and the stare penetrated into my soul.  My hands trembled, my body
shivered.
I observed while he conversed with my friend -- the face was less
severe, less imposing, a smile every now and then though cold and quiet.

Cue very soon left the side of the stranger.  I stood and almost ran to
him -- he had not seen me yet.  I drew him aside and asked who that man
was.
“Him?  A very remarkable man.  He’s one of the best archeological,
historical scholars that I know.  I met him last year around the caves
at Edom.  We joined a group of, well, robbers and had ourselves quite an
adventure.  I suspect that he’s a renegade but immensely rich and very
odd, too.”  Here he whispered:  “He’s a sorcerer -- I have seen him with
my own eyes effect inanimate objects, even the weather.  Disperse or
collect clouds with the use of a glass tube.  He doesn’t like talking
about such things to strangers.  Why don’t I introduce you to him?”
“What’s his name?”
He paused for a moment then spoke:  “Zeno”
Cue walked me to the stranger -- who had remained at the head of an
empty, rectangular table.  He introduced me -- the manners of Zeno was
not that of an adventurous traveler who were usually talkative, eager
and impetuous.  Zeno was calm and subdued, distant in loftiness and
courtesy.  The etiquette of ages, of millennia past.  The language he
spoke was also not of the present age but tainted with a wild amalgam of
accents, no doubt picked up from long stays in voyages afar.
Clue left us to mingle in with our uncharacteristically boisterous
hosts.  Alone I still trembled but I found enough courage to speak:  “I
have seen a small portrait of you, a miniature in a locket in a secret
chamber of a house you once lived in or built in --” I related the exact
address.  Not until I had uttered the last syllable did I raise my eyes
to see his -- and that gaze was so forceful, so overpowering that I
could not even blink.
“What would you ask of me?”
“To what extent can the will extend?”
“To what extent can thought extend?  Merely think and before you breathe
once you are at the mountain top, at the end of a large, supple valley,
floating across a bright, shimmering river.”  The sun steadily sank
beneath the tops of the swaying, green trees.  The sky was tinted in
shades of deep red, purple.  Streaks of opaque, white clouds contrasted
brightly in the darkening heavens above.  “Give thought expression and
it will have power.  You might write down an idea that sooner or later
might alter the whole condition of a village, of a city -- nations,
planets.”
“One brain might send, might transmit itself onto another.  Thought is
immortal -- though the brain might die the thought remains embedded in
nature forever -- and the living might be able to have the power to the
revive the memories of the dead.”
“I will not answer that but you have another, a special question.”
“A will, with a given, malignant temperament and aided by means within
the scope of science, could produce effects similar to those described
to sorcery.  That will might haunt a house through the spectral images
of guilty thoughts and deeds conceived and done within that place.
“Thoughts that cross each other haphazardly in the form of a nightmare.
Visions that grow into phantasmic sights, sounds to serve to create
horror not because those sights and those sounds are visitations from
the other side but because they are ghastly and monstrous renewals of
what has already existed in this world set into malignant play by a
malignant mortal.  With that brain in control those apparitions might
acquire physical powers -- to strike, to kill.”
“You have glimpsed the fragments of an old secret,” Zeno said.
“A man must be born a sorcerer and rarely are there those with that sort
of ability.  The occult power often exerts itself in the highest order
of intellect but in that intellect there is a twist of perversity and
disease and yet there must also exist an astonishing degree of
concentrative thought.  So that even if the mind is not sound there is
still a forceful, energetic will.”
“What can you tell me about such a man?”
“He has a strong love of life with fierce passions and is an absolute
egotist.  He covets eagerly what at the moment he desires the most.  He
hates what ever opposes him, he can commit terrible crimes and feel no
remorse.  He is led to pursue rare knowledge of the natural world to
serve himself -- he is a close observer when he has to be and he is an
obsessed calculator driven to hone and sharpen his skills.  He is a man
of science.”
I looked up at him for my attention until then had been distracted by
the music of the crowds.  “He loves life, he dreads death -- he wills to
live on.  He cannot restore himself to youth and he cannot stop the
progress of aging entirely.  A year might age him no more than an hour.
His intense will, scientifically trained, operates to repair the damage
done to his body.
“He seems to die from time to time to certain persons and having schemed
an elaborate transfer of wealth, he disappears from one corner of the
world and reappears at another where he resides undetected.  He does not
visit the scenes of former lives until all who could remember have been
consumed.”
“He would never tell anyone his true secret.”
“Yes -- but such a man that I have described exists.  I see him now
before me.  I the last century you were a pirate and lived for a time in
that house.  You fled from the law and everyone thought you had drowned
at sea.  Before that when you built the house you were a man of great
importance -- even --”
He stopped me and leaned in closer to my ear.  “I have looked for
someone like you for the last one thousand years.  Now I have found you
and we will not part until I know what I want.  It is you who have great
powers of observation and at this moment you can see the past and behold
the future.  Tell me what you see!  Speak!”
I noticed then with exactitude the full effects of the process that had
begun the moment that Cue left Zeno and me.  I realized that I was
weightless, I floated above the scene -- I could see myself next to the
man, my head angled back against the chair.  I heard him once more.
“You are right.  I have mastered great secrets and sorcery and through
science I have retarded the process of my years but age is not the only
way to die.  Can I frustrate the accidents that bring death?”
“No.  Every accident is providence -- providence --”
“Yes, yes, providence can snap even the most powerful efforts but, will
I die ages and ages from now, from the slow and inevitable growth of
time or from the cause that I have called an accident?”
“From the cause that you have called an accident.”
“Is it far, far in the future?”
“It is remote.  You will yet play a part on this earth.  For wondrous
designs have you -- a wonder yourself -- been permitted to live through
the millennia.  The secrets you have stored will soon have uses -- what
now makes you a stranger to this world will in generations make you its
lord.  Nations and thrones will be drawn to you.”
“And my death?  How and what is it?”
“The sky is red with meteors and two moons stand above ice-reefs in the
north -- where your instincts have warned you not to tread.  A specter
will seize you.  It is death and your will is no longer obeyed.  I see a
ship that is chased and enters a region of ice.  I see you on the deck,
the dead everywhere around you and you have aged.  The ship strikes a
rock of ice it cracks and groans but you are not on it anymore.  You
have fled to ascend to the zenith of one of the icebergs.  Climbing
after you are bears -- climbing closer, closer.”
He spoke no longer in a whisper.  “That day, you have assured me, is
far, far off.  I’ll go back, I’ll withdraw for a time.”

I do not know what happened next for the events that immediately
followed were all a blur.  I felt that I had returned to some normal
state but I was dizzy and disoriented.  Cue was at my side suddenly --
he held my hand and smiled.
“What happened?” I asked him.
“You were hypnotized.  Don’t worry that feeling will go away soon --
have some Berbil fruit -- yes, it wasn’t pleasant for me, too, when he
put me under a trance.”
“Where did he go?”
“He was gone when I came back.”
I felt something in my hand and I looked.  It was a note that wrote
itself while I read and oddly, Cue did not notice that effect at all.
It read:  “I wanted you to utter what had brewed, cultivated in your
mind and you complied.  I have a certain power over you and for a year
after this day you cannot tell anyone alive what happened between us.
You cannot even show this note to your friend by your side.  Do you
doubt my power to impose this command?  Try to disobey me and see.  At
the end of the year’s time the spell will be broken and for the rest I
will spare you.  I will visit your grave the day it receives you. --
Zeno”

So there it is, so there ends this strange story.  I ask no one to
believe it.  I write it now exactly one year to the date after I
received that note.  I could not write it before, in spite of Cue’s, the
Doctor’s and even the other Thundercat’s urgent requests.  I could not
even show them the note -- for though I made the words out clearly all
that others could see was a double pentacle engraved on a blank sheet of
paper.






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