I can hardly describe the mood in which I was left by
this harrowing episode - an episode at once mad and pitiful, grotesque
and terrifying. The grocery boy had prepared me for it, yet the reality
left me none the less bewildered and disturbed. Puerile though the
story was, old Zadok's insane earnestness and horror had communicated to
me a mounting unrest which joined with my
earlier sense of loathing for the town and its blight
of intangible shadow.
Later I might sift the tale and extract some nucleus of
historic allegory; just now I wished to put it out of my head. The
hour grown perilously late - my watch said 7:15, and the Arkham bus left
Town Square at eight - so I tried to give my thoughts as neutral and practical
a cast as possible, meanwhile walking rapidly through the deserted streets
of gaping roofs and leaning houses
toward the hotel where I had checked my valise and would
find my bus.
Though the golden light of late afternoon gave the ancient
roofs and decrepit chimneys an air of mystic loveliness and peace, I could
not help glancing over my shoulder now and then. I would surely be
very glad to get out of malodorous and fear-shadowed Innsmouth, and wished
there were some other vehicle than the bus driven by that sinister-looking
fellow Sargent. Yet I did
not hurry too precipitately, for there were architectural
details worth viewing at every silent corner; and I could easily, I calculated,
cover the necessary distance in a half-hour.
Studying the grocery youth's map and seeking a route I
had not traversed before, I chose Marsh Street instead of State for my
approach to Town Square. Near the corner of Fall street I began to
see scattered groups of furtive whisperers, and when I finally reached
the Square I saw that almost all the loiterers were congregated around
the door of the Gilman House. It seemed as if
many bulging, watery, unwinking eyes looked oddly at
me as I claimed my valise in the lobby, and I hoped that none of these
unpleasant creatures would be my fellow-passengers on the coach.
The bus, rather early, rattled in with three passengers
somewhat before eight, and an evil-looking fellow on the sidewalk muttered
a few indistinguishable words to the driver. Sargent threw out a
mail-bag and a roll of newspapers, and entered the hotel; while the passengers
- the same men whom I had seen arriving in Newburyport that morning - shambled
to the sidewalk and
exchanged some faint guttural words with a loafer in
a language I could have sworn was not English. I boarded the empty
coach and took the seat I had taken before, but was hardly settled before
Sargent re-appeared and began mumbling in a throaty voice of peculiar repulsiveness.
I was, it appeared, in very bad luck. There had
been something wrong with the engine, despite the excellent time made from
Newburyport, and the bus could not complete the journey to Arkham.
No, it could not possibly be repaired that night, nor was there any other
way of getting transportation out of Innsmouth either to Arkham or elsewhere.
Sargent was sorry, but I would
have to stop over at the Gilman. Probably the clerk
would make the price easy for me, but there was nothing else to do.
Almost dazed by this sudden obstacle, and violently dreading the fall of
night in this decaying and half-unlighted town, I left the bus and reentered
the hotel lobby; where the sullen queer-looking night clerk told me I could
have Room 428 on next the top floor -
large, but without running water - for a dollar.
Despite what I had heard of this hotel in Newburyport,
I signed the register, paid my dollar, let the clerk take my valise, and
followed that sour, solitary attendant up three creaking flights of stairs
past dusty corridors which seemed wholly devoid of life. My room
was a dismal rear one with two windows and bare, cheap furnishings, overlooked
a dingy court-yard otherwise
hemmed in by low, deserted brick blocks, and commanded
a view of decrepit westward-stretching roofs with a marshy countryside
beyond. At the end of the corridor was a bathroom - a discouraging
relique with ancient marble bowl, tin tub, faint electric light, and musty
wooded paneling around all the plumbing fixtures.
It being still daylight, I descended to the Square and
looked around for a dinner of some sort; noticing as I did so the strange
glances I received from the unwholesome loafers. Since the grocery
was closed, I was forced to patronise the restaurant I had shunned before;
a stooped, narrow-headed man with staring, unwinking eyes, and a flat-nosed
wench with unbelievably thick,
clumsy hands being in attendance. The service was
all of the counter type, and it relieved me to find that much was evidently
served from cans and packages. A bowl of vegetable soup with crackers
was enough for me, and I soon headed back for my cheerless room at the
Gilman; getting a evening paper and a fly-specked magazine from the evil-visaged
clerk at the rickety stand
beside his desk.
As twilight deepened I turned on the one feeble electric
bulb over the cheap, iron-framed bed, and tried as best I could to continue
the reading I had begun. I felt it advisable to keep my mind wholesomely
occupied, for it would not do to brood over the abnormalities of this ancient,
blight-shadowed town while I was still within its borders. The insane
yarn I had heard from the
aged drunkard did not promise very pleasant dreams, and
I felt I must keep the image of his wild, watery eyes as far as possible
from my imagination.
Also, I must not dwell on what that factory inspector
had told the Newburyport ticket-agent about the Gilman House and the voices
of its nocturnal tenants - not on that, nor on the face beneath the tiara
in the black church doorway; the face for whose horror my conscious mind
could not account. It would perhaps have been easier to keep my thoughts
from disturbing topics had
the room not been so gruesomely musty. As it was,
the lethal mustiness blended hideously with the town's general fishy odour
and persistently focussed one's fancy on death and decay.
Another thing that disturbed me was the absence of a bolt
on the door of my room. One had been there, as marks clearly shewed,
but there were signs of recent removal. No doubt it had been out
of order, like so many other things in this decrepit edifice. In
my nervousness I looked around and discovered a bolt on the clothes press
which seemed to be of the same size, judging
from the marks, as the one formerly on the door.
To gain a partial relief from the general tension I busied myself by transferring
this hardware to the vacant place with the aid of a handy three-in-one
device including a screwdriver which I kept on my key-ring. The bolt
fitted perfectly, and I was somewhat relieved when I knew that I could
shoot it firmly upon retiring. Not that I
had any real apprehension of its need, but that any symbol
of security was welcome in an environment of this kind. There were
adequate bolts on the two lateral doors to connecting rooms, and these
I proceeded to fasten.
I did not undress, but decided to read till I was sleepy
and then lie down with only my coat, collar, and shoes off. Taking
a pocket flash light from my valise, I placed it in my trousers, so that
I could read my watch if I woke up later in the dark. Drowsiness,
however, did not come; and when I stopped to analyse my thoughts I found
to my disquiet that I was really unconsciously
listening for something - listening for something which
I dreaded but could not name. That inspector's story must have worked
on my imagination more deeply than I had suspected. Again I tried
to read, but found that I made no progress.
After a time I seemed to hear the stairs and corridors
creak at intervals as if with footsteps, and wondered if the other rooms
were beginning to fill up. There were no voices, however, and it
struck me that there was something subtly furtive about the creaking.
I did not like it, and debated whether I had better try to sleep at all.
This town had some queer people, and there had
undoubtedly been several disappearances. Was this
one of those inns where travelers were slain for their money? Surely I
had no look of excessive prosperity. Or were the towns folk really
so resentful about curious visitors? Had my obvious sightseeing, with its
frequent map-consultations, aroused unfavorable notice. It occurred
to me that I must be in a highly nervous state to let
a few random creakings set me off speculating in this
fashion - but I regretted none the less that I was unarmed.
At length, feeling a fatigue which had nothing of drowsiness
in it, I bolted the newly outfitted hall door, turned off the light, and
threw myself down on the hard, uneven bed - coat, collar, shoes, and all.
In the darkness every faint noise of the night seemed magnified, and a
flood of doubly unpleasant thoughts swept over me. I was sorry I
had put out the light, yet was too tired to
rise and turn it on again. Then, after a long,
dreary interval, and prefaced by a fresh creaking of stairs and corridor,
there came that soft, damnably unmistakable sound which seemed like a malign
fulfillment of all my apprehensions. Without the least shadow of
a doubt, the lock of my door was being tried - cautiously, furtively, tentatively
- with a key.
My sensations upon recognising this sign of actual peril
were perhaps less rather than more tumultuous because of my previous vague
fears. I had been, albeit without definite reason, instinctively
on my guard - and that was to my advantage in the new and real crisis,
whatever it might turn out to be. Nevertheless the change in the
menace from vague premonition to immediate
reality was a profound shock, and fell upon me with the
force of a genuine blow. It never once occurred to me that the fumbling
might be a mere mistake. Malign purpose was all I could think of,
and I kept deathly quiet, awaiting the would-be intruder's next move.
After a time the cautious rattling ceased, and I heard
the room to the north entered with a pass key. Then the lock of the
connecting door to my room was softly tried. The bolt held, of course,
and I heard the floor creak as the prowler left the room. After a
moment there came another soft rattling, and I knew that the room to the
south of me was being entered. Again a furtive
trying of a bolted connecting door, and again a receding
creaking. This time the creaking went along the hall and down the
stairs, so I knew that the prowler had realised the bolted condition of
my doors and was giving up his attempt for a greater or lesser time, as
the future would shew.
The readiness with which I fell into a plan of action
proves that I must have been subconsciously fearing some menace and considering
possible avenues of escape for hours. From the first I felt that
the unseen fumbler meant a danger not to be met or dealt with, but only
to be fled from as precipitately as possible. The one thing to do
was to get out of that hotel alive as quickly as I
could, and through some channel other than the front
stairs and lobby.
Rising softly and throwing my flashlight on the switch,
I sought to light the bulb over my bed in order to choose and pocket some
belongings for a swift, valiseless flight. Nothing, however, happened;
and I saw that the power had been cut off. Clearly, some cryptic,
evil movement was afoot on a large scale - just what, I could not say.
As I stood pondering with my hand on the
now useless switch I heard a muffled creaking on the
floor below, and thought I could barely distinguish voices in conversation.
A moment later I felt less sure that the deeper sounds were voices, since
the apparent hoarse barkings and loose-syllabled croakings bore so little
resemblance to recognized human speech. Then I thought with renewed
force of what the factory inspector
had heard in the night in this mouldering and pestilential
Having filled my pockets with the flashlight's aid, I
put on my hat and tiptoed to the windows to consider chances of descent.
Despite the state's safety regulations there was no fire escape on this
side of the hotel, and I saw that my windows commanded only a sheer three
story drop to the cobbled courtyard. On the right and left, however,
some ancient brick business blocks
abutted on the hotel; their slant roofs coming up to
a reasonable jumping distance from my fourth-story level. To reach
either of these lines of buildings I would have to be in a room two from
my own - in one case on the north and in the other case on the south -
and my mind instantly set to work what chances I had of making the transfer.
I could not, I decided, risk an emergence into the corridor;
where my footsteps would surely be heard, and where the difficulties of
entering the desired room would be insuperable. My progress, if it
was to be made at all, would have to be through the less solidly-built
connecting doors of the rooms; the locks and bolts of which I would have
to force violently, using my shoulder as
a battering-ram whenever they were set against me.
This, I thought, would be possible owing to the rickety nature of the house
and its fixtures; but I realised I could not do it noiselessly. I
would have to count on sheer speed, and the chance of getting to a window
before any hostile forces became coordinated enough to open the right door
toward me with a pass-key. My own
outer door I reinforced by pushing the bureau against
it - little by little, in order to make a minimum of sound.
I perceived that my chances were very slender, and was
fully prepared for any calamity. Even getting to another roof would
not solve the problem for there would then remain the task of reaching
the ground and escaping from the town. One thing in my favour was
the deserted and ruinous state of the abutting building and the number
of skylights gaping blackly open in each row.
Gathering from the grocery boy's map that the best route
out of town was southward, I glanced first at the connecting door on the
south side of the room. It was designed to open in my direction,
hence I saw - after drawing the bolt and finding other fastening in place
- it was not a favorable one for forcing. Accordingly abandoning
it as a route, I cautiously moved the bedstead
against it to hamper any attack which might be made on
it later from the next room. The door on the north was hung to open
away from me, and this - though a test proved it to be locked or bolted
from the other side - I knew must be my route. If I could gain the
roofs of the buildings in Paine Street and descend successfully to the
ground level, I might perhaps dart through the
courtyard and the adjacent or opposite building to Washington
or Bates - or else emerge in Paine and edge around southward into Washington.
In any case, I would aim to strike Washington somehow and get quickly out
of the Town Square region. My preference would be to avoid Paine,
since the fire station there might be open all night.
As I thought of these things I looked out over the squalid
sea of decaying roofs below me, now brightened by the beams of a moon not
much past full. On the right the black gash of the river-gorge clove
the panorama; abandoned factories and railway station clinging barnacle-like
to its sides. Beyond it the rusted railway and the Rowley road led
off through a flat marshy terrain
dotted with islets of higher and dryer scrub-grown land.
On the left the creek-threaded country-side was nearer, the narrow road
to Ipswich gleaming white in the moonlight. I could not see from
my side of the hotel the southward route toward Arkham which I had determined
I was irresolutely speculating on when I had better attack
the northward door, and on how I could least audibly manage it, when I
noticed that the vague noises underfoot had given place to a fresh and
heavier creaking of the stairs. A wavering flicker of light shewed
through my transom, and the boards of the corridor began to groan with
a ponderous load. Muffled sounds of
possible vocal origin approached, and at length a firm
knock came at my outer door.
For a moment I simply held my breath and waited.
Eternities seemed to elapse, and the nauseous fishy odour of my environment
seemed to mount suddenly and spectacularly. Then the knocking was
repeated - continuously, and with growing insistence. I knew that
the time for action had come, and forthwith drew the bolt of the northward
connecting door, bracing myself for the
task of battering it open. The knocking waxed louder,
and I hoped that its volume would cover the sound of my efforts.
At last beginning my attempt, I lunged again and again at the thin paneling
with my left shoulder, heedless of shock or pain. The door resisted
even more than I expected, but I did not give in. And all the while
the clamour at the outer door increased.
Finally the connecting door gave, but with such a crash
that I knew those outside must have heard. Instantly the outside
knocking became a violent battering, while keys sounded ominously in the
hall doors of the rooms on both sides of me. Rushing through the
newly opened connexion, I succeeded in bolting the northerly hall door
before the lock could he turned; but even as I
did so I heard the hall door of the third room - the
one from whose window I had hoped to reach the roof below - being tried
with a pass key.
For an instant I felt absolute despair, since my trapping
in a chamber with no window egress seemed complete. A wave of almost
abnormal horror swept over me, and invested with a terrible but unexplainable
singularity the flashlight-glimpsed dust prints made by the intruder who
had lately tried my door from this room. Then, with a dazed automatism
which persisted despite
hopelessness, I made for the next connecting door and
performed the blind motion of pushing at it in an effort to get through
and - granting that fastenings might be as providentially intact as in
this second room - bolt the hall door beyond before the lock could be turned
Sheer fortunate chance gave me my reprieve - for the connecting
door before me was not only unlocked but actually ajar. In a second
I was though, and had my right knee and shoulder against a hall door which
was visibly opening inward. My pressure took the opener off guard,
for the thing shut as I pushed, so that I could slip the well-conditioned
bolt as I had done with the
other door. As I gained this respite I heard the
battering at the two other doors abate, while a confused clatter came from
the connecting door I had shielded with the bedstead. Evidently the
bulk of my assailants had entered the southerly room and were massing in
a lateral attack. But at the same moment a pass key sounded in the
next door to the north, and I knew that a nearer
peril was at hand.
The northward connecting door was wide open, but there
was no time to think about checking the already turning lock in the hall.
All I could do was to shut and bolt the open connecting door, as well as
its mate on the opposite side - pushing a bedstead against the one and
a bureau against the other, and moving a washstand in front of the hall
door. I must, I saw, trust to such
makeshift barriers to shield me till I could get out
the window and on the roof of the Paine Street block. But even in
this acute moment my chief horror was something apart from the immediate
weakness of my defenses. I was shuddering because not one of my pursuers,
despite some hideous panting, grunting, and subdued barkings at odd intervals,
was uttering an unmuffled or
intelligible vocal sound.
As I moved the furniture and rushed toward the windows
I heard a frightful scurrying along the corridor toward the room north
of me, and perceived that the southward battering had ceased. Plainly,
most of my opponents were about to concentrate against the feeble connecting
door which they knew must open directly on me. Outside, the moon
played on the ridgepole of the
block below, and I saw that the jump would be desperately
hazardous because of the steep surface on which I must land.
Surveying the conditions, I chose the more southerly of
the two windows as my avenue of escape; planning to land on the inner slope
of the roof and make for the nearest sky-light. Once inside one of
the decrepit brick structures I would have to reckon with pursuit; but
I hoped to descend and dodge in and out of yawning doorways along the shadowed
getting to Washington Street and slipping out of town
toward the south.
The clatter at the northerly connecting door was now terrific,
and I saw that the weak panelling was beginning to splinter. Obviously,
the besiegers had brought some ponderous object into play as a battering-ram.
The bedstead, however, still held firm; so that I had at least a faint
chance of making good my escape. As I opened the window I noticed
that it was flanked by heavy
velour draperies suspended from a pole by brass rings,
and also that there was a large projecting catch for the shutters on the
exterior. Seeing a possible means of avoiding the dangerous jump,
I yanked at the hangings and brought them down, pole and all; then quickly
hooking two of the rings in the shutter catch and flinging the drapery
outside. The heavy folds reached fully to
the abutting roof, and I saw that the rings and catch
would be likely to bear my weight. So, climbing out of the window
and down the improvised rope ladder, I left behind me forever the morbid
and horror-infested fabric of the Gilman House.
I landed safely on the loose slates of the steep roof,
and succeeded in gaining the gaping black skylight without a slip.
Glancing up at the window I had left, I observed it was still dark, though
far across the crumbling chimneys to the north I could see lights ominously
blazing in the Order of Dagon Hall, the Baptist church, and the Congregational
church which I recalled so
shiveringly. There had seemed to be no one in the
courtyard below, and I hoped there would be a chance to get away before
the spreading of a general alarm. Flashing my pocket lamp into the
skylight, I saw that there were no steps down. The distance was slight,
however, so I clambered over the brink and dropped; striking a dusty floor
littered with crumbling boxes and barrels.
The place was ghoulish-looking, but I was past minding
such impressions and made at once for the staircase revealed by my flashlight
- after a hasty glance at my watch, which shewed the hour to be 2 a.m.
The steps creaked, but seemed tolerably sound; and I raced down past a
barnlike second storey to the ground floor. The desolation was complete,
and only echoes answered
my footfalls. At length I reached the lower hall
at the end of which I saw a faint luminous rectangle marking the ruined
Paine Street doorway. Heading the other way, I found the back door
also open; and darted out and down five stone steps to the grass-grown
cobblestones of the courtyard.
The moonbeams did not reach down here, but I could just
see my way about without using the flashlight. Some of the windows
on the Gilman House side were faintly glowing, and I thought I heard confused
sounds within. Walking softly over to the Washington Street side
I perceived several open doorways, and chose the nearest as my route out.
The hallway inside was black,
and when I reached the opposite end I saw that the street
door was wedged immovably shut. Resolved to try another building,
I groped my way back toward the courtyard, but stopped short when close
to the doorway.
For out of an opened door in the Gilman House a large
crowd of doubtful shapes was pouring - lanterns bobbing in the darkness,
and horrible croaking voices exchanging low cries in what was certainly
not English. The figures moved uncertainly, and I realized to my
relief that they did not know where I had gone; but for all that they sent
a shiver of horror through my frame.
Their features were indistinguishable, but their crouching,
shambling gait was abominably repellent. And worst of all, I perceived
that one figure was strangely robed, and unmistakably surmounted by a tall
tiara of a design altogether too familiar. As the figures spread
throughout the courtyard, I felt my fears increase. Suppose I could
find no egress from this building on the street
side? The fishy odour was detestable, and I wondered
I could stand it without fainting. Again groping toward the street,
I opened a door off the hall and came upon an empty room with closely shuttered
but sashless windows. Fumbling in the rays of my flashlight, I found
I could open the shutters; and in another moment had climbed outside and
was fully closing the aperture in its
I was now in Washington Street, and for the moment saw
no living thing nor any light save that of the moon. From several
directions in the distance, however, I could hear the sound of hoarse voices,
of footsteps, and of a curious kind of pattering which did not sound quite
like footsteps. Plainly I had no time to lose. The points of
the compass were clear to me, and I was glad
that all the street lights were turned off, as is often
the custom on strongly moonlit nights in prosperous rural regions.
Some of the sounds came from the south, yet I retained my design of escaping
in that direction. There would, I knew, be plenty of deserted doorways
to shelter me in case I met any person or group who looked like pursuers.
I walked rapidly, softly, and close to the ruined houses.
While hatless and dishevelled after my arduous climb, I did not look especially
noticeable; and stood a good chance of passing unheeded if forced to encounter
any casual wayfarer.
At Bates Street I drew into a yawning vestibule while
two shambling figures crossed in front of me, but was soon on my way again
and approaching the open space where Eliot Street obliquely crosses Washington
at the intersection of South. Though I had never seen this space,
it had looked dangerous to me on the grocery youth's map; since the moonlight
would have free play
there. There was no use trying to evade it, for
any alternative course would involve detours of possibly disastrous visibility
and delaying effect. The only thing to do was to cross it boldly
and openly; imitating the typical shamble of the Innsmouth folk as best
I could, and trusting that no one - or at least no pursuer of mine - would
Just how fully the pursuit was organised - and indeed,
just what its purpose might be - I could form no idea. There seemed
to be unusual activity in the town, but I judged that the news of my escape
from the Gilman had not yet spread. I would, of course, soon have
to shift from Washington to some other southward street; for that party
from the hotel would doubtless be after me.
I must have left dust prints in that last old building,
revealing how I had gained the street.
The open space was, as I had expected, strongly moonlit;
and I saw the remains of a parklike, iron-railed green in its center.
Fortunately no one was about though a curious sort of buzz or roar seemed
to be increasing in the direction of Town Square. South Street was
very wide, leading directly down a slight declivity to the waterfront and
commanding a long view out a sea; and I
hoped that no one would be glancing up it from afar as
I crossed in the bright moonlight.
My progress was unimpeded, and no fresh sound arose to
hint that I had been spied. Glancing about me, I involuntarily let
my pace slacken for a second to take in the sight of the sea, gorgeous
the burning moonlight at the street's end. Far out beyond the breakwater
was the dim, dark line of Devil Reef, and as I glimpsed it I could not
help thinking of all the hideous legends I
had heard in the last twenty-four hours - legends which
portrayed this ragged rock as a veritable gateway to realms of unfathomed
horror and inconceivable abnormality.
Then, without warning, I saw the intermittent flashes
of light on the distant reef. They were definite and unmistakable,
and awaked in my mind a blind horror beyond all rational proportion.
My muscles tightened for panic flight, held in only by a certain unconscious
caution and half-hypnotic fascination. And to make matters worse,
there now flashed forth from the lofty cupola of
the Gilman House, which loomed up to the northeast behind
me, a series of analogous though differently spaced gleams which could
be nothing less than an answering signal.
Controlling my muscles, and realising afresh - how plainly
visible I was, I resumed my brisker and feignedly shambling pace; though
keeping my eyes on that hellish and ominous reef as long as the opening
of South Street gave me a seaward view. What the whole proceeding
meant, I could not imagine; unless it involved some strange rite connected
with Devil Reef, or unless some
party had landed from a ship on that sinister rock.
I now bent to the left around the ruinous green; still gazing toward the
ocean as it blazed in the spectral summer moonlight, and watching the cryptical
flashing of those nameless, unexplainable beacons.
It was then that the most horrible impression of all was
borne in upon me - the impression which destroyed my last vestige of self-control
and sent me running frantically southward past the yawning black doorways
and fishily staring windows of that deserted nightmare street. For
at a closer glance I saw that the moonlit waters between the reef and the
shore were far from empty.
They were alive with a teeming horde of shapes swimming
inward toward the town; and even at my vast distance and in my single moment
of perception I could tell that the bobbing heads and flailing arms were
alien and aberrant in a way scarcely to be expressed or consciously formulated.
My frantic running ceased before I had covered a block,
for at my left I began to hear something like the hue and cry of organised
pursuit. There were footsteps and gutteral sounds, and a rattling
motor wheezed south along Federal Street. In a second all my plans
were utterly changed - for if the southward highway were blocked ahead
of me, I must clearly find another egress
from Innsmouth. I paused and drew into a gaping
doorway, reflecting how lucky I was to have left the moonlit open space
before these pursuers came down the parallel street.
A second reflection was less comforting. Since the
pursuit was down another street, it was plain that the party was not following
me directly. It had not seen me, but was simply obeying a general
plan of cutting off my escape. This, however, implied that all roads
leading out of Innsmouth were similarly patrolled; for the people could
not have known what route I intended to take.
If this were so, I would have to make my retreat across
country away from any road; but how could I do that in view of the marshy
and creek-riddled nature of all the surrounding region? For a moment my
brain reeled - both from sheer hopelessness and from a rapid increase in
the omnipresent fishy odour.
Then I thought of the abandoned railway to Rowley, whose
solid line of ballasted, weed-grown earth still stretched off to the northwest
from the crumbling station on the edge at the river-gorge. There
was just a chance that the townsfolk would not think of that; since its
briar-choked desertion made it half-impassable, and the unlikeliest of
all avenues for a fugitive to choose. I
had seen it clearly from my hotel window and knew about
how it lay. Most of its earlier length was uncomfortably visible
from the Rowley road, and from high places in the town itself; but one
could perhaps crawl inconspicuously through the undergrowth. At any
rate, it would form my only chance of deliverance, and there was nothing
to do but try it.
Drawing inside the hall of my deserted shelter, I once
more consulted the grocery boy's map with the aid of the flashlight.
The immediate problem was how to reach the ancient railway; and I now saw
that the safest course was ahead to Babson Street; then west to Lafayette
- there edging around but not crossing an open space homologous to the
one I had traversed - and
subsequently back northward and westward in a zigzagging
line through Lafayette, Bates, Adam, and Bank streets - the latter skirting
the river gorge - to the abandoned and dilapidated station I had seen from
my window. My reason for going ahead to Babson was that I wished
neither to recross the earlier open space nor to begin my westward course
along a cross street as broad
Starting once more, I crossed the street to the right-hand
side in order to edge around into Babeon as inconspicuously as possible.
Noises still continued in Federal Street, and as I glanced behind me I
thought I saw a gleam of light near the building through which I had escaped.
Anxious to leave Washington Street, I broke into a quiet dogtrot, trusting
to luck not to encounter any
observing eye. Next the corner of Babson Street
I saw to my alarm that one of the houses was still inhabited, as attested
by curtains at the window; but there were no lights within, and I passed
it without disaster.
In Babson Street, which crossed Federal and might thus
reveal me to the searchers, I clung as closely as possible to the sagging,
uneven buildings; twice pausing in a doorway as the noises behind me momentarily
increased. The open space ahead shone wide and desolate under the
moon, but my route would not force me to cross it. During my second
pause I began to detect a
fresh distribution of vague sounds; and upon looking
cautiously out from cover beheld a motor car darting across the open space,
bound outward along Eliot Street, which there intersects both Babson and
As I watched - choked by a sudden rise in the fishy odour
after a short abatement - I saw a band of uncouth, crouching shapes loping
and shambling in the same direction; and knew that this must be the party
guarding the Ipswich road, since that highway forms an extension of Eliot
Street. Two of the figures I glimpsed were in voluminous robes, and
one wore a peaked diadem
which glistened whitely in the moonlight. The gait
of this figure was so odd that it sent a chill through me - for it seemed
to me the creature was almost hopping.
When the last of the band was out of sight I resumed my
progress; darting around the corner into Lafayette Street, and crossing
Eliot very hurriedly lest stragglers of the party be still advancing along
that thoroughfare. I did hear some croaking and clattering sounds
far off toward Town Square, but accomplished the passage without disaster.
My greatest dread was in re-crossing
broad and moonlit South Street - with its seaward view
- and I had to nerve myself for the ordeal. Someone might easily
be looking, and possible Eliot Street stragglers could not fail to glimpse
me from either of two points. At the last moment I decided I had
better slacken my trot and make the crossing as before in the shambling
gait of an average Innsmouth native.
When the view of the water again opened out - this time
on my right - I was half-determined not to look at it at all. I could
not however, resist; but cast a sidelong glance as I carefully and imitatively
shambled toward the protecting shadows ahead. There was no ship visible,
as I had half-expected there would be. Instead, the first thing which
caught my eye was a small rowboat
pulling in toward the abandoned wharves and laden with
some bulky, tarpaulin-covered object. Its rowers, though distantly
and indistinctly seen, were of an especially repellent aspect. Several
swimmers were still discernible; while on the far black reef I could see
a faint, steady glow unlike the winking beacon visible before, and of a
curious colour which I could not precisely
identify. Above the slant roofs ahead and to the
right there loomed the tall cupola of the Gilman House, but it was completely
dark. The fishy odour, dispelled for a moment by some merciful breeze,
now closed in again with maddening intensity.
I had not quite crossed the street when I heard a muttering
band advancing along Washington from the north. As they reached the
broad open space where I had had my first disquieting glimpse of the moonlit
water I could see them plainly only a block away - and was horrified by
the bestial abnormality of their faces and the doglike sub-humanness of
their crouching gait. One man
moved in a positively simian way, with long arms frequently
touching the ground; while another figure - robed and tiaraed - seemed
to progress in an almost hopping fashion. I judged this party to
be the one I had seen in the Gilman's courtyard - the one, therefore, most
closely on my trail. As some of the figures turned to look in my
direction I was transfixed with fright, yet
managed to preserve the casual, shambling gait I had
assumed. To this day I do not know whether they saw me or not.
If they did, my stratagem must have deceived them, for they passed on across
the moonlit space without varying their course - meanwhile croaking and
jabbering in some hateful guttural patois I could not identify.
Once more in shadow, I resumed my former dog-trot past
the leaning and decrepit houses that stared blankly into the night.
Having crossed to the western sidewalk I rounded the nearest corner into
Bates Street where I kept close to the buildings on the southern side.
I passed two houses shewing signs of habitation, one of which had faint
lights in upper rooms, yet met with no
obstacle. As I tuned into Adams Street I felt measurably
safer, but received a shook when a man reeled out of a black doorway directly
in front of me. He proved, however, too hopelessly drunk to be a
menace; so that I reached the dismal ruins of the Bank Street warehouses
No one was stirring in that dead street beside the river-gorge,
and the roar of the waterfalls quite drowned my foot steps. It was
a long dog-trot to the ruined station, and the great brick warehouse walls
around me seemed somehow more terrifying than the fronts of private houses.
At last I saw the ancient arcaded station - or what was left of it - and
made directly for the tracks
that started from its farther end.
The rails were rusty but mainly intact, and not more than
half the ties had rotted away. Walking or running on such a surface
was very difficult; but I did my best, and on the whole made very fair
time. For some distance the line kept on along the gorge's brink,
but at length I reached the long covered bridge where it crossed the chasm
at a dizzying height. The condition of this
bridge would determine my next step. If humanly
possible, I would use it; if not, l would have to risk more street wandering
and take the nearest intact highway bridge.
The vast, barnlike length of the old bridge gleamed spectrally
in the moonlight, and I saw that the ties were safe for at least a few
feet within. Entering, I began to use my flashlight, and was almost
knocked down by the cloud of bats that flapped past me. About half-way
across there was a perilous gap in the ties which I feared for a moment
would halt me; but in the end I risked a
desperate jump which fortunately succeeded.
I was glad to see the moonlight again when I emerged from
that macabre tunnel. The old tracks crossed River Street at grade,
and at once veered off into a region increasingly rural and with less and
less of Innsmouth's abhorrent fishy odour. Here the dense growth
of weeds and briers hindered me and cruelly tore at my clothes, but I was
none the less glad that they were there to
give me concealment in case of peril. I knew that
much of my route must be visible from the Rowley road.
The marshy region began very abruptly, with the single
track on a low, grassy embankment where the weedy growth was somewhat thinner.
Then came a sort of island of higher ground, where the line passed through
a shallow open cut choked with bushes and brambles. I was very glad
of this partial shelter, since at this point the Rowley road was uncomfortably
near according to
my window view. At the end of the cut it would
cross the track and swerve off to a safer distance; but meanwhile I must
be exceedingly careful. I was by this time thankfully certain that
the railway itself was not patrolled.
Just before entering the cut I glanced behind me, but
saw no pursuer. The ancient spires and roofs of decaying Innsmouth
gleamed lovely and ethereal in the magic yellow moonlight, and I thought
of how they must have looked in the old days before the shadow fell.
Then, as my gaze circled inland from the town, something less tranquil
arrested my notice and held me immobile for
What I saw - or fancied I saw - was a disturbing suggestion
of undulant motion far to the south; a suggestion which made me conclude
that a very large horde must be pouring out of the city along the level
Ipswich road. The distance was great and I could distinguish nothing
in detail; but I did not at all like the look of that moving column.
It undulated too much, and glistened too
brightly in the rays of the now westering moon.
There was a suggestion of sound, too, though the wind was blowing the other
way - a suggestion of bestial scraping and bellowing even worse than the
muttering of the parties I had lately overheard.
All sorts of unpleasant conjectures crossed my mind.
I thought of those very extreme Innsmouth types said to be hidden in crumbling,
centuried warrens near the waterfront; I thought, too, of those nameless
swimmers I had seen. Counting the parties so far glimpsed, as well
as those presumably covering other roads, the number of my pursuers must
be strangely large for a town as
depopulated as Innsmouth.
Whence could come the dense personnel of such a column
as I now beheld? Did those ancient, unplumbed warrens teem with a twisted,
uncatalogued, and unsuspected life? Or had some unseen ship indeed landed
a legion of unknown outsiders on that hellish reef? Who were they? Why
were they here? And if such a column of them was scouring the Ipswich road,
would the patrols
on the other roads be likewise augmented?
I had entered the brush-grown cut and was struggling along
at a very slow pace when that damnable fishy odour again waxed dominant.
Had the wind suddenly changed eastward, so that it blew in from the sea
and over the town? It must have, I concluded, since I now began to hear
shocking guttural murmurs from that hitherto silent direction. There
was another sound, too - a
kind of wholesale, colossal flopping or pattering which
somehow called up images of the most detestable sort. It made me
think illogically of that unpleasantly undulating column on the far-off
And then both stench and sounds grew stronger, so that
I paused shivering and grateful for the cut's protection. It was
here, I recalled, that the Rowley road drew so close to the old railway
before crossing westward and diverging. Something was coming along
that road, and I must lie low till its passage and vanishment in the distance.
Thank heaven these creatures employed no
dogs for tracking - though perhaps that would have been
impossible amidst the omnipresent regional odour. Crouched in the
bushes of that sandy cleft I felt reasonably safe, even though I knew the
searchers would have to cross the track in front of me not much more than
a hundred yards away. I would be able to see them, but they could
not, except by a malign miracle, see me.
All at once I began dreading to look at them as they passed.
I saw the close moonlit space where they would surge by, and had curious
thoughts about the irredeemable pollution of that space. They would
perhaps be the worst of all Innsmouth types - something one would not care
The stench waxed overpowering, and the noises swelled
to a bestial babel of croaking, baying and barking without the least suggestion
of human speech. Were these indeed the voices of my pursuers? Did
they have dogs after all? So far I had seen none of the lower animals in
Innsmouth. That flopping or pattering was monstrous - I could not
look upon the degenerate creatures
responsible for it. I would keep my eyes shut till
the sound receded toward the west. The horde was very close now -
air foul with their hoarse snarlings, and the ground almost shaking with
their alien-rhythmed footfalls. My breath nearly ceased to come,
and I put every ounce of will-power into the task of holding my eyelids
I am not even yet willing to say whether what followed
was a hideous actuality or only a nightmare hallucination. The later
action of the government, after my frantic appeals, would tend to confirm
it as a monstrous truth; but could not an hallucination have been repeated
under the quasi-hypnotic spell of that ancient, haunted, and shadowed town?
Such places have strange
properties, and the legacy of insane legend might well
have acted on more than one human imagination amidst those dead, stench-cursed
streets and huddles of rotting roofs and crumbling steeples. Is it
not possible that the germ of an actual contagious madness lurks in the
depths of that shadow over Innsmouth? Who can be sure of reality after
hearing things like the tale of old
Zadok Allen? The government men never found poor Zadok,
and have no conjectures to make as to what became of him. Where does
madness leave off and reality begin? Is it possible that even my latest
fear is sheer delusion?
But I must try to tell what I thought I saw that night
under the mocking yellow moon - saw surging and hopping down the Rowley
road in plain sight in front of me as I crouched among the wild brambles
of that desolate railway cut. Of course my resolution to keep my
eyes shut had failed. It was foredoomed to failure - for who could
crouch blindly while a legion of croaking,
baying entities of unknown source flopped noisomely past,
scarcely more than a hundred yards away?
I thought I was prepared for the worst, and I really ought
to have been prepared considering what I had seen before.
My other pursuers had been accursedly abnormal - so should
I not have been ready to face a strengthening of the abnormal element;
to look upon forms in which there was no mixture of the normal at all?
I did not open my eyes until the raucous clamour came loudly from a point
obviously straight ahead. Then I knew that a long section of them
must be plainly in sight where the
sides of the cut flattened out and the road crossed the
track - and I could no longer keep myself from sampling whatever honor
that leering yellow moon might have to shew.
It was the end, for whatever remains to me of life on
the surface of this earth, of every vestige of mental peace and confidence
in the integrity of nature and of the human mind. Nothing that I
could have imagined - nothing, even, that I could have gathered had I credited
old Zadok's crazy tale in the most literal way - would be in any way comparable
to the demoniac, blasphemous
reality that I saw - or believe I saw. I have tied
to hint what it was in order to postpone the horror of writing it down
baldly. Can it be possible that this planet has actually spawned
such things; that human eyes have truly seen, as objective flesh, what
man has hitherto known only in febrile phantasy and tenuous legend?
And yet I saw them in a limitless stream - flopping, hopping,
croaking, bleating - urging inhumanly through the spectral moonlight in
a grotesque, malignant saraband of fantastic nightmare. And some
of them had tall tiaras of that nameless whitish-gold metal ... and
some were strangely robed ... and one, who led the way, was clad
in a ghoulishly humped black coat and striped
trousers, and had a man's felt hat perched on the shapeless
thing that answered for a head.
I think their predominant colour was a greyish-green,
though they had white bellies. They were mostly shiny and slippery,
but the ridges of their backs were scaly. Their forms vaguely suggested
the anthropoid, while their heads were the heads of fish, with prodigious
bulging eyes that never closed. At the sides of their necks were
palpitating gills, and their long paws were
webbed. They hopped irregularly, sometimes on two
legs and sometimes on four. I was somehow glad that they had no more
than four limbs. Their croaking, baying voices, clearly wed tar articulate
speech, held all the dark shades of expression which their staring faces
But for all of their monstrousness they were not unfamiliar
to me. I knew too well what they must be - for was not the memory
of the evil tiara at Newburyport still fresh? They were the blasphemous
fish-frogs of the nameless design - living and horrible - and as I saw
them I knew also of what that humped, tiaraed priest in the black church
basement had fearsomely reminded me.
Their number was past guessing. It seemed to me
that there were limitless swarms of them and certainly my momentary glimpse
could have shewn only the least fraction. In another instant everything
was blotted out by a merciful fit of fainting; the first I had ever had.