my tortured ears there sounds unceasingly a nightmare whirring and flapping,
and a faint distant baying as of some gigantic hound. It is not dream -
it is not, I fear, even madness - for too much has already happened to
give me these merciful doubts.
St John is a mangled corpse; I alone know why, and such
is my knowledge that I am about to blow out my brains for fear I shall
be mangled in the same way. Down unlit and illimitable corridors of eldrith
phantasy sweeps the black, shapeless Nemesis that drives me to self-annihilation.
May heaven forgive the folly and morbidity which led us
both to so monstrous a fate! Wearied with the commonplaces of a prosaic
world; where even the joys of romance and adventure soon grow stale, St
John and I had followed enthusiastically every aesthetic and intellectual
movement which promised respite from our devastating ennui. The enigmas
of the symbolists and the ecstasies of the pre-Raphaelites all were ours
in their time, but each new mood was drained too soon, of its diverting
novelty and appeal.
Only the somber philosophy of the decadents could help
us, and this we found potent only by increasing gradually the depth and
diabolism of our penetrations. Baudelaire and Huysmans were soon exhausted
of thrills, till finally there remained for us only the more direct stimuli
of unnatural personal experiences and adventures. It was this frightful
emotional need which led us eventually to that detestable course which
even in my present fear I mention with shame and timidity - that hideous
extremity of human outrage, the abhorred practice of grave-robbing.
I cannot reveal the details of our shocking expeditions,
or catalogue even partly the worst of the trophies adorning the nameless
museum we prepared in the great stone house where we jointly dwelt, alone
and servantless. Our museum was a blasphemous, unthinkable place, where
with the satanic taste of neurotic virtuosi we had assembled an universe
of terror and decay to excite our jaded sensibilities. It was a secret
room, far, far, underground; where huge winged daemons carven of basalt
and onyx vomited from wide grinning mouths weird green and orange light,
and hidden pneumatic pipes ruffled into kaleidoscopic dances of death the
lines of red charnel things hand in hand woven in voluminous black hangings.
Through these pipes came at will the odors our moods most craved; sometimes
the scent of pale funeral lilies; sometimes the narcotic incense of imagined
Eastern shrines of the kingly dead, and sometimes - how I shudder to recall
it! - the frightful, soul-upheaving stenches of the uncovered-grave.
Around the walls of this repellent chamber were cases
of antique mummies alternating with comely, lifelike bodies perfectly stuffed
and cured by the taxidermist's art, and with headstones snatched from the
oldest churchyards of the world. Niches here and there contained skulls
of all shapes, and heads preserved in various stages of dissolution. There
one might find the rotting, bald pates of famous noblemen, and the fresh
and radiantly golden heads of new-buried children.
Statues and paintings there were, all of fiendish subjects
and some executed by St John and myself. A locked portfolio, bound in tanned
human skin, held certain unknown and unnameable drawings which it was rumored
Goya had perpetrated but dared not acknowledge. There were nauseous musical
instruments, stringed, brass, and wood-wind, on which St John and I sometimes
produced dissonances of exquisite morbidity and cacodaemoniacal ghastliness;
whilst in a multitude of inlaid ebony cabinets reposed the most incredible
and unimaginable variety of tomb-loot ever assembled by human madness and
perversity. It is of this loot in particular that I must not speak - thank
God I had the courage to destroy it long before I thought of destroying
The predatory excursions on which we collected our unmentionable
treasures were always artistically memorable events. We were no vulgar
ghouls, but worked only under certain conditions of mood, landscape, environment,
weather, season, and moonlight. These pastimes were to us the most exquisite
form of aesthetic expression, and we gave their details a fastidious technical
care. An inappropriate hour, a jarring lighting effect, or a clumsy manipulation
of the damp sod, would almost totally destroy for us that ecstatic titillation
which followed the exhumation of some ominous, grinning secret of the earth.
Our quest for novel scenes and piquant conditions was feverish and insatiate
- St John was always the leader, and he it was who led the way at last
to that mocking, accursed spot which brought us our hideous and inevitable
By what malign fatality were we lured to that terrible
Holland churchyard? I think it was the dark rumor and legendry, the tales
of one buried for five centuries, who had himself been a ghoul in his time
and had stolen a potent thing from a mighty sepulchre. I can recall the
scene in these final moments - the pale autumnal moon over the graves,
casting long horrible shadows; the grotesque trees, drooping sullenly to
meet the neglected grass and the crumbling slabs; the vast legions of strangely
colossal bats that flew against the moon; the antique ivied church pointing
a huge spectral finger at the livid sky; the phosphorescent insects that
danced like death-fires under the yews in a distant corner; the odors of
mould, vegetation, and less explicable things that mingled feebly with
the night-wind from over far swamps and seas; and, worst of all, the faint
deep-toned baying of some gigantic hound which we could neither see nor
definitely place. As we heard this suggestion of baying we shuddered, remembering
the tales of the peasantry; for he whom we sought had centuries before
been found in this self same spot, torn and mangled by the claws and teeth
of some unspeakable beast.
I remember how we delved in the ghoul's grave with our
spades, and how we thrilled at the picture of ourselves, the grave, the
pale watching moon, the horrible shadows, the grotesque trees, the titanic
bats, the antique church, the dancing death-fires, the sickening odors,
the gently moaning night-wind, and the strange, half-heard directionless
baying of whose objective existence we could scarcely be sure.
Then we struck a substance harder than the damp mould,
and beheld a rotting oblong box crusted with mineral deposits from the
long undisturbed ground. It was incredibly tough and thick, but so old
that we finally pried it open and feasted our eyes on what it held.
Much - amazingly much - was left of the object despite
the lapse of five hundred years. The skeleton, though crushed in places
by the jaws of the thing that had killed it, held together with surprising
firmness, and we gloated over the clean white skull and its long, firm
teeth and its eyeless sockets that once had glowed with a charnel fever
like our own. In the coffin lay an amulet of curious and exotic design,
which had apparently been worn around the sleeper's neck. It was the oddly
conventionalised figure of a crouching winged hound, or sphinx with a semi-canine
face, and was exquisitely carved in antique Oriental fashion from a small
piece of green jade. The expression of its features was repellent in the
extreme, savoring at once of death, bestiality and malevolence. Around
the base was an inscription in characters which neither St John nor I could
identify; and on the bottom, like a maker's seal, was graven a grotesque
and formidable skull.
Immediately upon beholding this amulet we knew that we
must possess it; that this treasure alone was our logical pelf from the
centuried grave. Even had its outlines been unfamiliar we would have desired
it, but as we looked more closely we saw that it was not wholly unfamiliar.
Alien it indeed was to all art and literature which sane and balanced readers
know, but we recognized it as the thing hinted of in the forbidden Necronomicon
of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred; the ghastly soul-symbol of the corpse-eating
cult of inaccessible Leng, in Central Asia. All too well did we trace the
sinister lineaments described by the old Arab daemonologist; lineaments,
he wrote, drawn from some obscure supernatural manifestation of the souls
of those who vexed and gnawed at the dead.
Seizing the green jade object, we gave a last glance at
the bleached and cavern-eyed face of its owner and closed up the grave
as we found it. As we hastened from the abhorrent spot, the stolen amulet
in St John's pocket, we thought we saw the bats descend in a body to the
earth we had so lately rifled, as if seeking for some cursed and unholy
nourishment. But the autumn moon shone weak and pale, and we could not
So, too, as we sailed the next day away from Holland to
our home, we thought we heard the faint distant baying of some gigantic
hound in the background. But the autumn wind moaned sad and wan, and we
could not be sure.
Less than a week after our return to England, strange
things began to happen. We lived as recluses; devoid of friends, alone,
and without servants in a few rooms of an ancient manor-house on a bleak
and unfrequented moor; so that our doors were seldom disturbed by the knock
of the visitor.
Now, however, we were troubled by what seemed to be a
frequent fumbling in the night, not only around the doors but around the
windows also, upper as well as lower. Once we fancied that a large, opaque
body darkened the library window when the moon was shining against it,
and another time we thought we heard a whirring or flapping sound not far
off. On each occasion investigation revealed nothing, and we began to ascribe
the occurrences to imagination which still prolonged in our ears the faint
far baying we thought we had heard in the Holland churchyard. The jade
amulet now reposed in a niche in our museum, and sometimes we burned a
strangely scented candle before it. We read much in Alhazred's Necronomicon
about its properties, and about the relation of ghosts' souls to the objects
it symbolized; and were disturbed by what we read.
Then terror came.
On the night of September 24, 19--, I heard a knock at
my chamber door. Fancying it St John's, I bade the knocker enter, but was
answered only by a shrill laugh. There was no one in the corridor. When
I aroused St John from his sleep, he professed entire ignorance of the
event, and became as worried as I. It was the night that the faint, distant
baying over the moor became to us a certain and dreaded reality.
Four days later, whilst we were both in the hidden museum,
there came a low, cautious scratching at the single door which led to the
secret library staircase. Our alarm was now divided, for, besides our fear
of the unknown, we had always entertained a dread that our grisly collection
might be discovered. Extinguishing all lights, we proceeded to the door
and threw it suddenly open; whereupon we felt an unaccountable rush of
air, and heard, as if receding far away, a queer combination of rustling,
tittering, and articulate chatter. Whether we were mad, dreaming, or in
our senses, we did not try to determine. We only realized, with the blackest
of apprehensions, that the apparently disembodied chatter was beyond a
doubt in the Dutch language.
After that we lived in growing horror and fascination.
Mostly we held to the theory that we were jointly going mad from our life
of unnatural excitements, but sometimes it pleased us more to dramatize
ourselves as the victims of some creeping and appalling doom. Bizarre manifestations
were now too frequent to count. Our lonely house was seemingly alive with
the presence of some malign being whose nature we could not guess, and
every night that daemoniac baying rolled over the wind-swept moor, always
louder and louder. On October 29 we found in the soft earth underneath
the library window a series of footprints utterly impossible to describe.
They were as baffling as the hordes of great bats which haunted the old
manor-house in unprecedented and increasing numbers.
The horror reached a culmination on November 18, when
St John, walking home after dark from the dismal railway station, was seized
by some frightful carnivorous thing and torn to ribbons. His screams had
reached the house, and I had hastened to the terrible scene in time to
hear a whir of wings and see a vague black cloudy thing silhouetted against
the rising moon.
My friend was dying when I spoke to him, and he could
not answer coherently. All he could do was to whisper, "The amulet - that
damned thing -"
Then he collapsed, an inert mass of mangled flesh.
I buried him the next midnight in one of our neglected
gardens, and mumbled over his body one of the devilish rituals he had loved
in life. And as I pronounced the last daemoniac sentence I heard afar on
the moor the faint baying of some gigantic hound. The moon was up, but
I dared not look at it. And when I saw on the dim-lighted moor a wide-nebulous
shadow sweeping from mound to mound, I shut my eyes and threw myself face
down upon the ground. When I arose, trembling, I know not how much later,
I staggered into the house and made shocking obeisances before the enshrined
amulet of green jade.
Being now afraid to live alone in the ancient house on
the moor, I departed on the following day for London, taking with me the
amulet after destroying by fire and burial the rest of the impious collection
in the museum. But after three nights I heard the baying again, and before
a week was over felt strange eyes upon me whenever it was dark. One evening
as I strolled on Victoria Embankment for some needed air, I saw a black
shape obscure one of the reflections of the lamps in the water. A wind,
stronger than the night-wind, rushed by, and I knew that what had befallen
St John must soon befall me.
The next day I carefully wrapped the green jade amulet
and sailed for Holland. What mercy I might gain by returning the thing
to its silent, sleeping owner I knew not; but I felt that I must try any
step conceivably logical. What the hound was, and why it had pursued me,
were questions still vague; but I had first heard the baying in that ancient
churchyard, and every subsequent event including St John's dying whisper
had served to connect the curse with the stealing of the amulet. Accordingly
I sank into the nethermost abysses of despair when, at an inn in Rotterdam,
I discovered that thieves had despoiled me of this sole means of salvation.
The baying was loud that evening, and in the morning I
read of a nameless deed in the vilest quarter of the city. The rabble were
in terror, for upon an evil tenement had fallen a red death beyond the
foulest previous crime of the neighborhood. In a squalid thieves' den an
entire family had been torn to shreds by an unknown thing which left no
trace, and those around had heard all night a faint, deep, insistent note
as of a gigantic hound.
So at last I stood again in the unwholesome churchyard
where a pale winter moon cast hideous shadows and leafless trees drooped
sullenly to meet the withered, frosty grass and cracking slabs, and the
ivied church pointed a jeering finger at the unfriendly sky, and the night-wind
howled maniacally from over frozen swamps and frigid seas. The baying was
very faint now, and it ceased altogether as I approached the ancient grave
I had once violated, and frightened away an abnormally large horde of bats
which had been hovering curiously around it.
I know not why I went thither unless to pray, or gibber
out insane pleas and apologies to the calm white thing that lay within;
but, whatever my reason, I attacked the half frozen sod with a desperation
partly mine and partly that of a dominating will outside myself. Excavation
was much easier than I expected, though at one point I encountered a queer
interruption; when a lean vulture darted down out of the cold sky and pecked
frantically at the grave-earth until I killed him with a blow of my spade.
Finally I reached the rotting oblong box and removed the damp nitrous cover.
This is the last rational act I ever performed.
For crouched within that centuried coffin, embraced by
a closepacked nightmare retinue of huge, sinewy, sleeping bats, was the
bony thing my friend and I had robbed; not clean and placid as we had seen
it then, but covered with caked blood and shreds of alien flesh and hair,
and leering sentiently at me with phosphorescent sockets and sharp ensanguined
fangs yawning twistedly in mockery of my inevitable doom. And when it gave
from those grinning jaws a deep, sardonic bay as of some gigantic hound,
and I saw that it held in its gory filthy claw the lost and fateful amulet
of green jade, I merely screamed and ran away idiotically, my screams soon
dissolving into peals of hysterical laughter.
Madness rides the star-wind... claws and teeth sharpened
on centuries of corpses... dripping death astride a bacchanale of bats
from nigh-black ruins of buried temples of Belial... Now, as the baying
of that dead fleshless monstrosity grows louder and louder, and the stealthy
whirring and flapping of those accursed web-wings closer and closer, I
shall seek with my revolver the oblivion which is my only refuge from the
unnamed and unnameable.