say, I do not know what has become of Harley Warren, though I think--almost
hope--that he is in peaceful oblivion, if there be anywhere so blessed
a thing. It is true that I have for five years been his closest friend,
and a partial sharer of his terrible researches into the unknown. I will
not deny, though my memory is uncertain and indistinct, that this witness
of yours may have seen us together as he says, on the Gainsville pike,
walking toward Big Cypress Swamp, at half past eleven on that awful night.
That we bore electric lanterns, spades, and a curious coil of wire with
attached instruments, I will even affirm; for these things all played a
part in the single hideous scene which remains burned into my shaken recollection.
But of what followed, and of the reason I was found alone and dazed on
the edge of the swamp next morning, I must insist that I know nothing save
what I have told you over and over again. You say to me that there is nothing
in the swamp or near it which could form the setting of that frightful
episode. I reply that I knew nothing beyond what I saw. Vision or nightmare
it may have been--vision or nightmare I fervently hope it was--yet it is
all that my mind retains of what took place in those shocking hours after
we left the sight of men. And why Harley Warren did not return, he or his
shade--or some nameless thing I cannot describe-- alone can tell.
As I have said before, the weird
studies of Harley Warren were well known to me, and to some extent shared
by me. Of his vast collection of strange, rare books
on forbidden subjects I have
read all that are written in the languages of which I am master; but these
are few as compared with those in languages I cannot
understand. Most, I believe,
are in Arabic; and the fiend-inspired book which brought on the end--the
book which he carried in his pocket out of the world--was
written in characters whose
like I never saw elsewhere. Warren would never tell me just what was in
that book. As to the nature of our studies--must I say again that
I no longer retain full comprehension?
It seems to me rather merciful that I do not, for they were terrible studies,
which I pursued more through reluctant fascination than through actual
inclination. Warren always dominated me, and sometimes I feared him. I
remember how I shuddered at his facial expression on the night before the
awful happening, when he talked so incessantly of his theory, why certain
corpses never decay, but rest firm and fat in their tombs for a thousand
years. But I do not fear him now, for I suspect that he has known horrors
beyond my ken. Now I fear for him.
Once more I say that I have no
clear idea of our object on that night. Certainly, it had much to do with
something in the book which Warren carried with him--that
ancient book in undecipherable
characters which had come to him from India a month before--but I swear
I do not know what it was that we expected to find. Your witness says he
saw us at half past 11 on the Gainsville pike, headed for Big Cypress Swamp.
This is probably true, but I have no distinct memory of it. The picture
seared into my soul is of one scene only, and the hour must have been long
after midnight; for a waning crescent moon was high in the vaporous heavens.
The place was an ancient cemetery;
so ancient that I trembled at the manifold signs of immemorial years. It
was in a deep, damp hollow, overgrown with rank grass,
moss, and curious creeping weeds,
and filled with a vague stench which my idle fancy associated absurdly
with rotting stone. On every hand were the signs of neglect and decrepitude,
and I seemed haunted by the notion that Warren and I were the first living
creatures to invade a lethal silence of centuries. Over the valley's rim
a wan, waning crescent moon peered through the noisome vapors that seemed
to emanate from unheard of catacombs, and by its feeble, wavering beams
I could distinguish a repellent array of antique slabs, urns, cenotaphs,
and mausoleum facades; all crumbling, moss-grown, and moisture-stained,
and partly concealed by the gross luxuriance of the unhealthy vegetation.
My first vivid impression of
my own presence in this terrible necropolis concerns the act of pausing
with Warren before a certain half- obliterated sepulcher and of
throwing down some burdens which
we seemed to have been carrying. I now observed that I had with me an electric
lantern and two spades, whilst my companion was supplied with a similar
lantern and a portable telephone outfit. No word was uttered, for the spot
and the task seemed known to us; and without delay we seized our spades
and commenced to clear away the grass, weeds, and drifted earth from the
flat, archaic mortuary. After uncovering the entire surface, which consisted
of three immense granite slabs, we stepped back some distance to survey
the charnel scene; and Warren appeared to make some mental calculations.
Then he returned to the sepulcher, and using his spade as a lever, sought
to pry up the slab lying nearest to a stony ruin which may have been a
monument in its day. He did not succeed, and motioned to me to come to
his assistance. Finally our combined strength loosened the stone, which
we raised and tipped to one side.
The removal of the slab revealed
a black aperture, from which rushed an effluence of miasmal gases so nauseous
that we started back in horror. After an interval,
however, we approached the pit
again, and found the exhalations less unbearable. Our lanterns disclosed
the top of a flight of stone steps, dripping with some
detestable ichor of the inner
earth, and bordered by moist walls encrusted with niter. And now for the
first time my memory records verbal discourse, Warren
addressing me at length in his
mellow tenor voice; a voice singularly unperturbed by our awesome surroundings.
"I'm sorry to have to ask you
to stay on the surface," he said, "but it would be a crime to let anyone
with your frail nerves go down there. You can't imagine, even
from what you have read and
from what I've told you, the things I shall have to see and do. It's fiendish
work, Carter, and I doubt if any man without ironclad
sensibilities could ever see
it through and come up alive and sane. I don't wish to offend you, and
Heaven knows I'd be glad enough to have you with me; but the
responsibility is in a certain
sense mine, and I couldn't drag a bundle of nerves like you down to probable
death or madness. I tell you, you can't imagine what the
thing is really like! But I
promise to keep you informed over the telephone of every move--you see
I've enough wire here to reach to the center of the earth and
I can still hear, in memory,
those coolly spoken words; and I can still remember my remonstrances. I
seemed desperately anxious to accompany my friend into those sepulchral
depths, yet he proved inflexibly obdurate. At one time he threatened to
abandon the expedition if I remained insistent; a threat which proved effective,
since he alone held the key to the thing. All this I can still remember,
though I no longer know what manner of thing we sought. After he had obtained
my reluctant acquiescence in his design, Warren picked up the reel of wire
and adjusted the instruments. At his nod I took one of the latter and seated
myself upon an aged, discolored gravestone close by the newly uncovered
aperture. Then he shook my hand, shouldered the coil of wire, and disappeared
within that indescribable ossuary.
For a minute I kept sight of
the glow of his lantern, and heard the rustle of the wire as he laid it
down after him; but the glow soon disappeared abruptly, as if a turn in
the stone staircase had been
encountered, and the sound died away almost as quickly. I was alone, yet
bound to the unknown depths by those magic strands whose insulated surface
lay green beneath the struggling beams of that waning crescent moon.
I constantly consulted my watch
by the light of my electric lantern, and listened with feverish anxiety
at the receiver of the telephone; but for more than a quarter of an hour
heard nothing. Then a faint clicking came from the instrument, and I called
down to my friend in a tense voice. Apprehensive as I was, I was nevertheless
unprepared for the words which
came up from that uncanny vault in accents more alarmed and quivering than
any I had heard before from Harley Warren. He who
had so calmly left me a little
while previously, now called from below in a shaky whisper more portentous
than the loudest shriek:
"God! If you could see what I
I could not answer. Speechless,
I could only wait. Then came the frenzied tones again:
"Carter, it's terrible--monstrous--unbelievable!"
This time my voice did not fail
me, and I poured into the transmitter a flood of excited questions. Terrified,
I continued to repeat, "Warren, what is it? What is it?"
Once more came the voice of my
friend, still hoarse with fear, and now apparently tinged with despair:
"I can't tell you, Carter! It's
too utterly beyond thought--I dare not tell you--no man could know it and
live--Great God! I never dreamed of this!"
Stillness again, save for my
now incoherent torrent of shuddering inquiry. Then the voice of Warren
in a pitch of wilder consternation:
"Carter! for the love of God,
put back the slab and get out of this if you can! Quick!--leave everything
else and make for the outside--it's your only chance! Do as I say, and
don't ask me to explain!"
I heard, yet was able only to
repeat my frantic questions. Around me were the tombs and the darkness
and the shadows; below me, some peril beyond the radius of the human imagination.
But my friend was in greater danger than I, and through my fear I felt
a vague resentment that he should deem me capable of deserting him under
such circumstances. More clicking, and after a pause a piteous cry from
"Beat it! For God's sake, put
back the slab and beat it, Carter!"
Something in the boyish slang
of my evidently stricken companion unleashed my faculties. I formed and
shouted a resolution, "Warren, brace up! I'm coming down!" But at
this offer the tone of my auditor changed to a scream of utter despair:
"Don't! You can't understand!
It's too late--and my own fault. Put back the slab and run--there's nothing
else you or anyone can do now!"
The tone changed again, this
time acquiring a softer quality, as of hopeless resignation. Yet it remained
tense through anxiety for me.
"Quick--before it's too late!"
I tried not to heed him; tried
to break through the paralysis which held me, and to fulfil my vow to rush
down to his aid. But his next whisper found me still held inert
in the chains of stark horror.
"Carter--hurry! It's no use--you
must go--better one than two--the slab--"
A pause, more clicking, then
the faint voice of Warren:
"Nearly over now--don't make
it harder--cover up those damned steps and run for your life--you're losing
time--so long, Carter--won't see you again."
Here Warren's whisper swelled
into a cry; a cry that gradually rose to a shriek fraught with all the
horror of the ages--
"Curse these hellish things--legions--My
God! Beat it! Beat it! BEAT IT!"
After that was silence. I know
not how many interminable eons I sat stupefied; whispering, muttering,
calling, screaming into that telephone. Over and over again
through those eons I whispered
and muttered, called, shouted, and screamed, "Warren! Warren! Answer me--are
And then there came to me the
crowning horror of all--the unbelievable, unthinkable, almost unmentionable
thing. I have said that eons seemed to elapse after Warren shrieked forth
his last despairing warning, and that only my own cries now broke the hideous
silence. But after a while there was a further clicking in the
receiver, and I strained my
ears to listen. Again I called down, "Warren, are you there?" and in answer
heard the thing which has brought this cloud over my mind. I do not try,
gentlemen, to account for that thing--that voice--nor can I venture to
describe it in detail, since the first words took away my consciousness
and created a mental blank which reaches to the time of my awakening in
the hospital. Shall I say that the voice was deep; hollow; gelatinous;
remote; unearthly; inhuman;
disembodied? What shall I say?
It was the end of my experience, and is the end of my story. I heard it,
and knew no more--heard it as I sat petrified in that
unknown cemetery in the hollow,
amidst the crumbling stones and the falling tombs, the rank vegetation
and the miasmal vapors-- heard it well up from the innermost depths of
that damnable open sepulcher as I watched amorphous, necrophagous shadows
dance beneath an accursed waning moon.
And this is what it said:
"You fool, Warren is DEAD!"