Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 239 of 274

VII

It was in the night–after that second evening–that stark, utter horror burst over me and weighted my spirit with a black, clutching panic from which it can never shake free. It began with a telephone call just before midnight. I was the only one up, and sleepily took down the receiver in the library. No one seemed to be on the wire, and I was about to hang up and go to bed when my ear caught a very faint suspicion of sound at the other end. Was someone trying under great difficulties to talk? As I listened I thought I heard a sort of half-liquid bubbling noise–“glub…glub…glub”–which had an odd suggestion of inarticulate, unintelligible word and syllable divisions. I called “Who is it?” But the only answer was “glub… glub…glub-glub.”I could only assume that the noise was mechanical; but fancying that it might be a case of a broken instrument able to receive but not to send, I added, “I can’t hear you. Better hang up and try Information.”Immediately I heard the receiver go on the hook at the other end.

This, I say, was just about midnight. When the call was traced afterward it was found to come from the old Crowninshield house, though it was fully half a week from the housemaid’s day to be there. I shall only hint what was found at that house–the upheaval in a remote cellar storeroom, the tracks, the dirt, the hastily rifled wardrobe, the baffling marks on the telephone, the clumsily used stationery, and the detestable stench lingering over everything. The police, poor fools, have their smug little theories, and are still searching for those sinister discharged servants–who have dropped out of sight amidst the present furore. They speak of a ghoulish revenge for things that were done, and say I was included because I was Edward’s best friend and adviser.

Idiots! Do they fancy those brutish clowns could have forged that handwriting? Do they fancy they could have brought what later came? Are they blind to the changes in that body that was Edward’s? As for me, I now believe all that Edward Derby ever told me. There are horrors beyond life’s edge that we do not suspect, and once in a while man’s evil prying calls them just within our range. Ephraim–Asenath–that devil called them in, and they engulfed Edward as they are engulfing me.

Can I be sure that I am safe? Those powers survive the life of the physical form. The next day–in the afternoon, when I pulled out of my prostration and was able to walk and talk coherently–I went to the madhouse and shot him dead for Edward’s and the world’s sake, but can I be sure till he is cremated? They are keeping the body for some silly autopsies by different doctors–but I say he must be cremated. He must be cremated–he who was not Edward Derby when I shot him. I shall go mad if he is not, for I may be the next. But my will is not weak–and I shall not let it be undermined by the terrors I know are seething around it. One life–Ephraim, Asenath, and Edward–who now? I will not be driven out of my body…I will not change souls with that bullet-ridden lich in the madhouse!

But let me try to tell coherently of that final horror. I will not speak of what the police persistently ignored–the tales of that dwarfed, grotesque, malodorous thing met by at least three wayfarers in High Street just before two o’clock, and the nature of the single footprints in certain places. I will say only that just about two the doorbell and knocker waked me–doorbell and knocker both, applied alternately and uncertainly in a kind of weak desperation, and each trying to keep Edward’s old signal of three-and-two strokes.

Roused from sound sleep, my mind leaped into a turmoil. Derby at the door–and remembering the old code! That new personality had not remembered it…was Edward suddenly back in his rightful state? Why was he here in such evident stress and haste? Had he been released ahead of time, or had he escaped? Perhaps, I thought as I flung on a robe and bounded downstairs, his return to his own self had brought raving and violence, revoking his discharge and driving him to a desperate dash for freedom. Whatever had happened, he was good old Edward again, and I would help him!

When I opened the door into the elm-arched blackness a gust of insufferably foetid wind almost flung me prostrate. I choked in nausea, and for a second scarcely saw the dwarfed, humped figure on the steps. The summons had been Edward’s, but who was this foul, stunted parody? Where had Edward had time to go? His ring had sounded only a second before the door opened.

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