Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 73 of 274

“‘God, but Frank is an artist! That thing is the greatest piece any living soul has produced since Rembrandt! It’s a crime to burn it–but it would be a greater crime to let it exist–just as it would have been an abhorrent sin to let–that she-daemon–exist any longer. The minute I saw it I understood what–she–was, and what part she played in the frightful secret that has come down from the days of Cthulhu and the Elder Ones–the secret that was nearly wiped out when Atlantis sank, but that kept half alive in hidden traditions and allegorical myths and furtive, midnight cult-practices. For you know she was the real thing. It wasn’t any fake. It would have been merciful if it had been a fake. It was the old, hideous shadow that philosophers never dared mention–the thing hinted at in the Necronomicon and symbolised in the Easter Island colossi.

“‘She thought we couldn’t see through–that the false front would hold till we had bartered away our immortal souls. And she was half right–she’d have got me in the end. She was only–waiting. But Frank–good old Frank–was too much for me. He knew what it all meant, and painted it. I don’t wonder she shrieked and ran off when she saw it. It wasn’t quite done, but God knows enough was there.

“‘Then I knew I’d got to kill her–kill her, and everything connected with her. It was a taint that wholesome human blood couldn’t bear. There was something else, too–but you’ll never know that if you burn the picture without looking. I staggered down to her room with this machete that I got off the wall here, leaving Frank still knocked out. He was breathing, though, and I knew and thanked heaven I hadn’t killed him.

“‘I found her in front of the mirror braiding that accursed hair. She turned on me like a wild beast, and began spitting out her hatred of Marsh. The fact that she’d been in love with him–and I knew she had–only made it worse. For a minute I couldn’t move, and she came within an ace of completely hypnotising me. Then I thought of the picture, and the spell broke. She saw the breaking in my eyes, and must have noticed the machete, too. I never saw anything give such a wild jungle beast look as she did then. She sprang for me with claws out like a leopard’s, but I was too quick. I swung the machete, and it was all over.’

“Denis had to stop again, and I saw the perspiration running down his forehead through the spattered blood. But in a moment he hoarsely resumed.

“‘I said it was all over–but God! some of it had only just begun! I felt I had fought the legions of Satan, and put my foot on the back of the thing I had annihilated. Then I saw that blasphemous braid of coarse black hair begin to twist and squirm of itself.

“‘I might have known it. It was all in the old tales. That damnable hair had a life of its own, that couldn’t be ended by killing the creature itself. I knew I’d have to burn it, so I started to hack it off with the machete. God, but it was devilish work! Tough–like iron wires–but I managed to do it. And it was loathsome the way the big braid writhed and struggled in my grasp.

“‘About the time I had the last strand cut or pulled off I heard that eldritch wailing from behind the house. You know–it’s still going off and on. I don’t know what it is, but it must be something springing from this hellish business. It half seems like something I ought to know but can’t quite place. It got my nerves the first time I heard it, and I dropped the severed braid in my fright. Then, I got a worse fright–for in another second the braid had turned on me and began to strike venomously with one of its ends which had knotted itself up like a sort of grotesque head. I struck out with the machete, and it turned away. Then, when I had my breath again, I saw that the monstrous thing was crawling along the floor by itself like a great black snake. I couldn’t do anything for a while, but when it vanished through the door I managed to pull myself together and stumble after it. I could follow the broad, bloody trail, and I saw it led upstairs. It brought me here–and may heaven curse me if I didn’t see it through the doorway, striking at poor dazed Marsh like a maddened rattler as it had struck at me, finally coiling around him as a python would. He had begun to come to, but that abominable serpent got him before he was on his feet. I knew that all of the woman’s hatred was behind it, but I hadn’t the power to pull it off. I tried, but it was too much for me. Even the machete was no good–I couldn’t swing it freely or it would have slashed Frank to pieces. So I saw those monstrous coils tighten–saw poor Frank crushed to death before my eyes–and all the time that awful faint howling came from somewhere beyond the fields.

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