Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 74 of 274

“‘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.

“‘That’s all. I pulled the velvet cloth over the picture and hope it’ll never be lifted. The thing must be burnt. I couldn’t pry the coils off poor, dead Frank–they cling to him like a leech, and seem to have lost their motion altogether. It’s as if that snaky rope of hair has a kind of perverse fondness for the man it killed–it’s clinging to him–embracing him. You’ll have to burn poor Frank with it–but for God’s sake don’t forget to see it in ashes. That and the picture. They must both go. The safety of the world demands that they go.

“Denis might have whispered more, but a fresh burst of distant wailing cut us short. For the first time we knew what it was, for a westerly veering wind brought articulate words at last. We ought to have known long before, since sounds much like it had often come from the same source. It was wrinkled Sophonisba, the ancient Zulu witch-woman who had fawned on Marceline, keening from her cabin in a way which crowned the horrors of this nightmare tragedy. We could both hear some of the things she howled, and knew that secret and primordial bonds linked this savage sorceress with that other inheritor of elder secrets who had just been extirpated. Some of the words she used betrayed her closeness to daemonic and palaeogean traditions.

“‘Iä! Iä! Shub-Niggurath! Ya-R’lyeh! N’gagi n’bulu bwana n’lolo! Ya, yo, poor Missy Tanit, poor Missy Isis! Marse Clooloo, come up outen de water an’ git yo chile–she done daid! She done daid! De hair ain’ got no missus no mo’, Marse Clooloo. Ol’ Sophy, she know! Ol’ Sophy, she done got de black stone outen Big Zimbabwe in ol’ Affriky! Ol’ Sophy, she done dance in de moonshine roun’ de crocodile-stone befo’ de N’bangus cotch her and sell her to de ship folks! No mo’ Tanit! No mo’ Isis! No mo’ witch-woman to keep de fire a-goin’ in de big stone place! Ya, yo! N’gagi n’bulu bwana n’lolo! Iä! Shub-Niggurath! She daid! Ol’ Sophy know!’

“That wasn’t the end of the wailing, but it was all I could pay attention to. The expression on my boy’s face shewed that it had reminded him of something frightful, and the tightening of his hand on the machete boded no good. I knew he was desperate, and sprang to disarm him before he could do anything more.

“But I was too late. An old man with a bad spine doesn’t count for much physically. There was a terrible struggle, but he had done for himself before many seconds were over. I’m not sure yet but that he tried to kill me, too. His last panting words were something about the need of wiping out everything that had been connected with Marceline, either by blood or marriage.”

“I wonder to this day that I didn’t go stark mad in that instant–or in the moments and hours afterward. In front of me was the slain body of my boy–the only human being I had to cherish–and ten feet away, in front of that shrouded easel, was the body of his best friend, with a nameless coil of horror wound around it. Below was the scalped corpse of that she-monster, about whom I was half-ready to believe anything. I was too dazed to analyse the probability of the hair story–and even if I had not been, that dismal howling coming from Aunt Sophy’s cabin would have been enough to quiet doubt for the nonce.

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