Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 79 of 274

And there was something else about the creature which I could not fail to notice–something which de Russy had not been able to put into words, but which perhaps had something to do with Denis’ wish to kill all those of his blood who had dwelt under the same roof with her. Whether Marsh knew, or whether the genius in him painted it without his knowing, none could say. But Denis and his father could not have known till they saw the picture.

Surpassing all in horror was the streaming black hair–which covered the rotting body, but which was itself not even slightly decayed. All I had heard of it was amply verified. It was nothing human, this ropy, sinuous, half-oily, half-crinkly flood of serpent darkness. Vile, independent life proclaimed itself at every unnatural twist and convolution, and the suggestion of numberless reptilian heads at the out-turned ends was far too marked to be illusory or accidental.

The blasphemous thing held me like a magnet. I was helpless, and did not wonder at the myth of the gorgon’s glance which turned all beholders to stone. Then I thought I saw a change come over the thing. The leering features perceptibly moved, so that the rotting jaw fell, allowing the thick, beast-like lips to disclose a row of pointed yellow fangs. The pupils of the fiendish eyes dilated, and the eyes themselves seemed to bulge outward. And the hair–that accursed hair! It had begun to rustle and wave perceptibly, the snake-heads all turning toward de Russy and vibrating as if to strike!

Reason deserted me altogether, and before I knew what I was doing I drew my automatic and sent a shower of twelve steel-jacketed bullets through the shocking canvas. The whole thing at once fell to pieces, even the frame toppling from the easel and clattering to the dust-covered floor. But though this horror was shattered, another had risen before me in the form of de Russy himself, whose maddened shrieks as he saw the picture vanish were almost as terrible as the picture itself had been.

With a half-articulate scream of “God, now you’ve done it!” the frantic old man seized me violently by the arm and commenced to drag me out of the room and down the rickety stairs. He had dropped the candle in his panic; but dawn was near, and some faint grey light was filtering in through the dust-covered windows. I tripped and stumbled repeatedly, but never for a moment would my guide slacken his pace.

“Run!” he shrieked, “run for your life! You don’t know what you’ve done! I never told you the whole thing! There were things I had to do–the picture talked to me and told me. I had to guard and keep it–now the worst will happen! She and that hair will come up out of their graves, for God knows what purpose!

“Hurry, man! For God’s sake let’s get out of here while there’s time. If you have a car take me along to Cape Girardeau with you. It may well get me in the end, anywhere, but I’ll give it a run for its money. Out of here–quick!”

As we reached the ground floor I became aware of a slow, curious thumping from the rear of the house, followed by a sound of a door shutting. De Russy had not heard the thumping, but the other noise caught his ear and drew from him the most terrible shriek that ever sounded in human throat.

“Oh, God–great God–that was the cellar door–she’s coming–“

By this time I was desperately wrestling with the rusty latch and sagging hinges of the great front door–almost as frantic as my host now that I heard the slow, thumping tread approaching from the unknown rear rooms of the accursed mansion. The night’s rain had warped the oaken planks, and the heavy door stuck and resisted even more strongly than it had when I forced an entrance the evening before.

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