Again I 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 11 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
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
"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 back!"
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 am seeing!"
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
"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
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 Warren:
"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
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
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!
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 you there?"
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!"
Merci pour la lecture!
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