Thursday 25 February 2016

Ghostly Encounters

Susan Dickinson (ed)

Armada Lion

A year or so ago I read another anthology edited by Susan Dickinson called Ghostly Experiences which was a very fine read that boasted a beautifully drawn cover. Both books were taken from a single hardcover volume called 'The Restless Ghost'. It would seem that that other volume hogged the limelight as it is a vastly superior set to this but that isn't to say there's little to recommend here.

Opening the proceedings is indeed Leon Garfield's, 'The Restless Ghost' which tells of a prank that leads to unexpected consequences of fear and redemption in a story where the innocuous illustrations belie the truly terrible fate facing it's prankster protagonist.

Up next is a staple of these anthologies, W.W. Jacobs' 'The Monkey's Paw' where greed and wishes are shown to be unfortunate bedfellows, particularly for your offspring.

L.P. Hartley is an author that I've encountered a few times and who has yet to grab me. I thought his 'Feet Foremost' would be the one to finally do so as it's a nicely desperate and tense haunted house story that keeps you on tenterhooks right up until it falls apart in it's finale.

W.F. Harvey
 'August Heat' by W.F. Harvey on the other hand has a suitably creepy premise that is absolutely nailed at the end in a manner that reminded me of those 'Tales of the Unexpected' episodes where it's shown that you can't cheat fate.

'The Return of the Native' by William Croft Dickinson is a supernatural revenge tale that is entertaining enough but is a little too breathless in it's headlong charge to the end to be wholly satisfying. It's followed by 'Coincidence' by A.J. Alan (a Bletchley Park cryptogrtapher during WWII) which has a fun little idea at it's heart and is realised well but is a tad too obvious to really satisfy.

The ubiquitous M.R. James tale is up next with 'The Rose Garden'. For me one of his weaker stories that never really manages to build into the genuinely creepy atmosphere he was so accomplished at.

To end, the book leaves the realm of the supernatural altogether with Kenneth Wyatt's ghost dance tale 'Ghost Riders of the Sioux' which tells of two settler family's experiences around the time of the Sioux nations adoption of the Ghost Dance movement. It's an interesting read but entirely out of place here.

As I said earlier a mixed bag and certainly the poorer relation to the other volume but not entirely without merit.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Bruce Lacey

Bruce Lacey (with R.O.S.A. B.O.S.O.M.)
As this damnable year continues to take it's toll in what Cyclobe's Stephen Thrower described yesterday as being like "a Rapture for interesting people" this morning I find out that the world has also lost the artist and musician Bruce Lacey.

Lacey's pursuit of his muse and the humour he brought to his creations meant that he walked a path that brought him into contact with many of the counterculture figureheads of the British arts and entertainment worlds from the 1950s onwards including The Goons, The Beatles who got him to play George Harrison's gardener in Help!, Fairport Convention who wrote a song about him (see below), Ken Russell who made a short film about him (see slightly further below) and Dave Allen who featured him (at 25:27) in his fantastic film about English eccentrics (see all the way down below).  More recently Trunk Records released an amazing retrospective of his music called The Spacey Bruce Lacey (btw - I heartily recommend clicking that there link for a really interesting article about Lacey by William Fowler of the BFI)

So R.I.P. sir.  We thank you for being so very you.

Friday 19 February 2016

C.S Lewis' Space Trilogy

C.S. Lewis

Originally published between 1938 and 1945 C.S. Lewis' 'Space Trilogy' is an interesting counterpoint to his more well known Narnia books.  They tell of the fantastical adventures of a philologist named Dr. Elwin Ransom and of the creatures and planets that share our solar system and of the forces for good and evil that are battling for control of our own little rock.

For the most part the three books are more of an exploration of the type of theological themes that characterise his work but beyond that these are an odd and endearing slice of  imaginative science fiction.


Out of the Silent Planet
Pan Books

In the first novel of C.S. Lewis's classic science fiction trilogy, Dr Ransom, a Cambridge academic, is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet's treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the 'silent planet' – Earth – whose tragic story is known throughout the universe.

The Narnia books never held any sort of appeal for me. Talking animals were a turn off in a book even as a kid and as I got older and learnt more about what was in the wardrobe they became less and less of a draw. Then I read of his sci fi series and got very intrigued.  It took me a while to track down a nice set but I finally came across one tucked away in a corner of a dusty science fiction section of a great little bookshop in a small Welsh market town.

This first book in the trilogy tells of the abduction from Earth of philologist Dr Elwin Ransom by the arrogant physicist Weston and the avaricious Devine.  Taken as a hostage to Mars where the pair hope they can trade him for material wealth Ransom escapes into the wilds where he meets with the friendly and artistic Hrossa.

At this point Lewis spends some time developing the language and social order of the planet as Ransom is schooled by his hosts.  Later as he travels we get to see more of what he's learnt of the Utopian social structure as his preconceptions and assumptions shatter.

The book culminated in a meeting with the Oyarsa, the entity that oversees the planet, who explains - to both Ransom and his ex-captors - about his place and role in the universe and also that of our own 'silent' planet and it's mad, trapped Oyarsa.

It was a lovely but rather odd read that managed to remind me of a whole host of other authors - Wells, Tolkein, Moorcock - at different points.  It wasn't what you'd call a dynamic read, in parts it dragged terribly and the religious aspects and their role in defining personality and character of the planets didn't work for me at all.  It was however often a fascinating exploration of a deeply unscientific version of extra-terrestrial life which I'm fine with and one that has left me entirely intrigued for book 2.


Voyage to Venus
Pan Books

The second book in C. S. Lewis's acclaimed Space Trilogy, which also includes Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength, Perelandra continues the adventures of the extraordinary Dr. Ransom. Pitted against the most destructive of human weaknesses, temptation, the great man must battle evil on a new planet — Perelandra — when it is invaded by a dark force. Will Perelandra succumb to this malevolent being, who strives to create a new world order and who must destroy an old and beautiful civilisation to do so? Or will it throw off the yoke of corruption and achieve a spiritual perfection as yet unknown to man? The outcome of Dr. Ransom's mighty struggle alone will determine the fate of this peace-loving planet.

The first volume of Lewis' Space Trilogy 'Out of the Silent Planet' saw Dr Elwin Ransom kidnapped from Earth and taken to Mars by the cold, calculating, sociopathic Professor Weston.  Whilst there he travels the planet meeting the various inhabitants including the Eldila, beings of light that transcend time and space and act as agents of the divine creator.  It was an odd, academically distant and deeply unscientific journey but one that was an entertaining read.

This sequel, more commonly titled 'Perelandra', sees Ransom taken by the Eldila on a mission to the newly awakening planet Venus ('Perelandra').  Once there he discovers an Eden of floating islands covered with delicious fruits and populated by benign creatures and a single, green, 'Eve' - there's an 'Adam' also but he spends the book elsewhere and we don't meet him until the end.  Soon however a 'serpent' is introduced into to the garden and Ransom's mission becomes clear.

It's at this point that the book becomes one long and fairly tedious meditation on the Christian origin myth as the 'Lady' is tempted by the 'Un-man' and Ransom does everything he can to stop her falling as Eve did and thereby dooming Venus to the same fate as the Earth.

In all it was a fairly tedious and uninspiring read that would probably have been a lot more entertaining if I had any sort of interest in Christian philosophy.  For me though outside of his imaginative world building there was little of interest here.


That Hideous Strength
Pan Books

In That Hideous Strength, the final installment of the Space Trilogy, the dark forces that have been repulsed in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra are massed for an assault on the planet Earth itself. Word is on the wind that the mighty wizard Merlin has come back to the land of the living after many centuries, holding the key to ultimate power for the force that can find him and bend him to its will. A sinister technocratic organization that is gaining force throughout England, N.I.C.E. (the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments), secretly controlled by humanity's mortal enemies, plans to use Merlin in their plot to "recondition" society. Dr. Ransom forms a countervailing group, Logres, in opposition, and the two groups struggle to a climactic resolution that brings the Space Trilogy to a magnificent, crashing close.

And so we reach the conclusion of the 'Space Trilogy' with a book whose feet remain firmly rooted on the ground and for the most part deep in the past.

Set some years on from Dr. Ransom's adventures on Mars and Venus this book finds him, along with various associates, rallying against the forces of the Maleldil in the shape of the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments or N.I.C.E. for short.

Here, Lewis has constructed a story rich in a sense of Englishness with links to a very specific reading of the Arthurian legend.  It's a far more readable and indeed contemporary novel less reliant on bizarrely unscientific understanding of extra-terrestrial planets and life (the first book) and less inclined to subject the reader to endless tedious debates of Christian philosophy (the second) and in their place is an almost Quatermass like story of control, free will, heritage and folklore.


Buy it here -  The Space Trilogy

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Lost Girls

Lost Girls (Lost Girls, #1-3)Alan Moore (author)
Melinda Gebbie (artist)
Knockabout / Top Shelf

For more than a century, Alice, Wendy and Dorothy have been our guides through the Wonderland, Neverland and Land of Oz of our childhoods. Now like us, these three lost girls have grown up and are ready to guide us again, this time through the realms of our sexual awakening and fulfillment. Through their familiar fairytales they share with us their most intimate revelations of desire in its many forms, revelations that shine out radiantly through the dark clouds of war gathering around a luxury Austrian hotel. 
Drawing on the rich heritage of erotica, Lost Girls is the rediscovery of the power of ecstatic writing and art in a sublime union that only the medium of comics can achieve. Exquisite, thoughtful, and human, Lost Girls is a work of breathtaking scope that challenges the very notion of art fettered by convention. This is erotic fiction at its finest.

On the eve of the first World War three remarkable women meet at a hotel in Austria.  Alice, the Lady Fairfax, Wendy Potter and Dorothy Gale.  The three are immediately drawn together in the heady sexualised surroundings of the Hotel Himmelgarten and over one summer relate to each other the stories of their lives.

What Moore and Gebbie have created here is a tour de force of erotic fiction (for the prudish) or pornography (for the specific).  They have taken three beloved characters from 'classic' literature and reimagined their stories as a series of sexual experiences; Dorothy's Kansas farm as OZ, Wendy's London park Neverland and Alice's Wonderland of English high society.  Each characters story is seamlessly transported from their respective books as locations and characters become mundane (even if the events do not) and each adventure is given a splash page coda that provides a single easily understood direct reference to the apposite chapter of the source material.

Moore is, of course, the consummate storyteller and as such the book is a joy to read.  Through their actions, their conversations and their reactions to the stories told by those around them the central characters grow and evolve and we are allowed deeper insights into the lives of these three generations of women.

The art is provided by American artist Melinda Gebbie who displays a style grown out of the US underground comix scene and I can see elements of both the Crumbs (Aline Kominsky- and Robert), Spain and more in her art which at times means it feels an odd fit with the style and setting of the story but this doesn't detract from the fact that it is utterly beautiful.  It's never going to be to everyone's taste but I am a long time fan of the artists I mentioned and so to my eyes it's spectacular.  It becomes even more so when she pastiches the styles of other, period, artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, and the frankly stunning level of skill on display is breathtaking.

As a book 'Lost Girls' was problematic from the start and the time between the story's original appearance and it's completion was quite considerable.  It's eventual publication in 2006 was accompanied by an article by Moore (in Arthur magazine and reprinted by Harry N. Abrams as a hardback book entitled '25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom') that is very much a continuation of the dialogue he is having in 'Lost Girls' which makes for a vivid and bold discussion on the very nature of pornography and the roles it plays and also on both personal freedom and repression.  The stories and behaviour of the three women and the supporting cast are presented without judgement.  Those characters who indulge and those who with-hold are treated equally so it's left up to the reader to make of the events what they will.  For myself I found it to be a beautiful and poignant read that, as Moore has been want to do throughout his career, challenged, intrigued and entertained in equal measure.

Buy it here -  Lost Girls

Friday 12 February 2016


Once upon a time
Not so long ago
There was a little girl and her name was Emily
And she had a shop

On the 12th February 1974 national treasures (illustrator / animator) Peter Firmin and (writer / narrator) Oliver Postgate via their Smallfilms company presented to the world the newest in a long line of meticulously crafted and beloved animations.  It's central character was a rotund, lazy, fairly dim, pink and white striped cat named Bagpuss who lived in a shop.

It was rather an unusual shop because it didn't sell anything.  You see, everything in that shop window was a thing that somebody had once lost and Emily had found and brought home to Bagpuss.

Sharing the shop with Bagpuss is Madeleine the rag doll, an imperious wooden owl named Professor Yaffle (Postgate's note perfect impersonation of the philosopher Bertrand Russell), Gabriel the banjo playing toad and the carved mice on the Mouse Organ. 

Over the 13 episodes the cast would investigate various unusual objects brought to the shop by a young girl named Emily (Firmin, daughter of Peter) which included a ballet shoe, a broken figurine, a fiddle and an old rag.  These objects were investigated and made the subject of both a story (animated in Bagpuss' thoughts) based on folk tales from around the world and a song (in an English folk song style) sung by one or more of the characters.

As was always the case with Smallfilms, Bagpuss was both beautifully realised and filled with imagination and wonder and as such, even with such a limited run of episodes, that it is still so beloved is testament to the skills of it's creators.

Buy it here - Bagpuss: The Complete Bagpuss [DVD]

Emily photographed by Jonny Trunk
So, we say happy birthday Bagpuss, old, fat, furry, catpuss.

The most important, the most beautiful, the most magical, saggy old cloth cat in the whole wide world.

And to celebrate we'd like to raise a chocolate biscuit in salute and share with you our most well remembered of the episodes, 'The Mouse Mill'.

13 episodes and all these years later it's not just Emily who loves him (although she obviously still does).

Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss
Old Fat Furry Catpuss
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring
Wake up, be bright, be golden and light
Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing


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Thursday 11 February 2016

The 4th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories

Robert Aickman (ed)
Fontana Books

After finally getting to read some stories by Aickman, who over the last year had climbed to the top of my list of authors I wanted to track down, I noticed on my shelf this anthology of stories chosen by him.  It's the only one of the Fontana series I've managed to track down so far and it's a real delight.

For Aickman 'The essential quality of the ghost story is that it gives form to the unanswerable' and that key aspect of the unknown and mysterious is what guides the choice of stories.  There are few answers here and resolutions are often ephemeral.

Opening the book is 'The Accident' by Ann Bridge.  The pseudonymous Bridge was an avid mountain climber and her story reflects this as a psychiatrist attempts to help a young brother and sister menaced by sinister letters and footprints in the snow.  It's an attractive premise but one which is hampered by Bridge's
love of climbing and so much of the suspense becomes lost in the descriptions of the activity.

Barry Pain's 'Not On The Passenger List' is one in a long line of ocean traversing ghost stories. Here a widow on her way to England is haunted by a ghost that, unusually, is also seen by other passengers.  the story is told by another traveller and whilst not played for laughs has a lightness to it that indicates, to me at least, an author more at home with a more frivolous story style.

Oscar Wilde
The great Oscar Wilde is represented by a story called 'The Sphinx Without a Secret' wherein two men discuss a recent doomed romance and the enigmatic lady at the centre of it.  It is the most sparse of tales with the entire story revolving around the ladies behaviour and the endless connotations implied by the ambiguity of the ending.

The American writer (and friend of Wilde) Vincent O'Sullivan offers a fairly inconsequential but amusingly macabre little story of a belligerent ghost in denial of his own death in 'When I Was Dead' before we are provided with a translation of Alexander Pushkin's 'The Queen of Spades' that reveals itself at the last to be an amusing tale of spectral revenge rather than a fairly typical tale of avaricious behaviour within the Russian nobility.

Whilst more renowned as a critic Desmond MacCarthy's 'Pargiton and Harby' shows him to have had a keen predilection for the weird as his tale of a man haunted by an event in his past reveals itself to be far more interesting than it's premise.

Hugh Walpole
Whilst we're on the subject of the weird Hugh Walpole's 'The Snow' is a brief, fiery examination of a marriage in tumultuous decline as the husband's placidity and the young wife's irascibility clash irrevocably in the shadow of his dead wife's memory.

I can find very little information regarding the author of the next story, Eric Ambrose, other than that he was English and his from and to dates.  His story, 'Carlton's Father', written in 1936 is a fabulous piece of proto-steampunk that any attempt to explain would spoil so onto the next which is by the peerless M.R. James.

'A School Story' is one of the fastest moving of James' tales with a rapidity of telling that takes it's tempo from the narrators bewildered retelling of the events surrounding the disappearance of a teacher.  It isn't one of James' most involved tales and the ending goes a bit too far but it's always fun to dip into any of James' works.

I've read a few of Saki's stories over the last couple of years and they're usually enjoyable but they've never grabbed me as much as some of his contemporaries.  His story here, 'The Wolves of Cernogratz'  is a rather gentle and poignant tale of the return to the ancestral home by the last of the von Cernogratz family.

Wilkie Collins
The book ends with the William Wilkie Collins novella, 'Mad Monkton'.  This wonderful tale by friend and contemporary of Charles Dickens tells of one man's attempt to avoid both the family curse and the family prophecy as he searches for the body of his dead uncle.  I've read a couple of Collins' stories before this and have been hugely impressed each time and this was the best of them all.  I find his way with words to be eminently readable and his imagination beguiling.

I picked up this book expecting to be entertained for a weekend and instead was treated to a number of old favourites alongside a number of intriguing authors whose work I was unaware of and who were of such a level of obscurity that it would have been no effort for me to have remained ignorant of them.

An excellent and extraordinary collection that explores the fantastical and the macabre in the most imaginative and enjoyable way.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Children of the Dust

Louise Lawrence
Fontana Lions

After a nuclear war devastates the earth, a small band of people struggles for survival in a new world where children are born with strange mutations.
Everyone thought, when the alarm bell rang, that it was just another fire practice. But the first bombs had fallen on Hamburg and Leningrad, the headmaster said, and a full-scale nuclear attack was imminent.
It's a real-life nightmare. Sarah and her family have to stay cooped up in the tightly-sealed kitchen for days on end, dreading the inevitable radioactive fall-out and the subsequent slow, torturous death, which seems almost preferable to surviving in a grey, dead world, choked by dust.
But then, from out of the dust and the ruins and the destruction, comes new life, a new future, and a whole brave new world.

Every now and again I get an unstoppable craving to revisit the apocalypse; this has been the case pretty much since I could read.  I love post-apocalypse books (and films) and will pretty much read any I can get my hands on, particularly the British ones as they are less likely to devolve into shootyness. Lawrence's book does indeed deal with a British style apocalypse, in this case of the nuclear variety which suits it's 1985 publication date.

The book is split into three parts and follows the fortunes of three generations of one extended family as Britain is devastated in a nuclear holocaust and then through into the aftermath.

The first and by for the most harrowing part of the book tells of teenager Sarah who, along with her stepmother and two younger siblings is trapped in her living room as the bombs fall and the world dies.  Sarah's story tells of the futility of their survival methods as the fallout slowly poisons them through the dust in the air and the contaminated food and water they consume in their starvation.

Louise Lawrence
Part two introduces us to Sarah's absent father, Bill, who has become separated from his family due to the unfolding events but who is lucky enough to find himself in a government fallout shelter.  After a jump of some seventeen years we get to see how this bunker full of bureaucrats, scientists and soldiers are dealing with the apocalypse by clinging to the ways of the old world and expecting those who have survived outside and who have begun to adapt to the world to respect their spurious authority and accede to their wishes.

The final part relates the story of Bill's grandson as he ventures outside the now failing bunker and meets, for the first time, the mutated survivors of the fallout;  albinos with pin prick eyes and furry skin.  Faced with their kindness and understanding he is forced to confront his own prejudices and realise his place in this new world.

For the first two parts of the book Lawrence provides an unflinchingly nightmarish vision of the nuclear apocalypse as children slowly die of radiation sickness and newborn babies are left outside in the snow to die.  It makes for fascinatingly immersive reading but the book suffers from a weak third act where the mutated survivors are revealed to be ultra-powerful telepathic and telekinetic homo-superior and it all becomes bogged down in utopianist science fantasy.  There's also a fairly disquieting and distasteful Christian undercurrent that pervades the book with hints given that the apocalypse was God's way of removing flawed humanity in order to allow the spiritually superior mutants to take over.

It was though a book that was very much worth the read and showed an author unafraid to provide her - then - young readers with a story that didn't pander to delicate sensibilities and, for the most part, showed the then ever present threat of nuclear armageddon in all it's futile horror.

Buy it here - Children Of The Dust

Saturday 6 February 2016

The Guardians

John Christopher
Puffin Books

Set in the year 2052, the novel depicts a future, authoritarian England divided into two distinct societies: the modern, overpopulated "Conurbs" and the aristocratic, rarefied "County"; the former consists of crowded city districts and all-pervasive technology while the latter is made up of manors and rolling countrysides typical of 19th-century England. The novel follows a young Conurban named Rob as he comes to experience life in both worlds, uncovering truths and choosing sides in the process.

The beginning of the cold weather brought a desire to disappear into the clutches of an old favourite and having read both 'Empty World' and 'The World in Winter' fairly recently another John Christopher seemed like the way to go.

In 'The Guardians' we have what in many ways is a book that, rather unexpectedly, explores similar ground to 'Nineteen Eighty Four' particularly in the books denouement.

Young Rob Randall, born into a working class family in an industrial town (or 'Conurb') and raised by father, is essentially different from both his peers and the other inhabitants of the Conurb, isolated by his bookishness and by his loner tendencies.  Orphaned early on in the book and sent to an extremely strict boarding school from which he promptly legs it Rob finds sanctuary in the anachronistic idyll of the 'Country'.  As Rob makes the transition between the two worlds he is very much caught up in all his new life has to offer whilst conversely his arrival offers new perspectives for his new Country friend, Mike, and so as Rob finds refuge and friendship with Mike's kindly family things slowly start to spiral out of control.

For much of the book this is very much an examination of both class and the city / country divide.  The Conurb dwellers are ill-educated, brutal, obsessed by violent sports and dismissive of those they feel to be lazy and purposeless Country snobs.  For their part the Country dwellers are idle and rich, entertaining themselves with parties, athletic sports days, hunts, hobbies and gossip and are dismissive of the boorish, violent, uncouth Conurb folk.

It's an almost typical Christopher novel in that it hares along with his easy prose carrying you through the book yet it also feels slightly unfinished; not so much in terms of the book itself but rather unfinished as a story.  You are left with the suspicion that Christopher was leaving the door open for a sequel that never happened.  Also there are marked similarities here to the French chateau sequence in the first of his Tripods trilogy, 'The White Mountains'.

As ever though this is a perfectly enjoyable read that manages to create a fairly honest and realistic(ish) world and a fun little story in a very limited number of pages. It's far from being one of his best but when nothing else offers itself up it's well worth an evening of your time.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Short Story - 'The Gateway of the Monster' by William Hope Hodgson

William Hope Hodgson was an English writer (and bodybuilder) who since his death by artillery shell in Ypres during World War One has achieved justifiable renown as one of the finest writers of the strange.  During his life he produced a several novels - The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" (1907), The House on the Borderland (1908), The Ghost Pirates (1909) and The Night Land (1912) - and a host of short stories. 
It's amongst these that we find a series of stories featuring the 'occult detective' Thomas Carnacki, undoubtedly Hope Hodgson's most famous and enduring creation. 
The story reproduced below - The Gateway of the Monster - is the first of these stories and finds him telling of his investigation of a haunting at an ancient manor house.


The Gateway of the Monster

In response to Carnacki's usual card of invitation to have dinner and listen to a story, I arrived promptly at 427, Cheyne Walk, to find the three others who were always invited to these happy little times, there before me. Five minutes later, Carnacki, Arkright, Jessop, Taylor, and I were all engaged in the "pleasant occupation" of dining.

"You've not been long away, this time," I remarked, as I finished my soup; forgetting momentarily Carnacki's dislike of being asked even to skirt the borders of his story until such time as he was ready. Then he would not stint words.

"That's all," he replied, with brevity; and I changed the subject, remarking that I had been buying a new gun, to which piece of news he gave an intelligent nod, and a smile which I think showed a genuinely good-humored appreciation of my intentional changing of the conversation.

Later, when dinner was finished, Carnacki snugged himself comfortably down in his big chair, along with his pipe, and began his story, with very little circumlocution:—

"As Dodgson was remarking just now, I've only been away a short time, and for a very good reason too—I've only been away a short distance. The exact locality I am afraid I must not tell you; but it is less than twenty miles from here; though, except for changing a name, that won't spoil the story. And it is a story too! One of the most extraordinary things ever I have run against.

"I received a letter a fortnight ago from a man I must call Anderson, asking for an appointment. I arranged a time, and when he came, I found that he wished me to investigate and see whether I could not clear up a long-standing and well—too well—authenticated case of what he termed 'haunting.' He gave me very full particulars, and, finally, as the case seemed to present something unique, I decided to take it up.

"Two days later, I drove to the house late in the afternoon. I found it a very old place, standing quite alone in its own grounds. Anderson had left a letter with the butler, I found, pleading excuses for his absence, and leaving the whole house at my disposal for my investigations. The butler evidently knew the object of my visit, and I questioned him pretty thoroughly during dinner, which I had in rather lonely state. He is an old and privileged servant, and had the history of the Grey Room exact in detail. From him I learned more particulars regarding two things that Anderson had mentioned in but a casual manner. The first was that the door of the Grey Room would be heard in the dead of night to open, and slam heavily, and this even though the butler knew it was locked, and the key on the bunch in his pantry. The second was that the bedclothes would always be found torn off the bed, and hurled in a heap into a corner.

"But it was the door slamming that chiefly bothered the old butler. Many and many a time, he told me, had he lain awake and just got shivering with fright, listening; for sometimes the door would be slammed time after time—thud! thud! thud!—so that sleep was impossible.

"From Anderson, I knew already that the room had a history extending back over a hundred and fifty years. Three people had been strangled in it—an ancestor of his and his wife and child. This is authentic, as I had taken very great pains to discover; so that you can imagine it was with a feeling I had a striking case to investigate that I went upstairs after dinner to have a look at the Grey Room.

"Peter, the old butler, was in rather a state about my going, and assured me with much solemnity that in all the twenty years of his service, no one had ever entered that room after nightfall. He begged me, in quite a fatherly way, to wait till the morning, when there would be no danger, and then he could accompany me himself.

"Of course, I smiled a little at him, and told him not to bother. I explained that I should do no more than look 'round a bit, and, perhaps, affix a few seals. He need not fear; I was used to that sort of thing. But he shook his head when I said that.

"'There isn't many ghosts like ours, sir,' he assured me, with mournful pride. And, by Jove! he was right, as you will see.

"I took a couple of candles, and Peter followed with his bunch of keys. He unlocked the door; but would not come inside with me. He was evidently in a fright, and he renewed his request that I would put off my examination until daylight. Of course, I laughed at him again, and told him he could stand sentry at the door, and catch anything that came out.

"'It never comes outside, sir,' he said, in his funny, old, solemn manner. Somehow, he managed to make me feel as if I were going to have the 'creeps' right away. Anyway, it was one to him, you know.

"I left him there, and examined the room. It is a big apartment, and well furnished in the grand style, with a huge four-poster, which stands with its head to the end wall. There were two candles on the mantelpiece, and two on each of the three tables that were in the room. I lit the lot, and after that, the room felt a little less inhumanly dreary; though, mind you, it was quite fresh, and well kept in every way.

"After I had taken a good look 'round, I sealed lengths of baby ribbon across the windows, along the walls, over the pictures, and over the fireplace and the wall closets. All the time, as I worked, the butler stood just without the door, and I could not persuade him to enter; though I jested him a little, as I stretched the ribbons, and went here and there about my work. Every now and again, he would say:—'You'll excuse me, I'm sure, sir; but I do wish you would come out, sir. I'm fair in a quake for you.'

"I told him he need not wait; but he was loyal enough in his way to what he considered his duty. He said he could not go away and leave me all alone there. He apologised; but made it very clear that I did not realise the danger of the room; and I could see, generally, that he was in a pretty frightened state. All the same, I had to make the room so that I should know if anything material entered it; so I asked him not to bother me, unless he really heard or saw something. He was beginning to get on my nerves, and the 'feel' of the room was bad enough, without making it any nastier.

"For a time further, I worked, stretching ribbons across the floor, and sealing them, so that the merest touch would have broken them, were anyone to venture into the room in the dark with the intention of playing the fool. All this had taken me far longer than I had anticipated; and, suddenly, I heard a clock strike eleven. I had taken off my coat soon after commencing work; now, however, as I had practically made an end of all that I intended to do, I walked across to the settee, and picked it up. I was in the act of getting into it, when the old butler's voice (he had not said a word for the last hour) came sharp and frightened:—'Come out, sir, quick! There's something going to happen!' Jove! but I jumped, and then, in the same moment, one of the candles on the table to the left went out. Now whether it was the wind, or what, I do not know; but, just for a moment, I was enough startled to make a run for the door; though I am glad to say that I pulled up, before I reached it. I simply could not bunk out, with the butler standing there, after having, as it were, read him a sort of lesson on 'bein' brave, y'know.' So I just turned right 'round, picked up the two candles off the mantelpiece, and walked across to the table near the bed. Well, I saw nothing. I blew out the candle that was still alight; then I went to those on the two tables, and blew them out. Then, outside of the door, the old man called again:—'Oh! sir, do be told! Do be told!'

"'All right, Peter,' I said, and by Jove, my voice was not as steady as I should have liked! I made for the door, and had a bit of work not to start running. I took some thundering long strides, as you can imagine. Near the door, I had a sudden feeling that there was a cold wind in the room. It was almost as if the window had been suddenly opened a little. I got to the door, and the old butler gave back a step, in a sort of instinctive way. 'Collar the candles, Peter!' I said, pretty sharply, and shoved them into his hands. I turned, and caught the handle, and slammed the door shut, with a crash. Somehow, do you know, as I did so, I thought I felt something pull back on it; but it must have been only fancy. I turned the key in the lock, and then again, double-locking the door. I felt easier then, and set-to and sealed the door. In addition, I put my card over the keyhole, and sealed it there; after which I pocketed the key, and went downstairs—with Peter; who was nervous and silent, leading the way. Poor old beggar! It had not struck me until that moment that he had been enduring a considerable strain during the last two or three hours.

"About midnight, I went to bed. My room lay at the end of the corridor upon which opens the door of the Grey Room. I counted the doors between it and mine, and found that five rooms lay between. And I am sure you can understand that I was not sorry. Then, just as I was beginning to undress, an idea came to me, and I took my candle and sealing wax, and sealed the doors of all five rooms. If any door slammed in the night, I should know just which one.

"I returned to my room, locked the door, and went to bed. I was waked suddenly from a deep sleep by a loud crash somewhere out in the passage. I sat up in bed, and listened, but heard nothing. Then I lit my candle. I was in the very act of lighting it when there came the bang of a door being violently slammed, along the corridor. I jumped out of bed, and got my revolver. I unlocked the door, and went out into the passage, holding my candle high, and keeping the pistol ready. Then a queer thing happened. I could not go a step toward the Grey Room. You all know I am not really a cowardly chap. I've gone into too many cases connected with ghostly things, to be accused of that; but I tell you I funked it; simply funked it, just like any blessed kid. There was something precious unholy in the air that night. I ran back into my bedroom, and shut and locked the door. Then I sat on the bed all night, and listened to the dismal thudding of a door up the corridor. The sound seemed to echo through all the house.

"Daylight came at last, and I washed and dressed. The door had not slammed for about an hour, and I was getting back my nerve again. I felt ashamed of myself; though, in some ways it was silly; for when you're meddling with that sort of thing, your nerve is bound to go, sometimes. And you just have to sit quiet and call yourself a coward until daylight. Sometimes it is more than just cowardice, I fancy. I believe at times it is something warning you, and fighting for you. But, all the same, I always feel mean and miserable, after a time like that.

"When the day came properly, I opened my door, and, keeping my revolver handy, went quietly along the passage. I had to pass the head of the stairs, along the way, and who should I see coming up, but the old butler, carrying a cup of coffee. He had merely tucked his nightshirt into his trousers, and he had an old pair of carpet slippers on.

"'Hullo, Peter!' I said, feeling suddenly cheerful; for I was as glad as any lost child to have a live human being close to me. 'Where are you off to with the refreshments?'

"The old man gave a start, and slopped some of the coffee. He stared up at me, and I could see that he looked white and done-up. He came on up the stairs, and held out the little tray to me. 'I'm very thankful indeed, sir, to see you safe and well,' he said. 'I feared, one time, you might risk going into the Grey Room, sir. I've lain awake all night, with the sound of the Door. And when it came light, I thought I'd make you a cup of coffee. I knew you would want to look at the seals, and somehow it seems safer if there's two, sir.'

"'Peter,' I said, 'you're a brick. This is very thoughtful of you.' And I drank the coffee. 'Come along,' I told him, and handed him back the tray. 'I'm going to have a look at what the Brutes have been up to. I simply hadn't the pluck to in the night.'

"'I'm very thankful, sir,' he replied. 'Flesh and blood can do nothing, sir, against devils; and that's what's in the Grey Room after dark.'

"I examined the seals on all the doors, as I went along, and found them right; but when I got to the Grey Room, the seal was broken; though the card, over the keyhole, was untouched. I ripped it off, and unlocked the door, and went in, rather cautiously, as you can imagine; but the whole room was empty of anything to frighten one, and there was heaps of light. I examined all my seals, and not a single one was disturbed. The old butler had followed me in, and, suddenly, he called out:—'The bedclothes, sir!'

"I ran up to the bed, and looked over; and, surely, they were lying in the corner to the left of the bed. Jove! you can imagine how queer I felt. Something had been in the room. I stared for a while, from the bed, to the clothes on the floor. I had a feeling that I did not want to touch either. Old Peter, though, did not seem to be affected that way. He went over to the bed coverings, and was going to pick them up, as, doubtless, he had done every day these twenty years back; but I stopped him. I wanted nothing touched, until I had finished my examination. This, I must have spent a full hour over, and then I let Peter straighten up the bed; after which we went out, and I locked the door; for the room was getting on my nerves.

"I had a short walk, and then breakfast; after which I felt more my own man, and so returned to the Grey Room, and, with Peter's help, and one of the maids, I had everything taken out of the room, except the bed—even the very pictures. I examined the walls, floor and ceiling then, with probe, hammer and magnifying glass; but found nothing suspicious. And I can assure you, I began to realise, in very truth, that some incredible thing had been loose in the room during the past night. I sealed up everything again, and went out, locking and sealing the door, as before.

"After dinner, Peter and I unpacked some of my stuff, and I fixed up my camera and flashlight opposite to the door of the Grey Room, with a string from the trigger of the flashlight to the door. Then, you see, if the door were really opened, the flashlight would blare out, and there would be, possibly, a very queer picture to examine in the morning. The last thing I did, before leaving, was to uncap the lens; and after that I went off to my bedroom, and to bed; for I intended to be up at midnight; and to ensure this, I set my little alarm to call me; also I left my candle burning.

"The clock woke me at twelve, and I got up and into my dressing gown and slippers. I shoved my revolver into my right side-pocket, and opened my door. Then, I lit my darkroom lamp, and withdrew the slide, so that it would give a clear light. I carried it up the corridor, about thirty feet, and put it down on the floor, with the open side away from me, so that it would show me anything that might approach along the dark passage. Then I went back, and sat in the doorway of my room, with my revolver handy, staring up the passage toward the place where I knew my camera stood outside the door of the Grey Room.

"I should think I had watched for about an hour and a half, when, suddenly, I heard a faint noise, away up the corridor. I was immediately conscious of a queer prickling sensation about the back of my head, and my hands began to sweat a little. The following instant, the whole end of the passage flicked into sight in the abrupt glare of the flashlight. There came the succeeding darkness, and I peered nervously up the corridor, listening tensely, and trying to find what lay beyond the faint glow of my dark-lamp, which now seemed ridiculously dim by contrast with the tremendous blaze of the flash-power.... And then, as I stooped forward, staring and listening, there came the crashing thud of the door of the Grey Room. The sound seemed to fill the whole of the large corridor, and go echoing hollowly through the house. I tell you, I felt horrible—as if my bones were water. Simply beastly. Jove! how I did stare, and how I listened. And then it came again—thud, thud, thud, and then a silence that was almost worse than the noise of the door; for I kept fancying that some awful thing was stealing upon me along the corridor. And then, suddenly, my lamp was put out, and I could not see a yard before me. I realised all at once that I was doing a very silly thing, sitting there, and I jumped up. Even as I did so, I thought I heard a sound in the passage, and quite near me. I made one backward spring into my room, and slammed and locked the door. I sat on my bed, and stared at the door. I had my revolver in my hand; but it seemed an abominably useless thing. I felt that there was something the other side of that door. For some unknown reason I knew it was pressed up against the door, and it was soft. That was just what I thought. Most extraordinary thing to think.

"Presently I got hold of myself a bit, and marked out a pentacle hurriedly with chalk on the polished floor; and there I sat in it almost until dawn. And all the time, away up the corridor, the door of the Grey Room thudded at solemn and horrid intervals. It was a miserable, brutal night.

"When the day began to break, the thudding of the door came gradually to an end, and, at last, I got hold of my courage, and went along the corridor in the half light to cap the lens of my camera. I can tell you, it took some doing; but if I had not done so my photograph would have been spoilt, and I was tremendously keen to save it. I got back to my room, and then set-to and rubbed out the five-pointed star in which I had been sitting.

"Half an hour later there was a tap at my door. It was Peter with my coffee. When I had drunk it, we both went along to the Grey Room. As we went, I had a look at the seals on the other doors; but they were untouched. The seal on the door of the Grey Room was broken, as also was the string from the trigger of the flashlight; but the card over the keyhole was still there. I ripped it off, and opened the door. Nothing unusual was to be seen until we came to the bed; then I saw that, as on the previous day, the bedclothes had been torn off, and hurled into the left-hand corner, exactly where I had seen them before. I felt very queer; but I did not forget to look at all the seals, only to find that not one had been broken.

"Then I turned and looked at old Peter, and he looked at me, nodding his head.

"'Let's get out of here!' I said. 'It's no place for any living human to enter, without proper protection.'

"We went out then, and I locked and sealed the door, again.

"After breakfast, I developed the negative; but it showed only the door of the Grey Room, half opened. Then I left the house, as I wanted to get certain matters and implements that might be necessary to life; perhaps to the spirit; for I intended to spend the coming night in the Grey Room.

"I got back in a cab, about half-past five, with my apparatus, and this, Peter and I carried up to the Grey Room, where I piled it carefully in the centre of the floor. When everything was in the room, including a cat which I had brought, I locked and sealed the door, and went toward the bedroom, telling Peter I should not be down for dinner. He said, 'Yes, sir,' and went downstairs, thinking that I was going to turn in, which was what I wanted him to believe, as I knew he would have worried both me and himself, if he had known what I intended.

"But I merely got my camera and flashlight from my bedroom, and hurried back to the Grey Room. I locked and sealed myself in, and set to work, for I had a lot to do before it got dark.

"First, I cleared away all the ribbons across the floor; then I carried the cat—still fastened in its basket—over toward the far wall, and left it. I returned then to the centre of the room, and measured out a space twenty-one feet in diameter, which I swept with a 'broom of hyssop.' About this, I drew a circle of chalk, taking care never to step over the circle. Beyond this I smudged, with a bunch of garlic, a broad belt right around the chalked circle, and when this was complete, I took from among my stores in the centre a small jar of a certain water. I broke away the parchment, and withdrew the stopper. Then, dipping my left forefinger in the little jar, I went 'round the circle again, making upon the floor, just within the line of chalk, the Second Sign of the Saaamaaa Ritual, and joining each Sign most carefully with the left-handed crescent. I can tell you, I felt easier when this was done, and the 'water circle' complete. Then, I unpacked some more of the stuff that I had brought, and placed a lighted candle in the 'valley' of each Crescent. After that, I drew a Pentacle, so that each of the five points of the defensive star touched the chalk circle. In the five points of the star I placed five portions of the bread, each wrapped in linen, and in the five 'vales,' five opened jars of the water I had used to make the 'water circle.' And now I had my first protective barrier complete.

"Now, anyone, except you who know something of my methods of investigation, might consider all this a piece of useless and foolish superstition; but you all remember the Black Veil case, in which I believe my life was saved by a very similar form of protection, whilst Aster, who sneered at it, and would not come inside, died. I got the idea from the Sigsand MS., written, so far as I can make out, in the 14th century. At first, naturally, I imagined it was just an expression of the superstition of his time; and it was not until a year later that it occurred to me to test his 'Defense,' which I did, as I've just said, in that horrible Black Veil business. You know how that turned out. Later, I used it several times, and always I came through safe, until that Moving Fur case. It was only a partial 'defense' therefore, and I nearly died in the pentacle. After that I came across Professor Garder's 'Experiments with a Medium.' When they surrounded the Medium with a current, in vacuum, he lost his power—almost as if it cut him off from the Immaterial. That made me think a lot; and that is how I came to make the Electric Pentacle, which is a most marvellous 'Defense' against certain manifestations. I used the shape of the defensive star for this protection, because I have, personally, no doubt at all but that there is some extraordinary virtue in the old magic figure. Curious thing for a Twentieth Century man to admit, is it not? But, then, as you all know, I never did, and never will, allow myself to be blinded by the little cheap laughter. I ask questions, and keep my eyes open.

"In this last case I had little doubt that I had run up against a supernatural monster, and I meant to take every possible care; for the danger is abominable.

"I turned-to now to fit the Electric Pentacle, setting it so that each of its 'points' and 'vales' coincided exactly with the 'points' and 'vales' of the drawn pentagram upon the floor. Then I connected up the battery, and the next instant the pale blue glare from the intertwining vacuum tubes shone out.

"I glanced about me then, with something of a sigh of relief, and realised suddenly that the dusk was upon me, for the window was grey and unfriendly. Then 'round at the big, empty room, over the double barrier of electric and candle light. I had an abrupt, extraordinary sense of weirdness thrust upon me—in the air, you know; as it were, a sense of something inhuman impending. The room was full of the stench of bruised garlic, a smell I hate.

"I turned now to the camera, and saw that it and the flashlight were in order. Then I tested my revolver, carefully, though I had little thought that it would be needed. Yet, to what extent materialisation of an ab-natural creature is possible, given favourable conditions, no one can say; and I had no idea what horrible thing I was going to see, or feel the presence of. I might, in the end, have to fight with a materialised monster. I did not know, and could only be prepared. You see, I never forgot that three other people had been strangled in the bed close to me, and the fierce slamming of the door I had heard myself. I had no doubt that I was investigating a dangerous and ugly case.

"By this time, the night had come; though the room was very light with the burning candles; and I found myself glancing behind me, constantly, and then all 'round the room. It was nervy work waiting for that thing to come. Then, suddenly, I was aware of a little, cold wind sweeping over me, coming from behind. I gave one great nerve-thrill, and a prickly feeling went all over the back of my head. Then I hove myself 'round with a sort of stiff jerk, and stared straight against that queer wind. It seemed to come from the corner of the room to the left of the bed—the place where both times I had found the heap of tossed bedclothes. Yet, I could see nothing unusual; no opening—nothing!...

"Abruptly, I was aware that the candles were all a-flicker in that unnatural wind.... I believe I just squatted there and stared in a horribly frightened, wooden way for some minutes. I shall never be able to let you know how disgustingly horrible it was sitting in that vile, cold wind! And then, flick! flick! flick! all the candles 'round the outer barrier went out; and there was I, locked and sealed in that room, and with no light beyond the weakish blue glare of the Electric Pentacle.

"A time of abominable tenseness passed, and still that wind blew upon me; and then, suddenly, I knew that something stirred in the corner to the left of the bed. I was made conscious of it, rather by some inward, unused sense than by either sight or sound; for the pale, short-radius glare of the Pentacle gave but a very poor light for seeing by. Yet, as I stared, something began slowly to grow upon my sight—a moving shadow, a little darker than the surrounding shadows. I lost the thing amid the vagueness, and for a moment or two I glanced swiftly from side to side, with a fresh, new sense of impending danger. Then my attention was directed to the bed. All the covering's were being drawn steadily off, with a hateful, stealthy sort of motion. I heard the slow, dragging slither of the clothes; but I could see nothing of the thing that pulled. I was aware in a funny, subconscious, introspective fashion that the 'creep' had come upon me; yet that I was cooler mentally than I had been for some minutes; sufficiently so to feel that my hands were sweating coldly, and to shift my revolver, half-consciously, whilst I rubbed my right hand dry upon my knee; though never, for an instant, taking my gaze or my attention from those moving clothes.

"The faint noises from the bed ceased once, and there was a most intense silence, with only the sound of the blood beating in my head. Yet, immediately afterward, I heard again the slurring of the bedclothes being dragged off the bed. In the midst of my nervous tension I remembered the camera, and reached 'round for it; but without looking away from the bed. And then, you know, all in a moment, the whole of the bed coverings were torn off with extraordinary violence, and I heard the flump they made as they were hurled into the corner.

"There was a time of absolute quietness then for perhaps a couple of minutes; and you can imagine how horrible I felt. The bedclothes had been thrown with such savageness! And, then again, the brutal unnaturalness of the thing that had just been done before me!

"Abruptly, over by the door, I heard a faint noise—a sort of crickling sound, and then a pitter or two upon the floor. A great nervous thrill swept over me, seeming to run up my spine and over the back of my head; for the seal that secured the door had just been broken. Something was there. I could not see the door; at least, I mean to say that it was impossible to say how much I actually saw, and how much my imagination supplied. I made it out, only as a continuation of the grey walls.... And then it seemed to me that something dark and indistinct moved and wavered there among the shadows.

"Abruptly, I was aware that the door was opening, and with an effort I reached again for my camera; but before I could aim it the door was slammed with a terrific crash that filled the whole room with a sort of hollow thunder. I jumped, like a frightened child. There seemed such a power behind the noise; as though a vast, wanton Force were 'out.' Can you understand?

"The door was not touched again; but, directly afterward, I heard the basket, in which the cat lay, creak. I tell you, I fairly pringled all along my back. I knew that I was going to learn definitely whether whatever was abroad was dangerous to Life. From the cat there rose suddenly a hideous caterwaul, that ceased abruptly; and then—too late—I snapped off the flashlight. In the great glare, I saw that the basket had been overturned, and the lid was wrenched open, with the cat lying half in, and half out upon the floor. I saw nothing else, but I was full of the knowledge that I was in the presence of some Being or Thing that had power to destroy.

"During the next two or three minutes, there was an odd, noticeable quietness in the room, and you much remember I was half-blinded, for the time, because of the flashlight; so that the whole place seemed to be pitchy dark just beyond the shine of the Pentacle. I tell you it was most horrible. I just knelt there in the star, and whirled 'round, trying to see whether anything was coming at me.

"My power of sight came gradually, and I got a little hold of myself; and abruptly I saw the thing I was looking for, close to the 'water circle.' It was big and indistinct, and wavered curiously, as though the shadow of a vast spider hung suspended in the air, just beyond the barrier. It passed swiftly 'round the circle, and seemed to probe ever toward me; but only to draw back with extraordinary jerky movements, as might a living person if they touched the hot bar of a grate.

"'Round and 'round it moved, and 'round and 'round I turned. Then, just opposite to one of the Vales' in the pentacles, it seemed to pause, as though preliminary to a tremendous effort. It retired almost beyond the glow of the vacuum light, and then came straight toward me, appearing to gather form and solidity as it came. There seemed a vast, malign determination behind the movement, that must succeed. I was on my knees, and I jerked back, falling on to my left hand, and hip, in a wild endeavour to get back from the advancing thing. With my right hand I was grabbing madly for my revolver, which I had let slip. The brutal thing came with one great sweep straight over the garlic and the 'water circle,' almost to the vale of the pentacle. I believe I yelled. Then, just as suddenly as it had swept over, it seemed to be hurled back by some mighty, invisible force.

"It must have been some moments before I realised that I was safe; and then I got myself together in the middle of the pentacles, feeling horribly gone and shaken, and glancing 'round and 'round the barrier; but the thing had vanished. Yet, I had learnt something, for I knew now that the Grey Room was haunted by a monstrous hand.

"Suddenly, as I crouched there, I saw what had so nearly given the monster an opening through the barrier. In my movements within the pentacle I must have touched one of the jars of water; for just where the thing had made its attack the jar that guarded the 'deep' of the 'vale' had been moved to one side, and this had left one of the 'five doorways' unguarded. I put it back, quickly, and felt almost safe again, for I had found the cause, and the 'defense' was still good. And I began to hope again that I should see the morning come in. When I saw that thing so nearly succeed, I had an awful, weak, overwhelming feeling that the 'barriers' could never bring me safe through the night against such a Force. You can understand?

"For a long time I could not see the hand; but, presently, I thought I saw, once or twice, an odd wavering, over among the shadows near the door. A little later, as though in a sudden fit of malignant rage, the dead body of the cat was picked up, and beaten with dull, sickening blows against the solid floor. That made me feel rather queer.

"A minute afterward, the door was opened and slammed twice with tremendous force. The next instant the thing made one swift, vicious dart at me, from out of the shadows. Instinctively, I started sideways from it, and so plucked my hand from upon the Electric Pentacle, where—for a wickedly careless moment—I had placed it. The monster was hurled off from the neighbourhood of the pentacles; though—owing to my inconceivable foolishness—it had been enabled for a second time to pass the outer barriers. I can tell you, I shook for a time, with sheer funk. I moved right to the centre of the pentacles again, and knelt there, making myself as small and compact as possible.

"As I knelt, there came to me presently, a vague wonder at the two 'accidents' which had so nearly allowed the brute to get at me. Was I being influenced to unconscious voluntary actions that endangered me? The thought took hold of me, and I watched my every movement. Abruptly, I stretched a tired leg, and knocked over one of the jars of water. Some was spilled; but, because of my suspicious watchfulness, I had it upright and back within the vale while yet some of the water remained. Even as I did so, the vast, black, half-materialised hand beat up at me out of the shadows, and seemed to leap almost into my face; so nearly did it approach; but for the third time it was thrown back by some altogether enormous, overmastering force. Yet, apart from the dazed fright in which it left me, I had for a moment that feeling of spiritual sickness, as if some delicate, beautiful, inward grace had suffered, which is felt only upon the too near approach of the ab-human, and is more dreadful, in a strange way, than any physical pain that can be suffered. I knew by this more of the extent and closeness of the danger; and for a long time I was simply cowed by the butt-headed brutality of that Force upon my spirit. I can put it no other way.

"I knelt again in the centre of the pentacles, watching myself with more fear, almost, than the monster; for I knew now that, unless I guarded myself from every sudden impulse that came to me, I might simply work my own destruction. Do you see how horrible it all was?

"I spent the rest of the night in a haze of sick fright, and so tense that I could not make a single movement naturally. I was in such fear that any desire for action that came to me might be prompted by the Influence that I knew was at work on me. And outside of the barrier that ghastly thing went 'round and 'round, grabbing and grabbing in the air at me. Twice more was the body of the dead cat molested. The second time, I heard every bone in its body scrunch and crack. And all the time the horrible wind was blowing upon me from the corner of the room to the left of the bed.

"Then, just as the first touch of dawn came into the sky, that unnatural wind ceased, in a single moment; and I could see no sign of the hand. The dawn came slowly, and presently the wan light filled all the room, and made the pale glare of the Electric Pentacle look more unearthly. Yet, it was not until the day had fully come, that I made any attempt to leave the barrier, for I did not know but that there was some method abroad, in the sudden stopping of that wind, to entice me from the pentacles.

"At last, when the dawn was strong and bright, I took one last look 'round, and ran for the door. I got it unlocked, in a nervous and clumsy fashion, then locked it hurriedly, and went to my bedroom, where I lay on the bed, and tried to steady my nerves. Peter came, presently, with the coffee, and when I had drunk it, I told him I meant to have a sleep, as I had been up all night. He took the tray, and went out quietly, and after I had locked my door I turned in properly, and at last got to sleep.

"I woke about midday, and after some lunch, went up to the Grey Room. I switched off the current from the Pentacle, which I had left on in my hurry; also, I removed the body of the cat. You can understand I did not want anyone to see the poor brute. After that, I made a very careful search of the corner where the bedclothes had been thrown. I made several holes, and probed, and found nothing. Then it occurred to me to try with my instrument under the skirting. I did so, and heard my wire ring on metal. I turned the hook end that way, and fished for the thing. At the second go, I got it. It was a small object, and I took it to the window. I found it to be a curious ring, made of some greying material. The curious thing about it was that it was made in the form of a pentagon; that is, the same shape as the inside of the magic pentacle, but without the 'mounts,' which form the points of the defensive star. It was free from all chasing or engraving.

"You will understand that I was excited, when I tell you that I felt sure I held in my hand the famous Luck Ring of the Anderson family; which, indeed, was of all things the one most intimately connected with the history of the haunting. This ring was handed on from father to son through generations, and always—in obedience to some ancient family tradition—each son had to promise never to wear the ring. The ring, I may say, was brought home by one of the Crusaders, under very peculiar circumstances; but the story is too long to go into here.

"It appears that young Sir Hulbert, an ancestor of Anderson's, made a bet, in drink, you know, that he would wear the ring that night. He did so, and in the morning his wife and child were found strangled in the bed, in the very room in which I stood. Many people, it would seem, thought young Sir Hulbert was guilty of having done the thing in drunken anger; and he, in an attempt to prove his innocence, slept a second night in the room. He also was strangled. Since then, as you may imagine, no one has ever spent a night in the Grey Room, until I did so. The ring had been lost so long, that it had become almost a myth; and it was most extraordinary to stand there, with the actual thing in my hand, as you can understand.

"It was whilst I stood there, looking at the ring, that I got an idea. Supposing that it were, in a way, a doorway—You see what I mean? A sort of gap in the world-hedge. It was a queer idea, I know, and probably was not my own, but came to me from the Outside. You see, the wind had come from that part of the room where the ring lay. I thought a lot about it. Then the shape—the inside of a pentacle. It had no 'mounts,' and without mounts, as the Sigsand MS. has it:—'Thee mownts wych are thee Five Hills of safetie. To lack is to gyve pow'r to thee daemon; and surelie to fayvor the Evill Thynge.' You see, the very shape of the ring was significant; and I determined to test it.

"I unmade the pentacle, for it must be made afresh and around the one to be protected. Then I went out and locked the door; after which I left the house, to get certain matters, for neither 'yarbs nor fyre nor waier' must be used a second time. I returned about seven thirty, and as soon as the things I had brought had been carried up to the Grey Room, I dismissed Peter for the night, just as I had done the evening before. When he had gone downstairs, I let myself into the room, and locked and sealed the door. I went to the place in the centre of the room where all the stuff had been packed, and set to work with all my speed to construct a barrier about me and the ring.

"I do not remember whether I explained it to you. But I had reasoned that, if the ring were in any way a 'medium of admission,' and it were enclosed with me in the Electric Pentacle, it would be, to express it loosely, insulated. Do you see? The Force, which had visible expression as a Hand, would have to stay beyond the Barrier which separates the Ab from the Normal; for the 'gateway' would be removed from accessibility.

"As I was saying, I worked with all my speed to get the barrier completed about me and the ring, for it was already later than I cared to be in that room 'unprotected.' Also, I had a feeling that there would be a vast effort made that night to regain the use of the ring. For I had the strongest conviction that the ring was a necessity to materialisation. You will see whether I was right.

"I completed the barriers in about an hour, and you can imagine something of the relief I felt when I felt the pale glare of the Electric Pentacle once more all about me. From then, onward, for about two hours, I sat quietly, facing the corner from which the wind came. About eleven o'clock a queer knowledge came that something was near to me; yet nothing happened for a whole hour after that. Then, suddenly, I felt the cold, queer wind begin to blow upon me. To my astonishment, it seemed now to come from behind me, and I whipped 'round, with a hideous quake of fear. The wind met me in the face. It was blowing up from the floor close to me. I stared down, in a sickening maze of new frights. What on earth had I done now! The ring was there, close beside me, where I had put it. Suddenly, as I stared, bewildered, I was aware that there was something queer about the ring—funny shadowy movements and convolutions. I looked at them, stupidly. And then, abruptly, I knew that the wind was blowing up at me from the ring. A queer indistinct smoke became visible to me, seeming to pour upward through the ring, and mix with the moving shadows. Suddenly, I realised that I was in more than any mortal danger; for the convoluting shadows about the ring were taking shape, and the death-hand was forming within the Pentacle. My Goodness! do you realise it! I had brought the 'gateway' into the pentacles, and the brute was coming through—pouring into the material world, as gas might pour out from the mouth of a pipe.

"I should think that I knelt for a moment in a sort of stunned fright. Then, with a mad, awkward movement, I snatched at the ring, intending to hurl it out of the Pentacle. Yet it eluded me, as though some invisible, living thing jerked it hither and thither. At last, I gripped it; yet, in the same instant, it was torn from my grasp with incredible and brutal force. A great, black shadow covered it, and rose into the air, and came at me. I saw that it was the Hand, vast and nearly perfect in form. I gave one crazy yell, and jumped over the Pentacle and the ring of burning candles, and ran despairingly for the door. I fumbled idiotically and ineffectually with the key, and all the time I stared, with a fear that was like insanity, toward the Barriers. The hand was plunging toward me; yet, even as it had been unable to pass into the Pentacle when the ring was without, so, now that the ring was within, it had no power to pass out. The monster was chained, as surely as any beast would be, were chains riveted upon it.

"Even then, I got a flash of this knowledge; but I was too utterly shaken with fright, to reason; and the instant I managed to get the key turned, I sprang into the passage, and slammed the door with a crash. I locked it, and got to my room somehow; for I was trembling so that I could hardly stand, as you can imagine. I locked myself in, and managed to get the candle lit; then I lay down on my bed, and kept quiet for an hour or two, and so I got steadied.
"I got a little sleep, later; but woke when Peter brought my coffee. When I had drunk it I felt altogether better, and took the old man along with me whilst I had a look into the Grey Room. I opened the door, and peeped in. The candles were still burning, wan against the daylight; and behind them was the pale, glowing star of the Electric Pentacle. And there, in the middle, was the ring ... the gateway of the monster, lying demure and ordinary.

"Nothing in the room was touched, and I knew that the brute had never managed to cross the Pentacles. Then I went out, and locked the door.

"After a sleep of some hours, I left the house. I returned in the afternoon in a cab. I had with me an oxy-hydrogen jet, and two cylinders, containing the gases. I carried the things into the Grey Room, and there, in the centre of the Electric Pentacle, I erected the little furnace. Five minutes later the Luck Ring, once the 'luck,' but now the 'bane,' of the Anderson family, was no more than a little solid splash of hot metal."
Carnacki felt in his pocket, and pulled out something wrapped in tissue paper. He passed it to me. I opened it, and found a small circle of greyish metal, something like lead, only harder and rather brighter.

"Well?" I asked, at length, after examining it and handing it 'round to the others. "Did that stop the haunting?"
Carnacki nodded. "Yes," he said. "I slept three nights in the Grey Room, before I left. Old Peter nearly fainted when he knew that I meant to; but by the third night he seemed to realise that the house was just safe and ordinary. And, you know, I believe, in his heart, he hardly approved."

Carnacki stood up and began to shake hands. "Out you go!" he said, genially. And presently we went, pondering, to our various homes.