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Posts Tagged ‘horror’

“The ways of God in Nature, as in Providence, are not as our ways; nor are the models that we frame any way commensurate to the vastness, profundity, and unsearchableness of His works, which have a depth in them greater than the well of 
We had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some minutes the old man seemed too much exhausted to speak.
“Not long ago,” said he at length, “and I could have guided you on this route as well as the youngest of my sons; but, about three years past, there happened to me an event such as never happened to mortal man – or at least such as no man ever survived to tell of – and the six hours of deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up body and soul. You suppose me a very old man – but I am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow. Do you know I can scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy?”
The “little cliff,” upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown himself down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung over it, while he was only kept from falling by the tenure of his elbow on its extreme and slippery edge – this “little cliff” arose, a sheer unobstructed precipice of black shining rock, some fifteen or sixteen hundred feet from the world of crags beneath us. Nothing would have tempted me to within half a dozen yards of its brink. In truth so deeply was I excited by the perilous position of my companion, that I fell at full length upon the ground, clung to the shrubs around me, and dared not even glance upward at the sky – while I struggled in vain to divest myself of the idea that the very foundations of the mountain were in danger from the fury of the winds. It was long before I could reason myself into sufficient courage to sit up and look out into the distance.
“You must get over these fancies,” said the guide, “for I have brought you here that you might have the best possible view of the scene of that event I mentioned – and to tell you the whole story with the spot just under your eye.”
“We are now,” he continued, in that particularizing manner which distinguished him – “we are now close upon the Norwegian coast – in the sixty-eighth degree of latitude – in the great province of Nordland – and in the dreary district of Lofoden. The mountain upon whose top we sit is Helseggen, the Cloudy. Now raise yourself up a little higher – hold on to the grass if you feel giddy – so – and look out, beyond the belt of vapor beneath us, into the sea.”
I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters wore so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian geographer’s account of the Mare Tenebrarum . A panorama more deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive. To the right and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay outstretched, like ramparts of the world, lines of horridly black and beetling cliff, whose character of gloom was but the more forcibly illustrated by the surf which reared high up against its white and ghastly crest, howling and shrieking forever. Just opposite the promontory upon whose apex we were placed, and at a distance of some five or six miles out at sea, there was visible a small, bleak-looking island; or, more properly, its position was discernible through the wilderness of surge in which it was enveloped. About two miles nearer the land, arose another of smaller size, hideously craggy and barren, and encompassed at various intervals by a cluster of dark rocks.
The appearance of the ocean, in the space between the more distant island and the shore, had something very unusual about it. Although, at the time, so strong a gale was blowing landward that a brig in the remote offing lay to under a double-reefed trysail, and constantly plunged her whole hull out of sight, still there was here nothing like a regular swell, but only a short, quick, angry cross dashing of water in every direction – as well in the teeth of the wind as otherwise. Of foam there was little except in the immediate vicinity of the rocks.
“The island in the distance,” resumed the old man, “is called by the Norwegians Vurrgh. The one midway is Moskoe. That a mile to the northward is Ambaaren. Yonder are Islesen, Hotholm, Keildhelm, Suarven, and Buckholm. Farther off – between Moskoe and Vurrgh – are Otterholm, Flimen, Sandflesen, and Stockholm. These are the true names of the places – but why it has been thought necessary to name them at all, is more than either you or I can understand. Do you hear anything? Do you see any change in the water?”
We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Helseggen, to which we had ascended from the interior of Lofoden, so that we had caught no glimpse of the sea until it had burst upon us from the summit. As the old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually increasing sound, like the moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes upon an American prairie; and at the same moment I perceived that what seamen term the chopping character of the ocean beneath us, was rapidly changing into a current which set to the eastward. Even while I gazed, this current acquired a monstrous velocity. Each moment added to its speed – to its headlong impetuosity. In five minutes the whole sea, as far as Vurrgh, was lashed into ungovernable fury; but it was between Moskoe and the coast that the main uproar held its sway. Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into phrensied convulsion – heaving, boiling, hissing – gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all whirling and plunging on to the eastward with a rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes except in precipitous descents.
In a few minutes more, there came over the scene another radical alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the whirlpools, one by one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam became apparent where none had been seen before. These streaks, at length, spreading out to a great distance, and entering into combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more vast. Suddenly – very suddenly – this assumed a distinct and definite existence, in a circle of more than a mile in diameter. The edge of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining, and jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of some forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven.
The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I threw myself upon my face, and clung to the scant herbage in an excess of nervous agitation.
“This,” said I at length, to the old man – “this can be nothing else than the great whirlpool of the Maelström.”
“So it is sometimes termed,” said he. “We Norwegians call it the Moskoe-ström, from the island of Moskoe in the midway.”
The ordinary accounts of this vortex had by no means prepared me for what I saw. That of Jonas Ramus, which is perhaps the most circumstantial of any, cannot impart the faintest conception either of the magnificence, or of the horror of the scene – or of the wild bewildering sense of the novel which confounds the beholder. I am not sure from what point of view the writer in question surveyed it, nor at what time; but it could neither have been from the summit of Helseggen, nor during a storm. There are some passages of his description, nevertheless, which may be quoted for their details, although their effect is exceedingly feeble in conveying an impression of the spectacle.
“Between Lofoden and Moskoe,” he says, “the depth of the water is between thirty-six and forty fathoms; but on the other side, toward Ver Vurrgh this depth decreases so as not to afford a convenient passage for a vessel, without the risk of splitting on the rocks, which happens even in the calmest weather. When it is flood, the stream runs up the country between Lofoden and Moskoe with a boisterous rapidity; but the roar of its impetuous ebb to the sea is scarce equalled by the loudest and most dreadful cataracts; the noise being heard several leagues off, and the vortices or pits are of such an extent and depth, that if a ship comes within its attraction, it is inevitably absorbed and carried down to the bottom, and there beat to pieces against the rocks; and when the water relaxes, the fragments thereof are thrown up again. But these intervals of tranquility are only at the turn of the ebb and flood, and in calm weather, and last but a quarter of an hour, its violence gradually returning. When the stream is most boisterous, and its fury heightened by a storm, it is dangerous to come within a Norway mile of it. Boats, yachts, and ships have been carried away by not guarding against it before they were within its reach. It likewise happens frequently, that whales come too near the stream, and are overpowered by its violence; and then it is impossible to describe their howlings and bellowings in their fruitless struggles to disengage themselves. A bear once, attempting to swim from Lofoden to Moskoe, was caught by the stream and borne down, while he roared terribly, so as to be heard on shore. Large stocks of firs and pine trees, after being absorbed by the current, rise again broken and torn to such a degree as if bristles grew upon them. This plainly shows the bottom to consist of craggy rocks, among which they are whirled to and fro. This stream is regulated by the flux and reflux of the sea – it being constantly high and low water every six hours. In the year 1645, early in the morning of Sexagesima Sunday, it raged with such noise and impetuosity that the very stones of the houses on the coast fell to the ground.”
In regard to the depth of the water, I could not see how this could have been ascertained at all in the immediate vicinity of the vortex. The “forty fathoms” must have reference only to portions of the channel close upon the shore either of Moskoe or Lofoden. The depth in the centre of the Moskoe-ström must be immeasurably greater; and no better proof of this fact is necessary than can be obtained from even the sidelong glance into the abyss of the whirl which may be had from the highest crag of Helseggen. Looking down from this pinnacle upon the howling Phlegethon below, I could not help smiling at the simplicity with which the honest Jonas Ramus records, as a matter difficult of belief, the anecdotes of the whales and the bears; for it appeared to me, in fact, a self-evident thing, that the largest ship of the line in existence, coming within the influence of that deadly attraction, could resist it as little as a feather the hurricane, and must disappear bodily and at once.
The attempts to account for the phenomenon – some of which, I remember, seemed to me sufficiently plausible in perusal – now wore a very different and unsatisfactory aspect. The idea generally received is that this, as well as three smaller vortices among the Ferroe islands, “have no other cause than the collision of waves rising and falling, at flux and reflux, against a ridge of rocks and shelves, which confines the water so that it precipitates itself like a cataract; and thus the higher the flood rises, the deeper must the fall be, and the natural result of all is a whirlpool or vortex, the prodigious suction of which is sufficiently known by lesser experiments.” – These are the words of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Kircher and others imagine that in the centre of the channel of the Maelström is an abyss penetrating the globe, and issuing in some very remote part – the Gulf of Bothnia being somewhat decidedly named in one instance. This opinion, idle in itself, was the one to which, as I gazed, my imagination most readily assented; and, mentioning it to the guide, I was rather surprised to hear him say that, although it was the view almost universally entertained of the subject by the Norwegians, it nevertheless was not his own. As to the former notion he confessed his inability to comprehend it; and here I agreed with him – for, however conclusive on paper, it becomes altogether unintelligible, and even absurd, amid the thunder of the abyss.
“You have had a good look at the whirl now,” said the old man, “and if you will creep round this crag, so as to get in its lee, and deaden the roar of the water, I will tell you a story that will convince you I ought to know something of the Moskoe-ström.”
I placed myself as desired, and he proceeded.
“Myself and my two brothers once owned a schooner-rigged smack of about seventy tons burthen, with which we were in the habit of fishing among the islands beyond Moskoe, nearly to Vurrgh. In all violent eddies at sea there is good fishing, at proper opportunities, if one has only the courage to attempt it; but among the whole of the Lofoden coastmen, we three were the only ones who made a regular business of going out to the islands, as I tell you. The usual grounds are a great way lower down to the southward. There fish can be got at all hours, without much risk, and therefore these places are preferred. The choice spots over here among the rocks, however, not only yield the finest variety, but in far greater abundance; so that we often got in a single day, what the more timid of the craft could not scrape together in a week. In fact, we made it a matter of desperate speculation – the risk of life standing instead of labor, and courage answering for capital.
“We kept the smack in a cove about five miles higher up the coast than this; and it was our practice, in fine weather, to take advantage of the fifteen minutes’ slack to push across the main channel of the Moskoe-ström, far above the pool, and then drop down upon anchorage somewhere near Otterholm, or Sandflesen, where the eddies are not so violent as elsewhere. Here we used to remain until nearly time for slack-water again, when we weighed and made for home. We never set out upon this expedition without a steady side wind for going and coming – one that we felt sure would not fail us before our return – and we seldom made a mis-calculation upon this point. Twice, during six years, we were forced to stay all night at anchor on account of a dead calm, which is a rare thing indeed just about here; and once we had to remain on the grounds nearly a week, starving to death, owing to a gale which blew up shortly after our arrival, and made the channel too boisterous to be thought of. Upon this occasion we should have been driven out to sea in spite of everything, for the whirlpools threw us round and round so violently, that, at length, we fouled our anchor and dragged it if it had not been that we drifted into one of the innumerable cross currents – here to-day and gone to-morrow – which drove us under the lee of Flimen, where, by good luck, we brought up.
“I could not tell you the twentieth part of the difficulties we encountered ‘on the grounds’ – it is a bad spot to be in, even in good weather – but we made shift always to run the gauntlet of the Moskoe-ström itself without accident; although at times my heart has been in my mouth when we happened to be a minute or so behind or before the slack. The wind sometimes was not as strong as we thought it at starting, and then we made rather less way than we could wish, while the current rendered the smack unmanageable. My eldest brother had a son eighteen years old, and I had two stout boys of my own. These would have been of great assistance at such times, in using the sweeps, as well as afterward in fishing – but, somehow, although we ran the risk ourselves, we had not the heart to let the young ones get into the danger – for, after all is said and done, it was a horrible danger, and that is the truth.
“It is now within a few days of three years since what I am going to tell you occurred. It was on the tenth day of July, 18-, a day which the people of this part of the world will never forget – for it was one in which blew the most terrible hurricane that ever came out of the heavens. And yet all the morning, and indeed until late in the afternoon, there was a gentle and steady breeze from the south-west, while the sun shone brightly, so that the oldest seaman among us could not have foreseen what was to follow.
“The three of us – my two brothers and myself – had crossed over to the islands about two o’clock P. M., and had soon nearly loaded the smack with fine fish, which, we all remarked, were more plenty that day than we had ever known them. It was just seven, by my watch , when we weighed and started for home, so as to make the worst of the Ström at slack water, which we knew would be at eight.
“We set out with a fresh wind on our starboard quarter, and for some time spanked along at a great rate, never dreaming of danger, for indeed we saw not the slightest reason to apprehend it. All at once we were taken aback by a breeze from over Helseggen. This was most unusual – something that had never happened to us before – and I began to feel a little uneasy, without exactly knowing why. We put the boat on the wind, but could make no headway at all for the eddies, and I was upon the point of proposing to return to the anchorage, when, looking astern, we saw the whole horizon covered with a singular copper-colored cloud that rose with the most amazing velocity.
“In the meantime the breeze that had headed us off fell away, and we were dead becalmed, drifting about in every direction. This state of things, however, did not last long enough to give us time to think about it. In less than a minute the storm was upon us – in less than two the sky was entirely overcast – and what with this and the driving spray, it became suddenly so dark that we could not see each other in the smack.
“Such a hurricane as then blew it is folly to attempt describing. The oldest seaman in Norway never experienced any thing like it. We had let our sails go by the run before it cleverly took us; but, at the first puff, both our masts went by the board as if they had been sawed off – the mainmast taking with it my youngest brother, who had lashed himself to it for safety.
“Our boat was the lightest feather of a thing that ever sat upon water. It had a complete flush deck, with only a small hatch near the bow, and this hatch it had always been our custom to batten down when about to cross the Ström, by way of precaution against the chopping seas. But for this circumstance we should have foundered at once – for we lay entirely buried for some moments. How my elder brother escaped destruction I cannot say, for I never had an opportunity of ascertaining. For my part, as soon as I had let the foresail run, I threw myself flat on deck, with my feet against the narrow gunwale of the bow, and with my hands grasping a ring-bolt near the foot of the fore-mast. It was mere instinct that prompted me to do this – which was undoubtedly the very best thing I could have done – for I was too much flurried to think.
“For some moments we were completely deluged, as I say, and all this time I held my breath, and clung to the bolt. When I could stand it no longer I raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my hands, and thus got my head clear. Presently our little boat gave herself a shake, just as a dog does in coming out of the water, and thus rid herself, in some measure, of the seas. I was now trying to get the better of the stupor that had come over me, and to collect my senses so as to see what was to be done, when I felt somebody grasp my arm. It was my elder brother, and my heart leaped for joy, for I had made sure that he was overboard – but the next moment all this joy was turned into horror – for he put his mouth close to my ear, and screamed out the word ‘ Moskoe-ström! ‘
“No one ever will know what my feelings were at that moment. I shook from head to foot as if I had had the most violent fit of the ague. I knew what he meant by that one word well enough – I knew what he wished to make me understand. With the wind that now drove us on, we were bound for the whirl of the Ström, and nothing could save us!
“You perceive that in crossing the Ström channel, we always went a long way up above the whirl, even in the calmest weather, and then had to wait and watch carefully for the slack – but now we were driving right upon the pool itself, and in such a hurricane as this! ‘To be sure,’ I thought, ‘we shall get there just about the slack – there is some little hope in that’ – but in the next moment I cursed myself for being so great a fool as to dream of hope at all. I knew very well that we were doomed, had we been ten times a ninety-gun ship.
“By this time the first fury of the tempest had spent itself, or perhaps we did not feel it so much, as we scudded before it, but at all events the seas, which at first had been kept down by the wind, and lay flat and frothing, now got up into absolute mountains. A singular change, too, had come over the heavens. Around in every direction it was still as black as pitch, but nearly overhead there burst out, all at once, a circular rift of clear sky – as clear as I ever saw – and of a deep bright blue – and through it there blazed forth the full moon with a lustre that I never before knew her to wear. She lit up every thing about us with the greatest distinctness – but, oh God, what a scene it was to light up!
“I now made one or two attempts to speak to my brother – but, in some manner which I could not understand, the din had so increased that I could not make him hear a single word, although I screamed at the top of my voice in his ear. Presently he shook his head, looking as pale as death, and held up one of his finger, as if to say ‘listen!’
“At first I could not make out what he meant – but soon a hideous thought flashed upon me. I dragged my watch from its fob. It was not going. I glanced at its face by the moonlight, and then burst into tears as I flung it far away into the ocean. It had run down at seven o’clock! We were behind the time of the slack, and the whirl of the Ström was in full fury!
“When a boat is well built, properly trimmed, and not deep laden, the waves in a strong gale, when she is going large, seem always to slip from beneath her – which appears very strange to a landsman – and this is what is called riding, in sea phrase. Well, so far we had ridden the swells very cleverly; but presently a gigantic sea happened to take us right under the counter, and bore us with it as it rose – up – up – as if into the sky. I would not have believed that any wave could rise so high. And then down we came with a sweep, a slide, and a plunge, that made me feel sick and dizzy, as if I was falling from some lofty mountain-top in a dream. But while we were up I had thrown a quick glance around – and that one glance was all sufficient. I saw our exact position in an instant. The Moskoe-Ström whirlpool was about a quarter of a mile dead ahead – but no more like the every-day Moskoe-Ström, than the whirl as you now see it is like a mill-race. If I had not known where we were, and what we had to expect, I should not have recognised the place at all. As it was, I involuntarily closed my eyes in horror. The lids clenched themselves together as if in a spasm.
“It could not have been more than two minutes afterward until we suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in its new direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek – such a sound as you might imagine given out by the waste-pipes of many thousand steam-vessels, letting off their steam all together. We were now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the abyss – down which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we wore borne along. The boat did not seem to sink into the water at all, but to skim like an air-bubble upon the surface of the surge. Her starboard side was next the whirl, and on the larboard arose the world of ocean we had left. It stood like a huge writhing wall between us and the horizon.
“It may appear strange, but now, when we were in the very jaws of the gulf, I felt more composed than when we were only approaching it. Having made up my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal of that terror which unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair that strung my nerves.
“It may look like boasting – but what I tell you is truth – I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my own individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power. I do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see. These, no doubt, were singular fancies to occupy a man’s mind in such extremity – and I have often thought since, that the revolutions of the boat around the pool might have rendered me a little light-headed.
“There was another circumstance which tended to restore my self-possession; and this was the cessation of the wind, which could not reach us in our present situation – for, as you saw yourself, the belt of surf is considerably lower than the general bed of the ocean, and this latter now towered above us, a high, black, mountainous ridge. If you have never been at sea in a heavy gale, you can form no idea of the confusion of mind occasioned by the wind and spray together. They blind, deafen, and strangle you, and take away all power of action or reflection. But we were now, in a great measure, rid of these annoyances – just us death-condemned felons in prison are allowed petty indulgences, forbidden them while their doom is yet uncertain.
“How often we made the circuit of the belt it is impossible to say. We careered round and round for perhaps an hour, flying rather than floating, getting gradually more and more into the middle of the surge, and then nearer and nearer to its horrible inner edge. All this time I had never let go of the ring-bolt. My brother was at the stern, holding on to a small empty water-cask which had been securely lashed under the coop of the counter, and was the only thing on deck that had not been swept overboard when the gale first took us. As we approached the brink of the pit he let go his hold upon this, and made for the ring, from which, in the agony of his terror, he endeavored to force my hands, as it was not large enough to afford us both a secure grasp. I never felt deeper grief than when I saw him attempt this act – although I knew he was a madman when he did it – a raving maniac through sheer fright. I did not care, however, to contest the point with him. I knew it could make no difference whether either of us held on at all; so I let him have the bolt, and went astern to the cask. This there was no great difficulty in doing; for the smack flew round steadily enough, and upon an even keel – only swaying to and fro, with the immense sweeps and swelters of the whirl. Scarcely had I secured myself in my new position, when we gave a wild lurch to starboard, and rushed headlong into the abyss. I muttered a hurried prayer to God, and thought all was over.
“As I felt the sickening sweep of the descent, I had instinctively tightened my hold upon the barrel, and closed my eyes. For some seconds I dared not open them – while I expected instant destruction, and wondered that I was not already in my death-struggles with the water. But moment after moment elapsed. I still lived. The sense of falling had ceased; and the motion of the vessel seemed much as it had been before, while in the belt of foam, with the exception that she now lay more along. I took courage, and looked once again upon the scene.
“Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.
“At first I was too much confused to observe anything accurately. The general burst of terrific grandeur was all that I beheld. When I recovered myself a little, however, my gaze fell instinctively downward. In this direction I was able to obtain an unobstructed view, from the manner in which the smack hung on the inclined surface of the pool. She was quite upon an even keel – that is to say, her deck lay in a plane parallel with that of the water – but this latter sloped at an angle of more than forty-five degrees, so that we seemed to be lying upon our beam-ends. I could not help observing, nevertheless, that I had scarcely more difficulty in maintaining my hold and footing in this situation, than if we had been upon a dead level; and this, I suppose, was owing to the speed at which we revolved.
“The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Mussulmen say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. This mist, or spray, was no doubt occasioned by the clashing of the great walls of the funnel, as they all met together at the bottom – but the yell that went up to the Heavens from out of that mist, I dare not attempt to describe.
“Our first slide into the abyss itself, from the belt of foam above, had carried us a great distance down the slope; but our farther descent was by no means proportionate. Round and round we swept – not with any uniform movement – but in dizzying swings and jerks, that sent us sometimes only a few hundred yards – sometimes nearly the complete circuit of the whirl. Our progress downward, at each revolution, was slow, but very perceptible.
“Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large masses of building timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes, barrels and staves. I have already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our company. I must have been delirious – for I even sought amusement in speculating upon the relative velocities of their several descents toward the foam below. ‘This fir tree,’ I found myself at one time saying, ‘will certainly be the next thing that takes the awful plunge and disappears,’ – and then I was disappointed to find that the wreck of a Dutch merchant ship overtook it and went down before. At length, after making several guesses of this nature, and being deceived in all – this fact – the fact of my invariable miscalculation – set me upon a train of reflection that made my limbs again tremble, and my heart beat heavily once more.
“It was not a new terror that thus affected me, but the dawn of a more exciting hope. This hope arose partly from memory, and partly from present observation. I called to mind the great variety of buoyant matter that strewed the coast of Lofoden, having been absorbed and then thrown forth by the Moskoe-ström. By far the greater number of the articles were shattered in the most extraordinary way – so chafed and roughened as to have the appearance of being stuck full of splinters – but then I distinctly recollected that there were some of them which were not disfigured at all. Now I could not account for this difference except by supposing that the roughened fragments were the only ones which had been completely absorbed – that the others had entered the whirl at so late a period of the tide, or, for some reason, had descended so slowly after entering, that they did not reach the bottom before the turn of the flood came, or of the ebb, as the case might be. I conceived it possible, in either instance, that they might thus be whirled up again to the level of the ocean, without undergoing the fate of those which had been drawn in more early, or absorbed more rapidly. I made, also, three important observations. The first was, that, as a general rule, the larger the bodies were, the more rapid their descent – the second, that, between two masses of equal extent, the one spherical, and the other of any other shape , the superiority in speed of descent was with the sphere – the third, that, between two masses of equal size, the one cylindrical, and the other of any other shape, the cylinder was absorbed the more slowly. Since my escape, I have had several conversations on this subject with an old school-master of the district; and it was from him that I learned the use of the words ‘cylinder’ and ‘sphere.’ He explained to me – although I have forgotten the explanation – how what I observed was, in fact, the natural consequence of the forms of the floating fragments – and showed me how it happened that a cylinder, swimming in a vortex, offered more resistance to its suction, and was drawn in with greater difficulty than an equally bulky body, of any form whatever.
“There was one startling circumstance which went a great way in enforcing these observations, and rendering me anxious to turn them to account, and this was that, at every revolution, we passed something like a barrel, or else the yard or the mast of a vessel, while many of these things, which had been on our level when I first opened my eyes upon the wonders of the whirlpool, were now high up above us, and seemed to have moved but little from their original station.
“I no longer hesitated what to do. I resolved to lash myself securely to the water cask upon which I now held, to cut it loose from the counter, and to throw myself with it into the water. I attracted my brother’s attention by signs, pointed to the floating barrels that came near us, and did everything in my power to make him understand what I was about to do. I thought at length that he comprehended my design – but, whether this was the case or not, he shook his head despairingly, and refused to move from his station by the ring-bolt. It was impossible to reach him; the emergency admitted of no delay; and so, with a bitter struggle, I resigned him to his fate, fastened myself to the cask by means of the lashings which secured it to the counter, and precipitated myself with it into the sea, without another moment’s hesitation.
“The result was precisely what I had hoped it might be. As it is myself who now tell you this tale – as you see that I did escape – and as you are already in possession of the mode in which this escape was effected, and must therefore anticipate all that I have farther to say – I will bring my story quickly to conclusion. It might have been an hour, or thereabout, after my quitting the smack, when, having descended to a vast distance beneath me, it made three or four wild gyrations in rapid succession, and, bearing my loved brother with it, plunged headlong, at once and forever, into the chaos of foam below. The barrel to which I was attached sunk very little farther than half the distance between the bottom of the gulf and the spot at which I leaped overboard, before a great change took place in the character of the whirlpool. The slope of the sides of the vast funnel became momently less and less steep. The gyrations of the whirl grew, gradually, less and less violent. By degrees, the froth and the rainbow disappeared, and the bottom of the gulf seemed slowly to uprise. The sky was clear, the winds had gone down, and the full moon was setting radiantly in the west, when I found myself on the surface of the ocean, in full view of the shores of Lofoden, and above the spot where the pool of the Moskoe-ström had been. It was the hour of the slack – but the sea still heaved in mountainous waves from the effects of the hurricane. I was borne violently into the channel of the Ström, and in a few minutes was hurried down the coast into the ‘grounds’ of the fishermen. A boat picked me up – exhausted from fatigue – and now that the danger was removed speechless from the memory of its horror. Those who drew me on board were my old mates and daily companions – but they knew me no more than they would have known a traveller from the spirit-land. My hair which had been raven-black the day before, was as white as you see it now. They say too that the whole expression of my countenance had changed. I told them my story – they did not believe it. I now tell it to you – and I can scarcely expect you to put more faith in it than did the merry fishermen of Lofoden.”
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For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not – and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified – have tortured – have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror – to many they will seem less terrible than barroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place – some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.
From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.
I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We had birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.
This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise. Not that she was ever serious upon this point – and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be remembered.
Pluto – this was the cat’s name – was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.
Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my general temperament and character – through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance – had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperatelanguage to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them. For Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or through affection, they came in my way. But my disease grew upon me – for what disease is like Alcohol! – and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and consequently somewhat peevish – even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper.
One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.
When reason returned with the morning – when I had slept off the fumes of the night’s debauch– I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.
In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer appeared to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart – one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law , merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself – to offer violence to its own nature – to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only – that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; – hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; – hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; – hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin – a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it – if such a thing wore possible – even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.
On the night of the day on which this cruel deed was done, I was aroused from sleep by the cry of fire. The curtains of my bed were in flames. The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration. The destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.
I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detailing a chain of facts – and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect. On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with one exception, had fallen in. This exception was found in a compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house, and against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here, in great measure, resisted the action of the fire – a fact which I attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a dense crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a particular portion of it with very minute and eager attention. The words “strange!” “singular!” and other similar expressions, excited my curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven in bas relief upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat. The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvellous. There was a rope about the animal’s neck.
When I first beheld this apparition – for I could scarcely regard it as less – my wonder and my terror were extreme. But at length reflection came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been immediately filled by the crowd – by some one of whom the animal must have been cut from the tree and thrown, through an open window, into my chamber. This had probably been done with the view of arousing me from sleep. The falling of other walls had compressed the victim of my cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread plaster; the lime of which, with the flames, and the ammonia from the carcass, had then accomplished the portraiture as I saw it.
Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether to my conscience, for the startling fact just detailed, it did not the less fail to make a deep impression upon my fancy. For months I could not rid myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse. I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal, and to look about me, among the vile haunts which I now habitually frequented, for another pet of the same species, and of somewhat similar appearance, with which to supply its place.
One night as I sat, half stupified, in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was a black cat – a very large one – fully as large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast. Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it off the landlord; but this person made no claim to it – knew nothing of it – had never seen it before.
I continued my caresses, and, when I prepared to go home, the animal evinced a disposition to accompany me. I permitted it to do so; occasionally stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favorite with my wife.
For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me. This was just the reverse of what I had anticipated; but – I know not how or why it was – its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted and annoyed. By slow degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose into the bitterness of hatred. I avoided the creature; a certain sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty, preventing me from physically abusing it. I did not, for some weeks, strike, or otherwise violently ill use it; but gradually – very gradually – I came to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee silently from its odious presence, as from the breath of a pestilence.
What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery, on the morning after I brought it home, that, like Pluto, it also had been deprived of one of its eyes. This circumstance, however, only endeared it to my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree, that humanity of feeling which had once been my distinguishing trait, and the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures.
With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed to increase. It followed my footsteps with a pertinacity which it would be difficult to make the reader comprehend. Whenever I sat, it would crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its loathsome caresses. If I arose to walk it would get between my feet and thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening its long and sharp claws in my dress, clamber, in this manner, to my breast. At such times, although I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from so doing, partly by a memory of my former crime, but chiefly – let me confess it at once – by absolute dread of the beast.
This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil – and yet I should be at a loss how otherwise to define it. I am almost ashamed to own – yes, even in this felon’s cell, I am almost ashamed to own – that the terror and horror with which the animal inspired me, had been heightened by one of the merest chimaeras it would be possible to conceive. My wife had called my attention, more than once, to the character of the mark of white hair, of which I have spoken, and which constituted the sole visible difference between the strange beast and the one I had destroyed. The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees – degrees nearly imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject as fanciful – it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline. It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name – and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared – it was now, I say, the image of a hideous – of a ghastly thing – of the GALLOWS ! – oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime – of Agony and of Death !
And now was I indeed wretched beyond the wretchedness of mere Humanity. And a brute beast – whose fellow I had contemptuously destroyed – a brute beast to work out for me – for me a man, fashioned in the image of the High God – so much of insufferable wo! Alas! neither by day nor by night knew I the blessing of Rest any more! During the former the creature left me no moment alone; and, in the latter, I started, hourly, from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its vast weight – an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off – incumbent eternally upon my heart!
Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole intimates – the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas! was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.
One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit. The cat followed me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing me headlong, exasperated me to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my wrath, the childish dread which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a blow at the animal which, of course, would have proved instantly fatal had it descended as I wished. But this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.
This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body. I knew that I could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night, without the risk of being observed by the neighbors. Many projects entered my mind. At one period I thought of cutting the corpse into minute fragments, and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved to dig a grave for it in the floor of the cellar. Again, I deliberated about casting it in the well in the yard – about packing it in a box, as if merchandize, with the usual arrangements, and so getting a porter to take it from the house. Finally I hit upon what I considered a far better expedient than either of these. I determined to wall it up in the cellar – as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up their victims.
For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls were loosely constructed, and had lately been plastered throughout with a rough plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere had prevented from hardening. Moreover, in one of the walls was a projection, caused by a false chimney, or fireplace, that had been filled up, and made to resemble the red of the cellar. I made no doubt that I could readily displace the bricks at this point, insert the corpse, and wall the whole up as before, so that no eye could detect any thing suspicious. And in this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar I easily dislodged the bricks, and, having carefully deposited the body against the inner wall, I propped it in that position, while, with little trouble, I re-laid the whole structure as it originally stood. Having procured mortar, sand, and hair, with every possible precaution, I prepared a plaster which could not be distinguished from the old, and with this I very carefully went over the new brickwork. When I had finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall did not present the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I looked around triumphantly, and said to myself – “Here at least, then, my labor has not been in vain.”
My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so much wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to put it to death. Had I been able to meet with it, at the moment, there could have been no doubt of its fate; but it appeared that the crafty animal had been alarmed at the violence of my previous anger, and forebore to present itself in my present mood. It is impossible to describe, or to imagine, the deep, the blissful sense of relief which the absence of the detested creature occasioned in my bosom. It did not make its appearance during the night – and thus for one night at least, since its introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden of murder upon my soul!
The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came not. Once again I breathed as a freeman. The monster, in terror, had fled the premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries had been made, but these had been readily answered. Even a search had been instituted – but of course nothing was to be discovered. I looked upon my future felicity as secured.
Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police came, very unexpectedly, into the house, and proceeded again to make rigorous investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in the inscrutability of my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever. The officers bade me accompany them in their search. They left no nook or corner unexplored. At length, for the third or fourth time, they descended into the cellar. I quivered not in a muscle. My heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end. I folded my arms upon my bosom, and roamed easily to and fro. The police were thoroughly satisfied and prepared to depart. The glee at my heart was too strong to be restrained. I burned to say if but one word, by way of triumph, and to render doubly sure their assurance of my guiltlessness.
“Gentlemen,” I said at last, as the party ascended the steps, “I delight to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health, and a little more courtesy. By the bye, gentlemen, this – this is a very well constructed house.” [In the rabid desire to say something easily, I scarcely knew what I uttered at all.] – “I may say an excellently well constructed house. These walls are you going, gentlemen? – these walls are solidly put together;” and here, through the mere phrenzyof bravado, I rapped heavily, with a cane which I held in my hand, upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of the wife of my bosom.
But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend! No sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into silence, than I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! – by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman – a howl – a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the dammed in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation.
Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to the opposite wall. For one instant the party upon the stairs remained motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the next, a dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!
(Ack:classicshorts.com)

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In 1830, only a few miles away from what is now the great city of Cincinnati, lay an immense and almost unbroken forest. The whole region was sparsely settled by people of the frontier–restless souls who no sooner had hewn fairly habitable homes out of the wilderness and attained to that degree of prosperity which today we should call indigence, than, impelled by some mysterious impulse of their nature, they abandoned all and pushed farther westward, to encounter new perils and privations in the effort to regain the meager comforts which they had voluntarily renounced. Many of them had already forsaken that region for the remoter settlements, but among those remaining was one who had been of those first arriving. He lived alone in a house of logs surrounded on all sides by the great forest, of whose gloom and silence he seemed a part, for no one had ever known him to smile nor speak a needless word. His simple wants were supplied by the sale or barter of skins of wild animals in the river town, for not a thing did he grow upon the land which, if needful, he might have claimed by right of undisturbed possession. There were evidences of “improvement”–a few acres of ground immediately about the house had once been cleared of its trees, the decayed stumps of which were half concealed by the new growth that had been suffered to repair the ravage wrought by the ax. Apparently the man’s zeal for agriculture had burned with a failing flame, expiring in penitential ashes.

The little log house, with its chimney of sticks, its roof of warping clapboards weighted with traversing poles and its “chinking” of clay, had a single door and, directly opposite, a window. The latter, however, was boarded up–nobody could remember a time when it was not. And none knew why it was so closed; certainly not because of the occupant’s dislike of light and air, for on those rare occasions when a hunter had passed that lonely spot the recluse had commonly been seen sunning himself on his doorstep if heaven had provided sunshine for his need. I fancy there are few persons living today who ever knew the secret of that window, but I am one, as you shall see.

The man’s name was said to be Murlock. He was apparently seventy years old, actually about fifty. Something besides years had had a hand in his aging. His hair and long, full beard were white, his gray, lusterless eyes sunken, his face singularly seamed with wrinkles which appeared to belong to two intersecting systems. In figure he was tall and spare, with a stoop of the shoulders–a burden bearer. I never saw him; these particulars I learned from my grandfather, from whom also I got the man’s story when I was a lad. He had known him when living near by in that early day.

One day Murlock was found in his cabin, dead. It was not a time and place for coroners and newspapers, and I suppose it was agreed that he had died from natural causes or I should have been told, and should remember. I know only that with what was probably a sense of the fitness of things the body was buried near the cabin, alongside the grave of his wife, who had preceded him by so many years that local tradition had retained hardly a hint of her existence. That closes the final chapter of this true story–excepting, indeed, the circumstance that many years afterward, in company with an equally intrepid spirit, I penetrated to the place and ventured near enough to the ruined cabin to throw a stone against it, and ran away to avoid the ghost which every well-informed boy thereabout knew haunted the spot. But there is an earlier chapter–that supplied by my grandfather.

When Murlock built his cabin and began laying sturdily about with his ax to hew out a farm–the rifle, meanwhile, his means of support–he was young, strong and full of hope. In that eastern country whence he came he had married, as was the fashion, a young woman in all ways worthy of his honest devotion, who shared the dangers and privations of his lot with a willing spirit and light heart. There is no known record of her name; of her charms of mind and person tradition is silent and the doubter is at liberty to entertain his doubt; but God forbid that I should share it! Of their affection and happiness there is abundant assurance in every added day of the man’s widowed life; for what but the magnetism of a blessed memory could have chained that venturesome spirit to a lot like that?

One day Murlock returned from gunning in a distant part of the forest to find his wife prostrate with fever, and delirious. There was no physician within miles, no neighbor; nor was she in a condition to be left, to summon help. So he set about the task of nursing her back to health, but at the end of the third day she fell into unconsciousness and so passed away, apparently, with never a gleam of returning reason.

From what we know of a nature like his we may venture to sketch in some of the details of the outline picture drawn by my grandfather. When convinced that she was dead, Murlock had sense enough to remember that the dead must be prepared for burial. In performance of this sacred duty he blundered now and again, did certain things incorrectly, and others which he did correctly were done over and over. His occasional failures to accomplish some simple and ordinary act filled him with astonishment, like that of a drunken man who wonders at the suspension of familiar natural laws. He was surprised, too, that he did not weep–surprised and a little ashamed; surely it is unkind not to weep for the dead. “Tomorrow,” he said aloud, “I shall have to make the coffin and dig the grave; and then I shall miss her, when she is no longer in sight; but now–she is dead, of course, but it is all right–it must be all right, somehow. Things cannot be so bad as they seem.”

He stood over the body in the fading light, adjusting the hair and putting the finishing touches to the simple toilet, doing all mechanically, with soulless care. And still through his consciousness ran an undersense of conviction that all was right–that he should have her again as before, and everything explained. He had had no experience in grief; his capacity had not been enlarged by use. His heart could not contain it all, nor his imagination rightly conceive it. He did not know he was so hard struck; that knowledge would come later, and never go. Grief is an artist of powers as various as the instruments upon which he plays his dirges for the dead, evoking from some the sharpest, shrillest notes, from others the low, grave chords that throb recurrent like the slow beating of a distant drum. Some natures it startles; some it stupefies. To one it comes like the stroke of an arrow, stinging all the sensibilities to a keener life; to another as the blow of a bludgeon, which in crushing benumbs. We may conceive Murlock to have been that way affected, for and here we are upon surer ground than that of conjecture no sooner had he finished his pious work than, sinking into a chair by the side of the table upon which the body lay, and noting how white the profile showed in the deepening gloom, he laid his arms upon the table’s edge, and dropped his face into them, tearless yet and unutterably weary. At that moment came in through the open window a long, wailing sound like the cry of a lost child in the far deeps of the darkening woods! But the man did not move. Again, and nearer than before, sounded that unearthly cry upon his failing sense. Perhaps it was a wild beast; perhaps it was a dream. For Murlock was asleep.

Some hours later, as it afterward appeared, this unfaithful watcher awoke and lifting his head from his arms intently listened–he knew not why. There in the black darkness by the side of the dead, recalling all without a shock, he strained his eyes to see–he knew not what. His senses were all alert, his breath was suspended, his blood had stilled its tides as if to assist the silence. Who–what had waked him, and where was it?

Suddenly the table shook beneath his arms, and at the same moment he heard, or fancied that he heard, a light, soft step–another–sounds as of bare feet upon the floor!

He was terrified beyond the power to cry out or move. Perforce he waited–waited there in the darkness through seeming centuries of such dread as one may know, yet live to tell. He tried vainly to speak the dead woman’s name, vainly to stretch forth his hand across the table to learn if she were there. His throat was powerless, his arms and hands were like lead. Then occurred something most frightful. Some heavy body seemed hurled against the table with an impetus that pushed it against his breast so sharply as nearly to overthrow him, and at the same instant he heard and felt the fall of something upon the floor with so violent a thump that the whole house was shaken by the impact. A scuffling ensued, and a confusion of sounds impossible to describe. Murlock had risen to his feet. Fear had by excess forfeited control of his faculties. He flung his hands upon the table. Nothing was there!

There is a point at which terror may turn to madness; and madness incites to action. With no definite intent, from no motive but the wayward impulse of a madman, Murlock sprang to the wall, with a little groping seized his loaded rifle, and without aim discharged it. By the flash which lit up the room with a vivid illumination, he saw an enormous panther dragging the dead woman toward the window, its teeth fixed in her throat! Then there were darkness blacker than before, and silence; and when he returned to consciousness the sun was high and the wood vocal with songs of birds.

The body lay near the window, where the beast had left it when frightened away by the flash and report of the rifle. The clothing was deranged, the long hair in disorder, the limbs lay anyhow. From the throat, dreadfully lacerated, had issued a pool of blood not yet entirely coagulated. The ribbon with which he had bound the wrists was broken; the hands were tightly clenched. Between the teeth was a fragment of the animal’s ear.

The End

(ack: classicshorts.com)

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 I wrote a sci-fi novel where the protagonist a mad scientist found a way to suck out all air from body by injecting a serum. As a result it knocked out oxygen from body:blood in the veins turned to dust, lungs exploded and the patients died agonizing death. In order to bring out the psychic terror I formatted book,- 450 pages of it, from the first to the last page without any space between paragraphs,words, letters.

Oh the horror of thinking it up! Much more was in the horror of injecting my hopped- up imagination into the veins of each sentence and sustaining it as pages  churned one  after the other, and when I wrote finis at the end it was such a relief I leapt to open wide the shuttered windows. My penthouse of the Kiss-the-sky Apts on Steve Canyon Dr. had always its spectacular sunsets and the deep gulches I could look down and look at shoppers crawling like ants. Relief of finishing the book had shot glad oil into my system I almost jumped from my perch in deliriously happy frame.

The clocks from the interior chimed mournfully as a hearse wending its precious cargo, or whatever left of it to its rest.  The spell was broken, readers! I gathered all the pages into a  stack -a scene out of Giotto,- Deposition of Christ from the cross and rang up Bela Lugosi of a literary agent. He read a few pages and shuddered. I guess he had looked almost death in the face and dared not keep at it. He looked at me as though I had an axe bloodied and was practicing my swing at him. In a sweat he beat it. Straight to my publishers, I can vouch for.

The Book at last was out two weeks before Halloween. Whoever lined up to read  a sci-fi didn’t reach the end of the line. One look at the blurb splashed as Dead or Alive poster in the B- western movies had sent them helter-skelter.

The writing experience killed something in me. No more I could look at a page without seeing lines maddening whirl of typefaces marching on a Walpurgis Night. What the hell I lived through a hell of sci-fi that I had lit up.

benny

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Life begins at Forty ©

Helmut Hoffman was a problem of his times.
He thought of becoming a surgeon because his father spent several years struggling with a compulsive disorder: he imagined he was Jack Ripper come back with a vengeance.  He could not bear the sight of a knife and he thought if he ever took one in his hands it would be the beginning of mayhem. A devout family man when not under the delusion, he let Helmut follow his own bent. Helmut had seen his father in his deep suffering and it made him decide use the scalpel in ways never used before. He began modestly enough: first two years he persevered that it occurred to him that he might be as well able to withstand the rigors of his chosen discipline; He plodded along. Somewhere along it became clear that he had a mission in life; he had found that focus which served as a counterweight to his gypsy-like existence, which followed in wake of death of father who could not bear the struggle and chose a rope to end his life. And then his mother followed her man of whom she had nothing but pity. Pity is not love and they had left its deep scars. That point where youthful dreams one by one went through some wringer marked the end of his fugitive years; instead came his future in some curious symbols which to his relief belonged to a dream state; he could on waking up dismiss those dreams played often against backdrops resembling more like an abattoir. It was his internship. The clarity of his precision cutting at the operating table apparent then somehow in dreams morphed into shambles: blood and gore of it wetted his dreams and its arousal served as a counterpoint to his missionary zeal. He had to acknowledge apart from his surgical skills, which were acquired by sheer drudgery, he was just like every one else. In the end he had come out as a surgeon overqualified and god-like. His problem had just begun.

He won his acceptance from his fellow scholars and his peers alike despite a disability, which however did not affect his skill. He was a mute but his cutting hand spoke instead. He was a mute who made his scalpel speak all that needed to be said of the man. It spoke truth and did not mince words. The scalpel was the man. Technology empowered that scalpel and whether it was guided by laser or a cryogenic medium his cutting hand spoke for him. Only technology needed to show the solution and Hoffman could make it work for him. He still was in control.
The year was 2285. The Space Age For All brought wealth of other galaxies to man. Funding of health care bigger and better than before was not the problem. The problem was man. He was disaster prone and to Hoffman it occurred so early that with so many disasters which the space age had brought he was too qualified for hacking away in some quiet corner. He worked out his own schedule and performed where his terms were acceptable anywhere across the globe. His life’s mission had taken a world- view glancing over the imperfections of his times.

It was a time where technology was a solution looking for a problem too.
It was inevitable that Hoffman and technology would come together and redefine their roles. The man who held the scalpel wanted to protect his hard earned skills. He had latched on to technology with as much as ease as lichens could find its nutrients from the rock. If the rock and lichens could find its common ground so could he with technology. His insight into where he was heading for was best exemplified in that section of a rock fossil that he always carried along. It showed some lichens some 64 million years old. In that fossil what minerals which once made up the plant had made its impression; it was thus he wanted himself to remembered: In such a fusion of his soul with technology if any one attributed a selfish motive he would have been the most perplexed; In different times he took long and hard look at himself and he could have said with a clean conscience that no selfish considerations had entered in his calculations in wanting to serve his times. At least till love entered in his personal equations. Himself, technology and love.

1.
Ménage a Trois

Love came to Hoffman much late though he grew up in its midst. He fell in love with Mathilde, his guardian’s daughter on whom he at first had not entertained any notion of sharing his life let alone his innermost thoughts. As a medical student he would be at weekends a guest of his guardian, a banker. Sometimes he would be with the family at their vacation house in Cannes. He had from the beginning marked her as a hoyden and neck deep up to mischief. His attention of her, he could later recall with a smile, had begun on a curious disability of her, as the only one in his knowledge who never dreamt.
She was rather vain about it. Her governess did dream and so did all her friends and even the ones who disliked her in school had something nice to tell. She was 13 and she wanted to know if it was a medical condition. He thought she was putting him on so his opinion was merely dismissing such a state did not exist. He did not think it was necessary to give reasons for his conclusion. She laughed it off with a retort, ” Why you are only a tyro. I shall ask you the same question when you finish your college. Perhaps you may have another opinion.”
He shrugged his shoulders to reply, ”Perhaps? Who knows? You may even grow and recall your dreams.”
Somewhere along her adolescence she found his presence did much good to her. Her age seemed to bring out its inchoate creases as a matter of course. It was to Hoffman she could throw all doubts. He could distance himself to think from her angle. In matters of great or small he advised her as if it all came from her own. He could dissemble well that she only saw how easily he could think objectively. It was an effort for him. At her coming of age party it was his choice that made great impression on her. ‘You are so selfless!” she said hugging him and kissed him which took him by surprise at first. He had nothing against love but he hated being taken in surprise. When he saw her dressed as he had suggested he had to agree that she was right after all. He hated magenta but it did accentuate her skin its right tone. Why did he hate magenta? It was the color of the nylon rope that his father chose for his death. To comment upon that color without its painful associations required great effort. She asked her opinion and he just gave that. Not his opinion.
Matty was 19 when he had finished his college. There were so many days, weeks and months the happy pair spent together and her hoydenish hectoring did thaw his stiffness. He at first took it in good sport and thought she was very inventive and her smile and pranks all set her youth to advantage. Then it was love pure but not simple. He had to agree with Matty that in appearance they were a match and cut of the same clothe. Of medium height but able to carry himself well with aplomb that gave no hint of its depths; if their youthfulness were to be molded by a chisel, would have fitted the hands of Phidias but Rodin would have shown their inner life better.
At that time he had graduated from University of the Nations that sprawled along the Loire Valley where scholars came from Abidjan to Zagreb. Merit was only consideration. It had the pride of place among academic circles as the ultimate in two disciplines, – in particular of molecular biology and medicine. Hoffman entered its halls fully realizing that his life was in his control and he was on a quest, a scalpel that was his holy grail. When he graduated he was ready for his next phase in which marriage was not given a place. Hence at the time our story begins he still held his reservations, a priority. Matty found his excuses of profession having his priority hilarious. One day she with a laugh said that no man could have his whole life mapped out before he was ready to settle down. ” In fairness to the man he agreed that she had a point. Life is more than one man’s resolves for one’s future.
Ii
Jurgen Mannheim Griswold ran Griswold Conglomerates with ruthless efficiency to which his daughter had no partiality. He was widowed pretty early in life and he realized as soon as the period of mourning was over that he would not repeat his mistake ever again. He did love his wife too well; he came to observe that his investment in marriage was hardly secure with uncertainties of life that shredded emotions not to speak of time and his energy. So he remained a widower devoting more time for what he loved most. His business.
As soon as his only daughter came of age she took over the role of a hostess to lavish parties he gave at home and were well attended by every recipient of his invitations. These guests were gilt edges to his security as a banker and he loved to keep that image alive by bringing in interesting people from other walks of life. In such fusion the public relations man in Jurgen saw his daughter was an asset and his ward a rising star. They stood out. She was smart and chic. It was this image that Hoffman came to equate with Mathilde.
Hoffman was mute. He did not speak but he communicated through a microchip implanted under his arm which spelt out what he wanted to say through a monitor as large as a pocket book. That chip could send electrical impulses of his brain in a language that spoke as he did; technology had made it sound as masculine as she thought she could fall in love with the voice alone. That voice came to be a signature tune of a man whose strength she saw in his solidity. She could lean on that and feel his heart throbbing with life. She saw his life as twin aspect of her life. He called her butterfly and he could make technology speak caressingly or even in a matter-of-fact tone.
One evening coming from their usual walk from the woods he asked out of the blue, ”Do you still think you do not dream?”
“Of course I do not” she replied.
She had held her hand hooked to his and she gave a tug and said, ”No matter. You dream on my behalf. It is enough for me.”
He to his dismay realized that she was still intent on marriage.  What was more she was so besotted with him she wanted the same technology by which they could communicate in a higher plane as she put it. Beyond senses her love sought that mystery of his companionship. Which all nodes his past touched? Death of his parents and a few stray incidents of his pubescent years. Those scatological dreams blood and gore of it mere shadows of his aseptic life style? Did those light and shadow of his memory make her at one with his? She wondered. She well peeked into complexity of his mind and her love didn’t wince.
She desired him more than ever. Technology could translate language of senses in a way she could follow: how else could he have talked to her with his clear dark eyes and it said yes? Or with his smell?  Her eyes understood him as her smell found in his smell her soul’s delight. In implanting the same chip she thought it was like saying their mutual vows at the altar of Technology.
The banker had no inkling that his ward was the object of Mathilde’s affections and let him come often, which Hoffman could not always comply with owing to his other engagements. Mathilde was as necessary to him and served his needs as his work and even while he was deep in his tasks he was connected to her. The thought of technology playing cupid added a certain thrill. On her part, she glowed while he did surgery; she could sense as though the way his hands skillfully cut or torched and grafted organs to his patients it was as though she herself was present.
While Helmut stayed away from parties he could picture Matty just as well from where he labored, as a hostess at the mansion at Princehof Plaza Hamburg. It had no history but wealth had created its own which was clear from the moment one drove in and left one’s carriage into garage and let oneself led by the liveried servants into its primly pruned front garden enclosed by high walls. One may not more than cast a cursory look at the old fragments from ruins of other ends of the world and proceed to the portico that made its statement. Had one paused to look closely at the grey figures sprawling here and there one would have realized that a few of the victims of that volcanic eruption which devastated Pompeii have become objets d’art in Hamburg! Wealth of the banker had revised history of Pompeii to suit his own needs. If the grounds of his villa spoke of his interest in archaeology the house spoke of his indefatigable industry. What is kitsch to a serious art collector to the banker was something to take his mind from serious aspects of his profession. He let them merely to rest his weary eyes from looking no more than cursorily. For the very reason he shut his eyes from every impressionist or post impressionist painter of the nineteenth century. Wealth of Jurgen was hard won and in expending it over frivolities served its purpose. Marble and gold plated accessories all filled its occupant and master with a feeling that he had arrived.  If there were banquets and people wore formal and made small talk it was the hostess who made it all fit. Her down to earth liveliness and poise allowed the formal enjoy without letting their hair down.
iii
Did Helmut felt bound to marry and settle down for all that ? Well no! She brought some sort of purity in his life that his work could not provide. He had a goal of becoming freed from his past. In that age where nations had learned to think as one to which their Space Age For ALL was a case in point, his parents had funded Cybernetics Applied Industries and they left it to Jurgen. He wisely lent for expanding the business when at a time space programs had hit a bad patch.  He saw to CAIN had created robots with AI to assist them in their Interplanetary Research Programs. There were too many casualties and heavy loss in human lives. But accidents were beyond one Bank’s sole purview. It was then he had floated Space Age for All ( SAFA) for the public and was underwritten by all the nations to tap every interstellar galaxy for its mineral wealth that initially showed great promise.  Then crises one after the other at a point did unnerve Jurgen. If the Bank did not foreclose rather too soon CAIN could still be operative.  Perhaps not. Anyway it always hung like a bad cloud in his mind. He undertook custody of Hoffman and his career owed solely to his financial support. Hoffman felt no embarrassment in receiving aid from one who had killed his parent’s dream.  He considered that he was his own man only after he had carved a name for himself, He had money too he took possession of all those robots and other properties held in custody of the Bank. He had discharged outstanding arrears to the last cent and he got rid of all except those robots. They were part of his ménage in the house set in the new up market section of Pretzen Ober Rijn. It was large with rooms modestly furnished but with great subtlety to which he had only to thank Matty who had become his second best interest outside the aseptic surgical wards.
She was connected to him by her physical desires and by technology. Thereby she had cast out the parental hold over her. Only after he had come into his own and secured the dream child of his parents he started thinking of marriage seriously.
iv
One morning the divine surgeon to his shudder realized that he made a slip up at the operating table. The operation was what in other times he could have done blindfolded and his knot had slipped. In the next try he had got it right. None had noticed but it brought home on what uncertain ground he had his reputation built up. It took greater part of the day to leave its bruise from his mind. So when Mathilde suggested that evening he might as well make the robots earn their keep he looked at her wondering if she had sensed his near fall from grace.
“I had a difficult day,” he said as he flopped in his favorite chair. After some time he wanted to know what was about the robots that she found so remarkable.
“ These seven make me feel as if I am Snow White” she commented, ”don’t you think it is a good idea to make them specialize?”
Helmut knew she had caught up with him very fast. He asked her what she meant and she explained and said finally,” It shall not compete with you. Only you need map out different aspects of surgical procedures and guide them through a transponder. You are still the master.”
He just stared on. He had thought about it earlier and it was now coming back to him. He could not help smiling at her new found interest in a field, which was till now totally alien to her world. She had switched her position from that of a technophobe. Neither she nor he did go overboard except to squeeze as much out of technology for their main goal. She added,” If our chip implant is good for us it could be good for them too?” She was right.
One of the balmy days of spring Matty and Hoffman called on Elvirez Da Cunha who specialized in robots. He came around one day to take a look at the seven robots and he said that they could be restructured for their specific requirements. Elvirez worked out a detailed program and estimates that they agreed upon. Code Med was his solution. He said it worked in tandem as a system. Each unit had its own identity and receives its own signals to work independently or work as part of the herd in which each robot has specific scaled down function.
“ Each letter in Code Med stands for specific signals. It is a self-contained unit. C has its character as distinct and different from O and so on.” Elvirez said with emphasis.
“What of letters E and D which figure twice?” Hoffman cut in.
“E coded blue is the shepherd dog to the herd. It processes the signals from individual units and interfaces with D which is linked to your transponder.” Turning to Mathilde he added, ” The other D is what connects to you. You can scan from your notebook.”
“While I engage D suppose Mr. Hoffman wants to contact me will that be a problem?”
“No,” replied the expert,” The system will automatically transfer the call what E coded yellow, receive. One is for receiving and the other for sending signals which you both can clue in.” He added, “If needed it can be linked to a network for feedback if second opinion is required.”
He explained other essential features, which made the specific strength of one as the strength of all. Code Med he said has its abilities to convert non –verbal clues of its handlers, “in this case you both which derives from the common transponder.” He explained,” I can see you are wondering if it would not be an invasion of your privacy. Yes it is.” Elvirez paused to allow them to digest implications of what he had just said. He continued,” Your transponder is your world which is all the more indispensable because of Mr. Hoffman. If your transponder makes your interior world into a verbal mode Code Med taps it in order to perform as intended. One unit will always maintain its capacity to sense from signals of microchip implant and convert into a verbal mode.” The pair who listened intently their expressions ranging from surprise wonder had come to admire its immense potential. They looked at each other to say,” Our world is private and yet the outside world is only a signal away!”
Elvirez held his hands up to correct,“ Your private world will always remain inviolate.” He said with a chuckle, “You may want a second opinion but what leaves your work station is edited thoroughly, automatically of course.”
Hoffman wanted to know more about the manner Code Med perceived non- verbal cues. Elvirez explained once over and said, “What you might read from thought patterns of your wife has its particular fingerprint as she has her own value system. Code Med has to set down a coherent text, and right too for specific problems, considering value systems of each being different. These they do from data available from what is perceived for given time and context: each of you serves as database. Code Med will search and make sentences.” They heard Elvirez explaining working modalities in silence. Elvirez could realize the last bit was far out for them to take in. “I know you must be thinking that the machine has undue control over processing its data. No! We should always be in control. Shouldn’t we?” They nodded.
In the end he said with a chuckle. “I have provided a sting which the system cannot get at. “ He explained in so many words it considering they have gone farther than their level permitted. A few days later to a query that Matt asked on the sting system he said thus:” It is an active digitizer which retrieves the parameters it has employed in setting a text and scanning the worksheets we will know if Code Med has done a proper job or not. It cannot tamper with signals AD collates from it”
“Why such a precaution?”
“Code Med is an assembly of AI and its different facets. It can pose conundrums such as an independent mind can pose from so many alphabets to stump its handlers. But in keeping its transcript in its development we can trace the source and intents.”
“Then there is darker intents possible?” Hoffman asked curtly.
Human intelligence has its downside so will what is artificial given its state of the art.” Elvirez replied.
He produced a digital pen and he admitted that he had it assembled since their last session that he could understand had made them somewhat uneasy. He patiently explained. “Each of the signals, which Code Med sends in-house and for the network is recorded by it. What this scores over others is its leaving markers through their transcripts for a handler to draw his or her own conclusions.” In the end they were happy that they had a system which made their world dovetail into each other efficiently.
v
One morning the banker asked for an interview. He had found the time when Matty would not be around. She had that day left for Paris to shop around for her trousseau. Perhaps it were merely a casual meeting between two men who had nothing common except some mutual interests which an alliance would entail in some roundabout way. Helmut could guess what was in his mind and did not feel any perturbed. The banker made it understood that he was complete in agreement with his daughter’s wishes and came to the point.
After he defended his actions briefly which had killed the dream of his, he said the CAIN would not have survived long given the down turn of events. “IPR died its natural death and what I did was to soften the blow that hung over your parents’ dream.”
Hoffman well knew every argument even before it was laid out. He patiently heard him out.
Jurgen said: “ It was not any guilt that made me appoint myself as your guardian. I saw that you represented future. Investment in one who has a future always brings its returns. I believe it as a banker. I will swear by that. You are the future son.”
Hoffman replied that if he had any animosity to him he would have not let him take the role of his benefactor. “Besides hatred is a powerful emotion. As a surgeon I cannot afford its luxury.”
The banker understood him. He made it clear in so many indirect hints that Matty was his heir presumptive and her mother had left a sizeable fortune to her. Hoffman heard him out as he got through a painful interview with his customary good nature which left the older man realize that he was indeed superior to him.
Hoffman had pushed his work back of the mind as he discussed the coming wedding. The Banker wanted to give them as wedding present Code Med which as he facetitiously said, ‘was his contribution to the health care.’
It was thus while the wedding took place their nest was all in disarray with a family wing added to the existing which was to house Code Med.

For honey moon the couple went to Egypt. Sailing down the Nile they went back in time and thence to Aegean islands. Hoffman had a passion for rocks, which he collected and it was his way connecting with the past. He showed fossils of sea creatures that were ferreted from the rocky cliffs. Matty was a willing pupil as he was of her world. She looked at him in wonder that his mind had found a varied diet of natural world as stimulating as the sanctity of his theatre. They communicated still because of his disability but technology gave them much more nuances to it. Their personal digital window opened to soul of the other. In her notebook his thoughts were sentences and speech as virile as she had imagined of him to be. He could read between lines of her words her soul. She held nothing of her fathers home.
One week after returning from honeymoon it was like coming home. Pretzen villa was her own nest and even the strange places they traveled together at a leisurely pace did not remove altogether her tryst with domesticity. With love which each felt from pulse of other made its prosaic features more attractive with each day.
One month away from their villa was keenly felt since Mathilde could feel the need as much as her husband who had revised his busy schedule and could not stay away any further. She felt as if she were deprived from her own busy schedule.  Still fresh with glow of their honeymoon Hoffman wanted to know on the morning after the night if she did dream.” No, I didn’t.” He shot a searching look at her.” Is it possible?”
“ Why should I now bother with dreams? It is more likely that the robots may see dreams before I.”
“Would you mind?”
“Oh no.” was her answer.

2.
Conspiracy

Matty kept the house while Hoffman traveled distant places; wherever he went she traveled with him via the robot that he took along and he could assist in performing specific functions.  Where she was redundant her actual value derived from her surrogate whose AI made her role more than a homemaker. She was in a manner of speaking had become susceptance, the imaginary part of the complex surgical procedures which bound her husband to a robot.
Six months after they were married Hoffman had gone for three days on a case, which she knew was exacting and demanded much from him. Besides death anniversary of his father came in its middle. She was before her work- station catching up with the news. It was O who took her call and in an instant she was beside him. Her implanted chip made her scan his thoughts had she had to smile,” A case of burns. Trying out skin graft.” The essentials came out as if he dictated right then in the middle of it  “Be back on Friday. For funeral.”
Suddenly her expression froze. She knew somewhere an error had got in.
“What was the funeral you talked about?” she asked when he had come from his trip. He thought for a while and scowled. He could not remember of any funeral. It was while he checked his watch for their evening party with some of their friends he thought what it could be. Funeral of his father was on a grey November. The date was exactly 24 years ago. “What Code Med has to do with reminding funeral or any other engagements?” Hoffman was astonished. It was as if one intruded into their private space for no reason.
Hoffman later in the evening recalled all those painful recollections, which had attended his last rites. She pressed his arm as he fidgeted while they had a nightcap. “ You can talk to me about it if you want to.” She said. He merely shook his head and she understood from her notebook that he was a trifle irritated. “Let lying past alone. Love.” She knew that his parents were mere shadows and Code Med merely raked in dead ashes. Hoffman talked of his case at hand and O had interpreted wrongly. Their tragedy was merely dragged in by some strange malapropism.
Next day Mathilde referred into transcript. Hoffman had not logged in as yet. They brought fresh to her mind her conversation with her husband and it was exactly true.
Only one line seemed a mistake which after she had rearranged read as, “Helm/ hath/ no/ fury/ like/ a/ woman/ scorn’d/” This had crept in the text whose continuity could have been discernible only from the slight variation of its typeface from the rest. All those words when set in order were clear enough. The clue to its intention was clear from the usage of old English hath instead of ‘has’. That evening Matty had it before Hoffman and they had a laugh over the pun. Matty said, “I know the line is from Shakespeare, Bob,” he agreed. He commented, ”Code Med has an attitude.”
They dismissed outright as too ridiculous for notice.
For a week everything seemed working all right. Then came a series of errors, which warranted Elvirez to come in. He checked the whole system and found that AI had indeed its own fingerprint. “From the incident it may look as if the system recognizes the presence of our sting operation.” It was the way of Code Med to make outsider take a bum rap. They had ganged on the digitizer to make it seem redundant.”
He continued, “I could abort the sting operation if you want to.”
“Oh no,” Hoffman said as if it was a preposterous suggestion,” Active Digitizer is crucial to us as Code Med. We are not afraid of our own dreams or work of our hands. It shall remain at our control.”
“Do you think it can ever get out of hand?” Matty wondered when they were alone, “ Suppose it read our thoughts wrongly? She asked her husband. He hugged her and said, ”We think better than they. Do we not? Then what is the problem?”
Matty smiled and he said, ” They are not here to correct us but for our convenience.”

Two years of their marriage was idyllic and Matty could enjoy in her husband’s success as much as she were an associate who did equal contribution to Health Care. They bought a vacation villa on the isle of Elba. He was at the point was onto something big. He was day and night devising a sustainable recovery program for age related damages to the brain. As a surgeon he thought in terms of technique and background information, which he needed of neuronal dysfunctions he could tap from Code Med. He needed it for his development in research as Mathilde who smoothened every wrinkle of frustration. But for her constant encouragement he would have had left off half way. She was his ear to various schemes in its inception. She was also present as it evolved into a workable stage. If he scrapped it in the middle for being too complex to be of practical use she could understand that his reasons were right. She stood by inspiring him to give it another try and yet another. Code Med was part of their world in making their togetherness more rewarding than ever.
The first holiday was like going back in time. Their sailboat the Eight Bells carried them and their dreams. One week was all that they could take from their self- imposed research program. Two years he had allowed himself no break from his profession and he had said, ’my life really would begin at 40.’
Matty to her disappointment saw that her husband was more like a man possessed since it was clear to them that two years will not be sufficient for putting the research complete. Hoffman assured that it is but natural that much time spent in his research, from initial stage to a break- through would not show as worthwhile. “ Every day wasted over the preliminaries is absorbed in that final moment of breakthrough. So back to square one.” Matty could understand it was still gnawing his mind since his ability to make love had almost ceased. She knew him well and she knew that he would be all the more embarrassed to be confronted with it at that moment. She recalled those early days and he was as exciting and overpowering, which was as if his speech disability had sent every available resource as if in compensation to her fulfillment. She let herself carried along by his intense concentration that was infectious to say the least. Her husband’s mission had rubbed on to her.
One morning Hoffman logged in his notebook and he was mystified by what Code Med had transcribed from her conversation to him. She was away on a sailing holiday. She had been to their villa to check the ongoing renovation that the contractors had promised to finish in a month. In such a straightforward prosaic detail there were a few garbled information. Code Med was at it again. The pieces when put together made him wince. It was a bad joke. “Able/ was/ I/ ere/ I/ saw/ Elba/” Matty
Hoffman knew that Code Med had palmed off a corny palindrome in this case. In putting Matty’s name it merely showed its bad attitude. He in his reply casually mentioned to her that Code Med had slipped again.
What upset Matty was that she could not get out of these taunts of Code Med because it was too vital for Hoffman than for her. To expect him to work on without it was to undo all those years, which had made him an extension of it as she was. It was only in matter of degrees. Such unequal partnership to it made any suggestion for its removal as unfair.
Her mind was in turmoil and to her surprise while she was in the villa she saw a dream for the first time which she could recall after she awoke. She wrote it in essential details and sent it over to her husband. If he did not take it as unusual it was different for her. It was a dream. Nevertheless it was hers. She could not get rid of it and in its simplicity and surrealism she felt that she was as marked as by a brand of iron. She wanted to be near her husband. “Perhaps it will cease to be of any consequence with my love around.”
That noon she set sail to the mainland. Hoffman knew that she coming home and he had decided to take the day off.
He knew that she had cut short her vacation in haste. She needed him as much as he needed her. What he did not understand what set off a full-blown dream so late? Was it any premonition of sorts which he should take note of?
That night he went to bed early since he had to be at the airport to receive her.
Hardly he had drifted into sleep he awoke with a start. ”I saw a dream!” he said loud. It took a second too late to recognize that he could speak again. The gift of speech was not so fresh or meaningful as the sting of his dream. He shivered and blurted out, ” I saw her dead.”
He spoke the truth. News came to him that the Eight Bells was found drifting in the sea and Mathilde was dead when she was found. “Cause of death is unknown. No foul play is suspected.” It said.
“Is my speech as result of it, her gift?” Hoffman was too stunned to think of it further. He collapsed under shock.
3
The Orion

Hoffman did not realize, as one week after Mathilde’s funeral that she left a void which nothing could replace. Her death had connected to his own loss; and with his parents.  But it had not prepared him for what lay ahead. The living and his own dreams. His life and hers had touched much more than he had any inkling of. It still left him incomplete.
He was still connected to Code Med which merely brought fresh his past and it was intolerable. The first task, which signaled that his mourning was at an end, was when he asked Elvirez to check Code Med for worms. “It seems to me that it was not any virus but worms which gave its attitude.” The surgeon came straight to the point.
Elvirez stared at Hoffman as if he was incoherent. He asked, ”What makes you say as if it is a fact?”
Hoffman said, ”I had a dream.” The expert could not believe it.
One week later Elvirez came back to him to say he was right after all.
He explained that the culture of worms, which he said was hatched between the robots and had passed on between them to pass detection.
“Who could have thought you would see it in a dream!” The expert was dumbfounded,” it took me almost four days of sweat.”
Hoffman nodded to say, ‘yes it seems so.’ What Hoffman did not say was it was Mathilde who dreamt of the conspiracy of robots. It was all that one dream, which her life could hold on to. It must have affected her beyond belief that she cut short her vacation.  She had said, “I need a hug so bad that I can cry.” What it had lead to! Mathilde needed a window into her lover’s soul. She had wished for a dream. She had often told him in their most intimate moments that.
She had realized her dream. It was only that it was to Code Med that she opened her window instead. It made him shudder.
Elvirez asked a favor from him to report of the worms ‘Code Med’ in a scientific journal. He agreed.
In the end he instructed Elvirez to break up Code Med into individual units to serve him for surgery alone.
He said to the banker who had called on him to enquire that he was through with his research. “I shall stick to my profession and nothing more.” Before parting he asked him a personal question, which made the banker a shade embarrassed. ”Do you dream?” Hoffman asked him
“No,” the older man replied with a somber expression,” unfortunately no.” Then he was gone.
Later On his fortieth birthday he was invited to take up control of the Orion which he did. It was the answer to the accident-prone age of his. A ship of immense size and a law unto itself. It was entirely in his control. A floating Health care entirely manned by robots made sense to him. In the appointment order one line made him smile inwardly. ‘To one who dream this will come as no surprise.”
It was the Banker’s manner of apologizing for that curious disability which was somehow passed on to his daughter.
The End

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A Bedtime Story

WORTH OF A PERSIAN CARPET ©

The City is noted for its minarets and gardens. On a
sunny day the four minarets of the Blue Mosque rise to
the skies like prayers of many believers; more
picturesque is the central dome covered with some
millions of blue tiles. Such blue is no more seen
since the sultan decreed ‘Blue is passé’. See how it
stands, a shimmering dome like the tear of an angel,
frozen in midair. The Blue Mosque. Poets loved
watching the dome under changing lights through the
day! It made their poetry sound sweeter. Hamals (or
porters) carrying heavy loads through winding and
crooked streets looked at that dome rising from the
city skyline and instantly their loads became lighter
and they thought life was worth living. No one could
resist its power. Except one.
See that crooked street cutting through the market?
Do you see that shop on the right? A To Z the board
says. Anything money can buy is sold there. Ziddiq,
the shopkeeper is dressed in drab clothes and his
beard is browned as his fingers are calloused. Henna
colored his beard which he allowed because his wife
thought brown was becoming in one so old; his fingers
were calloused from counting money: large sums of it
every night passed through his fingers when the folks
slept. While the dome of the Blue Mosque gleamed under
a waning moon! Poor Ziddiq! He had never even heard of
the blueness of the dome under whose shadow he lived
all his life!
One morning his neighbor told him in strictest
confidence the price of grains would go sky-high. How
high? Ziddiq asked. He quoted a figure. Ziddiq said,
”impossible.” As soon as his neighbor was gone he
called his eldest son to find what were the prices for
items written in his list. His son came back with his
findings. After reading it he was astounded! A sack of
barley cost only three copper pieces!”
Having ordered for as much as could be bought he had
a problem: ”Where to stock them?”
He knew just the place. He had a large warehouse
where his father put away every thing he had no
immediate use for. Just as his forefathers had done in
the past. It was bursting in its seams as the
expression is. He called a few servants and asked them
to clear up that place. Nothing was to be spared.
Hour’s later servants came to report. They said his
orders were carried out except for a carpet, which was
of size 64”by 37 inches.
“I am in no mood for checking the size of a carpet.”
“But master,” said Samir, ”It was made somewhere in
Samarqand probably late 17th century. It is silk. If
you ask me it is one of the finest.” “Shut up!”Ziddiq
yelled, ”Who asked you for your opinion?”
The silk carpet was decorated with a mihrab design
(a cusped arch with geometric motifs) in the field
counterpoised with arabesque in the spandrels. A
stylized floral pattern running around the edges
completed the piece.
He ordered the laborers to set light to it. “I
shall not have this nonsense here!” The menials balked
at the idea. They pleaded. “A thing of beauty,
master!”Samir cried. He became enraged at the word
beauty and he shoved them aside.
“A thing of beauty such as this has a life of its
own.” Kalam added his. They all pleaded with tears in
their eyes. With uncontrollable rage he pushed them
aside. He himself torched it and said, ”There, you try
to teach me beauty!” He was in a rage. He said, “You
all live a life of ease because I pay you wages in
time. Be gone!” He was so worked up.
That day Ziddiq went home very late. He was tired
but he had found a place for thousands and thousands
of sacks of grains, which came in a convoy one after
the other. Only seeing them secured for the night
eased his fury somewhat. Then he saw how his son had
put his men to guard it. He had done well, and the
father’s heart swelled with pride. The young man gave
him the keys and the accounts and left for home.
Mentally Ziddiq calculated the profit he stood to
make and that made him laugh. In a happy frame of mind
he followed his son.
He went home to eat his frugal supper. Even when he
went through the motions of the nighttime prayer he
had only one thought. He would make all his rivals
bite the dust. So much profit he stood to make. He
wandered through the house and secured the doors for
the night.
At the time he was about to lie down he thought he
heard a knocking sound. As if some were shifting
things around somewhere. So distinct it sounded. His
wife lay asleep. He checked into his sons’ room. They
were also asleep.
“Clickety-Click,” he heard. “It must be from across
the river,” said he. He put out the candle and lay in
bed. The same sound again. “Clikety-Clack!”
”Clikety-Klak!” The sounds came louder this time. He
thought it came from his drawing room. It was distinct
and very ominous. With each minute the clicking sound
went louder and louder. He could not sleep with such
an infernal noise. Again he got out. He lit a candle,
which he could barely hold for fright.
He peeped into the parlor.
There was an intruder!
And he had settled himself in the middle of the
parlor as if he owned the place. He felt a murderous
rage struggling with his fear at the scene presented
before him.
Across the parlor stood a weaving frame; and a very
old man with sad look in his deep-set eyes, went on
working. “What on earth!” It was all he could say. His
fear swallowed the rest of the sentence. Instead a
squeal. Even that did not distract the wizened
intruder. The ghastly apparition of a weaver did not
look up nor acknowledge his presence. Instead he was
bent over the frame intently checking his work. Having
satisfied himself he went on knotting the fibres and
cutting the knots to make naps. Ziddiq had no idea
whether his eyes were deceiving him or some rival of
his was hell-bent for mischief. Before his very eyes
filmed with fear and pricked with hate the old weaver
went on and on. His hands flew over the carpet while
adjusting the warp and the woof without missing a
beat. So free and fluid his movements were. As if he
had been doing it all his life and could have done
even while asleep.
He was masterly in his work.
Ziddiq stood there transfixed. Clickety-click,
clinkety-clank!
Clinkety-clank, So went on the loom while the room
was lit by a spot of light that hovered around the
design, which was becoming clearer with each motion of
his hands. Ziddiq would have screamed but his voice
died silently. The weaver looked at him with sad eyes
that in its hurt, without any rancor whatsoever, no
stab-wound would have come anywhere near. It twisted
his heartstrings beyond endurance.
Ziddiq could only twitch in response.
He trembled uncontrollably when the spectre of a
weaver looked once towards him. Those eyes now seemed
to challenge him. The infernal intruder said, “ My
life was in that carpet. Now I must weave another
because you so callously destroyed it.”
Having said his piece he continued with his task as
if he were alone in his own workshop. He was sad as
before and yet, very resolute. As if he knew he could
do it. Without tiring himself. Ziddiq could do nothing
but watch in horror. He went hot and cold as an
exquisite design began to take shape before his eyes.
Clikety-clack! Clickety-click! The weaver went on
without stopping and he was inhuman that he could draw
for his carpet filaments out of thin air! He wanted to
scream but nothing. He stood there petrified!
Poor Ziddiq! While the swirls of design now settled
down to a pattern he felt short of breath! As if the
ground under his feet gave way to something
insubstantial, and the walls melted and flowed about
him. Clickety-click! clikety- Clak! went on the loom
unrelenting. ‘Clickety-click! Clikety-clak!’ It went
on enveloping everything else.

Next morning the City awoke to some astounding news.
Where the ancestral home of Ziddiq stood nothing ever
remained but a prayer mat. No one could well explain
what occurred in the small hours of the night.
Samir and Kalam came as usual to take orders from
their master. Instead they were witnesses to
something, which no one could explain. There stood not
a trace of the master’s house! Some one had cleaned up
the old wooden beamed house with terrace and balcony
and not even a door hinge lay there; the wrought-iron
washstand where their master always went for wash
before prayers was missing; the folding stool and the
holy book also had vanished! Except a prayer mat.
Passers-by came over by curiosity and all that they
saw was the curiously wrought prayer mat. Nothing
else!
Samir could not take his eyes off it. It didn’t
explain the mystery! Still bewildered he stood there.
Finally he commented, ”A crazy-quilt pattern. I see
Master’s profile his beard and all- so distinct. What
do you think, Kalam?”
“I do not think anything,” Kalam replied, “But the
mat will make some money for a second-hand dealer.”
The End

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