Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Into the night-shrouded swamp went Walter Parton, seeking the girl who long since had told him she was not fit to receive his love. Behind him sounded the shrill, devil-piping of that grinning god of hell, summoning his gold-horned beasts. And in his ears echoed the ghastly screams of Rose Loran from that hidden hut of evil where, people whispered, the marks of cloven hoofs had put Satan's signature.
OUT of the night a scream rose, high and thin and quivering. For a long minute it held, a scarlet thread of sound. Then it ended, and there was nothing but the rustle of breeze-stirred foliage and the shrill grating of the crickets, screeching an obbligato to terror.
Rose Loran was icily motionless, staring across vague lamplight at the black oblong of the window through which the shriek had come. In her cold hands the dishes she had just removed from the cluttered supper table rattled tinily, shivering with the uncontrollable tremble of her slight frame. A precariously balanced tumbler jittered against the edge of the tray, toppled, smashed to the floor. The kitchen door behind the girl crashed open.
"What was it?" Aunt Faith chattered. "Rose! Where—I thought you..."
Rose twisted, the older woman's gibbering fright paradoxically restoring control over muscles momentarily paralyzed by the horror of that scream. Faith Loran, tall and spare, her drawn, thin face ash-colored and twitching, clung to the door-jamb. Her grey, tired eyes were wide-pupilled, staring, and her gaunt neck was corded with fear.
"I—I don't know." The words rasped Rose's parched throat. "Someone in the garden. Someone—it—it didn't sound like anything human."
"The—the garden." The woman's pallid lips parted only slightly to let out the whispered syllables. "Elmer... I sent Elmer... to the well."
"Oh Aunt Faith!" The exclamation was sharply rebuking. "In the dark! When you know he can hardly see in bright sunlight!"
But there was relief in Rose's voice, too. Now she understood that scream. The decrepit old man who was their one servant had stumbled, fallen hard, and screamed. That was all it was. There was no reason for this fear that tore at her, that squeezed her pounding heart. Rose turned, snatched up the lamp from the table, started for the great arched opening at the other end of the high-ceilinged, huge dining hall.
"Rose!" Aunt Faith's bony fingers clutched her biceps, digging in with convulsive strength. "Rose! Where are you going?"
"Out to Elmer. He's hurt. I've got to..."
"No!" It was a tenuous, almost voiceless gust of sound. "Don't go out there! Don't go out there—in the dark."
"The dark!" Rose jerked away, exasperatedly. "I'm not a child. I'm not afraid of the dark."
She was, though. She was eerily terrified by the moonless murk out there. Aunt Faith had made her afraid of it, in the past few weeks. The way her aunt had insisted on locking all the doors and windows at nightfall; the way she would stand for hours staring out into the sightless gloom—these things had their effect on the girl's nerves. She began to believe that her aunt expected to see something—dreadful...
Only yesterday Rose had told Walter about Faith's queer behavior. Big shouldered, stalwart Walter Parton, the man who loved her and whom she loved. He had laughed, and then suddenly a tender fierceness had masked his broad-planed face. "Why don't you let me take you away from all this, Rose?" he had growled. "From this rotting house and this half-crazy aunt of yours."
"I can't, Walter," the girl had sobbed. "Why do you keep coming back and asking me? You know I can't marry you. You know I can't marry anyone. I daren't."
"I'll keep coming back, and I'll keep asking you till you say yes." How she had wanted to snuggle into those great arms of his, to feel his lips on hers! But she had pulled away and had told him to go, and he had climbed into his roadster and driven it away at reckless speed toward his home in Loranton. And she had gone slowly back to the shadows of Loran Hall and to the dread that had settled down upon it...
The dim gleam of her lamp could not fill the vast expanse of the entrance foyer. It slid over the lower steps of a baronial staircase, along papered walls whose intricate patterns were faded and drab, stopped at the patinaed, dark oak of a towering door. Rose went to the portal, tugged at its heavy bolt.
Aunt Faith was alongside her, was plucking fearfully at her sleeve. "Don't open it. For God's sake don't open it."
The girl thrust her shoulder against the aged spinstress, shoved her away. "Please, Aunt Faith. You're hysterical. Elmer..." The bolt came out of its socket, and the heavy door creaked slowly inward to her pull. The lamp-flame flickered, sent a filament of black smoke curling upward, then burned steadily in the lifeless air. A rotted board in the floor of the broad porch sagged under Rose's slight weight. The roof-high pilasters fronting the house were a row of pallid, gigantic spectres marching away on either side into obscurity. A peculiar, hushed oppression closed in on her, and the pungent aroma of lush greenery was in her nostrils, tainted with the miasmic breath of Gorham's Swamp that held the Loran Estate within the crescent sweep of its putrescent bog.
Rose hesitated, listening tautly. The night walled in the sphere of her feeble light, and reptilian tendrils of uncared for vegetation crawled over the verandah edge. A sound bubbled up through the sibilant sea of rural silence, a burbling, liquid moan. The girl's head jerked to it and it came again.
"Elmer! Where are you, Elmer?" Thick-clustered, rank foliage took her cry, swallowed it. Brambles tore at her dress as she ran down the thudding path, rosebush thorns sliced the skin of her bare arms. Rose stopped suddenly, her heart pounding.
Ahead something entered the rim of light, something that was moving. Something that writhed, agonizingly, and then was still.
"Elmer!" Rose could only whisper the name as dread clutched at her larynx. She drove herself a hesitant step forward—and then her feet went out from under her, sliding in the slippery mud. She rolled, got to her knees.
The lamp, jarred from her hand, had miraculously landed upright in the muck. Its light painted Elmer Stone's wrinkled face, twisted and almost unrecognizable. His face was drawn into lines of agony. His chest was a weltering horror of ripped overall cloth purplish with viscid, glutinous blood that spilled out of a deep and horrible gash torn raggedly through his breast. The memory of a bull-gored farmer she had seen once, years ago, came to Rose's fainting mind. This jagged wound was like that. But there was no bull inside the high iron fence Faith had insisted on erecting around the place, and whose tall gate she made a ceremonial of locking at dusk. There was no animal of any kind... What then, could have done this?
A bubbling moan pulled her staring gaze back to the tortured countenance. Elmer's eyelids were blue, ghastly membranes drawn tight over the bulging round of his old eyes. His seamed skin was wax-pale with the filming of death. But his blue lips twisted and words came bubbling out.
Rose bent closer, shuddering. Meaningless sounds came out of writhing agony. "Goat goatem..." Meaningless sounds that suddenly were drowned by a spew of blood. The racked body arced with a spasm of uttermost anguish, flung over in its final, terrible convulsion. A lax arm flopped down in the mud and lay still. Elmer Stone didn't move any more. Rose knew that he would never move again.
"The goat—the goat man," a wire-edged voice screamed over Rose's head and splintered into high-pitched laughter, into a cacchination utterly mad. "The piper has come for his pay."
The girl surged to her feet, swung about to face her aunt. Faith Loran's head was thrown back. The crazed laugh shrieked from her wide-open, contorted mouth. One thin, satin-sleeved arm was thrust stiffly out in front of her and a bony forefinger pointed rigidly—not at the shattered corpse but at something beyond. Rose whirled and saw a pallid, grotesque specter the lamplight just reached.
Panic struck at Rose for a frantic, ghastly moment, and then she knew what it was at which the spinstress pointed. A statue of Pan the wood-god, haunched on shaggy goat legs, reed pipes at his saturninely grinning mouth. Curving horns jutted out of the touselled disorder of the carved hair. Horns. Good God! Was the stain darkening one of them only moss or...
"The night—," Faith screeched between peals of crazed laughter—"The night of the Lorans... only us left to pay the piper. We who did not dance must pay him... The sins of the fathers—"
Rose couldn't see the stone pedestal on which Pan squatted, but she knew what Aunt Faith meant. There was a rhyme graven into it, a lilting rhyme from over whose deep, angular letters a boyish Walter Parton had once scraped green slime so that they could read:
Dance ye mornyng, dance ye noon,
Dance ye sunlit hours away.
Length'nyng shadowes tell that soone
I will come to ask my paye.
The old woman's screaming laugh tore at Rose's nerves. It was harder to bear than even the sight of the mutilated corpse at her feet.
The Lorans had danced. God knew they had danced! Roy Loran the second had brought to the paradise the first Roy had carved out of wilderness, carousing young bloods and complaisant ladies from the distant city. Roy the third, Faith's father and Rose's grandsire, had added new and terrible vices to the orgies of Loran Hall. He had died raving, calling down curses on the fourth Roy, who had killed Rose's parents in a drunken, wild auto ride and disappeared into the unknown.
"The bill is overdue and we must pay—" Pan seemed to be listening to Faith Loran's wild cries with his cocked head. He seemed amused, with cruel lines around his mouth belying his grin, with evil puckering his tiny eyes... Suddenly Rose felt that she was going as mad as Faith.
"Stop it," she screamed. "Stop it." Her hand struck out and its palm slapped stingingly across her aunt's sere cheek. "Stop it."
The shrill laugh cut off, something like reason returned to the woman's staring eyes. She touched the red blotch left on her cheek by the girl's blow. "What happened to him?" she said haltingly. "Oh, Rose. What could have done it?"
The girl shuddered. "Gored," she whispered. "A bull..."
Faith shook her head. "No bulls anywhere near. And the gate is locked. Look." She clawed at her breast, pulled out a black ribbon through the seam of her blouse. A twisted, archaic key hung at its end. "I locked it and the only key has been with me all the time."
"But—what then...?" Rose shuddered, made herself look down again at Elmer. At the ground around the tragic heap drenched by water spilled from the bucket he had been carrying, by water and by...
She was staring, staring unbelieving at the trampled mire. At black mud trampled and churned by feet whose imprints were glaringly, starkly plain in the light of the lamp set down among them. At sharply defined indentations that were filling with a slow seep of red-tinted moisture.
They were unmistakable. They were prints of cloven hooves. Of hooves too small to be a bull's or a cow's. They might have been made by goat feet....
A liquid ripple of shrill melody skirled out of the darkness, clotting the girl's thoughts. It changed to laughter—a sound of shrill, mocking glee. Such weird laughter as Pan's pipes might make if Pan were laughing into them.
Something darted across the light—a small stone smashing into the lamp. Its chimney crashed and darkness blotted out the scene.
"The goat man," Faith screamed. "Oh God..."
A vast, formless bulk surged out of the darkness! Rose whirled, leaped into a frantic, desperate run. She sped up the path on the wings of fear. She ran endlessly through dank blackness filled with the stinging whiplash of unpruned branches, with the tripping tangle of untended vines. A hoarse breath panted behind her, and the thud, thud of ponderous, pursuing feet. Always behind her, and closer, closer...
The house loomed ahead, its facade vaguely luminous. Across its porch Faith's vague form flitted, wild arms flailing above her head. She vanished into the gaping black maw of the open portal, and suddenly the dark oblong was narrowing, narrowing...
"Don't," Rose screamed. "Don't close it. Don't close the door on me!" Her frantic feet pounded on wood, the single shallow step to the verandah, and something twitched at her dress from behind. A savage, bestial howl roared in her ears. A chattering howl of triumph.
THE feral roar goaded the frantic girl to a frenzied leap. It carried her across the porch and through a narrow opening left by the closing door. Metal, the rusted lockbolt, gashed her arm, but she squeezed through. She sprawled, breathless, and heard the dull thud of the shutting door, the rattle of its bolt, the sound of a heavy body against it. A sound like rock pounding against the wood. The house shook to the impact, but the great door held.
"The window," Faith screamed. "The window in the dining hall. The shutter."
Rose jerked around, staggered to her feet. She dived through blackness into the great room where they ate, flung herself across the floor to the open window. Her hand clawed for the handle of the iron shutter that had been put there for protection against Indian attack when the hall was built. She pulled at it, tugged it down. Feet pounded outside, and a face glared in at her. Small eyes glittered malevolently under a leathery low forehead. She glimpsed wide-nostrilled, swarthy features, a pointed, straggly beard, and then the clanging metal cut them off from her vision.
Rose pushed the hooked fastening home, reeled, clutching the sill to keep from falling. She pulled great sobbing breaths into her tortured lungs, and fought nausea twisting her stomach, fought madness swirling within her skull. Mad! She must be mad! For she had thought horns had projected from the brow of that evil countenance. She had thought it the visage of Pan, come alive.
Pan, alive and malevolent! It was her nightmare suddenly become real, the nightmare from which time and again had driven her into shrieking wakefulness, and left her trembling in her bed.
When she had been a lonely little child in this great house with only those two for company—her granite-faced grandfather with the agonies of hell smouldering in his eyes, and her dour-visaged aunt—she had used to pretend the sculptured godlet was a rollicking playmate, her own 'boy-friend.' When Walter Parton had come to play with her, there had been the three of them. Then had come the grandfather's last, terrible night, his shouted obscenities booming through the hollow emptiness of Loran Hall, booming through the locked door behind which she had cringed, shaken and terrified.
After it was over, after the old man had shouted his last curse and his profane lips were forever sealed, Aunt Faith had come to the cowering, white-faced fifteen-year-old. Trembling, distressed, she had told the girl the wild history of her ancestors.
The founder of the line had come here from the sea. He had purchased the good land from one Stannard Gorham for a song, leaving Gorham only the useless swamp. He had brought workmen from far away Providence to erect this mansion. When it was finished he had married a girl twenty years his junior. She had died giving birth to his son.
As if in defiance of Fate the first Loran had lavished all the luxuries the time afforded on his heir. There had been money to buy them with, gold money and silver from some mysterious, apparently inexhaustible store. Coins of alien mintage, some green and worn, some brightly new. The men who had built Loran Hall settled on Roy Loran's land. Loranton became a thriving community. Stannard Gorham repented of his bargain, came demanding restitution. He crawled away, after a while, broken in body and mind by that which had been done to him.
The inevitable had happened. Rose's great-grandfather had grown up a waster and a profligate. His son, the man whom Death had just claimed, had outdone him. And his oldest son had attained the apex of evil—and brought the house crashing down. The last that had been heard of the fourth Roy Loran, of Rose's Uncle Roy, was a report of his death in a speakeasy brawl on New York's Bowery. Grandfather had refused to claim the body.
"He said Potter's Field was too good for him," Faith had finished. "And that is the way the Loran line ended. We are all that are left and the Loran heritage must die with us. Love and children are not for us."
It had dawned on Rose why Faith had never married. "Oh," she had sobbed. "Let's go away from here. Let's go away from this awful place."
"We can't," the woman had replied. "My poor darling, we can't. Grandfather has willed the Hall to us and what's left of the estate. But that is all there is. There isn't any money left. Those who went before us have danced, and we must pay the piper."
It was then that Rose understood why Stannard Gorham had astonishingly appeared during the festivities of the second Roy's marriage and presented the statue of Pan as a peace-offering. A peace-offering! He had mockingly placed his threat and his curse on the very lawn of his enemy. It was his hand that had graven that verse:
Dance ye mornyng, dance ye noon,
Dance ye sunlit hours away.
Length'nyng shadowes tell that soone
I will come to ask my paye.
And when she had at last sobbed herself to exhausted sleep the dream had first terrified her... The smell of goat-flesh in blackness... A leering, lustful face close above her own—a man-face that was also the bearded and horned visage of a goat... Calloused, irresistible hands gripping her shoulders, forcing her down. A hairy, repulsive hide pressed against her skin, flaying her with its shaggy roughness...
The next day Rose, white-faced, her eyes downcast, a slime of evil seeming to her to foul her slender body, had sent Walter away. He had returned again and again through the three long years, and again and again she had dismissed him.
Each time she had fled to her room, weeping, reviling the fate that denied love to her...
A fumbling rasp along the edge of the shutter at which she stared seemed to scrape the raw edges of her throbbing nerves. The corrugated metal bent inward a bit. Rose glanced frantically around the room, searching for some weapon, for anything that might serve to put up a futile battle against the dread thing that sought entrance. There was nothing...
Dull pound of ponderous footfalls pulled her gaze back to the window. They faded. Had the killer, the—goat man—given up? Was he baffled by the defences Aunt Faith's senile mania had erected against him? Against him! She had known, then, that he was coming! How had she known?
He was not gone! Rose whirled to the sound of his probing fingers at the chamber's other window. He was making a circuit of the house. He was searching for a way in...
The archway to the foyer filled with light, and then Faith was standing in it. From somewhere she had drawn courage, and she was again prim, stiffly erect in lustrous black satin, a high-boned collar jabbing into the parchment dryness of her skin, grey hair pulled tightly back from a brow whose fine mesh of wrinkles it could not smooth. The lamp in her hand was rock-steady. But her eyes were veiled. Rose knew that the dull curtain hid fear. Fear that had been a brooding threat for days, that was now a livid reality.
"No. I got the shutter down in time. Aunt Faith—we've got to get help. We can't stay here with—that—outside."
"Help! How?" The thin line of her mouth twisted with what might have been a bitter smile. "We dare not go—out there. And the telephone was taken out last week. They wouldn't let us have a telephone without paying for it. Our credit isn't good any more."
"Credit! But you had money. You sold the last of the silver..."
"And bought food with it. Wasted it on food we'll never eat. He'll get in... Rose... he'll find a way to get in. We can't escape him."
It wasn't so much what she said that sent chills shivering up Rose's spine; it was her tone, dull, flat, utterly hopeless. Pregnant with the same grim fatalism with which she had once said, "We must never marry. We must die friendless and alone."
"He! What—who is he? Who is the man with the horned head?" The question was wrung from her. "You know, Aunt Faith. You have been expecting this."
A muscle twitched in the sunken, age-yellowed cheek. "I? How should I know? The Lorans had many sins and many enemies. For each sin an enemy. Perhaps—a horned head! Have you forgotten your Shakespeare, child? Have you forgotten that horns on a man's forehead are the brand of a cuckold?"
A cuckold—a betrayed husband. What was the story of Uncle Roy's last escapade before the one that had ruined him? Of the girl he had met in the swamp—the wife of Gant Gorham...?
Gant Gorham! Elmer's gasping, unintelligible message came back. Gant Gorham! Was it that he had tried to say? Had he been accusing the descendant of Stoddard Gorham who lived in the morass that was his inheritance, alone and half-mad in some foul shack on an island of harder ground? Rose had never seen him, but...
"Aunt Faith! I can get help. I can get Walter! The roof—it's copper! I'll build a fire up there. Walter will see it. He'll come..."
"No. It isn't any use. The roof isn't high enough..."
"It is. I've been up there and I could see his house over the trees between."
Action, any action, was a relief from dread. Rose ran into the kitchen, snatched up an armful of firewood, matches. She was out in the foyer again, was running up the great staircase, through a passageway, up narrower steps. She wanted no light, every inch of the old house was familiar. Here was the ladder to the roof.
She got the heavy trapdoor open. Wind beat in on her from the black pall of a cloud-filled sky. A storm wind. She dropped her kindling on the flat roof. Her shaking hands made a small tent of the firewood sticks. She fumbled in the little pocket of her frock for the matches.
The rustle of breeze-tossed leaves came to her, and a curious pattering like the quick beat of raindrops. But it wasn't raining yet. Rose rose to her feet, ran toward the parapet overlooking the garden. Reached it and leaned over the crumbling rail. Jagged lightning split the clouds, and the tangled brush below was vivid with blue glare.
Vivid and alive with movement. The pattering came from down there, the rapid scamper of many feet. Another lightning streamer showed. Rose knew what made it. Little animals, dozens of them, were running through the brush, running toward the house. Small black beasts. One of them was in the path. Rose gasped. It was a goat, an ebony skinned, bearded goat. But there was something grotesque about it. Something weirdly wrong.
Not in its shape or the manner of its pattering run. In its color. In the color of its horns and its hooves. They were not grey as a normal goat's should be. They were brightly golden. They were gilded... The beast vanished, and the beat of its weird feet came up from the porch.
She must have been mistaken. Some freak of the fitful lightning had deluded her... There was another—a female. Its horns, too, gleamed, indescribably eerie.
Rose's hands clenched on the rail, her fingers trembling. For a moment she could not move, could not think. The murdered man, the weird pursuing figure, had already made that garden a place of fear. But it was something other than that now. It was an enclosure visited by an ancient terror, invaded by beings that were goat-form and yet were not goats. Tag ends of shivery legends slid across her pulsing brain, traditions of whispered horror. They were under her, just under her, filling the broad verandah of Loran Hall, their hoofs making a small thunder on its rotting boards. A thunder nearer than the mutter of the approaching storm.
Then there was another sound. All her life she had heard it, but in this moment it seared her with appalling dismay. The sound of creaking hinges came up to her—the creak of the great door's opening hinges. She could not be mistaken...
And there were voices. Faith's harsh accents, and a bass rumble she could not recognize... But it could be only the voice of Elmer's murderer!
Oh God! It had been Faith who had sent old Elmer out to his death! It had been Faith who but for her own frantic, incredible leap would have shut her out, helpless in the grip of the terror! It had been Faith who had pointed to the veiled prophecy on Pan's pedestal and laughed! Laughed in the presence of horrible death!
Faith had known of the coming of the beast and had waited for it, not with fear but with impatience. Faith had argued against the signal Rose had come up here to set, calling for help. Faith was opening the door now to let in the beast before Wally could come!
A MIST of red wrath wavered before Rose Loran's eyes. Faith Loran—Aunt Faith—had known of some awful vengeance descending on Loran Hall. To save herself she had offered Elmer as a sacrifice, and Rose. She was making that bargain now, down there, offering her niece, her ward, in exchange for her own safety. It was damnable.
The girl's small fists clenched, she whirled away from the parapet, sobbing with choked anger. They would not get away with it. She went back to the hatchway. She knelt to the fire she had laid and thrust a flaming match into the shavings at its base. The tinder caught—
A scream shrilled up from below, a high, quavering, scream exactly like Elmer's last cry from the darkness. But this was not followed by silence. It was quenched, rather, by a sudden blatting chorus of goat-cries, and by the skirling laughter of the Pan pipes.
Rose forgot her anger. She spun about, remembering only that Aunt Faith had been a mother to her, that Aunt Faith needed her now. She caught up a thick bludgeon, hurled herself down the ladder and the stairs, hurtled along the dark second floor corridor, snatched at the newel-post of the main stairway to twist herself to that last broad flight. Then she stopped, peering down, trembling...
Light flickering in through the open door showed her the foyer floor. Showed her the gilt-horned goats milling around something on that floor, something twisted, and bloody, and horrible.
She saw the bronzed, naked back of a man crouched over the gory body of Aunt Faith. If it was a man. His hair was tight curled, shaggy. His haunches—what she could see of them—were black-furred, shaggy, bestial. His hands, spatulate, hairy, were busy with the body of the woman on the floor.
"No!" shrieked Aunt Faith. "You won't get it out of me. It's done enough damage already." Her voice was edged with terror and agony.
Rose's arm arced upward, swept down. The heavy stick flew down through the dark. She heard it crash into the creature's skull. Its thud sickened the girl, but the blow that would have dropped an ordinary man only brought a howl from the one below. He raised up, twisted about. In a new flash Rose saw the face staring up at her that had glared in through the window. The sharp-chinned, satyr's countenance. Were those horns on his brow or...? Before she could make sure darkness had smashed in again with a brain-shaking peal of awesome thunder.
It seemed to come in the house and roll up the stairs beneath her. But it wasn't thunder, it was the pound of Pan's feet coming up to her. Rose whirled, leaped into a frenzied dash for safety. Where was there safety in this house invaded by terror? The roof? If she could get to the roof, fling herself over. Death, any death rather than...
A hole in the frayed carpeting caught her heel, flung her down. She sprawled, despair exploding in her brain. She rolled... The smell of goat flesh gusted out of the blackness. Calloused, irresistible hands gripped her shoulders. A hairy, repulsive hide was against her quivering skin. Through the thin fabric of her frock it flayed her with its roughness...
A rolling peal of thunder died away. Lightning flashed in through the windows once more, and the electric lamp by which Walter Parton was trying to read dimmed, flared up again. He slammed his book down on the floor, unfolded his lank, loose-knit length, stood on heavy-thewed, spraddled legs. A frown creased his tanned forehead and in his brown eyes pain slept, pain that had not been long out of them through the years since Rose Loran had first told him she was not for him.
"Hell of a storm coming up," he muttered in the habit of one who is much alone. "If lightning hits that old house..."
Damn it. If Rose would only get over that foolish idea of hers. If she would only let him take care of her. From that window he could just see the roof of Loran Hall... About time he got over his kid habit of gazing at it for long hours, heartsick with love denied... He strode across the room...
He was staring out into pitch blackness... What the hell! An orange spark splashed the night. It grew momentarily brighter, was unmistakably the flicker of a flame. There was nothing over there but Rose's home!
Parton whirled, threw himself down the stairs. He ran to the 'phone in the hall, frantically twirled its handle to call the firehouse in distant Loranton. There was no sound in the receiver slammed against his ear. No sound at all. Damnation! The rickety line was out again. Every time there was a storm it did that! Walter hurled the useless cylinder of hard rubber against the wall. He ran out of the house, leaped into the seat of his rattletrap roadster, breathing a prayer of thankfulness that he had been too lazy to garage it.
The slam of the door, the whir of the starter, the clash of gears and the roar of a hard-pushed motor merged into one continuous sound. Headlights leaped out to snatch a rushing ribbon of rutted road out of the darkness. Malformed, grotesque trees flicked by. The world lit up with a quivering blue glare of lightning and vanished again with a detonation of deafening thunder.
Underbrush scraped the flivver's sides. Boards of a narrow bridge rattled swiftly underneath. Parton's foot pounded down on the brake pedal as a great black gap in the bridge deck leaped into the glare of his headlights. The car squealed protest and the seat dropped away underneath Parton. Checked momentum slammed him forward. Windshield glass crashed. As weltering, nauseous blackness stabbed him with excruciating pain he thought he heard shrill laughter somewhere near—skirling laughter...
FILTHY, lecherous fingers tore at Rose Parton's clothing. A scream of nightmare horror ripped her throat.
"You devil," Faith shrieked from below. "Let her alone. I'll tell. I'll tell if you leave her."
Through retching oblivion that swept in on her Rose was vaguely conscious that the hands were no longer tearing at her. She crawled—tried to crawl. She was going down, down into nothingness.
PARTON battled with unconsciousness, fought it off. Dazedly he pulled himself out from under the twisted steering wheel. Throbbing pain streaked across his cheek and the taste of his own blood was salty on his lips. An electric flicker showed him the grotesquely slanted hood of his car, the crumpled radiator crushed against a heavy board at the other side of the gap in the bridge. Painfully he got out on the running board, crept along it, dragged himself over the hood's hot metal. He was on firm ground again. He was running, running madly along a road lit only fitfully by sky-rending flashes.
And with him ran dread. For he had seen, as he struggled to get across the opening his wrecked flivver bridged, fresh scars of wood that could have been made only by an ax. That gap was not an accident of rotted timbers fallen in. It was man-made, made by someone who purposely had intended to block the road to Loran Hall.
Gasping, he reached the high iron fence around the Loran Estate. The turretted silhouette of the ancient mansion bulked against the blacker dark of the sky, and tiny flames flickered on its roof. Even as he clung, shaken and distrait, to the locked gate they were gone. Queer, he thought dully. The fire had put itself out.
And then he remembered that that roof was of copper, was impervious to flame. Remembered Rose's troubled recounting of her aunt's unaccountable fear, and the strange circumstance of the wrecked bridge. Good Lord! That fire had been a signal, a desperate call for help. The danger, whatever danger Faith Loran had feared, had descended upon Loran Hall! Rose needed him—and the fence, the locked gate, barred him out.
"Rose!" he shouted. "Rose! I'm coming. Hold on! I'm coming." He backed away, crouched. His leg-muscles uncoiled like unleashed springs, hurtled him at the barrier. His hands gripped the spikes at the top. They pierced him with new tortures. He held on, his biceps cracked, swelling, but his lifted foot groped for and found the top-rail of the fence. He was over.
He ran through the tangle of the un-kept garden. A pale wraith looming above him was the statue of Pan for which Rose had taken an inexplicable dislike, right after her grandfather died. That had been part of the queer change in her that had caused him so much distress. He passed it, skidded in mud. Fell and his hand clutched into clammy flesh. He rolled away, shuddering. A lightning flash showed him horror!
He was on his feet again, reached the porch, and dashed through the door. The open door. Good Lord! What had happened here! What fiendish thing?
Walter Parton's mouth set into a grim line across his pallid face, as he paused, tensely listening. The musty dead smell of the ancient house was all about him. Eerie, fitful flashes of light from the lightning of the nearing storm was the only illumination in the shrouded, funereal entrance hall.
"Rose!" he shouted frantically.
Walter listened to the echoing diminuendo with which the mansion mocked him. There was no answer, but he sensed some presence here that was dread made tangible, that waited for his burning, wide-pupilled eyes to find it in the gloom. His sleeves tightened over bulging biceps, his fists knotted as if to meet an attack. And then he saw it, far back in the vague foyer; a dark mound, a motionless dark pile. He moved, stiff-legged and tensed, across the uncarpeted floor; fearing to scan the limp heap closer yet knowing that he must do so. His cold hand fumbled in a pocket, came out with a wood match as he got to the dark form. His thumb rasped across the match-head, and a little flame spurted from the splinter. Its light spilled down.
Pent breath popped from between Walter's icy lips in a choked gasp, and the match dropped from his nerveless fingers—dropped hissing into viscid liquid still oozing redly from the corpse.
HORROR quivered in deepening darkness, in silence thick with dread. In Walter's temples a pulse pounded against the steel band of terror that constricted his forehead, and his hand seemed mittened, clumsy as he groped for another match.
Dancing, minute light forced the lurking shadows back a little way. Queerly, even in the brutal death that had come to her, even with her skull crushed in and her thin frame contorted in final agony, something of the rigid austerity of her spinsterhood still clung to Faith Loran. But on the pallid fabric under the woman's scrawny neck, on the yellow of her skin, on the scrubbed whiteness of the wooden floor all about her, tiny footprints showed, the twin small ovals of goats' cloven hoofs stamped in thin blood! Parton caught the taint of their odor in the quivering, stifling air he pulled into his lungs. Goats! What mocking, derisive thing was this? What outer horror had invaded this old house? What incredible thing was it that had slain old Elmer and Faith? Where was Rose?
He shouted her name, sprang toward the stairs. His feet pounded up the great staircase, resounded through the ominous, shadowy reaches above. "Rose!" His shouted, frantic call echoed through emptiness. He dashed back to the entrance-hall again, staggering, grey despair masking his working face, cold sweat dripping from it. Rose was gone, was somewhere in the hands of the vicious killer. Rose was gone...
Lightning framed the doorway in blue glare, vanished. It seemed to the frantic man that the inimical, haunched statue of Pan had been silhouetted right there in the opening. So real the impression was that he crouched to meet it. A foul, animal-like odor engulfed him, and a hard fist crashed against his shoulder. With appalling suddenness Parton was involved in a maelstrom of fierce combat, was fighting for his life with an eerily huge antagonist who had about him some macabre weirdness that made Walter's blood run cold within him even as he fought.
The smash of hairy fists, impacting on his bones as though the cushion of his flesh and muscle had been stripped away, pounded excruciating agony through him. Walter sidestepped, got home with his own fist, might veritably have been battling the stone monument for all the effect it had. His adversary was gigantic, seemed possessed of supernormal strength and gave vent to grunting, animal sounds that tightened its unearthly, terror-inspiring quality. Parton rained futile blows on the monstrous thing that sought his destruction. Skinned knuckles were the reward of his efforts, and pain that shot up his arms, paralyzed his muscles.
The thing that had come out of the night closed in; relentless, implacable. Parton felt shaggy arms wrap around his weakening body, and he was hugged tight to a steel-hard torso. The hands that clamped him constricted, drove the breath from his chest. He felt his ribs caving in, his tortured spine cracking. His eyes bulged, he tasted the salt of blood on his lips...
The world exploded in a tremendous blast that swallowed Loran Hall in a coruscation of electricity gone mad! Flame spurted—was it in his own head? Walter carommed into a corner, slammed against a papered wall. He slid to the floor. He knew that the gargoylesque shape whose attack had so nearly destroyed him had rushed to the back of the house, had disappeared.
Acrid smoke stung his nostrils.
Afterwards Walter wondered that he was able to force himself to his feet, to reel after his late antagonist. It was the thought of Rose that spurred him past the stairs, through the wavering flames of the fire the lightning-flash had set—the thought that this being would lead him to Rose.
A blank wall confronted Parton, but to his right there was a door. He whirled to it, flung it open. Lurid firelight flared in, lit up wooden, descending steps. Walter threw himself down those steps, saw a stone-vaulted basement receding into shadow, heard a grating noise and the faint echo of a taunting laugh.
Fire-glare set his long shadow dancing on tamped-down earth that showed no trace of any passing. Lightning flicked through a high-up small window, revealed the cellar from end to end, from side to side. It was starkly empty. Cobwebs hung undisturbed from beamed rafters, the dust of years was clotted on grimly grey foundation stones that were its walls.
A racking cough seized Walter, doubled him up with its paroxysm. His eyes were streaming, misted. He was aware that smoke was pouring down the stairs behind him, heard the crackle of flames. He twisted about, saw red firelight darting ominously through a billowing smoke-cloud. He was caught by the fire, caught down here to be cremated in a raging furnace, to end with the end of Loran Hall...
Heat beat on Walter Parton's back like the breath of a Moloch. Flames hissed, then roared hungrily as old wood caught and blazed. Jagged fingers, yellow and orange and oddly green, reached for him out of the rolling murk, snatched at him hungrily. Impossible to return up those fiery stairs—and there was no other way out of this basement. He was cut off, doomed!
Parton groaned, dropped, crawled along the earthen cellar-floor on hands and knees, his head low to seek what little clearer air there was down here. Strength seeped from him. He couldn't breathe. Suffocation would claim him in minutes now. At least he would be unconscious when the raging flames reached him.
His head struck stone, rough stone of the farther wall. Walter lay still, gasping, despair a leaden weight at his stomach-pit.
The smoke lifted over him, seemed to be drawn upward so as to give him a slightly greater space of comparatively clean air to breathe. It was being drawn upward! He could see the curl of the tendrils, their ascending current, remembered the high-placed window. Luck, or some guiding Providence, had brought him just beneath it. But that window was ten feet above him, beyond his reach and, perhaps, too small to permit his passage.
Parton filled his lungs, scrambled to his feet. His clawing fingers found chinks in the masonry, his toes scraped, caught in tiny interstices. He climbed painfully up the rough wall. His hand found the window-sill, agonizing effort got his knees onto the narrow ledge.
A chink between sash and frame gave him time for another breath, but it was smoke-tainted, cut his chest with its knife-edge stab. A cough tore at his throat. He fought it, fearful that it might jar him from his frail hold. He felt grimy glass, smashed it, felt the shards cut his fists but did not feel the pain.
The opening pulled smoke, heat, over and around him. Walter shoved his head through, but his shoulders caught. He squirmed. Jagged glass ripped his shirt, his flesh. The taper of his frame to the waist made passage easier when his shoulders were through and he was out, was sprawling in dry grass. The fire roared like a disappointed demon, and almost continuous thunder answered it.
Parton staggered erect. The weed-grown grounds were luminous with the blue flicker of lightning and the red glare of the blazing house. He sought the statue of Pan. It was in its accustomed place. But it seemed to have turned on its pedestal to face him, and its grin to have become a smirk of evil, leering triumph.
The heavens burst into electric flame. Cataclysmic sound shook the earth. Beyond Pan a dark figure moved, raised itself over the fence, vanished into the encroaching woods. How had he gotten out of the basement and across the grounds? Parton shuddered. There was something ungodly about the distorted creature.
The iron fence was too high for him to climb in his weakness. Memory came to his aid, he found a depression that had served him long ago, wriggled under the barrier.
Thick-knit leaf-ceiling overhead quenched lightning-flicker; intervening trunks blocked the glare of the fire and impenetrable gloom swallowed him. But there was the threshing of a heavy body ahead for him to follow, the dull thudding of footfalls unnaturally ponderous.
The footing grew soft. Moisture-drenched soil sucked at Parton's heels. He was, he realized, on the edge of Gorham's Swamp. That was where the thing ahead of him was going. The lay of land here, the playground of his boyhood, was familiar to him as the palm of his hand. The guiding sounds had vanished but he didn't need them any longer. There was only one way into the morass. Foot-wide, masked by cattails and rushes, a single causeway of solid earth meandered across the bog, widening to make the island where Gant Gorham's shanty stood.
Gant Gorham! Enlightenment burst on Parton. Gant Gorham, implacable enemy of the Lorans, was behind this, although the monstrous shape that had lurched in through the Hall's doorway at him was not that of the swamp-dweller.
Furtive sounds behind him, a strange sensation of inimical eyes watching, prickled the nape of his neck with fear. Parton whirled. Nothing was there. Nothing but the silent, gloom-shrouded forest, the distorted bulks of malformed trees.
Overcast, black sky came again into view as the woods thinned at the bleak edge of the swamp. Here was the cairn of stones that he had helped to erect as a boy, to mark the entrance of the natural causeway. It lay ahead, tortuous, but his feet remembered every twisted curve of it.
Walter was tight-faced as he set out on the dangerous passage, his eyelids narrowed to thread-like slits, muscle-ridges lumping along his blunt jaw. Rose was on that island just ahead, and the swart-visaged killer who had stolen her for some mad purpose of a twisted mind. Gorham was there... Walter swore between white lips that neither Gorham nor the devil himself could stand between him and the girl he loved.
The swamp was not silent, things slithered through it—ominous things of slime and scum. A bubble plopped in thick mud, and a small creature shrieked as quicksand caught it. Walter was in the center of the morass, moving cautiously despite his haste, drawing on memory for the path he must tread to avoid foul death waiting on either side.
The shrilly liquid skirling of pipes laughed behind him, changed quickly to goat-call. Wally started to run, twisted back as the quick patter of tiny hooves came to him from the island ahead. Black against black, a small form rushed out on the causeway. Another. Lightning lit up the world and Parton saw that the narrow path was alive with black-skinned goats, with a shoving, pell-mell rush of ruminants whose hooves and horns were gilded. The weird sight struck a sudden, queasy terror into Parton, filled him with a sense that powers other than human were battling against him for the body and the soul of the girl he loved.
The pipes called again, blurring, shrieking with a queer madness. Maddened bleating answered. The grotesquely ornamented goats, crazed by the Hamelin piping, stampeded toward him. They piled up, shoving one another from the causeway, screaming with almost human agony as the black mud and the quicksand caught them, screaming till their shrieks blubbed into silence.
Ten, a dozen of the onrushing small animals were thrust to muddy death, but the others came on as the skirling of the Pan-pipes crescendoed. They came on, an irresistible avalanche of gilt-horned destruction that must surely throw him from the path, into the slow, strangling death of the quicksand.
He could not stop them, no power on earth could stop them. Man or devil he would have fought on that precarious footing, would have fought and flung into the quaking bog, but these horned creatures, these miniature incarnations of a world gone insane, he was powerless against.
He turned to run, to give them passage and return after they had passed—and recoiled as a gargoylesque dark mass hurtled toward him from the swamp-edge whence he had just come. The thing that had attacked him in the old house was plunging along the path. Its grotesque, gigantic goat-shape was more noisome than the swamp; its shaggy arms flailing against the tempest-lit sky were like fungus-coated limbs of a dead tree come to unholy life.
Walter's lips grimaced in a snarl of hate, and he lunged to meet the weird attack. But the momentary halt was fatal. Horns, a hard head, catapulted into him from behind, battered him from the causeway. He arced through muggy air, sprawled into black mud that geysered as his frame splashed into it. Mud slapped across his face, blinded him, thrust its stinking mush into his nostrils, his mouth, his ears. Instinct pulled his head up and back, out of the half-liquid slime. Instinct betrayed him as the movement drove his legs down and the sliding, granular mass of quicksand clamped his feet and ankles. He was trapped, caught in the quicksand, and terror tore at his throat.
Above him Pan-pipes laughed gloatingly. The woods, cowering beneath the impending onslaught of the gale, caught up the laughter and tossed it from contorted bole to writhing limb. Slime-born things slithered close around him, and clammy coldness whipped across his hand.
The pipes laughed again, their laughter trilled into goat cry. The hairy little things that had encompassed his destruction—those that remained—wheeled and scampered back to the island, vanished. More slowly the piper lurched after them.
Between Walter and the island an enmeshed goat screamed in agony. Its scream was poignant, human. Again the quivering sound came. But this time it was not a goat that screamed. It was a woman. It was Rose!
Rose was screaming in terror as the goat-man followed his creatures into islets mystery, and Parton only yards away, could not help her. The quicksand ran away from beneath his feet like the slow, inevitable ebbing of grains in an hourglass measuring the short space of life left to him. Surface slime already chilled his calves, lapped slowly higher.
Rose's scream stopped short, as if a hairy palm had thudded across her mouth. And the Pan-pipes laughed on the island, trilled obscene glee as jelled mud quivered slowly upward to the trapped man's slim waist.
JAGGED blue split the universe from horizon to horizon, and the riven cosmos crashed together again with devastating sound.
The encompassing cloud opened and belched its contents. The air was suddenly solid with the cataract, the earth flattened by the downpour. Walter's world was the inexorable clutch of mud and sand about his legs, his waist, his abdomen. His body throbbed with pain and despair.
If only, he thought, that lightning had struck the island and killed Rose, he could die content. Perhaps it had—God grant that it had.
Water swirled about his chest and his neck, boiled over his tight lips; water lashed to foam by more water that descended in flooding torrents.
In seconds now it would be over his nostrils, and that would be the end. Rose...
The slow creep of the quicksand was halted. The lift of the two-foot layer of new water covering the swamp was sufficient to balance its sucking.
But that water would drown him. It was a cleaner death, but death nevertheless. Why not duck his head the inch it would take to meet that death?
Something bumped against him. His finger clutched shaggy hair, horns scraped his side.
It was a goat, and the creature was moving, moving strongly. The water that had been sufficient only to keep Parton from sinking had pulled the animal's slim legs free of the mud, and the goat was half-swimming, half-running parallel to the causeway.
Walter reached for the ruminant's horns. The goat's forelegs found firmer ground almost at once. It bleated, surged strongly ahead. That surge was just sufficient to pull Walter free of the mire, to drag him, too, to where he could find firm enough foothold for the final effort that released him from the bog's lethal grip. Ahead of him was a rain-lashed clearing; but from somewhere came a faint glimmer, and Walter Parton could see the herd of goats huddled against unpainted boards of Gorham's shack. Above them a thin right-angle of yellow light came from within, otherwise cut off by some covering that blanketed the window.
Parton knew he must get to that window, must peer through it. But the goats were right there, their scattering would betray his presence. Already they were restless, bleating.
A door creaked open on the other side of the shack. Small heads tossed, a billy blatted. The herd wheeled, crashed into the woods.
Parton lay close to the muddy, stinking ground waiting for discovery. But the hidden door shut again, and no threatening form loomed around the corner of the decrepit hut. Parton squirmed to it, raised himself to the window.
The slit that was the only aperture for his spying was threadlike, and a little way from it, within, something blocked Walter's vision.
He moved a bit, brought into sight a recumbent head, an unshaven, brutal mustached countenance beneath whose leathery skin death-pallor showed. Wally's forehead knitted. This was Gorham, Gant Gorham. But the man was unconscious or dead. Who then...?
Someone moaned within, moaned with hopeless pain. Walter's scalp tightened. That whimper of agony came from Rose's throat, or he had never heard her voice. His decision was made in an instant. He turned about to get to the door of the shack... Something crashed against the back of his neck, against his head, and oblivion swept over his senses.
"I tell you I don't know," Rose was screaming. "I don't know and I can't tell you."
Her agonized voice pulled Walter out of the pain and the darkness in which he weltered, pulled him up to the throbbing torture of torn body, and nerves. His eyes opened...
Gant Gorham lay motionless on a pallet of rags just under the window that was blinded by a tattered quilt. Lamplight flickered across his face, giving it a semblance of life, but the black hilt of a knife protruded from his bloody chest. A twisted man-creature crouched, blocking Wally's further view. It moved...
Rose hung against the wall, her wrists bound by rope to rusted spikes driven deep into the wood, her arms straight lines of tensed anguish. Her chestnut hair framed a face that was strained and lined with suffering. Her body writhed—its clean sun-browned curves naked except for a lacy wisp pendent between waist and thighs. Muscles across her drawn-in abdomen pulsed, and the strained lines of her arms were repeated in the terrific straining of her legs as her toetips touched the grimy floor.
Parton pulled silently at ropes that were tight around his ankles, that bound his arms to his flanks. His efforts were futile. An expert hand had knotted them, the hair-covered, long-nailed hand hanging now beside a shaggy, curiously formed haunch. That hand opened and closed as Parton watched it. Every line of its grotesque owner betrayed evil malevolence incarnate.
The rasping, hoarse voice that answered the girl's defiance was as animal-like, as weirdly bestial as his macabre form. "You know, damn you. You know where Faith hid the Loran treasure. She opened the door to beg me to go away and then she fooled me, the devil take her rotten soul. There wasn't anything under the Pan statue. If I hadn't killed her I would have made her tell what she did with it; but I'll get it out of you if I have to strip every inch of skin from your cursed body." His other arm jerked into Walter's vision, swishing. It was a whip that swished, a thick whip of corded snake-skin. The cruel lash whistled, cracked across the girl's taut abdomen. A livid weal oozed blood...
Walter rolled, thumped against the hairy legs of the torturer. The monster staggered. Parton managed to squirm his legs about those hairy ones and the gigantic form collapsed upon him. It jolted over. Thick, hard thumbs closed on the bound man's throat, dug in. Walter's breath was cut off. His eyes were bulging. Darkness, the darkness of death, swirled about him...
"Don't Uncle Roy," Rose screamed. "Don't."
Her own fierce pains were forgotten as she stared at the terrible thing on the floor, as she saw Walter's tortured face turn purple, then blacken... And then new horror swamped her as the dead man on the pallet moved. Incredibly he was rising from the cot...
The corpse's grimy hand jerked up with a horrible, mechanical motion, closed on the knife-handle jutting from his chest. A spurt of clotted blood followed the blade as he pulled it out. The dagger arced through the air, plunged into the back of the murderer. Gorham collapsed on top of the man he had come back from death to kill, and Walter was drowned in the spate of scarlet blood gushing over him from both writhing forms.
The storm was over, and a pallid moon looked down on two half-naked figures, a man's and a girl's, that staggered out of the woods cloaking Gorham's Swamp. "Gorham wasn't dead, then," Walter muttered. "The knife kept the wound it had made closed, and he wasn't dead."
"He was probably conscious for a long time, waiting for the chance you gave him. Oh, Walter, you were so brave..."
"Never mind that... Here, we can crawl under the fence right here... You called that—that thing Uncle Roy."
"He was Uncle Roy, the man we all thought dead. Do you remember in the newspaper account of the fight in which he was supposed to have been killed it spoke of another one who was badly wounded and taken to the hospital unconscious?"
"That was Roy Loran. He told me all about it while he carried me through the swamp after he heard you shouting out by the gate. But he might as well have been dead, for years. One bullet chipped his skull, depressed a bit of bone that pressed into his brain and wiped out his memory. He was sent to an institution, escaped, and found work somewhere not far from here as a goat-herd.
"Then he had another accident, and he recalled who he was. He wrote to Aunt Faith, about a month ago, telling her all this and demanding a great deal of money to remain unknown. She replied to tell him there was no money and he answered that he knew the first Loran had a fortune hidden somewhere on the ground, that he was coming to wring the secret out of her lying throat.
"She didn't tell me a word of this, hoping he was bluffing, but he did come. What he suspected was true enough. Faith knew of the hiding place, in a tunnel from the basement of the Hall to an exit under the Pan statue..."
"The devil!" Wally interrupted. "That was why he ran when the lightning struck. He was afraid the fire would block him from it."
"Aunt Faith told him the secret to save me from him. Then he heard your shout and carried me off to the hut in the swamp. Gorham came in, went for him, and he stabbed him...
"He went out again, probably to look in the tunnel for the treasure. The blatting of the goats drove me mad..."
"The goats! What on earth..."
"I imagine his darkened mind must have retained some memory of the Pan statue. He had painted their horns and their hooves and trained them to answer his piping. When he returned he brought his herd along."
Wally shuddered, held Rose close to him. "Somehow they were the worst of the whole business. There was something incredibly evil about them."
"Terribly! They were like little imps from hell itself... I was frantic, bound there, alone, not knowing what to expect. And then, when the storm broke, he burst in, frothing at the mouth and raving that Faith and I had robbed the cache and hidden the treasure somewhere else. He hung me up as I was when you found me, swearing that he would torture me till I told him where it was. I—"
"Don't talk about it any more sweetheart. It's all done for, finished. The Lorans are finished—"
Rose smiled demurely. "You forget, Wally, that I am a Loran."
"We'll change that as soon as we get to the Reverend Wilkin's house," Walter grinned. "Rose Parton is a much better name."
Loran Hall was a mass of charred timbers, of black, drenched coals. But Pan was still on his pedestal, and the moon seemed to touch the inscription with a ghostly, meaningful hand. The lovers paused briefly to read it. Rose sighed through her tears. "The Lorans have paid the piper, all right, for all their dances. There are no more Lorans."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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