Eye Above the Mantel, The
Szerző: Frank Belknap Long • Év: 1921
I cannot recall to mind the precise place where we met, or even why we met. Perhaps we were assembled merely by chance, or perhaps we dared not consciously acknowledge the purpose which had brought us together. We had drunk a great deal of exceedingly rare and costly wine, and all sense of proportion had left us. We blasphemed openly, and uttered prophecies and warnings which none but the gods have a right to utter. We also defied the little gods, and made fun of their tininess, which was unkind.
It seems to me that we were all very young, and students of a lore which has long since perished from the earth, even as the inspired and mystic writings of the Chaldees have sunk into oblivion with the forgotten centuries. I know that we interested ourselves in evolution, and speculated upon the creature which would some day take man’s place upon this tiny planet of ours. That such a creature would come, we had not the slightest doubt, and we merely discussed the way of his coming.
But there was one among us who took no part in our conversation, but who sat with folded arms and smiling face, listening in silence to all which fell from our lips. He was tall and pale, and yet I cannot, I cannot for my life, describe him, or even hint at the unheard-of characters which marked him as one apart, and which made us fear him with a fear which was more than human, a fear which the Sphinx must have felt when the gods of Egypt went shrieking across the Nile, to mingle with gods of Greece and the gods of Rome. Of his dress, I remember nothing save that the tails of his coat were immoderately long, and seemed to sweep the floor.
We feared him, and yet we dared not openly show our fear. Our gestures were violent and affected, and our voices low and constrained. And we looked at him constantly, and yet continued to talk of the superman. We continued to talk of the superman who would some day come and destroy the pallid and feeble thing called vir. And we thought of this superman as some great insect, with long hairy arms and loathsome, spider-like body, and we shuddered to think of that terrible day not far distant when the old lord of the earth should stand naked and defenseless before the new, and send up impotent shrieks to the quiet stars.
It was at this point that the stranger arose, and laughed. I cannot think that such a laugh was known to the Egyptians, or to the Medes, or to the Persians, or to any of the lesser peoples who now dwell within the region of darkness. It was a laugh such as is only heard in the small hours of the night, when the gods are careless, and no longer watch over the meditations and manifestations of man. And the stranger spoke, and his voice was the voice of a daemon, but it was also the voice of an angel. And the stranger spoke, and his voice was unchaste, but it was holy. And I shuddered, and drew my coat up over my ears that I might not hear the voice that seemed to tempt me away from myself. And the others did likewise, but the voice reached us through our clothes.
“As the eye is the window of the soul, so is the eye of this room the window to that which is to come!”
Upon hearing this we looked at one another, and our faces assumed expressions at once sinister and indescribable. There was but one window in that small room, and it was high up over a mantel of gold and onyx under a ceiling of white marble, and through it the pale light of the wan moon came in thin pencil-like rays.
In a moment we had placed a chair against the wall, a red-plush chair with arms of black ebony, and were mounting the mantel. But the mantel was narrow, and could not hold all of us, and seeing this, we became angry, and fought among ourselves, and quarreled for a place on the mantel. And finally we decided to draw lots, and let fate decide who should be the first to mount, and to gaze through that little window which admitted the pale light of the wan moon in thin pencil-like rays.
And so one Amomenon produced a set of jet black dice, and for five minutes we gambled there under the little window to see who should be the first to mount. And, may the gods who watch over my destiny be praised, I won, and to me was reserved the privilege and the right of being the first, the first of all of the children of men, to look through that tiny window, and to view all that lay beyond.
And I mounted with glee, my heart beating within me, and my soul screaming with ecstasy. I mounted slowly, because the writings of Plith, the Babylonian, the ancient and yellow scrolls of Plith, had taught me that haste injures the bodily organs and destroys the faculties of the mind.
At length I reached the little window, and gazed out. I had expected to see a quiet Manhattan street, with yellow and black automobiles sweeping noiselessly by, and gentle lampposts shedding melancholy beams upon the well-turned mustaches of pale passersby, and over all the wan moon which had shed its pale rays into the little room below through the tiny window at which I was now gazing.
But instead I beheld an endless waste stretching out for miles and miles, a quiet, empty waste of gray sandstone, utterly bereft of every living thing. The singing of birds, the drone of insects, and the sighing of the wind against the trees, and against the houses of brick and the palaces of marble-all had ceased, because there were no birds or insects or wind or palaces of marble and houses of brick.
For miles and miles the water stretched out, and met the sky. And the sky was not blue, but yellow, and shed a yellow light over the gray sandstone. The sky itself shed this light, because there was no sun, or indication that there ever had been a sun. The light came from the sky, from every part of the sky, from out of infinite space came that light. And there were no birds or insects or wind or houses of brick and palaces of marble, but only the waste, endless, stretching away into infinity, crying out unto God.
And a hideous sense of foreboding hung over me, and I groaned inwardly, and was about to turn away from the window. But something arose in the distance—something white and terrible arose in the distance.
From all sides it arose, they arose, myriad white things, and they came forward in even formation. They came forward from the place where the earth met the sky, and they marched with the sure and even step of an invading army.
And when they came near, and I beheld them, I screamed in dismay. For they were all white and tall, and were not like the men I knew. And then it dawned upon me with a fearful suddenness that these were not men at all, but were those of whom the Arabians wrote in letters of blood on secret tablets which have gone the way of all secret tablets.
And I stood with my eyes glued to the window, and watched them advance. I soon noticed that they were not all of the same size, and that the tallest commanded the less tall. I also noticed that they wore no clothes, but were covered with a kind of white fur, and that they were not ashamed of their nakedness. I also noticed that their teeth were black, and their eyes red and inflamed. And then they came very near, almost under the window, and I could hear them talk, and they spoke neither the tongue of Greece nor the tongue of Rome, neither the tongue of England nor the tongue of France, but held discourse in a strange tongue which I could not understand, and which I did not wish to understand.
And they kept coming and coming, and filled up the whole great expanse of gray sandstone, and became a titanic sea of ever-moving white.
And now they filled every square inch of all that land, and there was room for no more, and still some continued to come, crawling over the heads and shoulders of the others. And when at length they came no more, the yellow heavens went colorless, and the stars and the pale moon, which had shed its feeble mercuric light through the low window at which I now stood, became visible.
And then someone below spoke a command. It was uttered in a low voice, and it lacked authority, and yet I knew that it would be obeyed. I knew that the command would be obeyed, because it came from below. And I was not mistaken, for lo, as I stood there, a path was cleared among the multitude of white beings who swayed to and from under the colorless sky, and the pale moon, and the quiet stars.
And the path was a shocking path, very narrow and uneven, and ever in danger of being closed up by the angry white things that had made it. And the path extended from the window to the place where the earth met the sky. And I kept my face pressed to the window, watching the path.
Of a sudden there arose on the horizon four white figures, but taller than any that had gone before, as tall as the Arabian goddess Aso who rules over the hearts of all brave men. And these four figures came forward, and they carried with them a great thing of bronze and of iron, a great heavy thing of bronze and iron that resembled nothing so much as a cage.
And when they came very near I saw that it was a cage, and I cried out to the gods of Seth and Sarmenia to take forever from me my sight, that I might not behold the thing within that cage. For the thing within that cage was hideous to look upon, and was covered with foul yellow mud and dank Charonian vegetation, and it uttered little feeble cries which reminded me of the cries which Heth had uttered when he had been attacked by the lampreys in his master’s garden, and had suffered his blood to be drawn off in eighteen different directions at the same time.
But the gods of Seth and Sarmenia heard me not, and my sight never left me, and I was forced to keep my eyes riveted upon the cage of iron and bronze and the loathsome thing within. And while I watched, the white creatures began to torture their captive with little sticks of wood, little sharp sticks which they held in their hands. They poked him in the face, and hit him over the head and shoulders, and called him names which I knew were shocking because of the voice in which they were uttered. But, strange to say, I felt sympathy only for myself; because the creature was too horrid to excite sympathy in either man or beast. And the moon and the stars looked down silently, and said nothing, and the cries of the thing went up to the colorless heavens with no one to protest.
How long I continued to watch them torture the thing, I cannot tell, but it seems to me that for ages and ages, aeons and aeons, the cries rose up to the gods. And at length the light of the moon fell full upon the cage, and the thing within stood out in awful clearness.
And now as I write, my soul becomes delirious, and my heart volcanic, and my mind alone remains calm. For the thing within that cage—I am consumed with fire—I cannot write it—I cannot—this wretched soul—but enough—I will tell all—the thing within that cage was a man, and that man was Kunos, my dear, my darling brother! O God, the loathsome thing within covered with dank Charonian vegetation was flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone!
I tried to turn from the window—I sent up supplications to both the little gods and the big gods; and I even invoked the aid of the sinister and unchaste daemon Roth who dwells within the vile Dagaan charnel house, and who is part ruler of Eid and Nomore. But my prayers were unanswered, and to me of all men was reserved the horrible fate of being forced to gaze upon the living disintegration of a loved one.
And when at length it was over, and dear Kunos had gone his way into the endless void, the gods of Seth and Sarmenia, and of Rosath and Raynald, gave me permission to leave the window. And, with a shriek which I did not recognize as my own, I jumped down from the mantel, and screamed to my companions to cover me with their cloaks, and to shield me from myself. But my companions heard me not, for my companions, alas, were beyond hearing! My companions were beyond hearing and seeing, and they neither heard my cries, nor noticed the agony of my soul.
Stretched out pale and motionless they lay in a neat row upon the cold floor of white marble—stretched out stiff and silent they lay.
And upon the lips of each there was a smile, and upon the breast of each a little red spot—a little, neat, round red spot upon the breast of each. And then with a fearful suddenness it all came to me, and I knew that the Egyptians, and the Medes, and the Assyrians and the Persians were all more cunning than we—all infinitely more cunning than we—because they had known, and had permitted their civilizations to sink into decay, and had left to the Celt and the Saxon the terrible menace of the superman.
And now I saw him standing there, the new lord of the universe, standing there quiet and silent and sinister over the bodies of those whom he had slain. And then he suddenly seemed to perceive that I was no longer at the window, and he smiled with a sweet smile, and spoke in a voice which was tender and soft.
“You are the last of your kind, and I pity you. Go, and live to revel in the glories of a civilization such as you have never known. Go, I say, and wander among the graves of your race, and if you so desire, write the history of my coming!”
And I obeyed.
Robert E. Howard:
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