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The Noise In The Night







From: The House On The Borderland

And now, I come to the strangest of all the strange happenings that
have befallen me in this house of mysteries. It occurred quite
lately--within the month; and I have little doubt but that what I saw
was in reality the end of all things. However, to my story.

I do not know how it is; but, up to the present, I have never been able
to write these things down, directly they happened. It is as though I
have to wait a time, recovering my just balance, and digesting--as it
were--the things I have heard or seen. No doubt, this is as it should
be; for, by waiting, I see the incidents more truly, and write of them
in a calmer and more judicial frame of mind. This by the way.

It is now the end of November. My story relates to what happened in the
first week of the month.

It was night, about eleven o'clock. Pepper and I kept one another
company in the study--that great, old room of mine, where I read and
work. I was reading, curiously enough, the Bible. I have begun, in these
later days, to take a growing interest in that great and ancient book.
Suddenly, a distinct tremor shook the house, and there came a faint and
distant, whirring buzz, that grew rapidly into a far, muffled screaming.
It reminded me, in a queer, gigantic way, of the noise that a clock
makes, when the catch is released, and it is allowed to run down. The
sound appeared to come from some remote height--somewhere up in the
night. There was no repetition of the shock. I looked across at Pepper.
He was sleeping peacefully.

Gradually, the whirring noise decreased, and there came a long silence.

All at once, a glow lit up the end window, which protrudes far out from
the side of the house, so that, from it, one may look both East and
West. I felt puzzled, and, after a moment's hesitation, walked across
the room, and pulled aside the blind. As I did so, I saw the Sun rise,
from behind the horizon. It rose with a steady, perceptible movement. I
could see it travel upward. In a minute, it seemed, it had reached the
tops of the trees, through which I had watched it. Up, up--It was broad
daylight now. Behind me, I was conscious of a sharp, mosquito-like
buzzing. I glanced 'round, and knew that it came from the clock. Even as
I looked, it marked off an hour. The minute hand was moving 'round the
dial, faster than an ordinary second-hand. The hour hand moved quickly
from space to space. I had a numb sense of astonishment. A moment later,
so it seemed, the two candles went out, almost together. I turned
swiftly back to the window; for I had seen the shadow of the
window-frames, traveling along the floor toward me, as though a great
lamp had been carried up past the window.

I saw now, that the sun had risen high into the heavens, and was still
visibly moving. It passed above the house, with an extraordinary sailing
kind of motion. As the window came into shadow, I saw another
extraordinary thing. The fine-weather clouds were not passing, easily,
across the sky--they were scampering, as though a hundred-mile-an-hour
wind blew. As they passed, they changed their shapes a thousand times a
minute, as though writhing with a strange life; and so were gone. And,
presently, others came, and whisked away likewise.

To the West, I saw the sun, drop with an incredible, smooth, swift
motion. Eastward, the shadows of every seen thing crept toward the
coming greyness. And the movement of the shadows was visible to me--a
stealthy, writhing creep of the shadows of the wind-stirred trees. It
was a strange sight.

Quickly, the room began to darken. The sun slid down to the horizon,
and seemed, as it were, to disappear from my sight, almost with a jerk.
Through the greyness of the swift evening, I saw the silver crescent of
the moon, falling out of the Southern sky, toward the West. The evening
seemed to merge into an almost instant night. Above me, the many
constellations passed in a strange, 'noiseless' circling, Westward. The
moon fell through that last thousand fathoms of the night-gulf, and
there was only the starlight....

About this time, the buzzing in the corner ceased; telling me that the
clock had run down. A few minutes passed, and I saw the Eastward sky
lighten. A grey, sullen morning spread through all the darkness, and hid
the march of the stars. Overhead, there moved, with a heavy, everlasting
rolling, a vast, seamless sky of grey clouds--a cloud-sky that would
have seemed motionless, through all the length of an ordinary earth-day.
The sun was hidden from me; but, from moment to moment, the world would
brighten and darken, brighten and darken, beneath waves of subtle light
and shadow....

The light shifted ever Westward, and the night fell upon the earth. A
vast rain seemed to come with it, and a wind of a most extraordinary
loudness--as though the howling of a nightlong gale, were packed into
the space of no more than a minute.

This noise passed, almost immediately, and the clouds broke; so that,
once more, I could see the sky. The stars were flying Westward, with
astounding speed. It came to me now, for the first time, that, though
the noise of the wind had passed, yet a constant 'blurred' sound was in
my ears. Now that I noticed it, I was aware that it had been with me all
the time. It was the world-noise.

And then, even as I grasped at so much comprehension, there came the
Eastward light. No more than a few heartbeats, and the sun rose,
swiftly. Through the trees, I saw it, and then it was above the trees.
Up--up, it soared and all the world was light. It passed, with a swift,
steady swing to its highest altitude, and fell thence, Westward. I saw
the day roll visibly over my head. A few light clouds flittered
Northward, and vanished. The sun went down with one swift, clear plunge,
and there was about me, for a few seconds, the darker growing grey of
the gloaming.

Southward and Westward, the moon was sinking rapidly. The night had
come, already. A minute it seemed, and the moon fell those remaining
fathoms of dark sky. Another minute, or so, and the Eastward sky glowed
with the coming dawn. The sun leapt upon me with a frightening
abruptness, and soared ever more swiftly toward the zenith. Then,
suddenly, a fresh thing came to my sight. A black thundercloud rushed up
out of the South, and seemed to leap all the arc of the sky, in a single
instant. As it came, I saw that its advancing edge flapped, like a
monstrous black cloth in the heaven, twirling and undulating rapidly,
with a horrid suggestiveness. In an instant, all the air was full of
rain, and a hundred lightning flashes seemed to flood downward, as it
were in one great shower. In the same second of time, the world-noise
was drowned in the roar of the wind, and then my ears ached, under the
stunning impact of the thunder.

And, in the midst of this storm, the night came; and then, within the
space of another minute, the storm had passed, and there was only the
constant 'blur' of the world-noise on my hearing. Overhead, the stars
were sliding quickly Westward; and something, mayhaps the particular
speed to which they had attained, brought home to me, for the first
time, a keen realization of the knowledge that it was the world that
revolved. I seemed to see, suddenly, the world--a vast, dark
mass--revolving visibly against the stars.

The dawn and the sun seemed to come together, so greatly had the speed
of the world-revolution increased. The sun drove up, in one long, steady
curve; passed its highest point, and swept down into the Western sky,
and disappeared. I was scarcely conscious of evening, so brief was it.
Then I was watching the flying constellations, and the Westward
hastening moon. In but a space of seconds, so it seemed, it was sliding
swiftly downward through the night-blue, and then was gone. And, almost
directly, came the morning.

And now there seemed to come a strange acceleration. The sun made one
clean, clear sweep through the sky, and disappeared behind the Westward
horizon, and the night came and went with a like haste.

As the succeeding day, opened and closed upon the world, I was aware of
a sweat of snow, suddenly upon the earth. The night came, and, almost
immediately, the day. In the brief leap of the sun, I saw that the snow
had vanished; and then, once more, it was night.

Thus matters were; and, even after the many incredible things that I
have seen, I experienced all the time a most profound awe. To see the
sun rise and set, within a space of time to be measured by seconds; to
watch (after a little) the moon leap--a pale, and ever growing orb--up
into the night sky, and glide, with a strange swiftness, through the
vast arc of blue; and, presently, to see the sun follow, springing out
of the Eastern sky, as though in chase; and then again the night, with
the swift and ghostly passing of starry constellations, was all too much
to view believingly. Yet, so it was--the day slipping from dawn to dusk,
and the night sliding swiftly into day, ever rapidly and more rapidly.

The last three passages of the sun had shown me a snow-covered earth,
which, at night, had seemed, for a few seconds, incredibly weird under
the fast-shifting light of the soaring and falling moon. Now, however,
for a little space, the sky was hidden, by a sea of swaying,
leaden-white clouds, which lightened and blackened, alternately, with
the passage of day and night.

The clouds rippled and vanished, and there was once more before me, the
vision of the swiftly leaping sun, and nights that came and went
like shadows.

Faster and faster, spun the world. And now each day and night was
completed within the space of but a few seconds; and still the speed
increased.

It was a little later, that I noticed that the sun had begun to have
the suspicion of a trail of fire behind it. This was due, evidently, to
the speed at which it, apparently, traversed the heavens. And, as the
days sped, each one quicker than the last, the sun began to assume the
appearance of a vast, flaming comet flaring across the sky at short,
periodic intervals. At night, the moon presented, with much greater
truth, a comet-like aspect; a pale, and singularly clear, fast traveling
shape of fire, trailing streaks of cold flame. The stars showed now,
merely as fine hairs of fire against the dark.

Once, I turned from the window, and glanced at Pepper. In the flash of
a day, I saw that he slept, quietly, and I moved once more to
my watching.

The sun was now bursting up from the Eastern horizon, like a stupendous
rocket, seeming to occupy no more than a second or two in hurling from
East to West. I could no longer perceive the passage of clouds across
the sky, which seemed to have darkened somewhat. The brief nights,
appeared to have lost the proper darkness of night; so that the hair-like
fire of the flying stars, showed but dimly. As the speed increased, the
sun began to sway very slowly in the sky, from South to North, and then,
slowly again, from North to South.

So, amid a strange confusion of mind, the hours passed.

All this while had Pepper slept. Presently, feeling lonely and
distraught, I called to him, softly; but he took no notice. Again, I
called, raising my voice slightly; still he moved not. I walked over to
where he lay, and touched him with my foot, to rouse him. At the action,
gentle though it was, he fell to pieces. That is what happened; he
literally and actually crumbled into a mouldering heap of bones
and dust.

For the space of, perhaps a minute, I stared down at the shapeless
heap, that had once been Pepper. I stood, feeling stunned. What can have
happened? I asked myself; not at once grasping the grim significance of
that little hill of ash. Then, as I stirred the heap with my foot, it
occurred to me that this could only happen in a great space of time.
Years--and years.

Outside, the weaving, fluttering light held the world. Inside, I stood,
trying to understand what it meant--what that little pile of dust and
dry bones, on the carpet, meant. But I could not think, coherently.

I glanced away, 'round the room, and now, for the first time, noticed
how dusty and old the place looked. Dust and dirt everywhere; piled in
little heaps in the corners, and spread about upon the furniture. The
very carpet, itself, was invisible beneath a coating of the same, all
pervading, material. As I walked, little clouds of the stuff rose up
from under my footsteps, and assailed my nostrils, with a dry, bitter
odor that made me wheeze, huskily.

Suddenly, as my glance fell again upon Pepper's remains, I stood still,
and gave voice to my confusion--questioning, aloud, whether the years
were, indeed, passing; whether this, which I had taken to be a form of
vision, was, in truth, a reality. I paused. A new thought had struck me.
Quickly, but with steps which, for the first time, I noticed, tottered,
I went across the room to the great pier-glass, and looked in. It was
too covered with grime, to give back any reflection, and, with trembling
hands, I began to rub off the dirt. Presently, I could see myself. The
thought that had come to me, was confirmed. Instead of the great, hale
man, who scarcely looked fifty, I was looking at a bent, decrepit man,
whose shoulders stooped, and whose face was wrinkled with the years of a
century. The hair--which a few short hours ago had been nearly coal
black--was now silvery white. Only the eyes were bright. Gradually, I
traced, in that ancient man, a faint resemblance to my self of
other days.

I turned away, and tottered to the window. I knew, now, that I was old,
and the knowledge seemed to confirm my trembling walk. For a little
space, I stared moodily out into the blurred vista of changeful
landscape. Even in that short time, a year passed, and, with a petulant
gesture, I left the window. As I did so, I noticed that my hand shook
with the palsy of old age; and a short sob choked its way through
my lips.

For a little while, I paced, tremulously, between the window and the
table; my gaze wandering hither and thither, uneasily. How dilapidated
the room was. Everywhere lay the thick dust--thick, sleepy, and black.
The fender was a shape of rust. The chains that held the brass
clock-weights, had rusted through long ago, and now the weights lay on
the floor beneath; themselves two cones of verdigris.

As I glanced about, it seemed to me that I could see the very furniture
of the room rotting and decaying before my eyes. Nor was this fancy, on
my part; for, all at once, the bookshelf, along the sidewall, collapsed,
with a cracking and rending of rotten wood, precipitating its contents
upon the floor, and filling the room with a smother of dusty atoms.

How tired I felt. As I walked, it seemed that I could hear my dry
joints, creak and crack at every step. I wondered about my sister. Was
she dead, as well as Pepper? All had happened so quickly and suddenly.
This must be, indeed, the beginning of the end of all things! It
occurred to me, to go to look for her; but I felt too weary. And then,
she had been so queer about these happenings, of late. Of late! I
repeated the words, and laughed, feebly--mirthlessly, as the realization
was borne in upon me that I spoke of a time, half a century gone. Half a
century! It might have been twice as long!

I moved slowly to the window, and looked out once more across the
world. I can best describe the passage of day and night, at this period,
as a sort of gigantic, ponderous flicker. Moment by moment, the
acceleration of time continued; so that, at nights now, I saw the moon,
only as a swaying trail of palish fire, that varied from a mere line of
light to a nebulous path, and then dwindled again, disappearing
periodically.

The flicker of the days and nights quickened. The days had grown
perceptibly darker, and a queer quality of dusk lay, as it were, in the
atmosphere. The nights were so much lighter, that the stars were
scarcely to be seen, saving here and there an occasional hair-like line
of fire, that seemed to sway a little, with the moon.

Quicker, and ever quicker, ran the flicker of day and night; and,
suddenly it seemed, I was aware that the flicker had died out, and,
instead, there reigned a comparatively steady light, which was shed upon
all the world, from an eternal river of flame that swung up and down,
North and South, in stupendous, mighty swings.

The sky was now grown very much darker, and there was in the blue of it
a heavy gloom, as though a vast blackness peered through it upon the
earth. Yet, there was in it, also, a strange and awful clearness, and
emptiness. Periodically, I had glimpses of a ghostly track of fire that
swayed thin and darkly toward the sun-stream; vanished and reappeared.
It was the scarcely visible moon-stream.

Looking out at the landscape, I was conscious again, of a blurring sort
of 'flitter,' that came either from the light of the ponderous-swinging
sun-stream, or was the result of the incredibly rapid changes of the
earth's surface. And every few moments, so it seemed, the snow would lie
suddenly upon the world, and vanish as abruptly, as though an invisible
giant 'flitted' a white sheet off and on the earth.

Time fled, and the weariness that was mine, grew insupportable. I
turned from the window, and walked once across the room, the heavy dust
deadening the sound of my footsteps. Each step that I took, seemed a
greater effort than the one before. An intolerable ache, knew me in
every joint and limb, as I trod my way, with a weary uncertainty.

By the opposite wall, I came to a weak pause, and wondered, dimly, what
was my intent. I looked to my left, and saw my old chair. The thought of
sitting in it brought a faint sense of comfort to my bewildered
wretchedness. Yet, because I was so weary and old and tired, I would
scarcely brace my mind to do anything but stand, and wish myself past
those few yards. I rocked, as I stood. The floor, even, seemed a place
for rest; but the dust lay so thick and sleepy and black. I turned, with
a great effort of will, and made toward my chair. I reached it, with a
groan of thankfulness. I sat down.

Everything about me appeared to be growing dim. It was all so strange
and unthought of. Last night, I was a comparatively strong, though
elderly man; and now, only a few hours later--! I looked at the little
dust-heap that had once been Pepper. Hours! and I laughed, a feeble,
bitter laugh; a shrill, cackling laugh, that shocked my dimming senses.

For a while, I must have dozed. Then I opened my eyes, with a start.
Somewhere across the room, there had been a muffled noise of something
falling. I looked, and saw, vaguely, a cloud of dust hovering above a
pile of debris. Nearer the door, something else tumbled, with a crash.
It was one of the cupboards; but I was tired, and took little notice. I
closed my eyes, and sat there in a state of drowsy, semi-unconsciousness.
Once or twice--as though coming through thick mists--I heard noises,
faintly. Then I must have slept.





Next: The Awakening

Previous: The Sea Of Sleep



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