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The Plain Of Silence

From: The House On The Borderland

I am an old man. I live here in this ancient house, surrounded by huge,
unkempt gardens.

The peasantry, who inhabit the wilderness beyond, say that I am mad.
That is because I will have nothing to do with them. I live here alone
with my old sister, who is also my housekeeper. We keep no servants--I
hate them. I have one friend, a dog; yes, I would sooner have old Pepper
than the rest of Creation together. He, at least, understands me--and
has sense enough to leave me alone when I am in my dark moods.

I have decided to start a kind of diary; it may enable me to record
some of the thoughts and feelings that I cannot express to anyone; but,
beyond this, I am anxious to make some record of the strange things that
I have heard and seen, during many years of loneliness, in this weird
old building.

For a couple of centuries, this house has had a reputation, a bad one,
and, until I bought it, for more than eighty years no one had lived
here; consequently, I got the old place at a ridiculously low figure.

I am not superstitious; but I have ceased to deny that things happen
in this old house--things that I cannot explain; and, therefore, I must
needs ease my mind, by writing down an account of them, to the best of
my ability; though, should this, my diary, ever be read when I am gone,
the readers will but shake their heads, and be the more convinced that
I was mad.

This house, how ancient it is! though its age strikes one less,
perhaps, than the quaintness of its structure, which is curious and
fantastic to the last degree. Little curved towers and pinnacles, with
outlines suggestive of leaping flames, predominate; while the body of
the building is in the form of a circle.

I have heard that there is an old story, told amongst the country
people, to the effect that the devil built the place. However, that is
as may be. True or not, I neither know nor care, save as it may have
helped to cheapen it, ere I came.

I must have been here some ten years before I saw sufficient to warrant
any belief in the stories, current in the neighborhood, about this
house. It is true that I had, on at least a dozen occasions, seen,
vaguely, things that puzzled me, and, perhaps, had felt more than I had
seen. Then, as the years passed, bringing age upon me, I became often
aware of something unseen, yet unmistakably present, in the empty rooms
and corridors. Still, it was as I have said many years before I saw any
real manifestations of the so-called supernatural.

It was not Halloween. If I were telling a story for amusement's sake, I
should probably place it on that night of nights; but this is a true
record of my own experiences, and I would not put pen to paper to amuse
anyone. No. It was after midnight on the morning of the twenty-first day
of January. I was sitting reading, as is often my custom, in my study.
Pepper lay, sleeping, near my chair.

Without warning, the flames of the two candles went low, and then
shone with a ghastly green effulgence. I looked up, quickly, and as I
did so I saw the lights sink into a dull, ruddy tint; so that the room
glowed with a strange, heavy, crimson twilight that gave the shadows
behind the chairs and tables a double depth of blackness; and wherever
the light struck, it was as though luminous blood had been splashed
over the room.

Down on the floor, I heard a faint, frightened whimper, and something
pressed itself in between my two feet. It was Pepper, cowering under my
dressing gown. Pepper, usually as brave as a lion!

It was this movement of the dog's, I think, that gave me the first
twinge of real fear. I had been considerably startled when the lights
burnt first green and then red; but had been momentarily under the
impression that the change was due to some influx of noxious gas into
the room. Now, however, I saw that it was not so; for the candles burned
with a steady flame, and showed no signs of going out, as would have
been the case had the change been due to fumes in the atmosphere.

I did not move. I felt distinctly frightened; but could think of
nothing better to do than wait. For perhaps a minute, I kept my glance
about the room, nervously. Then I noticed that the lights had commenced
to sink, very slowly; until presently they showed minute specks of red
fire, like the gleamings of rubies in the darkness. Still, I sat
watching; while a sort of dreamy indifference seemed to steal over me;
banishing altogether the fear that had begun to grip me.

Away in the far end of the huge old-fashioned room, I became conscious
of a faint glow. Steadily it grew, filling the room with gleams of
quivering green light; then they sank quickly, and changed--even as the
candle flames had done--into a deep, somber crimson that strengthened,
and lit up the room with a flood of awful glory.

The light came from the end wall, and grew ever brighter until its
intolerable glare caused my eyes acute pain, and involuntarily I closed
them. It may have been a few seconds before I was able to open them. The
first thing I noticed was that the light had decreased, greatly; so that
it no longer tried my eyes. Then, as it grew still duller, I was aware,
all at once, that, instead of looking at the redness, I was staring
through it, and through the wall beyond.

Gradually, as I became more accustomed to the idea, I realized that I
was looking out on to a vast plain, lit with the same gloomy twilight
that pervaded the room. The immensity of this plain scarcely can be
conceived. In no part could I perceive its confines. It seemed to
broaden and spread out, so that the eye failed to perceive any
limitations. Slowly, the details of the nearer portions began to grow
clear; then, in a moment almost, the light died away, and the vision--if
vision it were--faded and was gone.

Suddenly, I became conscious that I was no longer in the chair.
Instead, I seemed to be hovering above it, and looking down at a dim
something, huddled and silent. In a little while, a cold blast struck
me, and I was outside in the night, floating, like a bubble, up through
the darkness. As I moved, an icy coldness seemed to enfold me, so that
I shivered.

After a time, I looked to right and left, and saw the intolerable
blackness of the night, pierced by remote gleams of fire. Onward,
outward, I drove. Once, I glanced behind, and saw the earth, a small
crescent of blue light, receding away to my left. Further off, the sun,
a splash of white flame, burned vividly against the dark.

An indefinite period passed. Then, for the last time, I saw the
earth--an enduring globule of radiant blue, swimming in an eternity of
ether. And there I, a fragile flake of soul dust, flickered silently
across the void, from the distant blue, into the expanse of the unknown.

A great while seemed to pass over me, and now I could nowhere see
anything. I had passed beyond the fixed stars and plunged into the huge
blackness that waits beyond. All this time I had experienced little,
save a sense of lightness and cold discomfort. Now however the atrocious
darkness seemed to creep into my soul, and I became filled with fear and
despair. What was going to become of me? Where was I going? Even as the
thoughts were formed, there grew against the impalpable blackness that
wrapped me a faint tinge of blood. It seemed extraordinarily remote, and
mistlike; yet, at once, the feeling of oppression was lightened, and I
no longer despaired.

Slowly, the distant redness became plainer and larger; until, as I drew
nearer, it spread out into a great, somber glare--dull and tremendous.
Still, I fled onward, and, presently, I had come so close, that it
seemed to stretch beneath me, like a great ocean of somber red. I could
see little, save that it appeared to spread out interminably in all

In a further space, I found that I was descending upon it; and, soon, I
sank into a great sea of sullen, red-hued clouds. Slowly, I emerged from
these, and there, below me, I saw the stupendous plain that I had seen
from my room in this house that stands upon the borders of the Silences.

Presently, I landed, and stood, surrounded by a great waste of
loneliness. The place was lit with a gloomy twilight that gave an
impression of indescribable desolation.

Afar to my right, within the sky, there burnt a gigantic ring of
dull-red fire, from the outer edge of which were projected huge,

writhing flames, darted and jagged. The interior of this ring was
black, black as the gloom of the outer night. I comprehended, at once,
that it was from this extraordinary sun that the place derived its
doleful light.

From that strange source of light, I glanced down again to my
surroundings. Everywhere I looked, I saw nothing but the same flat
weariness of interminable plain. Nowhere could I descry any signs of
life; not even the ruins of some ancient habitation.

Gradually, I found that I was being borne forward, floating across the
flat waste. For what seemed an eternity, I moved onward. I was unaware
of any great sense of impatience; though some curiosity and a vast
wonder were with me continually. Always, I saw around me the breadth of
that enormous plain; and, always, I searched for some new thing to break
its monotony; but there was no change--only loneliness, silence,
and desert.

Presently, in a half-conscious manner, I noticed that there was a faint
mistiness, ruddy in hue, lying over its surface. Still, when I looked
more intently, I was unable to say that it was really mist; for it
appeared to blend with the plain, giving it a peculiar unrealness, and
conveying to the senses the idea of unsubstantiality.

Gradually, I began to weary with the sameness of the thing. Yet, it was
a great time before I perceived any signs of the place, toward which I
was being conveyed.

"At first, I saw it, far ahead, like a long hillock on the surface of
the Plain. Then, as I drew nearer, I perceived that I had been mistaken;
for, instead of a low hill, I made out, now, a chain of great mountains,
whose distant peaks towered up into the red gloom, until they were
almost lost to sight."

Next: The House In The Arena

Previous: The Finding Of The Manuscript

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