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The Swine-things

From: The House On The Borderland

It was evening, a week later. My sister sat in the garden, knitting. I
was walking up and down, reading. My gun leant up against the wall of
the house; for, since the advent of that strange thing in the gardens, I
had deemed it wise to take precautions. Yet, through the whole week,
there had been nothing to alarm me, either by sight or sound; so that I
was able to look back, calmly, to the incident; though still with a
sense of unmitigated wonder and curiosity.

I was, as I have just said, walking up and down, and somewhat engrossed
in my book. Suddenly, I heard a crash, away in the direction of the Pit.
With a quick movement, I turned and saw a tremendous column of dust
rising high into the evening air.

My sister had risen to her feet, with a sharp exclamation of surprise
and fright.

Telling her to stay where she was, I snatched up my gun, and ran toward
the Pit. As I neared it, I heard a dull, rumbling sound, that grew
quickly into a roar, split with deeper crashes, and up from the Pit
drove a fresh volume of dust.

The noise ceased, though the dust still rose, tumultuously.

I reached the edge, and looked down; but could see nothing save a boil
of dust clouds swirling hither and thither. The air was so full of the
small particles, that they blinded and choked me; and, finally, I had to
run out from the smother, to breathe.

Gradually, the suspended matter sank, and hung in a panoply over the
mouth of the Pit.

I could only guess at what had happened.

That there had been a land-slip of some kind, I had little doubt; but
the cause was beyond my knowledge; and yet, even then, I had half
imaginings; for, already, the thought had come to me, of those falling
rocks, and that Thing in the bottom of the Pit; but, in the first
minutes of confusion, I failed to reach the natural conclusion, to which
the catastrophe pointed.

Slowly, the dust subsided, until, presently, I was able to approach the
edge, and look down.

For a while, I peered impotently, trying to see through the reek. At
first, it was impossible to make out anything. Then, as I stared, I saw
something below, to my left, that moved. I looked intently toward it,
and, presently, made out another, and then another--three dim shapes
that appeared to be climbing up the side of the Pit. I could see them
only indistinctly. Even as I stared and wondered, I heard a rattle of
stones, somewhere to my right. I glanced across; but could see nothing.
I leant forward, and peered over, and down into the Pit, just beneath
where I stood; and saw no further than a hideous, white swine-face, that
had risen to within a couple of yards of my feet. Below it, I could make
out several others. As the Thing saw me, it gave a sudden, uncouth
squeal, which was answered from all parts of the Pit. At that, a gust of
horror and fear took me, and, bending down, I discharged my gun right
into its face. Straightway, the creature disappeared, with a clatter of
loose earth and stones.

There was a momentary silence, to which, probably, I owe my life; for,
during it, I heard a quick patter of many feet, and, turning sharply,
saw a troop of the creatures coming toward me, at a run. Instantly, I
raised my gun and fired at the foremost, who plunged head-long, with a
hideous howling. Then, I turned to run. More than halfway from the house
to the Pit, I saw my sister--she was coming toward me. I could not see
her face, distinctly, as the dusk had fallen; but there was fear in her
voice as she called to know why I was shooting.

'Run!' I shouted in reply. 'Run for your life!'

Without more ado, she turned and fled--picking up her skirts with both
hands. As I followed, I gave a glance behind. The brutes were running on
their hind legs--at times dropping on all fours.

I think it must have been the terror in my voice, that spurred Mary to
run so; for I feel convinced that she had not, as yet, seen those hell
creatures that pursued.

On we went, my sister leading.

Each moment, the nearing sounds of the footsteps, told me that the
brutes were gaining on us, rapidly. Fortunately, I am accustomed to
live, in some ways, an active life. As it was, the strain of the race
was beginning to tell severely upon me.

Ahead, I could see the back door--luckily it was open. I was some
half-dozen yards behind Mary, now, and my breath was sobbing in my
throat. Then, something touched my shoulder. I wrenched my head 'round,
quickly, and saw one of those monstrous, pallid faces close to mine. One
of the creatures, having outrun its companions, had almost overtaken me.
Even as I turned, it made a fresh grab. With a sudden effort, I sprang
to one side, and, swinging my gun by the barrel, brought it crashing
down upon the foul creature's head. The Thing dropped, with an almost
human groan.

Even this short delay had been nearly sufficient to bring the rest of
the brutes down upon me; so that, without an instant's waste of time, I
turned and ran for the door.

Reaching it, I burst into the passage; then, turning quickly, slammed
and bolted the door, just as the first of the creatures rushed against
it, with a sudden shock.

My sister sat, gasping, in a chair. She seemed in a fainting condition;
but I had no time then to spend on her. I had to make sure that all the
doors were fastened. Fortunately, they were. The one leading from my
study into the gardens, was the last to which I went. I had just had
time to note that it was secured, when I thought I heard a noise
outside. I stood perfectly silent, and listened. Yes! Now I could
distinctly hear a sound of whispering, and something slithered over the
panels, with a rasping, scratchy noise. Evidently, some of the brutes
were feeling with their claw-hands, about the door, to discover whether
there were any means of ingress.

That the creatures should so soon have found the door was--to me--a
proof of their reasoning capabilities. It assured me that they must not
be regarded, by any means, as mere animals. I had felt something of this
before, when that first Thing peered in through my window. Then I had
applied the term superhuman to it, with an almost instinctive knowledge
that the creature was something different from the brute-beast.
Something beyond human; yet in no good sense; but rather as something
foul and hostile to the great and good in humanity. In a word, as
something intelligent, and yet inhuman. The very thought of the
creatures filled me with revulsion.

Now, I bethought me of my sister, and, going to the cupboard, I got
out a flask of brandy, and a wine-glass. Taking these, I went down to
the kitchen, carrying a lighted candle with me. She was not sitting in
the chair, but had fallen out, and was lying upon the floor,
face downward.

Very gently, I turned her over, and raised her head somewhat. Then, I
poured a little of the brandy between her lips. After a while, she
shivered slightly. A little later, she gave several gasps, and opened
her eyes. In a dreamy, unrealizing way, she looked at me. Then her eyes
closed, slowly, and I gave her a little more of the brandy. For, perhaps
a minute longer, she lay silent, breathing quickly. All at once, her
eyes opened again, and it seemed to me, as I looked, that the pupils
were dilated, as though fear had come with returning consciousness.
Then, with a movement so unexpected that I started backward, she sat up.
Noticing that she seemed giddy, I put out my hand to steady her. At
that, she gave a loud scream, and, scrambling to her feet, ran from
the room.

For a moment, I stayed there--kneeling and holding the brandy flask. I
was utterly puzzled and astonished.

Could she be afraid of me? But no! Why should she? I could only
conclude that her nerves were badly shaken, and that she was temporarily
unhinged. Upstairs, I heard a door bang, loudly, and I knew that she had
taken refuge in her room. I put the flask down on the table. My
attention was distracted by a noise in the direction of the back door. I
went toward it, and listened. It appeared to be shaken, as though some
of the creatures struggled with it, silently; but it was far too
strongly constructed and hung to be easily moved.

Out in the gardens rose a continuous sound. It might have been
mistaken, by a casual listener, for the grunting and squealing of a herd
of pigs. But, as I stood there, it came to me that there was sense and
meaning to all those swinish noises. Gradually, I seemed able to trace
a semblance in it to human speech--glutinous and sticky, as though each
articulation were made with difficulty: yet, nevertheless, I was
becoming convinced that it was no mere medley of sounds; but a rapid
interchange of ideas.

By this time, it had grown quite dark in the passages, and from these
came all the varied cries and groans of which an old house is so full
after nightfall. It is, no doubt, because things are then quieter, and
one has more leisure to hear. Also, there may be something in the theory
that the sudden change of temperature, at sundown, affects the structure
of the house, somewhat--causing it to contract and settle, as it were,
for the night. However, this is as may be; but, on that night in
particular, I would gladly have been quit of so many eerie noises. It
seemed to me, that each crack and creak was the coming of one of those
Things along the dark corridors; though I knew in my heart that this
could not be, for I had seen, myself, that all the doors were secure.

Gradually, however, these sounds grew on my nerves to such an extent
that, were it only to punish my cowardice, I felt I must make the 'round
of the basement again, and, if anything were there, face it. And then, I
would go up to my study, for I knew sleep was out of the question, with
the house surrounded by creatures, half beasts, half something else, and
entirely unholy.

Taking the kitchen lamp down from its hook, I made my way from cellar
to cellar, and room to room; through pantry and coal-hole--along
passages, and into the hundred-and-one little blind alleys and hidden
nooks that form the basement of the old house. Then, when I knew I had
been in every corner and cranny large enough to conceal aught of any
size, I made my way to the stairs.

With my foot on the first step, I paused. It seemed to me, I heard a
movement, apparently from the buttery, which is to the left of the
staircase. It had been one of the first places I searched, and yet, I
felt certain my ears had not deceived me. My nerves were strung now,
and, with hardly any hesitation, I stepped up to the door, holding the
lamp above my head. In a glance, I saw that the place was empty, save
for the heavy, stone slabs, supported by brick pillars; and I was about
to leave it, convinced that I had been mistaken; when, in turning, my
light was flashed back from two bright spots outside the window, and
high up. For a few moments, I stood there, staring. Then they
moved--revolving slowly, and throwing out alternate scintillations of
green and red; at least, so it appeared to me. I knew then that they
were eyes.

Slowly, I traced the shadowy outline of one of the Things. It appeared
to be holding on to the bars of the window, and its attitude suggested
climbing. I went nearer to the window, and held the light higher. There
was no need to be afraid of the creature; the bars were strong, and
there was little danger of its being able to move them. And then,
suddenly, in spite of the knowledge that the brute could not reach to
harm me, I had a return of the horrible sensation of fear, that had
assailed me on that night, a week previously. It was the same feeling of
helpless, shuddering fright. I realized, dimly, that the creature's eyes
were looking into mine with a steady, compelling stare. I tried to turn
away; but could not. I seemed, now, to see the window through a mist.
Then, I thought other eyes came and peered, and yet others; until a
whole galaxy of malignant, staring orbs seemed to hold me in thrall.

My head began to swim, and throb violently. Then, I was aware of a
feeling of acute physical pain in my left hand. It grew more severe, and
forced, literally forced, my attention. With a tremendous effort, I
glanced down; and, with that, the spell that had held me was broken. I
realized, then, that I had, in my agitation, unconsciously caught hold
of the hot lamp-glass, and burnt my hand, badly. I looked up to the
window, again. The misty appearance had gone, and, now, I saw that it
was crowded with dozens of bestial faces. With a sudden access of rage,
I raised the lamp, and hurled it, full at the window. It struck the
glass (smashing a pane), and passed between two of the bars, out into
the garden, scattering burning oil as it went. I heard several loud
cries of pain, and, as my sight became accustomed to the dark, I
discovered that the creatures had left the window.

Pulling myself together, I groped for the door, and, having found it,
made my way upstairs, stumbling at each step. I felt dazed, as though I
had received a blow on the head. At the same time, my hand smarted
badly, and I was full of a nervous, dull rage against those Things.

Reaching my study, I lit the candles. As they burnt up, their rays were
reflected from the rack of firearms on the sidewall. At the sight, I
remembered that I had there a power, which, as I had proved earlier,
seemed as fatal to those monsters as to more ordinary animals; and I
determined I would take the offensive.

First of all, I bound up my hand; for the pain was fast becoming
intolerable. After that, it seemed easier, and I crossed the room, to
the rifle stand. There, I selected a heavy rifle--an old and tried
weapon; and, having procured ammunition, I made my way up into one of
the small towers, with which the house is crowned.

From there, I found that I could see nothing. The gardens presented a
dim blur of shadows--a little blacker, perhaps, where the trees stood.
That was all, and I knew that it was useless to shoot down into all that
darkness. The only thing to be done, was to wait for the moon to rise;
then, I might be able to do a little execution.

In the meantime, I sat still, and kept my ears open. The gardens were
comparatively quiet now, and only an occasional grunt or squeal came up
to me. I did not like this silence; it made me wonder on what devilry
the creatures were bent. Twice, I left the tower, and took a walk
through the house; but everything was silent.

Once, I heard a noise, from the direction of the Pit, as though more
earth had fallen. Following this, and lasting for some fifteen minutes,
there was a commotion among the denizens of the gardens. This died away,
and, after that all was again quiet.

About an hour later, the moon's light showed above the distant horizon.
From where I sat, I could see it over the trees; but it was not until it
rose clear of them, that I could make out any of the details in the
gardens below. Even then, I could see none of the brutes; until,
happening to crane forward, I saw several of them lying prone, up
against the wall of the house. What they were doing, I could not make
out. It was, however, a chance too good to be ignored; and, taking aim,
I fired at the one directly beneath. There was a shrill scream, and, as
the smoke cleared away, I saw that it had turned on its back, and was
writhing, feebly. Then, it was quiet. The others had disappeared.

Immediately after this, I heard a loud squeal, in the direction of the
Pit. It was answered, a hundred times, from every part of the garden.
This gave me some notion of the number of the creatures, and I began to
feel that the whole affair was becoming even more serious than I
had imagined.

As I sat there, silent and watchful, the thought came to me--Why was
all this? What were these Things? What did it mean? Then my thoughts
flew back to that vision (though, even now, I doubt whether it was a
vision) of the Plain of Silence. What did that mean? I wondered--And
that Thing in the arena? Ugh! Lastly, I thought of the house I had seen
in that far-away place. That house, so like this in every detail of
external structure, that it might have been modeled from it; or this
from that. I had never thought of that--

At this moment, there came another long squeal, from the Pit, followed,
a second later, by a couple of shorter ones. At once, the garden was
filled with answering cries. I stood up, quickly, and looked over the
parapet. In the moonlight, it seemed as though the shrubberies were
alive. They tossed hither and thither, as though shaken by a strong,
irregular wind; while a continuous rustling, and a noise of scampering
feet, rose up to me. Several times, I saw the moonlight gleam on
running, white figures among the bushes, and, twice, I fired. The second
time, my shot was answered by a short squeal of pain.

A minute later, the gardens lay silent. From the Pit, came a deep,
hoarse Babel of swine-talk. At times, angry cries smote the air, and
they would be answered by multitudinous gruntings. It occurred to me,
that they were holding some kind of a council, perhaps to discuss the
problem of entering the house. Also, I thought that they seemed much
enraged, probably by my successful shots.

It occurred to me, that now would be a good time to make a final survey
of our defenses. This, I proceeded to do at once; visiting the whole of
the basement again, and examining each of the doors. Luckily, they are
all, like the back one, built of solid, iron-studded oak. Then, I went
upstairs to the study. I was more anxious about this door. It is,
palpably, of a more modern make than the others, and, though a stout
piece of work, it has little of their ponderous strength.

I must explain here, that there is a small, raised lawn on this side of
the house, upon which this door opens--the windows of the study being
barred on this account. All the other entrances--excepting the great
gateway which is never opened--are in the lower storey.

Next: The Attack

Previous: The Thing In The Pit

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