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The Thing From The Arena







From: The House On The Borderland

This morning, early, I went through the gardens; but found everything
as usual. Near the door, I examined the path, for footprints; yet, here
again, there was nothing to tell me whether, or not, I dreamed
last night.

It was only when I came to speak to the dog, that I discovered tangible
proof, that something did happen. When I went to his kennel, he kept
inside, crouching up in one corner, and I had to coax him, to get him
out. When, finally, he consented to come, it was in a strangely cowed
and subdued manner. As I patted him, my attention was attracted to a
greenish patch, on his left flank. On examining it, I found, that the
fur and skin had been apparently, burnt off; for the flesh showed, raw
and scorched. The shape of the mark was curious, reminding me of the
imprint of a large talon or hand.

I stood up, thoughtful. My gaze wandered toward the study window. The
rays of the rising sun, shimmered on the smoky patch in the lower
corner, causing it to fluctuate from green to red, oddly. Ah! that was
undoubtedly another proof; and, suddenly, the horrible Thing I saw last
night, rose in my mind. I looked at the dog, again. I knew the cause,
now, of that hateful looking wound on his side--I knew, also, that, what
I had seen last night, had been a real happening. And a great discomfort
filled me. Pepper! Tip! And now this poor animal ...! I glanced at the
dog again, and noticed that he was licking at his wound.

'Poor brute!' I muttered, and bent to pat his head. At that, he got
upon his feet, nosing and licking my hand, wistfully.

Presently, I left him, having other matters to which to attend.

After dinner, I went to see him, again. He seemed quiet, and
disinclined to leave his kennel. From my sister, I have learnt that he
has refused all food today. She appeared a little puzzled, when she told
me; though quite unsuspicious of anything of which to be afraid.

The day has passed, uneventfully enough. After tea, I went, again, to
have a look at the dog. He seemed moody, and somewhat restless; yet
persisted in remaining in his kennel. Before locking up, for the night,
I moved his kennel out, away from the wall, so that I shall be able to
watch it from the small window, tonight. The thought came to me, to
bring him into the house for the night; but consideration has decided
me, to let him remain out. I cannot say that the house is, in any
degree, less to be feared than the gardens. Pepper was in the house,
and yet....

It is now two o'clock. Since eight, I have watched the kennel, from the
small, side window in my study. Yet, nothing has occurred, and I am too
tired to watch longer. I will go to bed....

During the night, I was restless. This is unusual for me; but, toward
morning, I obtained a few hours' sleep.

I rose early, and, after breakfast, visited the dog. He was quiet; but
morose, and refused to leave his kennel. I wish there was some horse
doctor near here; I would have the poor brute looked to. All day, he has
taken no food; but has shown an evident desire for water--lapping it up,
greedily. I was relieved to observe this.

The evening has come, and I am in my study. I intend to follow my plan
of last night, and watch the kennel. The door, leading into the garden,
is bolted, securely. I am consciously glad there are bars to the
windows....

Night:--Midnight has gone. The dog has been silent, up to the present.
Through the side window, on my left, I can make out, dimly, the outlines
of the kennel. For the first time, the dog moves, and I hear the rattle
of his chain. I look out, quickly. As I stare, the dog moves again,
restlessly, and I see a small patch of luminous light, shine from the
interior of the kennel. It vanishes; then the dog stirs again, and, once
more, the gleam comes. I am puzzled. The dog is quiet, and I can see the
luminous thing, plainly. It shows distinctly. There is something
familiar about the shape of it. For a moment, I wonder; then it comes to
me, that it is not unlike the four fingers and thumb of a hand. Like a
hand! And I remember the contour of that fearsome wound on the dog's
side. It must be the wound I see. It is luminous at night--Why? The
minutes pass. My mind is filled with this fresh thing....

Suddenly, I hear a sound, out in the gardens. How it thrills through
me. It is approaching. Pad, pad, pad. A prickly sensation traverses my
spine, and seems to creep across my scalp. The dog moves in his kennel,
and whimpers, frightenedly. He must have turned 'round; for, now, I can
no longer see the outline of his shining wound.

Outside, the gardens are silent, once more, and I listen, fearfully. A
minute passes, and another; then I hear the padding sound, again. It is
quite close, and appears to be coming down the graveled path. The noise
is curiously measured and deliberate. It ceases outside the door; and I
rise to my feet, and stand motionless. From the door, comes a slight
sound--the latch is being slowly raised. A singing noise is in my ears,
and I have a sense of pressure about the head--

The latch drops, with a sharp click, into the catch. The noise startles
me afresh; jarring, horribly, on my tense nerves. After that, I stand,
for a long while, amid an ever-growing quietness. All at once, my knees
begin to tremble, and I have to sit, quickly.

An uncertain period of time passes, and, gradually, I begin to shake
off the feeling of terror, that has possessed me. Yet, still I sit. I
seem to have lost the power of movement. I am strangely tired, and
inclined to doze. My eyes open and close, and, presently, I find myself
falling asleep, and waking, in fits and starts.

It is some time later, that I am sleepily aware that one of the candles
is guttering. When I wake again, it has gone out, and the room is very
dim, under the light of the one remaining flame. The semi-darkness
troubles me little. I have lost that awful sense of dread, and my only
desire seems to be to sleep--sleep.

Suddenly, although there is no noise, I am awake--wide awake. I am
acutely conscious of the nearness of some mystery, of some overwhelming
Presence. The very air seems pregnant with terror. I sit huddled, and
just listen, intently. Still, there is no sound. Nature, herself, seems
dead. Then, the oppressive stillness is broken by a little eldritch
scream of wind, that sweeps 'round the house, and dies away, remotely.

I let my gaze wander across the half-lighted room. By the great clock
in the far corner, is a dark, tall shadow. For a short instant, I stare,
frightenedly. Then, I see that it is nothing, and am, momentarily,
relieved.

In the time that follows, the thought flashes through my brain, why
not leave this house--this house of mystery and terror? Then, as though
in answer, there sweeps up, across my sight, a vision of the wondrous
Sea of Sleep,--the Sea of Sleep where she and I have been allowed to
meet, after the years of separation and sorrow; and I know that I shall
stay on here, whatever happens.

Through the side window, I note the somber blackness of the night. My
glance wanders away, and 'round the room; resting on one shadowy object
and another. Suddenly, I turn, and look at the window on my right; as I
do so, I breathe quickly, and bend forward, with a frightened gaze at
something outside the window, but close to the bars. I am looking at a
vast, misty swine-face, over which fluctuates a flamboyant flame, of a
greenish hue. It is the Thing from the arena. The quivering mouth seems
to drip with a continual, phosphorescent slaver. The eyes are staring
straight into the room, with an inscrutable expression. Thus, I sit
rigidly--frozen.

The Thing has begun to move. It is turning, slowly, in my direction.
Its face is coming 'round toward me. It sees me. Two huge, inhumanly
human, eyes are looking through the dimness at me. I am cold with fear;
yet, even now, I am keenly conscious, and note, in an irrelevant way,
that the distant stars are blotted out by the mass of the giant face.

A fresh horror has come to me. I am rising from my chair, without the
least intention. I am on my feet, and something is impelling me toward
the door that leads out into the gardens. I wish to stop; but cannot.
Some immutable power is opposed to my will, and I go slowly forward,
unwilling and resistant. My glance flies 'round the room, helplessly,
and stops at the window. The great swine-face has disappeared, and I
hear, again, that stealthy pad, pad, pad. It stops outside the
door--the door toward which I am being compelled....

There succeeds a short, intense silence; then there comes a sound. It
is the rattle of the latch, being slowly lifted. At that, I am filled
with desperation. I will not go forward another step. I make a vast
effort to return; but it is, as though I press back, upon an invisible
wall. I groan out loud, in the agony of my fear, and the sound of my
voice is frightening. Again comes that rattle, and I shiver, clammily. I
try--aye, fight and struggle, to hold back, back; but it is no use....

I am at the door, and, in a mechanical way, I watch my hand go forward,
to undo the topmost bolt. It does so, entirely without my volition. Even
as I reach up toward the bolt, the door is violently shaken, and I get a
sickly whiff of mouldy air, which seems to drive in through the
interstices of the doorway. I draw the bolt back, slowly, fighting,
dumbly, the while. It comes out of its socket, with a click, and I begin
to shake, aguishly. There are two more; one at the bottom of the door;
the other, a massive affair, is placed about the middle.

For, perhaps a minute, I stand, with my arms hanging slackly, by my
sides. The influence to meddle with the fastenings of the door, seems to
have gone. All at once, there comes the sudden rattle of iron, at my
feet. I glance down, quickly, and realize, with an unspeakable terror,
that my foot is pushing back the lower bolt. An awful sense of
helplessness assails me.... The bolt comes out of its hold, with a
slight, ringing sound and I stagger on my feet, grasping at the great,
central bolt, for support. A minute passes, an eternity; then
another----My God, help me! I am being forced to work upon the last
fastening. I will not! Better to die, than open to the Terror, that is
on the other side of the door. Is there no escape ...? God help me, I
have jerked the bolt half out of its socket! My lips emit a hoarse
scream of terror, the bolt is three parts drawn, now, and still my
unconscious hands work toward my doom. Only a fraction of steel, between
my soul and That. Twice, I scream out in the supreme agony of my fear;
then, with a mad effort, I tear my hands away. My eyes seem blinded. A
great blackness is falling upon me. Nature has come to my rescue. I feel
my knees giving. There is a loud, quick thudding upon the door, and I am
falling, falling....

I must have lain there, at least a couple of hours. As I recover, I am
aware that the other candle has burnt out, and the room is in an almost
total darkness. I cannot rise to my feet, for I am cold, and filled with
a terrible cramp. Yet my brain is clear, and there is no longer the
strain of that unholy influence.

Cautiously, I get upon my knees, and feel for the central bolt. I find
it, and push it securely back into its socket; then the one at the
bottom of the door. By this time, I am able to rise to my feet, and so
manage to secure the fastening at the top. After that, I go down upon my
knees, again, and creep away among the furniture, in the direction of
the stairs. By doing this, I am safe from observation from the window.

I reach the opposite door, and, as I leave the study, cast one nervous
glance over my shoulder, toward the window. Out in the night, I seem to
catch a glimpse of something impalpable; but it may be only a fancy.
Then, I am in the passage, and on the stairs.

Reaching my bedroom, I clamber into bed, all clothed as I am, and pull
the bedclothes over me. There, after awhile, I begin to regain a little
confidence. It is impossible to sleep; but I am grateful for the added
warmth of the bedclothes. Presently, I try to think over the happenings
of the past night; but, though I cannot sleep, I find that it is
useless, to attempt consecutive thought. My brain seems curiously blank.

Toward morning, I begin to toss, uneasily. I cannot rest, and, after
awhile, I get out of bed, and pace the floor. The wintry dawn is
beginning to creep through the windows, and shows the bare discomfort of
the old room. Strange, that, through all these years, it has never
occurred to me how dismal the place really is. And so a time passes.

From somewhere down stairs, a sound comes up to me. I go to the bedroom
door, and listen. It is Mary, bustling about the great, old kitchen,
getting the breakfast ready. I feel little interest. I am not hungry. My
thoughts, however; continue to dwell upon her. How little the weird
happenings in this house seem to trouble her. Except in the incident of
the Pit creatures, she has seemed unconscious of anything unusual
occurring. She is old, like myself; yet how little we have to do with
one another. Is it because we have nothing in common; or only that,
being old, we care less for society, than quietness? These and other
matters pass through my mind, as I meditate; and help to distract my
attention, for a while, from the oppressive thoughts of the night.

After a time, I go to the window, and, opening it, look out. The sun is
now above the horizon, and the air, though cold, is sweet and crisp.
Gradually, my brain clears, and a sense of security, for the time being,
comes to me. Somewhat happier, I go down stairs, and out into the
garden, to have a look at the dog.

As I approach the kennel, I am greeted by the same mouldy stench that
assailed me at the door last night. Shaking off a momentary sense of
fear, I call to the dog; but he takes no heed, and, after calling once
more, I throw a small stone into the kennel. At this, he moves,
uneasily, and I shout his name, again; but do not go closer. Presently,
my sister comes out, and joins me, in trying to coax him from
the kennel.

In a little the poor beast rises, and shambles out lurching queerly. In
the daylight he stands swaying from side to side, and blinking stupidly.
I look and note that the horrid wound is larger, much larger, and seems
to have a whitish, fungoid appearance. My sister moves to fondle him;
but I detain her, and explain that I think it will be better not to go
too near him for a few days; as it is impossible to tell what may be the
matter with him; and it is well to be cautious.

A minute later, she leaves me; coming back with a basin of odd scraps
of food. This she places on the ground, near the dog, and I push it into
his reach, with the aid of a branch, broken from one of the shrubs. Yet,
though the meat should be tempting, he takes no notice of it; but
retires to his kennel. There is still water in his drinking vessel, so,
after a few moments' talk, we go back to the house. I can see that my
sister is much puzzled as to what is the matter with the animal; yet it
would be madness, even to hint the truth to her.

The day slips away, uneventfully; and night comes on. I have determined
to repeat my experiment of last night. I cannot say that it is wisdom;
yet my mind is made up. Still, however, I have taken precautions; for I
have driven stout nails in at the back of each of the three bolts, that
secure the door, opening from the study into the gardens. This will, at
least, prevent a recurrence of the danger I ran last night.

From ten to about two-thirty, I watch; but nothing occurs; and,
finally, I stumble off to bed, where I am soon asleep.





Next: The Luminous Speck

Previous: The Footsteps In The Garden



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