The Whisperer in Darkness/Chapter 4
The unknown things, Akeley wrote in a script grown pitifully tremulous, had begun to close in on him with a wholly new degree of determination. The nocturnal barking of the dogs whenever the moon was dim or absent was hideous now, and there had been attempts to molest him on the lonely roads he had to traverse by day. On the second of August, while bound for the village in his car, he had found a tree-trunk laid in his path at a point where the highway ran through a deep patch of woods; while the savage barking of the two great dogs he had with him told all too well of the things which must have been lurking near. What would have happened had the dogs not been there, he did not dare guess - but he never went out now without at least two of his faithful and powerful pack. Other road experiences had occurred on August fifth and sixth; a shot grazing his car on one occasion, and the barking of the dogs telling of unholy woodland presences on the other.
On August fifteenth I received a frantic letter which disturbed me greatly, and which made me wish Akeley could put aside his lonely reticence and call in the aid of the law. There had been frightful happening on the night of the 12-13th, bullets flying outside the farmhouse, and three of the twelve great dogs being found shot dead in the morning. There were myriads of claw-prints in the road, with the human prints of Walter Brown among them. Akeley had started to telephone to Brattleboro for more dogs, but the wire had gone dead before he had a chance to say much. Later he went to Brattleboro in his car, and learned there that linemen had found the main cable neatly cut at a point where it ran through the deserted hills north of Newfane. But he was about to start home with four fine new dogs, and several cases of ammunition for his big-game repeating rifle. The letter was written at the post office in Brattleboro, and came through to me without delay.
My attitude toward the matter was by this time quickly slipping from a scientific to an alarmedly personal one. I was afraid for Akeley in his remote, lonely farmhouse, and half afraid for myself because of my now definite connection with the strange hill problem. The thing was reaching out so. Would it suck me in and engulf me? In replying to his letter I urged him to seek help, and hinted that I might take action myself if he did not. I spoke of visiting Vermont in person in spite of his wishes, and of helping him explain the situation to the proper authorities. In return, however, I received only a telegram from Bellows Falls which read thus:
- APPRECIATE YOUR POSITION BUT CAN DO NOTHING TAKE NO ACTION YOURSELF FOR IT COULD ONLY HARM BOTH WAIT FOR EXPLANATION
- HENRY AKELY
But the affair was steadily deepening. Upon my replying to the telegram I received a shaky note from Akeley with the astonishing news that he had not only never sent the wire, but had not received the letter from me to which it was an obvious reply. Hasty inquiries by him at Bellows Falls had brought out that the message was deposited by a strange sandy-haired man with a curiously thick, droning voice, though more than this he could not learn. The clerk showed him the original text as scrawled in pencil by the sender, but the handwriting was wholly unfamiliar. It was noticeable that the signature was misspelled - A-K-E-L-Y, without the second "E." Certain conjectures were inevitable, but amidst the obvious crisis he did not stop to elaborate upon them,
He spoke of the death of more dogs and the purchase of still others, and of the exchange of gunfire which had become a settled feature each moonless night. Brown’s prints, and the prints of at least one or two more shod human figures, were now found regularly among the claw-prints in the road, and at the back of the farmyard. It was, Akeley admitted, a pretty bad business; and before long he would probably have to go to live with his California son whether or not he could sell the old place. But it was not easy to leave the only spot one could really think of as home. He must try to hang on a little longer; perhaps he could scare off the intruders - especially if he openly gave up all further attempts to penetrate their secrets.
Writing Akeley at once, I renewed my offers of aid, and spoke again of visiting him and helping him convince the authorities of his dire peril. In his reply he seemed less set against that plan than his past attitude would have led one to predict, but said he would like to hold off a little while longer - long enough to get his things in order and reconcile himself to the idea of leaving an almost morbidly cherished birthplace. People looked askance at his studies and speculations and it would be better to get quietly off without setting the countryside in a turmoil and creating widespread doubts of his own sanity. He had had enough, he admitted, but he wanted to make a dignified exit if he could.
This letter reached me on the 28th of August, and I prepared and mailed as encouraging a reply as I could. Apparently the encouragement had effect, for Akeley had fewer terrors to report when he acknowledged my note. He was not very optimistic, though, and expressed the belief that it was only the full moon season which was holding the creatures off. He hoped there would not be many densely cloudy nights, and talked vaguely of boarding in Brattleboro when the moon waned. Again I wrote him encouragingly but on September 5th there came a fresh communication which had obviously crossed my letter in the mails; and to this I could not give any such hopeful response. In view of its importance I believe I had better give it in full - as best I can do from memory of the shaky script. It ran substantially as follows:
- Dear Wilmarth
- A rather discouraging P. S. to my last. Last night was thickly cloudy - though no rain - and not a bit of moonlight got through. Things were pretty bad, and I think the end is getting near, in spite of all we have hoped. After midnight something landed on the roof of the house, and the dogs all rushed up to see what it was. I could hear them snapping and tearing around, and then one managed to get on the roof by jumping from the low ell. There was a terrible fight up there, and I heard a frightful buzzing which I’ll never forget. And then there was a shocking smell. About the same time bullets came through the window and nearly grazed me. I think the main line of the hill creatures had got close to the house when the dogs divided because of the roof business. What was up there I don’t know yet, but I’m afraid the creatures are learning to steer better with their space wings. I put out the light and used the windows for loopholes, and raked all around the house with rifle fire aimed just high enough not to hit the dogs. That seemed to end the business, but in the morning I found great pools of blood in the yard, besides pools of a green sticky stuff that had the worst odour I have ever smelled. I climbed up on the roof and found more of the sticky stuff there. Five of the dogs were killed - I’m afraid I hit one myself by aiming too low, for he was shot in the back. Now I am setting the panes the shots broke, and am going to Brattleboro for more dogs. I guess the men at the kennels think I am crazy. Will drop another note later. Suppose I’ll be ready for moving in a week or two, though it nearly kills me to think of it.
- Hastily - Akeley
But this was not the only letter from Akeley to cross mine. On the next morning - September 6th - still another came; this time a frantic scrawl which utterly unnerved me and put me at a loss what to say or do next. Again I cannot do better than quote the text as faithfully as memory will let me.
- Clouds didn’t break, so no moon again - and going into the wane anyhow. I’d have the house wired for electricity and put in a searchlight if I didn’t know they’d cut the cables as fast as they could be mended.
- I think I am going crazy. It may be that all I have ever written you is a dream or madness. It was bad enough before, but this time it is too much. They talked to me last night - talked in that cursed buzzing voice and told me things that I dare not repeat to you. I heard them plainly above the barking of the dogs, and once when they were drowned out a human voice helped them. Keep out of this, Wilmarth - it is worse than either you or I ever suspected. They don’t mean to let me get to California now - they want to take me off alive, or what theoretically and mentally amounts to alive - not only to Yuggoth, but beyond that - away outside the galaxy and possibly beyond the last curved rim of space. I told them I wouldn’t go where they wish, or in the terrible way they propose to take me, but I’m afraid it will be no use. My place is so far out that they may come by day as well as by night before long. Six more dogs killed, and I felt presences all along the wooded parts of the road when I drove to Brattleboro today. It was a mistake for me to try to send you that phonograph record and black stone. Better smash the record before it’s too late. Will drop you another line tomorrow if I’m still here. Wish I could arrange to get my books and things to Brattleboro and board there. I would run off without anything if I could but something inside my mind holds me back. I can slip out to Brattleboro, where I ought to be safe, but I feel just as much a prisoner there as at the house. And I seem to know that I couldn’t get much farther even if I dropped everything and tried. It is horrible - don’t get mixed up in this.
- Yrs - Akeley
I did not sleep at all the night after receiving this terrible thing, and was utterly baffled as to Akeley’s remaining degree of sanity. The substance of the note was wholly insane, yet the manner of expression - in view of all that had gone before - had a grimly potent quality of convincingness. I made no attempt to answer it, thinking it better to wait until Akeley might have time to reply to my latest communication. Such a reply indeed came on the following day, though the fresh material in it quite overshadowed any of the points brought up by the letter nominally answered. Here is what I recall of the text, scrawled and blotted as it was in the course of a plainly frantic and hurried composition.
- W -
- Your letter came, but it’s no use to discuss anything any more. I am fully resigned. Wonder that I have even enough will power left to fight them off. Can’t escape even if I were willing to give up everything and run. They’ll get me.
- Had a letter from them yesterday - R.F.D. man brought it while I was at Brattleboro. Typed and postmarked Bellows Falls. Tells what they want to do with me - I can’t repeat it. Look out for yourself, too! Smash that record. Cloudy nights keep up, and moon waning all the time. Wish I dared to get help - it might brace up my will power - but everyone who would dare to come at all would call me crazy unless there happened to be some proof. Couldn’t ask people to come for no reason at all - am all out of touch with everybody and have been for years.
- But I haven’t told you the worst, Wilmarth. Brace up to read this, for it will give you a shock. I am telling the truth, though. It is this - I have seen and touched one of the things, or part of one of the things. God, man, but it’s awful! It was dead, of course. One of the dogs had it, and I found it near the kennel this morning. I tried to save it in the woodshed to convince people of the whole thing, but it all evaporated in a few hours. Nothing left. You know, all those things in the rivers were seen only on the first morning after the flood. And here’s the worst. I tried to photograph it for you, but when I developed the film there wasn’t anything visible except the woodshed. What can the thing have been made of? I saw it and felt it, and they all leave footprints. It was surely made of matter - but what kind of matter? The shape can’t be described. It was a great crab with a lot of pyramided fleshy rings or knots of thick, ropy stuff covered with feelers where a man’s head would be. That green sticky stuff is its blood or juice. And there are more of them due on earth any minute.
- Walter Brown is missing - hasn’t been seen loafing around any of his usual corners in the villages hereabouts. I must have got him with one of my shots, though the creatures always seem to try to take their dead and wounded away.
- Got into town this afternoon without any trouble, but am afraid they’re beginning to hold off because they’re sure of me. Am writing this in Brattleboro P. 0. This may be goodbye - if it is, write my son George Goodenough Akeley, 176 Pleasant St., San Diego, Cal., but don’t come up here. Write the boy if you don’t hear from me in a week, and watch the papers for news.
- I’m going to play my last two cards now - if I have the will power left. First to try poison gas on the things (I’ve got the right chemicals and have fixed up masks for myself and the dogs) and then if that doesn’t work, tell the sheriff. They can lock me in a madhouse if they want to - it’ll be better than what the other creatures would do. Perhaps I can get them to pay attention to the prints around the house - they are faint, but I can find them every morning. Suppose, though, police would say I faked them somehow; for they all think I’m a queer character.
- Must try to have a state policeman spend a night here and see for himself - though it would be just like the creatures to learn about it and hold off that night. They cut my wires whenever I try to telephone in the night - the linemen think it is very queer, and may testify for me if they don’t go and imagine I cut them myself. I haven’t tried to keep them repaired for over a week now.
- I could get some of the ignorant people to testify for me about the reality of the horrors, but everybody laughs at what they say, and anyway, they have shunned my place for so long that they don’t know any of the new events. You couldn’t get one of those rundown farmers to come within a mile of my house for love or money. The mail-carrier hears what they say and jokes me about it - God! If I only dared tell him how real it is! I think I’ll try to get him to notice the prints, but he comes in the afternoon and they’re usually about gone by that time. If I kept one by setting a box or pan over it, he’d think surely it was a fake or joke.
- Wish I hadn’t gotten to be such a hermit, so folks don’t drop around as they used to. I’ve never dared show the black stone or the Kodak pictures, or play that record, to anybody but the ignorant people. The others would say I faked the whole business and do nothing but laugh. But I may yet try showing the pictures. They give those claw-prints clearly, even if the things that made them can’t be photographed. What a shame nobody else saw that thing this morning before it went to nothing!
- But I don’t know as I care. After what I’ve been through, a madhouse is as good a place as any. The doctors can help me make up my mind to get away from this house, and that is all that will save me.
- Write my son George if you don’t hear soon. Goodbye, smash that record, and don’t mix up in this.
- Yrs - Akeley
This letter frankly plunged me into the blackest of terror. I did not know what to say in answer, but scratched off some incoherent words of advice and encouragement and sent them by registered mail. I recall urging Akeley to move to Brattleboro at once, and place himself under the protection of the authorities; adding that I would come to that town with the phonograph record and help convince the courts of his sanity. It was time, too, I think I wrote, to alarm the people generally against this thing in their midst. It will be observed that at this moment of stress my own belief in all Akeley had told and claimed was virtually complete, though I did think his failure to get a picture of the dead monster was due not to any freak of Nature but to some excited slip of his own.