Ghost Hunters And Psychic Detectives / Ghost Hunters and Psychic Detectives Part 7
Dilated eyes, tremulous limbs, backward looks; all these things showed that something had brought this unfortunate family to the verge of a panic that reached the very limits of their control.
The doctor was an adept at dispelling that sort of jumpiness. Such a mental condition was the worst possible for combating “influences,” whatever they might be.
He acknowledged his introductions with easy confidence, and then he held up his hand.
“No, no, nix on that. Give me a chance to breathe. D’you want to ruin my appetite with horrors? Let’s eat first and then, you can spread yourselves out on the story. No ghost likes a full stomach.”
He was purposely slangy. The immediate effect was that his hosts experienced a measure of relief. The man radiated such an impression of knowledge, of confidence, of power.
The meal, however, was at best a lugubrious one. Conversation had to be forced to dwell on ordinary subjects. The wife evinced a painful disinclination to go into the kitchen. “Our cook left us two days ago,” she explained. The boy was silent and frightened. The sick man said little, and coughed a dry, petulant bark at intervals.
The doctor, engrossed in his plate, chattered gaily about nothing; but all the time he was watching the invalid like a hawk. James Terry did his best to distract attention from the expert’s scrutiny of everybody and everything in the room. By the time the meal was over the doctor had formed his opinion about the various characteristics and idiosyncrasies of his hosts, and he dominated the company with his expansive cheerfulness.
“Well, now, let’s get one of those satisfying smokes in the jimmy pipe, and you can tell me all about it. You” a” selecting the lady a” “you tell me. I’m sure you’ll give the best account.”
The lady, flustered and frightened, was able to add very little to what her husband had already described. There was nothing to add. A baffling nothingness enshrouded the whole situation; but it was a nothingness that was full of an unnamable fear a” a feeling of terror enhanced by the “shapes” of the wife’s psychic imaginings. A nameless nothing to be combated.
The doctor shrugged with impatience. He had met with just such conditions before: the inability of people to describe their ghostly happenings with coherence. He decided on a bold experiment.
“My dear lady,” he said, devoting his attention to the psychic one, “it is difficult to exorcise a mere feeling until we know something about the cause of it. Now I’ll tell you what we ought to do. When you sit at your table for your little seances you get raps and so on, don’t you? And you spell out messages from your ‘spirit friends, isn’t it? And you’d like to go into a trance and let your ‘guides’ control you; only you are a little nervous about it; and all that kind of stuff, no?”
“Why, yes, Doctor, that is just about what happens, but how should you know all that?”
“Hm,” grunted the doctor dryly. “You are not alone in your foolishness, my dear lady; there are many thousands in the United States who take similar chances. But now what I want to suggest is, let’s have one of your little seances now. And you will go into a trance this time and perhaps you a” I mean your guides a” will tell us something. In the trance condition, which after all is a form of hypnosis a” though we do not know whether the state is auto-induced or whether it is due to the suggestion of an outside influence a” in this hypnotic condition the subconscious reflexes are sensitive to influences that the more material conscious mind cannot receive.”
Mrs. Jarrtett’s plump hand fluttered to her breast. This was so sudden; and she had really been a little bit afraid of her seances since this terror came into the house. But the doctor was already arranging the little round table and the chairs. Without looking round, he said: “You need not be at all nervous this time. And I want your brother particularly to stay in the room, though not necessarily at the table. Jimmy, you sit aside and steno whatever comes through, will you.” And in a quiet aside to his friend, he added, “Sit near the switch, and if I holler, throw on the lights instantly and see that the sick man gets a stimulant. I may be busy.”
Under the doctor’s experienced direction everything was soon ready. Just the four sat at the table, the Jarrett family and the doctor. The sick brother sat tucked in an arm chair by the window and Jimmy Terry near the light switch at the door. Once more the doctor cautioned the brawny Terry: “Watch this carefully, Jimmy. I’m putting the sick man’s life into your hands. If you feel anything, if you sense anything, if you think anything near him, snap on the lights. Don’t ask anything. Act. Ready? All right then, black out.”
With the click of the switch the room was in darkness through which came only the petulant cough of the sick man. As the eyes accustomed themselves to the gloom there was sufficient glow from the moonlight outside to distinguish the dim outlines of figures.
“This is what you usually do, isn’t it?” asked the doctor. “Hands on the table and little fingers touching?” And without waiting for the reply of which he seemed to be so sure, he continued, “All the usual stuff, I see. But now, Mrs. Jarrett, I’m going to lay my hands over yours and you will go into a trance. So. Quiet and easy now. Let yourself go.”
In a surprisingly short space of time the table shivered with that peculiar inward tremor so familiar to all dabblers in the psychic. Shortly thereafter it heaved slowly up and descended with a vast deliberation. There was a moment’s stillness fraught with effort; then a rhythmic tap-tap-tap of one leg.
“Now,” said the doctor authoritatively. “You will go into a trance, Mrs. Jarrett. Softly, easily. Let go. You’re going into a trance. Going going…” His voice was soothingly commanding, hypnotic.
Mrs. Jarrett moaned, her limbs jerked, she stretched as if in pain; then with a sigh she became inert.
“Watch out, Jimmy,” the doctor warned in a low voice. Then to the woman: “Speak. Where are you? What do you see?”
The plump, limp bulk moaned again. The lips moved; inarticulate sounds proceeded from them, the fragments of unformed words; then a quivering sigh and silence. The doctor took occasion to lean first to one side and then to the other to listen to the breathing of Mr. Jarrett and the boy. Both were a little faster than normal; under the circumstances, not strange. With startling suddenness words cut the dark, clear and strong.
“I am in a place full of mist, I don’t know where. Gray mist.” A labored silence. Then: “I am at the edge of something; something deep, dark.” A pause. “Before me is a curtain, dim and misty a” no, it seems a” I think a” no, it is the mist that is the curtain. There are dim things moving beyond the curtain.”
“Ha!” An exclamation of satisfaction from the doctor.
“I can’t make them out. They are not animals; not people. They are dark things. Just a” shapes.”
“Good God, that’s what she said before!” The awed gasp was Mr. Jarrett’s.
The sick man coughed gratingly.
“The shapes move, they twine and roll and swell up. They bulge up against the curtain as if to push through. It is dark; too dark on that side to see. I am afraid if one might push througha””
Suddenly the boy whimpered: “I don’t like this. It’s cold, an’ I’m scared.”
The doctor could hear the hard breathing of Mr. Jarrett on his left as the table trembled under his sudden shiver. The doctor himself experienced an enveloping depression, an almost physical crawling of the cold hairs up and down his spine. The sick man went into a spasm of violent coughing. Suddenly the voice screamed: “One of the shapes is almost a” my God, it is a” through! It’s on this side. I can see a” oh God, save me.”
“Lights, Jimmy!” snapped the doctor. “Look to the sick man.”
The swift flood of illumination showed Mr. Jarrett gray and beaded with perspiration; the boy in wildeyed terror; Terry, too, big-eyed, and nervously alert. All of them had felt a sudden stifling weight of a clutching fear that seemed to hang like a destroying wave about to break.
The sick man was in a paroxysm of coughing from which he passed into a swoon of exhaustion. Only the woman had remained blissfully unconscious. The voice that had spoken out of her left her untroubled. In heavy peacefulness she slumped in her trance condition.
The doctor leaped round the table to her and placed his hands over her forehead in protection from he did not know exactly what. A chill still pervaded the room; a physical sense of cold and lifting of hair. Some enormous material menace had almost been able to swoop upon a victim. Slowly, with the flashing on of the lights, the horror faded.
The doctor bent over the unconscious lady. Smoothly he began to stroke her face, away from the center towards her temples. As he stroked he talked, softly, reassuringly.
Presently the woman shuddered, heaved ponderously. Her eyes opened blankly, without comprehension.
The faces of the audience expressed only fear of the unknown; fear and a blank lack of understanding. The doctor controlled his impatience and continued his lecture.
“I can’t go into the complete theory of occultism here and now; but this much you must understand,” he said, pounding his fist on his knee for emphasis: “it is an indubitable fact, known throughout the ages of human existence, and re-established by modern research, that there exist certain vast discarnate forces alongside of us and all around us. These forces function according to certain controlling laws, just as we do. They probably know as little about our laws as we do about theirs.
“There are many kinds of these forces. Forces of a high intelligence, far superior to ours; forces of possibly less intelligence; benevolent forces; malignant ones. They are all loosely generalized as spirits: elementals, subliminals, earthbounds and so on.
“These forces are separated from us, prevented from contact, by a” what shall I say? I dislike the word, veil, or curtain; or, as the Bible puts it, the great gulf. They mean nothing. The best simile is perhaps in the modern invention of the radio.
“A certain set of wave lengths, ethereal vibrations, can impinge themselves upon a corresponding instrument attuned to those vibrations. A slight variation in wave length, and the receiving instrument is a blank, totally unaffected, though it knows that vibrations of tremendous power exist all around it. It must tune in to become receptive to another set of vibrations.
“In something after this manner these discarnate so-called spirit forces are prevented from impinging themselves upon our consciousness. Sometimes we humans, for reasons of which we are very often unaware, do something, create a condition, which tunes us in with the vibration of a certain group of discarnate forces. Then we become conscious; we establish contact; we, in common parlance, see a ghost.”
The lecturer paused. Vague understanding was apparent on the faces of his fascinated audience.
“Good! Now then a” I mentioned elementals. Elementals comprise one of these groups of discarnate forces; possibly the lowest of the group and the least intelligent. They have not evolved to human, or even animal form. They are just a” shapes.”
“Oh, my God!” The shuddering moan came from Mrs. Jarrett. “The shapes that I have sensed!”
“Exactly. You have sensed such a shape. Why have you sensed it? Because somehow, somewhere, something has happened that has enabled one of these elemental entities to tune in on the vibrations of our human wave length; to break through the veil. What was the cause or how, we have no means of knowing. What we do know about elementals, as has been fully recognized by occultists of the past ages and has been pooh-poohed only by modern materialism, is that they are, to begin with, malignant; that is, hostile to human life. Then again a” now mark this well a” they can manifest themselves materially to humans only by drawing the necessary force from a human source, preferably from some human in a state of low resistance; from a sick man.”
“Oh, my a” my brother?” Mrs. Jarrett gasped her realization.
The doctor nodded slowly. “Yes, his condition of low resistance and your thoughtless reaching for a contact in your seances have invited this malignant entity to this house. That is why the sick man has taken this sudden turn f or the worse. The elemental is sapping his vitality in order to manifest itself materially. So far you have only felt its malevolent presence. Should it succeed in drawing to itself sufficient force it might be capable of enormous and destructive power. No, no, don’t scream now; that doesn’t help. You must all get a grip on yourselves so as calmly to take the proper defensive precautions.
“Fortunately we know an antidote; or let me say rather, a deterrent. Like most occult lore, this deterrent has been known and used by all peoples even up to this age of modern skepticism. Savage people throughout the world use it; oriental peoples with a sensitivity keener than our own use it; modern-white people use it, though unconsciously. The literature of magic is full of it.
“It is nothing more or less than iron. Cold iron. The iron nose-ring or toe-ring of the savage; the mantra loha of the Hindoos; the lucky horse shoe of your rural neighbors today. These things are not ornaments; they are amulets.
“We do not know why cold iron should act as a deterrent to certain kinds of hostile forces a” call them spirits, if you like. But it is a fact known of old that a powerful antipathy exists between cold iron and certain of the lower orders of unhuman entities: doppelgangers, churels, incubi, wood runners, leperlings, and so on, and including all forms of elementals.
“So powerful is this antipathy that these hostile entities cannot approach a person or pass a passage so guarded. There are other forms of deterrents against some of the other discarnate entities: pentagons, Druid circles, etc., and even the holy water of the church. Don’t ask me why or how a” perhaps it has something to do with molecular vibrations. Let us be glad, for the present that we know of this deterrent. And let each of you go to bed now with a poker or a stove lid or whatever you fancy as an amulet, which I assure you will be ample to protect a normal healthy person who does not contrive to establish some special line of contact which may counteract the deterrent. In the case of the sick man I have taken the extra precaution of guarding even the door.
“Now the rest’ of you go to bed and stay in your rooms. If you’re nervous, you may sleep all in one room. Dr. Terry and I will sit up and prowl around a bit. If you hear a noise it will be we doing night watchman. You can sleep in perfect security, unless you commit some piece of astounding foolishness which will open an unguarded avenue of contact. And one more thing: warn your brother, even if he should feel well enough, not in any circumstances to leave his room. Good night; and sleep well a” if you can.”
Hesitant and unwilling the family went upstairs, huddled together, fearful of every new sound, every old shadow, not knowing how this horror that had come into the house might manifest itself; hating to go, but worn out by fatigue engendered of extreme terror.
“I’ll bet they sleep all in one room like sardines,” commented the doctor with an attempt at a humor which he was too worried to make genuine. Terry caught the note of anxiety and asked: “Was that all the straight dope? I mean about elementals and so on? And iron? Sounds kind of foolish.”
The doctor’s face was sober, the irises of his indeterminate eyes so pale that they were almost invisible in the artificial light.
“You never listened to a less foolish thing, my boy. It sounds so to you only because you have been bred in the school of modern materialism. What? Is it reasonable to maintain that we have during the last thin fringe of years on humanity’s history obliterated what has been known to humanity ever since the first anthropoid hid his head under his hairy arms in terror? We have but pushed these things a little farther away; we have become less sensitive than our forefathers. And, having become less sensitive, we naturally do not inadvertently tune in on any other set of vibrations; and so we proclaim loudly that no such things exist. But we are beginning to learn again; and if you have followed the trend you will surely have noticed that many of our leading men of science, of thought, of letters, have admitted their belief in things which science and religion have tried to deny.”
Terry was impressed with the truth of his friend’s statement. The possibilities thus opened up made him uneasy.
“Well, er a” er, this a” this elemental thing,” he said uneasily, “can it do anything?”
“It can do” a” the indeterminate eyes were far-away pinpoints a” “it can do anything, everything. Having once broken into our sphere, our plane, our wave length a” call it what you will a” its malignant potentiality is measured only by the amount of force it can draw from its human source of supply. And remember a” here is the danger of these things a” the measure is not on a par ratio. It doesn’t mean that such a malignant entity, drawing a few ounces of energy from a sick man, can exert only those few ounces. In some manner which we do not understand, all the discarnate intelligences know how to step-up an almost infinitesimal amount of human energy to many hundreds percent of power; as for instance the ‘spirits’ that move heavy tables, perform levitation and so on. A malignant spirit can use that power as a deadly, destructive force.”
“But, good Lord,” burst out Terry, “why should the thing be malignant? Why, if it has broken through, got into tune with human vibrations, why should it want to destroy humans who have never done it any harm?”
The doctor did not reply at once. He was listening, alert and taut.
“Do these people keep a dog, do you know, Jimmy? Would that be it snuffling outside the door?”
But the noise, if there had been any, had ceased. The silence was sepulchral. The doctor relaxed and took up the last question.
“Why should it want to destroy life? That’s something of a poser. I might say, how do I know? But I have a theory. Remember I said that elementals belonged to one of the least intelligent groups of discarnate entities. Now, the lower one goes in the scale of human intelligence, the more prevalent does one find the superstition that by killing one’s enemy one acquires the good qualities of that enemy, his strength or his valor or his speed or something. In the lowest scale we find cannibalism, which is, as so many leading ethnologists have demonstrated, not a taste for human flesh, but a ceremony, or ritual whereby the eater absorbs the strength of the victim. And I suppose you know, incidentally, that militant modern atheists, maintain that the holy communion is no other than a symbol of that very prevalent idea. An unintelligent elemental, thena””
The doctor suddenly gripped his friend’s arm. A creak had sounded on the stairs. In the tense silence both men fancied they could detect a soft, sliding scuffle in that direction. With uncontrollable horror Terry’s heart came up to his throat. In one panther bound the doctor reached the door and tore it open. Then he swore in baffled irritation.
“Damnation! Pitch dark! Where in thunder are these hall lights?”
Through the open door Terry could hear distinctly scurrying steps on the first landing. In sudden access of horror at being left alone he leaped from his chair to follow his friend, and bumped into him at the door.
Dr. Muncing, cursing his luck in a most plebeian manner, noted his expression and became immediately the scientist again.
“What’s this, what’s this? This won’t do. Scare leaves you vulnerable. Now let me psychoanalyze you and eliminate that. Sit down and get this; it’s quite simple and quite necessary before we start out chasing this thing. You feel afraid for two reasons. The first is psychological. Our forebears knew that certain aspects of the supernatural were genuinely fearsome. Unable to differentiate, the superstition grew amongst the laity that all aspects were to be feared, just as most people fear all snakes, though only six percent of them are poisonous. You have inherited both fear and superstition. Secondly, in this particular case, you sense the hostility of this thing and its potential power for destruction. Therefore, you are afraid.”
Under the doctor’s cold logic, his friend was able to regain at least a grip on his emotions. With a rather strained smile he said: “That’s pretty thin comfort when even you admit its power for destruction.”
“Potential, I said.” “Don’t forget, potential,” urged the doctor. “Its power is capable of becoming enormous. Up to the present it has not been able to absorb very much energy. It evaded us just now instead of attacking us, and we have shut off its source of supply. Remember, too, its manifestation of itself must be physical. It may claw your hair in the dark; perhaps push you over the banisters if it gets a chance; but it can’t sear your brain and blast your soul. It has drawn to itself sufficient physical energy to make itself heard; that means to be felt, and possibly to be seen. It has materialized; it cannot suddenly fade through walls and doors.”
“To be seen?” said Terry in awestruck tones. “Good gosh, what does a tangible hate look like?”
The doctor nodded. “Well put, Timmy; very well expressed. A tangible hate is just what this thing is. And since it is inherently a formless entity, a shape in the dark, manifesting itself by drawing upon human energy, it will probably look like some gross distortion of human form. Just malignant eyes, maybe; or clutching hands; or perhaps something more complete. Its object will be to skulk about the house seeking for an opening to absorb more energy to itself. Ours must be to rout it out.”
Mentally Terry was convinced. He could not fail to be, after that lucid exposition of exactly what they were up against. But physically the fine hair still rose on his spine. Shapeless things that could hate and could lurk in dark corners to trip one up on the stairs were sufficient reason for the very acme of human fear. However he stood up.
“I’m with you,” he said shortly. “Go ahead.”
The doctor held out his hand. “Stout fellow. I knew you would, of course; and I brought this along for you as being quite the best weapon for this sort of a job. A blackjack in hand is a strong psychological bracer and, it has the virtue of being iron.”
Terry took the weighty little thing with a feeling of vast security, which was instantly dispelled by the doctor’s next words.
“I suppose,” said Terry, “that on account of the iron the thing can’t approach one.”
“Don’t fool yourself,” said the other. “Iron is a deterrent. Not an absolute talisman in every case. We are going after this thing; we are inviting contact. Well, just as a savage dog may attack a man who is going after it with a club; so our desperate elemental, if it sees a chance, may a” well, I don’t know what it can do yet. Stick close, that’s all.”
Together the two men went up the stairs and stood in the upper hall. Four bedrooms and a bathroom opened off this. Two of the rooms, they knew to be occupied. The other doors stood similarly closed.
“We’ve got to try the rooms,” the doctor whispered. “It probably can, if necessary, open an unlocked door; though I doubt whether it would turn an iron key.”
Firmly, without hesitation, he opened one of the doors and stepped into the room. Terry marveled at the action; the man’s cold nerve was incredible. The doctor switched on the light. Nothing was to be seen, nothing heard, nothing felt.
“We’d sense it if it were here,” said the doctor as coolly as though hunting for nothing more tangible than an odor of escaping gas. “It must be in the other empty room. Come on.”
He threw the door of that room wide open and stood, shoulder to shoulder with Terry, on the threshold. But there was nothing; no sound; no sensation.
“Queer,” muttered the doctor. “It came up the stairs. It would hardly go into the bathroom, with an iron tub in it a” though, God knows, maybe cast iron molecules don’t repel like hand-wrought metal.”
The bathroom drew blank. The two men looked at each other, and now Terry was able to grin. This matter of hunting for a presence that evaded them was not nearly so fearsome as his imagination had conjured up. The doctor’s eyes narrowed to slits as he stood in thought.
“Another example,” he murmured, “of the many truths in the Bible about the occult. Face the devil and he will fly from you, eh? I wonder where the devil this devil can be?”
As though in immediate answer came the rasping sounds of a dry grating cough.
Instinctively both men’s heads flew round to face the sick man’s door. But that remained undisturbed; the patient seemed to be sleeping soundly. Suddenly the doctor gripped his friend’s arm and pointed-up to the ceiling.
“From the, attic. See that trapdoor. It has taken on the cough with the vital energy it has been drawing from the sick man. I guess there’ll be no lights up there. I’ll go and get my flashlight. You stay here and guard the stairs. Then you can give me a boost up.”
The doctor was becoming more incredible every minute.
“You mean to say you propose to stick your head up through there?”
The doctor nodded soberly; his eyes were now black beads.
“It’s quite necessary. You see, we’ve got to chase this thing out of this house while it is still weak, and then protect all entrances. Then, if it cannot quickly establish a contact with some other sick and non-resistant source of energy it must go back to where it came from. Without a constant replenishment of human energy it can’t keep up the human vibrations. That’s the importance of shutting it out while it is still too weak to break through anybody else’s resistance somewhere else. It’s quite simple, isn’t it? You sit tight and play cat over the mouse hole. I’ll be right up again.”
Cat-like himself, the doctor ran down the steps. Terry felt chilled despite the fact that the hall was well lighted and he was armed. But that black square up there a” if any cover belonged over it, it had been removed. The hole gaped dark, forbidding; and somewhere beyond it in the misty gloom a formless thing coughed consumptively. Terry, gazing at the hole in fascinated horror, imagined for himself a sudden framing of baleful eyes, a reaching down of a long taloned-claw.
It grew to a horror, staring at that black opening, as into an evil world beyond. The effort of concentration became intolerable. Terry felt that he could not for the life of him hold his stare; he had to relieve himself of that tension or he would scream. He felt that cry welling up in his throat and the chill rising of hair on his scalp. He let his eyes drop and took a long breath to recover the control that was slipping from him.
There came a sharp click from the direction of the electric switch, and the hall was in sudden blackness.
Terry stood frozen, the cry choked in his throat. He could not tell how long he remained transfixed. An age passed in motionless fear of he did not know what. What had so diabolically and opportunely turned off the lights?
In the blackness a board creaked with awful deliberation. Terry could not tell where. His faculties refused to register. Only his wretched imagination a” or was it his imagination? a” conjured up a shadow, darker than the dark, poised on one grotesque foot like some monstrous misshaped carrion bird, watching him with a fell intentness. His pulse hammered at his temples for what seemed an eternity of horror. He computed time later by the fact that his eyes were becoming accustomed to the dim glow that came from the light downstairs.