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The 31 Days of Hallowe'en - A Haunted Island

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  • brent wodehouse
    A H a u n t e d I s l a n d by Algernon Blackwood THE FOLLOWING EVENTS OCCURRED on a small island of isolated position in a large Canadian lake, to whose
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 23, 2011
      A H a u n t e d I s l a n d

      by Algernon Blackwood

      island of isolated position in a large Canadian lake,
      to whose cool waters the inhabitants of Montreal and
      Toronto flee for rest and recreation in the hot months.
      It is only to be regretted that events of such peculiar
      interest to the genuine student of the psychic should be
      entirely uncorroborated. Such, unfortunately, however,
      is the case.
      Our own party of nearly twenty had returned
      to Montreal that very day, and I was left in solitary
      possession for a week or two longer, in order
      to accomplish some important reading for the law,
      which I had foolishly neglected during the summer.
      With a whole island to oneself, a two-story
      cottage, a canoe, and only the chipmunks and the farmer's
      weekly visit with eggs and bread to disturb one,
      the opportunities for hard reading might be very great.
      It all depends!
      The rest of the party had gone off with many
      warnings to beware of Indians and not to stay late enough
      to be the victim of a frost that thinks nothing of forty
      below zero. After they had gone, the loneliness of the
      situation made itself unpleasantly felt. There were no
      other islands within six or seven miles, and though the
      mainland forests lay a couple of miles behind me, they
      stretched for a very great distance, unbroken by any signs
      of human habitation. But, though the island was completely
      deserted and silent, the rocks and trees that had echoed
      human laughter and voices almost every hour of the day for
      two months could not fail to retain some memories of it all,
      and I was not surprised to fancy I heard a shout or a cry as I
      passed from rock to rock, and more than once to imagine that
      I heard my own name called aloud.
      In the cottage there were six tiny little bedrooms
      divided from one another by plain unvarnished partitions of
      pine. A wooden bedstead, a mattress, and a chair stood in each
      room, but I only found two mirrors, and one of these was
      The boards creaked a good deal as I moved about,
      and the signs of occupation were so recent that I could
      hardly believe I was alone. I half expected to find someone left
      behind, still trying to crowd into a box more than it would hold.
      The door of one room was stiff and refused for a moment to open,
      and it required very little persuasion to imagine someone was
      holding the handle on the inside, and that when it opened, I should
      meet a pair of human eyes.
      A thorough search of the floor led me to select
      as my own sleeping quarters a little room with a diminutive
      balcony over the veranda roof. The room was very small, but the
      bed was large and had the best mattress of them all. It was
      situated directly over the sitting room where I should live
      and do my reading, and the miniature window looked out to
      the rising sun. With the exception of a narrow path which led
      from the front door and veranda through the trees to the boat
      landing, the island was densely covered with maples,
      hemlocks, and cedars. The trees gathered in around the
      cottage so closely that the slightest wind made the branches
      scrape the roof and tap the wooden walls. A few moments
      after sunset the darkness became impenetrable, and ten
      yards beyond the glare of the lamps that shone through
      the sitting-room windows - of which there were six - you
      could not see an inch beyond your nose, nor move a step
      without running up against a tree.
      The rest of that day I spent moving my belongings
      from my tent to the sitting room, taking stock of the
      contents of the larder, and chopping enough wood for the
      stove to last me for a week. After that, just before sunset,
      I went round the island a couple of times in my canoe for
      precaution's sake. I had never dreamed of doing this before,
      but when a man is alone, he does things that never occur to
      him when he is one of a large party.
      How lonely the island seemed when I landed again!
      The sun was down, and twilight is unknown in these northern
      regions. The darkness comes up at once. The canoe safely
      pulled up and turned over on her face, I groped my way up the
      little narrow pathway to the veranda. The six lamps were
      soon burning merrily in the front room, but in the kitchen,
      where I dined, the shadows were so gloomy, and the lamplight
      was so inadequate, that the stars could be seen peeping
      through the cracks between the rafters.
      I turned in early that night. Though it was calm and
      there was no wind, the creaking of my bedstead and the
      musical gurgle of the water over the rocks below were not
      the only sounds that reached my ears. As I lay awake, the
      appalling emptiness of the house grew upon me. The corridors
      and vacant rooms seemed to echo innumerable footsteps,
      shufflings, the rustle of skirts, and a constant undertone of
      whispering. When sleep at length overtook me, the breathings
      and noises, however, passed gently to mingle with the voices
      of my dreams.
      A week passed by, and the reading progressed
      favorably. On the tenth day of my solitude, a strange thing
      happened. I awoke after a good night's sleep to find myself
      possessed with a marked repugnance for my room. The air
      seemed to stifle me. The more I tried to define the cause of
      this dislike, the more unreasonable it appeared. There was
      something about the room that made me afraid. Absurd as it
      seems, this feeling clung to me obstinately while dressing,
      and more than once I caught myself shivering, and conscious
      of an inclination to get out of the room as quickly as possible.
      The more I tried to laugh it away, the more real I became, and
      when at last I was dressed, and went out into the passage,
      and downstairs into the kitchen, it was with feelings of relief,
      such as I might imagine would accompany one's escape from
      the presence of a dangerous contagious disease.
      While cooking my breakfast, I carefully recalled
      every night spent in the room, in the hope that I might in some
      way connect the dislike I now felt with some disagreeable
      incident that had occurred in it. But the only thing I could recall
      was one stormy night when I suddenly awoke and heard the
      boards creaking so loudly in the corridor that I was convinced
      there were people in the house. So certain was I of this, that I
      had descended the stairs, gun in hand, only to find the doors and
      windows securely fastened, and the mice and cockroaches in
      sole possession of the floor. This was certainly not sufficient
      to account for the strength of my feelings.
      The morning hours I spent in steady reading, and
      when I broke off in the middle of the day for a swim and
      luncheon, I was very much surprised, if not a little alarmed, to
      find that my dislike for the room had, if anything, grown
      stronger. Going upstairs to get a book, I experienced the most
      marked aversion to entering the room, and while within I was
      conscious all the time of an uncomfortable feeling that was
      half uneasiness and half apprehension. The result of it was that,
      instead of reading, I spent the afternoon on the water, paddling
      and fishing, and when I got home about sundown, brought with
      me half a dozen delicious black bass for the supper table and
      the larder.
      As sleep was an important matter to me at this
      time, I had decided that if my aversion to the room was so
      strongly marked on my return as it had been before, I would
      move my bed down into the sitting room and sleep there. This
      was, I argued, in no sense a concession to an absurd and fanciful
      fear, but simply a precaution to ensure a good night's sleep. A
      bad night involved the loss of the next day's reading - a loss I
      was not prepared to incur.
      I accordingly moved my bed downstairs into a
      corner of the sitting room facing the door, and was moreover
      uncommonly glad when the operation was completed and the
      door of the bedroom closed finally upon the shadows, the
      silence, and the strange *fear* that shared the room with them.

      The croaking stroke of the kitchen clock sounded
      the hour of eight as I finished washing up my few dishes and,
      closing the kitchen door behind me, passed into the front room.
      All the lamps were lit, and their reflectors, which I had polished
      up during the day, threw a blaze of light into the room.
      Outside the night was still and warm. Not a breath
      of air was stirring; the waves were silent, the trees motionless,
      and heavy clouds hung like an oppressive curtain over the heavens.
      The darkness seemed to have rolled up with unusual swiftness,
      and not the faintest glow of color remained to show where the
      sun had set. There was present in the atmosphere that ominous
      and overwhelming silence which so often precedes the most
      violent storms.
      I sat down to my books with my brain unusually
      clear, and in my heart the pleasant satisfaction of knowing that
      five black bass were lying in the icehouse, and that tomorrow
      morning the old farmer would arrive with fresh bread and eggs. I
      was soon absorbed in my books.
      As the night wore on, the silence deepened. Even the
      chipmunks were still, and the boards of the floors and walls
      ceased creaking. I read on steadily till, from the gloomy shadows
      of the kitchen, came the hoarse sound of the clock striking nine.
      How loud the strokes sounded! They were like blows of a big
      hammer. I closed one book and opened another, feeling that I was
      just warming up to my work.
      This, however, did not last long. I presently found
      that I was reading the same paragraphs over twice, simple
      paragraphs that did not require such effort. Then I noticed that
      my mind began to wander to other things, and the effort to recall
      my thoughts became harder with each digression. Concentration
      was growing momentarily more difficult. Presently I discovered
      that I had turned over two pages instead of one, and had not
      noticed my mistake until I was well down the page. This was
      becoming serious. What was the disturbing influence? It could
      not be physical fatigue. On the contrary, my mind was unusually
      alert, and in a more receptive condition than usual. I made a new
      and determined effort to read, and for a short time succeeded in
      giving my whole attention to my subject. But in a very few
      moments again I found myself leaning back in my chair, staring
      vacantly into space.
      Something was evidently at work in my
      subconsciousness. There was something I had neglected to do.
      Perhaps the kitchen door and windows were not fastened. I
      accordingly went to see, and found that they were! The fire
      perhaps needed attention. I went in to see, and found that it was
      all right! I looked at the lamps, went upstairs into every
      bedroom in turn, and then went round the house, and even into
      the icehouse. Nothing was wrong; everything was in its place.
      Yet something *was* wrong! The conviction grew stronger and
      stronger within me.
      When I at length settled down to my books again and
      tried to read, I became aware, for the first time, that the room
      seemed to be growing cold. Yet the day had been oppressively
      warm, and evening had brought no relief. The six big lamps,
      moreover, gave out enough heat to warm the room pleasantly.
      But a chilliness, that perhaps crept up from the lake, made itself
      felt in the room, and caused me to get up to close the glass door
      opening onto the veranda.
      For a brief moment I stood looking out at the shaft of
      light that fell from the windows and shone some little distance
      down the pathway and out for a few feet into the lake.
      As I looked I saw a canoe glide into the pathway of
      light, and immediately crossing it, pass out of sight again into
      the darkness. It was perhaps a hundred feet from the shore, and
      it moved swiftly.
      I was surprised that a canoe should pass the island at
      that time of night, for all the summer visitors from the
      other side of the lake had gone home weeks before, and the
      island was a long way out of any line of water traffic.
      My reading from this moment did not make very good
      progress, for somehow the picture of that canoe, gliding so dimly
      and swiftly across the narrow track of light on the black waters,
      silhouetted itself against the background of my mind with
      singular vividness. It kept coming between my eyes and the
      printed page. The more I thought about it, the more surprised I
      became. It was of larger build than any I had seen during the past
      summer months, and was more like the old Indian war canoes with
      the high curving bows and stern and wide beam. The more I tried
      to read, the less success attended my efforts, and finally I closed
      my books and went out on the veranda to walk up and down a bit
      and shake the chilliness out of my bones.
      The night was perfectly still, and as dark as imaginable.
      I stumbled down the path to the little landing wharf, where the
      water made the very faintest of gurgling under the timbers. The
      sound of a big tree falling in the mainland forest, far across the
      lake, stirred echoes in the heavy air, like the first guns of a
      distant night attack. No other sound disturbed the stillness that
      reigned supreme.
      As I stood upon the wharf in the broad splash of light
      that followed me from the sitting-room windows, I saw another
      canoe cross the pathway of uncertain light upon the water and
      disappear at once into the impenetrable gloom that lay beyond.
      This time I saw more distinctly than before. It was like the
      former canoe, a big birchbark, with high-crested bow and stern
      and broad beam. It was paddled by two Indians, of whom the one
      in the stern - the steerer - appeared to be a very large man. I
      could see this very plainly, and though the second canoe was much
      nearer the island than the first, I judged that they were both on
      their way home to the government reservation, which was
      situated some fifteen miles away upon the mainland.
      I was wondering in my mind what could possibly bring
      any Indians down to this part of the lake at such an hour of
      the night, when a third canoe, of precisely similar build, and
      also occupied by two Indians, passed silently round the end of the
      wharf. This time the canoe was very much nearer shore, and it
      suddenly flashed into my mind that the three canoes were in
      reality one and the same, and that only one canoe was circling
      the island!
      This was by no means a pleasant reflection, because,
      if it were the correct solution of the unusual appearance of the
      three canoes in this lonely part of the lake at so late an hour, the
      purpose of the two men could only reasonably be considered to be
      in some way connected with myself. I had never known of the
      Indians attempting any violence upon the settlers who shared the
      wild, inhospitable country with them; at the same time, it was not
      beyond the region of possibility to suppose . . . But then I did not
      care even to think of such hideous possibilities, and my
      imagination immediately sought relief in all manner of other
      solutions to the problem, which indeed came readily enough to my
      mind, but did not succeed in recommending themselves to my reason.
      Meanwhile, by a sort of instinct, I stepped back out
      of the bright light in which I had hitherto been standing, and waited
      in the deep shadow of a rock to see if the canoe would again make
      its appearance. Here I could see, without being seen, and the
      precaution seemed a wise one.
      After less than five minutes, the canoe, as I had
      anticipated, made its fourth appearance. This time it was not
      twenty yards from the wharf, and I saw that the Indians meant to
      land. I recognized the two men as those who had passed before,
      and the steerer was certainly an immense fellow. It was
      unquestionably the same canoe. There could no longer be any
      doubt that for some purpose of their own the men had been going
      round and round the island for some time, waiting for an
      opportunity to land. I strained my eyes to follow them in the
      darkness, but the night had completely swallowed them up, and
      not even the faintest swish of the paddles reached my ears as the
      Indians plied their long and powerful strokes. The canoe would be
      round again in a few moments, and this time it was possible that
      the men might land. It was well to be prepared. I knew nothing of
      their intentions, and two to one (when the two are big Indians!)
      late at night on a lonely island was not exactly my idea of a
      pleasant encounter.
      In a corner of the sitting room, leaning up against
      the back wall, stood my Marlin rifle, with ten cartridges in
      the magazine and one lying snugly in the greased breech. There
      was just time to get up to the house and take up a position of
      defense in that corner. Without an instant's hesitation I ran up to
      the veranda, carefully picking my way among the trees, so as to
      avoid being seen in the light. Entering the room, I shut the door
      leading to the veranda, and as quickly as possible turned out
      every one of the six lamps. To be in a room so brilliantly lit,
      where my every movement could be observed from outside, while
      I could see nothing but impenetrable darkness at every window,
      was by all laws of warfare an unnecessary concession to the
      enemy. And this enemy, if enemy it was to be, was far too wily
      and dangerous to be granted any such advantages.
      I stood in the corner of the room with my back
      against the wall, and my hand on the cold rifle barrel. The
      table, covered with my books, lay between me and the door, but
      for the first few minutes after the lights were out, the
      darkness was so intense that nothing could be discerned at all.
      Then, very gradually, the outline of the room became visible,
      and the framework of the windows began to shape itself dimly
      before my eyes.
      After a few minutes the door (its upper half of glass)
      and the two windows that looked out upon the front veranda
      became especially distinct, and I was glad that this was so,
      because if the Indians came up to the house, I should be able
      to see their approach and gather something of their plans. Nor
      was I mistaken, for there presently came to my ears the
      peculiar hollow sound of a canoe landing and being carefully
      dragged up over the rocks. The paddles I distinctly heard being
      placed underneath, and the silence that ensued thereupon I
      rightly interpreted to mean that the Indians were stealthily
      approaching the house. . . .
      While it would be absurd to claim that I was not
      alarmed - even frightened - at the gravity of the situation
      and its possible outcome, I speak the whole truth when I say
      that I was not overwhelmingly afraid for myself. I was
      conscious that even at this stage of the night I was passing
      into a psychic condition in which my sensations seemed no
      longer normal. Physical fear at no time entered into the
      nature of my feelings, and though I kept my hand upon my
      rifle the greater part of the night, I was all the time
      conscious that its assistance could be of little avail against
      the terrors that I had to face. More than once I seemed to feel
      most curiously that I was in no real sense a part of the
      proceedings, nor actually involved in them, but that I was
      playing the part of a spectator - a spectator, moreover, on a
      psychic rather than on a material plane. Many of my sensations
      that night were too vague for definite description and analysis,
      but the main feeling that will stay with me to the end of my
      days is the awful horror of it all, and the miserable sensation
      that if the strain had lasted a little longer than was actually
      the case, my mind must inevitably have given way.
      Meanwhile I stood still in my corner, and waited
      patiently for what was to come. The house was as still
      as the grave, but the inarticulate voices of the night sang
      in my ears, and I seemed to hear the blood running in my veins
      and dancing in my pulses.
      If the Indians came to the back of the house, they
      would find the kitchen door and window securely fastened.
      They could not get in there without making considerable
      noise, which I was bound to hear. The only mode of getting
      in was by means of the door that faced me, and I kept my
      eyes glued on that door without taking them off for the
      smallest fraction of a second.
      My sight adapted itself every minute better to
      the darkness. I saw the table that nearly filled the room
      and left only a narrow passage on each side. I could also
      make out the straight backs of the wooden chairs pressed
      up against it, and could even distinguish my papers and
      inkstand lying on the white oilcloth covering. I thought of
      the gay faces that had gathered round that table during the
      summer, and I longed for the sunlight as I had never longed
      for it before.
      Less than three feet to my left, the passageway
      led to the kitchen, and the stairs leading to the bedrooms
      above commenced in the passageway but almost in the
      sitting room itself. Through the windows I could see the dim
      motionless outlines of the trees: not a leaf stirred, not a
      branch moved.
      A few moments of this awful silence, and then I
      was aware of a soft tread on the boards of the veranda, so
      stealthy that it seemed an impression directly on my brain
      rather than upon the nerves of hearing. Immediately afterward
      a black figure darkened the glass door, and I perceived that a
      face was pressed against the upper panes. A shiver ran down
      my back, and my hair was conscious of a tendency to rise and
      stand at right angles to my head.
      It was the figure of an Indian, broad-shouldered
      and immense - indeed, the largest figure of a man I have ever
      seen outside of a circus hall. By some power of light that
      seemed to generate itself in the brain, I saw the strong dark
      face with the aquiline nose and high cheekbones flattened
      against the glass. The direction of the gaze I could not
      determine, but faint gleams of light as the big eyes rolled
      round and showed their whites told me plainly that no corner
      of the room escaped their searching.
      For what seemed fully five minutes, the dark
      figure stood there, with the huge shoulders bent forward
      so as to bring the head down to the level of the glass;
      while behind him, though not nearly so large, the shadowy
      form of the other Indian swayed to and fro like a bent tree.
      While I waited in an agony of suspense and agitation for
      their next movement, little currents of icy sensation ran up
      and down my spine, and my heart seemed alternately to stop
      beating and then start up again with terrifying rapidity.
      They must have heard its thumping and the singing of the
      blood in my head! Moreover, I was conscious, as I felt a
      cold stream of perspiration trickle down my face, of a
      desire to scream, to shout, to bang the walls like a child,
      to make a noise, or do anything that would relieve the
      suspense and bring things to a speedy climax.
      It was probably this inclination that led me
      to another discovery, for when I tried to bring my rifle
      from behind my back to raise it and have it pointed at the
      door ready to fire, I found that I was powerless to move.
      The muscles, paralyzed by this strange fear, refused to
      obey the will. Here indeed was a terrifying complication!

      There was a faint sound of rattling at the brass
      knob, and the door was pushed open a couple of inches. A
      pause of a few seconds, and it was pushed open still
      further. Without a sound of footsteps that was appreciable
      to my ears, the two figures glided into the room, and the
      man behind gently closed the door after him.
      They were alone with me between four walls.
      Could they see me standing there, so still and straight
      in my corner? Had they, perhaps, already seen me? My
      blood surged and sang like the rolls of drums in an
      orchestra, and though I did my best to suppress my
      breathing, it sounded like the rushing of wind through a
      pneumatic tube.
      My suspense as to the next move was soon at an
      end - only, however, to give place to a new and keener
      alarm. The men had hitherto exchanged no words and no
      signs, but there were general indications of a movement
      across the room, and whichever way they went, they would
      have to pass round the table. If they came my way, they
      would have to pass within six inches of my person. While I
      was considering this very disagreeable possibility, I
      perceived that the smaller Indian (smaller by comparison)
      suddenly raised his arm and pointed to the ceiling. The other
      fellow raised his head and followed the direction of his
      companion's arm. I began to understand at last. They were
      going upstairs, and the room directly overhead to which
      they pointed had been until this night my bedroom. It was
      the room in which I had experienced that very morning so
      strange a sensation of fear, and but for which I should then
      have been lying asleep in the narrow bed against the window.
      The Indians then began to move silently around
      the room; they were going upstairs, and they were coming
      around my side of the table. So stealthy were their
      movements that, but for the abnormally sensitive state of
      the nerves, I should never have heard them. As it was, their
      catlike tread was distinctly audible. Like two monstrous
      black cats they came round the table toward me, and for the
      first time I perceived that the smaller of the two dragged
      something along the floor behind him. As it trailed along over
      the floor with a soft, sweeping sound, I somehow got the
      impression that it was a large dead thing with outstretched
      wings, or a large, spreading cedar branch. Whatever it was, I
      was unable to see it even in outline, and I was too terrified,
      even had I possessed the power over my muscles, to move my
      neck forward in the effort to determine its nature.
      Nearer and nearer they came. The leader rested a
      giant hand upon the table as he moved. My lips were glued
      together, and the air seemed to burn in my nostrils. I tried to
      close my eyes, so that I might not see as they passed me, but
      my eyelids had stiffened and refused to obey. Would they
      never get by me? Sensation seemed also to have left my legs,
      and it was as if I were standing on mere supports of wood or
      stone. Worse still, I was conscious that I was losing the power
      of balance, the power to stand upright, or even to lean
      backward against the wall. Some force was drawing me
      forward, and a dizzy terror seized me that I should lose my
      balance and topple forward against the Indians just as they
      were in the act of passing me.
      Even moments drawn out into hours must come to
      an end sometime, and almost before I knew it the figures had
      passed me and had their feet upon the lowest step of the
      stairs leading to the upper bedrooms. There could not have been
      six inches between us, and yet I was conscious only of a
      current of cold air that followed them. They had not touched
      me, and I was convinced that they had not seen me. Even the
      trailing thing on the floor behind them had not touched my feet,
      as I had dreaded it would, and on such an occasion as this I was
      grateful even for the smallest mercies.
      The absence of the Indians from my immediate
      neighborhood brought little sense of relief. I stood shivering
      and shuddering in my corner, and, beyond being able to breathe
      more freely, I felt no whit less uncomfortable. Also, I was
      aware that a certain light, which, without apparent source or
      rays, had enabled me to follow their every gesture and
      movement, had gone out of the room with their departure. An
      unnatural darkness filled the room and pervaded its every
      corner so that I could barely make out the positions of the
      windows and the glass doors.
      As I said before, my condition was evidently an
      abnormal one. The capacity for feeling surprise seemed, as
      in dreams, to be wholly absent. My senses recorded with
      unusual accuracy every smallest occurrence, but I was able
      to draw only the simplest deductions.
      The Indians soon reached the top of the stairs,
      and there they halted for a moment. I had not the faintest
      clue as to their next movement. They appeared to hesitate.
      They were listening attentively. Then I heard one of them,
      who by the weight of his soft tread must have been the giant,
      cross the narrow corridor and enter the room directly overhead -
      my own little bedroom. But for the insistence of that
      unaccountable dread I had experienced there in the morning, I
      should at that very moment have been lying in the bed with the
      big Indian in the room standing beside me.
      For a space of a hundred seconds, there was
      silence, such as might have existed before the birth of
      sound. It was followed by a long quivering shriek of terror,
      which rang out into the night and ended in a short gulp before
      it had run its full course. At the same moment the other Indian
      left his place at the head of the stairs and joined his companion
      in the bedroom. I heard the "thing" trailing behind him along the
      floor. A thud followed, as of something heavy falling, and then
      all became still and silent as before.
      It was at this point that the atmosphere, surcharged
      all day with the electricity of a fierce storm, found relief in
      a dancing flash of brilliant lightning simultaneously with a
      crash of loudest thunder. For five seconds every article in the
      room was visible to me with amazing distinctness, and through
      the windows I saw the tree trunks standing in solemn rows. The
      thunder pealed and echoed across the lake and among the distant
      islands, and the floodgates of heaven then opened and let out
      their rain in streaming torrents.
      The drops fell with a swift rushing sound upon the
      still waters of the lake, which leaped up to meet them, and
      pattered with the rattle of shot on the leaves of the maples and
      the roof of the cottage. A moment later, and another flash, even
      more brilliant and of longer duration than the first, lit up the
      sky from zenith to horizon, and bathed the room momentarily in
      dazzling whiteness. I could see the rain glistening on the leaves
      and branches outside. The wind rose suddenly, and in less than a
      minute the storm that had been gathering all day burst forth in
      its full fury.
      Above all the noisy voices of the elements, the
      slightest sounds in the room overhead made themselves heard,
      and in the few seconds of deep silence that followed the shriek
      of terror and pain, I was aware that the movements had
      commenced again. The men were leaving the room and
      approaching the top of the stairs. A short pause, and they began
      to descend. Behind them, tumbling from step to step, I could
      hear that trailing "thing" being dragged along. It had become
      I awaited their approach with a degree of calmness,
      almost of apathy, which was only explicable on the ground
      that after a certain point Nature applies her own anesthetic,
      and a merciful condition of numbness supervenes. On they came,
      step by step, nearer and nearer, with the shuffling sound of the
      burden behind growing louder as they approached.
      They were already halfway down the stairs when I
      was galvanized afresh into a condition of terror by the
      consideration of a new and horrible possibility. It was the
      reflection that if another vivid flash of lightning were to come
      when the shadowy procession was in the room, perhaps when it
      was actually passing in front of me, I should see everything in
      detail, and worse, be seen myself! I could only hold my breath
      and wait - wait while the minutes lengthened into hours, and
      the procession made its slow progress around the room.
      The Indians had reached the foot of the staircase.
      The form of the huge leader loomed in the doorway of the
      passage, and the burden, with an ominous thud, had dropped
      from the last step to the floor. There was a moment's pause
      while I saw the Indian turn and stoop to assist his companion.
      Then the procession moved forward again, entered the room
      close on my left, and began to move slowly round my side of
      the table. The leader was already beyond me, and his companion,
      dragging on the floor behind him the burden, whose confused
      outline I could dimly make out, was exactly in front of me,
      when the cavalcade came to a dead halt. At the same moment,
      with the strange suddenness of thunderstorms, the splash of
      the rain ceased altogether, and the wind died away into utter
      For the space of five seconds, my heart seemed
      to stop beating, and then the worst came. A double flash
      of lightning lit up the room and its contents with merciless
      The huge Indian leader stood a few feet past me
      on my right. One leg was stretched forward in the act of
      taking a step. His immense shoulders were turned toward
      his companion, and in all their magnificent fierceness I saw
      the outline of his features. His gaze was directed upon the
      burden his companion was dragging along the floor; but his
      profile, with the big aquiline nose, high cheekbones, straight
      black hair, and bold chin, burnt itself in that brief instant into
      my brain, never again to fade.
      Dwarfish, compared with this gigantic figure,
      appeared the proportions of the other Indian, who, within
      twelve inches of my face, was stooping over the thing he
      was dragging in a position that lent to his person the additional
      horror of deformity. And the burden, lying upon a sweeping cedar
      branch which he held and dragged by a long stem, was the body of
      a white man. The scalp had been neatly lifted, and blood lay in a
      broad smear upon the cheeks and forehead.
      Then, for the first time that night, the terror that
      had paralyzed my muscles and my will lifted its unholy
      spell from my soul. With a loud cry I stretched out my arms
      to seize the big Indian by the throat and, grasping only air,
      tumbled forward unconscious upon the ground.
      I had recognized the body, and _the face was my own!_

      It was bright daylight when a man's voice recalled
      me to consciousness. I was lying where I had fallen, and
      the farmer was standing in the room with the loaves of bread
      in his hands. The horror of the night was still in my heart, and
      as the bluff settler helped me to my feet and picked up the rifle
      which had fallen with me, with many questions and expressions
      of condolence, I imagine my brief replies were neither
      self-explanatory nor even intelligible.
      That day, after a thorough and fruitless search of
      the house, I left the island and went over to spend my last
      ten days with the farmer, and when the time came for me to
      leave, the necessary reading had been accomplished, and my
      nerves had completely recovered their balance.

      On the day of my departure, the farmer started
      early in his big boat with my belongings to row to the point,
      twelve miles distant, where a little steamer ran twice a week
      for the accommodation of hunters. Late in the afternoon I went
      off in another direction in my canoe, wishing to see the island
      once again, where I had been the victim of so strange an
      In due course I arrived there and made a tour of the
      island. I also made a search of the little house, and it was not
      without a curious sensation in my heart that I entered the
      little upstairs bedroom. There seemed nothing unusual.
      Just after I reembarked, I saw a canoe gliding ahead
      of me around the curve of the island. A canoe was an unusual
      sight this time of the year, and this one seemed to have
      sprung from nowhere. Altering my course a little, I watched
      it disappear around the next projecting point of rock. It had
      high curving bows, and there were two Indians in it. I
      lingered with some excitement, to see if it would appear
      again around the other side of the island, and in less than
      five minutes it came into view. There were less than two
      hundred yards between us, and the Indians, sitting on their
      haunches, were paddling swiftly in my direction.
      I never paddled faster in my life than I did in
      those next few minutes. When I turned to look again, the
      Indians had altered their course and were again circling the
      The sun was sinking behind the forests on the
      mainland, and the crimson-colored clouds of sunset were
      reflected in the waters of the lake, when I looked round for
      the last time and saw the big bark canoe and its two dusky
      occupants still going round the island. Then the shadows
      deepened rapidly, the lake grew black, and the night wind blew
      its first breath in my face as I turned the corner, and a
      projecting bluff of rock hid from my view both island and canoe.

      "A Haunted Island" Copyright © _The Pall Mall Magazine_, Apr 1899

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