From Supernatural Stories 25 - 1959
BY BRON FANE
Copyright © R. Lionel Fanthorpe
Used with permission
“There was an awful terror in the sound . . .”
Val Stearman was so tall that only the width of his enormous shoulders gave proportion to his build. He weighed a solid fifteen stone, of which less than .01 per cent was surplus cargo. And as if Nature had not already endowed him generously, he was handsome in a swash-buckling, devil-may-care way. He was happy-go-lucky, tough as nails, and full of an infinite capacity for enjoying life and finding happiness. He asked only two things of life. One was the company of his beautiful La Noire, the mysterious, dark-haired girl to whom he had been happily married now for several years, and with whom he had shared so many adventures in the occult realm. The other was adventure itself. Life, to Val, had to go with a bang, or it didn’t go at all. He would never, not even in extreme old age, should a miracle happen and he achieve old age — be content to vegetate quietly in some rural beauty spot. As long as he breathed, he wanted to breathe fast, and breathe hard. He believed that legs were for running, arms were for grasping. That eyes were for squinting down the barrel of a gun. That teeth were for clamping round problems, and opposition.
If he was a philosopher at all, his philosophy was that life was meant to be lived. He believed that God had given him brains which were to be used in overcoming difficulties, problems. That God had given him his body and strength to fight with, and make the most of.
It never made sense to Val to see strong men sitting in offices, doing jobs that should be done by the very young, the very old, or the weak. To him, a strong man’s place was out there — fighting in a strong man’s world.
He had very little sympathy or patience with those who couldn’t share his views. Because he found the everyday world so disappointingly mundane and so dull, he often went out to find an adventure. Went out with the carefree, swashbuckling abandon of the old-time privateer. And adventure has a whimsical habit of going to meet those who come and look for it diligently.
Val was one of the most ardent of seekers. The most diligent of searchers, and adventure, as was her grateful way, had always rewarded him accordingly. He had the satisfaction of rarely having to wait very long, for adventure to materialize. Part of his perpetual quest for excitement had given him a tremendous interest in the occult. Looking back in retrospect, he found it hard to believe that he had once been the most hard-headed agnostic in London; indeed, it was his very agnosticism and doubt that had led him to La Noire. It was his quick, open, fertile mind that had seen the fault of his agnosticism; had swiftly grasped at the truth, and acted upon it. Having rescued her from the clutches of a coven of black magicians, witches, wizards and sorcerers, they had gone from one adventure to another, until their enemies had at last been destroyed.
Because of the way in which Val Stearman had knocked around, he was never a man to go unprepared into the path of trouble. Had he been a Scout his perpetual degree of preparation would have delighted even the great Baden Powell himself! Under one muscular armpit, a heavy Browning automatic always nestled snugly in its shoulder holster. And the slugs inside that gun were no common lead as the slugs that fly from the average automatic. Val Stearman carried silver bullets in the magazine of the big Browning. The silver was the sacred, holy metal which could destroy those foul fiends of the dark realm which were impervious to orthodox attack.
He took the big Browning from its holster and patted it affectionately. La Noire arched one beautiful dark eyebrow.
“Expecting trouble, lover-boy?” she asked quietly.
“Always expecting trouble,” he grinned. “Ever since I rescued you from that peculiar collection of gentlemen led by Dr. Jules and Professor Van Haak. Hardly believe they’re dead, you know; I can’t now. Sometimes I wonder whether there’s going to be a crash in the middle of the night, and we shall wake up to find whether Jules has flung another bomb through the window, or sent us some poisoned chocolates through the post, or cut the brakes on the car! He was a lad with pleasant habits, wasn’t he?” La Noire laughed, but it had been no laughing matter at the time. For, on many, many occasions, the fight had almost gone to the sinister Dr. Jules, and not to them. Yet right had triumphed in the end. Jules was dead, Van Haak and the hunchback and most of the old gang were dead. There were none of the coven now who dared to pursue the beautiful La Noire and her hard-hitting, fast-shooting husband.
“Strange how you get into the habit of looking for trouble, even when it doesn’t exist,” said Val philosophically to himself. “You know, I’d no more go out without the gun than I’d go out without my coat on a rainy day. And I suppose, as far as the gun is concerned, every day is a rainy day. I’ve never regretted carrying it. Yet it would have been so easy to regret not carrying it!”
“Those are,” averred La Noire, “the sort of regrets that people only have once! In the words of the famous old Westerner, ‘he who shoots first — lasts.’”
Val laughed. “Very true! Pull the trigger first. Ask the questions afterwards. Nothing like it. Far better to apologise. To go back to your Western comedian, ‘There’s nothing you can do after the sheriff finds you dead.’”
They both laughed.
“Things have been strangely quiet lately,” commented Val. “I really think we shall have to try and stir something up from somewhere.”
“If you have three consecutive days on which nothing exciting happens to you,” said La Noire, “you seem to think the end of the world is just around the corner.”
“At least, that would be exciting,” said Val. “Fancy all that brimstone — is it just brimstone? Or brimstone and treacle?”
“Plain brimstone,” said La Noire.
“All in glorious Technicolor,” said Val. “Just imagine it. Oh, won’t the fundamentalists enjoy themselves. I can just see them now, running round in little circles, wagging tracts and shouting ‘Hallelujah,’ ‘Come and be saved.’ It’ll be like Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon.”
He grinned cynically. “Ah, well, ‘twitter ye not at the afflicted,’ I suppose, but those creeps make me sick. If there’s anything I dislike more than Haak and Jules, it’s the fundamentalists. Still, I suppose they have a purpose in creation, like the lugworms, and beetles, if only one has sufficient perspicacity to see them.”
“You’re incorrigible,” exploded La Noire.
“Yes, it’s hereditary,” rejoined Val. “I’ve had the disease a long time, I’m afraid. It gets worse as you grow older, you know. . . .”
The phone rang. . . .
“Aha!” said Val, in mock triumph, “If only this was a Sherlock Holmes story, we should be able to say, ‘Watson, I deduce that someone wishes to speak to us.’ And you, being less stupid than the amiable Watson —”
La Noire threw a pillow at him.
“Idiot!” she giggled. “Go and answer it.”
Val reached his hand out for the receiver.
“Stearman here. Who’s calling, please?”
“Oh, this is Timberlane, psychical research society,” answered a familiar voice. “We’ve got a job on, Val, right up your street. Interested?”
“You bet I’m interested,” said Val. “I was just bemoaning the fact that life has been flowing with unaccustomed smoothness for the last few days.”
Timberlane laughed, quietly.
“This is rather a tricky one, Val. I wouldn’t like to say it was anything like so dangerous as some of the things you’ve handled in the past, but it’s damnably curious. Anyway, if you and your charming wife would like to beetle over to the office, I’ll put you in the picture.” Val’s eyes lit up.
“Oh, good show,” he answered excitedly. “We’ll be with you as soon as we can get the old chariot out of the garage. Shouldn’t take us more than ten or twenty minutes — depending on the state of the traffic, and/or the speed patrols.”
“Inveterate as ever,” answered Timberlane, “All right. I’ll expect you when you come!”
“Ready?” asked Val.
La Noire looked at him in exasperation.
“How can I be ready in about thirty seconds, you monster?” she laughed.
“Adventure has sounded its stirring, clarion call,” said Val. “And we must away. Come on!”
He smothered her protests in his own enthusiasm, and next minute they were on their way to the garage. . . . Traffic wasn’t so unkind as it might have been, and it took him just seventeen minutes to draw up outside Timberlane’s office. He was also lucky with the parking.
“There you are,” he said good-humouredly, on alighting, “the fates are well and truly with us. Not much traffic, no speed cops, and even somewhere to park. And that, my dear girl,” he shrugged his shoulders, “parking in London — you can’t find anywhere to stick a needle — let alone a car. Anyway, we’re here! The star of Stearman must definitely be in the ascendant, wherever the ascendancy is.”
They stepped inside the imposing building and walked through into the elevator. It whisked them up to Timberlane’s office. George Timberlane was a short, square man of powerful jaw and gleaming grey eyes. He radiated vitality and enthusiasm for whatever he might be undertaking. He was also a magnificent administrator and organiser. Whatever project Timberlane embarked upon would be carried out thoroughly, efficiently and successfully. He omitted nothing. And short of an earthquake or a hundred-foot tidal wave, what George Timberlane planned for came to pass. He often said to his associates that he would bust his way through, or die in the attempt. The thought of Timberlane dying didn’t make sense, he was so vibrantly alive. Life sparked from him like electrical radiations. You could almost feel the tingling of his unique magnetic personality when you shook his square, muscular hand.
“Well, let’s get down to things.” He ushered them into comfortable, contemporary chairs in his office. His office was furnished with so wide a range, and so great an admixture of periods and designs, that it reflected the man’s mind. If he’d been a lesser genius, he’d have been an insipid nobody — dissipating his strength in too many different directions. But he was not a lesser genius. He was the one and only George Timberlane.
His office accordingly, with its enormous range of furniture, showed his visitor that he was not a man who dabbled in a multitude of pursuits, but he was a man who excelled at a multitude of pursuits. When George Timberlane went into a thing, he went into it thoroughly and efficiently. Either it broke — or he did. And George Timberlane wasn’t the kind of man to break! He was a man who came rapidly to the point . . . action, action, and yet more action . . . that was the spice of life to Timberlane. He drove through and through and through again.
Had he been a military man, he would never have stopped to “mop up,” he would have relied — rather like Alexander the Great — upon his own prestige. And the power of his fighting force to consolidate his massive victories. He had no time for detail — he saw things in broad, sharp outlines. To Timberlane a thing was either right or wrong. There was no grey. There was no question of lowering his standard to accommodate anybody else. It was “Timberlane forever” with him. And yet at the same time, it wasn’t conceit. He was good, very good, and he knew that he — George Timberlane — was very good. He didn’t care whether the rest of the world knew that fact or not. He was supremely self-confident, and his self confidence was amply justified.
Val Stearman and La Noire were leaning forward, peering at the documents he had spread on his desk.
“Case history, so far,” began Timberlane, very swiftly. “Man called Rochester phoned up a few days back. Reported a haunting. We sent one of the professional investigators along — seemed pretty straightforward — you know, category three.”
“Hmm,” said Val.
“Anyway, for the first two nights’ observation — it was Foster we sent along, of course” — he said in passing — “seemed perfectly natural and normal. Nothing out of the way. Nothing in the least unusual about the phenomena. But the third night we got a contact, a very good contact.”
“I’m sorry if I’m thick,” interposed Val, “but it’s a long time since I’ve done anything for the Society — what do you call category three?”
“Oh, that’s the standard type of what we call the familiar ghost. I don’t mean the familiar in the sense of a black magic ‘familiar,’ I mean the common or garden visitation — a Scrooge-and-Marley ghost.”
“Oh — I’ve got you,” answered Val. “I know. I’m with you. . . .”
“Well, there were two or three apparitions seen. One was tall and heavily built, rather like an ethereal, but well-fed, friar. If one can imagine an ethereal, but well-fed, friar! The other one was a thin, white form that drifted in and out of the wall. Nothing particularly odd about either of those. The place was in the vicinity of an area that was noted for monastic activity in the Middle Ages. They are just — in my opinion — ether apparitions. It was our friend the ethereal friar,” again he grinned to himself, those dancing eyes twinkled mischievously. “It was the friar who made contact. He got through to Foster with some Ouija writing. There’s a photostat of it here on the desk.”
He pushed the black and grey paper across to them. The hand was old, cramped, and scholastic. The letters were definitely the work of a hand that had been trained to write during the Middle Ages.
“Very interesting,” commented Val. “Very interesting indeed.”
He strained his eyes to decipher the words. He gave it up. Without a lot of time to spare, it would not be easy. He looked up at Timberlane questioningly.
“Make anything of it?” he asked.
“Thought you’d ask,” said Timberlane, his eyes twinkling again. “Yes, we did, as a matter of fact. And that’s what makes it so damnably odd. . . .”
“How come?” asked La Noire. Her voice reflected her curiosity.
Timberlane looked at her, and smiled.
“Well, what would you say, Mrs. Stearman, was the least likely thing that a ghost would be expected to write on a Ouija board?”
The sudden feminine, sixth-sense intuition made La Noire snap graceful fingers.
“Got it!” she exclaimed. “Let me read that paper again.”
Timberlane passed back the photostat.
“Isn’t that an M?” said La Noire.
“— and an A, and an L — yes, I’m right, aren’t I?”
“You’re a genius, you know.” He turned to Stearman. “I don’t know how she does it, boy. It took our lab two days of intensive work to get this!”
“Oh, you gave me a clue,” said La Noire. “It wasn’t clever, really.”
“It wasn’t much of a clue,” answered Timberlane, admiringly.
“I must be thick,” repeated Val. “But I’m still lost. What is it?”
“Malius Maleficorum,” said La Noise excitedly. “The Book of Exorcism — Malius Maleficorum. Look! Look what it says down here!”
“Good heavens,” said Stearman. “Yes, I can see it now. The Supreme Exorcism — Fundamentis Eagus in Montibus Sanctus. Why the blazes should a ghost write an exorcism on a Ouija board? You’re sure this thing’s genuine. I mean, Foster hasn’t tripped up anywhere along the line?”
Timberlane shook his head.
“No! It’s as genuine as Borley Rectory, boy. This is something big. It’s one of the biggest discoveries of the century. Now the strange thing is, first of all, why should our friend, the ethereal friar, write his own exorcism, and secondly, having written it, why hasn’t it worked?”
“It hasn’t worked?” interrupted Stearman, a question in his voice.
“It most certainly hasn’t,” replied Timberlane. “He’s still there. More obviously there than ever before.”
“Has anyone actually read the exorcism — or did he just write it, and it was left at that?”
“No, nobody’s read it. Of course, a lot of these depend upon the actual vibrations of the sounds themselves. But if you leave a copy of Malius Maleficorum open at the page, it’s enough to frighten most of them off.”
“Yes, I agree,” said La Noire. “It’s certainly extremely strange. Why should he want to be exorcised?”
She lapsed into a long, thoughtful silence. “I wonder,” she said at last. “I wonder if he’s trying to get away, for some reason. He’s tired of the place?”
“Surely,” said Val, “if he’s sufficiently advanced in the spirit world to know the exorcism, he ought to know the means of transferring himself to some other region. This is not the work of some ‘young,’ materialistic, earth-bound spirit, that’s only been dead a day or two. This is the — I mean — this man was a monk in his time, a holy man, a dedicated friar. He understood mysticism. It was as everyday to him as it is to us — perhaps a great deal more so, there contemplating in his monastery.”
“Even if he didn’t know so much about the occult,” broke in Timberlane, “he probably knew a great deal more about the eternal qualities and goodness; so far as that goes, he’s a more highly developed soul than we are. We are left with this problem — the man is stuck, and he wants us to exorcise him, or he’s hinting that he would like an exorcism read. Yet the exorcism doesn’t seem to be affecting him, because couldn’t he recite it to himself, if necessary, on his own plane? Why write it out for us to recite?”
“It’s a mystery,” commented Val. He looked at Timberlane squarely. “You hiding anything, George?”
The other looked at him sharply.
“You haven’t told us yet where these hauntings are taking place,” said Val. “Where is it?”
“Duquesne Avenue,” replied Timberlane. “There’s no particular secret about that.”
“Duquesne Avenue? Let’s have a look at a map,” said Val. “Is it near anywhere special? Anything around there could possibly, by any stretch of the imagination, be disturbing anything?”
Timberlane shook his head.
“No, very little. It’s largely residential. Oh — wait a minute, though-there’s a new building just been — yes, Val, you may be on to something. I don’t know how I came to miss this, but look —” He pointed to a small dot on the large-scale London map. “One of the big radio firms has just built a new electronics laboratory here.”
“Oh, have they!” said Val. “Now we’re on the brink. I wonder what’s cooking there? I wonder . . . You see, I think that for far too long —”
“I know what you’re going to say,” cut in Timberlane. “Science has been going in converging directions. What we need is unifying force. We need a few more metaphysicians to bring us all back into the pattern again. Get us all working in the same direction instead of pursuing our little separate channels, as though the rest of the world didn’t exist. You believe, as I believe, don’t you, Val, that there’s a connection between the atomic theory, relativity, four-dimensional space-time, theology and psychic research?”
“I certainly do, I also believe that all those new frontiers of the mind, like telepathy, and telekinesis, come into the pattern somewhere. If we could find the common denominator . . .” he shrugged.
“Ah,” said La Noire. “Now you’ve said it. That’s the great thing — what is the common denominator? It’s all very well to talk about a hypothetical one.”
“I think when we can answer that question,” said Timberlane. “The philosophers will have answered their quest. We shall know the answer to the question of life, in its entirety and in its completeness. We shall know where we’ve come from, and where we are going, even why we are here. We shall understand the purpose, the origin, the destination-everything.”
“Well, coming back from metaphysics to the business in hand,” said Val. “Have you any idea what line these chaps are working on in this electronics lab?”
Timberlane shook his head.
“No, but it’s an interesting angle. I daresay they’d be quite co-operative if we sent someone along there.”
“Yes, I think that might be a good idea,” said Val. “Any objections if I go?”
“Not at all,” said Timberlane. “I called you in, in the hope that you’d be interested.”
“Very much,” answered Val. “I like anything with an odd little twist like this. I’ll get along there straight away.”
They walked out of the office, descended to the street once more, and sped away towards Duquesne Avenue.
It was a modern, largely residential area, except for the proud, contemporary design of the “Supapowa” electronics laboratory. They drew up in front of the large, pretentious door. A smartly uniformed commissionaire stepped forward and smiled questioningly.
“Have you an appointment, sir?”
Val smiled back. The commissionaire’s apparent courtesy would have been disarming to a less experienced man of the world. But Val knew only too well that a brush-off was still a brush-off, whether it was polite or otherwise.
“Yes,” he answered. “Managing Director — personal.” His eyes flashed mischievously. “Top security business.” He glanced up and down the road. “I don’t want anybody to see me.”
The commissionaire’s bland smile departed, to be replaced by a look of genuine subservience.
“At once, sir. Terribly sorry, sir. I’ll garage the car for you.”
“It’s all right,” said Val. “I shan’t be more than five minutes. It’s very important. Leave it here, will you?” “Yes, of course, sir.” He stepped back into the doorway. “Can I see your pass, sir?” he asked, almost as an afterthought.
With a quick flip that would have done justice to the king of the F.B.I. himself, Val turned his lapel up, and down again.
The commissionaire took one swift glance at the tall, upright figure with the tremendously broad, powerful shoulders, and decided that he had actually seen a badge. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s “1984,” if the party said so, then the party was right. If a man as big, as purposeful as Val Stearman, said he was a security officer, that was all right with the commissionaire. . . .
Val and La Noire strode swiftly into the building. The swing door operated by photo-electric cell moved round without their touching it.
A list board gave the name of the executive officers. Val picked one who was “in,” and they stepped into the elevator.
La Noire was looking at him questioningly; she was just about to say something caustic about his treatment of the commissionaire which would have exposed his entire bluff, when he drew a sheet of paper from his notebook, wrote “microphones” on it, in a quick scribble, held it in front of her eyes, and thrust it back into his pocket. Her eyes widened as understanding dawned, and she smiled knowingly.
There is no doubt that if Val Stearman had not been one hundred per cent patriotic, and on the side of law and order, he could have made himself a pretty good living in the world of espionage. . . .
The elevator drew to a halt on the ninth floor. They stepped swiftly out and down the long, carpeted corridor leading to the executive’s office. Val walked as though he had been in the place a thousand times. After all, he told himself, one big office building is very much like another. He saw a door marked “J. T. Goodston. Strictly private,” and opened it imperiously. A startled secretary leapt up to demand his business.
Taking his cue from his encounter with the commissionaire, Val flipped his lapel again and muttered something about “security check, please don’t leave the building,” and knocking on an inner door, walked inside.
A huge, bloated, mountain of a man crouched behind his desk, rather like a walrus that has been stranded by the receding tide. The voice that issued from that mountainous frame was deceptively thin.
“Whatever do you want? How did you get in here?”
“I’m M.I.5,” replied Stearman, determined to brazen it out to the bitter end. “Just come to have a quick security check. Can’t take any chances with a project like this, you know.”
The look of alarm faded from Goodston’s face.
“Oh, I can’t imagine — but, of course, you’d have a pass. Yes, yes,”
“We have everything arranged, you know. Our department misses nothing.”
His eyes were already darting round the room, as though observing angles from which an assassin’s bullet might enter! La Noire was having all her work cut out to suppress a laugh.
“Now, then, about the project? Is everything running smoothly?” began Val.
“Oh, yes, yes. The energy matter transmission experiments have been going extremely well lately. We hope to have the whole apparatus in going gear within a few weeks now.”
“Good, good,” said Val. “Excellent.”
The tremendous shock he had received was concealed by his acting ability.
“I’ll just take a quick look round some of the other offices before I go, Mr. Goodston. Thank you very much.”
“Oh, not at all,” said Goodston. “It’s such a relief, really, to know that the department concerned is so actively on its toes. We’re most grateful to you, Mr — er —?”
“Smith,” answered Val. “George Smith. Thank you.”
“Not at all. Thank you,” said Mr. Goodston, and sagged back into his chair.
Stearman breezed out.
“Pass, please,” he said to the secretary.
Goodston’s face peeped round the intervening door.
“I can vouch for Miss Johnston. . . .”
“Some of these people are masters in disguise,” said Val. “Pass.”
The girl gulped.
“It’s in my bag. I’ll fetch it.”
Val stood purposefully by the door until the terrified stenographer had produced her security credentials. Val checked them over.
“That seems to be in order. We’ll communicate with you further. ‘Bye for now,” and then he was gone . . . back into the elevator. . . out into the street, past the saluting commissionaire and away into the hum of traffic, away from Duquesne Avenue.
“And that,” said Val, with a grin, “is how the great god Bluff defeated all his enemies, in the year dot; beat the frost giants; the demons and the witches on the broomsticks. My sainted aunt, what a performance! Who on earth would have believed it was possible to bluff one’s way in to such a closely guarded project. It makes me sweat with terror when I think I might have been a Russian instead of an Englishman.”
La Noire laughed.
“Oh, you’d have called the commissionaire ‘Tovaritch,’ or addressed Mr. Goodston as ‘comrade.’” She giggled. “And given the whole thing away. But it certainly is an eye-opener.”
She looked at him thoughtfully for a few moments in silence. “What is this matter-energy transmitter he was telling you about, anyway?”
“It sounds as though it might be the answer to the whole problem,” answered Val. “The reason for this unknown disturbance. You see, briefly, a matter-energy transmitter, my darling, is a machine which takes in solid lumps of matter or material at one end, anything from a toasting-fork to a ping-pong ball, solid, gas, liquid, anything you like; and then simply changes it to electrical wave lengths. Into electrical energy. Transmits it as electrical energy, and then pops it out at the other end as solid matter once again. All in the twinkling of an eye. Pass through anything, over anything, it’s fantastic.”
He paused, lost for words. “Well, the best way to explain it is to say that it’s a kind of three-dimensional television, only much more so. For instance, you’ve got a television transmitter, you’ve got the wave lengths being broadcast from that transmitter, and you’ve got the receiving set at home; the artist stands in front of the transmitting camera. The picture is changed into electrical impulses, which travel through space and are picked up by the receiving set at the other end. Now, just imagine an artist standing in front of an energy transmitter, and not just being sent as a picture, but being sent in the flesh! Just imagine him disappearing, changing into electric energy, travelling through whatever there is to travel through — a fourth dimension, possibly, and then coming back at some other point in space time.”
La Noire looked at him with wide, incredulous eyes.
“Do you mean to say that the Supapowa Company are really on the verge of something like. that?”
“They seem to be,” answered Val. “No wonder they’re jumpy about security. But our angle is the psychic research angle. How does this affect our friend the fat friar? And the thin white figure, that drifts through the wall? Why does the fat friar want to be exorcised?”
“It must be interfering in their realm,” said La Noire. “These solid objects which they’re using in the experiments, which they’re transmitting through the ether, or through the fourth dimension. Or simply through space-time itself. These objects, which they are using in their matter-energy transmitter, or whatever you called it-must be interfering in the world of the spirits. When they disappear, that’s where they go, before they reappear.” She snapped her fingers excitedly. “Yes, that must be it. Just imagine, things suddenly appearing out of nowhere.”
“Yes, I think you’ve got it,” said Val. “That must be the answer — or at least, it must be part of the answer. I think the next step is to get along to number 26, the haunted house itself, and see if we can make any contact with the spirits concerned.”
* * *
26 Duquesne Avenue was quite a modern house. The last place, in fact, which one would suspect of having any connection with the occult. Yet it was there, in that prosaic and mundane place, that Stearman and La Noire sat at a séance table with Foster and George Timberlane that evening. A clock struck the hour of midnight, and a familiar cold draught wafted upwards from the centre of the table where no draught had a right to be in the physical sense.
“Is there anybody there who wishes to speak to anybody here?” intoned Timberlane.
There was a loud and violent knocking and the table lifted into the air.
“We’re getting something,” said George.
“We certainly are.”
The cold became even more pronounced, and then it wasn’t only the cold. A strange. eerie, greenish-blue light began to percolate into the room with weird, unworldly opalescence. Like a shining pearl, the globule of light expanded, glistened, and grew, until in the centre of the green-blue radiance appeared a brown figure. The spirit outline of a monk, in a coarse brown habit. Behind the monk, a thin white spectre drifted around the edge of the illumination. The friar raised his arm and pointed straight at Timberlane.
“I have a message for you all.”
There was no doubt that it was La Noire’s presence and her pronounced mediumistic ability that was enabling the spectre to express itself so clearly and directly.
“I have a message,” repeated the friar. “I seek your help, enlightened ones. In our realm, there are strange disturbances.”
“I think I know what it is,” said Val. “You’re being bombarded by material objects; there are things in your realm that have no right to be there, is that it?”
He was eager and anxious, but the friar shook his head.
Val sat back in amazement. “I don’t understand,” he said, “I’m sorry. I thought I knew the answer.”
“We none of us know the answer,” said the friar, “but let me tell you what I know. Then if you tell me what you know, we will put the two halves together and see if we can make a consummate whole. It began a few days back, as you reckon time.”
His voice was low and flat, as if it came from a realm where there was no resonance, because there was nothing solid from which sound could resonate.
“Some few days back,” droned the friar, “another presence began to pursue me and my friend Henrique.” He indicated the ethereal white figure. “Henrique is not so developed as I am. He is terribly afraid of this strange other presence.”
“You mean, something’s pursuing you? Something’s haunting you — a spirit?” gasped Timberlane.
Val’s journalistic mind was seeing it as headlines, “The haunted ghost,” he whispered to himself. “Ye gods! Man bites dog! The ghost haunted! What a twist!”
The friar looked from one to the other of the sitters.
“What is this thing that’s pursuing you?” said Val.
The friar shook his head.
“We do not understand them. Even you, the enlightened ones, know very little of the spirit realm. We in the spirit realm, in turn, know very little of the other realm. But just as our spirit world is beyond your world, and greater than your world, and contains facts and mysteries which are simple to us, but enigmatical to you, so some of the more enlightened of our people understand a little of this other realm.
“Whether it is the final resting place of decayed spirits,” his voice tailed off, and then resumed, a little softer than before, “or whether it is the realm of some beings completely beyond our comprehension, I could not say — for I have no knowledge of it at all. I only know that something has disturbed and angered them.” His eyes became accusing. “We have done nothing, so you must have reached them in some way.”
“Then I was right,” said Val. He looked at Timberlane. “It is that energy transmitter that they’re using, but it hasn’t disturbed the spirit world, as I thought. It’s disturbed some other realm which we haven’t even dreamt of. And the creatures from there haven’t come back at us, they’ve come back at what we call the spirit world. By the stars, what a tangle! How are we going to sort this out?”
Timberlane shook his head.
“It’s too big for me,” he said. “I don’t know what we can do. I don’t know what we can do at all.”
He looked at the figure of the ghostly friar. “What do you want us to do? . . . The other night, when your message wasn’t so strong, you seemed to want us to read an exorcism. Do you think that would work? Would it have any effect on these creatures from the other realm? Would it drive them back?”
The friar shrugged his shoulders.
“I do not know,” he intoned. “We can but try.” He suddenly looked round, his face became strained. “The creature comes,” he said. “Can you see it? Can you? Can you see it?”
He was becoming anxious, dreadfully anxious.
The sitters in the séance room strained their eyes into the darkness, peered into the murky greenish-blue. But they could see nothing except the friar and Henrique, his terrified white companion.
Timberlane shook his head.
“We can see nothing but you and the other spirit, that we understand.”
Then. . . he saw the other thing. Or rather, he saw the absence of the thing, which was really what it was. It was just a hole in the air. A strange black cavity. As if a flake of negative matter had broken from some weird, dark planet and found its way into the everyday sanity of the earth.
“Good heavens!” breathed Stearman. “I’ve seen some strange sights and I’ve been frightened in my time, but I’ve never seen anything so hideous as that!”
It was just a sheer, black, negativeness. A hole that terrified them all. . . .
With trembling lips, Timberlane began to recite the exorcism:
“Fundamentis, aegis in montibus sanctus.”
Once . . . twice . . . three times. . . . And then, as suddenly as it had come, the hole was gone. The strange, black cavity disappeared as though it had never been.
But the power of the exorcism was not confined to that alone. . . .
With a faint, sighing “Thank yooouuu, thank yoouuu,” the monk and the thin white form of Henrique faded and were gone. The unnatural cold gave way to the normal temperature of the room, and then the psychical research investigators were alone once more.
“Ye gods and little fishes!” said Timberlane. “It’s the rummest do I’ve ever been on.”
“Same here,” said Stearman. “I suppose the apt comment would be, ‘I think our scientists are wonderful.’ . . . I can’t help wondering whether we’ve really heard and seen the last of that Unknown.”
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