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Shadow

  • > Yea, though I walk through the valley of the Shadow:
  • >
  • > Psalm of David.
  • YE who read are still among the living; but I who write shall have long since
  • gone my way into the region of shadows. For indeed strange things shall
  • happen, and secret things be known, and many centuries shall pass away, ere
  • these memorials be seen of men. And, when seen, there will be some to
  • disbelieve, and some to doubt, and yet a few who will find much to ponder upon
  • in the characters here graven with a stylus of iron.
  • The year had been a year of terror, and of feelings more intense than terror
  • for which there is no name upon the earth. For many prodigies and signs had
  • taken place, and far and wide, over sea and land, the black wings of the
  • Pestilence were spread abroad. To those, nevertheless, cunning in the stars,
  • it was not unknown that the heavens wore an aspect of ill; and to me, the
  • Greek Oinos, among others, it was evident that now had arrived the alternation
  • of that seven hundred and ninety-fourth year when, at the entrance of Aries,
  • the planet Jupiter is conjoined with the red ring of the terrible Saturnus.
  • The peculiar spirit of the skies, if I mistake not greatly, made itself
  • manifest, not only in the physical orb of the earth, but in the souls,
  • imaginations, and meditations of mankind.
  • Over some flasks of the red Chian wine, within the walls of a noble hall, in a
  • dim city called Ptolemais, we sat, at night, a company of seven. And to our
  • chamber there was no entrance save by a lofty door of brass: and the door was
  • fashioned by the artisan Corinnos, and, being of rare workmanship, was
  • fastened from within. Black draperies, likewise, in the gloomy room, shut out
  • from our view the moon, the lurid stars, and the peopleless streets- but the
  • boding and the memory of Evil they would not be so excluded. There were things
  • around us and about of which I can render no distinct account- things material
  • and spiritual- heaviness in the atmosphere- a sense of suffocation- anxiety-
  • and, above all, that terrible state of existence which the nervous experience
  • when the senses are keenly living and awake, and meanwhile the powers of
  • thought lie dormant. A dead weight hung upon us. It hung upon our limbs- upon
  • the household furniture- upon the goblets from which we drank; and all things
  • were depressed, and borne down thereby- all things save only the flames of the
  • seven lamps which illumined our revel. Uprearing themselves in tall slender
  • lines of light, they thus remained burning all pallid and motionless; and in
  • the mirror which their lustre formed upon the round table of ebony at which we
  • sat, each of us there assembled beheld the pallor of his own countenance, and
  • the unquiet glare in the downcast eyes of his companions. Yet we laughed and
  • were merry in our proper way- which was hysterical; and sang the songs of
  • Anacreon- which are madness; and drank deeply- although the purple wine
  • reminded us of blood. For there was yet another tenant of our chamber in the
  • person of young Zoilus. Dead, and at full length he lay, enshrouded; the
  • genius and the demon of the scene. Alas! he bore no portion in our mirth, save
  • that his countenance, distorted with the plague, and his eyes, in which Death
  • had but half extinguished the fire of the pestilence, seemed to take such
  • interest in our merriment as the dead may haply take in the merriment of those
  • who are to die. But although I, Oinos, felt that the eyes of the departed were
  • upon me, still I forced myself not to perceive the bitterness of their
  • expression, and gazing down steadily into the depths of the ebony mirror, sang
  • with a loud and sonorous voice the songs of the son of Teios. But gradually my
  • songs they ceased, and their echoes, rolling afar off among the sable
  • draperies of the chamber, became weak, and undistinguishable, and so faded
  • away. And lo! from among those sable draperies where the sounds of the song
  • departed, there came forth a dark and undefined shadow- a shadow such as the
  • moon, when low in heaven, might fashion from the figure of a man: but it was
  • the shadow neither of man nor of God, nor of any familiar thing. And quivering
  • awhile among the draperies of the room, it at length rested in full view upon
  • the surface of the door of brass. But the shadow was vague, and formless, and
  • indefinite, and was the shadow neither of man nor of God- neither God of
  • Greece, nor God of Chaldaea, nor any Egyptian God. And the shadow rested upon
  • the brazen doorway, and under the arch of the entablature of the door, and
  • moved not, nor spoke any word, but there became stationary and remained. And
  • the door whereupon the shadow rested was, if I remember aright, over against
  • the feet of the young Zoilus enshrouded. But we, the seven there assembled,
  • having seen the shadow as it came out from among the draperies, dared not
  • steadily behold it, but cast down our eyes, and gazed continually into the
  • depths of the mirror of ebony. And at length I, Oinos, speaking some low
  • words, demanded of the shadow its dwelling and its appellation. And the shadow
  • answered, "I am SHADOW, and my dwelling is near to the Catacombs of Ptolemais,
  • and hard by those dim plains of Helusion which border upon the foul Charonian
  • canal." And then did we, the seven, start from our seats in horror, and stand
  • trembling, and shuddering, and aghast, for the tones in the voice of the
  • shadow were not the tones of any one being, but of a multitude of beings, and,
  • varying in their cadences from syllable to syllable fell duskly upon our ears
  • in the well-remembered and familiar accents of many thousand departed friends.