Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 2

  • As was only natural under the circumstances, this piquant debating finally go_nto print in the form of letters to the Arkham Advertiser; some of which wer_opied in the press of those Vermont regions whence the flood-stories came.
  • The Rutland Herald gave half a page of extracts from the letters on bot_ides, while the Brattleboro Reformer reprinted one of my long historical an_ythological summaries in full, with some accompanying comments in "Th_endrifter's" thoughtful column which supported and applauded my skeptica_onclusions. By the spring of 1928 I was almost a well-known figure i_ermont, notwithstanding the fact that I had never set foot in the state. The_ame the challenging letters from Henry Akeley which impressed me s_rofoundly, and which took me for the first and last time to that fascinatin_ealm of crowded green precipices and muttering forest streams.
  • Most of what I know of Henry Wentworth Akeley was gathered by correspondenc_ith his neighbours, and with his only son in California, after my experienc_n his lonely farmhouse. He was, I discovered, the last representative on hi_ome soil of a long, locally distinguished line of jurists, administrators, and gentlemen-agriculturists. In him, however, the family mentally had veere_way from practical affairs to pure scholarship; so that he had been a notabl_tudent of mathematics, astronomy, biology, anthropology, and folklore at th_niversity of Vermont. I had never previously heard of him, and he did no_ive many autobiographical details in his communications; but from the first _aw he was a man of character, education, and intelligence, albeit a reclus_ith very little worldly sophistication.
  • Despite the incredible nature of what he claimed, I could not help at onc_aking Akeley more seriously than I had taken any of the other challengers o_y views. For one thing, he was really close to the actual phenomena - visibl_nd tangible - that he speculated so grotesquely about; and for another thing, he was amazingly willing to leave his conclusions in a tenative state like _rue man of science. He had no personal preferences to advance, and was alway_uided by what he took to be solid evidence. Of course I began by considerin_im mistaken, but gave him credit for being intelligently mistaken; and at n_ime did I emulate some of his friends in attributing his ideas, and his fea_f the lonely green hills, to insanity. I could see that there was a grea_eal to the man, and knew that what he reported must surely come from strang_ircumstance deserving investigation, however little it might have to do wit_he fantastic causes he assigned. Later on I received from him certai_aterial proofs which placed the matter on a somewhat different an_ewilderingly bizarre basis.
  • I cannot do better than transcribe in full, so far as is possible, the lon_etter in which Akeley introduced himself, and which formed such an importan_andmark in my own intellectual history. It is no longer in my possession, bu_y memory holds almost every word of its portentous message; and again _ffirm my confidence in the sanity of the man who wrote it. Here is the text \- a text which reached me in the cramped, archaic-looking scrawl of one wh_ad obviously not mingled much with the world during his sedate, scholarl_ife. R.F.D. #2,
  • Townshend, Windham Co., Vermont.
  • May 5,1928
  • Albert N. Wilmarth, Esq.,
  • 118 Saltonstall St.,
  • Arkham, Mass.
  • My Dear Sir:
  • I have read with great interest the Brattleboro Reformer's reprint (Apr. 23,
  • '28) of your letter on the recent stories of strange bodies seen floating i_ur flooded streams last fall, and on the curious folklore they so well agre_ith. It is easy to see why an outlander would take the position you take, an_ven why "Pendrifter" agrees with you. That is the attitude generally taken b_ducated persons both in and out of Vermont, and was my own attitude as _oung man (I am now 57) before my studies, both general and in Davenport'_ook, led me to do some exploring in parts of the hills hereabouts not usuall_isited.
  • I was directed toward such studies by the queer old tales I used to hear fro_lderly farmers of the more ignorant sort, but now I wish I had let the whol_atter alone. I might say, with all proper modesty, that the subject o_nthropology and folklore is by no means strange to me. I took a good deal o_t at college, and am familiar with most of the standard authorities such a_ylor, Lubbock, Frazer, Quatrefages, Murray, Osborn, Keith, Boule, G. Elliot_mith, and so on. It is no news to me that tales of hidden races are as old a_ll mankind. I have seen the reprints of letters from you, and those agreein_ith you, in the Rutland Herald, and guess I know about where your controvers_tands at the present time.
  • What I desire to say now is, that I am afraid your adversaries are neare_ight than yourself, even though all reason seems to be on your side. They ar_earer right than they realise themselves - for of course they go only b_heory, and cannot know what I know. If I knew as little of the matter a_hey, I would feel justified in believing as they do. I would be wholly o_our side.
  • You can see that I am having a hard time getting to the point, probabl_ecause I really dread getting to the point; but the upshot of the matter i_hat I have certain evidence that monstrous things do indeed live in the wood_n the high hills which nobody visits. I have not seen any of the thing_loating in the rivers, as reported, but I have seen things like them unde_ircumstances I dread to repeat. I have seen footprints, and of late have see_hem nearer my own home (I live in the old Akeley place south of Townshen_illage, on the side of Dark Mountain) than I dare tell you now. And I hav_verheard voices in the woods at certain points that I will not even begin t_escribe on paper.
  • At one place I heard them so much that I took a phonograph therewith _ictaphone attachment and wax blank - and I shall try to arrange to have yo_ear the record I got. I have run it on the machine for some of the old peopl_p here, and one of the voices had nearly scared them paralysed by reason o_ts likeness to a certain voice (that buzzing voice in the woods whic_avenport mentions) that their grandmothers have told about and mimicked fo_hem. I know what most people think of a man who tells about "hearing voices"
  • - but before you draw conclusions just listen to this record and ask some o_he older backwoods people what they think of it. If you can account for i_ormally, very well; but there must be something behind it. Ex nihilo nihi_it, you know.
  • Now my object in writing you is not to start an argument but to give yo_nformation which I think a man of your tastes will find deeply interesting.
  • This is private. Publicly I am on your side, for certain things show me tha_t does not do for people to know too much about these matters. My own studie_re now wholly private, and I would not think of saying anything to attrac_eople's attention and cause them to visit the places I have explored. It i_rue - terribly true - that there are non-human creatures watching us all th_ime; with spies among us gathering information. It is from a wretched ma_ho, if he was sane (as I think he was) was one of those spies, that I got _arge part of my clues to the matter. He later killed himself, but I hav_eason to think there are others now.
  • The things come from another planet, being able to live in interstellar spac_nd fly through it on clumsy, powerful wings which have a way of resisting th_ether but which are too poor at steering to be of much use in helping the_bout on earth. I will tell you about this later if you do not dismiss me a_nce as a madman. They come here to get metals from mines that go deep unde_he hills, and I think I know where they come from. They will not hurt us i_e let them alone, but no one can say what will happen if we get too curiou_bout them. Of course a good army of men could wipe out their mining colony.
  • That is what they are afraid of. But if that happened, more would come fro_utside - any number of them. They could easily conquer the earth, but hav_ot tried so far because they have not needed to. They would rather leav_hings as they are to save bother.
  • I think they mean to get rid of me because of what I have discovered. There i_ great black stone with unknown hieroglyphics half worn away which I found i_he woods on Round Hill, east of here; and after I took it home everythin_ecame different. If they think I suspect too much they will either kill me o_ake me off the earth to where they come from. They like to take away men o_earning once in a while, to keep informed on the state of things in the huma_orld.
  • This leads me to my secondary purpose in addressing you - namely, to urge yo_o hush up the present debate rather than give it more publicity. People mus_e kept away from these hills, and in order to effect this, their curiosit_ught not to be aroused any further. Heaven knows there is peril enoug_nyway, with promoters and real estate men flooding Vermont with herds o_ummer people to overrun the wild places and cover the hills with chea_ungalows.
  • I shall welcome further communication with you, and shall try to send you tha_honograph record and black stone (which is so worn that photographs don'_how much) by express if you are willing. I say "try" because I think thos_reatures have a way of tampering with things around here. There is a sulle_urtive fellow named Brown, on a farm near the village, who I think is thei_py. Little by little they are trying to cut me off from our world because _now too much about their world.
  • They have the most amazing way of finding out what I do. You may not even ge_his letter. I think I shall have to leave this part of the country and g_ive with my son in San Diego, Cal., if things get any worse, but it is no_asy to give up the place you were born in, and where your family has live_or six generations. Also, I would hardly dare sell this house to anybody no_hat the creatures have taken notice of it. They seem to be trying to get th_lack stone back and destroy the phonograph record, but I shall not let the_f I can help it. My great police dogs always hold them back, for there ar_ery few here as yet, and they are clumsy in getting about. As I have said, their wings are not much use for short flights on earth. I am on the ver_rink of deciphering that stone - in a very terrible way - and with you_nowledge of folklore you may be able to supply the missing links enough t_elp me. I suppose you know all about the fearful myths antedating the comin_f man to the earth - the Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu cycles - which are hinted a_n the Necronomicon. I had access to a copy of that once, and hear that yo_ave one in your college library under lock and key.
  • To conclude, Mr. Wilmarth, I think that with our respective studies we can b_ery useful to each other. I don't wish to put you in any peril, and suppose _ught to warn you that possession of the stone and the record won't be ver_afe; but I think you will find any risks worth running for the sake o_nowledge. I will drive down to Newfane or Brattleboro to send whatever yo_uthorize me to send, for the express offices there are more to be trusted. _ight say that I live quite alone now, since I can't keep hired help any more.
  • They won't stay because of the things that try to get near the house at night, and that keep the dogs barking continually. I am glad I didn't get as deep a_his into the business while my wife was alive, for it would have driven he_ad.
  • Hoping that I am not bothering you unduly, and that you will decide to get i_ouch with me rather than throw this letter into the waste basket as _adman's raving, I am
  • Yrs. very truly, Henry W. Akeley
  • P.S. I am making some extra prints of certain photographs taken by me, which _hink will help to prove a number of the points I have touched on. The ol_eople think they are monstrously true. I shall send you these very soon i_ou are interested.
  • H. W. A.
  • It would be difficult to describe my sentiments upon reading this strang_ocument for the first time. By all ordinary rules, I ought to have laughe_ore loudly at these extravagances than at the far milder theories which ha_reviously moved me to mirth; yet something in the tone of the letter made m_ake it with paradoxical seriousness. Not that I believed for a moment in th_idden race from the stars which my correspondent spoke of; but that, afte_ome grave preliminary doubts, I grew to feel oddly sure of his sanity an_incerity, and of his confrontation by some genuine though singular an_bnormal phenomenon which he could not explain except in this imaginative way.
  • It could not be as he thought it, I reflected, yet on the other hand, it coul_ot be otherwise than worthy of investigation. The man seemed unduly excite_nd alarmed about something, but it was hard to think that all cause wa_acking. He was so specific and logical in certain ways - and after all, hi_arn did fit in so perplexingly well with some of the old myths - even th_ildest Indian legends.
  • That he had really overheard disturbing voices in the hills, and had reall_ound the black stone he spoke about, was wholly possible despite the craz_nferences he had made - inferences probably suggested by the man who ha_laimed to be a spy of the outer beings and had later killed himself. It wa_asy to deduce that this man must have been wholly insane, but that h_robably had a streak of perverse outward logic which made the naive Akeley \- already prepared for such things by his folklore studies - believe his tale.
  • As for the latest developments - it appeared from his inability to keep hire_elp that Akeley's humbler rustic neighbours were as convinced as he that hi_ouse was besieged by uncanny things at night. The dogs really barked, too.
  • And then the matter of that phonograph record, which I could not but believ_e had obtained in the way he said. It must mean something; whether anima_oises deceptively like human speech, or the speech of some hidden, night- haunting human being decayed to a state not much above that of lower animals.
  • From this my thoughts went back to the black hieroglyphed stone, and t_peculations upon what it might mean. Then, too, what of the photographs whic_keley said he was about to send, and which the old people had found s_onvincingly terrible?
  • As I re-read the cramped handwriting I felt as never before that my credulou_pponents might have more on their side than I had conceded. After all, ther_ight be some queer and perhaps hereditarily misshapen outcasts in thos_hunned hills, even though no such race of star-born monsters as folklor_laimed. And if there were, then the presence of strange bodies in the floode_treams would not be wholly beyond belief. Was it too presumptuous to suppos_hat both the old legends and the recent reports had this much of realit_ehind them? But even as I harboured these doubts I felt ashamed that s_antastic a piece of bizarrerie as Henry Akeley's wild letter had brought the_p.
  • In the end I answered Akeley's letter, adopting a tone of friendly interes_nd soliciting further particulars. His reply came almost by return mail; an_ontained, true to promise, a number of Kodak views of scenes and object_llustrating what he had to tell. Glancing at these pictures as I took the_rom the envelope, I felt a curious sense of fright and nearness to forbidde_hings; for in spite of the vagueness of most of them, they had a damnabl_uggestive power which was intensified by the fact of their being genuin_hotographs - actual optical links with what they portrayed, and the produc_f an impersonal transmitting process without prejudice, fallibility, o_endacity.
  • The more I looked at them, the more I saw that my senous estimate of Akele_nd his story had not been unjustified. Certainly, these pictures carrie_onclusive evidence of something in the Vermont hills which was at leas_astly outside the radius of our common knowledge and belief. The worst thin_f all was the footprint - a view taken where the sun shone on a mud patc_omewhere in a deserted upland. This was no cheaply counterfeited thing, _ould see at a glance; for the sharply defined pebbles and grassblades in th_ield of vision gave a clear index of scale and left no possibility of _ricky double exposure. I have called the thing a "footprint," but "claw- print" would be a better term. Even now I can scarcely describe it save to sa_hat it was hideously crablike, and that there seemed to be some ambiguit_bout its direction. It was not a very deep or fresh print, but seemed to b_bout the size of an average man's foot. From a central pad, pairs of saw- toothed nippers projected in opposite directions - quite baffling as t_unction, if indeed the whole object were exclusively an organ of locomotion.
  • Another photograph - evidently a time-exposure taken in deep shadow - was o_he mouth of a woodland cave, with a boulder of, rounded regularity chokin_he aperture. On the bare ground in front of it, one could just discern _ense network of curious tracks, and when I studied the picture with _agnifier I felt uneasily sure that the tracks were like the one in the othe_iew. A third pictured showed a druid-like circle of standing stones on th_ummit of a wild hill. Around the cryptic circle the grass was very muc_eaten down and worn away, though I could not detect any footprints even wit_he glass. The extreme remoteness of the place was apparent from the veritabl_ea of tenantless mountains which formed the background and stretched awa_oward a misty horizon.
  • But if the most disturbing of all the views was that of the footprint, th_ost curiously suggestive was that of the great black stone found in the Roun_ill woods. Akeley had photographed it on what was evidently his study table, for I could see rows of books and a bust of Milton in the background. Th_hing, as nearly as one might guess, had faced the camera vertically with _omewhat irregularly curved surface of one by two feet; but to say anythin_efinite about that surface, or about the general shape of the whole mass, almost defies the power of language. What outlandish geometrical principle_ad guided its cutting - for artificially cut it surely was - I could not eve_egin to guess; and never before had I seen anything which struck me as s_trangely and unmistakably alien to this world. Of the hieroglyphics on th_urface I could discern very few, but one or two that I did see gave rather _hock. Of course they might be fraudulent, for others besides myself had rea_he monstrous and abhorred Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred; but i_evertheless made me shiver to recognise certain ideographs which study ha_aught me to link with the most blood-curdling and blasphemous whispers o_hings that had had a kind of mad half-existence before the earth and th_ther inner worlds of the solar system were made.
  • Of the five remaining pictures, three were of swamp and hill scenes whic_eemed to bear traces of hidden and unwholesome tenancy. Another was of _ueer mark in the ground very near Akeley's house, which he said he ha_hotographed the morning after a night on which the dogs had barked mor_iolently than usual. It was very blurred, and one could really draw n_ertain conclusions from it; but it did seem fiendishly like that other mar_r claw-print photographed on the deserted upland. The final picture was o_he Akeley place itself: a trim white house of two stories and attic, about _entury and a quarter old, and with a well-kept lawn and stone-bordered pat_eading up to a tastefully carved Georgian doorway. There were several hug_olice dogs on the lawn, squatting near a pleasant-faced man with a close- cropped grey beard whom I took to be Akeley himself - his own photographer, one might infer from the tube-connected bulb in his right hand.
  • From the pictures I turned to the bulky, closely-written letter itself; an_or the next three hours was immersed in a gulf of unutterable horror. Wher_keley had given only outlines before, he now entered into minute details; presenting long transcripts of words overheard in the woods at night, lon_ccounts of monstrous pinkish forms spied in thickets at twilight on th_ills, and a terrible cosmic narrative derived from the application o_rofound and varied scholarship to the endless bygone discourses of the ma_elf-styled spy who had killed himself. I found myself faced by names an_erms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections - Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, YogSothoth, R'lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L'mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandum - and was drawn back through nameless aeon_nd inconceivable dimensions to worlds of elder, outer entity at which th_razed author of the Necronomicon had only guessed in the vaguest way. I wa_old of the pits of primal life, and of the streams that had trickled dow_herefrom; and finally, of the tiny rivulets from one of those streams whic_ad become entangled with the destinies of our own earth.
  • My brain whirled; and where before I had attempted to explain things away, _ow began to believe in the most abnormal and incredible wonders. The array o_ital evidence was damnably vast and overwhelming; and the cool, scientifi_ttitude of Akeley - an attitude removed as far as imaginable from th_emented, the fanatical, the hysterical, or even the. extravagantl_peculative - had a tremendous effect on my thought and judgment. By the tim_ laid the frightful letter aside I could understand the fears he had come t_ntertain, and was ready to do anything in my power to keep people away fro_hose wild, haunted hills. Even now, when time has dulled the impression an_ade me half-question my own experience and horrible doubts, there are thing_n that letter of Akeley's which I would not quote, or even form into words o_aper. I am almost glad that the letter and record and photographs are gon_ow \- and I wish, for reasons I shall soon make clear, that the new plane_eyond Neptune had not been discovered.
  • With the reading of that letter my public debating about the Vermont horro_ermanently ended. Arguments from opponents remained unanswered or put of_ith promises, and eventually the controversy petered out into oblivion.
  • During late May and June I was in constant correspondence with Akeley; thoug_nce in a while a letter would be lost, so that we would have to retrace ou_round and perform considerable laborious copying. What we were trying to do, as a whole, was to compare notes in matters of obscure mythologica_cholarship and arrive at a clearer correlation of the Vermont horrors wit_he general body of primitive world legend.
  • For one thing, we virtually decided that these morbidities and the hellis_imalayan Mi-Go were one and the same order of incarnated nightmare. There wa_lso absorbing zoological conjectures, which I would have referred t_rofessor Dexter in my own college but for Akeley's imperative command to tel_o one of the matter before us. If I seem to disobey that command now, it i_nly because I think that at this stage a warning about those farther Vermon_ills - and about those Himalayan peaks which bold explorers are more and mor_etermined to ascend - is more conducive to public safety than silence woul_e. One specific thing we were leading up to was a deciphering of th_ieroglyphics on that infamous black stone - a deciphering which might wel_lace us in possession of secrets deeper and more dizzying than any formerl_nown to man.