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Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes: The Labyrinth




They were lost. Rosemary knew it and said so in forcible language. Brian also was well aware of their predicament but was unwilling to admit it.

"One cannot be lost in England," he stated. "We're bound to strike a main road if we walk in a straight line."

"But suppose we wander in a circle?" Rosemary asked, look-ing fearfully round at the Dartmoor landscape, "and finish up in a bog?"

"If we use our eyes there's no reason why bogs should bother us. Come on and stop moaning."

"We should never have left that track," Rosemary insisted. "Suppose we get caught out here when night falls?"

"Don't be daft," he snapped, "it's only mid-day. We'll be in Princetown long before nightfall."

"You hope." She refused to be convinced. "I'm hungry."

"So am I." They were walking up a steep incline. "But I don't keep on about it."

"I'm not keeping on. I'm hungry and I said so. Do you think we'll find a main road soon?" ^

"Over the next rise," he promised. "There's always a main road over the next rise."

But he was wrong. When they crested the next rise and looked down, there was only a narrow track which terminated at a tumbledown gate set in a low stone wall. Beyond, like an island girdled by a yellow lake, was a lawn-besieged house. It was built of grey stone and seemed to have been thrown up by the moors; a great, crouching monster that glared out across the countryside with multiple glass eyes. It had a strange look. The chimney stacks might have been jagged splinters of rock that had acquired a rough cylindrical shape after centuries of wind and rain. But the really odd aspect was that the sun appeared to ignore the house. It had baked the lawn to a pale yellow, cracked the paint on an adjacent summerhouse, but in some inexplicable way, it seemed to disavow the existence of the great, towering mass.


"Tea!" exclaimed Rosemary.

"What?"

"Tea." She pointed. "The old lady, she's drinking tea."

Sure enough, seated by a small table that nestled in the shade of a vast multi-coloured umbrella was a little white-haired old lady taking tea. Brian frowned, for he could not understand why he had not seen her, or at least the umbrella, before, but there she was, a tiny figure in a white dress and a floppy hat, sipping tea and munching sandwiches. He moistened dry lips.

"Do you suppose," he asked, "we dare intrude?"

"Watch me," Rosemary started running down the slope towards the gate. "I'd intrude on Dracula himself if he had a decent cup of tea handy."

Their feet moved on to a gravel path and it seemed whatever breeze stirred the sun-warm heather out on the moors did not dare intrude here. There was a strange stillness, a complete absence of sound, save for the crunch of feet on gravel, and this too ceased when they walked on to the parched lawn.

The old lady looked up and a slow smile gradually lit up a benign, wizened little face, while her tiny hands fluttered over the table, setting out two cups and saucers, then felt the teapot as though to make sure the contents were still hot.

"You poor children." Her voice had that harsh, slightly cracked quality peculiar to some cultured ladies of an advanced age, but the utterance was clear, every word pronounced with precision. "You look so hot and tired."

"We're lost," Rosemary announced cheerfully. "We've wandered for miles."

"I must apologise for intruding," Brian began, but the old lady waved a teaspoon at him as though to stress the impossibility of intrusion.

"My dear young man—please. You are most welcome. I cannot recall when I last entertained a visitor, although I have always hoped someone might pass this way again. The right kind of someone, of course."

She appeared to shiver momentarily, or perhaps tremble, for her hands and shoulders shook slightly, then an expression of polite distress puckered her forehead.

"But how thoughtless I am. You are tired having wandered so many miles and there are no chairs."

She turned her head and called out in a high-pitched, quivering voice. "Carlo! Carlo!"

A tall, lean man came out of the house and moved slowly towards them. He was dressed in a black satin tunic and matching trousers and, due possibly to some deformity, appeared to bound over the lawn, rather than walk. Brian thought of a wolf, or a large dog that has spotted intruders. He stopped a few feet from the old lady and stood waiting, his slate-coloured eyes watching Rosemary with a strange intensity.

"Carlo, you will fetch chairs," the old lady ordered, "then some more hot water."

Carlo made a guttural sound and departed in the direction of the summerhouse, leaping forward in a kind of loping run. He returned almost immediately carrying two little slatted chairs and presently Brian and Rosemary were seated under the vast umbrella, drinking tea from delicate china cups and listening to the harsh, cultivated voice.

'I must have lived alone here for such a long time. Gracious me, if I were to tell you how long, you would smile. Time is such an inexhaustible commodity, so long as one can tap the fountainhead. The secret is to break it down into small change. An hour does not seem to be long until you remember it has three thousand, six hundred seconds. And a week! My word, did you ever realise you have six hundred and four thousand, eight hundred seconds to spend every seven days? It's an enormous treasure. Do have another strawberry jam sandwich, child."

Rosemary accepted another triangular, pink-edged sandwich, then stared open-eyed at the house. At close quarters it looked even more grim than from a distance. There was the impression the walls had drawn their shadows above themselves like a ghostly cloak, and although the house stood stark and forbidding in broad daylight, it still seemed to be divorced from sunshine. Rosemary of course made the obvious statement.

"It must be very old."

"It has lived," the old lady said, "for millions upon millions of seconds. It has drunk deep from the barrel of time."

Rosemary giggled, then hastily assumed an extravagantly serious expression as Brian glared at her. He sipped his tea and said: "This is really most kind of you. We were fagged out—and rather scared too. The moors seemed to go on and on and I thought we would have to spend the night out there."

The old lady nodded, her gaze flickering from one young face to the other.

"It is not pleasant to be lost in a great, empty space. Doubtless, if you had not returned before nightfall, someone would have instigated a search for you."

"Not on your nelly," Rosemary stated with charming simplicity. "No one knows where we are. We're sort of taking a roaming holiday."

"How adventurous," the old lady murmured, then called back over one shoulder. "Carlo, the hot water, man. Do hurry."

Carlo came bounding out of the house carrying a silver jug in one hand and a plate of sandwiches in the other. When he reached the table his mouth was open and he was breathing heavily. The old lady shot him an anxious glance.

"Poor old boy," she consoled. "Does the heat get you down, then? Eh? Does the heat make you puff and pant? Never mind, you can go and lie down somewhere in the shade." She turned to her guests and smiled a most kindly, benign smile. "Carlo has mixed blood and he finds the heat most trying. I keep telling him to practise more self-control, but he will insist on running about." She sighed. "I suppose it is his nature."

Rosemary was staring intently at her lap and Brian saw an ominous shake of her shoulders, so he hurriedly exclaimed:

"You really live all alone in that vast house? It looks enormous."

"Only a small portion, child." She laughed softly, a little silvery sound. "You see the windows on the ground floor which have curtains? That is my little domain. All the rest is closed up. Miles upon miles of empty corridors."

Brian re-examined the house with renewed interest. Six lower windows looked more wholesome than the others; the frames had, in the not-too-distant past, been painted white and crisp white curtains gave them a lived-in look, but the panes still seemed reluctant to reflect the sunlight and he frowned before raising his eyes to the upper storeys.

Three rows of dirt-grimed glass: so many eyes from behind which life had long since departed, save possibly for rats and mice. Then he started and gripped his knees with hands that were not quite steady. On the topmost storey, at the window third from the left, a face suddenly emerged and pressed its nose flat against the glass. There was no way of telling if the face were young or old, or if it belonged to a man, woman or child. It was just a white blur equipped with a pair of blank eyes and a flattened nose.

"Madam…" Brian began.

"My name," the old lady said gently, "is Mrs Brown."

"Mrs Brown. There's a…"

"A nice homely name," Mrs Brown went on. "Do you not think so? I feel it goes with a blazing fire, a singing kettle and muffins for tea."

"Madam—Mrs Brown. The window up there…" . "What window, child?" Mrs Brown was examining the interior of the teapot with some concern. "There are so many windows."

"The third from the left." Brian was pointing at the face, which appeared to be opening and shutting its mouth. "There is someone up there and they seem to be in trouble."

"You are mistaken, my dear," Mrs Brown shook her head. "No one lives up there. And without life, there can be no face. That is logic."

The face disappeared. It was not so much withdrawn as blotted out, as though the window had suddenly clouded over and now it was just another dead man's eye staring out over the sundrenched moors.

"I could swear there was a face," Brian insisted, and Mrs Brown smiled.

"A cloud reflection. It is so easy to see faces where none exist.

A crack in the ceiling, a damp patch on a wall, a puddle in moonlight—all become faces when the brain is tired. Can I press you to another cup?"

"No, thank you." Brian rose and nudged Rosemary to do the same. She obeyed with ill grace. "If you would be so kind as to direct us to the nearest main road, we will be on our way."

"I could not possibly do that." Mrs Brown looked most distressed. "We are really miles from anywhere and you poor children would get hopelessly lost. Really, I must insist you stay here for the night."

"You are most kind and do not think us ungrateful," Brian said, "but there must be a village not too far ajvay."

"Oh Brian," Rosemary clutched his arm. "I couldn't bear to wander about out there for hours. And suppose the sun sets…?"

"I've told you before, we'll be home and dry long before then," he snapped, and Mrs Brown rose, revealing herself as a figure of medium height, whose bowed shoulders made her shorter than she actually was. She shook a playful finger at the young man.

"How could you be so ungallant? Can you not see the poor girl is simply dropping from fatigue?" She took Rosemary's arm and began to propel her towards the house, still talking in her harsh, precise voice. "These big strong men have no thought for us poor, frail women. Have they, my dear?"

"He's a brute." Rosemary made a face at Brian over one shoulder. "We wouldn't have got lost if he hadn't made us leave the main track."

"It is the restless spirit that haunts the best of them," Mrs Brown confided. "They must wander into strange and forbidden places, then come crying home to us when they get hurt."

They moved in through the open french windows, leaving the hot summer afternoon behind them, for a soft, clinging coolness leapt to embrace their bodies like a slightly damp sheet. Brian shivered, but Rosemary exclaimed: "How sweet."

She was referring to the room. It wfts full of furniture: chairs, table, sideboard, from which the sheen of newness had long since departed; the patterned carpet had faded, so had the wallpaper; a vase of dried flowers stood on the mantelpiece and from all around—an essential part of the coolness—came a sweet, just perceptible aroma. It was the scent of extreme old age which is timidly approaching death on faltering feet. For a moment, Brian had a mental picture of an open coffin bedecked with dying flowers. Then Mrs Brown spoke.

"There are two sweet little rooms situated at the rear. You will rest well in them."

Carlo emerged from somewhere; he was standing by the open doorway, his slate-grey eyes watching Mrs Brown as she nodded gravely.

"Go with him, my dears. He will attend to your wants and presently, when you have rested, we will dine."

They followed their strange guide along a gloom-painted passage and he silently opened two doors, motioned Rosemary into one, then, after staring blankly at Brian, pointed to the other.

"You've been with Mrs Brown a long time?" Brian asked in a loud voice, assuming the man was deaf. "Must be rather lonely for you here."

Carlo did not answer, only turned on his heel and went back along the passage with that strange, loping walk. Rosemary giggled.

"Honestly, did you ever see anything like it?"

"Only in a horror film," Brian admitted. "Say, do you suppose he's deaf and dumb?"

"Fairly obviously," Rosemary shrugged. "Let's have a look at our rooms."

They were identical. Each held a four-poster bed, a Tudor-style chest of drawers and a bedside cupboard. The same faint odour prevailed here, but Rosemary did not seem to notice it.

"Do you suppose this place runs to a bath?" she asked, seating herself on Brian's bed.

Before he could answer, Carlo's lean form rilled the doorway and he made a guttural sound while beckoning them to follow him. He led the way down the passage and at the very end opened a door and motioned them to enter the room beyond. It was empty save for a very ancient hip-bath and six leather buckets lined up against one wall.

They began to laugh, clinging to each other for support. Their silent guide watched them with an expressionless stare. Brian was the first to regain his powers of speech.

"Ask a silly question," he gasped, "and you'll get a ridiculous answer."

"I rarely eat."

Mrs Brown was sipping daintily from a glass of mineral water and watching the young people with lively interest as they each consumed a large steak and a generous helping of fresh salad.

"When you are my age," she went on, "one's fires need little fuel. A sip of water, an occasional nibble, the odd crumb."

"But you must eat," Rosemary looked at the old lady with some concern. "I mean—you have to."

"Child—" Mrs Brown beckoned to Carlo who started to collect the empty plates, "—food is not necessarily meat and vegetables. Passion will feed the soul and nourish the body. I recommend love as an hors d'oeuvre, hate as the entree and fear as a chilly dessert."

Rosemary looked nervously at Brian, then took a long drink of water to hide her confusion. The young man decided to bring the conversation back to a more mundane plane.

"I am most interested in your house, Mrs Brown. It seems a shame that so little of it is used."

"I did not say it was not used, dear," Mrs Brown corrected gently. "I said no one lived in the region that lies outside this apartment. There is, as I am sure you will agree, a difference."

Carlo returned, carrying a dish of large, pink blancmange; this he deposited on the table after giving the girl and young man a long, expressionless stare.

"You must forgive Carlo," Mrs Brown said while she carved the blancmange into thin slices. "It is some time since we entertained guests and he is apt to stare at that which he is not allowed to touch."

Brian nudged Rosemary, who was watching the blancmange carving with undisguised astonishment. "Mrs Brown, you say the rest of the house is used, but not lived in. I'm sorry, but…"

"Does anyone live in your stomach?" Mrs Brown asked quietly.

He laughed, but seeing no smile on the wrinkled face opposite quickly assumed a serious expression.

"No, of course not."

"But it is used?" Mrs Brown persisted.

He nodded. "Yes indeed. Quite a lot."

"So with the house." She handed Rosemary a plate that contained three thin slices of pink blancmange and the girl said "Thank you" in a strangled voice. "You see, the house does not require people to live in it, for the simple reason that it is, in itself, a living organism."

Brian frowned as he accepted his plate of sliced blancmange.

"Why not?" The old lady appeared surprised that her word should be doubted. "Do you begrudge a house life?"

They both shook their heads violently and Mrs Brown appeared satisfied with their apparent acquiescence.

"After all, in ordinary houses, what are passages? I will tell you. Intestines. Bowels, if you wish. And the boiler which pumps hot water throughout the body of the house? A heart—what else could it be? In the same way, that mass of pipes and cisterns that reside up in the loft, what are they if not a brain?"

"You have a point," Brian agreed.

"Of course I have," Mrs Brown deposited another slice of blancmange on Rosemary's plate. "But of course I was referring to ordinary houses. This is not an ordinary house by any means. It really lives."

"I would certainly like to meet the builder," Brian said caustically. "He must have been a remarkable chap."

"Builder!" Mrs Brown chuckled. "When did I mention a builder? My dear young man, the house was not built. It grew."

"Nutty as a fruit cake." Rosemary spoke with strong conviction while she sat on Brian's bed.

"True," Brian nodded, "but the idea is rather fascinating."

"Oh, come off it. How can a house grow? And from what? A brick?"

"Wait a minute. In a way a house does grow. It is fathered by an architect and mothered by a builder."

"That's all very well," Rosemary complained, "but that old sausage meant the damned thing grew like a tree. Frankly, she gives me the willies. You know something? I think she's laughing at us. I mean to say, all that business of carving blancmange into thin slices."

"A house is an extension of a man's personality." Brian was thinking out loud. "In its early life it would be innocent, like a new-born baby, but after it had been lived in for a bit…" He paused, "then the house would take on an atmosphere… could even be haunted."

"Oh, shut up." Rosemary shivered. "I'm expected to sleep here tonight. In any case, as I keep saying, the old thing maintains the house grew."

"Even that makes a kind of mad logic." He grinned, mocking what he assumed to be her pretended fear. "We must reverse the process. The atmosphere came first, the house second."

"I'm going to bed." She got up and sauntered to the door. "If you hear me scream during the night, come a-running."

"Why bother to go?" Brian asked slyly. "If you stay here, I won't have to run anywhere."

"Ha, ha. Funny man. Not in this morgue." She smiled impishly from the doorway. "I'd be imagining all manner of things looking down at me from the ceiling."

Brian lay in his four-poster bed and listened to the house preparing for sleep. Woodwork contracted as the temperature dropped; floorboards creaked, window frames made little rattling noises, somewhere a door closed. Sleep began to dull his senses and he became only half-aware of his surroundings; he was poised on the brink of oblivion. Then, as though a bomb had exploded, he was blasted back into full consciousness. A long drawn-out moan had shattered the silence and was coming at him from all directions. He sat up and looked round the room. So far as he could see by the light of the rising moon that filtered through his lace curtains, the room was empty. Suddenly, the groan was repeated. He sprang out of bed, lit his candle, and looked wildly around him. The sound was everywhere—in the walls with their faded pink-rose wallpaper, in the cracked ceiling, the threadbare carpej. He covered his ears with shaking hands, but still the mournful groan continued, invading his brain, seeping down into his very being, until it seemed the entire universe was crying out in anguish. Then, as abruptly as it began, it ceased. A heavy, unnatural silence descended on the house like a great, enveloping blanket. Brian hastily scrambled into his clothes.

"Enough is enough." He spoke aloud. "We're getting out—fast."

Another sound came into being. It began a long way off. A slow, hesitant footstep, married to squeaking floorboards, a laborious picking up and putting down of naked feet, interspersed with a slow slithering which suggested the unseen walker was burdened with the tiredness of centuries. This time there was no doubt as to where the sound was coming from. It was up above. The soft, padding steps passed over the ceiling and once again the house groaned, but now it was a moan of ecstasy, a low cry of fulfilment. Brian opened the bedroom door and crept out into the corridor. The moaning cry and the slithering footsteps merged and became a nightmarish symphony, a two-toned serenade of horror. Then, again, all sound ceased and the silence was like a landmine that might explode at any moment. He found himself waiting for the moan, the slithering overhead footsteps to begin all over again—or perhaps something else, something that defied imagination.

He tapped on Rosemary's door** then turned the handle and entered, holding his candle high and calling her name.

"Rosemary, wake up. Rosemary, come on, we're getting out of here."

The flickering candle-flame made great shadows leap across the walls and dance over the ceiling; it cut ragged channels through the darkness until, at last, his questing eye saw the bed. It was empty. The sheets and blankets were twisted up into loose ropes and a pillow lay upon the floor.

"Rosemary!"

He whispered her name and the house chuckled. A low, harsh, gurgling laugh, which made him run from the room, race down the long corridor, until he lurched into the dining-room. An old-fashioned oil lamp stood on the table, illuminating the room with a pale orange light and revealing Mrs Brown, seated in an armchair, calmly darning a sock. She looked up as Brian entered and smiled like a mother whose small son has strayed from his warm bed on a winter's night.

"I would put the candle down, dear," she said, "otherwise you will spill grease all over the carpet."

"Rosemary!" he shouted. "Where is she?"

"There's really no need for you to shout. Despite my advanced years, I am not deaf." She broke the wool, then turned the sock and examined her work with a certain pride. "That's better. Carlo is so hard on his socks." She looked up with a sly smile. "It is only to be expected, of course. He has hard feet."

"Where is she?" Brian set down the candle and moved closer to the old woman, who was now closing her work-basket. "She's not in her room and there are signs of a struggle. What have you done with her?"

Mrs Brown shook her head sadly.

"Questions, questions. How hungry youth is for knowledge. You demand to know the truth and, should I gratify your desire, how distressed you would become. Ignorance is a gift freely offered by the gods and so often it is spurned by misguided mortals. Even I sometimes wish I knew less, but…" Her sigh was one of sad resignation. "Time reveals all to those who live long enough. I should go back to bed, dear. The young need their sleep."

Brian advanced a few steps, then spoke in a carefully controlled voice.

"I am going to ask you for the last time, Mrs Brown, or whatever your name is—what have you done with Rosemary?"

She looked up and shook her head in sad reproof.

"Threats! How unwise. A sparrow should never threaten an eagle. It is so futile and such a waste of time."

Mrs Brown carefully placed her work-basket on the floor, then snapped in a surprisingly firm voice: "Carlo!"

There came, from somewhere to Brian's rear, a low, deep growl. Such a menacing sound might have issued from the throat of a large dog whose mistress has been threatened, or a she-wolf protecting her young, but when the young man spun round, he saw Carlo standing a few feet away. The man had his head tilted to one side and his large, yellow teeth were bared as he growled again. His stance was grotesque. He was leaning forward slightly as though preparing to spring and his fingers were curved, so that with their long, pointed nails, they looked uncannily like talons; his cheeks seemed to have shrunk and his black hair lay back over his narrow skull like a sleek, ebony mane.

"Will you believe me?" Mrs Brown said, and her voice was less harsh—much younger. "I have only to say one word and your windpipe will be hanging down your shirt-front."

"You are mad." Brian backed slowly away and Carlo moved forward, matching him step for step. "You are both mad."

"You mean," Mrs Brown came round and joined Carlo, "we are not normal by your standards. That mi^ch I grant you. Sanity is only a form of madness favoured by the majority. But I think the time has come for you to meet truth, since you are so eager to make her acquaintance."

"I only want to find Rosemary, then get out of here," Brian said.

"Find your little friend? Perhaps. Leave here? Ah…" Mrs Brown looked thoughtful. "That is another matter. But come, there is much for you to see, and please, no heroics. Carlo is on the turn. He is apt to be a little touchy when the moon is full."

They filed out into the hall, Mrs Brown leading the way with Brian following and the grim Carlo bringing up the rear. To the right of a great staircase was a black door and this Mrs Brown unlocked, then entered the room beyond, where she proceeded to light a lamp from Brian's candle.

The light crept outwards in ever-increasing circles as she turned up the wick, revealing oak-panelled walls and a cobweb-festooned ceiling. The room was bare, except for the portrait hanging over a dirt-grimed marble fireplace. To this the young man's eyes were drawn like a pin to a magnet.

The background was jet-black and the face corpse-white; the large black eyes glared an intense hatred for all living things and the thin-lipped mouth was shut tight, but so cunningly had the portrait been painted that Brian had the feeling it might open at any moment.

"My late husband," Mrs Brown stated, "was a partaker of blood."

The statement did not invite comment and Brian made none.

"It must be the best part of five hundred years since they came down from the village," Mrs Brown continued. "Chanting priests looking like black ravens, mewing peasants huddled together like frightened sheep. I recall it was night and the mists shrouded the moors and swirled about their thrice-accursed cross as though it wished to protect us from the menace it represented."

She paused and Brian realised that she looked much younger. The face was filling out, the shoulders were no longer bowed. . "They did not consider I was of great importance," Mrs Brown went on, "so I was merely tied to a tree and flogged, thereby providing entertainment for the herd of human cattle who liked nothing better than to see a woman writhe under the lash. But him… They dug a hole, and laid him flat, having bound his body in cords that were sealed with the dreaded sign. Then they drove a stake through his heart… Fools."

She glared at Brian and clenched her small fists.

"They left him for dead. Dead! His brain still lived. The blood was only symbolic, it was the vital essence we needed—still need: the force that makes the soul reach out for the stars, the hammer that can create beauty out of black depravity."

She went over to the portrait and stroked the white, cruel face with hands that had become long and slender.

"When they buried his beautiful body they planted a seed, and from that seed grew the house. A projection of himself."

"I don't believe you." Brian shook his head. "I won't—can't believe you."

"No!" She laughed and Carlo howled. "Then feel the walls. They are warm, flesh of his flesh. Moist. The body fluids seep out when he is aroused. Look." She pointed to a great double door set in one wall. "Look, the mouth. When I open the lips, food pops in. Succulent, living food and we all benefit. I, Carlo, who sprang from the old people—I still let him roam the moors when the moon is full—and, of course, He. The House. He needs all the sweet essence he can get. He sleeps after meat and no longer moans. I do not like to hear him moan."

"Where is Rosemary?" Brian asked again and knew what must follow.

"She passed through the lips an hour since." Mrs Brown laughed very softly and Carlo made a whining sound. "Now, if you would find her, there is not really much alternative. You must follow her through the great intestines, down into the mighty bowels. Wander and cry out, trudge on and on, until at last your will is broken and He can take from you what he needs."^

"You want me to go through those doors?" Brian asked, and there was a glimmer of hope. "Then go wandering through the corridors of an empty house? When I find Rosemary, we will break out."

The woman smiled as she motioned to Carlo.

"Part the lips, Carlo."

The man, if indeed that which crept forward was a man, silently obeyed; the great doors groaned as they swung inwards and Brian saw a murky passage, lined with green tinted walls. A warm, sweet, cloying odour made his stomach heave and he drew back.

"She's waiting for you," Mrs Brown said softly, "and she must be very frightened wandering through the labyrinth, not exactly alone, but I doubt if she will appreciate the company. Most of them will be well digested by now."

Carlo was waiting, his hand on the handle of one door; his eyes were those of a hungry wolf who sees his prey about to be devoured by a lion. Brian, without a sideways glance, passed through the entrance and the doors slammed to behind him.

There were no stairs. The corridors sometimes sloped upwards, at others they spiralled down; there were stretches when the floor was comparatively level, but the corridors were never straight for long. They twisted, crossed other passages, suddenly split, leaving the wanderer with a choice of three or more openings; occasionally they came to a blank end, forcing him to retrace his footsteps. Light was provided by an eerie greenish glow radiating from the walls and ceiling and sometimes this light pulsated, suggesting it originated from some form of decay.

Brian stumbled onwards, shouting Rosemary's name, and his echo mocked him, went racing on ahead until it became a faraway voice calling back along the avenues of time. Once he stumbled and fell against the wall. Instantly, the moist, green surface contracted under his weight and there was an obscene sucking sound when he pulled himself free. A portion of his shirt sleeve remained stuck to the wall and there was a red mark on his arm.

When he had been walking for some thirty minutes he came upon the window passage. There was no other word to describe it, for one wall was lined with windows, each one set about six feet apart, and he gave a little cry of joy, certain this was the place from which he and Rosemary could make their escape. Then he saw—them. Before each window stood one, occasionally two, forms—hideously thin, scarecrow figures that pawed at the window panes with claw-like fingers and emitted little animal whimpers.

Brian approached the first window and gave a quick glance through the grimy panes. He was two floors, if that was the right expression, up, and he saw the lawn then, further out, the moors, all bathed in brilliant moonlight. Even as he watched, a great hound went bounding across the lawn. It cleared the low wall in a single leap, then streaked out across the moor. Something touched Brian's arm and he spun round to face one of the creatures that had silently crept along from the next window. He saw at close quarters the skeleton face covered with brown, wrinkled skin, and the vacant blue eyes that stared up at him with mute, suffering appeal. He judged the man to have been a tramp, or possibly a gypsy, for he wore the remnants of a red shirt and brown corduroy trousers. The claw-hands plucked feebly at his arm, the mouth opened, revealing toothless gums, and a hoarse whisper seeped out.

"The old cow said come in."

"How long have you been here?" Brian asked, uncomfortably aware that a number of other grotesque bundles of rag and bones were leaving their posts by the windows and slithering on naked feet towards him. The whisper came again.

"The old cow said come in."

"Have you seen a young girl?" Brian shouted. "Have any of you seen a girl?"

The man tried to grip his arm, but there was no strength left in the wasted frame and he could only repeat the single phrase:

"The old cow said come in."

They were all clustered round him. Three bore some resemblance to women, although their hair had fallen out, and one, a tall, beanstalk of a creature, kept mumbling: "Pretty boy," while she tried unsuccessfully to fasten her gums into his neck.

"Break the windows!" Brian shouted, pushing them away as gently as he could. "Listen, break the windows, then I'll be able to climb down and fetch help."

"The old cow said come in." The man could only repeat over and over the six ominous words, and a wizened, awful thing, no higher than a child, kept muttering: "Meat," as it tried to fasten its mouth on Brian's right hand.

Unreasoning terror made him strike the creature full in the face and it went crashing back against the wall. Instantly, the green surface bent inwards and a deep sigh ran through the house, making the ghastly pack go slithering along the corridor, their remaining spark of intelligence having presumably warned them this sound was something to be feared. The small, child-size figure was left, stuck to the wall like a fly on gummed paper, and, as the green light pulsated, the creature jerked in unison.

Brian pulled off one of his shoes and smashed the heel against the nearest window-pane. He might just as well have struck a slab of solid rock for all the impression he made, and at last he gave up and continued his search for Rosemary. After an hour of trudging wearily along green-tinted passages, he had no idea how far he had travelled, or if indeed he was just going round in a perpetual circle. He found himself dragging his feet, making the same hesitant, slithering footsteps that had so alarmed him in his bedroom, centuries ago.

The corridors were never silent, for there were always cries, usually some way off, and a strange thudding sound which came into being when the green light pulsated, but these offstage noises became as a murmur when the scream rang out. It was a cry of despair, a call for help, a fear-born prayer, and at once Brian knew who had screamed. He shouted Rosemary's name as he broke into a run, terrified lest he be unable to reach her, at the same time in dread of what he might find. Had she not screamed agayi he would doubtlessly have taken the wrong passage, but when the second shriek rang out he ran towards the sound and presently came to a kind of circular hall. They were clinging to her like leeches to a drowning horse. Their skeleton hands were tearing her dress, their toothless mouths fouled her flesh, and all the while they squealed like a herd of hungry pigs. He pulled them away and the soulless bodies went hurtling back against vibrating walls; bones snapped like frost-crisp twigs and despairing whimpers rose to an unholy chorus.

He took Rosemary in his arms and she clung to him as though he were life itself, clutching his shoulders in a terrified grip while she cried like a lost child. He murmured soft, unintelligible words, trying to reassure himself as much as her, then screamed at the pack who were again slowly moving in.

"Don't you understand, this is not real. It's the projection of a mad brain. A crazy nightmare. Try to find a way out."

It is doubtful if they heard, let alone understood what he was saying, and those that could still move were edging their way forward like rats whose hunger is greater than their fear.

"Can you walk?" he asked Rosemary and the girl nodded. "Good, then we must make our way downwards. The woman's apartment is on the ground floor and our only hope is to batter those doors in and escape across the lawn." *

"It's impossible." Rosemary was clinging to his arm and they were leaving the creatures behind. "This place is a labyrinth. We will wander round and round these corridors until we drop."

"Nonsense." He spoke sharply. "The house can't be all that big and we are young and fit. So long as we go down, we're bound to find the doors."

This was easier said than done. Many corridors sloped down, only to slant up again, but presently they came out into a window passage and found they were somewhere at the rear of the house, but only one floor up.

"Now," Brian kissed Rosemary. "Only one more slope to go and we're there."

"But we're the wrong side of the house," Rosemary complained, "and even if we find the doors, how are you going to break through them?"

"One step at a time. Let's find them first, then, maybe, I'll use you as a battering ram."

It took an hour to find the next downward slope and then only after they had retraced their steps several times, but at last they were moving downwards, Rosemary shivered.

"It's getting colder."

"Yes, and that damned stink is becoming more pronounced. But never mind, we'll soon be there."

They went steadily downwards for another five minutes and then Rosemary began to cry.

"Brian, I can't go on much longer. Surely we've passed the ground floor ages ago? And there's something awful down here. I can feel it."

"It can't be more awful than what's up above," he retorted grimly. "We must go on. There's no turning back unless you want to finish up a zombie."

"Zombie!" She repeated dully.

"What did you imagine those things were, back there? They died long ago and only keep going because the house gives them a sort of half life. Mrs Brown and Carlo appear to be better provided for, but they died centuries ago."

"I can't believe all this." Rosemary shuddered. "How can a place like this exist in the twentieth century?"

"It doesn't. I should imagine we stumbled across the house at the right, or in our case, the wrong time. I suppose you might call it a time-trap."

"I don't know what you are talking about," Rosemary said, then added, "I very rarely do."

The passage was becoming steeper, spiralling round and sloping down until they had difficulty in remaining upright. Then the floor levelled out and after a space of about six feet came to an end.

"Earth." Brian felt the termination wall. "Good, honest earth."

"Earth," Rosemary repeated. "So what?"

Brian raised his eyes ceilingwards and then spoke in a carefully controlled voice. "So far we have been walking on a floor and between walls that are constructed of something very nasty. Right? Now we are facing a wall built or shovelled into place—I don't care—of plain, down to earth—earth. Got it?"

Rosemary nodded. "Yes, so we have got down to the house foundations. But I thought we were looking for the doors."

Brian gripped her shoulders.

"Say that again."

"Say what again? Look, you're hurting me."

He shook her gently. "The first bit."

She thought for a moment. "So we have got down to the house foundations. What's so important about that?"

He released her and went up close to the wall, where he stood for a few minutes examining its surface, then he came back and tilted her chin up so she was looking directly into his eyes.

"Will you try to be very, very brave?'

Fear came rushing back and she shivered.

"Why?"

"Because I am going to break down that wall." He spoke very slowly. "And on the other side we may find something very nasty indeed."

She did not move her head, only continued to gaze up into his eyes.

"Isn't there any other way?" she whispered.

He shook his head.

"None. None whatsoever."

There was a minute of complete silence, then:

"What are you going to use as a shovel?"

He laughed and went back to the wall which he pounded with his fist.

"I could say you have a point there, but I won't. Let's take an inventory. What have we that is pick- and shovel-worthy? Our hands, of course. Shoes? Maybe." He felt in his pocket and produced a bunch of keys and a penknife. "This might start things going, then I can pull the loose stuff out with my hands."

He sank the penknife blade into the soft, moist earth and traced the rough outline of a door, then a he began to deepen the edges, digging out little lumps of earth that fell to the ground like gobbets of chewed meat. Brian then removed his shoes and used the heels to claw out a jagged hole.

. "If I can work my way through," he explained, "it should be an easy matter to pull the entire thing down."

He dug steadily for another five minutes, then a glimmer of light appeared and, after a final effort, he was able to look through an opening roughly six inches in diameter.

"What can you see?" Rosemary asked, her tone suggesting she would rather not know.

"It seems to be some kind of large cave and it's lit up with that green light, just like the passages. I can see hunks of rock lying about, but not much else. Well, here goes."

He thrust his right hand through the aperture, curled his fingers round the inner wall and pulled. A large chunk came away, then he began to work with both hands, pulling, clawing, and the entire wall came tumbling down. He wiped his hands on already stained trousers, then put on his shoes.

"Now," he said, "for the moment of truth."

They were in a rough, circular cavern; it was perhaps twenty feet in diameter and an equal distance in height. Loose lumps of rock littered the floor, but there was no sign of anyone—alive or dead—and Brian gave a prolonged sigh of relief.

"I don't know what I expected to see, but thank heavens, I don't see it. Now, we must start looking for a way out. I'll go round the walls, you examine the floor. Never know, there might be a hole going down still further."

He turned his attention to the irregular walls, leaving Rosemary to wander miserably among the large rocks and boulders that formed a kind offence round the centre of the cavern. He looked upwards and saw, some twenty feet from the ground, a fairly large hole. Deciding it would be worth investigating, he began to ascend the wall and found the task easier than he had supposed, for projecting rocks made excellent footholds. In a few minutes he had reached his objective. The hole was in fact a small cave that was about seven feet high and five across, but alas there was no exit.

He was about to descend and continue his search elsewhere when Rosemary screamed. Never before had he realised a human throat was capable of expressing such abject terror. Shriek after shriek rang out and re-echoed against the walls, until it seemed an army of banshees were forecasting a million deaths. He looked down and saw the girl standing just inside the fence of stones looking down at something he could not see; her eyes were dilated and seemed frozen into an expression of indescribable horror.

Brian scrambled down the wall and ran over to her; when he laid hands on her shoulders she flinched as though his touch were a branding iron, then her final shriek was cut off and she slid silently to the floor.

A few feet away there was a slight indentation, a shallow hole, and he experienced a terrifying urge not to look into it, but he knew he must, if for no other reason than a strange, compelling curiosity.

He dragged Rosemary well back and left her lying against one

wall, then he returned, creeping forward very slowly, walking on tip-toe. At last he was on the brink of hell. He looked down.

Horror ran up his body in cold waves; it left an icy lump in his stomach and he wanted to be sick only he had not the strength. He had to stare down, concentrate all his senses and try to believe.

The head bore a resemblance to the portrait in Mrs Brown's ante-room; it was dead-white, bloated, suggesting an excess of nourishment consumed over a very long period. The hair was at least six feet in length and was spread out over the loose rock like a monstrous shroud. But the torso and arms grew out of the ground. The shoulders and part of the forearms were flesh, but further down the white skin assumed a greyish colour and, lower still, gradually merged into solid rock. Most horrifying of all was the profusion of fat, greenish, tubelike growths that sprouted out from under forearms and neck and, so far as Brian could see, the whole of the back. Obscene roots spreading out in every direction until they disappeared into the black earth, writhing and pulsating, carrying the vital fluid that circulated round the house.

The eyes were closed, but the face moved. The thin lips grimaced, creating temporary furrows in the flabby fat. Brian withdrew from the hole—the grave—and at last his stomach had its way and allowed him to be violently sick. By the time he returned to Rosemary, he felt old and drained of strength. She was just returning to consciousness and he smoothed back her hair.

"Are you fit enough to talk?" he asked.

She gave a little strangled gasp.

"That… that thing…"

"Yes, I know. Now listen. I am going to take you up there," He pointed to the cave set high up on the opposite wall. "You'll be all right there while I do what must be done."

"I don't understand." She shook her head. "What must you do?"

"Mrs Brown told me her husband was a partaker of blood. In other words, a vampire, and centuries ago the local lads did the traditional things and drove a stake through his heart. She said something else. It wasn't his body they should have destroyed, but his brain. Don't you see? This house, the entire set-up, is a nightmare produced by a monstrous intelligence?"

"I'll believe anything." Rosemary got to her feet. "Just get me out of here. I'd rather walk the passages than spend another minute with that… thing."

"No." He shook his head. "I must destroy the brain. The only point is, when I do…" He looked round the cavern, then over to the entrance of the green-walled passage. "… anything may happen."

"What about you?" she asked.

"So soon as the job is finished, I'll join you."

He might have added, "If I can," but instead guided Rosemary to the wall and assisted her up to the cave.

"Now," he instructed, "stay well back and don't, in any circumstances, so much as put your nose outside. Understand?"

"God, I'm petrified," she said.

"Don't let it get around," he nodded grimly, "but so am I."

He came back to the hole like a released spirit returning to hell. As he drew nearer, the terror grew until it required a desperate effort to raise one foot and put it down before the other. Only the memory of Rosemary up there in the cave kept his spark of courage alive. At last he again gazed down at that horrible growth; it groaned and the sound raced round the cavern and up through the house. The face grimaced and twitched, while the green tubes writhed like a nest of gorged worms. Brian selected a rock which was a little larger than the bloated head and, gripping it in both hands, prepared to hurl it down. He had tensed his muscles, and was turning slightly to one side, when the eyelids flicked back and he was staring into two pools of black hate.

The shock was so intense he automatically slackened his grip and the rock slid from his fingers and went crashing down somewhere behind him. The mouth opened and a vibrant whisper went racing up through the house.

"Elizabeth… Carlo…"

The words came out slowly, rather like a series of intelligible sighs, but from all around, from the walls, the floor, the high roof—never from the moving lips.

"Would… you… destroy… that… which… you… do… not… understand?"

Brian was fumbling for the rock, but he paused and the whispering voice went on.

"I… must… continue… to… be… I… must… grow… fill… the… universe… consume… take… strength…"

A padding of fast-running paws came from the passage entrance and a woman's voice was calling out.

"Petros, drink of his essence… will him into walking death."

There was a hint of fear in the terrible eyes. The whispering voice again ran through the house.

"He… is… an… unbeliever… he… is… the… young… of… a… new… age… why… did… you… let… him… through…?"

The great dog leapt over the loose earth and emerged from the passageway; it was black as midnight, like a solid shadow newly escaped from a wall, and it padded round the cavern before jumping up on to a boulder and preparing to leap. Brian hurled a rock at it and struck the broad, black snout. The beast howled and fell back as Mrs Brown spoke from the entrance.

"You will not keep that up for long. Carlo cannot be killed by the likes of you."

She had been transformed. The once white hair was now a rich auburn, the face was as young as today, but the glorious eyes reflected the evil of a million yesterdays. She wore a black evening dress that left her arms and back bare and Brian could only stare at her, forgetting that which lay behind him and Rosemary, up in the cave. All he could see was white flesh and inviting eyes.

"Come away," the low, husky voice said. "Leave Petros to his dream. He cannot harm you and it would be such a waste if Carlo were to rip your nice body to shreds. Think of what I can offer. An eternity of bliss. A million lifetimes of pleasure. Come."

He took one step forward, then another, and it seemed he was walking into a forbidden dream; all the secret desires that up to that moment he had not realised existed flared up and became exciting possibilities. Then, just as he was about to surrender, go running to her like a child to a beautiful toy, her voice lashed across his consciousness.

"Carlo… now."

The dog came snarling over the rocks and Brian fell back, suddenly fully aware of the pending danger. He snatched up a piece of jagged rock and threw it at the oncoming beast. He hit it just above the right ear, then began to hurl stones as fast as he could pick them up. The dog leapt from side to side, snarling with pain and rage, but Brian realised it was coming forward mor>; than it retreated and knew a few minutes, at the most, must elapse before he felt those fangs at his throat. By chance his hands closed round the original small boulder—and it was then he understood what must be done.

He raised the rock high above his head, made as though to hurl it at the dog, which momentarily recoiled, then threw it back—straight at the head of Petros.

The house shrieked. One long-drawn-out scream and the dog was no longer there; instead, Carlo ran towards his mistress, making plaintive, guttural cries, before sinking down before her, plucking frantically at the hem of her black dress.

Brian looked back and down into the hole and saw that the head was shattered and what remained of the flesh was turning black. The green tubes were now only streaks of deflated tissue and the life-giving fluid no longer flowed up into the body of the house. From up above came a deep rumbling sound and a great splintering, as though a mountain of rocks were grinding together. Brian ran towards the far wall and, quickly scrambling up into the cave, found Rosemary waiting to welcome him with outstretched arms.

"Keep down," he warned. "All hell is going to break loose at any moment."

They lay face down upon the floor, and Brian had to raise his head to see the final act. The green light was fading, but before it went he had a last glimpse of the woman staring blankly at the place where Petros had lain. She was patting Carlo's head. Then the ceiling came down and for a while there was only darkness filled with a mighty rumbling and crashing of falling rock. Fantasy tumbling down into the pit of reality. Time passed and the air cleared as the dust settled and presently, like a glimmer of hope in the valley of despair, a beam of light struck the entrance to the cave. Brian looked out, then up. Twenty feet above was a patch of blue sky.

They came up from the pit, bruised, clothes torn, but happy to be alive. They trudged hand-in-hand out across the moors and after a while looked back to see a pile of rocks that, at this distance, could have been mistaken for a ruined house.

"We will never talk about this to anyone," Brian said. "One does not talk about one's nightmares. They are so ridiculous in the light of day."

Rosemary nodded. "We slept. We dreamed. Now we are awake."

They walked on. Two figures that distance diminished until they became minute specks on a distant horizon. Then they were gone.

The early morning breeze caressed the summer grass, harebells smiled up at a benign sky and a pair of rabbits played hide and seek among the fallen rocks. To all outward appearances the moors were at peace.

Then a rabbit screamed and a stoat raised blood-dripping jaws.

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Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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