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The Willow Platform


Joseph Payne Brennan

A grimoire is literally a black magic textbook, a compendium of ancient spells, potions, ceremonies, and incantations to induce the various dark lords, devils, demons, shades, and elementals to manifest themselves and serve the sorcerer in his pursuit of power, wealth, or knowledge. The earliest and most legendary grimoire is the Emerald Table of Hermes Trismegistus, which is still shrouded in mystery. The original tablet, carved out of pure emerald, has never been found, although a variant Latin version surfaced in the thirteenth century. There are other texts: The Key of Solomon; The Lemegeton, or Lesser Key of Solomon; The Grimorium Verum; The Red Dragon; The Heptameron; the German grimoire known as Doctor Faust's Great and Powerful Sea-Spirit; and others. The great grimoires concentrate on the most important of the dark dignitaries, cataloging and describing them, for it's all important to know the true name and form of a summoned demon or lord. But lesser spirits are also cataloged: those demons that are slightly easier to summon and command, such as the malignant and implacable elementals born of fire, water, air, or earth; and their cold and sinister cousins, the fly-the-lights that can be brought to life only in darkness. The mature and experienced sorcerer tries to control these nightmarish beings and force them to his will, but this can be an even more shocking and dangerous enterprise for a neophyte.

In fact, a little knowledge can be . . . deadly, as veteran horror writer Joseph Payne Brennan shows us in this disquieting tale of summoning and sacrifice set in rural New England.

Joseph Payne Brennan's short stories and poems have been included in over a hundred anthologies, and his fiction and poetry has appeared in Commonweal, Esquire, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, American Scholar, New York Times, Magazine of Horror, and Georgia Review. His short fiction can be found in his own collections Nine Horrors and a Dream, The Dark Returner, Scream at Midnight, The Casebook of Lucius Leffing, and The Shapes of Midnight, among others. His poetry collections include Webs of Time, As Evening Advances, Death Poems, and Edges of Night. Two of his stories have been adapted for NBC's Thriller television series, and another story, "The Calamander Chest," was recorded by Vincent Price. He has been awarded the Leonara Speyer Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, and the Clark Ashton Smith Poetry Award for life work.

Thirty years ago Juniper Hill was an isolated township, with a small village, dirt roads and high hilly tracts of evergreen forest—pine, hemlock, tamarack and spruce. Scattered along the fringes of wood were boulder-strewn pastures, hay fields and glacially formed, lichen-covered knolls.

Ordinarily I stayed in Juniper Hill from early June until late September. As I returned year after year, I came to be accepted almost as a native—many notches above the few transient "summer people" who stayed for a month or so and then hurried back to the world of traffic, tension and tedium.

I wrote when I felt like it. The rest of the time I walked the dirt roads, explored the woods and chatted with the natives.

Within a few years I got to know everyone in town, with the exception of a hermit or two and one irascible landowner who refused to converse even with his own neighbors.

To me, however, a certain Henry Crotell was the most intriguing person in Juniper Hill. He was sometimes referred to as "the village idiot," "that loafer," "that good-for-nothing," etc., but I came to believe that these epithets arose more from envy than from conviction.

Somehow, Henry managed to subsist and enjoy life without doing any work—or at least hardly any. At a time when this has become a permanent way of life for several million persons, I must quickly add that Henry did not receive one dime from the township of Juniper Hill, either in cash or goods.

He lived in a one-room shack on stony land which nobody claimed and he fed himself. He fished, hunted, picked berries and raised a few potatoes among the rocks behind his shack. If his hunting included a bit of poaching, nobody seemed to mind.

Since Henry used neither alcohol nor tobacco, his needs were minimal. Occasionally, if he needed a new shirt, or shoes, he would split wood, dig potatoes or fill in as an extra hay-field hand for a few days. He established a standard charge which never varied; one dollar a day plus meals. He would never accept any more cash. You might prevail upon him to take along a sack of turnips, but if you handed him a dollar and a quarter for the day, he'd smilingly return the quarter.

Henry was in his early thirties, slab-sided, snuff-brown, with a quick loose grin and rather inscrutable, faded-looking blue eyes. His ginger colored hair was getting a trifle thin. When he smiled, strangers assumed he was wearing false teeth because his own were so white and even. I once asked him how often he brushed his teeth. He doubled up with silent laughter. "Nary brush! Nary toothpaste!" I didn't press the point, but I often wondered what his secret was—if he had one.

Henry should have lived out his quiet days at Juniper Hill and died at ninety on the cot in his shack. But it was not to be.

Henry found the book.

Four or five miles from Henry's shack lay the crumbling ruins of the old Trobish house. It was little more than a cellar hole filled with rotten boards and fallen beams. Lilac bushes had forced their roots between the old foundation stones; maple saplings filled the dooryard. Old Hannibal Trobish, dead for fifty years, had been an eccentric hermit who drove off intruders with a shotgun. When he died, leaving no heirs and owing ten years' taxes, the town had taken over the property. But the town had no need of it, nor use for it, and so the house had been allowed to decay until finally the whole structure, board by board, had dropped away into the cellar hole. There were hundreds of such collapsed and neglected houses throughout New England. Nobody paid much attention to them.

Henry Crotell, however, seemed fascinated by the moldering remains of the Trobish house. He prowled the area, poked about in the cellar hole and even lifted out some of the mildewed beams. Once, reaching in among the sagging foundation stones, he was nearly bitten by a copperhead.

Old Dave Baines admonished Henry when he heard about it. "That's an omen, Henry! You'd better stay away from that cellar hole!"

Henry pushed out his upper lip and looked at his shoes. "Ain't 'fraid of no old snake! Seen bigger. Last summer I rec'lect. Big torn rattler twice as big!"

Not long after the copperhead incident, Henry found the book. It was contained in a small battered tin box which was jammed far in between two of the foundation stones in the Trobish cellar.

It was a small, vellum-bound book, measuring about four by six inches. The title page and table of contents page had either disintegrated or been removed, and mold was working on the rest of the pages, but it was still possible to read most of the print—that is, if you knew Latin.

Henry didn't, of course, but, no matter, he was entranced by his find. He carried the book everywhere. Sometimes you'd see him sitting in the spruce woods, frowning over the volume, baffled but still intrigued.

We underestimated Henry. He was determined to read the book. Eventually he prevailed upon Miss Winnie, the local teacher, to lend him a second-hand Latin grammar and vocabulary.

Since Henry's formal schooling had been limited to two or three years, and since his knowledge of English was, at best, rudimentary, it must have been a fearful task for him to tackle Latin.

But he persisted. Whenever he wasn't prowling the woods, fishing, or filling in for an ailing hired hand, he'd sit puzzling over his find. He'd trace out the Latin words with one finger, frown, shake his head and pick up the textbooks. Then, stubbornly, he'd go back to the vellum-bound volume again.

He ran into many snags. Finally he returned to Miss Winnie with a formidable list of words and names which he couldn't find in the grammar.

Miss Winnie did the best she could with the list. Shortly afterwards she went to see Dave Baines. Although, in his later years, Baines held no official position, he was the patriarch of the town. Nearly everyone went to him for counsel and advice.

Not long after Miss Winnie's visit, he stopped in to see me. After sipping a little wine, he came to the point.

"I wish," he said abruptly, "you'd try to get that damned book away from Henry."

I looked up with surprise. "Why should I, Dave? It keeps him amused apparently."

Baines removed his steel-rimmed spectacles and rubbed his eyes. "That list Henry brought Miss Winnie contains some very strange words—including the names of at least four different devils. And several names which must refer to—entities—maybe worse than devils."

I poured more wine. "I'll see what I can do. But I really can't imagine what harm could come of it. That book is just a new toy to Henry. He'll tire of it eventually."

Dave replaced his spectacles. "Well, maybe. But the other day Giles Cowdry heard this funny high-pitched voice coming out of the woods. Said it gave him the creeps. He slipped in to investigate and there was Henry standing in a clearing among the pines reading out of that moldy book. I suppose his Latin pronunciation was pretty terrible, but Giles said a strange feeling came over him as Henry went on reading. He backed away and I guess he was glad enough to get out of earshot."

I promised Dave I'd see what I could do. About a week later while I was taking a walk through the woods in the vicinity of Henry's shack, I heard a kind of chant emanating from nearby.

Pushing through a stand of pines, I spotted Henry standing in a small open area among the trees. He held a book in one hand and mouthed a kind of gibberish which, to me at least, only faintly resembled Latin.

Unobtrusively, I edged into sight. A fallen branch cracked as I stepped on it and Henry looked up.

He stopped reading immediately.

I nodded. "Mornin', Henry. Just taking a stroll and I couldn't help hearing you. Must be a might interesting little book you've got there. Can I take a look at it?"

Ordinarily, Henry would greet me with an easy grin. This time he scowled, "Ain't givin' my book to nobody!" he exclaimed, stuffing the volume into a pocket.

I was annoyed and I suppose I showed it. "I didn't ask to keep the book, Henry. I merely wanted to look at it." Actually this wasn't entirely true; I had hoped to persuade him to give me the book.

He shrugged, hesitated and then, turning, started off through the woods. "I got chores. No time for talk," he muttered over his shoulder.

The next day I reported my failure to Dave Baines.

"Too bad," he commented, "but I suppose we'd better just forget about it. If he won't give that infernal book to you, he won't give it to anybody. Let's just hope he loses interest in it after a time."

But Henry didn't lose interest in the vellum-bound book. On the contrary, he developed an obsession about it. He went hunting or fishing only when driven by acute hunger. He neglected his potato patch. His shack, never very sturdy, began to disintegrate.

Less often during the day now, but more often at night, his high-pitched voice would be heard arising from one of the dense groves of pines or hemlocks which bordered the dusty country roads. Scarcely anyone in Juniper Hill knew Latin, but everyone who heard Henry's chant drifting from the dark woods agreed that it was an eerie and disturbing experience. One farmer's wife averred that Henry's nocturnal readings had given her nightmares.

Somebody asked how Henry could see to read in the dark, since nobody ever had seen a light in the woods from whence the sounds emanated.

It was, as is said, "a good question." We never found out for sure. It was possible that Henry had finally memorized the contents of the book, or part of it. This, however, I personally found difficult to believe.

Henry's explanation, when it came, was even more difficult to accept.

One hot summer morning he turned up at the village general store. He looked emaciated and his clothes were in tatters, but he seemed imbued with a kind of suppressed animation. Perhaps exhilaration might be a better word.

He bought a two-dollar work shirt and three tins of corned beef. He did not appear chagrined that these purchases very obviously emptied his tattered wallet.

Loungers at the store noticed that he was wearing a ring. Some commented on it.

Surprisingly, Henry held it out for inspection. He was visibly proud of it. Everyone agreed later that they had never seen a ring like it before. The band might have been shaped out of silver, but worked into it were tiny veins of blue which appeared to glow faintly. The stone was disappointing; black, flat-cut and dull in luster.

Unusually voluble, Henry volunteered some information on the stone. "Ain't no good in daylight. Nighttime it comes alive. Throws out light, it do!"

He gathered up his purchases and started for the door. He paused at the threshold, chuckling, and turned his head. "Light a-plenty," he said, " 'nuff light to read by!"

Still chuckling to himself, he walked out into the hot sunlight and off down the road.

The only other information we received about the ring came from Walter Frawley, the town constable, who met Henry in the woods one day. Frawley reported that he had asked Henry where he had acquired the ring.

Henry insisted that he found it, purely by chance, tangled up among the roots of a huge pine tree which formerly grew near the ruins of the old Trobish house. The great pine had toppled in a severe windstorm several years before. Natives estimated the tree was at least one hundred years old.

Nobody could satisfactorily explain how the ring had become entangled in the roots of a century-old pine. It was possible, of course, that old Hannibal Trobish had buried it there many decades ago—either to hide it, or to get rid of it.

As the hot summer advanced, Henry went on chanting in the woods at night, giving late travelers "a case of the nerves" and causing some of the farm watch dogs to howl dismally.

One day I met Miss Winnie in the village and asked for her opinion of Henry's book, based on the list of words and names which he had brought to her for translation or clarification.

"The book is medieval in origin," she told me. "And I think it was written by someone who pretended to be a wizard or sorcerer. Poor Henry is out there in the woods at night chanting invocations to nonexistent devils dreamed up by some medieval charlatan who was quite possibly burned at the stake!"

I frowned. "Why do you say 'nonexistent devils,' Miss Winnie?"

"I don't believe in such things," she replied a bit stiffly. "I went to Dave Baines about the book because I thought it was having a bad effect on Henry. Heaven knows I'd be delighted if he learned Latin, but I don't think he's going about it properly. And he's neglecting everything. People tell me his little hut is falling apart and that he doesn't eat properly anymore."

I thanked her and went my way, even more concerned than I had been before, but totally unable to see how I could help. I felt that Henry still liked me, but I knew his stubbornness was monumental.

Not long after my talk with Miss Winnie, I heard rumors that Henry was building some kind of stage or platform on a small knoll adjacent to one of the deeper stands of hemlock. The knoll was about a mile from one of the less-traveled country roads. It was quite high, almost level with the tops of the hemlocks. I had been on it a few times and recalled that on a clear day it overlooked a huge expanse of forest and field.

One afternoon when the summer heat had subsided somewhat, I went to have a look at Henry's platform. After nearly becoming lost in the dark hemlock woods, I slipped into the sunlight and climbed the side of the knoll, a small hill made up of glacial stones and gravel.

It was barren except for a few stunted shrubs, ground creepers and dried lichen patches. Centered on the exact top was a twenty-foot structure built primarily out of willow saplings. A few stakes of heavier wood had been driven in around the base to strengthen the whole. The top of the bizarre lookout tapered to a tiny wooden platform, just large enough for one person. A crude hand-ladder had been attached to one side and a kind of rail ran around the perimeter of the platform.

It was, altogether, shaky and perilous-looking. Henry was no heavyweight, and he would probably survive a twenty-foot drop onto the slippery side of a knoll, but I felt, nevertheless, that he was risking serious injury.

I circled the little structure and sat down nearby for a time, but Henry did not appear. At length, as the afternoon sun beat down on the knoll, I got up and made my way uneventfully through the hemlocks and back to the road.

Dave Baines shook his head when he learned of the willow platform. "That Latin book is drivin' Henry loco. I expect he'll fall off that thing, break a leg, or maybe his spine, and end up in the county hospital."

I suggested condemning the willow tower since it was obviously hazardous and was, moreover, built on land to which Henry had no title.

Dave shrugged. "What good would it do? He'd be madder than a hundred wet hens, and he'd likely just go out and rig up another somewhere else."

I let it go at that. I wasn't a native of the town and I certainly wasn't going to spearhead any "movement" to demolish Henry's willow platform.

Not long after my talk with Dave, the stories started circulating. At night, it was rumored, Henry's chanting could be heard all over town. It was becoming louder all the time.

Frank Kenmore came in with a story about Henry screeching from the top of the willow-tower while it swayed wildly in the wind and "tongues of fire" floated over the hemlock trees.

John Pendle complained that his old mare had bolted and thrown him from his buggy into the ditch one night when Henry started his "crazy yellin'."

Young Charlie Foxmire swore that he had crept through the woods at midnight and seen Henry on his tower "laughin' like a madman and talkin' to somebody in the trees."

I determined to find out for myself what actually was taking place. Late one evening I went out to the front veranda and listened. Sure enough, when the wind was right, I could hear Henry's steady chanting.

I turned off my lights and started out for the willow tower.

It was tough going through the hemlocks, but Henry's high-pitched chant kept me on my course. When I reached the knoll, I circled around until I was directly at Henry's back. I advanced only a few feet up the side of the knoll, crouched down and then very cautiously lifted my head.

Henry, book in hand, was standing on the tiny platform. The flimsy structure was swaying slightly in the wind. A bluish glow, whose source I could not at first locate, illuminated the book and part of Henry's face. His chant rose and fell eerily. He kept glancing from the book out over the top of the black hemlock forest, almost as if he were addressing a huge unseen audience which listened among the trees. In spite of the relative warmth of the summer night, I found myself shuddering.

His chant seemed to go on endlessly, as he turned the pages of the book. His voice became stronger as he continued. The wind rose and the platform swayed a little more.

I crouched motionless until my muscles ached, but there was no response from the depths of the hemlock woods. I was shocked when I realized that I had been waiting for a response!

I saw clearly at last that the strange blue glow emanated from the ring on Henry's finger. I experienced the weird conviction that the glow strengthened as Henry's chant grew stronger.

At length, the tension, plus the uncomfortable position in which I remained crouched, began to tire me. I had intended to stay until Henry finished his nocturnal incantations, but on second thought I decided to leave before he descended. I was convinced that he would be furious if he found me spying on him when he came down.

Moving carefully, I slipped backwards into the trees. A carpet of hemlock needles, inches deep, effectively muffled my footsteps. I groped my way to the road and walked home. I was too exhausted to assess the full implications of what I had seen. In spite of my fatigue, I did not sleep well. Unpleasant dreams, bordering on nightmare, harried me until morning.

I reported to Dave Baines. He appeared deeply concerned.

"Henry's going to destroy himself—or be destroyed by something if we don't get him away from there."

I nodded. "That's the way I feel—but what can we do?"

Dave began polishing his spectacles. "I'll think of something."

Three days later as I was returning from the village store early one morning, I met Henry. He was shuffling along dispiritedly. I inquired, casually, where he was heading.

He stopped, eyes on the ground, and began kicking at the dirt road with one foot.

"Dave Baines," he told me, "got me on over ta Miller's place. Extra hay hand. Says they be hard up for help. Wants me to go—sort of a favor to him!"

He shook his head and scowled. "Wouldn't go fer nobody else. Nobody! But Dave done me favors. Lots of favors, So I got to go."

"That's fine, Henry!" I said. "You'll be well fed and earn a few dollars! The almanac's predicting a long winter!"

He looked at me scornfully. "Ain't worried about winter. You know what I think?"

"What's that, Henry?"

He hesitated. "Well, I trust Dave, I reckon. But it could be somebody put him to it—so's they could get in my shack and take my book!"

His faded blue eyes took on an unfamiliar glint. He continued before I could comment.

"It won't do nobody no good! Because I got my book right here!" He tapped his overall pocket. "Right here!" he repeated triumphantly.

I assured him that Dave was undoubtedly acting in good faith and that nobody I knew in Juniper Hill would trespass in his absence.

Somewhat mollified, but still dispirited, he shuffled off. I noticed that he was still wearing his unusual ring with the flat black stone.

Kent Miller's place was at the far northern end of Juniper Hill. And Miller possessed several huge hay fields. If I judged correctly, Henry would not be back for several days.

That evening I decided to pay another visit to Henry's willow platform. As I started through the hemlock woods toward the knoll, I felt a bit like an intruder. But then I reminded myself that the knoll did not belong to Henry. And perhaps I might stumble on some clue which would be the key to Henry's obsession.

The thick hemlock woods were like a dark and aromatic tomb. I reached the knoll with a feeling of relief. At least I was in the open; I could see sky and feel a breeze on my face.

As I glanced up at the willow tower, I almost laughed aloud. How absurd it looked! Poorly constructed, fragile, swaying in the slight wind—how foolish I was to have been so impressed by a country loafer's childish obsession!

I scrambled up the shaky ladder nailed to one side of the tower and cautiously edged out onto the flimsy platform. The moon had not yet risen and there was not much to see—the dark continuing mass of hemlocks, a few fireflies and, far off, the twinkling light in a farmhouse window.

I was both relieved and disappointed. I told myself that I was a fool. What had I expected to see?

As I was about to start down the ladder, I thought I heard a faint chant somewhere in the deep distance. It was like an echo, almost inaudible—yet I paused with my hand on the platform railing and listened.

As I waited, it grew stronger, but only by a small degree. I looked out over the hemlocks and frowned. The contour of the woods seemed to have changed; the outlines of the trees seemed different.

I strained my eyes into the darkness, unable to comprehend what I thought I was witnessing. The wind rose, and the chant grew louder.

Henry was returning, I told myself, and I must hurry away before he reached the knoll with his infernal book and the ring that glowed in the dark.

Two things happened then almost simultaneously. As I started to let myself over the side to go down the ladder, I glanced once more toward the black mass of hemlocks. Only they weren't hemlocks. They were immense, towering trees, tropical in outline, which resembled giant ferns against the sky.

And as I stared in amazement and disbelief, a figure faced me on the platform—a figure with distorted features and glittering eyes which looked like an evil caricature of Henry Crotell!

With a rush of horror, I realized that I could see through the figure to the night sky beyond.

After a frozen moment of immobility, I went over the side of the platform. I slid partway down the apology for a ladder and fell the rest of the way.

As soon as my feet touched earth, they were racing for the trees. And when I entered them, they were the dark sweet hemlocks which I knew.

I rushed through them, gouging and scratching myself on projecting branches. Henry's chant, somewhat weak but still persistent, followed me.

I could hear it, far off in the night, when I stumbled onto my porch and opened the door.

I sat up for hours drinking coffee and at last fell asleep in my chair. I was slumped there, red-eyed and unshaven, when someone knocked.

I got up with a start, noticing that sunlight was pouring through a nearby window, and opened the door.

Dave Baines looked at me keenly, both abashed and a bit amused. "Sorry I woke you up. I'll come back—"

I shook my head. "No, no! Sit down. You're the very person I want to see!"

He heard me out in silence. After he had polished his glasses for five minutes, he spoke.

"I'm not sure, but I'd be willing to venture the opinion that the figure you saw on that platform was what some folks call an 'astral projection.' Henry's still at the Miller place; I called this morning to find out. One of the field hands came in after midnight and saw him fast asleep—he never would have had time to come down here, rant on that crazy tower of his and walk back again. Henry, consciously or unconsciously, projected part of himself back here to the knoll. A kind of intense wish fulfillment, I guess. Chances are he doesn't even remember it this morning."

I shook my head in disbelief. "But what did I hear?"

Dave replaced his spectacles. "You heard his chanting all right, but not with your ears. You heard it inside your head, with your mind only. No reason telepathy, or projection, can't be audible as well as visual. It's all the result of a mind's—or a psyche's—fierce desire to be in another place. The desire is so strong that part of that person—call it 'ectoplasm' or what you will—actually does return."

"But what about the trees?" I interjected. "What made the wood and the hemlocks change? Why did I seem to be looking out over a great forest of tropical fern trees—or whatever they were?"

Dave got up, rather wearily. "That I can't explain, at least not now." He sighed. "I wish the whole business was over with. I just have a feelin' Henry's going to come a cropper."

Henry did "come a cropper" the very next night. Just before dusk, as we learned later, when the haying crews at Miller's were leaving the fields for supper, Henry, scorning both a meal and the pay due him, slipped over a fence and set out on the main road for Juniper Hill.

It was after eleven, and I was about to get ready for bed, when Henry's familiar chant, clear and strong, came to me on the night breeze.

I told myself that he had "projected" himself again and that only an ectoplasmic caricature of him was chanting on the willow platform.

But I could not convince myself that such was the case. His voice was too high-pitched and powerful. There was none of the weak, tentative quality of the night before.

I set out for the knoll with many misgivings. I suppose I felt a kind of obligation to see the business through. Perhaps a sense of responsibility moved me. In addition, I will admit to a degree of curiosity.

As I started through the hemlock woods, however, I experienced a feeling of acute apprehension. Henry's garbled chant, this night, was louder than I had ever heard it before. It flooded the wood. And I detected in his voice an edge of excitement bordering on hysteria.

I reached the knoll without incident and paused within the shadows cast by the surrounding hemlocks. Something seemed to warn me to keep well out of sight.

Henry, book in hand, stood on the willow platform, chanting rapidly in a shrill voice. His ring glowed more brightly than ever, bathing the book and his own face in an eerie blue light. There was a moderate wind; the tower swayed gently from side to side.

I studied the figure on the platform carefully; there was no doubt in my mind that it was Henry in the flesh. What I saw was not the projection, or apparition, of the previous night.

As he moved his head to read from the book, or to look out over the black expanse of the hemlock woods, I noticed that his expression mirrored intense agitation and expectancy.

His chant rose and fell in the night, and again I sensed a frightening transformation in the contour and general appearance of the surrounding forest. Massive trees which did not resemble hemlocks seemed to loom against the darkened sky.

Once again I felt that a vast unseen audience waited among these alien trees—and that Henry was aware of their presence.

His chant swiftly became an incoherent shriek. His eyes appeared to protrude from his head; his face became so contorted it was scarcely recognizable.

I quickly became convinced that while formerly he was chanting to invoke someone or something—he was suddenly chanting frantically in an attempt to forestall the advent of whatever he had been trying to conjure.

Too late. The thing came slowly prancing and gliding over the tops of the huge fern-like trees. It was black even against the darkness of the night sky, but it seemed to contain within itself a kind of lambent flame. An aura of cold blue fire flickered about it.

If it had a definite shape, that shape was not easily apparent, because it continually flowed in upon itself, contorting and writhing in a manner which I found intensely repellent.

In size, it was enormous. If you can imagine a team of six or eight black horses, somehow joined together and all attempting to gallop off in different directions at once, you might have some faint conception of the appalling thing's appearance.

Henry saw it. His shrill chanting ceased and his mouth fell open. He was frozen into immobility. His face became wooden. Only his eyes remained alive—two bulging points of blue light which glazed with ultimate horror even before the monstrous entity came over the knoll.

I wanted desperately to intervene, but I was nearly as terrified as poor Henry. And I sensed that, in any case, I would be completely helpless if I did attempt to interfere.

Deliberately and inexorably, the prancing nightmare made for the knoll. Once overhead, it paused. The blue fires which animated it intensified.

It descended slowly, straight for Henry. It seemed to tread on air, very carefully, as it came down above him. I could detect neither eyes nor mouth in the fearful creature, but I knew that it must be equipped with a sensory apparatus—quite probably superior to my own.

Its convulsions almost ceased as it dropped toward the willow platform. When it was within a few feet of that upward-staring white face, its legs—or whatever kind of appendages they were—snaked down and wrapped themselves tightly around the doomed man.

At last he was able to scream. His shriek of agony transfixed me. It was heard all over the township of Juniper Hill—and beyond. It would be useless for me to attempt to convey the torment and terror which that cry contained. I cannot. The writhing thing ascended slowly. As it rose, Henry almost disappeared within the hideous seething tangle of the creature. But as it glided off, away from the knoll, out over the tops of those enormous trees, that terrible shriek rang on and on.

The fearful intruder, flickering with fire, finally vanished in the night, its progress marked by a tiny bit of blue flame.

I have no recollection of how I groped my way out of the woods and reached home. When Dave Baines stopped in the next morning, I was still sitting in the chair, staring at the wall. He told me later that he feared I was in shock.

At length, however, I was able to relate the events I had witnessed just a few hours before.

Dave listened without comment, interrupting only once to tell me that Henry's final scream had awakened people all over the town.

I finished weakly, grateful for the flask of whiskey which Dave had produced.

He removed his glasses and polished them very carefully. "We'll never see Henry alive again—and maybe not dead either!"

I set down my glass. "But, Dave, what was it? I was sober and in my right mind—and yet my brain refuses to accept what it tells me I saw."

Dave helped himself to the whiskey. "Henry was tampering with malign forces, entities which probably existed when the earth was young. Nature, you know, was an experimenter with many life forms—and not all of those life forms were necessarily on the physical plane, or at least not as we know it. Some of them probably existed and passed away, and the tenuous elements of which they were composed left no traces—certainly nothing like heavy skulls and body bones which could survive physically for millions of years.

"I think Henry summoned up, as it were, an early form which we now vaguely refer to as an 'elemental.' In a sense, it still exists—but in another time, you might say another dimension. From what you've described, it was quite probably looked on as a god to be worshipped by earlier inhabitants of this planet. What those inhabitants were—or who they were—I can't say. Perhaps the present location of the knoll and the hemlock wood was the place of worship. And quite possibly those early worshippers offered up sacrifices to the thing which they venerated and feared."

Dave shook his head. "I don't know—it's speculation. But that's all that I can offer. I believe that old Hannibal Trobish was somehow involved in the business. I think both that Latin book and Henry's ring belonged to him. He may have invoked that damnable entity and survived. Probably he knew how to keep out of its clutches once it appeared. Poor Henry learned just enough Latin to chant those incantations and summon up the thing, but, obviously, he had no idea how to escape it, or dismiss it, once it was evoked.

"That ring may have been a protective talisman. But chances are the ring itself was of no help unless the intruder was placated or its powers nullified by various sacrifices and/or specific formulas. I imagine these formulas were contained somewhere in the book, but that Henry had not learned enough Latin to avail himself of them.

"The great fern-tree forest you thought you saw—well, I don't know. It may have been a sort of telepathic image projected from the past—possibly, even, from the organ which served that creature as a brain. Even if the thing existed in another plane or time continuum, Henry's chants undoubtedly enabled it to slip through—temporarily at least—to the present."

Old Dave got up and moved toward the door. "If you'd ever lived in the far north—as I did at one time—you'd know the legend of the wendigo. A lot of people today think it is sheer nonsense. But they haven't sat around a campfire at midnight and heard the best guide in Canada swear by all the saints that he had glimpsed such a thing! I don't say that Henry's nightmare, necessarily, was just that—but it appears to have been a related entity."

A week later, in a cornfield more than twenty miles from the northern edge of the township of Juniper Hill, a farmer found a bundle of bones which appeared to have passed through a blast furnace. The bones were burned to the marrow. The ghastly skeleton might have remained forever unidentifiable save for one thing—on the brittle finger bone of one hand a peculiar-looking ring was found. In spite of the condition of the skeleton, the ring was undamaged by the fire. The shining band was shaped out of a metal which resembled silver, fretted with tiny veins of blue which glowed faintly. The ring's stone was black, flat-cut and dull in luster.

The burned remains of Henry Crotell were borne back to Juniper Hill and buried. The ring was left on the finger bone.

A few weeks later, on orders of Dave Baines, the cellar hole of the old Trobish house was filled in and leveled off.

The willow tower went down under high winds during the winter. In the spring, as improved highways were planned in Juniper Hill, a track was cut through the hemlock woods and the entire knoll which held the willow platform was bulldozed away in order to secure its stone and gravel for the new roadbeds.

The Latin book which led Henry to his doom was never located. I think it safe to assume that it was reduced to ashes by the same terrible fires which consumed him.

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