Norman Invasions [MultiFormat]
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eBook by John Norman
eBook Category: Fantasy
eBook Description: For decades the creator of Gor has been writing short pieces and quietly putting them in a drawer. But at last he is ready to go public with them in this wide-ranging story collection. It includes a number of pieces with such Gorean theme as female slavery and submission.
Many of the stories are philosophical monologues exploring existential and phenomenal ideas and their relation to the real world, abstract dialogues, ruminations and speculations. Some could almost be lectures embodied in narrative form.
Some stories are science fiction, some horror, and some have "mainstream" settings. Among the characters you'll meet are talking frogs, a couple of independently thinking computers, and a host of philosophers, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists performing analysis on computers or intelligent alien lifeforms and even counseling them.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, Published: 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2009
4 Reader Ratings:
I am spelling this the way it sounds, though I suppose, too, it might, in English, be spelled with a 'K'. The particular expression, above, which I have chosen to refer to the phenomenon, antedates English, at least as we know it. It derives from some other language, I think a very old language, perhaps from some predecessor of Danish, or from Jutish, or Saxon, or, perhaps more likely, from one of the older Celtic tongues. It seems clear that its original language is no longer spoken, but the word has lingered, or survived, threading its way toward us through various languages, most recently a Scottish Gaelic, until it nestles now in English, at least locally, almost as though hiding, a word never forgotten, occasionally recalled, and appearing now and again, though commonly only in whispers, as among my current neighbors, who are simple, ignorant, sea-faring village folk. So, you see, we do not know where the word came from, that is, in the beginning. It may have been coined hundreds of years ago, perhaps thousands of years ago, perhaps from a time when Stonehenge lay in the distant future, by shell peoples, or by the paddlers of round, leather boats, the latter gathering and fishing near the shores of what we now think of as the western North Atlantic, but it is heard, too, interestingly, but as one would suppose from linguistic affinities, in this case old Gaelic, to the west, at the edges of the Irish Sea, again, of course, among sea-faring village folk. It seems to be known in various places elsewhere in northern Europe, in the Wirral in Wales, for example, and perhaps anywhere here in the north, anywhere where there are simple folk, ignorance, superstition, and dark caves, washed by tidal floods, narrow waterways, cold waters, unseen, treacherous currents, lonely pebbled beaches, extended rocky shores, cruel, shadowed inlets. So it is an old word and seems to have been used, and is occasionally still used, though seldom before outsiders, to refer to the phenomenon. There are some more modern equivalents, too, but it seems to me more appropriate to use the older word, as do the villagers. The older word is more darkly reverent, I think; it is perhaps thus closer to the phenomenon.
So that is the word we will use. Calpa.
In English I do not think we have another word as well suited to the phenomenon. So we shall use it.
Too, I think it may prefer that word.
I find that I prefer it.
It is the case, however, or so it seems to me, that there is another word, if one may use that expression, in some language, a language quite unlike those with which you are likely to be familiar, for the phenomenon, a word in its own tongue, so to speak. In that language, in some sound, or something analogous to a sound, possibly even in some alphabet or syllabary, or in something analogous to such things, it occurs.
I have heard it, so to speak.
How might stars, or hurricanes, or stones, or tornadoes, or storms, or swift currents of water, lurking beneath a placid surface, speak? Such things do not, of course, speak, but, if they could, how might they speak? Could we hear them? Not the fury, not the inert passivity, not the incandescent tumult, but the words, the meaning? Could we hear it? These are analogies, of course, and doubtless not all that helpful. I am sorry. There seems to be little help for that. Still, suppose that there were things quite unlike ourselves, dark things, hard to touch, which could come and go, and were not much like things with which we were familiar, not like stones, and storms, and stars, but things distant from us, things alien to us, and that they could speak to one another, though we could not hear them. Does the ant hear the declamations of the market, do the flies understand the noises of the abattoir, or merely dumbly rejoice in the welcome, red feasting?
Who knows in what worlds we live?
Sometimes it seems to me I have access to that language, but only in dreams. To be sure, this could be madness. Surely I remember the hoofprints on the beach. They were real enough. Surely I remember what happened to the room. That was real enough, too. Certainly, at best, these hints, or recollections, or songs, or cries, are remote. More interestingly the sounds do not seem to be those natural to a human throat. Too, which mostly puzzles me, is that they do not seem to resemble the sounds of birds, or animals, either, with which I might be familiar.
Sometimes I think these things, the whispers, to be of the nature of the footfalls of spiders, but, of course, one cannot hear such things. Though doubtless they make a sound. Loud enough to the spider. Loud enough doubtless to the entangled fly, its senses strained, listening. At other times I think perhaps it sounds like darkness, but darkness makes no sound, not in any normal sense, not as we think of it. But if it could make a sound, as it encroaches, as it comes closer and closer, perhaps it would be like that. Sometimes it is easier to understand, like the tiny crackle of leaves in a forest, as though stirred by the movement of something near us, unseen, or like wind, as it moves about among cliffs, or prowls in caves, near the shore.
Those things are easier to understand.
I suppose I cannot make this clear. I do not think there is any help for that.
It is said that one cannot imagine anything an acquaintance with which one has not had first. One can imagine the golden mountain, of course, though one had never seen a golden mountain, but that idea, allegedly, is the combination of the ideas of gold and mountain, with both of which we are familiar. There is, of course, Hume's missing shade of blue, that shade, though not hitherto encountered, whose appearance might be conjectured from those of previously experienced contiguous shades. But even that is controversial. It seems plausible that, in the sensory modality at least, one could not imagine a sensory continuum unlike any hitherto experienced. The child who is blind from birth may become a physicist and understand better than many of the sighted the causes of color, the properties of surfaces, the agitation of atmospheres, the physics of illumination, familiarizing himself with abstractions, befriending equations, and such, but he will never see the blue of the sky, the red of the rose.
But I think I have seen this thing, or heard it, so to speak, this different thing, this dark thing, which is hard to touch, which can come and go. How this can be I have no idea.
The villagers, of course, at least some of them, usually the very old ones, insist that it can be sensed, at least at times, though what it is they sense they do not know. "It is here," they will whisper. Or they will say, "It is there, now, down on the beach." And then the villagers will hurry home, close the shutters, and bolt the doors.
One man had claimed to see it, last year, at night, in the moonlight on the beach, a fisherman, but his description made little sense. Perhaps one sees it as only one can see it, not perhaps as it is, but as it appears within one's own categories, textured, colored and shaped, tamed, enculturated, to reside within comforting fences, those of a required, quotidian familiarity. The man died at sea.
Let me tell you about the phenomenon, or, better perhaps, about the legends.
We will call it the calpa, as that word has been used, and, I think, for that of which I would speak.
It is a strange feeling, rather perhaps as though the ant suddenly understood the speech rushing over him, like clouds on a suddenly intelligible, stormy morning, or the flies suddenly grasping the meaning of the squeals and the blood.
The thing could understand itself, of course. But how could one of us, you, or me, understand it, we a strutting mammal vain in our costume of bones and blood, dragging our murderous past behind us, like a shadow, denied, not looked at. One does not look back. Why should the phenomenon seek us out, if it does? Does it sense an affinity there? Does it need us? And, if so, for what? Or is it a vengeful, malicious, tormented thing? Or is it innocent, carelessly, unwittingly, destroying things in its passage? Is it to be blamed, any more than an avalanche, or deep, chill water? Any more than a force of nature? For I am not like the villagers. I am not superstitious. I do not think it is evil, or a demon or a devil, a preternatural being of some sort. I am sure that it is a part of nature, a nature unfamiliar to us perhaps, but doubtless with its own conditions and laws. Nature generates only her own. But how much of nature do we know? We reach out, apprehensive and curious within our cabinet of sensations, and extend our fingertips, and touch nature, but what part of it, how much of it? I think only a small part. And the phenomenon, too, I think, restless, raging, within its lair, sometimes puts out its paw, and touches nature, too, but perhaps another part. But sometimes I think that the fingertips and the paw, occasionally, perhaps at a doorway, at a narrow place, touch one another. I have felt it touch my shoulder. Heavy, and cold. And I cried out. Too, it must, for a single moment, have felt my fingers, reaching past the paw, or hand, in its flowing, freezing, cold, salty mane. For it drew back, and was gone.
Why had I reached toward it?
Why had I not recoiled, and shrunk away?
And had it reached out, to touch me?
Had it thought to announce its presence?
Its space is doubtless as real to it as ours is to us. And perhaps it shares our space, but we do not, entirely, share its.
Its space may enclose ours, as the sea encloses the land.
My grandfather spent time in this village, on holiday, coming up from London, and my father, too. I suppose it is a family tradition, or such. It seemed the thing to do, to come here.
They, my grandfather, my father, never told me the stories, if they knew them. I think they did. I heard them only here, and in the third time I came, last fall.
The villagers, you see, though kindly enough, and friendly enough, at least on the whole, tend to be a close lot, and reticent. I suppose this is not unlike villagers in many places. They are hard to get to know at first. Typically, they tend to put aside, or resist, questions. Sometimes it seems they are suspicious of outsiders. They know their own, keep to their own, fend against the outside, and keep their secrets.
Will the ant go about its business, as usual, will the fly continue to feed? Yes, after a time, for the ant is an ant, and the fly a fly.
And so, too, we, in the village, will continue about our business. It is not clear there is anything else to do.
It comes from the waters, it is said, and reenters them. Normally, it does little harm.
I am sure it bears you no ill will.
The owl bears the mouse no hostility. Perhaps it is even benevolently disposed toward it, or, at the least, regards it with a benign moral neutrality. The lion does not begrudge the antelope its grass. The wolf does not bestir itself to agitate against the lamb. In nature each has its own place.
Some think the calpa is evil. But it is not evil. I can assure you of that. But then neither is the owl evil, nor the lion or the wolf. Nature is not evil, but it is itself. That is its reality. It is merely that its moral categories, if it has them, are not yours.
The calpa bears you no ill will. It is, however, territorial, and will kill to conceal its presence.
It would be well for you to understand that.
No one knows where lies the house of the calpa.
Also it must breed, and seeks shallower spaces, waters where first, perhaps, it was spawned.
Coming back, one supposes, in each generation, from unimaginable journeys in alien seas.
I think men project their own fears on the calpa, that they tend to see it, or understand it, in terms of their own categories. But their categories, I fear, are not those of the calpa..
I remember the raving, the incoherence of the fisherman, drunken, ranting in the pub, crying "fishlike and human," who later drowned.
But there are many descriptions of the calpa. Crustacean like, the bird with human eyes, the cat, the subtle serpent.
Let the ant and the fly understand men as best they can, but they can do so only as they can.
They can have only the ant's and the fly's understanding of man. How adequate can that be? Adequate enough perhaps, for the ant and the fly.
It was four weeks ago, early in the morning, well before breakfast, come down from the house, that I was wandering on the beach, considering an article on the difficulties of economic calculation in guild socialism, when, bemused, the tide recently ebbed, I noted a set of unusual marks in the sand. It was not clear how they might have been formed, if not as some sort of hoax. More than anything they resembled the prints of a gigantic animal, hoofed, a horse or something horselike. I traced them back to where they seemed to emerge actually from the waters. That seemed to me puzzling. I supposed that the horse, for such it seemed to be, must have raced along the beach, and, here and there, entered into shallow water, run there, and then come back on the beach, this accounting for its seeming emergence from the water. I tried to confirm this line of reasoning by walking along the beach, and locating an entry point from the shore, but, in the time I was willing to give it, I found no such sign of entering the water. But, as hunger began to tell on me, I retraced my steps, to return to the house where I was staying, the same, incidentally, where my grandfather, and my father, long ago, had stayed. Even to the same room, with the single, large window. The hoofprints, for such I supposed they must be, if not a hoax, were those of an animal, unshod. The few horses in the village, except for colts, were, as far as I knew, shod. The prints, as I have said, were large, and, to speak honestly, seemingly much too large for a horse, as we understand such animals, too large even for one of the gigantic beasts bred for heavy haulage. They were also deep, very deep, the beach gouged. I wondered at how weighty the beast, and how swift, sharp and terrible must have been the hoofs which could have made such marks. Could sand have bled, the beach would have been covered with blood.
It seemed as though a gigantic beast, a horse, or some hoofed, horselike thing, had raced along the beach in the night.
Looking more closely, I discerned, then with amusement and chagrin, that the putative stride of the beast was incongruous, the distances between prints, and this convinced me of the joke some prankster, doubtless one of the village boys, had seen fit to play on the well-dressed, formal Londoner, the naive stranger, come here again, uninvited, on holiday. The prints were so far separated that it seemed the beast, between its gougelike strikings of the earth, must almost have flown across the beach, so far apart were the impacts of those mighty hoofs.
Surely the hoax might have been more cleverly perpetrated.
What a fool I had been!
I looked about, and called out, but no one answered. It seemed likely to me that the lad, or fellow, responsible for this hoax would have enjoyed witnessing my concern.
I clapped my hands, and laughed, saluting whoever might be watching. I had been gullible for a moment.
But no one revealed his presence.
No one stood up, and waved.
A small scuttling thing concealed within its carapace, disturbed, moved backward toward the water. It avoided one of the deep, dark marks. I continued to look about, but saw no one. Sometimes the cat from Hill House, where I had my room, followed me. She was a golden-haired Persian, odd for the area, a stray, come in from somewhere. She had, as cats will, settled in at Hill House, adopting it as her own, apparently recently, a few days before I arrived. I was fond of her. Guilelessly ruthless, affectionate, innocently merciless, loving, agile, graceful, furtive, stealthy, beautiful, watchful, she had all the sinuous charm, the patience and cunning, the moral freedom, of her breed. I sometimes bought fish in the market, putting it in a pan near the house for her. But I did not see her among the rocks, or on the nearest, graveled path, that which I had descended to the beach. A bird flew by, skimming the waters. Some cattle would be grazing, above, I supposed, somewhere. I supposed, too, high above, in its hole in the turf would be one or more waiting, coiled serpents, harmless things, waiting for the heat of the day.
It was a peaceful morning.
I shivered a little, as a cold wind swept by.
I was preparing to go back up the beach, and climb to the house, when I noticed two of the fishermen, nets over their shoulders, coming down to the shore. Two small boats were on the beach, drawn above the tide line.
I waved to them but they did not see me. I then returned to Hill House for breakfast. Later I began work on the article. Interestingly enough I saw the two fishermen returning to the village, carrying the nets. They were hurrying. It seemed, after all, they had not gone out on the waters.
February 2nd. At the pub last night. Wild stories. New tracks found on the beach. Fifth time now, I think. First time some weeks ago. Villagers fearful. No boats putting out again. Paid for ale. Willing to speak before me. Raining, drenched by the time of getting back to Hill House. Dream recurs.
It seems clear the prankster, whatever might have been his original intent, perhaps to discomfit a visitor, has decided to expand the scope of his hoax. His object, it seems, is to frighten the village. I do wish he would stop, as the men are losing workdays. I think perhaps the culprit here is young Gavin, a bold, outspoken, rather flairful lad, who is rather close to my own age. He seems a cut or two above the local folk, and has more schooling, at least a year at Edinburgh. I once challenged him on this matter outside the pub, but he was very firm in his denials, even when I promised to keep his secret, if he saw fit to share it with me. After all, I, too, could see the sport of this, though I think it had gone too far, and told him so. "It is not my doing," he said. "But there must be a fooler in the village! Who could it be?" Well I certainly had no idea, if he did not. Most of the younger folk, when they came of age, either left the village, or drove, or, going to the highway, bused to work in one of the nearby towns. A diligent, sober crew they were, none of whom seemed a likely source of a hoax. The older people we rather automatically excluded. To my amusement, Gavin informed me that he suspected the prankster was none other than myself, and he, too, promised to hold the secret, if I should choose to impart it to him. This seemed to me a delightful turnabout.
We concluded our conversation under the eaves of the pub, as it began to pour.
I returned to Hill House, drenched, and shaking with cold, and certainly much the worse for a pint too much at the pub.
The cat was inside, the night so miserable. She came up the stairs, after a few minutes, and made her presence known outside the door. I admitted her, as I would, and she was soon curled at the foot of the bed, asleep.
It seemed I should have fallen asleep almost immediately but I was unable to do so. The night at the pub was still muchly in my mind. There had been much wild talk about the prints, which were attributed, as ignorance and superstition would have it, to no ordinary cause, of course not, but to any number of uncanny, preternatural visitations, presumably all ill-omened, foreboding, and demonic. You know how superstitious simple folk can be. Old Duncan insisted they marked the calpa's return, after almost a generation. That seemed then to be the consensus, at least among the older fellows. How tiresome is superstition!
Gavin and I did our best to soothe these wretched, brittle fears, and bring the light of at least a little rationality into the evening's discourse, but I fear we were largely unsuccessful. "There are the prints!" would say a fellow. "Put there," we said. "A hoax!" "By who, then?" asked another. "We don't know," I said. "There are the prints," would reiterate another, shuddering, and so it went.
Although the calpa takes many forms, or, perhaps, more accurately, is given many forms by those who see it, the most common seems to be that of a gigantic, horselike being, with massive hoofs, a long, flowing mane, and huge, wild, burning eyes. Sometimes it is thought to be seen under the water, abeam, or gliding in the cold darkness beneath the keel, or rising toward the bulwarks, then descending again. Sometimes it is claimed to have broken the surface, only to submerge again. This has led some to speculate that it is some sort of sea creature, reptilian, long thought extinct. Other speculations have supposed a small whale, or other aquatic mammal. Some see it, too, sometimes, it seems, as having arms and a human head. Surely the imposition of some sort of discipline would be appropriate for sailors found drunk on their watch. I have wondered if that form was not, perhaps subconsciously, suggested by the image of a centaur. But that seems an unlikely image for mariners. To be sure, the image of the centaur may have been founded, long ago, not on Scythian horsemen, but on that of the calpa. Many were the galleys which brought tin from England to the Mediterranean. Some think that to see the calpa is itself a sentence of death, a forewarning of doom, but this is inaccurate. There is no reason why seeing the calpa, if one could actually do so, would, in itself, be a sign of impending death. Of what interest or concern are we to the calpa? Is this not vanity on our part? Are we so important that denizens of metaphysical realms would find it incumbent upon themselves to oblige us with such unsolicited, unwelcome notices? Let us dismiss the fanciful, self-regarding vanity of that thought. On the other hand, there would perhaps be dangers in bearing this dreadful witness, perhaps rather as in meeting a dangerous animal unexpectedly, eye to eye, within a critical charging distance. Seeing a lion is not in itself a sign of impending death, but it is quite true that these events are not always unassociated. It is true, however, that the calpa is territorial, and that it will protect itself. One does not enter certain cold, tidal caves, one does not swim in certain waters. As the legends have it, the calpa will kill, usually by drowning. Presumably it does not like to seen. Like the cat, it likes to conceal its presence. That is not uncommon with many forms of life. On the other hand, there are some legends, too, though admittedly rare, that the calpa has carried some to safety.
Who knows the nature of those it might save?
Why would it do so?
But I am speaking now as though there might be such a beast.
As the storm beat on the roof, and the wind whirled about Hill House, and lightning flashed beyond the window, off seaward, my mind, from the ale, wandered as it would.
Suppose, I thought, there might be such a thing as the calpa. If it is so secretive, so withdrawn, so jealous of its privacy, why would it mark a beach with its hoofs? So here, surely, was some sort of inconsistency.
Then I smiled, so silly was the thought, as if there might be such a thing.
I wondered how the prints came there. They would now, in the storm, be muchly washed away. Too, the tide would take most of them. They would be gone by morning.
Suppose there were such a thing, I thought. You can see how drunk I was, how tired, so disordered, lying there, pulling up the blankets, listening to the storm. The cat stirred when I pulled at the blankets, but did not, as far as I could tell, awaken.
Lightning flashed outside the window. The framing of the window, in its partitions, suddenly became a terrible shadow on the wall, one that looked for a moment, in the swiftly following crash of thunder, like the gigantic thrown-back head of a rearing horse.
So distraught was my fancy!
At the same time the cat, startled, awakened with a screech, and stood at the foot of the bed for a tense, wicked instant, ears back, back arched, hair erected like bristling wire, a forepaw lifted, claws exposed, fangs bared, hissing, spitting, toward the window. Then she turned as suddenly and leapt from the bed, and fled out the door, which I had left ajar for her passage.
She had been frightened by the storm, the noise.
There had been the prints on the beach. What if it were not a joke, not a hoax, even a stupid, cruel hoax.
What if the old men, and old Duncan, were right.
But the calpa, I thought, no more than ghosts, or devils, or demons, or angels, or such things, would leave prints, nor stir pebbles, nor mark beaches.
Thus such marks must have some natural, explicable origin.
But there may be diverse natures, of which we are familiar with only one.
And suddenly I wondered, the thought chilling me, if such a beast, if such there were, in its passage, had even needed to leave such prints, now doubtless muchly washed away. Any more than fog, swift and zealous, need leave marks. And I had the odd sensation that it might have chosen to leave them. But, if so, why? Could fog, if it so chose, take on might and form, and weight, and speed, and a hungry ferocity, what might be its tracks? Could even the hoofs of an eager fog, massive, palpitating and alive, luring, blinding mariners, so torment the earth? Might its claws scour beaches, furrow stone? But if it, or, better, some such thing, could take on equine form, donning a foreign coat and metaphysical mask, perhaps one even incongruous to its nature, might it not leave such marks? There had been prints on the beach, dark, deep prints. I had seen them, and so had others, coming down to the beach in the light. This was no fancy private to me. Something had passed there. That seemed clear. Need such marks have been put here? If not, why had they been put here? Could they be curiously annunciatory? Was this a signal, a knell, from a far-off place, betokening something, a visitor, a presence? I thought of a scratch on a sidewalk, a mark on a wall, scrawled in colored chalk. Was this a flag, or cairn?
Or perhaps it was only an exuberance of movement, of a creature of great power, bursting into an unfamiliar reality, testing itself in a new space, excited by a new body, trying it out, exulting like a horse racing its phantom fellow in the midnight darkness, in the cold, between the cliffs and sea, the wind stinging its eyes, whipping in its mane.
I have come home, I thought. But I must soon leave.
Or could this be its announcement, this racing, reflective of its power, its joy? Is this the way it claims its territory, I wondered. Thusly marking it? Against whom? But why would it claim territory? Why does an animal do that? The antelope has all the grass of the plains, I thought. Why does it stop in one place, and put down its horns, and stamp its hoofs?
I am not sure, but I think I then fell asleep.
I had the sense of rising from the bed once, but I do not know if this occurred, or if it was part of a dream.
I went to the window, or seemed to do so, which was cold, and streaked with rain. It felt chilled to my fingertips. In another flash of lightning, I looked down into the yard and, for an instant, it seemed to me that below, looking up at me, was a girl, illuminated, streaming with rain, unclothed save for long, bedraggled, soaked yellow hair clinging about her body like seaweed. She looked up, indifferently, unmindful of the storm, and then turned away. When lightning flashed again, the yard below was empty, save for some debris, a barrel, some puddles into which the fierce rain pelted, the drenched, smitten grass, the glistening stones of the walk. It must have been in a dream, as otherwise the poor thing, naked, and exposed to the elements, would have been half frozen. I had seen her before, I was sure, but only in dreams. In my earlier dreams, perhaps oddly enough, as they were the dreams of a young man, she, unlike the accommodating, sensuous maidens of many other dreams, had always been fully clothed, indeed, decorously, primly so, in Victorian propriety, in a starched, white shirtwaist, with a cameo brooch, with a long, black skirt to her ankles, with her yellow hair bound back behind her head. Her image in these recurring dreams was that of an upper-class scion from another era, one rather removed from ours, one more refined than our own, the image of a self-assured, self-possessed, proudly prudish, deliberately reserved, exquisitely formed, exquisitely feminine, exquisitely beautiful young lady, a lady as if of another time and place, a young lady well-bred, elegant, fashionable, proper, and genteel, very much so, aristocratic, self-satisfied, priggish, frosty and distant. She had always, in these dreams, had a look of smug, sheltered Victorian innocence, almost affectedly so, and of an almost contrivedly demure purity, and chastity, mingled with an expression of coldness and disdain. Sometimes this had excited my fury. How she regarded me. For something told me, in the dream you understand, that she, though this was unknown to her, belonged to me, that she, though at the time quite ignorant of the fact, was mine, literally. Sometimes, behind her, I had seen, briefly, the image of a great horse.
I was awakened once later, in the night, by the return of the cat. Her fur was wet, so I conjectured she had left the house through the kitchen, where there was a cat flap. I toweled her down a bit, and soon, again, curled about herself, her tail wrapped neatly, delicately, about her small, golden body, she had purred herself asleep.
In the meantime the rain had abated.
I lay there for a time, and then, as I could not get back to sleep, rose, drew on boots, and some clothes, and, taking my torch, went downstairs. I left the house through the kitchen, quietly, in order not to awaken Mrs. Fraser, or any of her roomers. In the yard, under the window, I shone the light about.
The grass had been muchly depressed by the night's rain. The stones were wet, and reflected the light of the torch. There were puddles here and there, and, in places, narrow, arrested trickles of rain, like stilled, small rivers, arrested in their passage, shored by mud and pebbles. Though I had come down with trepidation, I soon felt a fool in the darkness, blazing the light about on the sodden grass, the stones, the bordering gravel. I am sure that, by then, I had slept off the fumes of alcohol, but I was undeniably agitated, even trembling. I was muchly unsettled in my thinking. Work on the article, too, had not been going well. I might well return to London, I thought, perhaps as soon as the morrow. Given the obscurities, the troubling oddities, of recent days, the hoax of the prints, the rumors, the uneasiness of villagers, I now found myself less loath than I would have been earlier to exchange the tranquility of the village, supposedly ideal for gathering together one's thoughts, for the distractive bustle of Mayfair.
I shall return to London, I thought.
I have wondered, sometimes, if that would have been possible.
I was about to return to the room when the beam of light fell upon a small patch of bare, damp ground, some feet within the wall, at the end of the yard. I focused the light on the ground. I looked up. I could see the window. The cat must have awakened, and noted my absence, for I could see her. She sat on the sill, within the panes, looking down at me. How silly she must think humans, I thought, to be prowling about so late, in a muddy yard, when they might be snug abed in a warm, dry room. I put the beam down again. The mark was not absolutely clear, because of the rain, as it had softened the earth, but what I saw, at least if casually observed, might have easily been taken as the print of a small, delicate, well-formed foot; there was the print of the heel, and of the sole, and of the toes; it seemed, clearly, the print of girl's foot, of a small, delicate, feminine, naked foot.
Some village girl must have left it, I thought. Perhaps one of those who helps Mrs. Fraser with her cleaning. But this seemed absurd, given the time of year.
I would not return to London on the morrow.
I returned to the room and sat up for a time, bent over, my head in my hands. Then, as it was still quite early, I went back to bed. Happily I slept. When I awakened my first thought was that my trip to the yard, of last night, might have been in a dream, as well, but the mud of my boots, and the dampness, and disarray, of my clothing, thrown to a chair, convinced me that I had, indeed, left the room that night. After breakfast I reconnoitered the yard again, returning to the place under the window. I saw nothing, then, that was clearly a print. It had rained again, in the early morning, while I had slept. If the print had been there, it must have been washed away.
The most rational interpretation of the night's business was that I had walked in my sleep, as some do, and dreamed, in so walking, of strange things. This was the most rational interpretation, so it was the one I accepted.
I returned then to some research pertinent to the article, utilizing some of the relevant books and journals I had brought with me, in a small, wooden crate, to the village.
What occurred three nights later I could not dismiss so easily.
February 5th. Back late. Another visit to the pub. More conversation with Gavin. Prints not on beach now. Duncan apprehensive, strangely quiet. Cronies subdued. New ale. Things return to normal. Or nearly so. Foolish to have been disturbed. Fear is like contagion, transmitted from one person to another. Some sort of animal communication probably, on some atavistic level. Must resist. Am now above such things. Article going well.
I was not really back so late that night, as I remember it now. The behavior of the cat was surprising. She fled from me. I read a little, until after midnight, and then retired. I did leave the door ajar so that she might return, if so inclined.
The villagers are good fellows, but some of them are becoming a bit irritating. Wherever I go in the village, one or another seems to be about, and not just about, but about watching, pretending not to be watching. If I did not know better, I would suppose they were spying. I find this oppressive, and intrusive. Perhaps I am merely becoming excessively sensitive, or even paranoid. Perhaps I should speak to some of them about it. But that might cause unpleasantness. It is not my fault if I do not share their archaic attitudes, nor choose to sympathetically credit their superstitions. That they have no right to expect. And surely Gavin, one of their own, does not, either. I saw old Duncan today at the end of the village, near the road leading to the highway, talking to a constable. When he saw me, he walked away. I would really resent it if he, or others, were spreading rumors, or making irresponsible allegations, particularly to the law. Perhaps about the prints. But they are gone now. Hopefully that business is over and done with. I trust that the constable, who bikes down now and then to the village, has at least a modicum of common sense. I have met him once or twice, and he seems to be a decent, sensible fellow. If old Duncan's conversation had anything to do with me, I trust the constable bore his remarks in good humor. But enough of this. I have work to do.
That night the dream was different.
She seemed to see me for the first time, that prim, exquisite, coveted thing, and seemed know herself, perhaps for the first time in her life, this astonishing her, and frightening her, coveted. Coveted, as a mere object. Something that could be possessed, that could be seized as a prize, like a jewel, something that could be owned, literally owned, with no rights whatsoever, owned uncompromisingly, totally, callously, without quarter.
She regarded me.
Did she then understand that she was seen as a mere object? Did she then understand why she was so seen, and the rightness of it, why she was seen so, that she was seen so because that was what she then was, in that moment, a mere object? An object. How frightening for her, to understand herself as that. Oh, yes, of course, no simple or common object. But a precious, beautiful, living object, wondrous, deep, sentient, and alive--a masterpiece of foresight, preparation and training--but an object nonetheless. Beneath the whiteness, the crispness, the starch, the severity, the formalities and protocols, the conventions, the inculcated restrictions, the rigidities, the enmeshing, conditioned coldnesses and inhibitions, she was a slim, lithe, sleek, well-formed little beast, attractively bred, an appealing animal, an attractive little animal, an extremely desirable little animal.
Ready in the courtyard of nature for appropriation.
Ready for snaring, for capture and use.
Did she then understand, in the dream, of course, if only for a terrifying moment, the meaning of her slightness, her fragility, her vulnerability, the destiny and meaning of her excruciatingly, tantalizingly alluring slim curves, of her remarkable, unmistakable, considerable beauty?
In the dream, you see, I had suddenly grasped something which she had not, that she was the product of a long line of calculated, supervised breedings, a line, perhaps one of several similarly selected stocks, which had been supervised and tended for thousands of years.
She had been bred for me.
Her eyes were wide, straining to see and understand, to comprehend. Her lower lip trembling, her small hand at her palpitating breast, so delicate and appropriate a gesture, she backed away from me, and, in an instant, frightened, turned and, fleeing, vanished, and did she think there was an escape for her, and there was suddenly then a vast snorting noise, a roar, or neighing, like thunder, and a mighty form rose up before me, dark and gigantic, rearing on its hind legs, its hoofs flailing, slashing at the air, and I crouched down before it, and covered my head, and screamed.
I am rather sure I remember the sounds of shattering wood and glass, and voices, solicitous, first in the dark, calling up to me. Then, in a bit, I heard steps on the stairs, hurrying. A moment later Mrs. Fraser, followed by two of her roomers, entered the room. She was carrying a candle. I had seen its flickering light approaching, through the opening I had left, as I usually did, for the cat. She looked about, at me, and then the room, and cried out in dismay. In a moment or two the other roomers appeared.
"Are you all right, sir?" said Mrs. Fraser.
"Yes," I said. "I must have been sleeping. I must have cried out. I'm sorry."
"What happened here?" asked a man.
I looked about, wildly. The room was in disarray. It might have been the stall of a powerful, maddened animal.
"I don't know," I said. I didn't.
The window was shattered, its wooden partitions splintered away, scattered with a shower of glass into the yard below. The sill was broken. The side of the window on the right, as one looked out, had been forced from the wall, enlarging the opening. Indeed, though the window was a large one for the structure, part of the wall was gone. Some planking, and several slats of ruptured lath, plaster clinging to it, projected outward from the room. It was as though something quite large, some huge animal, like a bear, a bull or stallion, had somehow inadvertently found its way into the room, and had then, in terror or fury, perhaps sensing itself confined or trapped, bolted, rushing blindly toward the window, shattering it, and leaping to the outside.
I staggered to my feet. "I must have been walking in my sleep," I said. "I must have done this, somehow. I don't know how, but I must have done this. I'll pay for the damage, surely. I'm sorry. I'm terribly sorry!"
"This is not your doing, sir," said one of the roomers.
"Never," said another, grimly.
"Is anything missing?" asked another, looking about.
"There must have been a thief, a prowler," said one of the men.
"Sir is not of the village," said a fellow. "Someone thought he had money."
"Do you have money?" asked another.
"Not really," I said. "Nothing much."
"A thief would not know that," pointed out another.
"The gentleman awakened, and the fellow went for the window," said a man.
"Such things do not happen in my house," said Mrs. Fraser.
"This must be reported to the constable," said a man.
"If you like," I said. "But I think I am all right. I do not think anything is missing. I may have done this myself, somehow."
"Never," said a fellow.
"I am sure this was not done by local folk," said a man.
"No, we have no thieves here," added another.
"It would be an outsider," said another.
"Aye," said another.
"Yes," I said. "Yes." Yes, I thought, it would be an outsider, an outsider.
"I'll have some repairs begun tomorrow," said Mrs. Fraser.
"Keep the outside door locked," said one of the roomers, uneasily.
"I have never seen the need, but I shall do so," she said. "It is a lamentable thing, that one should have to lock the doors of one's own house."
"Aye," agreed a fellow.
Mrs. Fraser and the others then left the room.