The House on the Borderland, by William Hope Hodgson


The Luminous Speck

“I AWAKE suddenly. It is still dark. I turn over, once or twice, in my endeavours to sleep again; but I cannot sleep. My head is aching, slightly; and, by turns I am, hot and cold. In a little, I give up the attempt, and stretch out my hand, for the matches. I will light my candle, and read, awhile; perhaps, I shall be able to sleep, after a time. For a few moments, I grope; then my hand touches the box; but, as I open it, I am startled, to see a phosphorescent speck of fire, shining amid the darkness. I put out my other hand, and touch it. It is on my wrist. With a feeling of vague alarm, I strike a light, hurriedly, and look; but can see nothing, save a tiny scratch.

“ ‘Fancy!’ I mutter, with a half sigh of relief. Then the match burns my finger, and I drop it, quickly. As I fumble for another, the thing shines out again. I know, now, that it is no fancy. This time, I light the candle, and examine the place, more closely. There is a slight, greenish discoloration round the scratch. I am puzzled and worried. Then a thought comes to me. I remember the morning after the Thing appeared. I remember that the dog licked my hand. It was this one, with the scratch on it; though I have not been even conscious of the abrasement, until now. A horrible fear has come to me. It creeps into my brain — the dog’s wound, shines at night. With a dazed feeling, I sit down on the side of the bed, and try to think; but cannot. My brain seems numbed with the sheer horror of this new fear.

“Time moves on, unheeded. Once, I rouse up, and try to persuade myself that I am mistaken; but it is no use. In my heart, I have no doubt.

“Hour after hour, I sit in the darkness and silence, and shiver, hopelessly. . .  . . . .

“The day has come and gone, and it is night again.

“This morning, early, I shot the dog, and buried it, away among the bushes. My sister is startled and frightened; but I am desperate. Besides, it is better so. The foul growth had almost hidden its left side. And I— the place on my wrist has enlarged, perceptibly. Several times, I have caught myself muttering prayers — little things learnt as a child. God, Almighty God, help me! I shall go mad.

“Six days, and I have eaten nothing. It is night. I am sitting in my chair. Ah, God! I wonder have any ever felt the horror of life that I have come to know? I am swathed in terror. I feel ever the burning of this dread growth. It has covered all my right arm and side, and is beginning to creep up my neck. To-morrow, it will eat into my face. I shall become a terrible mass of living corruption. There is no escape. Yet, a thought has come to me, born of a sight of the gun-rack, on the other side of the room. I have looked again — with the strangest of feelings. The thought grows upon me. God, Thou knowest, Thou must know, that death is better, aye, better a thousand times than This. This! Jesus, forgive me, but I cannot live, cannot, cannot! I dare not! I am beyond all help — there is nothing else left. It will, at least, spare me that final horror. . .  . . . .

“I think I must have been dozing. I am very weak, and oh! so miserable, so miserable and tired — tired. The rustle of the paper, tries my brain. My hearing seems preternaturally sharp. I will sit awhile and think. . .  . . . .

“Hush! I hear something, down — down in the cellars. It is a creaking sound. My God, it is the opening of the great, oak trap. What can be doing that? The scratching of my pen deafens me. . .  . . . . I must listen. . .  . . . . There are steps on the stairs; strange padding steps, that come up and nearer. . . . Jesus, be merciful to me, an old man. There is something fumbling at the door-handle. O God, help me now! Jesus — The door is opening — slowly. Somethi —— ”

That is all.

NOTE. — From the unfinished word, it is possible, on the MS., to trace a faint line of ink, which suggests that the pen has trailed away over the paper; possibly, through fright and weakness. — Ed.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55