Dwellers in the Mirage, by Abraham Merritt

Chapter X.

If a Man Could Use All His Brain

The drums of the sentinel dwarfs beat on softly, talking to one another along the miles of circling scarp. And suddenly I had a desperate longing for the Gobi. I don’t know why, but its barren and burning, wind-swept and sand-swept body was more desirable than any woman’s. It was like strong homesickness. I found it hard to shake it off. I spoke at last in sheer desperation. “You’ve been acting damned queer, Indian.” “Tsi Tsa’lagi — I told you — I’m all Cherokee.” “Tsantawu — It is I, Degata, who speaks to you now.” I had dropped into the Cherokee; he answered:

“What is it my brother desires to know?”

“What it was the voices of the dead whispered that night we slept beneath the spruces? What it was you knew to be truth by the three signs they gave you. I did not hear the voices, brother — yet by the blood rite they are my ancestors as they are yours; and I have the right to know their words.”

He said: “Is it not better to let the future unroll itself without giving heed to the thin voices of the dead? Who can tell whether the voices of ghosts speak truth?”

“Tsantawu points his arrow in one direction while his eyes look the other. Once he called me dog slinking behind the heels of the hunter. Since it is plain he still thinks me that . . .”

“No, no, Lief,” he broke in, dropping the tribal tongue. “I only mean I don’t know whether it’s truth. I know what Barr would call it — natural apprehensions put subconsciously in terms of racial superstitions. The voices — we’ll call them that, anyway — said great danger lay north. The Spirit that was north would destroy them for ever and for ever if I fell in its hands. They and I would be ‘as though we never had been’. There was some enormous difference between ordinary death and this peculiar death that I couldn’t understand. But the voices did. I would know by three signs that they spoke truth, by Ataga’hi, by Usunhi’yi and by the Yunwi Tsundi. I could meet the first two and still go back. But if I went on to the third — it would be too late. They begged me not to — this was peculiarly interesting, Leif — not to let them be — dissolved.”

“Dissolved!” I exclaimed. “But — that’s the same word I used. And it was hours after!”

“Yes, that’s why I felt creepy when I heard you. You can’t blame me for being a little preoccupied when we came across the stony flat that was like Ataga’hi, and more so when we struck the coincidence of the Shadowed-land, which is pretty much the same as Usunhi’yi, the Darkening-land. It’s why I said if we ran across the third, the Yunwi Tsundi, I’d take your interpretation rather than Barr’s. We did strike it. And if you think all those things aren’t a good reason for acting damned queer, as you put it, well — what would you think a good one?”

Jim in the golden chains . . . Jim with the tentacle of that Dark Power creeping, creeping toward him . . . my lips were dry and stiff . . .

“Why didn’t you tell me all that! I’d never have let you go on!”

“I know it. But you’d have come back, wouldn’t you, old-timer?”

I did not answer; he laughed.

“How could I be sure until I saw all the signs?”

“But they didn’t say you would be — dissolved,” I clutched at the straw. “They only said there was the danger.”

“That’s all.”

“And what would I be doing? Jim — I’d kill you with my own hand before I’d let what I saw happen in the Gobi happen to you.”

“If you could,” he said, and I saw he was sorry he had said it.

“If I could? What did they say about me — those damned ancestors?”

“Not a damned thing,” he answered, cheerfully. “I never said they did. I simply reasoned that if we went on, and I was in danger, so would you be. That’s all.”

“Jim — it isn’t all. What are you keeping back?”

He arose, and stood over me.

“All right. They said that even if the Spirit didn’t get me, I’d never get out. Now you have the whole works.”

“Well,” I said, a burden rolling off me, “that’s not so bad. And, as for getting out — that may be as may be. One thing’s sure — if you stay, so do I.”

He nodded, absently. I went on to something else that had been puzzling me.

“The Yunwi Tsundi, Jim, what were they? You never told me anything about them that I remember. What’s the legend?”

“Oh — the Little People,” he squatted beside me, chuckling, wide awake from his abstraction. “They were in Cherokee-land when the Cherokees got there. They were a pygmy race, like those in Africa and Australia today. Only they weren’t blacks. These small folk fit their description. Of course, the tribes did some embroidering. They had them copper-coloured and only two feet high. These are golden-skinned and average three feet. At that, they may have faded some here and put on height. Otherwise they square with the accounts — long hair, perfect shape, drums and all.”

He went on to tell of the Little People. They had lived in caves, mostly in the region now Tennessee and Kentucky. They were earth-folk, worshippers of life; and as such at times outrageously Rabelaisian. They were friendly toward the Cherokees, but kept rigorously to themselves and seldom were seen. They frequently aided those who had got lost in the mountains, especially children. If they helped anyone, and took him into their caves, they warned him he mustn’t tell where the caves were, or he would die. And, ran the legends, if he told, he did die. If anyone ate their food he had to be very careful when he returned to his tribe, and resume his old diet slowly, or he would also die.

The Little People were touchy. If anyone followed them in the woods, they cast a spell on him so that for days he had no sense of location. They were expert wood and metal workers, and if a hunter found in the forest a knife or arrow-head or any kind of trinket, before he picked it up he had to say: “Little People, I want to take this”. If he didn’t ask, he never killed any more game and another misfortune came upon him. One which distressed his wife.

They were gay, the Little People, and they spent half their time in dancing and drumming. They had every kind of drum-drums that would make trees fall, drums that brought sleep, drums that drove to madness, drums that talked and thunder drums. The thunder drums sounded just like thunder, and when the Little People beat on them soon there was a real thunderstorm, because they sounded so much like the actuality that it woke up the thunderstorms, and one or more storm was sure to come poking around to gossip with what it supposed a wandering member of the family . . .

I remembered the roll of thunder that followed the chanting; I wondered whether that had been the Little People’s defiance to Khalk’ru . . . .

“I’ve a question or two for you, Leif.”

“Go right ahead, Indian.”

“Just how much do you remember of — Dwayanu?”

I didn’t answer at once; it was the question I had been dreading ever since I had cried out to the Witch-woman on the white river’s bank.

“If you’re thinking it over, all right. If you’re thinking of a way to stall, all wrong. I’m asking for a straight answer.”

“Is it your idea that I’m that ancient Uighur, re-bom? If it is, maybe you have a theory as to where I’ve been during the thousands of years between this time and now.”

“Oh, so the same idea has been worrying you, has it? No, reincarnation isn’t what I had in mind. Although at that, we know so damned little I wouldn’t rule it out. But there may be a more reasonable explanation. That’s why I ask — what do you remember of Dwayanu?”

I determined to make a clean breast of it.

“All right, Jim,” I said. “That same question has been riding my mind right behind Khalk’ru for three years. And if I can’t find the answer here, I’ll go back to the Gobi for it — if I can get out. When I was in that room of the oasis waiting the old priest’s call, I remembered perfectly well it had been Dwayanu’s. I knew the bed, and I knew the armour and the weapons. I stood looking at one of the metal caps and I remembered that Dwayanu — or I— had got a terrific clout with a mace when wearing it. I took it down, and there was a dent in it precisely where I remembered it had been struck. I remembered the swords, and recalled that Dwayanu — or I— had the habit of using a heavier one in the left hand than in the right. Well, one of them was much heavier than the other. Also, in a fight I use my left hand better than I do my right. These memories, or whatever they were, came in flashes. For a moment I would be Dwayanu, plus myself, looking with amused interest on old familiar things — and the next moment I would be only myself and wondering, with no amusement, what it all meant.”

“Yes, what else?”

“Well, I wasn’t entirely frank about the ritual matter,” I said, miserably. “I told you it was as though another person had taken charge of my mind and gone on with it. That was true, in a way — but God help me, I knew all the time that other person was — myself! It was like being two people and one at the same time. It’s hard to make clear . . . you know how you can be saying one thing and thinking another. Suppose you could be saying one thing and thinking two things at once. It was like that. One part of me was in revolt, horror-stricken, terrified. The other part was none of those things; it knew it had power and was enjoying exercising that power — and it had control of my will. But both were — I. Unequivocally, unmistakably — I. Hell, man — if I’d really believed it was somebody, something, besides myself, do you suppose I’d feel the remorse I do? No, it’s because I knew it was I— the same part of me that knew the helm and the swords, that I’ve gone hag-ridden ever since.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes. Dreams.”

He leaned over, and spoke sharply.

“What dreams?”

“Dreams of battles-dreams of feasts . . . a dream of war against yellow men, and of a battlefield beside a river and of arrows flying overhead in clouds . . . of hand-to-hand fights in which I wield a weapon like a huge hammer against big yellow-haired men I know are like myself . . . dreams of towered cities through which I pass and where white, blue-eyed women toss garlands down for my horse to trample. . . . When I wake the dreams are vague, soon lost. But always I know that while I dreamed them, they were clear, sharp-cut — real as life . . . .”

“Is that how you knew the Witch-woman was Witch-woman — through those dreams?”

“If so, I don’t remember. I only knew that suddenly I recognized her for what she was — or that other self did.”

He sat for a while in silence.

“Leif,” he asked, “in those dreams do you ever take any part in the service of Khalk’ru? Have anything at all to do with his worship?”

“I’m sure I don’t. I’d remember that, by God! I don’t even dream of the temple in the Gobi!”

He nodded, as though I had confirmed some thought in his own mind; then was quiet for so long that I became jumpy.

“Well, Old Medicine Man of the Tsalagi’, what’s the diagnosis? Reincarnation, demonic possession, or just crazy?”

“Leif, you never had any of those dreams before the Gobi?”

“I did not.”

“Well — I’ve been trying to think as Barr would, and squaring it with my own grey matter. Here’s the result. I think that everything you’ve told me is the doing of your old priest. He had you under his control when you saw yourself riding to the Temple of Khalk’ru — and wouldn’t go in. You don’t know what else he might have suggested at that time, and have commanded you to forget consciously when you came to yourself. That’s a simple matter of hypnotism. But he had another chance at you. When you were asleep that night. How do you know he didn’t come in and do some more suggesting? Obviously, he wanted to believe you were Dwayanu. He. wanted you to ‘remember’— but having had one lesson, he didn’t want you to remember what went on with Khalk’ru. That would explain why you dreamed about the pomp and glory and the pleasant things, but not the unpleasant. He was a wise old gentleman — you say that yourself. He knew enough of your psychology to foresee you would balk at a stage of the ritual. So you did — but he had tied you well up. Instantly the post-hypnotic command to the subconscious operated. You couldn’t help going on. Although your conscious self was wide-awake, fully aware, it had no control over your will. I think that’s what Barr would say. And I’d agree with him. Hell, there are drugs that do all that to you. You don’t have to go into migrations of the soul, or demons, or any medieval matter to account for it.”

“Yes,” I said, hopefully but doubtfully. “And how about the Witch-woman?”

“Somebody like her in your dreams, but forgotten. I think the explanation is what I’ve said. If it is, Leif, it worries me.”

“I don’t follow you there,” I said.

“No? Well, think this over. If all these things that puzzle you come from suggestions the old priest made — what else did he suggest? Clearly, he knew something of this place. Suppose he foresaw the possibility of your finding it. What would he want you to do when you did find it? Whatever it was, you can bet your chances of getting out that he planted it deep in your subconscious. All right — that being a reasonable deduction, what is it you will do when you come in closer contact with those red-headed ladies we saw, and with the happy few gentlemen who share their Paradise? I haven’t the slightest idea — nor have you. And if that isn’t something to worry about, tell me what is. Come on — let’s go to bed.”

We went into the tent. We had been in it before with Evalie. It had been empty then except for a pile of soft pelts and silken stuffs at one side. Now there were two such piles. We shed our clothes in the pale green darkness and turned in. I looked at my watch.

“Ten o’clock,” I said. “How many months since morning?”

“At least six. If you keep me awake I’ll murder you. I’m tired.”

So was I; but I lay long, thinking. I was not so convinced by Jim’s argument, plausible as it was. Not that I believed I had been lying dormant in some extra-spatial limbo for centuries. Nor that I had ever been this ancient Dwayanu. There was a third explanation, although I didn’t like it a bit better than than of reincarnation; and it had just as many unpleasant possibilities as that of Jim’s.

Not long ago an eminent American physician and psychologist had said he bad discovered that the average man used only about one-tenth of his brain; and scientists generally agreed he was right. The ablest thinkers, all-round geniuses, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were, might use a tenth more. Any man who could use all his brain could rule the world — but probably wouldn’t want to. In the human skull was a world only one-fifth explored at the most.

What was in the terra incognita of the brain — the unexplored eight-tenths?

Well, for one thing there might be a storehouse of ancestral memories, memories reaching back to those of the hairy, ape-like ancestors who preceded man, reaching beyond them even to those of the ffippered creatures who crawled out of the ancient seas to begin their march to men — and further back to their ancestors who had battled and bred in the steaming oceans when the continents were being bom.

Millions upon millions of years of memories! What a reservoir of knowledge if man’s consciousness could but tap it!

There was nothing more unbelievable in this than that the physical memory of the race could be contained in the two single cells which start the cycle of birth. In them are all the complexities of the human body — brain and nerves, muscles, bone and blood. In them, too, are those traits we call hereditary — family resemblances, resemblances not only of face and body but of thought, habits, emotions, reactions to environment: grandfather’s nose, great-grandmother’s eyes, great-great-grandfather’s irascibility, moodiness or what not. If all this can be carried in those seven and forty, and eight and forty, microscopic rods within the birth cells which biologists call the chromosomes, tiny mysterious gods of birth who determine from the beginning what blend of ancestors a boy or girl shall be, why could they not carry, too, the accumulated experiences, the memories of those ancestors?

Somewhere in the human brain might be a section of records, each neatly graven with lines of memories, waiting only for the needle of consciousness to run over them to make them articulate.

Maybe the consciousness did now and then touch and read them. Maybe there were a few people who by some freak had a limited power of tapping their contents.

If that were true, it would explain many mysteries. Jim’s ghostly voices, for example. My own uncanny ability of picking up languages.

Suppose that I had come straight down from this Dwayanu. And that in this unknown world of my brain, my consciousness, that which now was I, could and did reach in and touch those memories that had been Dwayanu. Or that those memories stirred and reached my consciousness? When that happened — Dwayanu would awaken and live. And I would be both Dwayanu and Leif Langdon!

Might it not be that the old priest had known something of this? By words and rites and by suggestion, even as Jim had said, had reached into that terra incognita and wakened these memories that were — Dwayanu?

They were strong — those memories. They had not been wholly asleep; eke I would not have learned so quickly the Uighur . . . nor experienced those strange, reluctant flashes of recognition before ever I met the old priest . . .

Yes, Dwayanu was strong. And in some way I knew he was ruthless. I was afraid of Dwayanu — of those memories that once had been Dwayanu. I had no power to arouse them, and I had no power to control them. Twice they had seized my will, had pushed me aside.

What if they grew stronger?

What if they became — all of me?


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58