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Bulwer Lytton’s story, “The House and the Brain,” is, perhaps, the most remarkable ghost story of this character on record, and is considered, by many, the best ever written. The phenomena occur in a house which is reputed to be haunted; no one will live in it. At last one brave soul determines to pass the night within its walls; he and his servant take up their abode in it, and, after various startling adventures of a minor character, the “grand climax” of the night is reached. As the author sat reading by the fire, the following occurred, which is told in his own words:
“I now became aware that something interposed between the page and the light—the page was over-shadowed; I looked up, and I saw what I shall find it very difficult, perhaps impossible, to describe.
“It was a Darkness shaping itself forth from the air in very undefined outline. I cannot say it was a human form, and yet it had more resemblance to a human form, or rather shadow, than to anything else. As it stood, wholly apart and distinct from the air and light around it, its dimensions seemed gigantic, the summit nearly touching the ceiling. While I gazed, a feeling of intense cold seized me. An iceberg could not more have chilled me; nor could the cold of an iceberg have been more purely physical. I feel convinced that it was not the cold caused by fear. As I continued to gaze, I thought—but this I cannot say with precision—that I distinguished two eyes looking on me from the height. One moment I fancied that I distinguished them clearly; the next they seemed gone; but still two rays of pale blue light frequently shot through the darkness, as from the height on which, I half believed, half doubted, that I had encountered the eyes.
“I strove to speak—my voice utterly failed me; I could only think to myself, Is this fear? It is not fear! I strove to rise; in vain; I felt weighed down by an irresistible force. Indeed, my impression was that of an immense and overwhelming Power opposed to my volition; that sense of utter inadequacy to cope with a force beyond man’s, which one may feel physically in a storm at sea, in a conflagration, or when confronting some terrible wild beast—or rather, perhaps, the shark of the ocean, I felt morally. Opposed to my will was another will, as far superior to its strength as storm, fire and shark are superior in material force to the force of man.
“And now—as this impression grew on me—now came, at last, horror—horror of a degree that no words can convey. Still I retained pride, if not courage; and in my own mind I said: ‘This is horror, but it is not fear; unless I fear I cannot be harmed; my reason rejects this thing; it is an illusion—I do not fear.’ With a violent effort I succeeded at last in stretching out my hand towards the weapon on the table; as I did so, on the arm and shoulder I received a strange shock, and my arm fell to my side powerless. And now, to add to my horror, the light began slowly to wane from the candles—they were not, as it were, extinguished, but their flame seemed very gradually withdrawn—it was the same with the fire; the light was extinguished from the fuel; in a few minutes the room was in utter darkness. The dread that came over me, to be thus in the dark with that Thing, whose power was so intensely felt, brought on a reaction of nerve. In fact, terror had reached that climax, that either my senses must have deserted me, or I must have burst through the spell. I did burst through it. I found voice, though the voice was a shriek. I remember that I broke forth with words like these—‘I do not fear, my soul does not fear’; and at the same time I found the strength to rise. Still in that profound gloom I rushed to one of the windows—tore aside the curtain—flung open the shutters; my first thought was—LIGHT. And when I saw the moon high, clear and calm, I felt a joy that almost compensated me for my previous terror. There was the moon; there also was the light from the gas lamps in the deserted, slumberous street. I turned to look back into the room; the moon penetrated its shadow very palely and partially—but still there was light. The dark Thing, whatever it might be, was gone—except that I could yet see a dim shadow, which seemed the shadow of that shade against the opposite wall.
“My eye now rested on the table, and from under the table (which was without cloth or cover—an old mahogany round table) there rose a hand, visible as far as the wrist. It was a hand, seemingly, as much of flesh and blood as my own, but the hand of an aged person—lean, wrinkled, small too—a woman’s hand. That hand very softly closed on the two letters that lay on the table; hand and letters both vanished. Then there came the same three loud, measured knocks I had heard on the bed-head before this extraordinary drama commenced.
“As these sounds slowly ceased, I felt the whole room vibrate sensibly; and at the far end there rose, from the floor, sparks or globules, like globules of light, many colored—green, yellow, fire-red, azure. Up and down, to and fro, hither, thither, as tiny Will o’ the Wisps, the sparks moved, slow and swift, each at its own caprice. A chair (as in the drawing-room below) was now advanced from the wall without apparent agency, and placed at the opposite side of the table. Suddenly, as forth from the air, there grew a shape, a woman’s shape. It was distinct as a shape of life—ghastly as the shape of death. The face was that of youth, with a strange, mournful beauty; the throat and shoulders were bare; the rest of the form in a loose robe of cloudy white. It began sleeking its long, yellow hair, which fell over its shoulders; its eyes were not turned towards me, but to the floor; it seemed listening, watching, waiting. The shadow of the shade in the background grew darker; and again I thought I saw the eyes gleaming out from the summit of the shadow—eyes fixed upon that shape.
“As if from the door, though it did not open, there grew out another shape, equally distinct, equally ghastly—a man’s shape—a young man’s. It was in the dress of the last century, or rather the likeness to such dress (for both the male and the female, though defined, were evidently unsubstantial, impalpable, simulacra, phantasms), and there was something incongruous, grotesque, yet fearful in the contrast between the elaborate finery, the courtly precision of that old-fashioned garb, with its ruffles and lace and buckles, and the corpse-like aspect and ghost-like stillness of the flitting wearer. Just as the male shape approached the female, the dark shadow started from the wall, and all three for a moment were wrapped in darkness. When the pale light returned, the two phantasms were as if in the grasp of the shadow, that towered between them, and there was a blood stain on the breast of the female; and the phantom male was leaning on its phantom sword, and blood seemed trickling fast from the ruffles, from the lace; and the darkness of the intermediate Shadow swallowed them up—they were gone. And again the bubbles of light shot, and sailed, and undulated, growing thicker and thicker and more wildly confused in their movements.
“The closet door to the right of the fireplace now opened, and from the aperture there came the form of an aged woman. In her hand she held letters—the very letters over which I had seen the hand close; and behind her I heard a footstep. She turned round as if to listen, and then she opened her letters and seemed to read; and over her shoulder I saw a livid face, the face of a man long drowned—bloated, bleached—seaweed tangled in its dripping hair, and at her feet lay a form as of a corpse, and beside the corpse there towered a child, a miserable, squalid child, with famine in its cheeks and fear in its eyes. And as I looked in the old woman’s face, the wrinkles and lines vanished; and it became the face of youth—hard-eyed, stony, but still youth; and the Shadow darted forth and darkened over these phantoms as it had darkened over the last.
“Nothing now was left but the Shadow, and on that my eyes were intently fixed, till again eyes grew out of the Shadow—malignant, serpent eyes. And the bubbles of light again rose and fell, and in their disordered, irregular, turbulent maze, mingled with the wan moonlight. And now from these globules themselves, as from the shell of an egg, monstrous things burst out; the air grew filled with them; larvæ so bloodless and so hideous that I can in no way describe them except to remind the reader of the swarming life which the solar microscope brings before the eyes in a drop of water—things transparent, supple, agile, chasing each other, devouring each other—forms like nought ever beheld by the naked eye. As the shapes were without symmetry, so their movements were without order. In their very vagrancies there was no sport; they came round me and round; thicker and faster and swifter, swarming over my head, crawling over my right arm, which was outstretched in involuntary command against all evil things. Sometimes I felt myself touched, but not by them; invisible hands touched me. Once I felt the clutch of cold, soft fingers at my throat, I was still equally conscious that if I gave way to fear I should be in bodily peril; and I concentrated all my faculties in the single focus of resisting, stubborn will. And I turned my sight from the Shadow—above all, from those strange serpent eyes—eyes that had now become distinctly visible. For there, though in nought else round me, I was aware that there was a WILL, and a will of intense, creative, working evil, which might crush down my own.
“The pale atmosphere in the room began now to redden as if in the air of some near conflagration. The larvæ grew lurid as things that live on fire. Again the room vibrated; again I heard the three measured knocks; and again all things were swallowed up in the darkness of the dark shadow—as if out of that darkness all had come, into that darkness all had returned.
“As the gloom receded, the Shadow was wholly gone. Slowly, as it had been withdrawn, the flame grew again into the candles on the table, again into the fuel in the grate....
“The room came once more calmly, healthfully into sight.
“Nothing more chanced for the rest of the night. Nor, indeed, had I long to wait before the dawn broke....”
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