I had been lying with my face away from my uncle’s chair, so that in this sudden flash of awakening I saw only the door through which I might exit the private cinema, and the walls around it, all photographed with morbid vividness on my brain in a light brighter than the glow of the fungi. It was not a strong or even a fairly strong light; certainly not nearly strong enough to read a book by. But it cast a shadow of myself and the cot on the floor, and had a yellowish, penetrating force that hinted at things more potent than luminosity. This I perceived with unhealthy sharpness despite the fact that two of my other senses were violently assailed. For on my ears rang the reverberations of that shocking scream, while my nostrils revolted at the stench which filled the place. My mind, as alert as my senses, recognized the gravely unusual; and almost automatically I leaped up and turned about to grasp the destructive instruments which we had left trained on the moldy spot in the centre of the floor. As I turned, I dreaded what I was to see; for the scream had been in my uncle’s voice, and I knew not against what menace I should have to defend him and myself.
Yet after all, the sight was worse than I had dreaded. There are horrors beyond horrors, and this was one of those nuclei of all dreamable hideousness which the cosmos saves to blast an accursed and unhappy few. Out of the fungus-ridden concrete steamed up a vaporous corpse-light, yellow and diseased, which bubbled and lapped to a gigantic height in vague outlines half human and half monstrous, through which I could see the tattered cinema screen beyond. It was all eyes – wolfish and mocking – and the rugose insect-like head dissolved at the top to a thin stream of mist that curled putridly about and finally vanished into the ceiling. I say that I saw this thing, but it is only in conscious retrospection that I ever definitely traced its damnable approach to form. At the time, it was to me only a seething, dimly phosphorescent cloud of fungous loathsomeness, enveloping and dissolving to an abhorrent plasticity the one object on which all my attention was focused. That object was my uncle–the venerable Doctor Whipple – who with blackening and decaying features leered and gibbered at me, and reached out dripping claws to rend me in the fury which this horror had brought.
It was a sense of routine that kept me from going mad. I had drilled myself in preparation for the crucial moment, and blind training saved me. Recognizing the bubbling evil as no substance reachable by matter or material chemistry, and therefore ignoring the flame-thrower that loomed on my left, I threw on the current of the Crookes tube apparatus, and focused toward that scene of immortal blasphemousness the strongest ether radiations which man’s art can arouse from the spaces and fluids of nature. There was a bluish haze and a frenzied sputtering, and the yellowish phosphorescence grew dimmer to my eyes. But I saw the dimness was only that of contrast, and that the waves from the machine had no effect whatever.
Then, in the midst of that demoniac spectacle, I saw a fresh horror which brought cries to my lips and sent me fumbling and staggering toward that unlocked door up the stairs and through The Denizen’s entrance. I reached the street careless of what abnormal terrors I had loosed upon the world, or what thoughts or judgments of men I brought down upon my head. In that dim blend of blue and yellow the form of my uncle had commenced a nauseous liquefaction whose essence eludes all description, and in which there played across his vanishing face such changes of identity as only madness can conceive. He was at once a devil and a multitude, a charnel-house and a pageant. Lit by the mixed and uncertain light, that gelatinous face assumed a dozen – a score – a hundred – aspects; grinning, as it sank to the ground on a body that melted like tallow, in the caricatured likeness of legions strange and yet not strange.
I saw the features of the Evans line, masculine and feminine, adult and infantile, and other features old and young, coarse and refined, familiar and unfamiliar. For a second there flashed a degraded counterfeit of a miniature of poor mad Sidney Evans that I had seen in my uncle’s papers, and another time I thought I caught the raw-boned image of Mercy Dexter as I recalled her from a painting. It was frightful beyond conception; toward the last, when a curious blend of prostitute and baby visages flickered close to the fungous floor where a pool of greenish grease was spreading, it seemed as though the shifting features fought against themselves and strove to form contours like those of my uncle’s kindly face. I like to think that he existed at that moment, and that he tried to bid me farewell. It seems to me I hiccupped a farewell from my own parched throat as I lurched out into Golden Lane; a thin stream of grease following me through the door to the rain-drenched sidewalk.
* * * * *
The rest is shadowy and monstrous. There was no one in the soaking street, and in all the world there was no one I dared tell. I walked aimlessly south past Wood Street Police Station and the south towards The Thames, and then veered west to The Millennium Bridge where the Tate Modern seemed to guard me as modern material things guard the world from ancient and unwholesome wonder. Then gray dawn unfolded wetly from the east, silhouetting the archaic Ludgate Hill and its venerable steeples, and beckoning me to the place where my terrible investigations were still unfinished. And in the end I went, wet, hatless, and dazed in the morning light, and entered that awful door on Golden Lane to which I now had the keys, the entrance to Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen.
The grease was gone. And in front of the wrecked cinema screen there was no vestige of the giant doubled-up form traced in niter. I looked at the cot, the chairs, the instruments, my neglected hat, and the yellowed straw hat of my uncle. Dazedness was uppermost, and I could scarcely recall what was dream and what was reality. Then thought trickled back, and I knew that I had witnessed things more horrible than I had dreamed.
Sitting down, I tried to conjecture as nearly as sanity would let me just what had happened, and how I might end the horror, if indeed there was any possibility of ending it. Matter it seemed not to be, nor ether, nor anything else conceivable by mortal mind. What, then, but some exotic emanation; some vampirish vapor such as Royston rustics tell of as lurking over certain churchyards? This I felt was the clue, and again I looked at the floor where the mold and niter had taken strange forms.
In ten minutes my mind was made up, and taking my hat I set out for my home in Charterhouse Square, where I bathed, ate, and telephoned the police to tell them my uncle had disappeared. After that I tried to sleep; and failing, passed the hours in reading and in the composition of inane verses to counteract my mood. I shed the first of the many tears with which I have paid unaffected tribute to my beloved uncle’s memory. I dared not tell the authorities what really happened, least I be accused of murdering my uncle and vaporising his body. I sent men to collect the equipment we’d left in The Denizen, but they too disappeared without trace. I dare not go back to retrieve our belongings and I have no doubt that by now they are rotted and utterly useless. The Denizen is cursed I tell you and anyone foolhardy enough to set foot within the building is utterly mad!