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THE FESTIVAL

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Author Topic: THE FESTIVAL  (Read 98 times)
Zodiac
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« on: February 27, 2007, 12:16:58 am »

* THE FESTIVAL

H.P. Lovecraft


Efficiut Daemones, ut quae non sunt, sic tamen quasi sint,
conspicienda hominibus exhibeant.

--Lacantius

(Devils so work that things which are not appear to men
as if they were real.)


I was far from home, and the spell of the eastern sea was upon me.
In the twilight I heard it pounding on the rocks, and I knew it lay
just over the hill where the twisting willows writhed against the
clearing sky and the first stars of evening. And because my fathers had
called me to the old town beyond, I pushed on through the shallow,
new-fallen snow along the road that soared lonely up to where Aldebaran
twinkled among the trees; on toward the very ancient town I had never
seen but often dreamed of.

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in
their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis
and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient
sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time
when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons
to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets
might not be forgotten. Mine were an old people, and were old even when
this land was settled three hundred years before. And they were
strange, because they had come as dark furtive folk from opiate
southern gardens of orchids, and spoken another tongue before they
learnt the tongue of the blue-eyed fishers. And now they were
scattered, and shared only the rituals of mysteries that none living
could understand. I was the only one who came back that night to the
old fishing town as legend bade, for only the poor and the lonely
remember.

Then beyond the hill's crest I saw Kingsport outspread frostily in
the gloaming; snowy Kingsport with its ancient vanes and steeples,
ridgepoles and chimney-pots, wharves and small bridges, willow-trees
and graveyards; endless labyrinths of steep, narrow, crooked streets,
and dizzy church-crowned central peak that time durst not touch;
ceaseless mazes of colonial houses piled and scattered at all angles
and levels like a child's disordered blocks; antiquity hovering on grey
wings over winter-whitened gables and gambrel roofs; fanlights and
small-paned windows one by one gleaming out in the cold dusk to join
Orion and the archaic stars. And against the rotting wharves the sea
pounded; the secretive, immemorial sea out of which the people had come
in the elder time.

Beside the road at its crest a still higher summit rose, bleak and
windswept, and I saw that it was a burying-ground where black
gravestones stuck ghoulishly through the snow like the decayed
fingernails of a gigantic corpse. The printless road was very lonely,
and sometimes I thought I heard a distant horrible creaking as of a
gibbet in the wind. They had hanged four kinsmen of mine for witchcraft
in 1692, but I did not know just where.

As the road wound down the seaward slope I listened for the merry
sounds of a village at evening, but did not hear them. Then I thought
of the season, and felt that these old Puritan folk might well have
Christmas customs strange to me, and full of silent hearthside prayer.
So after that I did not listen for merriment or look for wayfarers,
kept on down past the hushed lighted farmhouses and shadowy stone walls
to where the signs of ancient shops and sea taverns creaked in the salt
breeze, and the grotesque knockers of pillared doorways glistened along
deserted unpaved lanes in the light of little, curtained windows.

I had seen maps of the town, and knew where to find the home of my
people. It was told that I should be known and welcomed, for village
legend lives long; so I hastened through Back Street to Circle Court,
and across the fresh snow on the one full flagstone pavement in the
town, to where Green Lane leads off behind the Market House. The old
maps still held good, and I had no trouble; though at Arkham they must
have lied when they said the trolleys ran to this place, since I saw
not a wire overhead. Snow would have hid the rails in any case. I was
glad I had chosen to walk, for the white village had seemed very
beautiful from the hill; and now I was eager to knock at the door of my
people, the seventh house on the left in Green Lane, with an ancient
peaked roof and jutting second storey, all built before 1650.

There were lights inside the house when I came upon it, and I saw
from the diamond window-panes that it must have been kept very close to
its antique state. The upper part overhung the narrow grass-grown
street and nearly met the over-hanging part of the house opposite, so
that I was almost in a tunnel, with the low stone doorstep wholly free
from snow. There was no sidewalk, but many houses had high doors
reached by double flights of steps with iron railings. It was an odd
scene, and because I was strange to New England I had never known its
like before. Though it pleased me, I would have relished it better if
there had been footprints in the snow, and people in the streets, and a
few windows without drawn curtains.

When I sounded the archaic iron knocker I was half afraid. Some fear
had been gathering in me, perhaps because of the strangeness of my
heritage, and the bleakness of the evening, and the queerness of the
silence in that aged town of curious customs. And when my knock was
answered I was fully afraid, because I had not heard any footsteps
before the door creaked open. But I was not afraid long, for the
gowned, slippered old man in the doorway had a bland face that
reassured me; and though he made signs that he was dumb, he wrote a
quaint and ancient welcome with the stylus and wax tablet he carried.

He beckoned me into a low, candle-lit room with massive exposed
rafters and dark, stiff, sparse furniture of the seventeenth century.
The past was vivid there, for not an attribute was missing. There was a
cavernous fireplace and a spinning-wheel at which a bent old woman in
loose wrapper and deep poke-bonnet sat back toward me, silently
spinning despite the festive season. An indefinite dampness seemed upon
the place, and I marvelled that no fire should be blazing. The
high-backed settle faced the row of curtained windows at the left, and
seemed to be occupied, though I was not sure. I did not like everything
about what I saw, and felt again the fear I had had. This fear grew
stronger from what had before lessened it, for the more I looked at the
old man's bland face the more its very blandness terrified me. The eyes
never moved, and the skin was too much like wax. Finally I was sure it
was not a face at all, but a fiendishly cunning mask. But the flabby
hands, curiously gloved, wrote genially on the tablet and told me I
must wait a while before I could be led to the place of the festival.
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« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2007, 12:17:35 am »

Pointing to a chair, table, and pile of books, the old man now left
the room; and when I sat down to read I saw that the books were hoary
and mouldy, and that they included old Morryster's wild Marvels of
Science, the terrible Saducismus Triumphatus of Joseph Glanvil,
published in 1681, the shocking Daemonolatreja of Remigius, printed in
1595 at Lyons, and worst of all, the unmentionable Necronomicon of the
mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, in Olaus Wormius' forbidden Latin translation;
a book which I had never seen, but of which I had heard monstrous
things whispered. No one spoke to me, but I could hear the creaking of
signs in the wind outside, and the whir of the wheel as the bonneted
old woman continued her silent spinning, spinning. I thought the room
and the books and the people very morbid and disquieting, but because
an old tradition of my fathers had summoned me to strange feastings, I
resolved to expect queer things. So I tried to read, and soon became
tremblingly absorbed by something I found in that accursed
Necronomicon; a thought and a legend too hideous for sanity or
consciousness, but I disliked it when I fancied I heard the closing of
one of the windows that the settle faced, as if it had been stealthily
opened. It had seemed to follow a whirring that was not of the old
woman's spinning-wheel. This was not much, though, for the old woman
was spinning very hard, and the aged clock had been striking. After
that I lost the feeling that there were persons on the settle, and was
reading intently and shudderingly when the old man came back booted and
dressed in a loose antique costume, and sat down on that very bench, so
that I could not see him. It was certainly nervous waiting, and the
blasphemous book in my hands made it doubly so. When eleven struck,
however, the old man stood up, glided to a massive carved chest in a
corner, and got two hooded cloaks; one of which he donned, and the
other of which he draped round the old woman, who was ceasing her
monotonous spinning. Then they both started for the outer door; the
woman lamely creeping, and the old man, after picking up the very book
I had been reading, beckoning me as he drew his hood over that unmoving
face or mask.

We went out into the moonless and tortuous network of that
incredibly ancient town; went out as the lights in the curtained
windows disappeared one by one, and the Dog Star leered at the throng
of cowled, cloaked figures that poured silently from every doorway and
formed monstrous processions up this street and that, past the creaking
sigus and antediluvian gables, the thatched roofs and diamond-paned
windows; threading precipitous lanes where decaying houses overlapped
and crumbled together; gliding across open courts and churchyards where
the bobbing lanthorns made eldritch drunken constellations.

Amid these hushed throngs I followed my voiceless guides; jostled by
elbows that seemed preternaturally soft, and pressed by chests and
stomachs that seemed abnormally pulpy; but seeing never a face and
hearing never a word. Up, up, up, the eery columns slithered, and I saw
that all the travellers were converging as they flowed near a sort of
focus of crazy alleys at the top of a high hill in the centre of the
town, where perched a great white church. I had seen it from the road's
crest when I looked at Kingsport in the new dusk, and it had made me
shiver because Aldebaran had seemed to balance itself a moment on the
ghostly spire.

There was an open space around the church; partly a churchyard with
spectral shafts, and partly a half-paved square swept nearly bare of
snow by the wind, and lined with unwholesomely archaic houses having
peaked roofs and overhanging gables. Death-fires danced over the tombs,
revealing gruesome vistas, though queerly failing to cast any shadows.
Past the churchyard, where there were no houses, I could see over the
hill's summit and watch the glimmer of stars on the harbour, though the
town was invisible in the dark. Only once in a while a lantern bobbed
horribly through serpentine alleys on its way to overtake the throng
that was now slipping speechlessly into the church. I waited till the
crowd had oozed into the black doorway, and till all the stragglers had
followed. The old man was pulling at my sleeve, but I was determined to
be the last. Crossing the threshold into the swarming temple of unknown
darkness, I turned once to look at the outside world as the churchyard
phosphorescence cast a sickly glow on the hilltop pavement. And as I
did so I shuddered. For though the wind had not left much snow, a few
patches did remain on the path near the door; and in that fleeting
backward look it seemed to my troubled eyes that they bore no mark of
passing feet, not even mine.

The church was scarce lighted by all the lanthorns that had entered
it, for most of the throng had already vanished. They had streamed up
the aisle between the high pews to the trap-door of the vaults which
yawned loathsomely open just before the pulpit, and were now squinning
noiselessly in. I followed dumbly down the foot-worn steps and into the
dark, suffocating crypt. The tail of that sinuous line of
night-marchers seemed very horrible, and as I saw them wriggling into a
venerable tomb they seemed more horrible still. Then I noticed that the
tomb's floor had an aperture down which the throng was sliding, and in
a moment we were all descending an ominous staircase of rough-hewn
stone; a narrow spiral staircase damp and peculiarly odorous, that
wound endlessly down into the bowels of the hill past monotonous walls
of dripping stone blocks and crumbling mortar. It was a silent,
shocking descent, and I observed after a horrible interval that the
walls and steps were changing in nature, as if chiselled out of the
solid rock. What mainly troubled me was that the myriad footfalls made
no sound and set up no echoes. After more aeons of descent I saw some
side passages or burrows leading from unknown recesses of blackness to
this shaft of nighted mystery. Soon they became excessively numerous,
like impious catacombs of nameless menace; and their pungent odour of
decay grew quite unbearable. I knew we must have passed down through
the mountain and beneath the earth of Kingsport itself, and I shivered
that a town should be so aged and maggoty with subterraneous evil.

Then I saw the lurid shimmering of pale light, and heard the
insidious lapping of sunless waters. Again I shivered, for I did not
like the things that the night had brought, and wished bitterly that no
forefather had summoned me to this primal rite. As the steps and the
passage grew broader, I heard another sound, the thin, whining mockery
of a feeble flute; and suddenly there spread out before me the
boundless vista of an inner world--a vast fungous shore litten by a
belching column of sick greenish flame and washed by a wide oily river
that flowed from abysses frightful and unsuspected to join the blackest
gulfs of immemorial ocean.
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« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2007, 12:18:11 am »

Fainting and gasping, I looked at that unhallowed Erebus of titan
toadstools, leprous fire and slimy water, and saw the cloaked throngs
forming a semicircle around the blazing pillar. It was the Yule-rite,
older than man and fated to survive him; the primal rite of the
solstice and of spring's promise beyond the snows; the rite of fire and
evergreen, light and music. And in the stygian grotto I saw them do the
rite, and adore the sick pillar of flame, and throw into the water
handfuls gouged out of the viscous vegetation which glittered green in
the chlorotic glare. I saw this, and I saw something amorphously
squatted far away from the light, piping noisomely on a flute; and as
the thing piped I thought I heard noxious muffled flutterings in the
foetid darkness where I could not see. But what frightened me most was
that flaming column; spouting volcanically from depths profound and
inconceivable, casting no shadows as healthy flame should, and coating
the nitrous stone with a nasty, venomous verdigris. For in all that
seething combustion no warmth lay, but only the clamminess of death and
corruption.

The man who had brought me now squirmed to a point directly beside
the hideous flame, and made stiff ceremonial motions to the semi-circle
he faced. At certain stages of the ritual they did grovelling
obeisance, especially when he held above his head that abhorrent
Necronomicon he had taken with him; and I shared all the obeisances
because I had been summoned to this festival by the writings of my
forefathers. Then the old man made a sigual to the half-seen
flute-player in the darkness, which player thereupon changed its feeble
drone to a scarce louder drone in another key; precipitating as it did
so a horror unthinkable and unexpected. At this horror I sank nearly to
the lichened earth, transfixed with a dread not of this or any world,
but only of the mad spaces between the stars.

Out of the unimaginable blackness beyond the gangrenous glare of
that cold flame, out of the tartarean leagues through which that oily
river rolled uncanny, unheard, and unsuspected, there flopped
rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things that no
sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain ever wholly remember.
They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor
vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and
must not recall. They flopped limply along, half with their webbed feet
and half with their membranous wings; and as they reached the throng of
celebrants the cowled figures seized and mounted them, and rode off one
by one along the reaches of that unlighted river, into pits and
galleries of panic where poison springs feed frightful and
undiscoverable cataracts.

The old spinning woman had gone with the throng, and the old man
remained only because I had refused when he motioned me to seize an
animal and ride like the rest. I saw when I staggered to my feet that
the amorphous flute-player had rolled out of sight, but that two of the
beasts were patiently standing by. As I hung back, the old man produced
his stylus and tablet and wrote that he was the true deputy of my
fathers who had founded the Yule worship in this ancient place; that it
had been decreed I should come back, and that the most secret mysteries
were yet to be performed. He wrote this in a very ancient hand, and
when I still hesitated he pulled from his loose robe a seal ring and a
watch, both with my family arms, to prove that he was what he said. But
it was a hideous proof, because I knew from old papers that that watch
had been buried with my great-great-great-great-grandfather in 1698.

Presently the old man drew back his hood and pointed to the family
resemblance in his face, but I only shuddered, because I was sure that
the face was merely a devilish waxen mask. The flopping animals were
now scratching restlessly at the lichens, and I saw that the old man
was nearly as restless himself. When one of the things began to waddle
and edge away, he turned quickly to stop it; so that the suddenness of
his motion dislodged the waxen mask from what should have been his
head. And then, because that nightmare's position barred me from the
stone staircase down which we had come, I flung myself into the oily
underground river that bubbled somewhere to the caves of the sea; flung
myself into that putrescent juice of earth's inner horrors before the
madness of my screams could bring down upon me all the charnel legions
these pest-gulfs might conceal.

At the hospital they told me I had been found half-frozen in
Kingsport Harbour at dawn, clinging to the drifting spar that accident
sent to save me. They told me I had taken the wrong fork of the hill
road the night before, and fallen over the cliffs at Orange Point; a
thing they deduced from prints found in the snow. There was nothing I
could say, because everything was wrong. Everything was wrong, with the
broad windows showing a sea of roofs in which only about one in five
was ancient, and the sound of trolleys and motors in the streets below.
They insisted that this was Kingsport, and I could not deny it. When I
went delirious at hearing that the hospital stood near the old
churchyard on Central Hill, they sent me to St Mary's Hospital in
Arkham, where I could have better care. I liked it there, for the
doctors were broad-minded, and even lent me their influence in
obtaining the carefully sheltered copy of Alhazred's objectionable
Necronomicon from the library of Miskatonic University. They said
something about a "psychosis" and agreed I had better get any harassing
obsessions off my mind.

So I read that hideous chapter, and shuddered doubly because it was
indeed not new to me. I had seen it before, let footprints tell what
they might; and where it was I had seen it were best forgotten. There
was no one--in waking hours--who could remind me of it; but my dreams
are filled with terror, because of phrases I dare not quote. I dare
quote only one paragraph, put into such English as I can make from the
awkward Low Latin.

"The nethermost caverns," wrote the mad Arab, "are not for the
fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific.
Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and
evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say,
that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at
night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the
soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and
instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life
springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and
swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where
earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that
ought to crawl."

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