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HYPNOS

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« on: March 12, 2007, 02:42:59 am »

* HYPNOS

H.P. Lovecraft


May the merciful gods, if indeed there be such, guard those hours when
no power of the will, or drug that the cunning of man devises, can
keep me from the chasm of sleep. Death is merciful, for there is no
return therefrom, but with him who has come back out of the nethermost
chambers of night, haggard and knowing, peace rests nevermore. Fool
that I was to plunge with such unsanctioned frensy into mysteries no
man was meant to penetrate; fool or god that he was--my only friend,
who led me and went before me, and who in the end passed into terrors
which may yet be mine!

We met, I recall, in a railway station, where he was the center of a
crowd of the vulgarly curious. He was unconscious, having fallen in a
kind of convulsion which imparted to his slight black-clad body a
strange rigidity. I think he was then approaching forty years of age,
for there were deep lines in the face, wan and hollow-cheeked, but
oval and actually beautiful; and touches of gray in the thick, waving
hair and small full beard which had once been of the deepest raven
black. His brow was white as the marble of Pentelicus, and of a height
and breadth almost god-like.

I said to myself, with all the ardor of a sculptor, that this man was
a faun's statue out of antique Hellas, dug from a temple's ruins and
brought somehow to life in our stifling age only to feel the chill and
pressure of devastating years. And when he opened his immense, sunken,
and wildly luminous black eyes I knew he would be thenceforth my only
friend--the only friend of one who had never possessed a friend
before--for I saw that such eyes must have looked fully upon the
grandeur and the terror of realms beyond normal consciousness and
reality; realms which I had cherished in fancy, but vainly sought. So
as I drove the crowd away I told him he must come home with me and be
my teacher and leader in unfathomed mysteries, and he assented without
speaking a word. Afterward I found that his voice was music--the music
of deep viols and of crystalline spheres. We talked often in the
night, and in the day, when I chiseled busts of him and carved
miniature heads in ivory to immortalize his different expressions.

Of our studies it is impossible to speak, since they held so slight a
connection with anything of the world as living men conceive it. They
were of that vaster and more appalling universe of dim entity and
consciousness which lies deeper than matter, time, and space, and
whose existence we suspect only in certain forms of sleep--those rare
dreams beyond dreams which come never to common men, and but once or
twice in the lifetime of imaginative men. The cosmos of our waking
knowledge, born from such an universe as a bubble is born from the
pipe of a jester, touches it only as such a bubble may touch its
sardonic source when sucked back by the jester's whim. Men of learning
suspect it little and ignore it mostly. Wise men have interpreted
dreams, and the gods have laughed. One man with Oriental eyes has said
that all time and space are relative, and men have laughed. But even
that man with Oriental eyes has done no more than suspect. I had
wished and tried to do more than suspect, and my friend had tried and
partly succeeded. Then we both tried together, and with exotic drugs
courted terrible and forbidden dreams in the tower studio chamber of
the old manor-house in hoary Kent.

Among the agonies of these after days is that chief of torments-
inarticulateness. What I learned and saw in those hours of impious
exploration can never be told--for want of symbols or suggestions in
any language. I say this because from first to last our discoveries
partook only of the nature of sensations; sensations correlated with
no impression which the nervous system of normal humanity is capable
of receiving. They were sensations, yet within them lay unbelievable
elements of time and space--things which at bottom possess no distinct
and definite existence. Human utterance can best convey the general
character of our experiences by calling them plungings or soarings;
for in every period of revelation some part of our minds broke boldly
away from all that is real and present, rushing aerially along
shocking, unlighted, and fear-haunted abysses, and occasionally
tearing through certain well-marked and typical obstacles describable
only as viscous, uncouth clouds of vapors.

In these black and bodiless flights we were sometimes alone and
sometimes together. When we were together, my friend was always far
ahead; I could comprehend his presence despite the absence of form by
a species of pictorial memory whereby his face appeared to me, golden
from a strange light and frightful with its weird beauty, its
anomalously youthful cheeks, its burning eyes, its Olympian brow, and
its shadowing hair and growth of beard.

Of the progress of time we kept no record, for time had become to us
the merest illusion. I know only that there must have been something
very singular involved, since we came at length to marvel why we did
not grow old. Our discourse was unholy, and always hideously
ambitious--no god or demon could have aspired to discoveries and
conquest like those which we planned in whispers. I shiver as I speak
of them, and dare not be explicit; though I will say that my friend
once wrote on paper a wish which he dared not utter with his tongue,
and which made me burn the paper and look affrightedly out of the
window at the spangled night sky. I will hint--only hint--that he had
designs which involved the rulership of the visible universe and more;
designs whereby the earth and the stars would move at his command, and
the destinies of all living things be his. I affirm--I swear--that I
had no share in these extreme aspirations. Anything my friend may have
said or written to the contrary must be erroneous, for I am no man of
strength to risk the unmentionable spheres by which alone one might
achieve success.

There was a night when winds from unknown spaces whirled us
irresistibly into limitless vacum beyond all thought and entity.
Perceptions of the most maddeningly untransmissible sort thronged upon
us; perceptions of infinity which at the time convulsed us with joy,
yet which are now partly lost to my memory and partly incapable of
presentation to others. Viscous obstacles were clawed through in rapid
succession, and at length I felt that we had been borne to realms of
greater remoteness than any we had previously known.

My friend was vastly in advance as we plunged into this awesome ocean
of virgin aether, and I could see the sinister exultation on his
floating, luminous, too-youthful memory-face. Suddenly that face
became dim and quickly disappeared, and in a brief space I found
myself projected against an obstacle which I could not penetrate. It
was like the others, yet incalculably denser; a sticky clammy mass, if
such terms can be applied to analogous qualities in a non-material
sphere.

I had, I felt, been halted by a barrier which my friend and leader had
successfully passed. Struggling anew, I came to the end of the drug-
dream and opened my physical eyes to the tower studio in whose
opposite corner reclined the pallid and still unconscious form of my
fellow dreamer, weirdly haggard and wildly beautiful as the moon shed
gold-green light on his marble features.

Then, after a short interval, the form in the corner stirred; and may
pitying heaven keep from my sight and sound another thing like that
which took place before me. I cannot tell you how he shrieked, or what
vistas of unvisitable hells gleamed for a second in black eyes crazed
with fright. I can only say that I fainted, and did not stir till he
himself recovered and shook me in his frensy for someone to keep away
the horror and desolation.

That was the end of our voluntary searchings in the caverns of dream.
Awed, shaken, and portentous, my friend who had been beyond the
barrier warned me that we must never venture within those realms
again. What he had seen, he dared not tell me; but he said from his
wisdom that we must sleep as little as possible, even if drugs were
necessary to keep us awake. That he was right, I soon learned from the
unutterable fear which engulfed me whenever consciousness lapsed.

After each short and inevitable sleep I seemed older, whilst my friend
aged with a rapidity almost shocking. It is hideous to see wrinkles
form and hair whiten almost before one's eyes. Our mode of life was
now totally altered. Heretofore a recluse so far as I know--his true
name and origin never having passed his lips--my friend now became
frantic in his fear of solitude. At night he would not be alone, nor
would the company of a few persons calm him. His sole relief was
obtained in revelry of the most general and boisterous sort; so that
few assemblies of the young and gay were unknown to us.

Our appearance and age seemed to excite in most cases a ridicule which
I keenly resented, but which my friend considered a lesser evil than
solitude. Especially was he afraid to be out of doors alone when the
stars were shining, and if forced to this condition he would often
glance furtively at the sky as if hunted by some monstrous thing
therein. He did not always glance at the same place in the sky--it
seemed to be a different place at different times. On spring evenings
it would be low in the northeast. In the summer it would be nearly
overhead. In the autumn it would be in the northwest. In winter it
would be in the east, but mostly if in the small hours of morning.

Midwinter evenings seemed least dreadful to him. Only after two years
did I connect this fear with anything in particular; but then I began
to see that he must be looking at a special spot on the celestial
vault whose position at different times corresponded to the direction
of his glance--a spot roughly marked by the constellation Corona
Borealis.

We now had a studio in London, never separating, but never discussing
the days when we had sought to plumb the mysteries of the unreal
world. We were aged and weak from our drugs, dissipations, and nervous
overstrain, and the thinning hair and beard of my friend had become
snow-white. Our freedom from long sleep was surprising, for seldom did
we succumb more than an hour or two at a time to the shadow which had
now grown so frightful a menace.

Then came one January of fog and rain, when money ran low and drugs
were hard to buy. My statues and ivory heads were all sold, and I had
no means to purchase new materials, or energy to fashion them even had
I possessed them. We suffered terribly, and on a certain night my
friend sank into a deep-breathing sleep from which I could not awaken
him. I can recall the scene now--the desolate, pitch-black garret
studio under the eaves with the rain beating down; the ticking of our
lone clock; the fancied ticking of our watches as they rested on the
dressing-table; the creaking of some swaying shutter in a remote part
of the house; certain distant city noises muffled by fog and space;
and, worst of all, the deep, steady, sinister breathing of my friend
on the couch--a rhythmical breathing which seemed to measure moments
of supernal fear and agony for his spirit as it wandered in spheres
forbidden, unimagined, and hideously remote.

The tension of my vigil became oppressive, and a wild train of trivial
impressions and associations thronged through my almost unhinged mind.
I heard a clock strike somewhere--not ours, for that was not a
striking clock--and my morbid fancy found in this a new starting-point
for idle wanderings. Clocks--time--space--infinity--and then my fancy
reverted to the locale as I reflected that even now, beyond the roof
and the fog and the rain and the atmosphere, Corona Borealis was
rising in the northeast. Corona Borealis, which my friend had appeared
to dread, and whose scintillant semicircle of stars must even now be
glowing unseen through the measureless abysses of aether. All at once
my feverishly sensitive ears seemed to detect a new and wholly
distinct component in the soft medley of drug-magnified sounds--a low
and damnably insistent whine from very far away; droning, clamoring,
mocking, calling, from the northeast.

But it was not that distant whine which robbed me of my faculties and
set upon my soul such a seal of fright as may never in life be
removed; not that which drew the shrieks and excited the convulsions
which caused lodgers and police to break down the door. It was not
what I heard, but what I saw; for in that dark, locked, shuttered, and
curtained room there appeared from the black northeast corner a shaft
of horrible red-gold light--a shaft which bore with it no glow to
disperse the darkness, but which streamed only upon the recumbent head
of the troubled sleeper, bringing out in hideous duplication the
luminous and strangely youthful memory-face as I had known it in
dreams of abysmal space and unshackled time, when my friend had pushed
behind the barrier to those secret, innermost and forbidden caverns of
nightmare.

And as I looked, I beheld the head rise, the black, liquid, and deep-
sunken eyes open in terror, and the thin, shadowed lips part as if for
a scream too frightful to be uttered. There dwelt in that ghastly and
flexible face, as it shone bodiless, luminous, and rejuvenated in the
blackness, more of stark, teeming, brain-shattering fear than all the
rest of heaven and earth has ever revealed to me.

No word was spoken amidst the distant sound that grew nearer and
nearer, but as I followed the memory-face's mad stare along that
cursed shaft of light to its source, the source whence also the
whining came, I, too, saw for an instant what it saw, and fell with
ringing ears in that fit of shrieking epilepsy which brought the
lodgers and the police. Never could I tell, try as I might, what it
actually was that I saw; nor could the still face tell, for although
it must have seen more than I did, it will never speak again. But
always I shall guard against the mocking and insatiate Hypnos, lord of
sleep, against the night sky, and against the mad ambitions of
knowledge and philosophy.

Just what happened is unknown, for not only was my own mind unseated
by the strange and hideous thing, but others were tainted with a
forgetfulness which can mean nothing if not madness. They have said, I
know not for what reason, that I never had a friend; but that art,
philosophy, and insanity had filled all my tragic life. The lodgers
and police on that night soothed me, and the doctor administered
something to quiet me, nor did anyone see what a nightmare event had
taken place. My stricken friend moved them to no pity, but what they
found on the couch in the studio made them give me a praise which
sickened me, and now a fame which I spurn in despair as I sit for
hours, bald, gray-bearded, shriveled, palsied, drug-crazed, and
broken, adoring and praying to the object they found.

For they deny that I sold the last of my statuary, and point with
ecstasy at the thing which the shining shaft of light left cold,
petrified, and unvocal. It is all that remains of my friend; the
friend who led me on to madness and wreckage; a godlike head of such
marble as only old Hellas could yield, young with the youth that is
outside time, and with beauteous bearded face, curved, smiling lips,
Olympian brow, and dense locks waving and poppy-crowned. They say that
that haunting memory-face is modeled from my own, as it was at twenty-
five; but upon the marble base is carven a single name in the letters
of Attica--HYPNOS.
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