Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
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Brian Creoghan walked over to Lost Pond Road next afternoon, leaving his car in the converted barn which served as a garage. It was a warm day, hazy with Indian Summer, that made him glad to be alive.
The MacArts lived in a white clapboard house of the style called Greek Revival. It was newly painted with blue shutters framing its many windows, and boasted a pedimented gable and corner pilasters. It was bordered by towering elms and a chestnut tree or two behind a stone fence on which privet hedges grew in narrow dirt channels. A peaceful place, with the lamps turned on and visible through the two bay windows fronting the wide lawn.
A stone walk brought him to the blue door where a brass knocker gleamed in the light from the iron lamps on either side of the doorway. Dusk was a gathering darkness behind him as he lifted the knocker and rapped.
The door opened within moments.
A woman stood framed against a carpeted hall, smiling cordially. Vaguely Brian realized that she was wearing a plaid wool dress with a broad leather belt, but all he noticed as first were the gray eyes that looked at him with feral glee, and a waterfall of thick black hair parted in its center and spilling down in glossy smoothness to her shoulders. Her face was beautiful, with a faint duskiness of skin that suggested a familiarity with sunshine. Impulsively she held out her hand.
“I’m Moira,” she said, and her voice danced in his ears.
Her handclasp was strong and friendly. Then she stood aside, gesturing him in, her eyes never leaving him. An elusive perfume emanated from her clothes. She was a few years younger than Brian, in the full bloom of womanhood, ripely curved at breast and hip; instantly he was conscious of her allure.
“My brother will be down in a moment,” she told Brian, walking into a pleasantly furnished room where wing chairs and a sectional couch were offset by Argyl lamps and picture groupings on three walls. The fireplace was large deep, hooded in dull bronze, and occupied almost half the fourth wall.
As she sat down, crossing shapely legs, she said, “You know my brother, or course. I’ve heard him speak about you many times.”
His surprise must have been ludicrous, Brian thought, because she laughed softly. “Ugony MacArt. Your don’t remember?” Her teeth bit gently into her lower lip as she frowned. “He may have been using a false name or no name at all at the time. It was sometimes his custom. You were in Hong Kong together, and dined at the Princess Garden in Kowloon.”
He shook his head. He had been in Hong Kong, yes; some years ago, just before he chanced upon the pearl bed that was the beginning of his fortune. His memories of the Princess Garden were vague and formless. One night he had gone out on the town, gotten drunk on Irish whiskey with a pretty half-caste curled in his arms. There had been talk of native superstitions, of voodoo and witchcraft.
Memory is a chancy thing. It comes slowly at times, or swiftly in full flood, and sometimes not at all or in such wispy recollections that it can only tantalize. So it was Brian Creoghan, sitting in the MacArt living room with those gray eyes regarding him so steadily. He caught a glimpse or two of that long-ago night but no more.
Mists out of time, bringing with them a hint of the past; no more. Even as Moira MacArt smiled at Brian Creoghan, he was remembering and knowing an old, ancient terror. It was there, deep inside him, half forgotten. Allied to the blackness he had seen, yesterday afternoon?
A footstep in the hall roused his attention.
The man who came into the room was no stranger. Brian Creoghan knew he had seen his face before. He was not tall as Brian Creoghan, this man, but he was solid enough, and his hand as he extended it was powerful with muscle.
“Brian Creoghan. It’s been a long time,” he said softly.
“Hong Kong in 1960? I never knew your name.”
“I told you. You were occupied with—other things.”
The little half-caste girl, Yu Shui? Or something more frightening that had to do with black eyes and a swinging brightness? He heard Moira laugh behind him as the blackness had laughed yesterday in the woods.
Ugony MacArt crossed the thick carpet to the mahogany bar, lifting out ice cubes with a sterling silver tongs, sliding two into each of three tall glasses. Brian studied his pale white face, the black hair with a touch of gray at his temples. He was dressed impeccably in a Harris tweed jacket and Appia slacks. Black Bentley boots encased his feet. In the six, seven, years since he had seen him last, Ugony MacArt had made money.
He held out a glass half filled with Irish whiskey. “You used to drink Bushmill. I take it you still do.”
“Did I drink so much?” Brian wondered.
MacArt laughed, showing white teeth, ignoring the question as though it were academic. Instead he handed a second glass to his sister and retained one himself. Then he went to the couch and sat back, sipping slowly. His eyes, as did those of his sister, regarded Brian steadily, so that he had the feeling of a beetle impaled on a pin by an entomologist and held up for inspection.
“You’re wondering why we invited you over,” he said slowly, “inasmuch as I am not a complete stranger, instead of dropping in to visit you out of old friendship.”
He turned the glass in his hands. “Something like that,” Brian admitted.
“I have things to show you. Heavy objects, some of them, not easy to carry. Others—here, let me get them.”
He left the room. Moira swung a small foot, smiling over her glass. Again Brian was aware of her animal appeal. There was nothing wanton about her appearance; she was dressed modestly enough, and her beauty was deep and quiet, yet her allure was as an intangible force gathered into one curving body.
They stared at one another until her brother came back. In one hand he held a scythe and in the other a silver bowl curiously engraved. He held them out. The girl leaned forward as he did so, her drink forgotten before the sudden lighting of her eyes.
Brian took the scythe by its horn handle, found it oddly heavy. Gold, of course. The curving blade was a deep yellow, now that he could examine it more closely. And the bowl? It was of solid silver, ornate with the figures of gods and goddesses. There were ogham letters scratched upon its interior. When he remarked on them, the man turned to stare at his sister.
“What did I tell you? Can you read them, Creoghan?”
Brian grinned. “I’m pleased that I know what they are, let alone understand them. They’re a very ancient form of Irish writing.”
“Not just Irish. Celtic as well. The Gaels are only a branch of that larger family. Ogham letters have been found in a German forest as well as in what once was Galatia in Asia Minor.”
MacArt smiled. “The Celts migrated out of the Asiatic tablelands more than four thousand years ago. They spread into Asia Minor, into Greece, down into what later became Italy, through Germany and France, on into the British Isles, Scotland and Ireland. They were very numerous.”
Moira added, “Julius Caesar speaks of them in his Commentaries. As do the Roman writers, Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. They were tall, muscular and blonde people. Good fighters. Hard drinkers.” She lifted her glass in a silent toast. “Some of them fought for Hannibal, some for the Greeks, some for Egypt. All of them drank.”
Brian hefted the golden scythe. “Their religion was druidic, wasn’t it? This is a replica of the scythes with which the Druids cut the mistletoe.”
“Not a replica,” Ugony MacArt pointed out hurriedly. “You hold the real thing in your hands. A friend of mine found it in an Irish bog some years ago. Knowing my interest in such matters, he sent it on to me. As he sent other things. The bowl you hold, for instance, was used to catch the blood of human sacrifices.”
Brian turned the bowl over and over, studying its markings. From the silver figures, he lifted his eyes to the man. “A fascinating hobby. History has always interested me, especially the study of ancient peoples and their cultures.”
“We’ll get to know one another better in the days to come,” MacArt promised. “I am engaged in an experiment in which I have high hopes that you may be of help.”
He drew a deep breath. “I am a dabbler in what might popularly be called the occult. In my opinion, the occult is actually a science either not yet learned by men or—learned long ago and since forgotten.”
His finger rose to tap his temple. “The human brain is a labyrinth of knowledge, Creoghan. A part of that brain called the temporal lobes is accepted as the repository of all knowledge. And yet—”
“Men have suffered hideous head wounds which destroyed much of their brains, though their emotions, thinking powers and memories were not impaired in the slightest. You may perhaps know of such an instance yourself. There are innumerable medical cases to prove my point.”
Brian Creoghan nodded. Once he had seen a man take a bullet through his head, yet he had not died. Months later, after an operation, he was his same old self.
“If this is so, and medical science says it is, then perhaps it is not the brain that remembers at all. Perhaps it is—something else.”
Moira came to her feet when her brother looked at her and moved off into another part of the house. Brian heard the rattle of pots and pans, the clink of silverware and glasses.
Her brother was saying, “No, the brain alone is not the seat of memory, as it is not the seat of life. There is something else—the psyche, the ka of the ancient Egyptians, the soul, the energy vortex which animates the human body—with which we remember.”
He smiled wryly. “Do I speak heresy? Almost everyone admits there is life after death. What is it that exists in the hereafter? Surely not the body! The soul, then, the ka—the energy vortex. its name is merely a matter of semantics. For the sake of argument, let’s call it the ka.”
“This ka then, is you. Not just the you of today, sitting there listening to me but the ka of Brian Creoghan who has always been and always will be, since the moment of your conception.”
“And when was that?” he said, wondering aloud. “When I was born thirty-odd years ago—or when I came into existence thirty or more centuries ago, perhaps as a Celtic warrior?”
Ugony MacArt almost wriggled in his excitement. “Yes, yes! You suggested as much in the Princess Garden at Hong Kong. Reincarnation. The doctrine by which a ka earns its final release by having lived its several lifetimes, and by doing so, has achieved a form of immortality.”
“There’s no proof of such a theory,” Brian pointed out
“Proof! Before Galileo, there was no proof that the Earth revolved about the sun but that never altered the fact itself. Men were just too blind to see it. As they are blind now to the proofs which are hidden here and there for their discovery.”
The smell of roasting meat was a delight in the nostrils. His empty stomach tortured Brian Creoghan. He must have glanced toward the door through which Moira MacArt had disappeared because her brother laughed softly and got to his feet, reaching for empty glasses and carrying them to the mahogany bar.
“Nobody can reason correctly on air alone,” he told Brian over his shoulder. “One more short one, the depth of a single ice cube, and then Moira will be calling us.”
“About reincarnation,” Brian began, but MacArt held up his palm.
“Later, later. We have much to discuss, you and I and Moira. I feel we’ve made progress, but it’s better to walk before we run.” He handed the glass to the big adventurer, watching as he sipped, and saying, “Man has two natures, the physical and the psychical. Flesh on the one hand with its limitations, spirit on the other—unfettered, free, eternal. On that we are agreed and so—cheers!”
Moira came in then, very domestic with a frilly apron about her middle, summoning them to the dining room table. She looked like Lilith and Jezebel, except for the apron. It was out of place, an affectation. She should be in silk and mink and jewelry with her beauty, Brian reflected.
He told her this a little gaily, for the Bushmill was strong in his veins at that moment. She laughed, dimpling, glancing at him out of those cat’s eyes of hers, green and faintly slitted. Her brother looked from the one to the other, smiled, and forgot them.
It was Moira who was his hostess through the meal. Ugony MacArt seemed distracted by his own thoughts, a little withdrawn from the world about him. He ate because his body needed food, not because the roast beef which his sister had prepared au jus was as solid nectar to the taste buds of his mouth. The burgundy she served with it added piquancy to the sauce. And the vegetable salad bowl was touched off with a perfect Roquefort dressing.
Brian ate the beef, he drank the wine, and he lost himself in the depths of her eyes while she wound the intangible nets of her allure about him as Circe is said to have enslaved the sailors of Ulysses. It was a pleasant feeling, airy and bright; Brian imagined he was also a little drunk.
It was close to nine o’clock when they rose from the table. Brian doubted that Ugony MacArt had said more than a score of words, either to him or the girl. Now, however, he seemed animated and talkative.
He caught Brian by the elbow and brought him into another part of the house while Moira put glassware and table settings in the dishwasher. This new wing, he informed his guest, he had made to his own specifications. It was a museum of sorts, a collection esoterica upon which he had been engaged all his life.
From his pocket he produced a key and released a Twentieth Century Yale and Towne lock set into a big oaken door off the hall. A push of his hand swung the door inward, on silent hinges. He stood back then, and let the adventurer stare.
The room was filled with a bluish light, hidden and somehow eerie, as though the magic flames of the Beltane fires were lapping over into their world. Four walls there were, seemingly all of glass and in the open spaces between them were display cabinets and a great upright stone.
A low whistle was honest admiration for this artistry. His eyes had become accustomed to the blue light and now Brian saw that the glass walls were diorama windows for three dimensional vignettes of the past. His eyes touched the stone megaliths of Stonehenge as they might have been when the Sarsen circle and the Tilithon were new. He moved his stare toward a forest grove where a naked man lay across a stone altar as a druid stood above him with the stone sacrificial knife in his hand. Beyond this scene was another, of a great cavern where men in white robes with golden scythes hanging from rope belts blew curved bronze trumpets before the wooden image of a god mounted on a gray, heavy stone. Round them he the worshipers stood in awed silence.
The next diorama made the hairs rise up on the back of his neck. It showed a wickerwork horse with hollow wicker legs,, as fire ate up those hollow legs, and as the men and women trapped inside them, burned by those flames, writhed in their final agonies. It was the scene he had thought about last night when he’d been doing research about cats.
“It’s too realistic,” he growled.
Ugony MacArt was watching closely, eyes brilliant with some strange emotion. “The Celts sacrificed to their gods this way. Caesar mentions the fact.”
Brian nodded and moved on to stand before great Stonehenge and its upright bluish dolerite boulders as it was in the days of its youth, when the Beaker people had raised those stones into place. In the diorama the sun was setting, dimly glimpsed between two rock pillars.
“Who built it? And why?” Ugony MacArt muttered. “The same race who raised the megaliths of Carnac in France or the Hypogeum on the island of Malta which is even older than Stonehenge? The amount of work necessary to construct such a gigantic artifacts is staggering to the mind, considering they were built anywhere from four to six thousand years ago. I cannot accept the theory that Stonehenge was an observatory alone. Perhaps it was an observatory to study the stars and the planets—but why? Why was it so important to these early peoples to know the position of our sun and the stars beyond it?”
Brian confessed his ignorance.
“I have a theory,” MacArt went on excitedly. “I—I won’t tell you what it is—not yet. It might—influence you—in some psychic manner. I don’t want to take that chance. I want you absolutely unaware of what I hope to prove. Not knowing what I’m after, you can’t tell me what I want to hear, unless you actually do experience what I call—the transformation.”
Brian gawked at him. The pale man made an impatient gesture with his hand. “Bear with me. I’m not mad, even though I may talk in lunatic fashion. I’ll explain later—after our experiment.”
He stared at Brian wistfully. “You will consent to the experiment, won’t you?”
“What am I to do?”
Brian had no hesitation. He was an adventurer. To him, adventure was the very breath of life. What Ugony MacArt was offering him was a chance at another adventure in his life. It was something to think back on—if it worked—during the long winter nights that lay ahead.
“You are to put your hands on that stone, which I call the druid stone,” Ugony MacArt said, gesturing at the huge boulder of grayish sandstone which loomed so noticeably before the display cases. “No more.”
He saw the disappointment in his guest’s face, and smiled wryly. “It isn’t very exciting to say, but I have hoped that it will prove more entertaining than anything you’ve experienced. If I’m right in my deductions, of course.”
His attitude, the confidence that oozed from his every pore, told Brian he was positive his deductions were correct. Ugony MacArt had spent too many years and too much money on his researches in all corners of the globe, to have anything but an absolute conviction that he was on the right track of —whatever he was hunting.
“Moira will be here soon,” he said. “She will bring the silver bowl and scythe. They are an important element that must be used together with the druid stone.” His face was grave. “They, like the stone, are the catalysts which will trigger off your—transformation.”
He still talked in riddles. Well, that was all right with Brian, who had always been one to respect the reticence of a fellow human being. Ugony MacArt had his reasons for secrecy. Let him keep them. He would learn them when he wanted to reveal them.
He moved around the room, examining more of those marvelous pageants of the past. His eyes looked upon a temple in miniature and wondered what the grayness might be beyond the flat altar stone where a toy man lay dying with a golden knife in his chest. He stared at a tiny grove of trees where that same grayness appeared to shimmer above the grasses red by dying sun—or by blood?
There were footsteps behind him.
Brian turned. Moira was striding into the room, the silver bowl in one hand, the golden scythe in the other. She had changed her clothes and now wore a loose white garment no unlike the attire of the druids in the diorama display case. It was thin, sheer, and clung to her body revealing its firm curves. A belt of gold cording held the material to her slim waist. Her thighs, as she walked, printed their outline on the gown.
“My brother thinks it appropriate that I wear the garb of those who worshiped Dis Pater,” she smiled.
“Please, Moira. No levity,” her brother snapped.
She inclined her lovely head gravely, but her gray eyes slid sideways to smile at Brian. He had the impression that Moira MacArt did not share the beliefs and the dedications of her older brother.
She put the silver bowl and the scythe on top of the druid stone, and stepped back. Ugony MacArt gestured him forward.
“Touch the stone with your hands, palms flat. Lean your weight upon them. Keep your eyes fastened on the bowl and the sickle.”
Brian stepped forward, placing his hands as directed. The stone was curiously warm. He looked down at the silver bowl and the figures carved into its side. For a moment they seemed to shimmer and fade away, but they came back again and now the golden scythe glinted in the light that was like some queer radiance in its blueness.
Brian Creoghan felt foolish, standing there with his hands fixed on the sandstone boulder. The red flush of embarrassment touched his cheeks, and he would not have been surprised to hear his host and hostess burst into mocking laughter at his gullibility. He almost backed away, about the lift his palms.
Then Moira MacArt began to chant.
Her voice was a whisper from the deepest recesses of the human soul. Or from the soul of Brian Creoghan, at least. Somewhere, sometime, he had heard that chant. The words were in a foreign tongue, a language Brian Creoghan had never heard. Any yet the words were vaguely familiar, as if they came out of some lost dream in which he had understood them.
The chanting went on and on…
The machinery that controls the many worlds began to labor as a gear-shaft slipped. The smooth throbbing of titanic energies rose in a scream of tortured metals. The gear-shaft was not new, it was close to a billion years old. It had weakened in all those eons. It snapped short and the entire cosmic machinery ground to a slow halt.
Alarm gong began to clang.
Now the room began to swim. It whirled around him as the bowl and the sickle and the druid stone became all there was in the world. The silver, the gold, the gray rock. He tried to lift his eyes, but could not. He was as one hypnotized. He stood bent over, all his muscles tense.
Then it happened.
The blue light was gone. He could no longer hear Moira MacArt chanting. He was in darkness, stiff, as if dead. The brief thought touched his mind, before he knew unconsciousness, that he was no longer even on the Earth. Not the Earth that he had known for his thirty-odd years.
He was in a different place.