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The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (Algernon Blackwood) online
WITH INTENT TO STEAL
I fell to wondering how long a man could talk without stopping. . . . Then it seemed to me that these words of his went falling into the same gulf where the seconds dropped, only they were heavier and fell faster. I began to chase them. Presently one of them fell much faster than the rest, and I pursued it and found myself almost immediately in a land of clouds and shadows. They rose up and enveloped me, pressing on the eyelids. . . . It must have been just here that I actually fell asleep, somewhere between twelve and one o'clock, because, as I chased this word at tremendous speed through space, I knew that I had left the other words far, very far behind me, till, at last, I could no longer hear them at all. The voice of the story-teller was beyond the reach of hearing; and I was falling with ever increasing rapidity through an immense void.
A sound of whispering roused me. Two persons were talking under their breath close beside me. The words in the main escaped me, but I caught every now and then bitten-off phrases and half sentences, to which, however, I could attach no intelligible meaning. The words were quite close--at my very side in fact--and one of the voices sounded so familiar, that curiosity overcame dread, and I turned to look. I was not mistaken; _it was Shorthouse whispering_. But the other person, who must have been just a little beyond him, was lost in the darkness and invisible to me. It seemed then that Shorthouse at once turned up his face and looked at me and, by some means or other that caused me no surprise at the time, I easily made out the features in the darkness. They wore an expression I had never seen there before; he seemed distressed, exhausted, worn out, and as though he were about to give in after a long mental struggle. He looked at me, almost beseechingly, and the whispering of the other person died away.
"They're at me," he said.
I found it quite impossible to answer; the words stuck in my throat. His voice was thin, plaintive, almost like a child's.
"I shall have to go. I'm not as strong as I thought. They'll call it suicide, but, of course, it's really murder." There was real anguish in his voice, and it terrified me.
A deep silence followed these extraordinary words, and I somehow understood that the Other Person was just going to carry on the conversation--I even fancied I saw lips shaping themselves just over my friend's shoulder--when I felt a sharp blow in the ribs and a voice, this time a deep voice, sounded in my ear. I opened my eyes, and the wretched dream vanished. Yet it left behind it an impression of a strong and quite unusual reality.
"_Do_ try not to go to sleep again," he said sternly. "You seem exhausted. Do you feel so?" There was a note in his voice I did not welcome,--less than alarm, but certainly more than mere solicitude.
"I do feel terribly sleepy all of a sudden," I admitted, ashamed.
"So you may," he added very earnestly; "but I rely on you to keep awake, if only to watch. You have been asleep for half an hour at least--and you were so still--I thought I'd wake you--"
"Why?" I asked, for my curiosity and nervousness were altogether too strong to be resisted. "Do you think we are in danger?"
"I think _they_ are about here now. I feel my vitality going rapidly--that's always the first sign. You'll last longer than I, remember. Watch carefully."