Title: Ancient Sorceries and Other Stories.
Author: Algernon Blackwood.
Genre: Literature, fiction, short stories, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, thriller.
Publication Date: 1906, 1908.
Summary: A collection of 6 supernatural short stories by one of the greatest writers of the scary, bizarre, and the supernatural. Empty House (1906) is a tale about Mr. Shorthouse and his Aunt Julia, who decide to explore an infamously haunted house. A Haunted Island (1906) is a story of a young man who stays behind alone on an isolated island on lake Ontario, and the horrors he encounters once the darkness falls. Keeping His Promise (1906) is a tale about two friends that make each other a promise in their young days, and the dark fulfillment of it years later. In A Case of Eavesdropping (1906), a man is kept awake in his new lodgings by his neighnours' loud confrontations, until he discovers a dark secret his landlady had failed to mention. Ancient Sorceries (1908) is the second installment of the John Silence stories, in which he describes a patient's of his experience of coming across a sleepy town in France, where all the residents remind him of cats in mannerisms and life-style, that seemed to have called him for a sinister purpose - to fulfill the devilish rites he had partaken in with his lover many generations ago. The Nemesis of Fire (1908) is the third installment of the John Silence stories, in which Silence and his companion are called to investigate a malicious fire elemental, whose origin dates thousands of years back to Ancient Egypt.
My rating: 8.5/10.
♥ Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil. In the case of the latter, no particular feature need betray them; they may boast an open countenance and an ingenuous smile; and yet a little of their company leaves the unalterable conviction that there is something radically amiss their being: that they are evil. Willy nilly, they seem to communicative an atmosphere of secret and wicked thoughts which makes those in their immediate neighbourhood shrink from them as from a thing diseased.
And, perhaps, with houses the same principle is operative, and it is the aroma of evil deeds committed under a particular roof, long after the actual doers have passed away, that makes the gooseflesh come and the hair rise. Something of the original passion of the evil-doer, and of the horror felt by his victim, enters the heart of the innocent watcher, and he becomes suddenly concsious of tingling nerves, creeping skin, and a chilling for the blood. He is terror-stricken without apparent cause.
♥ There are, it would appear, certain wholly unremarkable persons, with none of the characteristics that invite adventure, who yet once or twice in the course of their smooth lives undergo an experience so strange that the world catches its breath - and looks the other way!
...The world, of course, asks for some plausible basis to which it can attach credence - something it can, at least, pretend to explain. The adventurous type it can understand: such people carry about with them an adequate explanation of their exciting lives, and their characters obviously drive them into the circumstances which produce the adventures. It expects nothing else from them, and is satisfied. But dull, ordinary folk have no right to out-of-the-way experiences, and the world having been led to expect otherwise, is disappointed with them, not to say shocked. Its complacent judgement has been rudely disturbed.
♥ "For the whole town, I suddenly realized, was something other than I so far saw it. The real activities and interests of the people were elsewhere and otherwise than appeared. Their true lives lay somewhere out of sight behind the scenes. Their busy-ness was but the outward semblance that masked their actual purposes. They bought and sold, and ate and drank, and walked about the streets, yet all the while the main stream of their existence lay somewhere beyond my ken, underground, in secret places. In the shops and at the stalls they did not care whether I purchased their articles or not; at the inn, they were indifferent to my staying or going; their life lay remote from my own, springing from hidden, mysterious sources, coursing out of sight, unknown. It was all a great elaborate pretence, assumed possibly for my benefit, or possibly for purposes of their own. But the main current of their energies ran elsewhere. I almost felt as an unwelcome foreign substance might be expected to feel when it has found its way into the human system and the whole body organizes itself to eject it or to absorb it. The town was doing this very thing to me.
♥ "I felt a strange world about me. My old world of reality receded. Here whether I liked it or no, was something new and incomprehensible. I regretted having left the train so impulsively. An adventure was upon me, and I loathed adventures as foreign to my nature. Moreover, this was the beginning apparently of an adventure somewhere deep within me, in a region I could not check or measure, and a feeling of alarm mingled itself with my wonder - alarm for the stability of what I had for forty years recognized as my "personality."
♥ "Can it be," he thought to himself, yet with a deprecating laugh that he should have dared to think anything so odd, "can it be that these people are people of the twilight, that they live only at night their real life, and come out honestly only with the dusk? That during the day they make a sham though brave pretence, and after the sun is down their true life begins? Have they the souls of night-things, and is the whole blessed town in the hands of the cats?"
♥ But how was it, then, that the moment his eye fell upon this ungainly woman, the pair of them appeared suddenly as other than they were? Whence came that transforming dignity and sense of power that enveloped them both as by magic? What was it about that massive woman that made her appear instantly regal, and set her on a throne in some dark and dreadful scenery, wielding a sceptre over the red glare of some tempestuous orgy? And why did this spender stripling of a girl, graceful as a willow, lithe as a young leopard, assume suddenly an air of sinister majesty, and move with flame and smoke about her head, and the darkness of night beneath her feet?
♥ Already this slip of a child seemed to dominate him; he felt the power coming over him more and more; something emanated from her that stole over his senses and made him aware that her personality, for all its simple grace, held forces that were stately, imposing, august. He saw her again moving through smoke and flame amid broken and tempestuous scenery, alarmingly strong, her terrible mother by her side. Dimply this shone through her smile and appearance of charming innocence.
♥ The threshold of an adventure, I reflected as I waited for the first words, is always the most thrilling moment - until the climax comes.
♥ "Your diagnosis, I believe, is amazingly accurate," he said after a moment, turning round with the map in his hands. "Though, of course, I can have no idea how you guess--"
John Silence shrugged his shoulders expressively. "Merely my impression," he said. "If you pay attention to impressions, and do not allow them to be confused by deductions of the intellect, you will often find them surprisingly, uncannily, accurate."
♥ The absolute control he possessed, not only over the outward expression of emotion by gesture, change of colour, light in the eyes, and so forth, but also, as I well knew, over its very birth in his heart, the mask-like face of the dead he could assume at will, made it extremely difficult to know at any given moment what was at work in his inner consciousness.
♥ "But "it" - what is "it"?" began the soldier, fuming. "What, in the name of all that's dreadful, is a fire-elemental?"
"I cannot give you at this moment," replied Dr Silence, turning to him, but undisturbed by the interruption, "a lecture on the nature and history of magic, but can only say that an Elemental is the active force behind the elements, - whether earth, air, water, or fire, - it is impersonal in its essential nature, but can be focused, personified, ensouled, so to say, by those who know how - by magicians, if you will - for certain purposes of their own, much in the same way that steam and electricity can be harnessed by the practical man of this century."
♥ "And the process need cause you no distress: we sit round the bowl and await results. Nothing more. The emanations of blood - which, as Levi says, is the first incarnation of the universal fluid - furnish the materials out of which the creatures of discarnate life, spirits of you prefer, can fashion themselves a temporary appearance. The process is old, and lies at the root of all blood sacrifice. It was known to the priests of Baal, and it is known to the modem ecstasy dancers who cut themselves to produce objective phantoms who dance with them. And the least gifted clairvoyant could tell you that the forms to be seen in the vicinity of slaughter-houses, or hovering above the deserted battlefield, are - well, simply beyond all description."
♥ "I'm gad you are here," he said. "Not all would have the courage. Keep your thoughts controlled, and imagine the protective shell round you - round your inner being."
"I'm all right," I repeated, cursing my chattering teeth.
He took my hand and shook it, and the contact seemed to shake into me something of his supreme confidence. The eyes and hands of a strong man can touch the soul.
♥ His face, I noted, was rigidly composed. He, too, was master of himself. And, as I thought of this old soldier moving through the long series of alarms, worn with watching and wearied with assault, unenlightened yet undismayed, even down to the dreadful shock of his sister's terror, and still showing the dogged pluck that persists in the face of defeat, I understood what Dr Silence meant when he described him as a man "to be counted on".
♥ I cannot say how it may be possible to realize that an empty place has suddenly become - not empty, when the new arrival is nothing that appeals to any one of the senses; for this recognition of an "invisible", as of the change in the balance of personal fores in a human group, is indefinable and beyond proof. Yet it is unmistakable. And I know perfectly well at that given moment the atmosphere within these four walls became charged with the presence of other living beings besides ourselves.
...Yet it was no kind of terror that I experienced, but rather a sort of mental dizziness, and a sensation as of being suspended in some remote and dreadful altitude where things might happen, indeed were about to happen, that had never before happened within the ken of man. Horror may have formed an ingredient, but it was not chiefly horror, and in no sense ghostly horror.
Uncommon thoughts kept beating on my brain like tiny hammers, soft yet persistent, seeking admission, their unbidden tide began to wash along the far fringes of my mind, the currents of unwonted sensations to rise over the remote frontiers of my consciousness. I was aware of thoughts, and the fantasies of thoughts, that I never knew before existed. Portions of my being stirred that had never stirred before, and things ancient and inexplicable rose to the surface and beckoned me to follow. I felt as though I were about to fly off, at some immense tangent, into an outer space hitherto unknown even in dreams.
...But, meanwhile, a curious and whirling sense of exhilaration began to come over me. The increasing heat was delightful, bringing a sensation of intense activity, of thoughts pouring through the mind at high speed, of vivid pictures in the brain, of fierce desires and lightning energies alive in every part of the body.
...But, meanwhile, a curious and whirling sense of exhilaration began to come over me. The increasing heat was delightful, bringing a sensation of intense activity, of thoughts pouring through the mind at high speed, of vivid pictures in the brain, of fierce desires and lightning energies alive in every part of the body. I was conscious of no physical distress, such as the Colonel felt, bit only of a vague feeling that it might all grow suddenly too intense - that I might be consumed - that my personality as well as my body might become resolved into the flame of pure spirit. I began to live at a speed too intense to last It was as if a thousand ecstasies besieged me--
♥ Yet even before there was light, an indefinable sensation of awe came over us all. In this hole in the sand, some three feet under ground, we stood side by side, cramped and huddled, struck suddenly with an overwhelming apprehension of something ancient, something formidable, something incalculably wonderful, that touched in each of us a sense of the sublime and the terrible even before we could see an inch before our faces. I know not how to express in language this singular emotion that caught us there in utter darkness, touching no sense directly, it seemed, yet with the recognition that before us in the blackness of this underground night there lay something that was mighty with the mightiness of long past ages.
♥ It is difficult to say exactly why the sight should have stirred in me so prodigious an emotion of wonder and veneration, for I have had not a little to do with mummies, have unwound scores of them, and even experimented magically with not a few. But there was something in the sight of that grey and silent figure, lying in its modern box of lead and wood at the bottom of this sandy grave, swathed in the bandages of centuries and wrapped in the perfumed linen that the priests of Egypt had prayed over with their mighty enchantments thousands of years before - something in the sight of it lying there and breathing its own spice-laden atmosphere even in the darkness of its exile in this remote land, something that pierced to the very core of my being and touched that root of awe which slumbers in every man near the birth of tears and the passion of true worship.
~~The Nemesis of Fire.