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Hell House by Richard Matheson.

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Title: Hell House.
Author: Richard Matheson.
Genre: Fiction, literature, horror, haunted house, ghost stories.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 1971.
Summary: For over twenty years, Belasco House has stood empty. Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, it is a venerable mansion whose shadowed walls have witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide, or insanity. Now a new investigation has been mounted, bringing four strangers to the forbidding mansion, determined to probe Belasco House for the ultimate secrets of life and death. Each has his or hew own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion, but can any soul survive what lurks within the most haunted house on Earth?

My rating: 7.5
My review:


♥ "How can I convince you, either way?" He was compelled to say it.

"By giving me facts," Deutsch answered irritably.

"Where am I to find them? I'm a psychiatrist. In the twenty years I've studied parapsychology, I've yet to—"

"If they exist," Deutsch interrupted, "you'll find them in the only place on earth I know of where survival has yet to be refuted. The Belasco house in Maine."

"Hell House?"

Something glittered in the old man's eyes.

"Hell House," he said.

♥ "Isn't it just another so-called haunted house?" she asked, using his phrase.

"I'm afraid it isn't," he admitted. "It's the Mount Everest of haunted houses, you might say. There were two attempts to investigate it, one in 1931, the other in 1940. Both were disasters. Eight people involved in those attempts were killed, committed suicide, or went insane. Only one survived, and I have no idea how sound he is—Benjamin Fischer, one of the two who'll be with me.

"It's not that I fear the ultimate effect of the house," he continued, trying to ameliorate his words. "I have confidence in what I know. It's simply that the details of the investigation may be"—he shrugged—"a little nasty."

..Still, that house was such an unknown factor. It hadn't been called Hell House without reason. There was a power there strong enough to physically and/or mentally demolish eight people, three of whom had been scientists like himself.

Even believing that he knew exactly what that power was, dare he expose Edith to it?

♥ Never mind; it's time, he thought. He wasn't fifteen anymore, wasn't naïve or gullible, wasn't the credulous prey he'd been in 1940. Things would be different this time.

He'd never dreamed in his wildest fancies that he'd be given a second chance at the house. After his mother had died, he'd traveled to the West Coast. Probably, he later realized, to get as far away as possible from Maine. He'd committed clumsy fraud in Los Angeles and San Francisco, deliberately alienating Spiritualists and scientists alike in order to be free of them. He'd existed barely for thirty years, washing dishes, doing farmwork, selling door to door, janitoring, anything to earn money without using his mind.

Yes, somehow, he'd protected his ability and nurtured it. It was still there, maybe not as spectacular as it had been when he was fifteen, but very much intact—and backed now by the thoughtful caution of a man rather than the suicidal arrogance of a teenager. He was ready to shake loose the dormant psychic muscles, exercise and strengthen them, use them once more. Against that pesthole up in Maine.

Against Hell House.

♥ "Why is it called Hell House?" Edith asked.

"Because its owner, Emeric Belasco, created a private hell there," Barrett told her.

♥ They had gone only a few yards when they reached a narrow concrete bridge. As they walked across it, Edith looked over the edge. If there was water below, the mist obscured it from sight. She glanced back. Already the limousine was swallowed by fog.

"Don't fall in the tarn." Fischer's voice drifted back. Edith turned a saw a body of water ahead, a gravel path curbing to its left. The surface of the water looked like clouded gelatin sprinkled with a thin debris of leaves and grass. A miasma of decay hovered above it, and the stones which lined its shore were green with slime.

"Now we know where the odor comes from," Barrett said. He shook his head. "Belasco would have a tarn."

"Bastard Bog," said Fischer.

..When Lionel stopped at last, Edith looked up quickly.

It stood before them in the dog, a massive, looming specter of a house.

"Hideous," said Florence, sounding almost angry.

.."You referred to the tarn before as Bastard Bog," Barrett said, returning to his work. "Why was that?"

"Some of Belasco's female guests got pregnant while they were here."

"And they actually—?" Barrett broke off, glancing up.

"Thirteen times."

"That's hideous," said Edith.

Fischer blew out smoke. "A lot of hideous things happened here," he said.

♥ Fischer played the flashlight beam around the dark immensity of the entry hall. The narrow cone of light jumped fitfully from place to place, freezing momentarily on hulking groups of furniture; huge, leaden-colored paintings; giant tapestries filmed with dust; a staircase, broad and curving, leading upward into blackness; a second-story corridor overlooking the entry hall; and far above, engulfed by shadows, a vast expanse of paneled ceiling.

"Be it ever so humble," Barrett said.

"It isn't humble at all," said Florence. "It reeks of arrogance."

Barrett sighed. "It reeks, at any rate."

♥ "Her system is attuned to psychic energy," Barrett explained. "Obviously it's very strong in here."

"Why here?"

"Contrast, perhaps. A church in hell; that sort of thing."

..Edith nodded again, stopping as Lionel did to look around the low-ceilinged chapel. There were wooden pews for fifty people. In front was an altar; above it, glinting in the candle-light, a life-size, flesh-colored figure of Jesus on the cross.

"It looks like a chapel," she started to say, breaking off in shock as she saw that the figure of Jesus was naked, an enormous phallus jutting upward from between the legs. She made a sound of revulsion, staring at the obscene crucifix. The air seemed suddenly thick, coagulating in her throat.

Now she noticed that the walls were covered with pornographic murals. Her eye was caught by one on her right, depicting a mass orgy involving half-clothed nuns and priests. The faces on the figures were demented—leering, slavering, darkly flushed, distorted by maniacal lust.

"Profanation of the sacred," Barrett said. "A venerable sickness."

♥ "I am certain you will find your stay here most illuminating." Belasco's voice was soft and mellow, yet terrifying—the voice of a carefully disciplined madman. "It is regrettable I cannot be with you," it said, "but I had to leave before your arrival. ..Do not let my physical absence disturb you, however. Think of me as your unseen host and believe that, during your stay here, I shall be with you in spirit. ..All your needs have been provided for," Belasco's voice continued. "Nothing has been overlooked. Go where you will, and do what you will—these are the cardinal precepts of my home. Feel free to function as you choose. There are no responsibilities, no rules. 'Each to his own device' shall be the only standard here. May you find the answer that you seek. It is here, I promise you." There was a pause. "And now... auf Wiedersehen."

The needle made a scratching noise on the record.

..Then he said, "Guests would arrive, to find him gone. That record would be played for them." He smiled. "It was a game he played. While the guests were here, Belasco spied on them from hiding."

Barrett nodded.

"Then, again, maybe he was invisible," Fischer continued. "He claimed the power. Said that he could will the attention of a group of people to some particular object, and move among them unobserved."

"I doubt that," Barrett said,

"Do you?" Fischer's smile was strange as he looked at the phonograph. "We all had our attention on that a few moments ago," he said. "How do you know he didn't walk right by us while we were listening?"

♥ Florence walked beneath the archway and caught her breath. "Thise house," she said.

The ballroom was immense, its lofty, brocaded walls adorned with red velvet draperies. Three enormous chandeliers hung, spaced, along the paneled ceiling. The floor was oak, elaborately parqueted. At the far end of the room was an alcove for musicians.

"A theater, yes, but this?" said Florence. "Can a ballroom be an evil place?"

"The evil came later," Fischer said.

Florence shook her head. "Contradictions." She looked at Fischer. "You're right, it's going to take a while. I feel as if I'm standing in the center of a labyrinth of such immeasurable intricacy that the prospect of emerging is—" She caught herself. "We will emerge, however."

♥ "You cam say that, having heard the sobs of joy at séances?"

"I've heard similar sobs in mental institutions."

"Mental institutions?"

Barrett sighed. "No offense intended. But the evidence is clear that belief in communication with the dead had led more people to madness than to peace of mind."

♥ "I don't agree."

"Have you any alternative to offer, though?"

"Yes." Barrett returned her gaze with challenge. "An alternative far more interesting, albeit far more complex and demanding; namely, the subliminal self, that vast, concealed expanse of the human personality which, iceberglike, inheres beneath the so-called threshold of consciousness. That is where the fascination lies, Miss Tanner. Not in the speculative realms of afterlife, but here, today; the challenge of ourselves. The undiscovered mysteries of the human spectrum, the infrared capacities of our bodies, the ultraviolet capacities of our minds. This is the alternative I offer: the extended faculties of the human system not as yet established. The faculties by which, I am convinced, all psychic phenomena are produced."

Florence remained silent for a few moments before she smiled. "We'll see," she said.

Barrett nodded once. "Indeed we shall."

♥ "What did Belasco look like?" Barrett asked, attempting to guide the course of Fischer's account.

Fischer stared into his memory. After a while, he began to quote: "'His teeth are those of a carnivore. When he bares them in a smile, it gives one the impression of an animal snarling. His face is white, for he despises the sun, eschews the out-of-doors. He has astonishingly green eyes, which seem to possess an inner light of their own. His forehead is broad, his hair and short-trimmed beard jet black. Despite his handsomeness, his is a frightening visage, the face of some demon who has taken on a human aspect'"

"Whose description is that?" asked Barrett."

"His second wife's. She committed suicide here in 1927."

"You know that description word for word," said Florence. "You must have read it many times."

Fischer's smile was somber. "As the Doctor said," he answered, "know thine adversary."

"Was he tall or short?"

"Tall, six-foot-five. 'The Roaring Giant,' he was called."

Barrett nodded. "Education?"

"New York. London. Berlin. Paris. Vienna. No specific course of study. Logic, ethics, religion, philosophy."

"Just enough with which to rationalize his actions, I imagine," Barrett said. "He inherited his money from his father, did he?"

"Mostly. His mother left him several thousand pounds but his father left him ten and a half million dollars—his share of the proceeds from the sales of rifles and machine guns."

"That could have given him a sense of guilt," said Florence.

"Belasco never felt a twinge of guilt in his life."

"Which only serves to verify his mental aberration," Barrett said.

"His mind may have been aberrant, but it was brilliant, too," Fischer went on. "He could master any subject he chose to study. He spoke and tread a dozen languages. He was versed in natural and metaphysical philosophy. He's studied all the religions, cabalist and Rosicrucian doctrines, ancient mysteries. His mind was a storehouse of information, a powerhouse of energy." He paused. "A charnelhouse of fancies."

"Did he ever love a single person in his life?" asked Florence.

"He didn't believe in love," Fischer answered. "He believed in will. 'That rare vis viva of the self, that magnetism, that most secret and prevailing delectation of the mind: influence.' Unquote. Emeric Belasco, 1913."

"What did he mean by 'influence'?" asked Barrett.

"The power of the mind to dominate," Fischer said. "The control of one human being by another. He obviously had the kind of hypnotic personality men like Cagliostro and Rasputin had. Quote: 'No one ever went too close to him, lest his terrible presence overpower and engulf them.'"

♥ "..Gossip. Court intrigues. Aristocratic machinations. Flowing wine and bedroom-hopping. All of it induced by Belasco and his influences.

"What he did, in this phase, was create a parallel to eighteenth-century European high society. It would take too long to describe in detail how he did it. It was subtle, though, engineered with great finesse."

"I presume that the result of this was primarily sexual license," Barrett said.

Fischer nodded. "Belasco formed a club he called Les Aphrodites. Every night—later, two and three times a day—they'd hold a meeting; what Belasco called his Sinposium. Having all partaken of drugs and aphrodisiacs, they'd sit around that table in the great hall talking about sex and everyone was what Belasco referred to as 'lubricous.' Then an orgy would commence.

"Still, it wasn't exclusively sex. The principle of excess was applied to every phase of life here. Dining became gluttony, drinking turned to drunkenness. Drug addiction mounted. And, as the physical spectrum of his guests was perverted, so, too, was their mental."

"How?" asked Barrett.

"Visualize twenty to thirty people set loose upon each other mentally—encouraged to do whatever they wanted to one another; no limits set but those of imagination. As their minds began to open up—or close in, if you like—so did every aspect of their lives together. People stayed here months, then years. The house became their way of life. A way of life that grew a little more insane each day. Isolated from the contrast of normal society, the society in this house became the norm. Total self-indulgence became the norm. Debauchery became the norm. Brutality and carnage soon became the norm."

.."..Later on, he started to withdraw from all involvement with his guests. He had it in mind to make a study of evil, and he decided that he couldn't do that if he was an active participant. So he began to remove himself, concentrating his energies on the mass corruption of his people.

"About 1926, he started his final thrust. He increased his efforts at encouraging guests to conceive of every cruelty, perversion, and horror they could. He conducted contests to see who could come up with the ghastliest ideas. He started what he termed 'Days of Defilement,' twenty-four-hour periods of frenzied, nonstop depravities. He attempted a literal enactment of de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. He began to import monstrosities from all over the world to mingle with his guests—hunchbacks, dwarfs, hermaphrodites, grotesques of every sort."

Florence closed her eyes and bowed her head, pressing rightly clasped hands against her forehead.

"About that time," continued Fischer, "everything began to go. There were no servants to maintain the house; they were indistinguishable from the guests by then. Laundry service failed, and everyone was forced to wash their own clothes—which they refused to do, of course. There being no cooks, everyone had to prepare their own meals with whatever was at hand—which was less and less, because the pickups of food and liquor had dwindled so much, with no acting servants.

"An influenza epidemic hit the house in 1927. Believing the reports of several of his doctor guests that the Matawaskie Valley fog was injurious to health, Belasco had the windows sealed. About that time, the main generator, no longer being maintained, started functioning erratically, and everyone was forced to use candles most of the time. The furnace went out in the winter of 1928, and no one bothered to relight it. The house became as cold as a refrigerator. Pneumonia killed off thirteen guests.

"None of the others cared. By then they were so far gone that all they were concerned with was their 'daily diet of the debaucheries,' as Belasco put it. They were at the bottom by 1928, delving into mutilation, murder, necrophilia, cannibalism."

The three sat motionless and silent. Florence with her head inclined, Barrett and Edith staring at Fischer as he kept on speaking, quietly, virtually without expression, as though he were recounting something very ordinary.

"In June of 1929, Belasco held a version of the Roman circus in his theater," he said. "The highlight was the eating of a virgin by a starving leopard. In July of the same year, a group of drug-addicted doctors started to experiment on animals and humans, testing pain thresholds, exchanging organs, creating monstrosities.

"By then everyone but Belasco was at an animal level, rarely bathing, wearing torn, soiled clothes, eating and drinking anything they could get their hands on, killing each other for food or water, liquor, drugs, sex, blood, even for the taste of human flesh, which many of them had acquired by then.

"And, every day, Belasco walked among them, cold, withdrawn, unmoved. Belasco, a latter-day Satan observing his rabble. Always dressed in black. A giant, terrifying figure, looking at the hell incarnate he'd created."

"How did it end?" asked Barrett.

"If it had ended, would we be here?"

"It will end now," Florence said.

Barrett persisted. "What happened to Belasco?"

"No one knows," said Fischer. "When relatives of some of his guests had the house broken into in November of 1929, everyone inside was dead—twenty-seven of them.

"Belasco was not among them."

Science is more than a body of facts. It is, first and foremost, a method of investigation, and there is no acceptable reason why parapscyhological phenomena should not be investigated by this method, for, as much as physics and chemistry, parapsychology is a science of the natural.

This, then, is the intellectual barrier through which man must inevitably break. No longer can parapsychology be classified as a philosophical concept. It is a biological reality, and science cannot permanently avoid this fact. Already it has wasted too much time skirting the borders of this irrefutable realm. Now it must enter, to study and learn. Morselli expressed it thus: "The time has come to break with this exaggerated, negative attitude, this constant casting of the shadow of doubt with its smile of sarcasm."

It is a sorry condemnation of our times that these words were published sixty years ago—because the negative attitude of which Morselli wrote still persists.


♥ She broke off, gasping, as the bedspread leaped into the air and sailed across the foot of the bed, then stopped and settled downward flutteringly.

A figure stood beneath it.

Florence regained her breath. "Yes, I can see you now," she said. She estimated height. "How tall you are." She shivered as Fischer's words flashed across her mind. "The Roaring Giant," he was called. She stared at the figure. She could see its broad chest rise and fall, as though with breath.

♥ "..What I'm trying to say is that the specimen consists of cell detritus, epithelium cells, veils, lamellae, filmy aggregates, isolated fat grains, mucus, and so on."

"Which means—?"

"Which means that what the Spiritualists refer to as ectoplasm is derived almost entirely from the medium's body, the remainder being admixtures from the air and the medium's costume—fibrous vegetable remains, bacterial spores, starch grains, food and dust particles, et cetera. The bulk of it, however, is organic, living matter. Think of it, my dear. An organic externalization of thought. Mind reduced to matter, subject to scientific observation, measurement, and analysis." He shook his head in wonderment. "The concept of ghosts seems dreadfully prosaic compared to that."

♥ Fischer lifted himself onto the sink counter and took judicious sips of his drink as he thought about the house. What was it doing this time? he wondered. There was a plan; of that he had no doubt. That was the horror of the place. It was not amorphously haunted. Hell House had a method. It worked against invaders systematically. How it did this, no one had ever found out.

♥ "So this broken body has released the spirit which shall never return to it again. This body has served its purpose, it can serve that purpose no more. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Amen."

♥ ..She felt as though she lay in some great cavern, wounded. She could not perceive the walls or ceiling; in every direction lay only darkness and distance. She tried to open her eyes but couldn't. Blackness trickled sluggishly across her mind, blotting out awareness. Power, she thought. Dear God, the power.

She started slipping down the wall of a gigantic pit, moving downward toward a darkness which was blacker than any she had ever known. She tried to stop herself but couldn't. The sensation was physical—her body sliding down and down, the walls of the pit adhesive enough to keep her from pitching into space, not enough to stop her inexorable descent toward the darkness below. The darkness that waited had a character, a personality. It's him, she thought. He waits for me.

Oh, God, he waits for me!

♥ "I didn't fear Hollywood—or flee from it. There's nothing fearful about it. It's a location and an enterprise, nothing more. What those involved in it make of their lives is their own choice. The so-called 'corrupting' influences are no greater than similar influences that exist in any line of work. It isn't the business that matters, but the corruptibility of those who enter it.

"Not that I was unaware of the moral vacuum which usually surrounded me. On crowded sets, at parties, I was often overwhelmed by the atmosphere of unwholesome tension in the air." She smiled, remembering. "One night, when I went to bed, I said the Lord's Prayer as I always do. Suddenly I realized that what I'd said was 'Our Father which art in heaven, Hollywood be thy name.'" She shook her head in amusement. "I left within the month and came East to stay."

♥ He stared into the steam but couldn't see which way the door was. The noise continued—a dragging, soggy noise. Barrett felt a chill of dread lace up his back. He'd best prepare himself. He mustn't panic.

He cried out in shock as his feet sank into hot, thick slime. He started jumping back and slipped, landing on his left elbow and crying out again as jagged pain shot up his arm. He writhed in agony on the floor.

Suddenly he felt the slime push up against his side like heated gelatin. He thrashed away from it, the odor welling over him. It was the smell of rot—the odor of the tarn! It's come inside! his mind cried, terrified. He flung himself to his knees. The door; where was the door? He guessed and, shoving to his feet, hobbled clumsily in that direction.

Something blocked his way—something near the floor that had size and bulk and was alive. With a cry of horror, Barrett fell across it. It reared up, shoving him onto his back, hot and jellylike, reeking of stagnation. Barrett screamed as it flopped across his legs. He struck out wildly with his left foot, feeling it sink into muculent slime, then strike what felt like skin the texture of cooked mushroom.

Suddenly it was before his eyes, bulbous, glistening darkly. "No!" he screamed. He kicked at it again, thrashing back across the floor, until his back slammed violently against the door. He felt the ropy from start oozing up his legs adhesively. Shrieks of terror flooded from his lips. The room began to swirl and darken. He could not dislodge and glutinous weight. He felt the hotness of it sucking at his flesh.

Suddenly the door was shoving in behind him, pushing him directly into the gelatinous form. It struck his face; his screaming mouth was filled with turgid jelly. Coldness washed across his side. He felt hands slip beneath his arms. He thought he heard Edith screaming. Someone started dragging him across the floor. Looking up, he made out Fischer's face above him, pale and indistinct. Just before he lost consciousness, Barrett saw his body. There was nothing on it.

♥ He set down the empty cup and covered his eyes with his left hand, mind a jumble of confusions. The unlocked door that had been locked by the time they'd reached the house. The restored electrical system that had failed to work. Florence's inability to enter the chapel. The record playing by itself. The cold breeze on the stairs. The tinkling chandelier. The pounding noises during the séance; Florence suddenly, inexplicably, becoming a physical medium. The figure at the séance; its hysterical warning to them. The poltergeist attack. Mrs. Barrett being led to the tarn in her sleep; removing her pajamas; acting so peculiarly this morning. The bites on Florence's breasts. The body in the wall; the ring. The attack on Florence by the cat. Now the attack on Barrett in the steam room.

..His mind leapt back, remembering. ..Three demoralizing days before it ended. Grace Lauter with her throat cut by her own hand; Dr. Graham, dead drunk, wandering outdoors to perish in the woods; Professor Rand dying of a cerebral hemorrhage after an experience in the ballroom he'd been unable to describe before he died; Professor Fenley still in Medview Sanatorium, hopelessly insane. Himself found naked on the front porch, horror-ridden, old before his time.

"And now I'm back," he muttered in a trembling voice. "I'm back."

♥ She stared at him, feeling lost and helpless. She had no faith of her own remaining. She could only cling to his. God help us if you're wrong, she thought.

♥ When they were sitting in front of the fire, her shoes and stockings off, her feet propped on a stool, a new log crackling on the fire, Florence said, "I think I know the secret of Hell House, Ben."

Fischer didn't speak for almost half a minute. "Do you?" he asked then.

"It's Belasco."

"How?"

"He safeguards the haunting of his house by reinforcing it," she said. "By acting as a hidden aide for every other haunting force. ..Think of it, Ben," she said. "Controlled multiple haunting. Something absolutely unique in haunted houses: a surviving will so powerful that he can use that power to dominate every other surviving personality in the house. ..Think of what fantastic power he possesses, Ben. To actually be capable of keeping another's spirit from progression, despite a consecrated burial. Maybe it's because Daniel is his son, but, even so, it's incredible."

She leaned back in her chair, looking at the flames. "He's like a general with his army. Never entering the battle, but always controlling it."

"How can he be hurt, ten? Generals don't get killed in war."

"We'll hurt him by decreasing the size of his army until he has no one left, until he has to fight his war alone." She looked at him with challenge in her eyes. "A general without an army is nothing."

♥ She saw him as he'd looked that evening in the hospital, pale, drawn, eyes bright with the glitter of impending death; her beloved David. The remembrance chilled her. He had whispered to her earlier of Laura, the girl he loved. He'd never shared her physical love, and now he was dying, and it was too late.

He'd held her hand so tightly it had hurt, his face a lined, gray mask, his lips bloodless as he'd spoken those words to her: I love you. She had whispered back: I love you, too. Had he known, by then, that it was her in the room with him? Dying, had he thought that she was Laura? You'll never leave me, will you? he'd murmured. You'll always be beside me? And she had answered: Yes, my darling, always; always.

A sob of terror broke inside her. No, it wasn't true! She started crying. But it was true. She had made up Daniel Belasco in her mind. There was no Daniel Belasco. There was only the memory of her brother, and the way he'd died, the loss he'd felt, the need he'd carried to his grave.

♥ "I'm all right. I know the score. You don't fight this place, it can't get at you. You don't let it get inside your skin, you're fine. Hell House doesn't mind a guest or two. Anyone can stay here if they don't mind fun and games. What it doesn't like is people who attack it. Belasco doesn't like it. All his people, they don't like it, and they fight back, and they kill you. He's a general, did you know that? A general with an army. He directs them!" Fischer gestured floridly. "Directs them like a—a mess of goddamn troops! No one makes a move without him, not his son, not anybody."

Fischer pointed at Barrett, his expression suddenly rabid.

"I'm telling you," he said. "I'm telling you! Cut out this bullshit! Leave that damn machine alone, forget it! Spend your week here eating, resting, doing nothing. Then, when Sunday comes, tell old man Deutsch anything he wants to hear, and bank your money. Hear me, Barrett? Try anything more than that, and you're a dead man, a-dead-man." He looked at Edith. "With a dead wife by your side."

He jerked himself around. "Oh, hell, why bother anyway? No one listens. Florence doesn't listen. You don't listen. No one listens. Die, then. Die!"

..Edith sat staring at her husband. He was watching Fischer's departure with a troubled look.

He's right; she heard the words in her mind. She hadn't the courage to voice them.

♥ The rocking chair had started moving.

"Lionel," she murmured. No. He needed sleep. It's force, she told herself; unguided, unintelligent; kinetics taking the path of least resistance—slamming doors, winds, footsteps, rocking chairs.

She wanted to close her eyes but knew that, even if she did, she'd hear the rhythmic squeaking of the chair. She stared at it. Dynamics. Force. Residuum. Her mind repeated the words again and again.

Yet all the time, she knew, she really knew, that it was someone sitting in the chair—someone whom she couldn't see. Someone cruel, implacable, waiting to destroy her, waiting to destroy them all. Was it Belasco? she thought in horror. What if he were suddenly to appear, gigantic, terrifying, smiling at her as he rocked? There's no one there! she forced herself to think. No one there at all!

The chair rocked slowly back and forth. Back and forth.

♥ "To begin with fundamentals," Barrett said, "all phenomena occur as events in nature—a nature the order of which is larger than that presented by current science, but nature, nonetheless. This is true of so-called psychic events as well, parapsychology being, in fact, no more than an extension of biology."

Fischer kept hi eyes on Florence. She had slipped in and out of possession so frequently before.

"Paranormal biology, then," Barrett said, "setting forth the premise that man overflows and is greater than the organism which he inhabits, as Doctor Carrel put it. In simplest terms, the human body emits a form of energy—a psychic fluid, if you will. This energy surrounds the body with an unseen sheath; what has been called the 'aura.' It can be extruded beyond the borders of this aura, where it can create mechanical, chemical, and physical effects: percussions, odors, movement of external objects, and the like—as we have seen repeatedly these past few days. I believe that when Belasco spoke of 'influences,' he may have been referring to this energy."

Fischer looked at Barrett, ambivalent emotion rising in him. The older man sounded so confident. Was it possible that all the beliefs of his life could be reduced to something one could probe at in a laboratory?

"All through the ages," Barrett continued, "evidence in proof of this premise has been forthcoming, each new level of human development bringing about its own particular proof. In the Middle Ages, for example, much superstitious thought was directed toward what were called demons and witches. Accordingly, these things were manifested, created by this psychic energy, this unseen fluid, these 'influences.'

"Mediums have always produced phenomena indigenous to their beliefs." Fischer glanced at Florence, seeing that she'd tightened at these words. "This is certainly the case with Spiritualism. Mediums adhering to this faith create its own particular phenomenon—so-called spirit communication. ..By record, the only time religious exorcisms have an effect on haunted houses or possessions is when the medium who causes the phenomena is highly religious, thus profoundly moved by the exorcism. In far more cases—including this house—gallons of holy water and hours of exorcism fail to alter anything, either because the medium involved is not religious or because more than one medium has contributed to the effect. ..Another example of this biological mechanism," Barrett was saying, "was that of animal magnetism, which produced psychic phenomena equally as impressive as those of Spiritualism, but entirely devoid of any religious characteristics.

"How does thus mechanism function, though? What is its genesis? Reichenbach, the Austrian chemist, in the years between 1845 and 1868 established the existence of such a physiological radiation. His experiments consisted, first, of having sensitives observe magnets. What they saw were gleams of light at the poles, like flames of unequal length, the shorter at the positive pole. Observation of electromagnets brought about the same results as did observation of crystals. Finally, the same phenomenon was observed on the human body.

"Colonel De Rochas continued Reichenbach's experiments, discovering that these emanations are blue at the positive pole, red at the negative. In 1912 Dr. Kilner, a member of the London Royal College of Physicians, published the results of four years of experimentation during which, by use of the 'dycyanine' screen, the so-called human aura was made visible to anyone. When the pole of a magnet was brought into proximity with this aura, a ray appeared, joining the pole to the nearest point of the body. Further, when the subject was exposed to an electrostatic charge, the aura gradually disappeared, returning when the charge was dissipated.

"I oversimplify the profession of discovered facts, of course," he said, "but the end result is irrefutable; the psychic emanation which all living beings discharge is a field of electromagnetic radiation. ..Electromagnetic radiation—EMR—is the answer, then," he said. "All living organisms emit this energy, its dynamo the mind. The electromagnetic field around the human body behaves precisely as do all such fields—spiraling around its center of force, the electric and magnetic impulses acting at right angles to each other, and so on. Such a field must impinge itself on its surroundings. In extremes of emotion, the field grows stronger, impressing itself on its environment with more force—a force which, if contained, persists in that environment, undischarged, saturating it, disturbing organisms sensitive to it: psychics, dogs, cats—in brief, establishing a 'haunted' atmosphere.

"Is it any wonder, then, that Hell House is the way it is? Consider the years of violently emotional, destructive—evil, if you will—radiations which have impregnated its interior. Consider the veritable storehouse of noxious power this house became. Hell House is, in essence, a giant battery, the toxic power of which must, inevitably, be tapped by those who enter it, either intentionally or involuntarily. By you, Miss Tanner. By you, Mr. Fischer. By my wife. By myself. All of us have been victimized by these poisonous accumulations—you most of all, Miss Tanner, because you actively sought them out, unconsciously seeking to utilize them to prove your personal interpretation of the haunting force."

"That isn't true."

"It is true," Barrett countered. "It was true of those who entered here in 1931 and 1940. It is true of you."

♥ No, there were still a good many years ahead before parapsychology was conceded its rightful place beside the other natural sciences.

♥ He inhaled deeply, had to smile. The air still stank.

But not with the reek of the dead.

♥ "I'm afraid our security is gone, my dear."

"You're my security," she said. "Leaving this house with you by my side will be worth a million dollars to me."

♥ "Well, if I do say so myself, it's going to give parapsychology rather a leg up into polite society."

Edith smiled.

"Because it's science," he said. "No mumbo-jumbo. Nothing the critics can pick at—though I'm sure they'll try. Not that I argue with them when they cavil at the usual approach to psychic phenomena. Their resentment of the aura of trivial humbug which hovers over most of the phenomena and its advocates is justifiable. By and large, psi doesn't have an air of respectability. Therefore the critics ridicule it rather than risk being ridiculed themselves for examining it seriously. This is a priori evaluation, unfortunately—one hundred percent unscientific. They'll continue to overlook the import of parapsychology, I'm afraid, until they're able—as Huxley put it—'to sit down before fact as a little child—be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatsoever abysses nature leads.'"

♥ It struck him then, a crushing, arctic force that jerked him from his feet as though he were a toy. A cry of shocked bewilderment flooded from him as the glacial force propelled him through the air and flung him violently against the front of the Reversor. Barrett left his left arm snap. He shrieked in pain, dropping to the floor.

Again the unseen force grabbed hold of him and started dragging him across the hall. He couldn't break away from it. Trying in vain to scream for help, he bumped and slithered along the floor. A massive table blocked his way. Sensing it, he flung his right arm up, crashed against its edge, his bandaged thumb driven back against its wrist. His mouth jerked open in a strangling cry of agony. Blood began to spout from the hand. Tanked across the tabletop and somersaulted down onto the floor again, he caught an obscure glimpse of the thumb dangling from his hand by shards of bone and skin.

He tried to fight against the power which hauled him brutally across the entry hall, but he was helpless in its grip, a plaything in the jaws of some invisible creature. Eyes staring sightlessly, face a blood-streaked mask of horror, he was dragged into the corridor feet first. His chest was filled with fiery pain as clutching hands crushed his heart. He couldn't breathe. His arms and legs were going numb. His face began to darken, turning red, then purple. Veins distended on his neck; his eyes began to bulge. His mouth hung open, sucking at the air in vain as the savage force bounced him down the stairs and drove his broken body through the swinging doors. The tile floor rushed beneath him. He was hurled into space.

The water crashed around him icily. The clutching force dragged him toward the bottom. Water poured into his throat. He started choking, struggled fitfully. The force would not release him. Water gushed into his lungs. He doubled over, staring at the bottom as he strangled. Blood from his thumb was clouding everything. The power turned him slowly. He was staring upward, seeing through a reddish haze. There was someone standing on the pool edge, looking down at him.

The sound of his enfeebled thrashing faded. The figure blurred, began to disappear in shadows. Barrett settled to the bottom, eyes unseeing once again. Somewhere deep within the cavern of his mind a faint intelligence still flickered, crying out in anguish: Edith!

Then all was blackness, like a shroud enfolding him, as he descended into night.

♥ He hesitated for a long time, sensing that to walk inside would decide, finally and irrevocably, his fate.

"Hell." What fate did he have, anyway? He went inside and shut the door. Moving to the telephone, he picked up the receiver. The line was dead. What did you expect? he asked himself. He dumped the receiver on the table. He was cut off absolutely now. He turned and looked around.

As he crossed the entry hall, he had the feeling that the house was swallowing him alive.

♥ "No wonder the secret was never found. There's never been anything like it in the history of haunted houses: a single personality so powerful that he could create what seemed to be a complex multiple haunting; one entity appearing to be dozens, imposing endless physical and mental effects on those who entered the house—utilizing his power like some soloist performing on a giant, hellish console. ..He's still in that house, Edith," Fischer interrupted, pointing. "He murdered your husband, murdered Florence, almost murdered you and me—"

His laugh was cold with defeat. "His final jest. Even though we actually know his secret now, there's not a damn thing we can do about it."

♥ They descended the staircase. At the bottom was a heavy door. Fischer shouldered it open.

They stood in the doorway, looking at the mummified figure sitting upright on a large wooden armchair.

"They never found him because he was here," Fischer said.

They entered the small, dim-lit chamber and crossed to the chair. Despite the feeling Edith had that everything was over, she couodn't help cringing from the sight of Emeric Belasco's dark eyes flaring at them from death.

"Look." Fischer picked up a jug.

"What is it?"

"I'm not sure but—" Fischer ran his palms across the surface of the jug. The impressions came immediately. "Belasco set it down beside himself and made himself die of thirst," he told her. "It was his final achievement of will. In life, that is."

Edith averted her face from the eyes. She looked down, leaning forward suddenly. The chamber was so gloomy that she hadn't noticed before. "His legs," she said.

Fischer didn't speak. He set down the jug and knelt in front of Belasco's corpse. She saw his hands moving in the shadows; made a tiny sound of shock as he stood up with a leg in his hands.

"'If thy right eye offend thee,'" he said. "'Extremities.' She was giving us the answer, you see." He ran a hand over the artificial leg. "He so despised his shortness that he had his legs surgically removed and wore these instead, to give him height. That's why he chose to die in here—so no one would ever know. He had to be the Roaring Giant or nothing. There simply wasn't enough stature inside him to compensate for his shortness—or his bastardy."

He turned abruptly and looked around. Setting down the leg, he crossed the floor and put his hands against the wall. "My God," he said.

"What is it?"

"Maybe he was a genius, after all." He walked around the chamber, touching all the walls, examining the ceiling and the door. "The final mystery solved," he said. "It wasn't that his power was so great that he could resist the Reversor." His tone was almost awed. "He must have known, more than forty years ago, about the connection between electromagnetic radiation and survival after death.

"The walls, door, and ceiling are sheathed with lead."

♥ Fischer looked around, extending tendrils of unconscious thought. As he did, he wondered, consciously, what lay ahead for him. Not that it mattered. Whatever it was, he had a chance to face it now. It was bizarre that, in this house, where his horror had first begun, he should feel the returning stir of self-assurance.
Tags: 1970s - fiction, 20th century - fiction, 3rd-person narrative, american - fiction, death (fiction), fiction, ghost stories, haunted house (fiction), horror, literature, mental health (fiction), mystery, paranormal investigations (fiction), personification, suicide (fiction)
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