The pre-episode warning excerpt is from the beginning of “The Electronic Plague” by Edward Hades and it first appeared in Weird Tales, April 1925. It is narrated by Dave Robison.
by Margery Lawrence
I saw her first wandering along the bleak seashore, wrapped in the eternal shawl that cloaks the Irish peasant woman. I was staying with the O’Haras, delightful, happy-go-lucky people, but rather too strenuous and energetic for my more sedentary tastes. Fortunately we were sufficiently old friends for me to ‘gang my ain gait’ if I wanted to, and I spent much time pottering about the picturesque, dirty little village, and talking to the friendly fisherfolk. It was while I stood talking to Silis Hagan, the old woman who had nursed big Terry O’Hara, youngest of the clan, and my fiancé, through his many ills, that Morag-of-the-Cave passed by. A grey, quiet woman, tall and thin to a degree, she loitered down the sandy pathway, her hands twisted in her shawl—the absence of the usual knitting that is the ceaseless occupation of the crofter woman struck me, and I remarked on it at once. Silis shook his head as she stared at the retreating figure.
‘Sure, ’tis always so with her, poor soul, pour soul! ’Twould be better for her peace o’ mind if she’d bide quiet and mind house and work, like good Father Flaherty bids her, but no, ’tis no use. Down to the sea, down to the sea she is all her days! Herself pity her . . . Morag-of-the-Cave.’
I was alert at once, scenting a story.
‘Morag—that’s Mary, isn’t it? Mary-of-the-Cave? Why that name, Silis? Is there a story?’
Silis nodded, but her deep old eyes contracted a little, half, it seemed, in fear, half in distaste.
‘Sure, there’s a story . . . but by that same token it’s rather not telling it I’d be, Miss Edie.’
‘Why in the world?’ I was, of course, now all agog to hear.
‘Why—it’s no tale for a sweet young lady to hear, for sure now.’ Silis’s tone was frankly reluctant, but I pressed her.
‘Ah, now do tell me. I asked Mr Terence whether you’d tell me any of your stories to put in my new book, and he promised me you would.’
Silis wavered. Terry was her idol, and I had used the one lever likely to sway her obstinacy. A shuffling step came in the soft sand, and Morag-of-the-Cave passed us again, her wide vague gaze lingering with a faint interest on my tweed skirt and bright orange woolly scarf. She paused a second uncertainly, as Silis greeted her kindly, but did not reply. For a moment she surveyed me, then her gaze wandered to Silis, and thence downwards to the rope of seaweed she held; I noticed that it was wet and fresh, and the edge of her torn skirt all dark and draggled with sea-water. She half opened her mouth to speak, then seemed to change her mind, and turning, wandered away up the winding slope towards the village. Suddenly, why I did not know, I felt myself shivering, chilled. Silis glanced at me shrewdly, and nodded.
‘Aye . . . it’s a breath o’ the deep sea she carries wi’ her . . . and will to her dying day. Well, it’s like Master Terry’d liefer you heard the tale from old Silis than the others—the tale of Morag McCodrum and her grievous sin—and her punishment for that same. An’ it’s I that remember her a wee girleen runnin’ about the yellow sands, the Virgin pardon her, poor soul! . . .’
This is the tale I heard then from old Silis as she sat beside her cabin door, her eyes fixed on the somber grey ripples that lapped the shingle at the threshold of her battered door.
‘Nobody knew just where the child Morag got her love of the sea. Seemed it dated from her very earliest years, for many was the time her mother would miss the baby, and find her crawling through bent and wildblown grasses down towards the beach. Just poor folks they were, the McCodrums. He shared a boat with two others, did Neil McCodrum, and his wife Shelagh worked hard to keep their tiny cot in decent order and the six sturdy babies washed and fed—though it was little but potatoes and porridge, and maybe a bit of bread sometimes, they had to live on. Still, they were fine handsome children; Shelagh and Neil were a pretty pair in their day; but wee Morag was different from the rest from the start, with her white face and black hair long and lank as seaweed, and eyes grey and green, not like the dancing blue of her brothers and sister, nor their curly brown hair and pink cheeks.
‘Bride was the eldest—eh, but she was bonny, Bride and her wide smile and free step! She played “mother” to Morag when the little lass was a wean, but many’s the time simple Bride was anxious and distressed about her little sister, and puzzled, too—for keep the child away from sight or sound of the sea you could not. Neil laughed and swore she’d a true fisher’s blood in her veins, and should have been a boy—and truly, to soothe her tears as a baby, Bride had to put her without doors, no matter rain or storm, within sight of the grey sullen water, and she’d coo and laugh, no matter what tempers had gone before, and fall asleep there on the wet sands as if she was laid in a queen’s cradle! As she grew up ’twas just the same—instead of biding indoors to help her mother wash and cook and mend as Bride did, for the four strapping boys that now went out to fish with Neil McCodrum, Morag was for ever wandering down near the sea, staring out over the restless tossing water with eyes that were the selfsame colour, and as changeful. The coast is wild and rocky enough at Ballymagh, and honeycombed with great caves; had it been a fashionable seaside place there would a’ been folks come miles to explore, with their guide-books and candles and such . . . but here ’twas rare to find a soul that cared to break the eternal silence of the caves, save occasionally a venturesome lad or two after seagulls’ eggs or some such treasure-trove. Indeed, there were few enough of those, since folks said the caves were haunted, and in especial the Cave o’ Dread, as it was called, though none could say just why it was called so—some ancient tale clung to it, so that none would go near it by night, and few enough by day. . . .
‘Many of the caves were inaccessible except at low tide, and that perilously; to win to the lowering entrance of the black Cave o’ Dread one had to wait the tide’s ebb, and then set out on a treacherous scramble from rock to rock, thick with slimy popweed, ready to fling the climber at the first slip into the hungry depths that moved below, waiting, waiting, champing white teeth of foam against the sharp black crags in the grey water. It was a fearsome place, the Cave o’ Dread, with the stealthy agate-hued sea flooring it, and the darkness filled horribly with the sullen moaning of the echoes that haunted the unknown distances in the deep heart of it, like the distant crooning heard in some giant shell. A fearsome place!
‘Strange, then, that that was the very cave from which Morag drew her nickname—that place of chill and sullen mystery that one would think would strike cold fear into the heart of any child! ’Twas one day—and she but sixteen, too—she was missing as usual, but her folks thought at first it was no matter, she would be along the shore, be sure, where she always was. Bride was to be wed to her man, Ian McAlpine, very soon, and of course, Shelagh, mother-like, fluttering around her like a bird afraid to let her young one fly alone . . . anyway, it was late that night when Ian said “Where was Morag?” and Shelagh remembered the girl had never been home since the early morn when she left the cottage. They went calling and crying for her, the creature, but no reply came. . . . One o’clock in the morning, and Shelagh night crazy, and no Morag!
‘It was Ian McAlpine found her at last, and would you believe it? It’s perched on a ledge up on the side of the black Cave o’ Dread she was, where she had been bidden never to go, wrapped in her shawl, quite happy. Young McAlpine took out his boat, having his suspicions, as he’d seen her, he said, two days before scrambling over the rocks towards the cave at low tide. At low tide she had gone this time she said, but when the sea started to come in, instead of turning homewards to the shore, she felt it “draw her”, so she put it—queerly enough, I thought—and nothing would serve her but to stay and watch the great green-grey waters sweep storming into the cave, deafening her ears with their clamour, and wetting her with flying spray. How she climbed up to that bit of a ledge, Himself only knows, Ian said. The lad risked his neck to save her, rocking in his wee boat in the heart of the seething water that swirled about the mouth of the cave.
‘Somehow he managed to edge close enough to the sheer rock for her to jump, but his heart was in his mouth, he said, as he did it, for just then a great wave seemed to rise and all but swept him and his bit of a boat into the far black heart of the cave, whence came a roaring and a thundering that fairly scared the life out of him; but it seemed at the moment that Morag cried something in a strange voice, and that same wave washed his boat back again under her feet and so outside the cave into the breaking dawn-light. As he pulled at the oars, wild to draw away from the awful nearness of that sheer wall of rock, she threw out her arms, and catching a handful of flying spray, buried her lips in it and kissed the wet saltness. . . . Mother of Mercy, but Ian was scared! He thought she was mad, poor lad, and he never rowed so hard as on that race for the shore! . . . But there, she was right enough, only talk as Neil and Shelagh might, she could never be made to see her grievous disobedience, nor even when Father Flaherty came to see her, and told her what a sin it was to cause her good mother such pain and anxiety, she merely stared at him in a puzzled way and shook her head vaguely, and did not seem to understand. He contented himself with setting her a penance, which she obediently performed, but the good priest felt within his secret heart all the time that it was done just for that reason—because she was a good obedient child at heart—than as a token of repentance for a sin. She talked oddly and rather wildly at times, too. Bride, round-eyed, came to her mother one day with a strange tale, and Shelagh, startled, taxed Morag with telling her sister a lie; but the girl shook her dark head with a curious smile.
‘“It’s not lying I am at all, mother agraidh. It was telling Bride about a light in the cave I was, and that’s no lie—no—no, for sure that’s no lie!”
‘Shelagh objected, a faint qualm at her heart.
‘“A light in the cave! . . . and it always dark as the tomb in the cave, to the stones be it said? . . .”
‘Morag nodded as she stared beyond her mother, her eyes kindling with a curiously phosphorescent gleam in the dusk.
‘“Sure—dark in the cave it was, for sure; cold and dark, and the sound o’ the water awash below me set me all a-shiver in the gloom, with the thin salt smell of the dripping weed, and the deathlike chill of it beneath me as I lay. . . . I lay and stared down into the black water moving in the darkness, with the pale gleam of it and the white frills o’ foam showing when it beat up against the side. For long and long I lay there, mother aghray, and it seemed strange thoughts moved in my mind with the moving water, and strange words moved to my lips . . . and then I found I was crooning under my breath strange songs, though Himself knows what tune it was, nor what speech it was I was putting my tongue to. . . .”
‘“Morag-a-ghraidh, muirnean, muirnean! Send they were holy hymns you sang!” Shelagh’s voice held terror, but Morag shook her head, smiling faintly.
‘“Not hymns—no, no, not hymns. Old songs, old, old songs. . . . I felt happy and warm and excited, and the cold and wet had all passed from me, or I learnt to love them, for my hands stroked and played with the wet dank weed and my feet caressed it. . . .” Her voice rose into a half chant, and the light in her eyes rose with it, shining. “Then with a roar the tide turned, and came to meet me, and down in the deep heart of the flood that poured shouting along beneath me a Light began to rise and spread and glow, green, cold-green and wonderful, and myself waiting for it, smiling and not afraid at all! . . .”
‘Panic-stricken, Shelagh flung her arms round the girl.
‘“And then, Mary be praised, Ian McAlpine called ye! Kneel down and pray—kneel down and pray!”
‘The light and fervour died out from the girl’s face, as when a candle is removed from behind a lighted pane, but obediently she bent and knelt with her mother before the tiny battered shrine. She joined dutifully in Shelagh’s fervent prayers, but the mother soul was not happy, and spent many hours that night in fresh prayers and supplications at the feet of the Virgin for protection for her baby against she knew not what, and dared not guess. Mingled with the intense religious belief in these remote islands is more than the priests suspect of the older pagan dread of and belief in all manner of demons, spirits, witches and so on, and deeply as Shelagh McCodrum longed for advice, poor woman, she’d not the courage to appeal to Father Flaherty. No, no, for the Father disapproved of any talk of sian or rosad, charm or spell . . . so she did not mention in confession that Sunday that she had furtively sewed up in the hem of Morag’s ragged frock a scrap of paper scribbled with all she could remember of an old runic charm against the Powers of the Sea. . . .
‘Well, one strange and vexatious development came of this adventure of Morag McCodrum, besides her name “Morag-ofthe-Cave”. Ian McAlpine, for some reason, perhaps since he had saved her, fell desperately in love with the girleen, young as she was, and poor Bride was sorely put out. She was proud, the creature, and gave him his freedom at once, yet ’twas hard for her to have to watch the lad a slave at her young sister’s feet, watching for a kind word, as a starving dog awaits a flung crust—though, to do her justice, Morag took little heed of him. Yet it made things at the cottage sadly difficult between the girls, and try as she might, Bride could not but show her jealousy and bitter resentment against her sister, and poor Shelagh was hard put to it to keep the peace between them. Well, well, ’tis small wonder that for peace and quiet Shelagh let Morag go a-wandering again sometimes, but she begged Ian to watch her, lest her strange craze for the caves should seize her once more, and she be taken and never found again, like poor Kit Harrigan, who was rash eno’ to swear he could explore them, and died in the depths alone, Mary ha’ mercy on his soul!
‘Ian McAlpine was out fishing most days, but his craze for the girl was so complete that he took to refusing to go to sea, and hanging about the McCodrum’s cottage till Neil swore roundly at him for an idler and warned him to keep away. Shelagh, who had told Neil nothing of her fears, was torn in two what to do, but Ian kept doggedly on his way.
‘No new suitor came to woo Bride, and she waxed more and more soured and bitter, and took to quarrelling with Morag so violently that the younger girl, conscious of no deliberate fault (for, as I say, she did not care for Ian, nor indeed for any of the lads who wooed her, though they came in plenty), took again to her old ways, wandering outdoors with the knitting her mother insisted on her doing now, and always, like a homing pigeon to its nest, straight down to the sea-edge. Ian, at her heels always, told afterwards that at times he had the strangest feeling with her; she would throw up her head as if she scented something, or heard some long-waited signal—hold tense for a moment, and then drop limp again to her knitting, as if disappointed. . . . He had a curious feeling then, and, says he, it grew stronger, though she only smiled and asked him what he meant if he asked her what it was. . . . It was the feeling that she was waiting, watching for something—some sign or message—from someone—or Something. . . . The quick jealousy of that love that knows it is not loved in return may have helped to sharpen this impression, but Ian swears that was ever in his mind. He says, too, she grew more and more withdrawn, aloof, as if all her inner womanhood, the delicate, wonderful thing he so adored, was slowly gathering itself up, together, in preparation for some great moment. Being garnered, as it were, in this quietude, this period of waiting, till the demand should be made, the Sacrifice needed . . . something of this sort, Ian told afterwards in his blundering way, trying to grasp the gradual working up of things towards the dreadful final act of the strange drama—the drama o’ the life of Morag-of-the-Cave.
‘One day it came. It was growing late, and the day had been sullen and heavy, with occasional rolls of thunder far distant over the brooding purple sea. Morag-of-the-Cave sat curled in a hollow of the rocks, the shallow water lapping her bare feet, and Ian, mending a torn net, sat astride a great stone near by. It was very still—the curious ominous stillness that precedes a storm—and suddenly across the sea there stole that odd booming sound, forerunner of the typhoon in tropic seas, of tempest everywhere; glancing up, Ian saw Morag drop her knitting and sit up, alert, her eyes wide—on the heels of the strange, almost stinging moan, a rattling peal of thunder broke directly overhead. No rain fell, but the sharpness of the crash was startling, it died away in a series of crackling explosions like fireballs bursting, and Morag, springing to her feet, cried out something—what, he could not hear, and she checked herself with a sudden quick look at him, but afterwards it seemed to him to sound like that other strange call of hers into space, the night he found her in the cave. Alarmed, he sprang to his feet; she smiled at him with the grey eyes of her so wide and innocent, he thought no guile.
‘“Ian—Ian—mo-charaidh, run to old Silis and be asking her for the loan of a shawl! It’s far to home, and moreover it’s not asking Bride for her shawl I’d be this day, after her strong words to me.”
‘Ian looked at her doubtfully, but she smiled at him. Sure, she was tired, achree, and would he ask her to walk when he might walk for her? For sure he would find her waiting . . . ah, well, he came to my cottage, the lad, and just then the storm broke. Eh, it was blinding, that storm! A grey wall seemed to stretch from heaven to earth, and through it fought Ian McAlpine staggering, drenched, blinded with the torrent, to where he had left her, but she had fled in that short time, screened by the howling storm! Up and down the beach he went, poor soul, frantic with terror, but no Morag answered him. Wild, he rushed to the McCodrum’s cabin, but she had not gone home. Back again to the beach he came, where the surf boiled upon the pebbles, drawing back from them with a screech like a maniac, and pouncing upon them again with maddened fingers o’ foam! The sky was purple-black and scarred with ragged lightning streaks, and the sea was black and savage, leaping up the cliffs as if each wicked breaker tried to hoist his white-capped head higher than his fellows; no boat could live in such a sea, and so Ian knew; but like a doomed man, as he strode the beach, his eyes dwelt on the grim outline of the headland where lurked that dreadful hole. By this time all the able men of Ballymagh were out searching for the poor crazed birdeen, but with little hope, for as they said, if their fears were true, and she gone to that hell of frenzied waters that was the cave in storms like this, what hope was there of finding even her body? They whispered of poor Kit Harrigan, and shook their heads . . . and as they talked, Ian slipped away.
‘Well, well, he told me of it afterwards, and though I shook my head and called the lad “fickle-fancy” when he changed from Bride to Morag, sure he loved Morag well, for he proved it. Up to the top of that storm-swept cliff he went, remembering vaguely one day in his boyhood, when he and Patsy Rafferty, bird-nesting, had found a steep way that seemed to lead down, they thought, near the roof of the Cave o’ Dread. Well, Himself only knows how he did it, but somehow he toiled his dreadful way along those slippery heights, stung and blinded by rain, deaf wi’ the wind’s buffetings, yet driven by his desperate love and anguish like a spurred horse . . . and he found it! By sheer chance he found it again, a deep hole under the lee of a rearing crag, a tunnel floored with broken stones and runnels of water, sloping down sharp into the very heart of the hill, like a mousehole into a wall. So narrow was it he could not crawl, but lay and slid down feet first, though quaking in every limb lest he slip and pitch heels foremost into some yawning abyss. Deep and deep it went, then suddenly widened, and thankfully Ian found he could turn about and go forward on hands and knees, feeling his way cautiously at every step. The abrupt slope became more gradual, and to his great amazement a faint light began to show in the distance; very small and green it was, green as young grass, and wavering, and his ears were filled with an ominous roaring like the booming of muffled guns at sea. Panting, soaked with sweat and rain he was when at last he emerged on to a wee shelf perched high, high in the roof of a great echoing dome, and found himself in the Cave o’ Dread itself, clinging to his tiny perch like a fly to the ceiling.
‘For a minute, blinded, stunned by the deafening noise of the wild waters that boiled and leapt below, he blinked, dazed, then prone on his stomach peered over the edge, his heart in his throat. On a ledge far below, close to the surface of the water, lay a dark shape, indistinguishable for a moment in the green dusk, but as the leaping spray threw a livid light upon the streaming, weed-hung walls, the shape moved, and throwing back the shawl that covered her, sprang to her feet. It was Morag! Och, arone, arone, ochrone, arone! Her clothes lay in a tumbled heap beside her, and white as ivory she shone against the wrinkled walls. Even at this distance from her, Ian saw the light in her eyes, and crumpled shuddering, as she straightened, naked against the naked rock, and flinging out her arms, cried aloud in a strange and terrible tongue! Rising and falling above the shrieking of the foam, the surge of the relentless waters, that voice rose to her horrified listener’s ears, shrilling louder and louder, wickedly exultant.
‘Hearing, his breath failed; he felt his bones turn to water within him, and turning feebly, tried to make for the passage, but, as he turned, a curious appearance in the water so far below arrested him—a small green steady light—at first like a gleam of phosphorescence, then rapidly growing and enlarging, cold and brilliantly green, lividly and somehow, somehow, utterly dreadful! Fascinated, he watched it; louder and louder screamed the terrible voice, and now in the strange song she sang stirred words and phrases that were vaguely familiar, and he knew, with the cold horror gripping him, the old Eolas, that Eolas of the Sea, and Those that live and move and have their being therein—Those that are never spoken of save with hushed voice and averted face, and before the priest, never, never! . . .
‘Now in the depths of the greenness Things seemed to be moving, moving as it were up from the bowels of the sea with the mounting Light and the mounting Voice! Things seen dimly, pallid, opalescent shadows against the livid green paleness of the light—shadows neither human nor bestial, but a dreadful mixture of both, it seemed, with a flickering restlessness where God made feet and hands . . . indefinite, utterly, but ghastly, obscenely awful to see, even in their indefiniteness, and growing clearer every minute!
‘The light grew and brightened, and Ian, shaking, turned and shuffled blindly up the passage; yet his last glimpse as he averted his face seemed to show him the waters parted, and a toad-white Shape uprearing to the ledge where stood Morag, his love, a smile of terrible welcome on her face!’
Silis paused. I shivered, held in utter fascination by the horrible tale.
‘Is that the end?’ I asked the question low.
Silis shook her head.
‘’Twould have been kinder to her had it all ended so, poor soul. No, Ian came down to the village a dour, silent man, that had gone up the headland a lighthearted lad. Come the morning, the storm was past, and over the blue sea he rowed to find his love—or her body, as he thought. But lo, on the ledge Morag lay asleep and smiling! She stepped down into the boat with him, and when they got to shore, Ian McAlpine took her straight to the priest and bade him marry them. Aye—a great love had Ian McAlpine for Morag-of-the-Cave, for witless she was, more or less, now, and even her own folk, with the exception of her mother, turned against her. Not that Ian said aught of what he had seen—no, no—but they held that she had held converse with those that are Nameless, and so they shunned her, either in scorn or fear. . . .
‘Ian bought a fine boat of his own, and all went well till her time was near, and then . . . Mother o’ God, pity and forgive us all our sins! One dark night Ian knocked at my cabin door, and I opened it—and there he stood with a bundle in his arms, and the eyes of him like a man who had stood face to face with naked Terror, and remains a man and sane. . . . He walked in, and I stood quaking because of I knew not what.
‘“Silis,” says he, “lend me a spade.”
‘Oh, the stroke of that on my heart, like the clod falling on a coffin-lid!
‘“A spade—Mary help you in your sorrow, Ian McAlpine,” says I. “Is it your first-born son you’ll be burying so soon, and that without prayer or priest to help him over the Threshold?”
‘With that Ian McAlpine laughed a dreadful laugh that was like the fall of yet another and heavier clod upon the coffin of my heart, and putting his wrapped burden on the table, turned away.
‘“Look, Silis Hagan—an’ tell me if you can that I do wrong!”
‘It was shaking my hand were as I parted the folds and looked on the little body that lay there—and it was shaking my knees were, and dry and choking my throat as I looked upon it, and looked, and looked. All the Saints protect you from such a sight, for it’d haunt you to your dying day, as it does me—as it does me! All the colour of a toad’s belly it was, the dreadful pallid white of the slime-born creatures that live in the deep waters—white and blind—and the face of it with a wide gaping mouth like a bull-frog, and heavy creased lids over staring eyes that had no colour but a pin-point of green where the pupils should be. But that was all small to the crowning horror, the thick body like a square log of pallid flesh with, at each corner, it seemed, a thing like a fin of the same dreadful pale flesh, fringed with flickering tentacles that even now seemed to twitch and move in the shuddering candle-flame. I staggered and reached out blindly, sick and heaving, and in a flash Ian was at my side putting me in a chair.
‘“Whist now—don’t look at it again. Silis, Silis! Now you know . . . pray for me this night, pray for me, an’ for the poor lost soul I left screaming on the bed. . . . Ah, Morag, mo-rùn, mo-rùn. A graidh-mo-Chridhe!’
‘Snatching up the spade that was standing beside the hearth, he went to the door, hiding the muffled bundle under his coat, and the darkness swallowed him up. Only then did I remember, in the dazed horror of the moment, that round the dreadful crinkled throat of—It—I had seen the livid marks of strangling fingers. . . .’
Silis looked soberly at me.
‘That’s the story of Morag-of-the-Cave. A month later Ian was drowned at sea, and she left a widow. All I know is that before he went to sea again—he was fey of the sea after that, poor lad, and told me it would have him soon—he went over the island to old Father Mahoney. Old and wise he is, wiser than those clever young priests that laugh at the Powers that dwell outside Mother Church—blessings be to her—but Ian brought something back with him to bar Morag-of-the-Cave away from Those that we know of! Sure, she’ll still wander all her days beside the sea, the creature, but never again has she gone a step towards the cave . . . and it’s to be hoped she’s working out her purgatory here, poor soul, for sure enough she paid for her sin.’
‘Did she never—ask after—it?’ For the life of me my tongue refused to say ‘her child’, though all my reason told me the story must be only a story—it was too fantastic, too horrible to be true.
‘Aye—’twas because of that that Ian went over the hills to Father Mahoney. Wandering down to the Cave she was all the days, and calling and talking in a strange language like a demented thing, till everybody was frightened of her. You couldn’t keep her from the Cave, and she’d lean down to the water of it, and weep and plead and whisper and laugh till it made your blood run cold to listen, but after Ian had got whatever he went to fetch from Father Mahoney she quieted—and now you wouldn’t fmd a more simple, peaceable, poor creature, witless as she is, in all the Islands.’
There was a crunch of booted feet upon the pebbles, and Terry, my old friend’s favourite, loomed large and beaming over us.
‘Hullo, Edie! Bless you, Silis!’ He displayed a full creel. ‘A splendid day; there’s another lot in the boat! We went out beyond the headland.’ He indicated the dark outline of the cliff where nested the cave of gruesome history. ‘I got a bit bored with fishing, and made Rooney take the boat into the big Cave, He didn’t want to, but I’d never been in and wanted to see it.’
Silis was listening with intent interest, and somehow I found myself hanging breathless upon his words—why? Exploring his pockets as he talked, he went on:
‘It’s a howling great place, all weed-hung, goes back miles into the land, and deep as hell, I should think. I got out of the boat, and crawled on to a bit of a ledge there to get a better view, and what do you think I found there?’
He fished out a battered tin box wrapped in sodden cloth. I heard the quick-drawn breath of old Silis behind me as she leant forward to see. Carefully Terry’s big fingers parted the cloth, and found the box sealed with a curious lumpy seal in black wax, unlike anything I had ever seen before. Agitatedly Silis stretched out her hand.
‘Master Terry—don’t open it. Go put it back again, don’t open it!’
Oddly enough, the same reluctance was ruling me, but I dared not voice it—Terry’s bluff laughter silenced me.
‘Silis, you’re a darling superstitious old idiot. There’s nothing inside but a bit of bait, I expect, but I just want to see why it is so carefully sealed up.’
His knife, with a faint crunching sound, cut away the seal, and prised the lid open. Inside lay two small packages wrapped in oilskin and sealed yet again with similar seals. In silence, I watched them split open, and lying in Terry’s brown palm, each by each. In one was a tarnished silver crucifix, and in the other lay a discoloured piece of paper on which was inscribed some lines in a totally unknown language—it looked like cuneiform to me, but I have since learnt to think it a transcription of some old Scandinavian Runic magic, potent against evils of the sea.
Silis and I looked at each other. Before us lay, without doubt, pitifully small, yet so powerful, the keys that had succeeded in locking Morag McCodrum out of the Cave o’ Dread—old, old and wise, Father Mahoney had given Ian not only the charm of the Church’s holiness, but the charm of the old-world magic as well, lest the Church be impotent against those Things which are older than she is.
Above our heads Terry babbled cheerfully on.
‘Well, what rubbish! What d’you make of them, Edie? Shall I throw ’em into the sea, or what—here goes!’
Silis stretched out a shaking agitated hand.
‘Master Terry—now, for the love of the Virgin, put them back where ye found them! Put them back!’
Terry stared at her in blank astonishment.
‘Go all the way back to the caves tonight just to dump those back on the ledge?’ he demanded. ‘Don’t be absurd, Silis, you old darling. It’s late, getting dark, and there’s a nasty breeze springing up. You don’t want me to risk my precious life going all that way again just for these, do you?’
He pinched her withered cheek good-humouredly, blandly unconscious of her agitation. I opened my mouth to protest, but what was there to say? It was on the face of it stupid to suggest that he should go back with this storm brewing. Finally the box went on to the shelf in Silis’s cottage, after her agitated pleadings for it. I knew she meant to bribe some lad to take it back the next day, as it was certainly too late tonight, and nobody would venture near the Cave o’ Dread after dark; and yet I felt as I walked away with Terry that it would be too late.
It was. In the morning Morag-of-the-Cave was missing, and her body was never found—but one thing I will put down here that I have never mentioned to anybody. My room faced the headland, and for some reason that night I was wakeful and restless. The expected storm was a fierce one, and waxed more and more fierce as the hours wore on. I lay in bed and listened, and it seemed to me, strung up and excited as I was, that in the shouting wind there mingled, faint, yet distinctly gathering power, the confused crying of a thousand voices. I lay and shivered, yet with all my fear I felt a curious wild sort of exhilaration, as if something in me broke loose and rejoiced furiously, savagely, with the same rejoicing that springs to life within you at the sight of a caged bird set free. . . . Morag-of-the-Cave, pacing the shore day after day, dumb and witless and caged, staring out towards the headland that held her dread and her wonder . . . Morag-of-the-Cave, stretching mother-hungry arms towards that Terror that yet was born flesh of her flesh . . . Morag-of-the-Cave, white and slim and wonderful against the darkness as she screamed her welcome to That which came to woo her from the Uttermost Depths. . . . In the gathering storm that rattled my windows I seemed to hear her voice mingled with those other distant, crying voices, shouting, singing, jubilant!
Springing out of bed I rushed to the window, shivering with excitement, half-hoping, half-dreading to hear or see—what? The headland was darkly outlined against the storm-torn sky, inky blue, and striped with hurrying clouds—but I caught my breath, for dimly against the blackness of the distant point a green point of light shone out. . . . As I looked it seemed to move, stately, steadily, sailing like a galleon against the storm, then dipped and vanished like a blinked eyelid, and on the instant the crying of the wind in my ears was but the wind’s voice once again. But in that brief moment I believe, fantastic as it may sound, that I was privileged to catch a faint glimpse of the triumphal passing of Morag-of-the-Cave to her own place, with Those about her, jubilant, rejoicing, with Whom she had cast in her lot.
And if the God of our creed rejects her, as well may be, perchance those older gods to whom she went may prove more kind.
About the Author
The best-known supernatural works of Margery Lawrence include Number Seven, Queer Street, a collection that collects the case histories of an occult detective, Dr Miles Pennoyer, as related by his assistant Jerome Latimer. Lawrence stated that this series was inspired by Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence stories and Dion Fortune’s Dr. Taverner series. Like May Sinclair before her, Lawrence became a confirmed spiritualist and believer in reincarnation in later years. According to the author, “My interest in it dates actually from the moment when I saw a near relation three nights after he died, when he gave me specific instructions about the finding of a box containing important papers. They were found precisely where he said–and from that moment I became deeply interested in what…I have called the “Other Side.” Somewhere that man was obviously still alive! Somewhere he was thinking of us, anxious to help, caring what happened; in a word, he was still alive somewhere, and I was determined to find out where.“
About the Narrators
Lucy lives on a horse farm in Ireland for some reason, with her girlfriend and their two dogs. When she was a child, she received a lightly damaged tape recorder as a gift. When it didn’t immediately explode in her hands, her journey into voice work began. A lifelong horror aficionado, Lucy spends much of her free time writing and listening to short horror stories.
Dave Robison is an avid Literary and Sonic Alchemist who pursues a wide range of creative explorations. A Brainstormer, Keeper of the Buttery Man-Voice (patent pending), Pattern Seeker, Dream Weaver, and Eternal Optimist, Dave’s efforts to boost the awesomeness of the world can be found at The Roundtable Podcast, the Vex Mosaic e-zine, and through his creative studio, Wonderthing Studios. Dave is the creator of ARCHIVOS, an online story development and presentation app, as well as the curator of the Palaethos Patreon feed where he explores a fantasy mega-city one street at a time.