PseudoPod 847: On the Isle of Blue Men

Show Notes

This story was later republished in the anthology LIGHTHOUSE HORRORS in 1993, edited by Charles Waugh, in which it was noted that Waugh found the original ending unsatisfying and felt it was originally bowdlerized by the editors of “Ghost Stories Magazine,” and so [quote] ”In this anthology, therefore, we have restored what we believe to have been the author’s original ending.” Well, we at PSEUDOPOD just can’t leave well enough alone and with extra special thanks to the tireless efforts of EA staffer Joshua Tuttle, we were able to obtain a scan of the original for a comparison. Oddly, what we’ve presented here is essentially a third edit (composed by co-editor Shawn Garrett) excising much if not all of the Waugh additions and fixing the small language changes back to their original form, while also stripping out the frame story that encased the original. We hope you enjoyed this previously overlooked tale of fishmen and lighthouse keepers. 

On The Isle of Blue Men

by Robert William Sneddon

Sometimes I sit for hours weighing myself in the balance of reason. Have I dreamed all this? Am I what I am, a castaway? Have I always been the creature, scarce human, whom the fishermen regard with pity and compassion, thinking me mad? Or have I really been John Scott of New York, the painter of pictures which hang in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Corcoran Art Gallery of Washington, the Philadelphia Art Gallery, the Luxemburg of Paris? Surely knowing these names indicate my knowledge of art, yet were canvas and palette set before me I would hesitate to touch them. I shall never paint again.

I shrink from the task I have set myself. Can I bear to re-live those days of horror? And yet there is some power stronger than my puny will that prompts me to write, to assure myself I am still capable of sane and ordered thought I have begged pen, ink, and paper from the schoolmaster. He gave them to me as though to a child, and I felt his little eyes follow me with a strange surmise.

And when I have written, what then? What shall I have proved? I do not know—

Summer had crept into fall. We had seen the heather turn purple on the hills of this remote island of the Hebrides which lies off the North of Scotland, and winter still found us lingering. The few tourists had long since gone. Tn the little, low stone cottage with its thatched roof held down by heavy stones, the peat fire burned night and day. Only two lovers in the divinest of sympathy could have existed as we did, so remote from human intercourse, our only visitors a shepherd or a fisherman. Sometimes they had no English and we knew no Gaelic, but we nodded and grinned amiably at each other as we bartered for a piece of mutton or a basket of herring. A few of them spoke English with a soft, caressing accent, in which they lingered over each “s” or converted hard sounds into soft.

I seem to hear old Hamish, our man-of-all-work. saying:

“I am thinking it was time you were going away, you and your leddy. Soon it will be blowing great gales of wind, whatever.”

But Alice was content to wait, to see me cover canvas after canvas with those majestic, rocky, snowcapped peaks, sometimes sharp against a brilliant blue sky, sometimes wrapped in a misty veil. And I shivered many a day on the rocks by the sea, striving to capture the secret of the surge and swell of the tossing waters.

God in heaven! I read this which I have written, and I am sure I am sane. These things really happened.

We had a taut little yacht, of seagoing qualities that I had tested many a time. Alice was as good a skipper as I, and we were fearless.

Twenty-five miles from the inlet in which our yacht rode at anchor, lies an outpost of civilization. Seven little islands, hardly more than rocks they are, and beyond them is the Atlantic Ocean, the farthest surges of which beat upon the coast of my own country. On the largest of the islands stands a lighthouse which flashes its warning rays forty miles out to sea, and guides daring vessels passing around the North of Scotland to Scandinavian ports.

Now I had heard stories of this island. On it was a ruined church, the Gaelic name of which was translated to me as the “Temple of Blessing.” It had been founded by a sixteenth century monk, still held in reverence. Until the past year when the lighthouse had reached completion, the only visitors to the island were the fishermen who went to gather seafowl eggs and to kill birds for their feathers. Strange old customs were observed there. The men went in pairs, and did everything in unison. One could not take as much as a drink of water alone unless his comrade did likewise. On landing they took off their upper garments, laid them on a stone and went toward the chapel, praying at intervals. No man must kill a bird with a stone, or after evening prayer.

The name of the island must not be mentioned. It was always spoken of as “The Country.”

Little did I know what a country of horrors unspeakable I was to find it, though I might have guessed something from the reluctance of those about me to give me any information.

The day was clear when we left the shores of Loch Roig and put out into the unknown, Alice and I, with a good store of provisions and some presents that we knew would please the lighthouse keepers. It was cold, but we were well muffled up; we laughed gaily as a couple of school-children when the wind caught our sails.

As we approached the egg-shaped rock with its gray cliffs rising sheer, and caught the glint of turf patches gleaming with frost crystals and the tall white tower of the lighthouse, its base 200 feet or so above sea level, Alice clapped her hands. It was a spectacle of stern and menacing beauty from which, had we but known, we would have fled as from a plague ship.

Already we could see two men hastening down a zig-zag stair cut in the rock, and making for the landing place visible to us. As we came in we could see the amazement on their faces, and there was amazement in the voices that hailed us. They threw us a rope, and we drew into the stone landing.

I moored the boat so that it would not knock to pieces on the rocks, and then we scrambled ashore. They stood staring at us, two men sea-tanned, with wrinkled eyes under the woolen tams they wore, rather solemn looking, and saying not a word as I explained.

Could we spend the night? Any shakedown of a bed they could give us would be all right. We had provisions of our own—and would they accept the bundle of magazines and tins of tobacco we had brought?

I could see they were troubled, and especially about Alice. “It was a rash-like thing, sir,” said one of them, at length. “There is no accommodation for visitors. But it is plain you cannot be going back the day, for there is a storm on the way.”

“Then we stay,” I said cheerfully.

They helped us to carry our bundles to the lighthouse, and the third man came out. Jamieson, they called him, a short stout man with eyes which seemed to look beyond us. When he saw us, he got to his feet quickly, and seemed under the control of some strange fear. Why our presence should inspire Jamieson with fear I did not then know.

“Angus,” said one of our guides who had told us his name was Ross, “the gentleman and leddy are stopping with us over night. There will be nothing in the regulations against that, now?”

Jamieson appeared strangely troubled and looked behind him once or twice with an abrupt turn of his head.

“The woman!” he said at last in a husky voice. “They will not be wanting her here. The curse will fall! The Curse—Is it not a fact that no woman has set foot on the Country since—since the time—” And he added something in Gaelic.

“Man,” said Ross roughly, “will you ever be letting alone these old wives’ tales? It’s bad enough when you are glooming over the fire of a night, but here in broad daylight, what is there to fear? Put an end to it, Angus Jamieson.”

I could see Alice was upset by this show of ungraciousness.

“Perhaps we’d better try and get back,” she suggested.

“No! No! That would be madness indeed,” protested the third man, McLeod. “Would you be driving the leddy out into the night? Stay you here and welcome, ma’am.”

We had come up a narrow winding iron stair, past the oil tanks and storage room, into a circular living room.

“We sleep above,” McLeod continued; “so maybe you can be making shift here with some rugs and the like.”

We told him anything would do, and so the matter was settled.

I went up with Ross into the lamp room, saw him light the wicks and set the clockwork going, and then we came down to a meal to which we were happy to contribute some dainties. Afterward we settled round the fire. Jamieson, to my surprise, busied himself knitting a coarse wool sock.

“Angus is not much for reading,” said McLeod, “but there is not a woman can make a better pair of socks, whatever. It is a good thing you stayed, for hark to it now.”

Indeed, the wind was blattering upon the smooth pillar raising its head in defiance, and I had a vision of the yacht grating its planking to shreds; but there was nothing to be done that night.

Suddenly Alice raised her head. I, too, heard what had attracted her attention—a steady body of sound, like some ancient religious composition, like an unknown Wagnerian opera played by some vast orchestra and taken up by other orchestras.

“Oh, how wonderful!” she said softly.

Ross laughed slyly. “The birds, ma’am,” he said; the puffins and the gulls, the divers and the cormorants. There’s no counting the beasties.”

The night choir of the seabirds swelled solemnly, majestically, then died away, to recur again with such awe-inspiring notes that I felt my flesh creep. Then all at once, as though stilled by a master leader’s baton, the wild sea music ceased. A thin flutter of ashes ascended from the peat fire. Something made me look at Jamieson, who sat staring into blank space beyond him, his knitting needles motionless as though he heard sounds not audible to our ears.

All at once there reached us dimly through the thick walls a screeching so hellish that my blood ran cold.

“In God’s name!” cried Ross, rising to his feet and looking about the room. “A year I’ve been stationed here, yet never heard I the like.”

“Nor I,” added McLeod.

“What would it be?” said Jamieson in a quick, tense tone as he set his needles in motion once more. “What but the sluagh?”

I caught at the word. “What’s that?”

“It will be some of the old tales, sir. Be paying no heed to Angus,” said Ross slowly. “He’s meaning the host of the dead that are about us.”

“Aye!” said Jamieson in a strange, remote tone, “the gray, watery forms of ghosts. Maybe worse.”

“Tush!” said Ross roughly. “Will you be frightening the leddy, Angus?”

Jamieson looked at us, and I fancied there was real concern in his look, and this caused vague uneasiness in my mind, “God forbid, leddy. But I will be telling you, John Ross, and you. Donald McLeod, see to it this night that the door be locked and all shut tight and close. Something is speaking within me, and I am seeing beyond. The call is coming Aye! The dark one is at hand, the dread one that we will be calling The Kindly—”

“Peace, man.” said Ross. “You and your death fancies, and we as snug here as any man could be asking! What could be the hurt of us?” He looked at his timepiece. “Time it is you were keeping your watch, Angus.”

Jamieson rose to his feet and disappeared up the spiral stairway without another word.

“They will be saying,” explained Ross, lowering his voice, “that Angus has the gift of the second-sight.”

“Do you believe in that?” asked Alice, with a shudder. “Do you think he really can see into the future?”

“Ma’am,” said Ross, with an odd expression, “I could be telling you things that are better left unsaid. Angus Jamieson is a strange lad, and whatever be his power, it is true that he sees more than the rest of us. But rest your mind. There’s safety here for yourself and your gentleman this night. And now, by your leave, we’ll be going upstairs and having our sleep.”

We heard their heavy tread die away on the iron steps. Drawing our blankets over to the fire, we lay down.

Suddenly Alice clung to me, whispering: “I’m frightened. I never felt like this in all my life. That queer Angus—and what was that screech?”

“Some seal, probably, or the sea in a hollow cave,” I said, but as I spoke I knew I lied.

All night long as I lay there my flesh tingled, and it seemed to me that the tower of the lighthouse was beset with stealthy prowling horrors to which I could give neither shape nor name, and Alice moaned in her sleep and more than once put out an appealing hand to mine.

The morning came cold, brisk, and wild. While McLeod busied himself over the cookstove, I climbed to the lantern and looked abroad. One look was enough to tell me we could not leave the island that day. We were surrounded by a circle of tempestuous seas, rising and falling in monstrous surges.

We were sitting at breakfast when Jamieson came down to join us. Scarcely had he nodded to us than I saw a terrified light flash into his eyes, and he half rose from his seat with a hoarse exclamation:

“The red-haired woman!”

Alice looked at him with surprise in her blue eyes. Her hand went up to her hair.

“Yes, it is red,” she said, smiling faintly.

“I did not notice it last night,” muttered Jamieson, with his eyes still upon her, his face convulsed with an emotion which was communicated to us all. “God have mercy upon us!”

“What is the matter with red hair, my friend?” I asked abruptly. “Don’t you admire it?”

Jamieson swayed in his seat.

“What is the matter?” I asked, turning to McLeod.

“I don’t know, sir,” he said slowly. “I never saw him act this way before. Angus, my man, will you be feeling sick this day?”

I never saw such a desperate look on any man’s face as that which Jamieson turned to us.

“It is not sickness!” he cried suddenly. “It is death that is all about. Oh, it was an ill day that brought a red-haired woman to The Country. Did I not hear them crying aloud last night, licking their mouths for their victims?”

“You are fey, Angus Jamieson,” said Ross harshly. “Cease your wild talk.”

“No, there is no madness in my brain,” said Jamieson with solemn sincerity. “Oh, sir”—he turned to me— “will you not be leaving us now—this very minute —you and the Ieddy, before They come upon us and destroy us?”

“How can we put to sea? Look for yourself, man,” I shouted, losing my temper. “It’s utterly impossible. I’m sorry we’re so unwelcome.”

Ross laid his hand on my arm.

“Wheesht, sir. There is no need to be saying that. McLeod and me will not hear of your going.”

But I was determined to get to the root and bottom of the business.

“What’s all this talk about destroying —what will come upon us—who are licking their mouths for victims?”

Jamieson looked as though stunned by my vehemence. Then he put his hands to his eyes as though to shut out some terrifying sight. A strange babble of sound came from his lips.

“What is he saying, Ross?” I cried. “What is Na fir gorma?”

Ross drew a long breath, then rolled his eyes toward heaven.

“The Blue Men, sir . . . But never heed him. I’ll see to him.”

He caught Jamieson roughly by the shoulder and propelled him toward the ladder. I heard him speak soothingly in Gaelic, and then we were left alone.

McLeod sat looking at us in silence; then as the stillness weighed upon us, he cleared his throat.

“It’s the lonely life here,” he said as if in apology. “It would be a wonder indeed if it did not go to the head sometimes, sir and ma’am. Angus will be all right after a bit of sleep. Angus is perfectly harmless, leddy: You need not be afraid. You see, he is full of old stories . . . and it is well known no woman has ever set foot on this island.”

“Why not?” asked Alice. “And why doesn’t he like my red hair?”

“Well,” answered McLeod with evident uneasiness, “there’s an old saying about this part—’The red-haired witch and the blue men come together.’”

“A witch!” cried Alice, opening her pretty eyes wide. “I like that. So he thinks I’m a witch!”

“Oh, deed no, ma’am,” said McLeod hastily; “but there’s a prejudice against the red hair among some of them that live hereabouts. Poor creatures! I come from Oban myself, where we’re civilized—yes, indeed.”

“But the Blue Men? What are they?” I asked. “What does he mean?”

“I don’t know,” said McLeod simply. “Some other old tale, no doubt.”

Alice appeared comforted, but I noticed that when Ross came down again, he was stern and uncommunicative

“You’ll excuse him, Ieddy,” he said; “and now, Donald, we’ll be cleaning the lenses and trimming the wicks.”

“We’ll go out and get the air,” I suggested.

“Very good,” Ross answered with an air of relief. “A good blow will do good, but do not be going close to the water. It has a trick of heaving itself up and not a warning. A cruel, treacherous thing, the sea.

As we passed through the low iron door to the cemented square in front of it, I slipped on something.

“Why, how odd!” said Alice. “A piece of seaweed. Fancy it being up here.”

“Carried up by the wind. I suppose,” and I kicked it carelessly aside. “What a strange smell, though.”

“Hasn’t it?”

“It’s a sea smell, and yet . . . Did you ever smell a tank of seals? Like that. That’s odd.”

Alice laughed. “Everything’s queer here. Don’t you think we ought to see how The Sprite is?”

“Nice thing if she’s knocked to pieces and we’re marooned here till the Northern Lighthouse Board tender comes to relieve the men.”

“I suppose they take turns.”

“Yes, there’s four of them, Ross tells me. Three on duty, one on shore. The tender isn’t due for ten days or so.”

“Oh, be careful,” Alice begged as we hugged the rock in our descent of the zigzag steps. “There’s more of that weed here. Oh look, The Sprite’s all safe, but what is that on the landing?”

“A seal, probably. You wait here, I’ll go down and see.”

I came gingerly down, and as I reached the bottom step the seal slithered into the water with a loud plop. I stood there, staring, rubbing my eyes wet with the salt spray.

And then I found myself shuddering. With incredulous eyes I peered into the water. I caught a glint of a blue-black, shadowy, twisting thing—and then it was gone, melted into the waters, as though it possessed a protective coloration which blended with that of the sea.

I heard Alice shout, and in unreasoning alarm scrambled back to her.

“You scared it,” she said.

“Yes,” I answered curtly, clenching my jaws tight My pulse was drumming so loudly I thought she must have heard it. I would never confess to her what I had seen or fancied I had seen—not a harmless seal, but a froglike monster such as I had never heard of, nor seen pictured in any work on natural history.

“Come along,” I said roughly. “It’s perishing cold here. Let’s get out of the wind.”

She did not seem to wonder at my abruptness, but followed me obediently. Strive as I would, however, I could not help turning my head to look behind, but all I could see was the spray flung into the air.

We sat huddled together in a cranny. Never had I felt Alice so close to my heart as in that hour. A strange, fatal apprehension was upon me, a mad desire to get aboard The Sprite and flee the island, yet cold common sense, that bondage which civilization has cast upon us, told me that to do this would be folly unspeakable We could not hope to reach shore in that sea.

After a time we returned to the lighthouse. Alice went up to the living room, leaving me with Ross busy at work on the oil tanks.

I sat down on a box. “Ross,” I said, “I imagine there’s lots of strange fish in these waters.”

“I dare say,” he answered carelessly. “There are some will be saying they have seen the sea-serpent, and ’deed, the way the water comes plunging up sometimes, it looks like maybe he’d be kicking down at the bottom.”

“I don’t suppose you ever came across anything like a monstrous frog.”

He stopped work to look at me.

“No, indeed. I never heard of frogs in the sea, sir. They’re made for the fresh water, surely.”

“So I always thought.” I hesitated. “There was something like a frog—looked as big as a man—on the east landing, but it dived in before I got a look at it properly.”

He shook his head at that.

“A seal, I’ll be thinking. They twist that quick, you’ll hardly get a look at them. But a frog—That’s a good one.”

He laughed easily, and somehow my memory became disconcerted. Of course the thing must have been a seal. My eyes were nipping with cold and salt, and it was natural I had not seen straight.

“Well, we’ll keep the discovery to ourselves,” I said, with a mockery of a laugh.

“Yes, indeed. If Angus were to get wind of this, we’d be having another mouthful of nonsense. ’Deed, company has a bad effect on him.”

The sea-fog rose so high that afternoon that there was no thought of us venturing forth, so we spent the time in our several ways. Alice sewed, while Ross, McLeod, and I played endless games with a grimy deck of cards. Jamieson, apparently normal again, sat with his knitting. The beacon was lighted early, and faintly from above came the monotonous, tick-tock of the clockwork which revolved it

All at once McLeod raised his head. “Did you bolt that downstairs door, John?” he asked Ross.

“That I did. Why?”

McLeod stirred uneasily in his seat. “It sounded like it was giving a bit of a squeak. I’ll put the oil can to the hinges in the morning.”

He appeared reassured, but I noticed his eyes turn now and then to the trapdoor in the flooring. At length he rose and went down. When he returned, he was sniffing.

“There’s a queer kind of smell on the air this night” he said.

“I noticed it this morning—we both did, my wife and I,” I said as I shuffled the cards for another deal.

He sat down, but made no effort to pick up his cards.

“There’s times,” he said slowly, “when I am thinking I would like a wee farm a long way from the sea. Yes! A long way.”

“Are you married, Mr. McLeod?” Alice asked.

“Yes, ma’am. But what kind of a life is it for a married couple? Here I am, six weeks on duty, then two ashore. You’re fortunate, sir, to have your leddy with you all the time.”

“I am, indeed, McLeod,” I agreed.

I turned to smile at Alice, but to my amazement she had risen to her feet and was staring at the little window in the thick wall, her hand to her side as though it hurt.

“Why—” I started to say, and at that moment Ross uttered a startled:

“God spare us all, what’s yon?”

Pressed against the thick glass was a white something, a blob of flesh in which two dead, unwinking, fishy eyes rose above an enormous gaping mouth set with jagged teeth.

McLeod took a step forward, and on that instant the thing vanished. I caught Alice to me. I saw Ross run to a wall rack and take down a double-barreled shotgun.

We heard him run hastily downstairs, heard the clang of the iron door as he flung it open. Mingled with the whiff of sea air which blew up to us, was a strangely musty, rank odor. I listened for the shot which never came. McLeod had tumbled after Ross. In a few moments the pair came upstairs, somewhat shame-faced.

“Not a thing,” said Ross, “but the fog’s that thick you cannot see your hand in front of your face.”

“I’m thinking,” added McLeod, with a look at Alice, “this fog makes strange shapes on the windows. It’s not the first time I’ve got a fright out of nothing, a gull blown against the glass, like. Put down your sock, Angus. Get your melodeon and give us a song. He’s the bonny singer, is Angus.”

Jamieson rose and brought out an accordion from a cupboard. I think at that moment his voice, untrained, yet with a pleasing tenderness, sounded better than that of any opera star. Somehow the music seemed to discharge the electric state of our nerves, so that when, after half an hour bed was proposed, I agreed willingly.

Twice through the night I was aroused by the hideous screeching I had heard the night of our arrival, but if anyone else heard it, it excited no stir. All was quiet above me. Only Alice moaned in her sleep.

Next morning the fog still clung about us, a great stillness. For the fury of the wind we had exchanged that more exacting jailer. There was no hope of us leaving the island.

Though I said nothing to Alice, I was afraid. A vague terror was instilling its insidious venom into my heart. Perhaps I was mistaken, but I believe the other men felt it also. Coming into the beacon chamber. I found Angus on his knees in prayer. And Ross, in the tank room, was cleaning his gun, squinting through its barrels and whistling a dismal air through puckered lips. I sat watching him in silence and finally he spoke,

“I’ll take a stroll down by the landing and have a look at your boatie. I’ll take the gun Maybe I’ll get a shot at something.”

“Good idea!” l agreed “I’ll go with you.”

When we got outside, I came to the point. “What do you make of that thing last night. Ross?”

He sighed. “I cannot be saying, sir, unless it was some kind of bird, though I never saw its like. Did you ever see an octopus? Well, to me it had the looks of the eyes and mouth of one of them, though how it got up to the window I cannot be imagining, no indeed. Two hundred feet… Stick close to me, sir. and look to your footing.”

We moved slowly through the clinging fog. Indeed, it needed all my attention to keep from falling. I had an unaccountable fancy that on either side of us moved creatures, step for step, just beyond our vision. But we came to the descending steps without mishap

“We can’t do anything down there.” I said. “Never mind the boat.”

He would go down, however, and I saw him fade from my sight. I heard his shout rise up to me, dulled by the fog, and then a heavy silence blanketed all sound. I listened with beating heart, and then began to fumble my way down.

I had gone only a few feet of the distance when something ascending hastily ran into me.

“Ouch!” I ejaculated.

“That you, sir? Thank God!”

Ross was gasping. He sat down heavily and groaned.

“What’s the matter? Boat gone?”

“No, no. She’s there all right.” He turned on me fiercely and I felt his hand grip my arm “Man, you wouldn’t be saying I was mad?”

“Heavens, no! Why?”

“Not a word to your leddy— I got down to the landing, and I bent down by the water to give a tug to the mooring rope to see if all was secure, and as sure as God is my maker, sir, the sea was full of faces staring up at me, mouthing and gaping, hungering for my flesh—just like we saw last night! The water was alive with bodies—aye, like human bodies, but all bloated like. And the color of the water was so blue and black you could scarce tell where they began and where they ended.”

“I saw something of the same kind yesterday as I told you—that frog…”

I stopped suddenly. Far behind us a faint cry rose on the air, more like the thin scream of a trapped rabbit than anything.

“What’s that?” I asked sharply.

We both listened intently, but no other sound followed

“I’m only a plain man without much book knowledge,” said Ross simply, “I’ve followed the sea all my and been in foreign ports, but this is beyond me, sir.”

He pointed a shaking finger downward. “Yon are devils, sir, devils!”

“Nonsense,” I said roughly. “I can’t explain it, but when you come to think of it. Ross, here’s a part of the world that might as well be at the North Pole for all we know of it. It’s quite natural there may be some creatures— sea-creatures flung up by some submarine upheaval—primitive things like those flying lizards and other monsters. You’d never believe there had been such things except in the imagination, unless you had seen the remains of them, as I have, in museums and the like. I don’t know but what we may consider ourselves very fortunate in being able to get a look at them.”

“I could well be spared the sight.” he said drily, as he nursed his gun between his knees. “Maybe you’re right, and they’re naught but some kind of fishy creature. But for the sake of all concerned I wish we were rid of them. We’d best be getting back. I don’t like the looks of it at all, at all whatever.”

“You don’t expect them to attack us. surely?” I said. “They never could flounder up to the lighthouse.”

“Where came that one we caught a glimpse of last night?”

“That’s right.” I said. “My God, that’s right!”

This realization came upon me suddenly and with such force that I began to tremble.

“My wife!” I said brokenly.

“Ay!” Ross replied. “Give her the word not to go beyond the door. We may be wrong, and they may be harmless, but it is best not to take a chance. Man, I’m glad I have a good supply of shells for my gun.”

“Yes. Let’s be getting back. I hate to think of her there.”

“McLeod and Jamieson are there.”

“Yes, that’s true”

But I was distraught with anxiety till we managed to reach the lighthouse, scrambling our way through the fog. I was relieved to hear Alice answer my hail. McLeod came to the trap

“Did you no meet Angus?’“ He called down.

Ross started.

“No! Where is he?”

McLeod came down, his rugged face filled with surprise.

“He was sitting here when all at once he rose up as if his mind was set on something, and he spoke to your leddy, sir, in a queer kind of a way. ‘God be kind to you, ma’am, and keep you from harm of them.’ and then he turns to me: ‘I’ll be going after them, Donald. My mind is ill at ease about the gentleman and John Ross.’ And what was on his mind, I cannot be saying, but as he went out the door he turned to me: ‘I am a single man, Donald, and my time is come. Maybe they that are seeking blood will be satisfied with me—and with that he was gone.”

“The poor lad!” said Ross in a strained voice. “That was strange talk. Poor lad! He never should have taken to this work.”

But I saw further. “Ross, Ross, don’t you see?” I said wretchedly. “He knew more than we did—his second sight-— He thought he might save us by giving himself as a sacrifice to—to—”

All I could do more was point toward the sea.

Ross thrust his face forward to mine, and our glances met. “The blue men Angus was talking about”—he said abruptly, tensely. “If I was thinking he had done that—Bide you here, Donald, with the leddy. And you, sir, take that crowbar and come with me.”

I followed, leaving McLeod agape at the door.

“That cry!” I stammered. ‘’That cry!” I clenched my hand on the cold bar of iron I carried

“God help him,” muttered Ross as we hurried forward. He raised his voice in a shout of “Angus! Angus, are you there?” but no response was heard.

Suddenly I stumbled.

“Ross! I said sharply, and we stooped to look.

For a long moment neither of us touched the thing which lay at our feet. Then Ross gave a choked sob.

“The poor lad!” he said again and again. “Poor Angus!”

I am sure no thought of our own terrible danger was in our minds.

“His arm,” I said in a whisper. “Torn from his shoulder!”

“Aye!” muttered Ross as he bent lower.

All at once he raised himself to his full height. His heavy chest swelled. He threw the gun to his shoulder, and a furious bellow came from his lips:

“Come out o’ the fog, you skulking things. Angus, where are you? Say the word, and I’ll let hell loose. Angus I For the sake of Heaven give us a shout. Angus, my poor lad, speak!’

But both challenge and plea went without answer.

“They must have caught him nearby.” said Ross, more calmly. “Devils work. Oh, my heart is sore for that poor lad He had neither kith nor kin, wife nor mother, to mourn him. Rest his soul in peace if he be dead, and I’m praying he may be soon if there is life left in him, wherever he be lying.”’

“If this fog would only lift for a minute.”

“Fog or no fog, I’m going to get them that maimed him,” said Ross between clenched teeth. “Bide you here, sir.”

Before I could say a word, he was lost in the fog. I stood there, every nerve atingle, filled with a strange awe and reverence. Angus undoubtedly had laid down his life for us, and yet I felt with strange intuition his sacrifice had been in vain, and the end was not yet.

Suddenly I saw something move upon the ground. I took a step forward, and then my heart stood still. My nostrils were full, of the musky stench. Something had caught my ankle in a strong, tenacious grip. I did not stop to look down, but with my bar struck repeatedly on some flabby substance, and the clutch upon the ankle gave way. I was conscious of a bulk scrambling past me. blundering with a rush that knocked me on the flat of my back Then I was up and shouting “Ross, Ross!”

“Sir!” came an answering hail Never was voice so welcome. Ross was at my side in a few seconds, breathless.

“One of them caught me by the ankle,” I told him excitedly.

“So!” he said and bent to the ground. “The arm’s gone,” he cried, his voice rising to an inhuman screech. “Back to the lighthouse, sir, back this minute. We can do nothing for the dead. It’s the living, now, the living.”

He caught me by the arm, and guided by him, we came to the lighthouse. He pulled open the door, thrust me in, then slammed the iron barrier in place.

McLeod came down. “Did you find Angus?” he inquired anxiously.

“No,” said Ross; “but no doubt he’ll be back soon, Donald. It’s grey and thick out.”

He thrust his mouth to my ear.

I’ll tell him when I get the chance, but not a word to your leddy. D’ye hear me? Swallow your food down. Put a good face on it. We need all our strength against yon, whatever they be.”

“Is there any hope of help—if we need it?”

“God spare us,” he said solemnly, “none. The tender’s not due for another seven days.”

“If you were to fail to light the beacon wouldn’t they think something was wrong?”

“Never!” he said fiercely. “I’d sooner die than fail in my duty. No mention of that, sir.”

“I beg your pardon, Ross,” I said, gripping his hand.

“Oh, I understand, sir,” he said brokenly. “Your wife—but I have a wife too on shore. We can only do our best. Ech, sir, I should be writing up the slate, but I haven’t the heart to do it the day.”

“The slate?” I queried.

“Ay! The log. We keep a log like on board ship, but it can wait. What can I say about Angus—what, that they would believe?”

When we gathered about the table for lunch, I knew by McLeod’s face that he sensed the truth, though he tried to preserve something of his usual easy manner.

“Isn’t Mr. Jamieson coming?’ asked Alice innocently.

“We’re looking for him any minute, ma’am,” said Ross, avoiding her glance. “He’ll be down by the crane splicing a rope, no doubt.”

“What made him act so strangely?” she continued.

“Och, just his way of talking,” suggested McLeod. “Yes, that will be it He is very religious, ma’am.”

Ross took the first chance he had to tell me he had run up a distress signal, but he feared there was little likelihood of its being seen in the fog. And so we settled for the day, besieged, set about by an unseen army of devils, whose power we had no way of reckoning. What would the end be?

Darkness fell early. By the time the lamps were lit, Alice had begun to worry about Angus and to question us all, until Ross could stand it no longer

“Ma’am,” he said simply, “I’m thinking we’ll never be seeing Angus Jamieson again He met with an accident going down the steps, and fell into the water. He was carried away at once surely, for your good man and me could find no trace of him. Aye, you may let the tears fall, ma’am Yon was a good lad, none better.”

Under pretense of getting my help to do some slight repair to the mechanism of the beacon, Ross look me up the iron steps to the lamp room. In that narrow chamber with McLeod, we considered what was to be done.

“I’m thinking,” said Ross, “if you and your leddy were to get away early in the morn, you could make the land and get a message to the board.”

“What,” I said. “Leave you two here? That’s out of the question. You’d better come with us if we’re going. You can come back.”

But he shook his head.

“It cannot be done, sir.” He hesitated. “You’ll forgive me—there’s just a thought in my mind. Maybe there was sense in what Angus said. We’ve been here close on a year now, and never saw nor heard of yon hellish things till— till your leddy came. There never was a woman set foot on the island here. It might be—it was the woman—that they had got the wind of—and’s drawing them out from their lurking places.”

I looked at him in silence, at his honest, rugged face, the. blue eyes which sought mine so earnestly.

“I mean no offense, God knows that,” he added hastily.

“So you think if my wife and I went.” I said, “there would be an end to this business?”

“Just that, sir.”

“Very well, Ross,” I said at last “We’ll make a dash for it tomorrow morning, at dawn. But I swear I’ll be back with help just as soon as I can gather it together. A few charges of dynamite dropped in would make short work of these things.”

“Donald and myself will see you off. I wonder how the weather is. It looks like clearing.”

We went out onto the gallery, and as we did so I clung to the rail in a spasm of loathing.

About the base of the lighthouse crawled groups of the creatures so closely massed that their shapes were indeterminate. They moved with a strange undulation, and for the moment I had the impression I looked down on waves. There was a flickering movement on their surface, and after a little I was able to see that their upper limbs terminated in a bunch of whipping tentacles.

“The devils! The foul sea-devils!” muttered McLeod, seeing them for the first time. “So yon’s them, is it? Oh, my heart is sore for Angus.”

Ross vanished, and came up with his gun. Leaning over the rail, he took aim and sent a scatter of shot into the midst of the vile mass. At the sound, I think, more than the hail of lead, there was an agitated stirring, and with incredible rapidity the patches began to slither away. In a couple of minutes the neighborhood of the lighthouse was free of them.

Alice came running up.

“A gannet,” explained Ross hastily; “but I missed the old bird.”

“I heard you fire. I couldn’t think what was up.”

“It’s like to clear, ma’am,” said McLeod quickly, “so you and the gentleman can be leaving us in the morn.”

“Yes, were going. Alice,” I assured her. “We can’t impose on our friends here any longer. And they want us to notify the Lighthouse Board to send another man right away.”

“I think I’ll be glad to go,” said Alice, “though you have been wonderfully kind to us, Mr. Ross and Mr. McLeod.”

“It’s nothing.” said Ross. “Common hospitality.”

Such an evening! The eve of a criminal lying in the death-house awaiting the last summons! Three silent men about the card table, a wondering woman by our side—ears tense to catch the slightest sound, muscles taut to spring instantly from our hard wooden chairs; the air heavy with unspoken apprehension. We were in terror of—what?

And when finally we got to bed, it was not to sleep. The ticking of the clockwork was magnified to the stroke of some vast machine that drove spikes into my tortured brain. It seemed to me I could hear through the thick stone wall the stealthy flicker of these ghastly tentacles which could tear a man limb from limb, and so adhesive they could elevate those bloated bodies up the side of the lighthouse. What if they managed to reach the lantern, to break the glass and pour in upon us? I put my arm about the sleeping body of my dear one.

Can I write sanely now? I am telling myself I must

Let me try my pen once more.

The morning came. We rose. Ross moved silently among his pots and pans. We ate something—what, I can’t remember; and then McLeod, orderly as ever, washed the pans and dishes and set them in their places. The fog had gone. The dawn was cold, gray, clear. There would be no danger in our trip, I felt.

We opened the door, and Ross looked about him anxiously. Then he nodded to me and we four set out on our way. We reached the steps and began to descend them. As we passed the crane, I noticed a box of tools had been torn from the fastenings and broken open. We reached the landing; I got aboard The Sprite. I hoisted her anchor, and McLeod held the aft mooring ready to let go. Ross shifted his gun to shake hands with us both. We shook hands with McLeod, then Alice scrambled past me and went forward. The waters washed about us, swelling and subsiding. There was no sign of danger.

And then I happened to look at the steps, and I heard someone—was it I or another devil-cry in a harsh screech of warning:

“Behind you—look—they come.”

In one long undulating current the sea- devils poured down the steps. It was like a stream of turbulent water in which tossed the branches of submerged trees. Horrid, tentacled arms rose and fell.

They came on irresistibly. The two men turned to face them, and McLeod let fall the mooring rope. The wind crept into my sails. Ross’ gun went up. He fired, but he might as well have been armed with a child’s pop gun.

The Sprite rocked. I felt the thud of heavy objects beneath her keel, and then in a twinkling the sea was alive. The landing and the sea alike were masses of scrambling things. I saw the two men on shore being overwhelmed by this blue-black wave of glistening slimy bodies.

The Sprite was moving. To attempt rescue was suicide.

Then abruptly one of the things reared itself out of the water. Its beastly eyes peered into mine, its obscene mouth gaped. Over the thwart of the boat its slimy suckers crept upon me. They leaped to my leg.

I shouted to Alice: “Loose that sheet!”

She made no reply, and I saw she had fainted. She lay on the thwart. I had but one glimpse which seared my brain— the flutter of her skirt—two appalling tentacled hands—a last impression of her unconscious face—her sliding body drawn over by a mass of tentacles.

I could not move, captured by this strain upon my leg. My eye fell on the axe I kept in the boat, and with a madman’s fury I struck at the tentacles. I felt the clutch give, and, axe in hand, I stooped—and at that moment the boom swung… I felt a crushing blow on my head.

I opened my eyes to a watery sun.

I was lying in the bottom of the boat, alone—alone. I raised myself on my elbow. I was in mid-ocean…

Once more my senses left me.

They tell me I was cast ashore here on this remote island close by Portugal. How I came, I know not. Better had I perished than sail like a ghost, like an automaton, unchallenged by any vessel, to live to drag out the weary years.

Ah devils, devils, you robbed me of all—of love, of hope, of reason. No, not all. What am I saying? Do I not sometimes see my Alice? Does not her face, sweet and sad as I remember it last, hold out promise that someday we may be with each other?

My endless torture is finished. Words, words that I shall never read again. Can I read? I do not know. Yet I have written as though another held the pen, another spoke these words into my straining ear.

About the Author

Robert W. Sneddon

Prolific writer Robert William Sneddon was born in Beith, Scotland, in 1880 and emigrated to the United States in 1910. Although he wrote three novels and several plays, it is for his more than three hundred short stories, many of which involve crime or horror, that he is remembered. He died in New York City on March 8, 1944.

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About the Narrator

Hugo Jackson

Hugo Jackson

Hugo Jackson is a nonbinary fantasy author, with the third novel of their Resonance Tetralogy series being released in April this year by Inspired Quill, and most of the time is also a big grumpy leftist furry. (more…)

Find more by Hugo Jackson

Hugo Jackson