Shadow

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SHADOW -- A PARABLE

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the Shadow:
-- Psalm of David.

YE who read are still among the living; but I who write shall have
long since gone my way into the region of shadows. For indeed strange
things shall happen, and secret things be known, and many centuries
shall pass away, ere these memorials be seen of men. And, when seen,
there will be some to disbelieve, and some to doubt, and yet a few
who will find much to ponder upon in the characters here graven with
a stylus of iron.

The year had been a year of terror, and of feelings more intense than
terror for which there is no name upon the earth. For many prodigies
and signs had taken place, and far and wide, over sea and land, the
black wings of the Pestilence were spread abroad. To those,
nevertheless, cunning in the stars, it was not unknown that the
heavens wore an aspect of ill; and to me, the Greek Oinos, among
others, it was evident that now had arrived the alternation of that
seven hundred and ninety-fourth year when, at the entrance of Aries,
the planet Jupiter is conjoined with the red ring of the terrible
Saturnus. The peculiar spirit of the skies, if I mistake not greatly,
made itself manifest, not only in the physical orb of the earth, but
in the souls, imaginations, and meditations of mankind.

Over some flasks of the red Chian wine, within the walls of a noble
hall, in a dim city called Ptolemais, we sat, at night, a company of
seven. And to our chamber there was no entrance save by a lofty door
of brass: and the door was fashioned by the artisan Corinnos, and,
being of rare workmanship, was fastened from within. Black draperies,
likewise, in the gloomy room, shut out from our view the moon, the
lurid stars, and the peopleless streets -- but the boding and the
memory of Evil they would not be so excluded. There were things
around us and about of which I can render no distinct account --
things material and spiritual -- heaviness in the atmosphere -- a
sense of suffocation -- anxiety -- and, above all, that terrible
state of existence which the nervous experience when the senses are
keenly living and awake, and meanwhile the powers of thought lie
dormant. A dead weight hung upon us. It hung upon our limbs -- upon
the household furniture -- upon the goblets from which we drank; and
all things were depressed, and borne down thereby -- all things save
only the flames of the seven lamps which illumined our revel.
Uprearing themselves in tall slender lines of light, they thus
remained burning all pallid and motionless; and in the mirror which
their lustre formed upon the round table of ebony at which we sat,
each of us there assembled beheld the pallor of his own countenance,
and the unquiet glare in the downcast eyes of his companions. Yet we
laughed and were merry in our proper way -- which was hysterical; and
sang the songs of Anacreon -- which are madness; and drank deeply --
although the purple wine reminded us of blood. For there was yet
another tenant of our chamber in the person of young Zoilus. Dead,
and at full length he lay, enshrouded; the genius and the demon of
the scene. Alas! he bore no portion in our mirth, save that his
countenance, distorted with the plague, and his eyes, in which Death
had but half extinguished the fire of the pestilence, seemed to take
such interest in our merriment as the dead may haply take in the
merriment of those who are to die. But although I, Oinos, felt that
the eyes of the departed were upon me, still I forced myself not to
perceive the bitterness of their expression, and gazing down steadily
into the depths of the ebony mirror, sang with a loud and sonorous
voice the songs of the son of Teios. But gradually my songs they
ceased, and their echoes, rolling afar off among the sable draperies
of the chamber, became weak, and undistinguishable, and so faded
away. And lo! from among those sable draperies where the sounds of
the song departed, there came forth a dark and undefined shadow -- a
shadow such as the moon, when low in heaven, might fashion from the
figure of a man: but it was the shadow neither of man nor of God, nor
of any familiar thing. And quivering awhile among the draperies of
the room, it at length rested in full view upon the surface of the
door of brass. But the shadow was vague, and formless, and
indefinite, and was the shadow neither of man nor of God -- neither
God of Greece, nor God of Chaldaea, nor any Egyptian God. And the
shadow rested upon the brazen doorway, and under the arch of the
entablature of the door, and moved not, nor spoke any word, but there
became stationary and remained. And the door whereupon the shadow
rested was, if I remember aright, over against the feet of the young
Zoilus enshrouded. But we, the seven there assembled, having seen the
shadow as it came out from among the draperies, dared not steadily
behold it, but cast down our eyes, and gazed continually into the
depths of the mirror of ebony. And at length I, Oinos, speaking some
low words, demanded of the shadow its dwelling and its appellation.
And the shadow answered, "I am SHADOW, and my dwelling is near to the
Catacombs of Ptolemais, and hard by those dim plains of Helusion
which border upon the foul Charonian canal." And then did we, the
seven, start from our seats in horror, and stand trembling, and
shuddering, and aghast, for the tones in the voice of the shadow were
not the tones of any one being, but of a multitude of beings, and,
varying in their cadences from syllable to syllable fell duskly upon
our ears in the well-remembered and familiar accents of many thousand
departed friends.



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