The Gorgon's Guests by John H. Knox

The Gorgon's Guests

by John H. Knox


Evil are the cavernous haunts wherein wandering men are transformed from mortal flesh into lifeless stone!


Table of Contents
  1. The Husband of a Lady Newshawk
  2. Country of the Gorgons
  3. Crazy Theories
  4. The Cold Rigidity of Her Limbs
  5. Based On Something Real
  6. The Cave
  7. The Hissing and the Geranium Smell
  8. A Bead On Him

Chapter 1

The Husband of a Lady Newshawk

When you're the husband of a lady newshawk, you've got to take things as they come.

And I mean if you're a person who never could be bluffed at "follow-the leader," you're in for it.

I was saying something to this effect as Verda and I, having left our coupe in a ditch beside a slippery mountain road, were heading into the wet gloom of that wooded mountain valley. "Sleepy Vale" some early settler had named it. But as I saw it now beyond the veils of a windless spring rain it seemed not so much sleeping as bewitched, frozen under the spell of some cold and sinister enchantment.

I looked at Verda, plodding doggedly a little ahead and wished that I had refused to let her come. What did I care if it did happen that she had lived as a child in this wild tip end of the county from which the weird story had come? What did I care if she had promised to give the readers of her column, "What Goes On," a first-hand account of the matter?

Glimpsing the set lines of her pert and lovely little face, the tension of her small body under the red-silk slicker, I knew now that it was no mere curiosity which had drawn her back here, but fear, a fear which she was willing neither to explain nor admit.

Still, I tried to keep my tone bantering as I said:

"With all the excitement going on in Europe, blitzkriegs, secret weapons, parachute troops and God-knows-what, I can't understand why people bother with these nut-rumors. The next thing, they'll be sending you to Rochester, Washington, to interview Straining Annie, the hen who couldn't lay."

Verda didn't laugh.

"If you had seen the face of that mountain-hiker when he told of the ungodly thing he saw, you wouldn't laugh, Bill," she said.

Well, maybe so. It was an eerie and nightmarish tale. The man had been hiking through the woods, he said, and had come into the mouth of the cave to rest a little while. There he had noticed, deeper in, a party of picnickers who had spread their lunch on the cave's floor. He had hailed them cheerily, and, getting no answer whatsoever, had stepped nearer.

Then he had noticed their faces. They were all turned toward the cave's depths, staring, he said, with the most awful expressions of horror he had ever seen on human faces. He said it struck him at once that terror so utter could not co-exist with life, and it was only as a second impression that he noticed the weird immobility of the group.

They hadn't moved an inch, not a fraction of an inch. Great ghostly stalagmite reared along the walls at this point, the man said, and the figures of these people seemed strangely blended with them, frozen there in the most commonplace postures. The woman was in the act of handing a sandwich to a boy of about ten. The man was on one knee, holding a bottle of beer.

A little girl was bending over, her chubby hands extended towards a small black and white dog. And even the animal was standing like a thing in terra cotta, its pelt bristling, its teeth bared in a silent snarl at something in the cave's depths.

The man said he had forced himself forward then with buckling knees while the full force of the terror on those frozen faces dawned on him. Then he had reached out and touched the man, had found his limbs as stiff and cold as marble. He admitted that he had turned and fled then.

It was the one believable part of his story. He had run to the village and a party of queerly reluctant men had accompanied him back. But when they got there they had found nothing in the cave at all.

My comment was that there had been nothing there in the first place. Verda seemed to think differently.

We had been climbing steadily, our footfalls muffled by the leaf mould, and had come into a region where tortured junipers and aspens broke the uniformity of pines. Beyond this a bald meadow was visible, and above it in the rocky hillside, the mouth of a cave, half hidden by thickets.

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