Five Days Ago
“I have passed through The Valley Where Dead Men Live. My eyes have looked upon sights which God did not intend that man should see. My life must pay the forfeit. As a man of science, you may be interested in hearing what I have to say — and I must unburden myself to someone before I pass out into the Great Unknown. But five days have passed since I said good-bye to old Sourdough Jamison. It seems as many centuries.”
Professor Parmalee gave the speaker a quick glance.
“Did I understand you to say that you left Jamison’s five days ago? Are you sure about that?”
The man on the cot nodded.
“On the twentieth of June, to be exact.”
“There is no possibility of your being mistaken?”
“None whatever. My diary will prove it. I made my last entry the night before I left Sourdough’s place — on the nineteenth.”
The professor sat silent for a second. “There is something wrong with your story, Blake. The nearest route over the mountains, from here, is by way of Chicahoochie pass, which would make the distance from this point to Sourdough Jamison’s cabin a matter of over a hundred and fifty miles. This is the twenty-fifth of June. A well man couldn’t do it. It is an impossibility for you to have made it in five days in your weakened condition. Not that I wish to dispute your word, but — “
The sick man smiled wanly.
“Don’t you see, professor, that your own statement helps to support my story? I tell you that I wandered into an undiscovered route through the mountains. You say that you picked me up half an hour ago lying exhausted and unconscious a few rods from your camp. That being the case, the entrance to The Valley Where Dead Men Live, on this side of the range, must be near at hand.”
“You’ll say I’m crazy when I tell you that I have seen living dead men! Dead men who do not know that they are dead. Can you imagine it? No? Neither could I if I had not seen it myself. I’ve been through the Valley of the Living Dead and came out alive! I’ve seen them — living dead men — by the millions and millions, fighting, stabbing, shooting — tearing at each other’s throats like maddened beasts! And beasts they are, maddened by blood! Blood flows in rivers in the valley where the dead men live. It’s the rage they were in when they died. They carried it on with them beyond the grave and they’re fighting it out in there!
“Can’t you hear the rumble of cannon? Listen! You think that it’s thunder. But it’s not. And those flashes that you notice just over the brow of the mountain! The flashes of the big guns, man — spirit guns! No, no. It’s not lightning. I’m telling you the truth. I now that you think I’m insane. I don’t blame you.”
He stopped suddenly, his nostrils dilating.
“Take a whiff of that breeze, professor. Don’t you smell anything?”
“The air from the mountains does have a peculiar, acrid odor. It’s reminiscent of something.”
“By George! That’s what it is. Somebody must have fired a weapon close at hand. And yet, why didn’t we hear the report?”
The scientist gazed out of the tent door.
“It was none of my party. They are all accounted for. Yet I could have sworn that there was not another human being within fifty miles.”
Blake smiled again.
“I merely called it to your attention, Professor, so that you would give more credence to my story. It is so strange — this story of the living dead — that it will stretch your imagination to the utmost. I am a sick man. I doubt if I survive the day. You, as a scientific man, may be able to discover the solution of the puzzle.
“Perhaps you may even be able to do something to help release those poor devils in there from the tie of hatred that is binding them to this earth. At any rate, I would like to tell you my yarn if you care to listen. Just give me another sip of that moose broth, will you?”
Raising the sick man’s head, Professor Parmalee fed him a small quantity of the warm soup. Then he sat down again beside the cot in an attitude of attention.
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The Absolute Truth
“You are going to put me down as the greatest liar since the world began,” Blake said, wearily. “Yet every word that I tell you is the absolute truth. My mind was never clearer than at the present time, so don’t think that what I say to you is the raving of a disordered brain, either.
“You have heard the theory advanced by believers in spiritualism that some people who die suddenly persist in keeping in touch with the earth, while others go directly on to their reward. I have seen enough to prove — but I digress. My time is short. Let me start at the beginning.
“When the war broke out, I attempted to enlist, but was rejected on account of my physical condition. Nerves. But I finally succeeded in hooking up with the Red Cross and got over. I was gassed and later got a dose of shell shock. You know what that means? Nerves, pure and simple. It is needless to tell you that I suffered all of the torments of hell. So we’ll pass that up and go on.
“I landed in the States a physical wreck. The doctors sent me to the mountains. I am awealthy man, but it suited my mood to travel light and alone. I wandered here and there until I finally reached this north country. I studied geology once and, while I don’t need the money, I decided to do a little prospecting.
“A week or so ago I reached the cabin of Sourdough Jamison, having canoed up the river nearly two hundred miles. I remained with the old man three days, resting up, then announced my intention of striking out directly into the mountains. Jamison tried his best to dissuade me. He claimed that the Indians had a legend that there was a valley located somewhere in the middle of the range which was the abiding place of spirits — ‘The Valley Where Dead Men Live’ they called, it — and that nobody who entered it ever came back alive. I’ve been through it and I’m out of it. But I’m no better than a dead man, so the old legend holds good. But I hope when I do pass out that my soul can rest in peace. God! I don’t want to spend an eternity in that hell hole back yonder.
“I will not bore you with the details of my trip up the mountains — for I started early next morning in spite of Jamison’s objections. That night I camped half way up the side of the range. Next morning — that would be four days ago — I chanced upon a little canyon that wound in and out among the rocks. There were signs of gold, and I determined to explore it thoroughly before going further.
“As I continued, the air grew colder. From somewhere ahead came a dull, indescribable roar. I put it down to a waterfall somewhere in the distance.
“Suddenly, after a two hours’ tramp, I reached the end of the narrow pathway and found myself on the edge of a steep decline, ice covered, slippery — a veritable man trap — which seemed to surround a huge, deep basin. The entire place was buried under a pall of smoke which hid everything from view. On all sides rose the mountains, rugged, their peaks covered with snow, offering an impassable barrier. The path by which I had entered seemed to be the only means of getting in or out.
“Up, out of the basin, there came to my ears a steady, rumbling booming. The air was filled with it. The earth seemed to tremble under my feet at frequent intervals.
“Sometimes the noise would die out for a second, only to start again with renewed violence. There was nothing to be frightened at, yet I confess that the goose pimples came to the surface and I felt the icy chills run up and down my spine. My hair stood up like the quills of a porcupine. The very atmosphere seemed filled with despair — with a vague something the human mind could not grasp.
“Suddenly the wind brought to my ears a shout. Then came the shrill, piercing, agonized scream of a woman — a shriek that was filled with terror and helplessness. Again and again it assailed my ears. Shouting in answer,
I ran along the edge of the precipice, looking for a pathway that would lead me to the rescue of her who called.
“As I ran along the narrow shelf of ice, I threw off my heavy pack and carried only my rifle. Then, I slipped and lost my footing. My gun flew from my grasp. I struggled to save myself, but without avail. Over the slippery edge I slid — down — down — down! It seemed to me that I rolled for miles. There was absolutely nothing which I could grasp to stop my wild plunge. Nothing but ice — ice — ice — cold and smooth as glass. Faster and faster I went, until my speed was that of an express train. I almost lost consciousness. I could not think. Suddenly I struck the bottom with a force that knocked me senseless.
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The Most Horrible Scene of Carnage
“I was awakened from my stupor by a peculiar rat-tat-tat that sounded like the rattle of a drum. I opened my eyes. The air was filled with acrid smoke. It hung over me like a great gray blanket.. Was I dead? I raised myself on my elbows and looked about me. For an instant I imagined that I was back in Flanders. Then I remembered my fall. But where was I?
“The ground was covered with bodies, heaped up in grotesque attitudes, lying in odd-shaped piles. It was a. veritable charnel house — a page torn from Dante’s Inferno. And such bodies in peculiar, transparent, crystalline. I could see through them as one looks through a heavy plate-glass. Heavens! It was horrible — hideous. And blood! Blood everywhere. The air rang with shrieks and groans and laughter — wild, haunting laughter that froze the marrow in my bones.
“Close beside me a machine-gun was rattling, served by a sergeant and two privates wearing the olive drab. All three were of the same peculiar, grayish cast of pellucidness as were the bodies lying around. On all sides guns were booming. The ground rocked beneath them.
“Was I dreaming? Was I the victim of a horrible nightmare in which my subconscious mind was again living the scenes I had gone through across the seas? I pinched myself to make sure. I was at a loss for an explanation. I shook like an aspen leaf; I was filled with supernatural terror.
“Then something happened that gave me a better light on the matter. Just at my right was a small knoll, scarred and pitted with machine-gun nests. Through the drab, smoky haze, I could see the ill-fitting German uniforms on the men who manned them. Across the gap which separated them from me a man was crawling — dragging himself along on hands and knees. He turned his head toward me for an instant. I recognized Howard Prestin, an old friend — a captain of infantry, who had been killed in the Argonne after silencing a number of German guns which had stopped the American advance.
“Did he still live? But no. I had seen his body the day it was buried. Was I crazy? My head whirled. I was unable to move, so transfixed was I by what was going on around me.
“Suddenly I saw Prestin leap forward. A dozen guns opened on him. Yet they failed to stop him. I saw him fire from the hip. Then he leaped among the Germans with the butt-end of his rifle. A second later he hurled the weapon aside, and, drawing his automatic from its holster, he sprang into a second nest. The man seemed to bear a charmed life. The Germans swarmed over him time after time. But after each effort he emerged triumphant. His clothes hung on him in tatters. He was bleeding from a dozen wounds. His face was a red smear through which his eyes gleamed like burning coals.
“A German officer — a great, hulking, blond man — fired a pistol point-blank at him. It failed to stop his rush. Both reached for their trench knives. They came together, locked in a death struggle, their weapons plying like mad. Slowly the German dropped to the ground, a peculiar, dazed look on his flat, round face. Prestin turned wearily away and beckoned, as if waving for his men to move forward. Then he crumpled up and fell forward across his victim’s body.
“Then, I knew the truth — the horrible truth! The legend of the Indians was not fiction. This was the valley where dead men lived. Here men, who could not break their earthly ties, came back to fight on and on until their Berserker rage had expended itself. Here they were enacting over and over again the final tragedy of their lives. God! It was the most diabolical thing that the human mind could imagine.
“Think of it. All over that vast plain, in the midst of that ice-bound valley, similar tragedies were being enacted by men — dead men. Wraiths were grappling here, there and everywhere. The peculiar feature of it all was that I seemed to be able to see each individual feat of valor at the same time, although they were transpiring over miles of territory. It was like looking at an immense moving picture which unreeled itself before me. I can liken it to nothing better than one of the huge, old-fashioned panoramas that were in vogue a few years after the Civil War, some few of which still remain in Southern cities. I seemed to be floating over the entire basin. The guns seemed to be real guns, shooting real bullets, the cannon were the monsters of steel that I had seen in France. Yet I swear, that several times I passed directly through barrages unscathed. The weapons, like the men who served them, were only phantoms.
“God in Heaven! It was the most horrible scene of carnage I have ever witnessed — more awful than the hell of France and Belgium. For every detail was the result of the terrible ire under which the combatants labored when they met their death. As fast as they had played their parts, they started in at the beginning and went through it again and again, over and over, like automatons — held to their posts by a divine decree of some kind.
“Words fail me. It was so unspeakably ghastly, weird — a futurist nightmare — a bedlam of noise and confusion — a kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria of light and color. Death walked everywhere. Remember, Professor, on a battlefield, the men do not die in great numbers and lie around in heaps. Hours, days — sometimes weeks — pass without carnage. Even in the heat of conflict only a small percentage of those engaged meet death. Here it was different. For miles in every direction there was death — death — death ! Nothing but cold, stark death — death and blood!
“Explain? I can’t. My idea is, as I stated before, that man must work out his own salvation — that those who died in the heat of anger must work that hatred off before their spirits can quit this earth. God, in His infinity wisdom, did not care to inflict the horror upon the entire world, so He set aside this barren hole, as a place where dead men might sever the ties which bind them here, and, with their passion cooled, pass on to a better life.
“No, the man never lived who could describe it — that cold, ice-bound hell. The air tingled with madness. And the look of awful malignancy on the faces of those poor souls as they went on and on and on through the same monotonous performance of killing and being killed. It was butchery. The place was a slaughter-house. Ah, the deeds of valor that I saw performed! Wonderful! Magnificent! History will never be able to record the actual happenings — the cold-blooded bravery.
“Through the hazy heavens phantom aeroplanes manned by ghostly pilots dipped and maneuvered, dodging — falling to the earth in tangled masses, often burning. Gigantic balloons, in flames, tossed amidst the clouds.
“Among a heap of stones — the remains of what had once been a tiny church located in the center of an ancient graveyard — a sniper carried on his nefarious trade, his hiding-place a tomb from which the bodies had been hurled aside. I saw a group approach the place, grim determination written on their faces. Their beloved colonel had been a victim of the sniper’s bullets. They found him after a long search. A youngster — he had been the colonel’s orderly — leaped upon him. A knife plunged up — down — up — down, slowly, monotonously, while the screams of him into whose body it was sinking made the night hideous. And when he had completed his work on that dead thing with the glassy eyes that gazed upward, unseeingly, the youngster calmly wiped his weapon upon the tunic of the vanquished foe.
“Oh, the look of vengeance that was upon the countenances of that little group! A shell came screaming through the heavens! They attempted to dodge to cover. But too late. And so the awful drama went on and on and on.
“There is no rest for those who dwell in the Valley Where Dead Men Live!
“Men fought with the ferocity of wild beasts. They were blood mad, frenzied. A little detachment of Englishmen were laboring with automatic rifles just at the edge of a woods. In front of them was a tiny vale through which wound a sunken road. On the opposite side of the valley was another thicket in which were a seemingly equal number of Germans. It was a duel to the death between the two groups. Both seemed to exhaust their ammunition at the same time. By what appeared to be mutual consent they left their guns and charged at each other, meeting in the middle of that once peaceful little dell.
“There were not over twenty men on either side. Grappling, they fought hand to hand, using knives, clubs, stones, their revolvers — their bare hands. They were like cave-dwellers, giving no quarter and asking none. At the end, there was no one left on either side. Only a heap of dead and dying. When it was all over the dead arose and again went through the monotonous performance.
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Phantoms — Too Horribly Real
“I was hypnotized, held by a spell I could not break. Try as I would, I seemed unable to drag myself away from the ghastly sights. I don’t know how long I remained in the valley of horrors. You say it was four days. Look at my hair — snow white! When I left Sourdough’s cabin my locks were dark. I am just past thirty years of age. Yet, from my appearance, one would swear that I had passed the three score years and ten allotted to man.
“I have not slept. For the hellish panorama continued on and on and on. Only, at night, a different group of actors filled the stage. The darkness was hideous with the roar of the big guns, the screech of shells. Signal rockets filled the air. As if by magic, trenches appeared here and there — little sectors each with its own melancholy drama of life and death. Here was a stretch of no man’s land with its grisly tenants. Men hung on barbed-wire entanglements, their clothes in tatters, swaying to and fro in the breeze like scarecrows in a farmer’s field.
“Often I lost consciousness — fainted, I suppose. Much of the time I wandered about in a daze. I knew not which way to turn. Dead men — living dead men — everywhere!
“I dragged myself into a tiny house that seemed to stand in the center of the valley. It was empty. I threw myself on the floor, thinking to gain a minute’s respite from the horrors around me. I dropped into a deep sleep.
“I was awakened by the sound of voices. I crouched farther back in the darkness of the corner, frightened, not daring to make a move. What was I afraid of? I do not know.
“One need not fear spectres, need he? There was a sound of a match being scratched. And then a candle flared up. By its uncertain light I made out the figures of two men wearing the German uniform.
“They groped about until they found a trap door cut in the floor. Raising it, they lowered themselves through the opening. Seized by some impulse which, even now, I am unable to explain, I determined to follow them. The events that transpired are inexplicable to me. The only solution that I have for the puzzle is that, for the time being, I was someone else — some poor devil who lost his life in the attempt to avert a German surprise on Verdun. For I swear that I was propelled by some force stronger than my own will.
“Cautiously I waited until I heard their voices trailing off in the distance. Then I sprang to the trap and, a second later, dropped through into the darkness of the cellar.
“I stumbled about until I found the wall. Following it with my hands, I came to an opening. Far ahead in the darkness, I saw a tiny speck of light bobbing up and down. It was the candle carried by the men I was following. Without thought of the future, I followed in their wake.
“On, on, on they went. Then, suddenly, the passageway widened out into a huge cavern. Relying on the darkness, I crept closer until I was only a few yards away from them. Hiding behind a huge pile of boxes and barrels heaped up at one side, I listened to their conversation. At first I was unable to understand what they were about to do.
Then, with a muttered ‘Shhh!’ one of them cautiously drew aside a small block of what appeared to be solid rock, and, peeping out over my hiding-place, I gazed through the little opening into a brilliantly-lighted passageway. I caught a glimpse of uniforms; through the opening came scraps of conversation in French.
“The truth flashed over me. I was looking into the underground defenses of Verdun. The Germans had tunneled up to them and were waiting only for the minute that the defenders were the fewest, to break down the thin barrier which held them back and throw their hordes into the very vitals of the French defense. Even as the thought came to me, the watcher closed the opening softly and, with a muttered word to his companion, lighted a lantern and waved it across his body like a signal torch. And a signal it was. For instantly a distant whistle sounded. Then lights leaped up as far as the eye could see. And from the distance came the tramp, tramp, tramp of marching feet.
“I forgot that I was dealing with phantoms. The thing was too horribly real. I searched about me for a weapon for some way to warn the unsuspecting men on the other side of that frail partition. In the semi-darkness to which I was rapidly growing accustomed my eyes fell upon an open box. It was heaped up with hand grenades. I made out the markings of other boxes. I almost shouted for joy. For the pile was a huge ammunition dump, placed there by the invaders in readiness for the crucial moment.
“Seizing a grenade in either hand, I pulled the pins with my teeth and held them in readiness. Closer and closer came the German hordes. The whole cavern and passageway was filled with them. There were thousands, it seemed. The air was thick and heavy with the odor of their sweat. Then, just as the head of the column reached me, I hurled the bombs — not at the advancing enemy, but straight into the big pile of ammunition. The leaders heard me, saw me. They came at me with a rush.
“The ground trembled. … A concussion! I felt myself being hurled through the air … Around me rang screams and cries of mortal agony … Then came oblivion.”There is nothing more that I can tell you. How I came here, I have no recollection. Evidently, my mind a blank, I found some exit on this side of the valley. I only know that you found me here, outside. My secret is yours. As a man of science, you will probably try to find the way into the place from which I have corner Take my advice and stay away. Now I am tired, Professor. I must rest.’’
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The Report of Professor Parmalee
(Extract from the report of Professor Phineas Parmalee, A.B., LL.D., etc.)
“Mr. Blake passed away shortly after completing his strange narrative. The members of the Parmalee Scientific Expedition spent nearly a week searching the vicinity in the hope of discovering the opening through which he came from the valley.
“But our efforts were fruitless. I would be tempted to put his story of ‘The Valley Where Dead Men Live’ down as an hallucination resulting from his terrible experiences during the war, but for one thing: I sent a courier by way of Chicahoochie Pass to interview Jamison.
“The letter says that the date given by Blake was correct. He crossed the mountains, as he stated, in five days. I confess myself puzzled …
“We buried poor Blake where we found him.
Requiescat In Pace!”
~ The End ~