Monday, 12 October 2009

The Casebook of Carstairs, the Ghost Finder (part i)

Of course, I had come across such manifestations of evil before. How could I forget the case of the Whispering Voice? That little voice in the darkness, as cold and horrible as the grave, that whispered endless “What do you get?” jokes. “What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo?” “What do you get if you cross a cat with a parrot?” Any person who spent the night in the room was found the next morning to be incurably insane. I quickly discovered that the normal spiritual defences were to no avail. When I made the sign of the cross, it laughed horribly and said: “What do you get if you cross yourself?”. I gritted my teeth and replied: “The reasons I cross myself are different from the ones you suppose.” “Tell me,” demanded the tiny voice, as icy as the polar wastes. “No,” I said, “for then we should be talking at cross-purposes.” There was an awful sobbing in the dark. Then and there I took my opportunity and cursed the spirit back to hell.

But this was the worst manifestation I had seen, in all my born days. In the dusty passage from the charnel vault, a dreadful Pun was forming. I stopped by the partly open door through which I had meant to thrust myself and watched, gripped with terror, as the Pun -- horrible, homonymic, inimical to good sense -- began to manifest itself. I can hardly express it – as I stared, paralysed with fear, two separate meanings seemed to move minutely closer together. And, as is the wont of these awful eldritch entities, they threatened at any moment to mingle their senses into one uncanny form, and create a Contradiction, or a double-entendre, or, worst of all, a Nonsense.

And yet, as the two meanings drew ever closer together, Time and Space were weirdly altered – Space became Time, if you like! – and down the gloomy subterranean corridor, like the vista of a thousand silent years, I could make out the actual body of the Joke approaching. For as the two meanings had drawn closer together, their electrical current had animated the most ancient charnel dust into the actual form the Joke would take. And as I saw this ancient stumbling form of horror approaching the very door next to which I stood, it came to me where I had heard tell of that Joke before. It was surely in the arcane volume of Opie and Opie, amidst the descriptions of weird chants and many-centuried rituals*. And then, just as this ancient creature reached the partly open door, I knew what I had to do. I said:

“You might make a joke on that -- something about ‘ajar’ and ‘a jar’, you know.”
The Pun stopped. Its mouth gaped open. It said:
“I ... er ... er ...”

Now, fatally robbed of its strength, the Pun was irresistibly drawn backwards down the drear vaulted corridor, down the empty whispering millennia, back to its original resting place among dust and bones, as the two un-connected meanings of “ajar” drew apart and wilted on the ancient paving. I muttered the solemn words of the Sealing Ceremony and made the accompanying magic passes. And it was then that my nerves gave out, and my whole being shook, for I knew I had been in the presence of one of the Old Ones.

* Opie and Opie, The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959)

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