The Willows, Part 2 of 4

Scary chat stories, by Algernon Blackwood

Adapted as scary chat stories by Captivated Chat

Tap arrow button above to hear theme music called Monster at the Door, by Sir Cubworth.
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Me
I have been gone so long you probably thought something happened to me, so you came out after me! (Thinking: But there is a look on your face that conveys concern. I certainly see the real reason now for your coming after me: the spell of the place has entered your soul too, and you did not like being alone with your own scary chat stories about this.)
Swede
River’s still rising, and the wind’s relentless.
Me
Luckily our tent’s in the hollow. I think it’ll hold up. But I can’t hold up searching for wood in this wind much longer, what with the increasing difficulty of finding any.
Swede
(Nodding) We will be lucky if we can get away from this island without disaster!
Me
I am almost angry at you for putting my own thought into words. There is trouble coming, and soon.

I awoke at around midnight and looked out. Feeling some disquiet, I crawled quietly out of the tent. I noticed the tops of the bushes opposite, with their moving tracery of leaves. It was incredible, surely, but there, opposite and slightly above me, were shapes of some indeterminate sort, and as the moonlit branches swayed in the wind they grouped themselves about these, forming a series of monstrous outlines that shifted rapidly.

Me
The village shopkeeper was right.
Swede
Then you saw these beings?
Me
Yes. They first became properly visible, these huge figures, just within the tops of the bushes—immense, bronze-colored, moving, and wholly independent of the swaying of the branches.
Swede
You saw them plainly?
Me
I saw them plainly and noted, when I came to examine them more calmly, that they were very much larger than human, and indeed that something in their appearance proclaimed them to be not human. 
Swede
Were they malevolent?
Me
Certainly. Men fear this place with good reason, clearly.
Swede
I have felt that was a possibility since we landed.
Me
They were interlaced one with another, making a great column, and I saw their limbs and huge bodies melting in and out of each other, forming this serpentine line that swayed and twisted spirally in the wind. 
Swede
What did their faces look like?
Me
I never could see. They were nude, dull bronze, fluid shapes, passing up the bushes, within the leaves, almost—rising up in a living column into the heavens. 
Swede
What proof have you?
Me
I admit, none. It may have been an optical illusion. It must be a subjective experience, I argued to myself — none the less real for that, but subjective. These pictures formed upon the mirror of my imagination, and for some reason I projected them outwards and made them appear objective. Perhaps it is just that.
Swede
I’d have thought so, of course, if I had not had the opportunity to observe otherwise.
Me
You too? What was your experience?
Swede
Outside on the tent there was a sound of many little patterings. In spite of the hot night, I woke feeling clammy and cold. Something was pressing steadily against the sides of the tent and weighing down on it. 
Me
Was it possibly caused by wind or the spray and rain?
Swede
No. I raised a flap and rushed out to see. But when I stood upright I saw that the tent was free. There was nothing impinging, no fallen bough, no rain or spray, nothing approaching, either. I walked around it and then into the bush to look.
Me
What did you see?
Swede
From the shadows a large figure went swiftly by. Someone passed me, as sure as ever a man did….
Me
So you saw one of them!
Swede
Yes, and arriving here, a dreadful discovery leaped out at me, as well, and compared to it my terror of the walking one seemed like nothing.
Swede
For a change, I thought, had somehow come about in the arrangement of the landscape. The bushes now crowded much closer—unnecessarily, unpleasantly close. Certainly they had moved nearer!
Me
I noticed it, too, but I was afraid to believe my eyes.
Swede
Denial was my first reaction, as well. Then the truth followed quickly. Their attack will come, and is coming.
Me
Well, we can do nothing tonight. We must rest, sleep or no. (Five minutes later)
Swede
The porridge is cooked and there is just time to bathe. 
Me
I welcome the aroma of that frizzling bacon.
Swede
River waters around this wild island are still rising, and several islands out in mid-stream have disappeared. Our own island’s become much smaller.
Me
Any wood left?
Swede
The wood and the island will finish tomorrow in a dead heat, but there’s enough to last us till then.
Me
I plan to plunge in to bathe from the point of the island. 
Swede
I did the same. But stay in close.
Me
Right, and I will be quick about it, for we’d better get off sharp in an hour.
Me
(Thinking: The island has changed a lot in size and shape overnight. The water feels icy, and chunks of sand are flying by like countryside from a speeding car. Bathing under such conditions will be at best exhilarating.)
Me
(Thinking: What did Swede imply? He no longer wishes to leave quickly? “Enough to last till tomorrow”—he said. What changed his thinking?

But the state of his mind is more interesting than anything in his words. He has changed it overnight. His manner is different—a trifle excited, and shy, with a sort of suspicion. I am certain he has gotten frightened, this brave man who is not given to imagining things. He ate little at breakfast.

Swede
Agreed. If they’ll let us.
Me
Who’ll let us? The elements?
Swede
The powers of this awful place, whoever they are. The gods are here, if they are anywhere in the world.
Me
Stop looking down at that map. You can’t tell me you believe the elements can stop us.
Swede
Yes. The elements are always the true immortals.
Me
So you have said, and I agree if you mean the weather, however we can handle the things going on right now. Agreed?
Swede
We shall be fortunate if we get away without further disaster.

This was exactly what I had dreaded, and I screwed myself up to the point of asking the direct question.

Me
Further disaster? Why, what’s happened?
Swede
First — the steering paddle’s gone.
Me
The steering paddle gone! This was our rudder, and canoing the Danube in flood without a rudder is suicide. But what could —
Swede
Secondly, there’s a tear in the bottom of the canoe.
Me
A tear in it?
Swede
There’s only one. But here it is.
Me
Yes, a long, finely made tear. Thank heavens you spotted it. 
Swede
Had we launched without observing it, we’d have foundered. 
Me
At first the water would have made the wood swell so as to close the hole, but once out in mid-stream the water would have poured in and our low-riding boat would have filled and sunk rapidly.
Swede
There you see an attempt to prepare a victim for the sacrifice. Mmmph, two victims, rather.
Me
Hmm.
Swede
It wasn’t there last night.
Me
We must have scratched her in landing, of course. The stones are very sharp. I know just as well as you do how impossible my explanation sounds. We both examined the boat last night, but we were tired.)  
Swede
And then there’s this to explain too. The paddle, look at this blade.
Me
(Thinking: The blade is scraped down all over, beautifully scraped, as though someone had sand-papered it with care, making it so thin that the first vigorous stroke would snap it.) 
Swede
Well?
Me
One of us walked in his sleep and did this thing.
Swede
Ah, you can explain everything. (Turning away) Ha-ha-ha.
Swede
I see.
Me
One of us must have done this thing, and it certainly was not me.
Me
(Thinking: To even suppose that my friend, the trusted companion of a dozen similar expeditions, could have knowingly had a hand in this sabotage is a thought not to be entertained. But just as absurd is to say this imperturbable, densely practical fellow has suddenly gone mad and is busied with insane purposes.)
Me
But he is suddenly nervous, timid, suspicious, aware of goings on he does not speak about. 
Swede
What do you make of the many deep hollows formed in the sand around our tent?  
Me
I noticed, basin-shaped and of various depths and sizes. The biggest is like a large bowl. The wind, no doubt, was responsible, just as it was for lifting the paddle and tossing it to where it got caught among the willows as the eroding sand and the flood sanded it down.
Swede
Really? 
Me
The rent in the canoe is the only thing that seems quite inexplicable; and, after all, it is conceivable that a sharp point caught it when we landed. 
Swede
Ah!
Me
(Thinking: My examination of the shore does not support this theory, yet I must cling to it with my diminishing reason. An explanation of some kind, however, is an absolute necessity.)
Swede
Please set the pitch melting, and soon I’ll join you, although the canoe can’t be safe for traveling until tomorrow. 
Me
Of course it won’t.
Swede
You know those hollows in the sand? They’re all over the island. But you can explain them, no doubt!
Me
Wind, of course. Have you never watched those little whirlwinds in the street that twirl everything into a circle? This sand’s loose enough to yield, that’s all.
Swede
Hummph!
Me
(Thinking: He is watching me, and yet listening attentively for something I cannot hear. Why else keep turning and staring into the bushes, and up, and out across the water through the willow branches?) Sometimes he even puts his hand to his ear. Why?)
Swede
Ummph!
Me
(Thinking: Fortunately he says nothing as he works, because I vaguely dread he will speak of the reason for the willows’ changed aspect. And, if he has reached the same conclusion, my thought that “it’s just our imagination” will no longer be a sufficient response!)

Look for part 3

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