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“And everywhere he looked, there were countless eyes, blazing yellow eyes all leveled balefully at him,” the elderly resident said. “His voice froze in his throat, and he sat motionless unable to move. As the Englishman gazed fixed, he suddenly felt a sharp tugging on his jacket sleeve, and slowly glanced down.”
It was in the summer of 1964 when I first heard the story of The Silent Audience. I was a youth of about seventeen, and the teller was an incredibly old man who sat on a rickety porch spitting tobacco juice at a rusty coffee can. Never once did I see him hit his target, but that didn’t seem to faze him one bit.
It happened in the old mining town of Boulderville, sixteen miles east of Hogan’s Gap, west of Weaverton, tucked away in the Nye Alps.
In the spring of 1922 an Englishman by the name of Alex Tuttle arrived at this former boomtown turned tourist resort. He was a professor who taught at the University of Oxford, lecturing on the world’s ancient legends and mythology. A prodigious writer, as well as a meticulous observer and researcher, Tuttle had published more than thirty books, on a lot of topics from the religious beliefs among the Ainu to the superstitions of the Finns and Lapps. Oftentimes his scholarly research took him to the most remote corners of the world, the stranger the location the better. Both his office-study and stately townhouse were filled to the brim with not only books and research papers, but with curious mementos - collected from his years of traveling abroad.
Looking at Alex Tuttle, one would have thought he neither had the means nor the energy to go traveling from place to place. He was a small, skinny, scraggly-haired man, shabbily dressed with thick-lensed spectacles. Add to that a very pale and unhealthy pallor, and he came across looking like a starving bohemian poet rather than a methodical investigator of antiquarian pursuits.
It was business of a surprisingly different sort that brought Professor Tuttle to Boulderville. While engaged in research for a book about the mysterious Lontaqas people of Northern California, it had come to his knowledge that the Boulderville Library contained extensive historical information on this weird race of humanoids. Since the library had refused several written requests to loan him the documents, he had decided to set out in person to see if he could be granted access to this valuable collection.
Accompanying the Professor on his journey were two other Oxford men - Thomas Shelton and Ralph Adkins. Both were archeologists and were keen on studying the strange megalithic sites recently uncovered.
It was early in the morning when Professor Tuttle arrived; he had left his two friends back in their hotel at Weaverton, under the promise to join him in two weeks time. He had hoped to meet Sam Branson, the museum’s proprietor, and “Herb the Prospector,” one of the ancient residents who knew a lot of the old legends of the Nonhuman indigenous people. Unfortunately for the Professor, the library’s entire document collection, just days before, had been eaten by bottle ants, Sam Branson had hanged himself, and as for Ole Herb, according to one resident, “He went lookin’ fer gold last year and never came back.”
However, local gossip directed the Professor to a Gerdin hermit woman named Anna Crabtree. Perhaps she could tell him all that he wanted to know about those “Strange Ghastly Folk.”
When he arrived at her cabin on the outskirts of town, he found it empty. Neighbors there informed him that she went hunting and probably wouldn’t be back for a fortnight. Disappointed, though slightly hopeful, he settled into an inn to await her arrival. He didn’t have to wait for very long though. A few days later when Professor Tuttle was browsing at the general store combination coffee shop, a small, brown-skinned woman in buckskins strolled inside. He gawked; she looked quite out of place among the sturdy, weathered-looking locals.
He tapped the shoulder of the nearest rugged gentleman.
“Pardon me, sir,” said the Professor, pointing, “but who is that young lady over there?”
“Oh, that’ll be Miss Crabtree,” the grizzled patron nodded over his large cup of coffee. “She‘s a Gerdin woman, y’ know? Got ‘ere quite by accident, ‘leven years ago. Somethin’ went wrong with th’ two-way door between this world and ‘ers, and it spat ‘er out ‘ere. Well, we’re quite used to ‘er, seein’ as there’re other faerie folk livin’ around ‘ere. Lots more nicer compared with them dern stuck-up Elves with their all. 'Oh, we ain’t good enough for the likes of them mere mortals' attitude. Beautiful singer too, like a bird. Bit shy though, doesn’t date or go to parties; just keeps to ‘erself. Makes no trouble. Maybe she’s waitin’ for that Door to git fixed so she ken go on ‘ome.”
Professor Tuttle gawked some more. He had expected a frizzy-haired, leathery-skinned, corncob pipe smoking harridan, not some delicate nonhuman girl with long white hair and amber cat’s eyes.
Walking up to her, he said abruptly, “Good afternoon.”
Miss Crabtree leapt high into the air and then wheeled around with hair bristling and claws unsheathed. Staring at him with wide saucer eyes, she hissed like a little steam engine.
“Oh, did I ferget to mention she startles easily!” the patron called out.
Professor Tuttle hesitated a moment, but then met the Gerdin’s fierce gaze unflinchingly.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” he continued. “My name is Professor Alex Tuttle, and I most humbly beg your pardon for intruding on your shopping. But I’m in pressing need of your assistance for research on a book I’m doing about the Lontaqas. I was told you know quite a lot about these legendary creatures.”
Miss Crabtree’s dark complexion turned as pale as gruel.
“Have you suddenly gone insane?” she whispered furiously. “Or have you gone and eaten some hallucinatory mushrooms? Ask me anything about the uncanny - were-otters, aquatic pumas, fire witches; you name it, but whatever you do, don’t ever ask me about those Folk. They’re Accursed by both the gods and the nations of Faire Folk. They’re far more evil than any of the demons that inhabit this world, for they always go back on their bargains, something that even demons would never do. If I were you, I’d quit this book of yours and leave this place at once!”
With that, she turned around and hurried out the door.Despite his small stature and frail appearance, Professor Tuttle was highly stubborn and persistent at getting his own way; not even the threat of death and possible damnation was enough to deter him from this latest book project. He spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to change Miss Crabtree’s mind. It took him awhile, three whole days to be exact. By the fourth day, he was helping her with daily errands and chores in exchange for little snippets of information (always in the form of small handwritten notes discretely passed to him during his labor). Meanwhile both the tourists and locals would snicker and chuckle at the sight of this ungainly gentleman being ordered about by a diminutive faerie girl. Often, he had to endure the wisecracks all the while he was in the crowded store with a basket under his arm; there was even talk of wedding bells. After ten more days of constant embarrassment and demanding work, Miss Crabtree gave him a final piece of advice.
“Now that I gave you all that you needed to know about those Folk,” she said gravely, “I want you to promise me that you won’t go breathing a word about this to anyone while you’re here.”
“All right,” he said, impatient to be on his way.
“Damn it!” Miss Crabtree cried, forgetting to whisper in her excitement. “You’re not taking this seriously! Now, listen to me carefully. While you’re here, go about your business as though nothing had happened; your only hope of survival lies in completely ignoring them, in order they may ignore you.”
“Even when I’m thinking?” exclaimed Professor Tuttle in bewilderment.
“Especially when you’re thinking,” rasped Miss Crabtree, bristling her white mane. “Just thinking about them brings them coming - they can home in on your thoughts like sharks or crocodiles. Try your hardest to keep your mind blank as possible, or if you can’t do that, try thinking about silly things, stuff that doesn’t really matter much, like remembering nursery rhymes or counting crows. Above all, do not refer them by name. To even mention them by their name draws their attention.”
“All right,” he whispered gravely. “I’ll try to keep that promise.”
“You better well keep it,” Miss Crabtree hissed, showing off her sharp feline teeth. “You wouldn’t want these Folk to find out you’re doing a book about them without first asking their permission. You heard about that museum guy and old prospector? Well rumors have it that they were both working on a book together. Something about the Folk and the Strange Rites they do off in the hills. Those humans should have just minded their own business. The more you stick your nose into other people’s business, the more likely you’re going to die or disappear. We lost a lot of tourists and missionaries that way. Too damn curious for their own good.”
Later that day, he ran into Thomas Shelton and Ralph Adkins. The archeologists were on their way back to their hotel after exploring some nearby megalithic structures. After talking of incidents that had happened since their last meeting together, Professor Tuttle invited the two to have lunch with him.
They went to the inn where he was staying, and it wasn’t long before the Professor mentioned the great progress he made on his latest book.
Shelton lit his pipe and regarded the Professor’s bundle of notes and memo pads. “So you’ve been studying the Lontaqas legend too, ehh?” he mused, leaning his tall, wiry frame back into his chair. “I know that a few of my colleagues had tried connecting them to those standing stones deep in the woods, but then these were the very same people who also believed in the existence of Atlantis and Avalon.”
The short, portly Adkins put down his fork and wiped his handlebar moustache with his silk handkerchief. “My dear fellow,” he said to Tuttle, “you certainly done a very remarkable job in collecting all this data. However did you manage to accomplish this? It must have been rather difficult in getting the locals around here to speak of such things.”
“Yes, I did have a bit a difficulty at first,” said Professor Tuttle, rubbing his work-blistered fingers, “but then I met this Otherworld expatriate who told me a great deal about those Lontaqas. I’ll tell you one of the stories she told me-”
And then he took the first of the pads from the pile and began reading the first few pages:
“Mar. 17. 1911 - I have a neighbor, a cheerful elderly widow and former schoolteacher, who wasn’t squeamish about things like cutting firewood, installing a new rain barrel or butchering and preparing her own meat. Yet when it came to the matters concerning magic and wandering spirits, she was downright superstitious. Often times, she would sprinkle mustard seeds and sparkly ornaments around her yard to confuse vampires. To deter witches from entering, she had a horseshoe hanging over her door pointed downward and fishnet over the windows. For extra protection, she carried a rabbit’s foot in her coat pocket and a piece of rattlesnake skin in one sandal.
“One day she invited me to see her at the cottage. I was not certain whether she had invited me to 'do her good neighbor duty' to the New Comer or if she really wanted to see me. I decided to go anyway as I liked her cats and she seemed to be an all right person. I went the next Saturday but with mixed feelings, as I was very worried that I would invertiblely commit some faux pas in etiquette and be seen as a barbarian. The rustic cottage looked small from the outside but the warm and spacious interior gave off a nice and very friendly atmosphere. We sat in the kitchen sipping tea and lunching on thick-pea soup and buttermilk pancakes. Then quite suddenly, she got up and took from the range a pot of bubbling concoction consisting of sealing wax and several pungent, aromatic herbs. I watched curiously as the widow went about methodically sealing all the cracks in her house, including those around windows and door.
“'Is that to keep the rats and mice out?' I finally asked, thinking that her cats were having trouble controlling the pests already in the walls.
“'Oh no,' she said, shaking her gray head. 'No, not those kind of pests. Shonokins.'
“'Shonokins?' I looked at her questioningly. 'Are those dangerous creepy crawlies like the bottle ants and black widows?'
“'Oh, Shonokins aren’t arthropods,' she replied, smiling brightly. 'They’re a kind of faerie-type folk we got living around here. I call them Shonokins, although people around here just call them the ‘Folk’ or the ‘the Dark Lurkers.’ It’s considered very bad luck to call them by their real name.'
“She went on to explain that her family originated in the Appalachians and that her Cherokee grandmother would tell her tales about this mysterious race of humanoids with sharp, pointed faces, bright cat-like eyes, and long index fingers. They were also relatives of a much shorter race called the Pineys who lived deep in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Legends had it that both these nocturnal folk lived in North America long before the arrival of the first humans, and that they despised the new people for driving them into the dark corners of the continent. Yet even as we speak, they were plotting a return to power, taking the earth back from the arrogant human usurpers.
“'So how big are these things exactly?' I inquired, scratching my head. 'Mouse-size?'
“'No, people-size,' the widow replied, 'but they got witchlike powers and could turn themselves into a wisp of mist to pass through a crack or a keyhole.'
“'Have you ever seen one actually do this mist trick?' I asked, somewhat skeptically.
“'Well, no,' she said hesitantly, putting down her sealing pot and wiping her hands, 'but I heard stories of people disappearing into thin air, often from locked rooms. So I’m just making sure it doesn’t happen to me. No malign force is going to burst into this place; it’s sealed so tight you could use it as a boat.'”
“'I reckon Evil will leave this place alone on account of the herb smell,' I wryly remarked, crinkling my nose."
Shelton tilted his head and sucked on his pipe. “Sounds like these chaps could be related to the vampires in Europe,” he said thoughtfully. “I wonder if that Gerdin girl might be related to these creatures?”
Adkins lit a cigar from a candle on the table. “Perhaps even a hybrid between a human and a Lontaqa,” he suggested, sending smoke in slow graceful spirals up towards the ceiling. “There are Fae/human half-breeds in different parts of the world.”
“There’s something here that might answers that question,” Professor Tuttle murmured. He continued:
“When I asked the Widow if she ever thought I was a Shonokin on account of my cat-like eyes and claws, she said no because I didn’t have the long pointed face and weird long index finger. Also I didn’t practice black magic, have a garden full of weird dangerous plants or live in a house-like plant that ate lone wayfarers. Before I left her cottage, she warned me that I should not go out alone into the mountains, lest these inhuman monsters would kidnap me, that I should leave a trail of mustard seed and shiny baubles out to distract them, otherwise they would come into my house and either grab me or steal all my stuff, and that I should hang up a handy piece of cheap but blessed iron that would deter these weirdoes.
“I said I would take it under consideration and started back for home. Since I spent a good deal of time talking to the Widow, it was early evening when I got back. I soon discovered my cabin completely destroyed. A bear had wrecked most of its contents and eaten much of the food. It didn’t get its paws on the few canned rations I had. I cleaned up the best I could then had some sardines and green beans for supper.
“Mar. 18. 1911 - I decided to restock my meat supply. Heeding the Widow’s warning about going alone in the mountains, I decided to go hunting near the deserted mining settlement of Orrville, along one of the old pioneer trails. I was crossing this meadow when an unexpected storm blew up. The rain started bucketing down and I witnessed lightning hit a nearby pine tree, cleaving it nearly in half. Not wanting to get hit myself, I started looking for someplace dry and out of range of any lightning bolt.
“The first place I came to was a deserted weather-beaten house and barn sitting among some willow trees. Although it might be cozy and dry inside, I kept on walking for I heard stories that a particularly nasty ghost of an old miser haunted that place.
“A few miles downhill, I came upon a tiny white church tucked against a hillside. As I neared the building, however, I noticed that it had been abandoned for some time. The steeple with its cross had long since collapsed, most of the paint was peeling off and nearly all the windows were cracked and broken, but at least the roof was still intact. Fumbling at the door, I found it unlocked and rushed inside.
“After setting myself near the front of the church, I started to relax. This is nice, I thought, plenty of bone-dry space, and no eldritch bogeymen are going to come get me in this sacred human place. Then stretching myself out on the pew, I soon fell into a deep sleep.
“I didn’t remember how long I slept exactly, but suddenly there was a blinding flash of lightning, and then thunder shook the old church to its foundation. Jolted awake, I sat up with a start. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the dismal gloom, I noticed that I was no longer alone in the church. There were people seated in nearly every pew - tall, dark-haired, beaky-nosed people, and they were all staring at me with greenish-yellow eyes.”Professor Tuttle paused momentarily, for he had noticed that a trio of customers was also listening. He would have ignored them had it not been for the fact that they bore a somewhat striking resemblance to the people in his story - sharp, pointed features and glittering cats’ eyes. While he stared, a little, white-haired gentleman strode past the three and out the door. For some strange reason, the chap acted as if there was nothing amiss. Eventually, the white hair returned and went to join the unnerving trio.
He nearly cringed. The man seemed taller and paler than before, and in his long, thin face were the bright yellow eyes of a feline.
Professor Tuttle turned his startled eyes on Shelton who was looking at him oddly.
Shelton took his pipe from his mouth “Are you feeling all right?” he asked worriedly. “You look rather pale.”
Professor Tuttle slowly nodded. “I’m quite all right,” he said. “I just had a rotten night. Hardly slept a wink.”
Adkins blew a cloud of cigar smoke and looked searchingly at his pale friend. “I'm not surprised. You’ve been working so hard on this Lontaqas that little by little these creatures are coming to life.”
“Balderdash!” Professor Tuttle exclaimed, already dismissing his strange experiences as too much gin and Scotch and too little sleep. “And to prove to you good gentlemen that it’s balderdash, I’m going to continue on with my story. According to the old legends, after a Lontaqas tale is told, something fearful supposes to occur. Well, let's put it to the test then, shall we?”
Then he continued on with his reading:
“I stared across the shadowy rows in half-incredulous terror. But then, gradually, the reasonable part of my mind took control. This singular event had to be the result of my ridiculously overactive imagination. That was my whole trouble - too much imagination. Ever since I was a cub, I had read with relish the tales of writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Machen, and Bram Stoker. Now all those stories were stuck in my mind, and not easily gotten rid of. To rid myself of this annoyance, I rubbed my eyes hard and pinched myself hard several times.
“The damnable things were still there. Obviously, these folk couldn’t be dismissed as hallucinations, or an optical effect of light and shadow. The thought that I was not loosing my mind gave me some momentary comfort, but it wasn’t helpful. These people still bothered me with their wide knowing smiles and their baleful gleaming eyes.
"This has got to be a trick, I thought, frowning stubbornly. Someone must have heard about my gullibility and decided give me a scare. Well, it’s not going to work.
“‘Who the devil are you?’” I exclaimed hoarsely.
“The congregation (if you could call it that) spoke up as once, their appalling voices sounding like a blend of the cry of damned souls, howling of wolves and the yelping of wild geese. 'Our name is Lontaqas, and we are the ones that dwell in the lonely and wild places. We are old, though not as old as the making of the world. We worship the Dwellers of the Hidden Places and the Great Old Ones who will one day come forth from the earth and the stars. Any mortal or outcast Fae caught venturing into our territory will be made into one of us, for we regard that as a more fitting revenge against trespassers than just mere death.'”
“‘The hell with you all!’ I shouted. ‘I’m outta here!’”
“Then I jumped up from the pew and took off down the aisle, as I had not run since childhood. With bristling hair and sharp-toothed grins, the Lontaqas swarmed close behind me. I felt clawing against my back, and then numerous hands seized hold of my jacket.”
Then Professor Tuttle’s voice fell into a faint quaver, and then died away completely. The room had suddenly become very dark and gloomy, and everywhere he looked, there were sharp-nosed figures, steadily watching with glowing eyes. He felt tug of a hand on his sleeve of his jacket, and looked down. The hand was the color of polished bone with long curved nails; the third finger was longer than the middle.
Professor Tuttle turned to face Shelton. At least, it was Shelton a few minute ago.
“What happened next?” the Shelton-thing asked, watching him the way a dog watches a bone. “Did she escape or didn’t she?”
Adkins smiled; it wasn’t a very nice smile, the lips were a trifle wide and the teeth, long and very sharp. His eyes shone in the waning candle and firelight, adding to his new diabolicalness.
Tuttle licked his dry lips and swallowed several times. Yet when he finally opened his mouth, all that came out was stuttering. He knew how the story ended; it was just he was afraid of what might happen as soon as he had finished telling it.
Credited to Mmpratt99