H.P. Lovecraft. The Curse of Yig
The Curse of Yig
by H. P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop
Published November 1929 in Weird Tales, Volume 14, Number 5, Pages 625-36.
In 1925 I went into Oklahoma looking for snake lore, and I came out with a
fear of snakes that will last me the rest of my life. I admit it is
foolish, since there are natural explanations for everything I saw and
heard, but it masters me none the less. If the old story had been all
there was to it, I would not have been so badly shaken. My work as an
American Indian ethnologist has hardened me to all kinds of extravagant
legendry, and I know that simple white people can beat the redskins at
their own game when it comes to fanciful inventions. But I can't forget
what I saw with my own eyes at the insane asylum in Guthrie.
I called at that asylum because a few of the oldest settlers told me I
would find something important there. Neither Indians nor white men would
discuss the snake-god legends I had come to trace. The oil-boom newcomers,
of course, knew nothing of such matters, and the red men and old pioneers
were plainly frightened when I spoke of them. Not more than six or seven
people mentioned the asylum, and those who did were careful to talk in
whispers. But the whisperers said that Dr. McNeill could shew me a very
terrible relic and tell me all I wanted to know. He could explain why Yig,
the half-human father of serpents, is a shunned and feared object in
central Oklahoma, and why old settlers shiver at the secret Indian orgies
which make the autumn days and nights hideous with the ceaseless beating
of tom-toms in lonely places.
It was with the scent of a hound on the trail that I went to Guthrie, for
I had spent many years collecting data on the evolution of serpent-worship
among the Indians. I had always felt, from well-defined undertones of
legend and archaeology, that great Quetzalcoatl-benign snake-god of the
Mexicans-had had an older and darker prototype; and during recent months I
had well-nigh proved it in a series of researches stretching from
Guatemala to the Oklahoma plains. But everything was tantalising and
incomplete, for above the border the cult of the snake was hedged about by
fear and furtiveness.
Now it appeared that a new and copious source of data was about to dawn,
and I sought the head of the asylum with an eagerness I did not try to
cloak. Dr. McNeill was a small, clean-shaven man of somewhat advanced
years, and I saw at once from his speech and manner that he was a scholar
of no mean attainments in many branches outside his profession. Grave and
doubtful when I first made known my errand, his face grew thoughtful as he
carefully scanned my credentials and the letter of introduction which a
kindly old ex-Indian agent had given me.
"So you've been studying the Yig legend, eh?" he reflected sententiously.
"I know that many of our Oklahoma ethnologists have tried to connect it
with Quetzalcoatl, but I don't think any of them have traced the
intermediate steps so well. You've done remarkable work for a man as young
as you seem to be, and you certainly deserve all the data we can give.
"I don't suppose old Major Moore or any of the others told you what it is
I have here. They don't like to talk about it, and neither do I. It is
very tragic and very horrible, but that is all. I refuse to consider it
anything supernatural. There's a story about it that I'll tell you after
you see it-a devilish sad story, but one that I won't call magic. It
merely shews the potency that belief has over some people. I'll admit
there are times when I feel a shiver that's more than physical, but in
daylight I set all that down to nerves. I'm not a young fellow any more,
"To come to the point, the thing I have is what you might call a victim of
Yig's curse-a physically living victim. We don't let the bulk of the
nurses see it, although most of them know it's here. There are just two
steady old chaps whom I let feed it and clean out its quarters-used to be
three, but good old Stevens passed on a few years ago. I suppose I'll have
to break in a new group pretty soon; for the thing doesn't seem to age or
change much, and we old boys can't last forever. Maybe the ethics of the
near future will let us give it a merciful release, but it's hard to tell.
"Did you see that single ground-glass basement window over in the east
wing when you came up the drive? That's where it is. I'll take you there
myself now. You needn't make any comment. Just look through the moveable
panel in the door and thank God the light isn't any stronger. Then I'll
tell you the story-or as much as I've been able to piece together."
We walked downstairs very quietly, and did not talk as we threaded the
corridors of the seemingly deserted basement. Dr. McNeill unlocked a
grey-painted steel door, but it was only a bulkhead leading to a further
stretch of hallway. At length he paused before a door marked B 116, opened
a small observation panel which he could use only by standing on tiptoe,
and pounded several times upon the painted metal, as if to arouse the
occupant, whatever it might be.
A faint stench came from the aperture as the doctor unclosed it, and I
fancied his pounding elicited a kind of low, hissing response. Finally he
motioned me to replace him at the peep-hole, and I did so with a causeless
and increasing tremor. The barred, ground-glass window, close to the earth
outside, admitted only a feeble and uncertain pallor; and I had to look
into the malodorous den for several seconds before I could see what was
crawling and wriggling about on the straw-covered floor, emitting every
now and then a weak and vacuous hiss. Then the shadowed outlines began to
take shape, and I perceived that the squirming entity bore some remote
resemblance to a human form laid flat on its belly. I clutched at the
door-handle for support as I tried to keep from fainting.
The moving object was almost of human size, and entirely devoid of
clothing. It was absolutely hairless, and its tawny-looking back seemed
subtly squamous in the dim, ghoulish light. Around the shoulders it was
rather speckled and brownish, and the head was very curiously flat. As it
looked up to hiss at me I saw that the beady little black eyes were
damnably anthropoid, but I could not bear to study them long. They
fastened themselves on me with a horrible persistence, so that I closed
the panel gaspingly and left the creature to wriggle about unseen in its
matted straw and spectral twilight. I must have reeled a bit, for I saw
that the doctor was gently holding my arm as he guided me away. I was
stuttering over and over again: "B-but for God's sake, what is it?"
Dr. McNeill told me the story in his private office as I sprawled opposite
him in an easy-chair. The gold and crimson of late afternoon changed to
the violet of early dusk, but still I sat awed and motionless. I resented
every ring of the telephone and every whir of the buzzer, and I could have
cursed the nurses and internes whose knocks now and then summoned the
doctor briefly to the outer office. Night came, and I was glad my host
switched on all the lights. Scientist though I was, my zeal for research
was half forgotten amidst such breathless ecstasies of fright as a small
boy might feel when whispered witch-tales go the rounds of the
It seems that Yig, the snake-god of the central plains tribes-presumably
the primal source of the more southerly Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan-was an
odd, half-anthropomorphic devil of highly arbitrary and capricious nature.
He was not wholly evil, and was usually quite well-disposed toward those
who gave proper respect to him and his children, the serpents; but in the
autumn he became abnormally ravenous, and had to be driven away by means
of suitable rites. That was why the tom-toms in the Pawnee, Wichita, and
Caddo country pounded ceaselessly week in and week out in August,
September, and October; and why the medicine-men made strange noises with
rattles and whistles curiously like those of the Aztecs and Mayas.
Yig's chief trait was a relentless devotion to his children-a devotion so
great that the redskins almost feared to protect themselves from the
venomous rattlesnakes which thronged the region. Frightful clandestine
tales hinted of his vengeance upon mortals who flouted him or wreaked harm
upon his wriggling progeny; his chosen method being to turn his victim,
after suitable tortures, to a spotted snake.
In the old days of the Indian Territory, the doctor went on, there was not
quite so much secrecy about Yig. The plains tribes, less cautious than the
desert nomads and Pueblos, talked quite freely of their legends and autumn
ceremonies with the first Indian agents, and let considerable of the lore
spread out through the neighbouring regions of white settlement. The great
fear came in the land-rush days of '89, when some extraordinary incidents
had been rumoured, and the rumours sustained, by what seemed to be
hideously tangible proofs. Indians said that the new white men did not
know how to get on with Yig, and afterward the settlers came to take that
theory at face value. Now no old-timer in middle Oklahoma, white or red,
could be induced to breathe a word about the snake-god except in vague
hints. Yet after all, the doctor added with almost needless emphasis, the
only truly authenticated horror had been a thing of pitiful tragedy rather
than of bewitchment. It was all very material and cruel-even that last
phase which ha caused so much dispute.
Dr. McNeill paused and cleared his throat before getting down to his
special story, and I felt a tingling sensation as when a theatre curtain
rises. The thing had begun when Walker Davis and his wife Audrey left
Arkansas to settle in the newly opened public lands in the spring of 1889,
and the end had come in the country of the Wichitas-north of the Wichita
River, in what is at present Caddo County. There is a small village called
Binger there now, and the railway goes through; but otherwise the place is
less changed than other parts of Oklahoma. It is still a section of farms
and ranches-quite productive in these days-since the great oil-fields do
not come very close.
Walker and Audrey had come from Franklin County in the Ozarks with a
canvas-topped wagon, two mules, an ancient and useless dog called "Wolf",
and all their household goods. They were typical hill-folk, youngish and
perhaps a little more ambitious than most, and looked forward to a life of
better returns for their a hard work than they had had in Arkansas. Both
were lean, raw-boned specimens; the man tall, sandy, and grey-eyed, and
the woman short and rather dark, with a black straightness of hair
suggesting a slight Indian admixture.
In general, there was very little of distinction about them, and but for
one thing their annals might not have differed from those of thousands of
other pioneers who flocked into the new country at that time. That thing
was Walker's almost epileptic fear of snakes, which some laid to prenatal
causes, and some said came from a dark prophecy about his end with which
an old Indian squaw had tried to scare him when he was small. Whatever the
cause, the effect was marked indeed; for despite his strong general
courage the very mention of a snake would cause him to grow faint and
pale, while the sight of even a tiny specimen would produce a shock
sometimes bordering on a convulsion seizure.
The Davises started out early in the year, in the hope of being on their
new land for the spring ploughing. Travel was slow; for the roads were bad
in Arkansas, while in the Territory there were great stretches of rolling
hills and red, sandy barrens without any roads whatever. As the terrain
grew flatter, the change from their native mountains depressed them more,
perhaps, than they realised; but they found the people at the Indian
agencies very affable, while most of the settled Indians seemed friendly
and civil. Now and then they encountered a fellow-pioneer, with whom crude
pleasantries and expressions of amiable rivalry were generally exchanged.
Owing to the season, there were not many snakes in evidence, so Walker did
not suffer from his special temperamental weakness. In the earlier stages
of the journey, too, there were no Indian snake-legends to trouble him;
for the transplanted tribes from the southeast do not share the wilder
beliefs of their western neighbours. As fate would have it, it was a white
man at Okmulgee in the Creek country who gave the Davises the first hint
of Yig beliefs; a hint which had a curiously fascinating effect on Walker,
and caused him to ask questions very freely after that.
Before long Walker's fascination had developed into a bad case of fright.
He took the most extraordinary precautions at each of the nightly camps,
always clearing away whatever vegetation he found, and avoiding stony
places whenever he could. Every clump of stunted bushes and every cleft in
the great, slab-like rocks seemed to him now to hide malevolent serpents,
while every human figure not obviously part of a settlement or emigrant
train seemed to him a potential snake-god till nearness had proved the
contrary. Fortunately no troublesome encounters came at this stage to
shake his nerves still further.
As they approached the Kickapoo country they found it harder and harder to
avoid camping near rocks. Finally it was no longer possible, and poor
Walker was reduced to the puerile expedient of droning some of the rustic
anti-snake charms he had learned in his boyhood. Two or three times a
snake was really glimpsed, and these sights did not help the sufferer in
his efforts to preserve composure.
On the twenty-second evening of the journey a savage wind made it
imperative, for the sake of the mules, to camp in as sheltered a spot as
possible; and Audrey persuaded her husband to take advantage of a cliff
which rose uncommonly high above the dried bed of a former tributary of
the Canadian River. He did not like the rocky cast of the place, but
allowed himself to be overruled this once; leading the animals sullenly
toward the protecting slope, which the nature of the ground would not
allow the wagon to approach.
Audrey, examining the rocks near the wagon, meanwhile noticed a singular
sniffing on the part of the feeble old dog. Seizing a rifle, she followed
his lead, and presently thanked her stars that she had forestalled Walker
in her discovery. For there, snugly nested in the gap between two
boulders, was a sight it would have done him no good to see. Visible only
as one convoluted expanse, but perhaps comprising as many as three or four
separate units, was a mass of lazy wriggling which could not be other than
a brood of new-born rattlesnakes.
Anxious to save Walker from a trying shock, Audrey did not hesitate to
act, but took the gun firmly by the barrel and brought the butt down again
and again upon the writhing objects. Her own sense of loathing was great,
but it did not amount to a real fear. Finally she saw that her task was
done, and turned to cleanse the improvised bludgeon in the red sand and
dry, dead grass near by. She must, she reflected, cover the nest up before
Walker got back from tethering the mules. Old Wolf, tottering relic of
mixed shepherd and coyote ancestry that he was, had vanished, and she
feared he had gone to fetch his master.
Footsteps at that instant proved her fear well founded. A second more, and
Walker had seen everything. Audrey made a move to catch him if he should
faint, but he did no more than sway. Then the look of pure fright on his
bloodless face turned slowly to something like mingled awe and anger, and
he began to upbraid his wife in trembling tones.
"Gawd's sake, Aud, but why'd ye go for to do that? Hain't ye heerd all the
things they've been tellin' about this snake-devil Yig? Ye'd ought to a
told me, and we'd a moved on. Don't ye know they's a devil-god what gets
even if ye hurts his children? What for d'ye think the Injuns all dances
and beats their drums in the fall about? This land's under a curse, I tell
ye-nigh every soul we've a-talked to sence we come in's said the same. Yig
rules here, an' he comes out every fall for to git his victims and turn
'em into snakes. Why, Aud, they won't none of them Injuns acrost the
Canayjin kill a snake for love nor money!
"Gawd knows what ye done to yourself, gal, a-stompin' out a hull brood o'
Yig's chillen. He'll git ye, sure, sooner or later, unlessen I kin buy a
charm offen some o' the Injun medicine-men. He'll git ye, Aud, as sure's
they's a Gawd in heaven-he'll come outa the night and turn ye into a
crawlin' spotted snake!"
All the rest of the journey Walker kept up the frightened reproofs and
prophecies. They crossed the Canadian near Newcastle, and soon afterward
met with the first of the real plains Indians they had seen-a party of
blanketed Wichitas, whose leader talked freely under the spell of the
whiskey offered him, and taught poor Walker a long-winded protective charm
against Yig in exchange for a quart bottle of the same inspiring fluid. By
the end of the week the chosen site in the Wichita country was reached,
and the Davises made haste to trace their boundaries and perform the
spring ploughing before even beginning the construction of a cabin.
The region was flat, drearily windy, and sparse of natural vegetation, but
promised great fertility under cultivation. Occasional outcroppings of
granite diversified a soil of decomposed red sandstone, and here and there
a great flat rock would stretch along the surface of the ground like a
man-made floor. There seemed to be a very few snakes, or possible dens for
them; so Audrey at last persuaded Walker to build the one-room cabin over
a vast, smooth slab of exposed stone. With such a flooring and with a
good-sized fireplace the wettest weather might be defied-though it soon
became evident that dampness was no salient quality of the district. Logs
were hauled in the wagon from the nearest belt of woods, many miles toward
the Wichita Mountains.
Walker built his wide-chimneyed cabin and crude barn with the aid of some
of the other settlers, though the nearest one was over a mile away. In
turn, he helped his helpers at similar house-raisings, so that many ties
of friendship sprang up between the new neighbours. There was no town
worthy the name nearer than El Reno, on the railway thirty miles or more
to the northeast; and before many weeks had passed, the people of the
section had become very cohesive despite the wideness of their scattering.
The Indians, a few of whom had begun to settle down on ranches, were for
the most part harmless, though somewhat quarrelsome when fired by the
liquid stimulation which found its way to them despite all government
Of all the neighbours the Davises found Joe and Sally Compton, who
likewise hailed from Arkansas, the most helpful and congenial. Sally is
still alive, known now as Grandma Compton; and her son Clyde, then an
infant in arms, has become one of the leading men of the state. Sally and
Audrey used to visit each other often, for their cabins were only two
miles apart; and in the long spring and summer afternoons they exchanged
many a tale of old Arkansas and many a rumour about the new country.
Sally was very sympathetic about Walker's weakness regarding snakes, but
perhaps did more to aggravate than cure the parallel nervousness which
Audrey was acquiring through his incessant praying and prophesying about
the curse of Yig. She was uncommonly full of gruesome snake stories, and
produced a direfully strong impression with her acknowledged
masterpiece-the tale of a man in Scott County who had been bitten by a
whole horde of rattlers at once, and had swelled so monstrously from
poison that his body had finally burst with a pop. Needless to say, Audrey
did not repeat this anecdote to her husband, and she implored the Comptons
to beware of starting it on the rounds of the countryside. It is to Joe's
and Sally's credit that they heeded this plea with the utmost fidelity.
Walker did his corn-planting early, and in midsummer improved his time by
harvesting a fair crop of the native grass of the region. With the help of
Joe Compton he dug a well which gave a moderate supply of very good water,
though he planned to sink an artesian later on. He did not run into many
serious snake scares, and made his land as inhospitable as possible for
wriggling visitors. Every now and then he rode over to the cluster of
thatched, conical huts which formed the main village of the Wichitas, and
talked long with the old men and shamans about the snake-god and how to
nullify his wrath. Charms were always ready in exchange for whiskey, but
much of the information he got was far from reassuring.
Yig was a great god. He was bad medicine. He did not forget things. In the
autumn his children were hungry and wild, and Yig was hungry and wild,
too. All the tribes made medicine against Yig when the corn harvest came.
They gave him some corn, and danced in proper regalia to the sound of
whistle, rattle, and drum. They kept the drums pounding to drive Yig away,
and called down the aid of Tirawa, whose children men are, even as the
snakes are Yig's children. It was bad that the squaw of Davis killed the
children of Yig. Let Davis say the charms many times when the corn harvest
comes. Yig is Yig. Yig is a great god.
By the time the corn harvest did come, Walker had succeeded in getting his
wife into a deplorably jumpy state. His prayers and borrowed incantations
came to be a nuisance; and when the autumn rites of the Indians began,
there was always a distant wind-borne pounding of tom-toms to lend an
added background of the sinister. It was maddening to have the muffled
clatter always stealing over the wide red plains. Why would it never stop?
Day and night, week on week, it was always going in exhaustless relays, as
persistently as the red dusty winds that carried it. Audrey loathed it
more than her husband did, for he saw in it a compensating element of
protection. It was with this sense of a mighty, intangible bulwark against
evil that he got in his corn crop and prepared cabin and stable for the
The autumn was abnormally warm, and except for their primitive cookery the
Davises found scant use for the stone fireplace Walker had built with such
care. Something in the unnaturalness of the hot dust-clouds preyed on the
nerves of all the settlers, but most of all on Audrey's and Walker's. The
notions of a hovering snake-curse and the weird, endless rhythm of the
distant Indian drums formed a bad combination which any added element of
the bizarre went far to render utterly unendurable.
Notwithstanding this strain, several festive gatherings were held at one
or another of the cabins after the crops were reaped; keeping naively
alive in modernity those curious rites of the harvest-home which are as
old as human agriculture itself. Lafayette Smith, who came from southern
Missouri and had a cabin about three miles east of Walker's, was a very
passable fiddler; and his tunes did much to make the celebrants forget the
monotonous beating of the distant tom-toms. Then Hallowe'en drew near, and
the settlers planned another frolic-this time, had they but known it, of a
lineage older than even agriculture; the dread Witch-Sabbath of the primal
pre-Aryans, kept alive through ages in the midnight blackness of secret
woods, and still hinting at vague terrors under its latter-day mask of
comedy and lightness. Hallowe'en was to fall on a Thursday, and the
neighbours agreed to gather for their first revel at the Davis cabin.
It was on that thirty-first of October that the warm spell broke. The
morning was grey and leaden, and by noon the incessant winds had changed
from searingness to rawness. People shivered all the more because they
were not prepared for the chill, and Walker Davis' old dog Wolf dragged
himself wearily indoors to a place beside the hearth. But the distant
drums still thumped on, nor were the white citizenry less inclined to
pursue their chosen rites. As early as four in the afternoon the wagons
began to arrive at Walker's cabin; and in the evening, after a memorable
barbecue, Lafayette Smith's fiddle inspired a very fair-sized company to
great feats of saltatory grotesqueness in the one good-sized but crowded
room. The younger folk indulged in the amiable inanities proper to the
season, and now and then old Wolf would howl with doleful and
spine-tickling ominousness at some especially spectral strain from
Lafayette's squeaky violin-a device he had never heard before. Mostly,
though, this battered veteran slept through the merriment; for he was past
the age of active interests and lived largely in his dreams. Tom and
Jennie Rigby had brought their collie Zeke along, but the canines did not
fraternise. Zeke seemed strangely uneasy over something, and nosed around
curiously all the evening.
Audrey and Walker made a fine couple on the floor, and Grandma Compton
still likes to recall her impression of their dancing that night. Their
worries seemed forgotten for the nonce, and Walker was shaved and trimmed
into a surprising degree of spruceness. By ten o'clock all hands were
healthily tired, and the guests began to depart family by family with many
handshakings and bluff assurances of what a fine time everybody had had.
Tom ands Jennie thought Zeke's eerie howls as he followed them to their
wagon were marks of regret at having to go home; though Audrey said it
must be the far-away tom-toms which annoyed him, for the distant thumping
was surely ghastly enough after the merriment within.
The night was bitterly cold, and for the first time Walker put a great log
in the fireplace and banked it with ashes to keep it smouldering till
morning. Old Wolf dragged himself within the ruddy glow and lapsed into
his customary coma. Audrey and Walker, too tired to think of charms or
curses, tumbled into the rough pine bed and were asleep before the cheap
alarm-clock on the mantel had ticked out three minutes. And from far away,
the rhythmic pounding of those hellish tom-toms still pulsed on the chill
Dr. McNeill paused here and removed his glasses, as if a blurring of the
objective world might make the reminiscent vision clearer.
"You'll soon appreciate," he said, "that I had a great deal of difficulty
in piecing out all that happened after the guests left. There were times,
though-at first-when I was able to make a try at it." After a moment of
silence he went on with the tale.
Audrey had terrible dreams of Yig, who appeared to her in the guise of
Satan as depicted in cheap engravings she had seen. It was, indeed, from
an absolute ecstasy of nightmare that she started suddenly awake to find
Walker already conscious and sitting up in bed. He seemed to be listening
intently to something, and silenced her with a whisper when she began to
ask what had roused him.
"Hark, Aud!" he breathed. "Don't ye hear somethin' a-singin' and buzzin'
and rustlin'? D'ye reckon it's the fall crickets?"
Certainly, there was distinctly audible within the cabin such a sound as
he had described. Audrey tried to analyse it, and was impressed with some
element at once horrible and familiar, which hovered just outside the rim
of her memory. And beyond it all, waking a hideous thought, the monotonous
beating of the distant tom-toms came incessantly across the black plains
on which a cloudy half-moon had set.
"Walker-s'pose it's-the-the-curse o' Yig?"
She could feel him tremble.
"No, gal, I don't reckon he comes that away. He's shapen like a man,
except ye look at him clost. That's what Chief Grey Eagle says. This
here's some varmints come in outen the cold-not crickets, I calc'late, but
summat like 'em. I'd orter git up and stomp 'em out afore they make much
headway or git at the cupboard."
He rose, felt for the lantern that hung within easy reach, and rattled the
tin match-box nailed to the wall beside it. Audrey sat up in bed and
watched the flare of the match grow into the steady glow of the lantern.
Then, as their eyes began to take in the whole of the room, the crude
rafters shook with the frenzy of their simultaneous shriek. For the flat,
rocky floor, revealed in the new-born illumination, was one seething,
brown-speckled mass of wriggling rattlesnakes, slithering toward the fire,
and even now turning their loathsome heads to menace the fright-blasted
It was only for an instant that Audrey saw the things. The reptiles were
of every size, of uncountable numbers, and apparently of several
varieties; and even as she looked, two or three of them reared their heads
as if to strike at Walker. She did not faint-it was Walker's crash to the
floor that extinguished the lantern and plunged her into blackness. He had
not screamed a second time-fright had paralysed him, and he fell as if
shot by a silent arrow from no mortal's bow. To Audrey the entire world
seemed to whirl about fantastically, mingling with the nightmare from
which she had started.
Voluntary motion of any sort was impossible, for will and the sense of
reality had left her. She fell back inertly on her pillow, hoping that she
would wake soon. No actual sense of what had happened penetrated her mind
for some time. Then, little by little, the suspicion that she was really
awake began to dawn on her; and she was convulsed with a mounting blend of
panic and grief which made her long to shriek out despite the inhibiting
spell which kept her mute.
Walker was gone, and she had not been able to help him. He had died of
snakes, just as the old witch-woman had predicted when he was a little
boy. Poor Wolf had not been able to help, either-probably he had not even
awaked from his senile stupor. And now the crawling things must be coming
for her, writhing closer and closer every moment in the dark, perhaps even
now twining slipperily about the bedposts and oozing up over the coarse
woollen blankets. Unconsciously she crept under the clothes and trembled.
It must be the curse of Yig. He had sent his monstrous children on
All-Hallows' Night, and they had taken Walker first. Why was that-wasn't
he innocent enough? Why not come straight for her-hadn't she killed those
little rattlers alone? Then she thought of the curse's form as told by the
Indians. She wouldn't be killed-just turned to a spotted snake. Ugh! So
she would be like those things she had glimpsed on the floor-those things
which Yig had sent to get her and enroll her among their number! She tried
to mumble a charm that Walker had taught her, but found she could not
utter a single sound.
The noisy ticking of the alarm-clock sounded above the maddening beat of
the distant tom-toms. The snakes were taking a long time-did they mean to
delay on purpose to play on her nerves? Every now and then she thought she
felt a steady, insidious pressure on the bedclothes, but each time it
turned out to be only the automatic twitchings of her overwrought nerves.
The clock ticked on in the dark, and a change came slowly over her
Those snakes couldn't have taken so long! They couldn't be Yig's
messengers after all, but just natural rattlers that were nested below the
rock and had been drawn there by the fire. They weren't coming for her,
perhaps-perhaps they had sated themselves on poor Walker. Where were they
now? Gone? Coiled by the fire? Still crawling over the prone corpse of
their victim? The clock ticked, and the distant drums throbbed on.
At the thought of her husband's body lying there in the pitch blackness a
thrill of purely physical horror passed over Audrey. That story of Sally
Compton's about the man back in Scott County! He, too, had been bitten by
a whole bunch of rattlesnakes, and what had happened to him? The poison
had rotted the flesh and swelled the whole corpse, and in the end the
bloated thing had burst horribly-burst horribly with a detestable popping
noise. Was that what was happening to Walker down there on the rock floor?
Instinctively she felt she had begun to listen for something too terrible
even to name to herself.
The clock ticked on, keeping a kind of mocking, sardonic time with the
far-off drumming that the night-wind brought. She wished it were a
striking clock, so that she could know how long this eldritch vigil must
last. She cursed the toughness of fibre that kept her from fainting, and
wondered what sort of relief the dawn could bring, after all. Probably
neighbours would pass-no doubt somebody would call-would they find her
still sane? Was she still sane now?
Morbidly listening, Audrey all at once became aware of something which she
had to verify with every effort of her will before she could believe it;
and which, once verified, she did not know whether to welcome or dread.
The distant beating of the Indian tom-toms had ceased. They had always
maddened her-but had not Walker regarded them as a bulwark against
nameless evil from outside the universe? What were some of those things he
had repeated to her in whispers after talking with Grey Eagle and the
She did not relish this new and sudden silence, after all! There was
something sinister about it. The loud-ticking clock seemed abnormal in its
new loneliness. Capable at last of conscious motion, she shook the covers
from her face and looked into the darkness toward the window. It must have
cleared after the moon set, for she saw the square aperture distinctly
against the background of stars.
Then without warning came that shocking, unutterable sound-ugh!-that dull,
putrid pop of cleft skin and escaping poison in the dark. God!-Sally's
story-that obscene stench, and this gnawing, clawing silence! It was too
much. The bonds of muteness snapped, and the black night waxed reverberant
with Audrey's screams of stark, unbridled frenzy.
Consciousness did not pass away with the shock. How merciful if only it
had! Amidst the echoes of her shrieking Audrey still saw the
star-sprinkled square of window ahead, and heard the doom-boding ticking
of that frightful clock. Did she hear another sound? Was that square
window still a perfect square? She was in no condition to weigh the
evidence of her senses or distinguish between fact and hallucination.
No-that window was not a perfect square. Something had encroached on the
lower edge. Nor was the ticking of the clock the only sound in the room.
There was, beyond dispute, a heavy breathing neither her own nor poor
Wolf's. Wolf slept very silently, and his wakeful wheezing was
unmistakable. Then Audrey saw against the stars the black, daemoniac
silhouette of something anthropoid-the undulant bulk of a gigantic head
and shoulders fumbling slowly toward her.
"Y'aaaah! Y'aaaah! Go away! Go away! Go away, snake-devil! Go 'way, Yig! I
didn't mean to kill 'em-I was feared he'd be scairt of 'em. Don't, Yig,
don't! I didn't go for to hurt yore chillen-don't come nigh me-don't
change me into no spotted snake!"
But the half-formless head and shoulders only lurched onward toward the
bed, very silently.
Everything snapped at once inside Audrey's head, and in a second she had
turned from a cowering child to a raging madwoman. She knew where the axe
was-hung against the wall on those pegs near the lantern. It was within
easy reach, and she could find it in the dark. Before she was conscious of
anything further it was in her hands, and she was creeping toward the foot
of the bed-toward the monstrous head and shoulders that every moment
groped their way nearer. Had there been any light, the look on her face
would not have been pleasant to see.
"Take that, you! And that, and that, and that!"
She was laughing shrilly now, and her cackles mounted higher as she saw
that the starlight beyond the window was yielding to the dim prophetic
pallor of coming dawn.
Dr. McNeill wiped the perspiration from his forehead and put on his
glasses again. I waited for him to resume, and as he kept silent I spoke
"She lived? She was found? Was it ever explained?"
The doctor cleared his throat.
"Yes-she lived, in a way. And it was explained. I told you there was no
bewitchment-only cruel, pitiful, material horror."
It was Sally Compton who had made the discovery. She had ridden over to
the Davis cabin the next afternoon to talk over the party with Audrey, and
had seen no smoke from the chimney. That was queer. It had turned very
warm again, yet Audrey was usually cooking something at that hour. The
mules were making hungry-sounding noises in the barn, and there was no
sign of old Wolf sunning himself in the accustomed spot by the door.
Altogether, Sally did not like the look of the place, so was very timid
and hesitant as she dismounted and knocked. She got no answer but waited
some time before trying the crude door of split logs. The lock, it
appeared, was unfastened; and she slowly pushed her way in. Then,
perceiving what was there, she reeled back, gasped, and clung to the jamb
to preserve her balance.
A terrible odour had welled out as she opened the door, but that was not
what had stunned her. It was what she had seen. For within that shadowy
cabin monstrous things had happened and three shocking objects remained on
the floor to awe and baffle the beholder.
Near the burned-out fireplace was the great dog-purple decay on the skin
left bare by mange and old age, and the whole carcass burst by the puffing
effect of rattlesnake poison. It must have been bitten by a veritable
legion of the reptiles.
To the right of the door was the axe-hacked remnant of what had been a
man-clad in a nightshirt, and with the shattered bulk of a lantern
clenched in one hand. He was totally free from any sign of snake-bite.
Near him lay the ensanguined axe, carelessly discarded.
And wriggling flat on the floor was a loathsome, vacant-eyed thing that
had been a woman, but was now only a mute mad caricature. All that this
thing could do was to hiss, and hiss, and hiss.
Both the doctor and I were brushing cold drops from our foreheads by this
time. He poured something from a flask on his desk, took a nip, and handed
another glass to me. I could only suggest tremulously and stupidly:
"So Walker had only fainted that first time-the screams roused him, and
the axe did the rest?"
"Yes." Dr. McNeill's voice was low. "But he met his death from snakes just
the same. It was his fear working in two ways-it made him faint, and it
made him fill his wife with the wild stories that caused her to strike out
when she thought she saw the snake-devil."
I thought for a moment.
"And Audrey-wasn't it queer how the curse of Yig seemed to work itself out
on her? I suppose the impression of hissing snakes had been fairly ground
"Yes. There were lucid spells at first, but they got to be fewer and
fewer. Her hair came white at the roots as it grew, and later began to
fall out. The skin grew blotchy, and when she died-"
I interrupted with a start.
"Died? Then what was that-that thing downstairs?"
McNeill spoke gravely.
"That is what was born to her three-quarters of a year afterward. There
were three more of them-two were even worse-but this is the only one that
The Lovecraft Library wishes to extend its gratitude to Jim Java for
transcribing this text.