An inhabitant of Carcosa
-Ambrose Bierce  1893

For there be divers sorts of death--some wherein the body remaineth;
and in some it vanisheth quite away with the spirit. This commonly
occurreth only in solitude (such is God's will) and, none seeing the
end, we say the man is lost, or gone on a long journey--which indeed
he hath; but sometimes it hath happened in sight of many, as abundant
testimony showeth. In one kind of death the spirit also dieth, and
this it hath been known to do while yet the body was in vigor for
many years. Sometimes, as is veritably attested, it dieth with the
body, but after a season is raised up again in that place where the
body did decay.

Pondering these words of Hali (whom God rest) and questioning their
full meaning, as one who, having an intimation, yet doubts if there
be not something behind, other than that which he has discerned, I
noted not whither I had strayed until a sudden chill wind striking my
face revived in me a sense of my surroundings. I observed with
astonishment that everything seemed unfamiliar. On every side of me
stretched a bleak and desolate expanse of plain, covered with a tall
overgrowth of sere grass, which rustled and whistled in the autumn
wind with heaven knows what mysterious and disquieting suggestion.
Protruded at long intervals above it, stood strangely shaped and
somber-colored rocks, which seemed to have an understanding with one
another and to exchange looks of uncomfortable significance, as if
they had reared their heads to watch the issue of some foreseen
event. A few blasted trees here and there appeared as leaders in
this malevolent conspiracy of silent expectation.

The day, I thought, must be far advanced, though the sun was
invisible; and although sensible that the air was raw and chill my
consciousness of that fact was rather mental than physical--I had no
feeling of discomfort. Over all the dismal landscape a canopy of
low, lead-colored clouds hung like a visible curse. In all this
there were a menace and a portent--a hint of evil, an intimation of
doom. Bird, beast, or insect there was none. The wind sighed in the
bare branches of the dead trees and the gray grass bent to whisper
its dread secret to the earth; but no other sound nor motion broke
the awful repose of that dismal place.

I observed in the herbage a number of weather-worn stones, evidently
shaped with tools. They were broken, covered with moss and half
sunken in the earth. Some lay prostrate, some leaned at various
angles, none was vertical. They were obviously headstones of graves,
though the graves themselves no longer existed as either mounds or
depressions; the years had leveled all. Scattered here and there,
more massive blocks showed where some pompous tomb or ambitious
monument had once flung its feeble defiance at oblivion. So old
seemed these relics, these vestiges of vanity and memorials of
affection and piety, so battered and worn and stained--so neglected,
deserted, forgotten the place, that I could not help thinking myself
the discoverer of the burial-ground of a prehistoric race of men
whose very name was long extinct.

Filled with these reflections, I was for some time heedless of the
sequence of my own experiences, but soon I thought, "How came I
hither?" A moment's reflection seemed to make this all clear and
explain at the same time, though in a disquieting way, the singular
character with which my fancy had invested all that I saw or heard.
I was ill. I remembered now that I had been prostrated by a sudden
fever, and that my family had told me that in my periods of delirium
I had constantly cried out for liberty and air, and had been held in
bed to prevent my escape out-of-doors. Now I had eluded the
vigilance of my attendants and had wandered hither to--to where? I
could not conjecture. Clearly I was at a considerable distance from
the city where I dwelt--the ancient and famous city of Carcosa.

No signs of human life were anywhere visible nor audible; no rising
smoke, no watch-dog's bark, no lowing of cattle, no shouts of
children at play--nothing but that dismal burial-place, with its air
of mystery and dread, due to my own disordered brain. Was I not
becoming again delirious, there beyond human aid? Was it not indeed
ALL an illusion of my madness? I called aloud the names of my wives
and sons, reached out my hands in search of theirs, even as I walked
among the crumbling stones and in the withered grass.

A noise behind me caused me to turn about. A wild animal--a lynx--
was approaching. The thought came to me: If I break down here in
the desert--if the fever return and I fail, this beast will be at my
throat. I sprang toward it, shouting. It trotted tranquilly by
within a hand's breadth of me and disappeared behind a rock.

A moment later a man's head appeared to rise out of the ground a
short distance away. He was ascending the farther slope of a low
hill whose crest was hardly to be distinguished from the general
level. His whole figure soon came into view against the background
of gray cloud. He was half naked, half clad in skins. His hair was
unkempt, his beard long and ragged. In one hand he carried a bow and
arrow; the other held a blazing torch with a long trail of black
smoke. He walked slowly and with caution, as if he feared falling
into some open grave concealed by the tall grass. This strange
apparition surprised but did not alarm, and taking such a course as
to intercept him I met him almost face to face, accosting him with
the familiar salutation, "God keep you."

He gave no heed, nor did he arrest his pac

"Good stranger," I continued, "I am ill and lost. Direct me, I
beseech you, to Carcosa."

The man broke into a barbarous chant in an unknown tongue, passing on
and away.

An owl on the branch of a decayed tree hooted dismally and was
answered by another in the distance. Looking upward, I saw through a
sudden rift in the clouds Aldebaran and the Hyades! In all this
there was a hint of night--the lynx, the man with the torch, the owl.
Yet I saw--I saw even the stars in absence of the darkness. I saw,
but was apparently not seen nor heard. Under what awful spell did I

I seated myself at the root of a great tree, seriously to consider
what it were best to do. That I was mad I could no longer doubt, yet
recognized a ground of doubt in the conviction. Of fever I had no
trace. I had, withal, a sense of exhilaration and vigor altogether
unknown to me--a feeling of mental and physical exaltation. My
senses seemed all alert; I could feel the air as a ponderous
substance; I could hear the silence.

A great root of the giant tree against whose trunk I leaned as I sat
held inclosed in its grasp a slab of stone, a part of which protruded
into a recess formed by another root. The stone was thus partly
protected from the weather, though greatly decomposed. Its edges
were worn round, its corners eaten away, its surface deeply furrowed
and scaled. Glittering particles of mica were visible in the earth
about it--vestiges of its decomposition. This stone had apparently
marked the grave out of which the tree had sprung ages ago. The
tree's exacting roots had robbed the grave and made the stone a

A sudden wind pushed some dry leaves and twigs from the uppermost
face of the stone; I saw the low-relief letters of an inscription and
bent to read it. God in Heaven! MY name in full!--the date of MY
birth!--the date of MY death!

A level shaft of light illuminated the whole side of the tree as I
sprang to my feet in terror. The sun was rising in the rosy east. I
stood between the tree and his broad red disk--no shadow darkened the

A chorus of howling wolves saluted the dawn. I saw them sitting on
their haunches, singly and in groups, on the summits of irregular
mounds and tumuli filling a half of my desert prospect and extending
to the horizon. And then I knew that these were ruins of the ancient
and famous city of Carcosa.

Such are the facts imparted to the medium Bayrolles by the spirit
Hoseib Alar Robardin.