The time is the 1940s. The place is Glasgow. The house of Allan H. Duncan, an enthusiast of things paranormal, renowned in the inner circle as a sophisticated ectoplasm hunter. He not only enjoys the reputation of being an outstanding expert on the ethereal substance, the thrilling materia prima of the spirit world, but is also famous as a talented medium, an intermediary in ectoplasm’s visits to the mundane world. On every last Friday of the month, Mr. Duncan’s living room fills with guests, a carefully selected group of the initiated, craving for contact with the Unknown. The narrow and winding staircase in an anonymous stone building leads to a massive door in the attic, equipped with iron bolts and numerous locks. On the door there is a silver plaque with an engraved inscription: Les Magiciens de la Terre. The door opens directly into the living room, the only space in the apartment guests have access to. Stored in the other rooms, protected from inquisitive glances, is the host’s collection of things. Allan H. Duncan loves objects. It is a love as greedy as it is possessive and disciplined. It takes a lot of time and deliberation for Mr. Duncan to decide which object and in what circumstances to bring to light and expose to strangers’ eyes. He is capricious and perverse in these decisions. His choices are impossible to predict. The young woman standing besides Mr. Duncan and welcoming the guests is Stanislawa P. She comes from Eastern Europe, is shy, speaks little, blushes and cries often, and never reveals her full name. She has been Mr. Duncan’s assistant for three years. She always carries with herself a notebook, in which she writes down interesting aphorisms, puns, grammatical exceptions, and proverbs. Mr. Duncan says the girl has an unusual gift, and the sentences she writes down in her notebook are not from this world. He calls them “whispers from the future.”
Before each séance, objects are laid out in the living room: natural curiosities, works of art, precious tableware, medical prostheses, or specimens of various substances. The objects are hung directly on the walls or displayed on special glass shelves or in cabinets. Coming chiefly from the host’s vast collection, as well as being leased from his collector friends, the objects are constantly rotated. It is hard to say whether the compositions are to help create a proper atmosphere for the “hunt” for ectoplasm, or are supposed to testify to Mr. Duncan’s special capabilities. He himself sometimes speaks of “intuitions,” never revealing why this or that object has been put on display in the living room. Most of the objects are accompanied by small caption plaques, containing a laconic description, date of acquisition, and the owner’s name. It is the same this time, though relatively few have been displayed. 

A flower vase with a bunch of poppies on a glass shelf on the wall. 

A tray with some semi liquid fat on the windowsill, exuding an unpleasant smell. A glass of water, hung high, the text on the small piece of paper accompanying it is illegible. An hourglass filled with Peruvian sand, standing on top of the bookcase. 

A small box with a lid, with the inscription “Duncan, A. H., Mr., The Society for Psychic Research, 1939,” standing on the floor under the coat tree. The lid is partly open, a piece of white cloth sticks out. 

And finally a painting. Placed in the middle of the room, right in front of the entrance door. Quite large, the base is over five feet long. It is not wrapped, but has been propped tightly against the wall with its back facing the viewer, so it is impossible to see what it represents. It is nine o’clock in the evening. A cool, early spring evening. The invited guests enter one by one, precisely on time. The group is disciplined; the greetings are limited to perfunctory nods. They seat themselves on crude wooden chairs arranged around a table standing in the middle of the room. 

The séance begins without any preliminaries. Mr. Duncan stretches widely, cranes his neck, and cracks his knuckles loudly. Stanislawa P. pulls out her notebook, which she always carries in the ample pockets of her apron. She browses through her notes for a moment, then comes up to a blackboard hanging on the wall and writes with a piece of chalk: BOURGEOIS ART FREELY. 

Mr. Duncan closes his eyes, lifts his leg in the air, and freezes. His body, immobilized in the grotesque pose, soon begins to shake dangerously. His face reddens. Finally, he leans over the table, chokes, and bangs his forehead hard on the table several times. His effort-reddened face now turns blue, and his stiff neck bends unnaturally to the left. A few moments later, his mouth opens, revealing the end of something that looks like a thick hemp rope. The thing shakes slightly, sticking out by several inches. Unmoved, Mr. Duncan takes the rope between his thumb and index finger, wraps it around his wrist and pulls hard. After several pulls the object reveals itself fully—a saliva-covered, sticky, moving oblong amoeba. The guests are delighted. Ectoplasm! Applause. Mr. Duncan deftly catches the slimy thing with silver tongs and places in a sugar bowl on the table. 

A short break, during which the guests chat and examine the objects displayed in the room, casting glances from time to time at the supernatural spit resting in the bowl. The atmosphere is solemn. The second part of the session is unexpectedly brief. 

The girl opens her notebook to a randomly chosen page and quickly writes on the blackboard: RADICALLY, DIALECTICALLY. 

Before the guests have seated themselves, Mr. Duncan opens his mouth wide, pushes his right hand down his throat, and, with a sweeping gesture, pulls out a bundle of crumpled cloth. The bundle moves and bends, letting out soft squeals. Smiling lightly, Mr. Duncan hands it over to his assistant. She unwraps the cloth and presents the find to the audience. Inside the bundle is a squeaking baby rat. The creature looks around, if this is how the nervous movements of a tiny head with two black spots still covered with skin can be interpreted, then jumps down on the floor and, to the viewers’ surprise, darts under the kitchen cupboard. Applause. The trick prompts laughter and cries of delight. Amid the commotion, no one notices a slimy streak left by the suckling. From the table to the cupboard runs a line of slightly phosphorescent liquid. 

Mr. Duncan puts his finger to his mouth to silence the audience. He takes the crumpled piece of cloth from his assistant, straightens it out on the table, rubs it with the edge of his hand, and strikes a match to see better. With a triumphant grunt, he points to a blurry, worn inscription embroidered with red thread on the cloth. He clears his throat and reads out aloud, “Disturbed places. Unstable places. Windows disturbed by what happens behind them. Doors disturbed by those who open them. Corridors disturbed by those who walk along them.” At this point, someone in the back row bursts out laughing hysterically, faints, and collapses on the floor. It turns out that the unfortunate is Mr. Sazonov, a Russian art collector, the owner of the painting propped against the wall. The man lies on the floor for the next hour, undisturbed by anyone. When he will get up on his feet again, rested, his head full of exotic visions, everyone will have already left. 

The third part of the session takes a violent course, though it inevitably leads toward a disappointment. 

Stanislawa P. carefully rubs out the previous inscriptions, looks into her notebook, muses, and sucks on a piece of chalk before finally calligraphing the following words on the board: DESTRUCTION, EXISTENCE, FRAGMENT. 

Mr. Duncan’s mouth shakes. He sits in an unnatural pose, his torso pressed against the edge of the table, his arms stretched out wide, as if he was preparing to fly. He mumbles something under his breath. Before long, a sticky substance, a slightly luminous semi-saliva starts emerging from his mouth. As it trickles down his chin, his body is shaken by convulsions. Mr. Duncan cries out, waggles his legs, and finally collapses on the floor with a loud thud. He immediately gets up again, brushes himself down and moves closer to the table. Holding his right hand by his mouth, he leans over the sugar bowl. With a disgusted expression on his face, grimacing, he spits out a small sticky ball into the sugar. The ball rolls up the sugary slope and out of the bowl, leaving a slimy, snail-like trail with crystals of sugar on the tabletop. After spiraling chaotically for a dozen or so seconds, it clings to a water-filled plate standing on the table. It is only at this point that the guests notice that the water in the dish has a funny, salmon-pink hue and that letters are visible on the bottom: L.A.S.T., L.E.A.K. 

Silence hangs in the air. For some time, nothing worth mentioning happens. A small bit of spit rests on the table, a crumpled piece of paper covered with sticky human saliva. Mr. Duncan massages his throat, grabs a glass of water, empties it, and rinses out his mouth, gurgling loudly. He spits out the last fragments of wet paper on the floor. He grabs the paper ball delicately and starts unfolding it. A moment later, it becomes clear for everyone that there is no message inside. The piece of paper is completely empty. Stanislawa P. presses her notebook to her chest, letting out a long-drawn-out piercing shriek. This is a sign that the séance is over. Tea is served. The fragments of the previously collected ectoplasm lying at the bottom of a large cut-glass bowl pulsate slightly. The guests watch those peculiar remnants with attention, in silence—comments would be inappropriate—nibbling sweet biscuits. Ashtrays are brought in. The room fills with cigarette smoke and shuffling noises. The pulsations of the fleshy matter are weaker and weaker. 

When the guests are getting ready to leave, Mr. Duncan points to the painting propped against the wall, which throughout the session stood with its front facing the wall. He turns it around carefully, then kneels down and delicately, feeling with his fingertips, examines its surface. The picture is large, colorful, illusive. From the upper right corner leans out a figure filling over a quarter of the canvas surface. The figure, it is hard to say whether it is a man or a woman, lies on the ground, its face touching a muddy puddle of water, which fills much of the bottom part of the painting. The figure is clad in cloth from under which only the face and one hand are visible, both of an uncanny bluish skin color. The face is covered with stripes of color—red, white, and yellow. The lips remain pink. The figure laps up the muddy water, while its blurry countenance is reflected in the surface of the puddle. From the mouth sticks out a tongue that, upon a closer examination, very much resembles a fragment of the substance that only fifteen minutes earlier emerged from inside Mr. Duncan. The coincidence does not however make the expected impression on the viewers. The painting is covered with a blanket. The guests leave in silence. 

The new entry in Stanislawa P.’s notebook reads: THE HISTORY STILL TO BE MADE SHOWS ITSELF.