Sunday, September 25, 2005


The Colour Out Of Space

The Colour Out of Space
H. P. Lovecraft

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that
no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope
fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the
glint of sunlight. On the gender slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with
Squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in
the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys
crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath loW gambrel roofs.
The old folk have gone away, and foreigners do not like to live there.
French-Canadians have tried it, Italians have tried it, and the Poles have come
and departed. It is not because of anything that can be seen or heard or
handled, but because of something that is imagined. The place is not good for
imagination, and does not bring restful dreams at night. It must be this which
keeps the foreigners away, for old Ammi Pierce has never told them of anything
he recalls from the strange days. Ammi, whose head has been a little queer for
years, is the only one who still remains, or who ever talks of the strange days;
and he dares to do this because his house is so near the open fields and the
travelled roads around Arkham.
There was once a road over the hills and through the valleys, that ran straight
where the blasted heath is now; but people ceased to use it and a new road was
laid curing far toward the south. Traces of the old one can still be found
amidst the weeds of a returning wilderness, and some of them will doubtless
linger even when half the hollows are flooded for the new reservoir. Then the
dark woods will be cut down and the blasted heath will slumber far below blue
waters whose surface will mirror the sky and ripple in the sun. And the secrets
of the strange days will be one with the deep's secrets; one with the hidden
lore of old ocean, and all the mystery of primal earth.
When I went into the hills and vales to survey for the new reservoir they told
me the place was evil. They told me this in Arkham, and because that is a very
old town full of witch legends I thought the evil must he something which
grandams had whispered to children through centuries. The name "blasted heath"
seemed to me very odd and theatrical, and I wondered how it had come into the
folklore of a Puritan people. Then I saw that dark westward tangle of glens and
slopes for myself, end ceased to wonder at anything beside its own elder
mystery. It was morning when I saw it, but shadow lurked always there. The trees
grew too thickly, and their trunks were too big for any healthy New England
wood. There was too much silence in the dim alleys between them, and the floor
was too soft with the dank moss and mattings of infinite years of decay.
In the open spaces, mostly along the line of the old road, there were little
hillside farms; sometimes with all the buildings standing, sometimes with only
6ne or two, and sometimes with only a lone chimney or fast-filling cellar. Weeds
and briers reigned, and furtive wild things rustled in the undergrowth. Upon
everything was a haze of restlessness and oppression; a touch of the unreal and
the grotesque, as if some vital element of perspective or chiaroscuro were awry.
I did not wonder that the foreigners would not stay, for this was no region to
sleep in. It was too much like a landscape of Salvator Rosa; too much like some
forbidden woodcut in a tale of terror.
But even all this was not so bad as the blasted heath. I knew it the moment I
came upon it at the bottom of a spacious valley; for no other name could fit
such a thing, or any other thing fit such a name. It was as if the poet had
coined the phrase from having seen this one particular region.- It must, I
thought as I viewed it, be the outcome of a fire; but why had nothing new ever
grown over these five acres of grey desolation that sprawled open to the sky
like a great spot eaten by acid in the woods and fields? It lay largely to the
north of the ancient road line, but encroached a little on the other side. I
felt an odd reluctance about approaching, and did so at last only because my
business took me through and past it. There was no vegetation of any kind on
that broad expanse, but only a fine grey dust or ash which no wind seemed ever
to blow about. The trees near it were sickly and stunted, and many dead trunks
stood or lay rotting at the rim. As I walked hurriedly by I saw the tumbled
bricks and stones of an old chimney and cellar on my right, and the yawning
black maw of an abandoned well whose stagnant vapours played strange tricks with
the hues of the sunlight. Even the long, dark woodland climb beyond seemed
welcome in contrast, and I marvelled no more at the frightened whispers of
Arkham people. There had been no house or ruin near; even in the old days the
place must have been lonely and remote. And at twilight, dreading to repass that
ominous spot, I walked circuitously back to the town by the curious road on the
south. I vaguely wished some clouds would gather, for an odd timidity about the
deep skyey voids above had crept into my soul.
In the evening I asked old people in Arkham about the blasted heath, and what
was meant by that phrase "strange days" which so many evasively muttered. I
could not, however, get any good answers1 except that all the mystery was much
more recent than I had dreamed. It was not a matter of old legendry at all, but
something within the lifetime of those who spoke. It had happened in the
'eighties, and a family had disappeared or was killed. Speakers would not be
exact; and because they all told me to pay no attention to old Ammi Pierce's
crazy tales, I sought him out the next morning, having heard that he lived alone
in the ancient tottering cottage where the trees first begin to get very thick.
It was a fearsomely ancient place, and had begun to exude the faint miasmal
odour which clings about houses that have stood too long. Only with persistent
knocking could I rouse the aged man, and when he shuffled timidly to the door
could could tell he was not glad to see me. He was not so feeble as I had
expected; but his eyes drooped in a curious way, and his unkempt clothing and
white beard made him seem very worn and dismal.
Not knowing just how he could best be launched on his tales, I feigned a matter
of business; told him of my surveying, and asked vague questions about the
district. He was far brighter and more educated than I had been led to think,
and before I knew it had graNped quite as much of the subject as any man I had
talked with in Arkham. He was not like other rustics I bad known in the sections
where reservoirs were to be. From him there were no protests at the miles of old
wood and farmland to be blotted out, though perhaps there would have been had
not his home lain outside the bounds of the future lake. Relief was all that he
showed; relief at the doom of the dark ancient valleys through which he had
roamed all his life. They were better under water now - better under water since
the strange days. And with this opening his husky voice sank low, while his body
leaned forward and his right forefinger began to point shakily and impressively.

It was then that I heard the story, and as the rambling voice scraped and
whispered on I shivered again and again spite the summer day. Often I had to
recall the speaker from ramblings, piece out scientific points which he knew
only by a fading parrot memory of professors' talk, or bridge over gaps, where
his sense of logic and continuity broke down. When he was done I did not wonder
that his mind had snapped a trifle, or that the folk of Arkham would not speak
much of the blasted heath. I hurried back before sunset to my hotel, unwilling
to have the stars come out above me in the open; and the next day returned to -
Boston to give up my position. I could i!not go into that dim chaos of old
forest and slope again, or face another time that grey blasted heath where the
black well yawned deep beside the tumbled bricks and stones. The reservoir will
soon be built now, and all those elder secrets will be safe forever under watery
fathoms. But even then I do not believe I would like to visit that country by
night - at least not when the sinister stars are out; and nothing could bribe me
to drink the new city water of Arkham.
It all began, old Ammi said, with the meteorite. Before that time there had been
no wild legends at all since the witch trials, and even then these western woods
were not feared half so much as the small island in the Miskatonic where the
devil held court beside a curious 'lone altar older than the Indians. These were
not haunted woods, and their fantastic dusk was never terrible till the strange
days. Then there had come that white noontide cloud, that string of explosions
in the air, and that pillar of smoke from the valley far in the wood. And by
night all Arkham had heard of the great rock that fell out of the sky and bedded
itself in the ground beside the well at the Nahum Gardner place. That was the
house which had stood where the blasted heath was to come - the trim white Nahum
Gardner house amidst its fertile gardens and orchards.
Nahum had come to town to tell people about the stone, and dropped in at Ammi
Pierce's on the way. Ammi was forty then, and all the queer things were fixed
very strongly in his mind. He and his wife had gone with the three professors
from Miskatonic University who hastened out the next morning to see the weird
visitor from unknown stellar space, and had wondered why Nahum had called it so
large the day before. It had shrunk, Nahum said as he pointed out the big
brownish mound above the ripped earth and charred grass near the archaic
well-sweep in his front yard; but the wise men answered that stones do not
shrink. Its heat lingered persistently, and Nahum declared it had glowed faintly
in the night. The professors tried it with a geologist's hammer and found it was
oddly soft. It was, in truth, so soft as to be almost plastic; and they gouged
rather than chipped a specimen to take back to the college for testing. They
took it in an old pail borrowed from Nahum's kitchen, for even the small piece
refused to grow cool. On the trip back they stopped at Ammi's to rest, and
seemed thoughtful when Mrs. Pierce remarked that the fragment was growing
smaller and burning the bottom of the pail. Truly, it was not large, but perhaps
they had taken less than they thought.
The day after that-all this was in June of '82-the professors had trooped out
again in a great excitement. As they passed Ammi's they told him what queer
things the specimen had done, and how it had faded wholly away when they put it
in a glass beaker. The beaker had gone, too, and the wise men talked of the
strange stone's affinity for silicon. It had acted quite unbelievably in that
well-ordered laboratory; doing nothing at all and showing no occluded gases when
heated on charcoal, being wholly negative in the borax bead, and soon proving
itself absolutely non-volatile at any producible temperature, including that of
the oxy-hydrogen blowpipe. On an anvil it appeared highly malleable, and in the
dark its luminosity was very marked. stubbornly refusing to grow cool, it soon
had the college in a state of real excitement; and when upon heating before the
spectroscope it displayed shining bands unlike any known colours of the normal
spectrum there was much breathless talk of new elements, bizarre optical
properties, and other things which puzzled men of science are wont to say when
faced by the unknown.
Hot as it was, they tested it in a crucible with all the proper reagents. Water
did nothing. Hydrochloric acid was the same. Nitric acid and even aqua regia
merely hissed and spattered against its torrid invulnerability. Ammi had
difficulty in recalling all these things, but recognized some solvents as I
mentioned them in the usual order of use. There were am monia and caustic soda,
alcohol and ether, nauseous carbon disulphide and a dozen others; but although
the weight grew steadily less as time passed, and the fragment seemed to be
slightly cooling, there was no change in the solvents to show that they had
attacked the substance at all. It was a metal, though, beyond a doubt. It was
magnetic, for one thing; and after its immersion in the acid solvents there
seemed to be faint traces of the Widmanstatten figures found on meteoric iron.
When the cooling had grown very considerable, the testing was carried on in
glass; and it was in a glass beaker that they left all the chips made of the
original fragment during the work. The next morning both chips and beaker were
gone without trace, and only a charred spot marked the place on the wooden shelf
where they had been.
All this the professors told Ammi as they paused at his door, and once more he
went with them to see the stony messenger from the stars, though this time his
wife did not accompany him. It had now most cer tainly shrunk, and even the
sober professors could not doubt the truth of what they saw. All around the
dwindling brown lump near the well was a vacant space, except where the earth
had caved in; and whereas it had been a good seven feet across the day before,
it was now scarcely five. It was still hot, and the sages studied its surface
curiously as they detached another and larger piece with hammer and chisel. They
gouged deeply this time, and as they pried away the smaller mass they saw that
the core of the thing was not quite homogeneous.
They had uncovered what seemed to be the side of a large coloured globule
embedded in the substance. The colour, which resembled some of the bands in the
meteor's strange spectrum, was almost impossible to describe; and it was only by
analogy that they called it colour at all. Its texture was glossy, and upon
tapping it appeared to promise both brittle ness and hollowness. One of the
professors gave it a smart blow with a hammer, and it burst with a nervous
little pop. Nothing was emitted, and all trace of the thing vanished with the
puncturing. It left behind a hollow spherical space about three inches across,
and all thought it probable that others would be discovered as the enclosing
substance wasted away.
Conjecture was vain; so after a futile attempt to find additional globules by
drilling, the seekers left again with their new specimen which proved, however,
as baffling in the laboratory as its predecessor. Aside from being almost
plastic, having heat, magnetism, and slight luminosity, cooling slightly in
powerful acids, possessing an unknown spec trum, wasting away in air, and
attacking silicon compounds with mutual destruction as a result, it presented no
identifying features whatsoever; and at the end of the tests the college
scientists were forced to own that they could not place it. It was nothing of
this earth, but a piece of the great outside; and as such dowered with outside
properties and obedient to outside laws.
That night there was a thunderstorm, and when the professors went out to Nahum's
the next day they met with a bitter disappointment. The stone, magnetic as it
had been, must have had some peculiar electrical property; for it had "drawn the
lightning," as Nahum said, with a singular persistence. Six times within an hour
the farmer saw the lightning strike the furrow in the front yard, and when the
storm was over nothing remained but a ragged pit by the ancient well-sweep,
half-choked with a caved-in earth. Digging had borne no fruit, and the
scientists verified the fact of the utter vanishment. The failure was total; so
that nothing was left to do but go back to the laboratory and test again the
disappearing fragment left carefully cased in lead. That fragment lasted a week,
at the end of which nothing of value had been learned of it. When it had gone,
no residue was left behind, and in time the professors felt scarcely sure they
had indeed seen with waking eyes that cryptic vestige of the fathomless gulfs
outside; that lone, weird message from other universes and other realms of
matter, force, and entity.
As was natural, the Arkham papers made much of the incident with its collegiate
sponsoring, and sent reporters to talk with Nahum Gardner and his family. At
least one Boston daily also sent a scribe, and Nahum quickly became a kind of
local celebrity. He was a lean, genial person of about fifty, living with his
wife and three sons on the pleasant farmstead in the valley. He and Ammi
exchanged visits frequently, as did their wives; and Ammi had nothing but praise
for him after all these years. He seemed slightly proud of the notice his place
had attracted, and talked often of the meteorite in the succeeding weeks. That
July and August were hot; and Nahum worked hard at his haying in the ten-acre
pasture across Chapman's Brook; his rattling wain wearing deep ruts in the
shadowy lanes between. The labour tired him more than it had in other years, and
he felt that age was beginning to tell on him.
Then fell the time of fruit and harvest. The pears and apples slowly ripened,
and Nahum vowed that his orchards were prospering as never before. The fruit was
growing to phenomenal size and unwonted gloss, and in such abundance that extra
barrels were ordered to handle the future crop. But with the ripening came sore
disappointment, for of all that gorgeous array of specious lusciousness not one
single jot was fit to eat. Into the fine flavour of the pears and apples had
crept a stealthy bitterness and sickishness, so that even the smallest bites
induced a lasting disgust. It was the same with the melons and tomatoes, and
Nahum sadly saw that his entire crop was lost. Quick to connect events, he
declared that the meteorite had poisoned the soil, and thanked Heaven that most
of the other crops were in the upland lot along the road.
Winter came early, and was very cold. Ammi saw Nahum less often than usual, and
observed that he had begun to look worried. The rest of his family too, seemed
to have grown taciturn; and were far from steady in their church-going or their
attendance at the various social events of the countryside. For this reserve or
melancholy no cause could be found, though all the household confessed now and
then to poorer health and a feeling of vague disquiet. Nahum himself gave the
most definite statement of anyone when he said he was disturbed about certain
footprints in the snow. They were the usual winter prints of red squirrels,
white rabbits, and foxes, but the brooding farmer professed to see something not
quite right about their nature and arrangement. He was never specific, but
appeared to think that they were not as characteristic of the anatomy and habits
of squirrels and rabbits and foxes as they ought to be. Ammi listened without
interest to this talk until one night when he drove past Nahum's house in his
sleigh on the way back from Clark's Comer. There had been a moon, and a rabbit
had run across the road, and the leaps of that rabbit were longer than either
Ammi or his horse liked. The latter, indeed, had almost run away when brought up
by a firm rein. Thereafter Ammi gave Nahum's tales more respect, and wondered
why the Gardner dogs seemed so cowed and quivering every morning. They had, it
developed, nearly lost the spirit to bark.
In February the McGregor boys from Meadow Hill were out shooting woodchucks, and
not far from the Gardner place bagged a very peculiar specimen. The proportions
of its body seemed slightly altered in a queer way impossible to describe, while
its face had taken on an expression which no one ever saw in a woodchuck before.
The boys were genuinely frightened, and threw the thing away at once, so that
only their grotesque tales of it ever reached the people of the countryside. But
the shying of horses near Nahum's house had now become an acknowledged thing,
and all the basis for a cycle of whispered legend was fast taking form.
People vowed that the snow melted faster around Nahum's than it did anywhere
else, and early in March there was an awed discussion in Potter's general store
at Clark's Corners. Stephen Rice had driven past Gardner's in the morning, and
had noticed the skunk-cabbages coming up through the mud by the woods across the
road. Never were things of such size seen before, and they held strange colours
that could not be put into any words. Their shapes were monstrous, and the horse
had snorted at an odour which struck Stephen as wholly unprecedented. That
afternoon several persons drove past to see the abnormal growth, and all agreed
that plants of that kind ought never to sprout in a healthy world. The bad fruit
of the fall before was freely mentioned, and it went from mouth to mouth that
there was poison in Nahum's ground. Of course it was the meteorite; and
remembering how strange the men from the college had found that stone to be,
several farmers spoke about the matter to them.
One day they paid Nahum a visit; but having no love of wild tales and folklore
were very conservative in what they inferred. The plants were certainly odd, but
all skunk-cabbages are more or less odd in shape and hue. Perhaps some mineral
element from the stone had entered the soil, but it would soon be washed away.
And as for the footprints and frightened horses - of course this was mere
country talk which such a phenomenon as the aerolite would be certain to start.
There was really nothing for serious men to do in cases of wild gossip, for
superstitious rustics will say and believe anything. And so all through the
strange days the professors stayed away in contempt. Only one of them, when
given two phials of dust for analysis in a police job over a year and half
later, recalled that the queer colour of that skunk-cabbage had been very like
one of the anomalous bands of light shown by the meteor fragment in the college
spectroscope, and like the brittle globule found imbedded in the stone from the
abyss. The samples in this analysis case gave the same odd bands at first,
though later they lost the property.
The trees budded prematurely around Nahum's, and at night they swayed ominously
in the wind. Nahum's second son Thaddeus, a lad of fifteen, swore that they
swayed also when there was no wind; but even the gossips would not credit this.
Certainly, however, restlessness was in the air. The entire Gardner family
developed the habit of stealthy listening, though not for any sound which they
could consciously name. The listening was, indeed, rather a product of moments
when consciousness seemed half to slip away. Unfortunately such moments
increased week by week, till it became common speech that "something was wrong
with all Nahum's folks." When the early saxifrage came out it had another
strange colour; not quite like that of the skunk-cabbage, but plainly related
and equally unknown to anyone who saw it. Nahum took some blossoms to Arkham and
showed them to the editor of the Gazette, but that dignitary did no more than
write a humorous article about them, in which the dark fears of rustics were
held up to polite ridicule. It was a mistake of Nahum's to tell a stolid city
man about the way the great, overgrown mourning-cloak butterflies behaved in
connection with these saxifrages.
April brought a kind of madness to the country folk, and began that disuse of
the road past Nahum's which led to its ultimate abandonment. It was the
vegetation. All the orchard trees blossomed forth in strange colours, and
through the stony soil of the yard and adjacent pasturage there sprang up a
bizarre growth which only a botanist could connect with the proper flora of the
region. No sane wholesome colours were anywhere to be seen except in the green
grass and leafage; but everywhere were those hectic and prismatic variants of
some diseased, underlying primary tone without a place among the' known tints of
earth. The "Dutchman's breeches" became a thing of sinister menace, and the
bloodroots grew insolent in their chromatic perversion. Ammi and the Gardners
thought that most of the colours had a sort of haunting familiarity, and decided
that they reminded one of the brittle globule in the meteor. Nahum ploughed and
sowed the ten-acre pasture and the upland lot, but did nothing with the land
around the house. He knew it would be of no use, and hoped that the summer's
strange growths would draw all the poison from the soil. He was prepared for
almost anything now, and had grown used to the sense of something near him
waiting to be heard. The shunning of his house by neighbors told on him, of
course; but it told on his wife more. The boys were better off, being at school
each day; but they could not help being frightened by the gossip. Thaddeus, an
especially sensitive youth, suffered the most.
In May the insects came, and Nahum's place became a nightmare of buzzing and
crawling. Most of the creatures seemed not quite usual in their aspects and
motions, and their nocturnal habits contradicted all former experience. The
Gardners took to watching at night - watching in all directions at random for
something - they could not tell what. It was then that they owned that Thaddeus
had been right about the trees. Mrs. Gardner was the next to see it from the
window as she watched the swollen boughs of a maple against a moonlit sky. The
boughs surely moved, and there was no 'wind. It must be the sap. Strangeness had
come into everything growing now. Yet it was none of Nahum's family at all who
made the next discovery. Familiarity had dulled them, and what they could not
see was glimpsed by a timid windmill salesman from Bolton who drove by one night
in ignorance of the country legends. What he told in Arkham was given a short
paragraph in the Gazette; and it was there that all the farmers, Nahum included,
saw it first. The night had been dark and the buggy-lamps faint, but around a
farm in the valley which everyone knew from the account must be Nahum's, the
darkness had been less thick. A dim though distinct luminosity seemed to inhere
in all the vegetation, grass, leaves, and blossoms alike, while at one moment a
detached piece of the phosphorescence appeared to stir furtively in the yard
near the barn.
The grass had so far seemed untouched, and the cows were freely pastured in the
lot near the house, but toward the end of May the milk began to be bad. Then
Nahum had the cows driven to the uplands, after which this trouble ceased. Not
long after this the change in grass and leaves became apparent to the eye. All
the verdure was going grey, and was developing a highly singular quality of
brittleness. Ammi was now the only person who ever visited the place, and his
visits were becoming fewer and fewer. When school closed the Gardners were
virtually cut off from the world, and sometimes let Ammi do their errands in
town. They were failing curiously both physically and mentally, and no one was
surprised when the news of Mrs. Gardner's madness stole around.
It happened in June, about the anniversary of the meteor's fall, and the poor
woman screamed about things in the air which she could not describe. In her
raving there was not a single specific noun, but only verbs and pronouns. Things
moved and changed and fluttered, and ears tingled to impulses which were not
wholly sounds. Something was taken away - she was being drained of something -
something was fastening itself on her that ought not to be - someone must make
it keep off - nothing was ever still in the night - the walls and windows
shifted. Nahum did not send her to the county asylum, but let her wander about
the house as long as she was harmless to herself and others. Even when her
expression changed he did nothing. But when the boys grew afraid of her, and
Thaddeus nearly fainted at the way she made faces at him, he decided to keep her
locked in the attic. By July she had ceased to speak and crawled on all fours,
and before that month was over Nahum got the mad notion that she was slightly
luminous in the dark, as he now clearly saw was the case with the nearby
It was a little before this that the horses had stampeded. Something had aroused
them in the night, and their neighing and kicking in their stalls had been
terrible. There seemed virtually nothing to do to calm them, and when Nahum
opened the stable door they all bolted out like frightened woodland deer. It
took a week to track all four, and when found they were seen to be quite useless
and unmanageable. Something had snapped in their brains, and each one had to be
shot for its own good. Nahum borrowed a horse from Ammi for his haying, but
found it would not approach the barn. It shied, balked, and whinnied, and in the
end he could do nothing but drive it into the yard while the men used their own
strength to get the heavy wagon near enough the hayloft for convenient pitching.
And all the while the vegetation was turning grey and brittle. Even the flowers
whose hues had been so strange were greying now, and the fruit was coming out
grey and dwarfed and tasteless. The asters and golden-rod bloomed grey and
distorted, and the roses and zinneas and hollyhocks in the front yard were such
blasphemous-looking things that Nahum's oldest boy Zenas cut them down. The
strangely puffed insects died about that time, even the bees that had left their
hives and taken to the woods.
By September all the vegetation was fast crumbling to a greyish powder, and
Nahum feared that the trees would die before the poison was out of the soil. His
wife now had spells of terrific screaming, and he and the boys were in a
constant state of nervous tension. They shunned people now, and when school
opened the boys did not go. But it was Ammi, on one of his rare visits, who
first realised that the well water was no longer good. It had an evil taste that
was not exactly fetid nor exactly salty, and Ammi advised his friend to dig
another well on higher ground to use till the soil was good again. Nahum,
however, ignored the warning, for he had by that time become calloused to
strange and unpleasant things. He and the boys continued to use the tainted
supply, drinking it as listlessly and mechanically as they ate their meagre and
ill-cooked meals and did their thankless and monotonous chores through the
aimless days. There was something of stolid resignation about them all, as if
they walked half in another world between lines of nameless guards to a certain
and familiar doom.
Thaddeus went mad in September after a visit to the well. He had gone with a
pail and had come back empty-handed, shrieking and waving his arms, and
sometimes lapsing into an inane titter or a whisper about "the moving colours
down there." Two in one family was pretty bad, but Nahum was very brave about
it. He let the boy run about for a week until he began stumbling and hurting
himself, and then he shut him in an attic room across the hall from his
mother's. The way they screamed at each other from behind their locked doors was
very terrible, especially to little Merwin, who fancied they talked in some
terrible language that was not of earth. Merwin was getting frightfully
imaginative, and his restlessness was worse after the shutting away of the
brother who had been his greatest playmate.
Almost at the same time the mortality among the livestock commenced. Poultry
turned greyish and died very quickly, their meat being found dry and noisome
upon cutting. Hogs grew inordinately fat, then suddenly began to undergo
loathsome changes which no one could explain. Their meat was of course useless,
and Nahum was at his wit's end. No rural veterinary would approach his place,
and the city veterinary from Arkham was openly baffled. The swine began growing
grey and brittle and falling to pieces before they died, and their eyes and
muzzles developed singular alterations. It was very inexplicable, for they had
never been fed from the tainted vegetation. Then something struck the cows.
Certain areas or sometimes the whole body would be uncannily shrivelled or
compressed, and atrocious collapses or disintegrations were common. In the last
stages - and death was always the result - there would be a greying and turning
brittle like that which beset the hogs. There could be no question of poison,
for all the cases occurred in a locked and undisturbed barn. No bites of
prowling things could have brought the virus, for what live beast of earth can
pass through solid obstacles? It must be only natural disease - yet what disease
could wreak such results was beyond any mind's guessing. When the harvest came
there was not an animal surviving on the place, for the stock and poultry were
dead and the dogs had run away. These dogs, three in number, had all vanished
one night and were never heard of again. The five cats had left some time
before, but their going was scarcely noticed since there now seemed to be no
mice, and only Mrs. Gardner had made pets of the graceful felines.
On the nineteenth of October Nahum staggered into Ammi's house with hideous
news. The death had come to poor Thaddeus in his attic room, and it had come in
a way which could not be told. Nahum had dug a grave in the railed family plot
behind the farm, and had put therein what he found. There could have been
nothing from outside, for the small barred window and locked door were intact;
but it was much as it had been in the barn. Ammi and his wife consoled the
stricken man as best they could, but shuddered as they did so. Stark terror
seemed to cling round the Gardners and all they touched, and the very presence
of one in the house was a breath from regions unnamed and unnamable. Ammi
accompanied Nahum home with the greatest reluctance, and did what he might to
calm the hysterical sobbing of little Merwin. Zenas needed no calming. He had
come of late to do nothing but stare into space and obey what his father told
him; and Ammi thought that his fate was very merciful. Now and then Merwin's
screams were answered faintly from the attic, and in response to an inquiring
look Nahum said that his wife was getting very feeble. When night approached,
Ammi managed to get away; for not even friendship could make him stay in that
spot when the faint glow of the vegetation began and the trees may or may not
have swayed without wind. It was really lucky for Ammi that he was not more
imaginative. Even as things were, his mind was bent ever so slightly; but had he
been able to connect and reflect upon all the portents around him he must
inevitably have turned a total maniac. In the twilight he hastened home, the
screams of the mad woman and the nervous child ringing horribly in his ears.
Three days later Nahum burst into Ammi's kitchen in the early morning, and in
the absence of his host stammered out a desperate tale once more, while Mrs.
Pierce listened in a clutching fright. It was little Merwin this time. He was
gone. He had gone out late at night with a lantern and pail for water, and had
never come back. He'd been going to pieces for days, and hardly knew what he was
about. Screamed at everything. There had been a frantic shriek from the yard
then, but before the father could get to the door the boy was gone. There was no
glow from the lantern he had taken, and of the child himself no trace. At the
time Nahum thought the lantern and pail were gone too; but when dawn came, and
the man had plodded back from his all-night search of the woods and fields, he
had found some very curious things near the well. There was a crushed and
apparently somewhat melted mass of iron which had certainly been the lantern;
while a bent handle and twisted iron hoops beside it, both half-fused, seemed to
hint at the remnants of the pail. That was all. Nahum was past imagining, Mrs.
Pierce was blank, and Ammi, when he had reached home and heard the tale, could
give no guess. Merwin was gone, and there would be no use in telling the people
around, who shunned all Gardners now. No use, either, in telling the city people
at Arkham who laughed at everything. Thad was gone, and now Merwin was gone.
Something was creeping and creeping and waiting to be seen and heard. Nahum
would go soon, and he wanted Ammi to look after his wife and Zenas if they
survived him. It must all be a judgment of some sort; though he could not fancy
what for, since he had always walked uprightly in the Lord's ways so far as he
For over two weeks Ammi saw nothing of Nahum; and then, worried about what might
have happened, he overcame his fears and paid the Gardner place a visit. There
was no smoke from the great chimney, and for a moment the visitor was
apprehensive of the worst. The aspect of the whole farm was shocking - greyish
withered grass and leaves on the ground, vines falling in brittle wreckage from
archaic walls and gables, and great bare trees clawing up at the grey November
sky with a studied malevolence which Ammi could not but feel had come from some
subtle change in the tilt of the branches. But Nahum was alive, after all. He
was weak, and lying on a couch in the low-ceiled kitchen, but perfectly
conscious and able to give simple orders to Zenas. The room was deadly cold; and
as Ammi visibly shivered, the host shouted huskily to Zenas for more wood. Wood,
indeed, was sorely needed; since the cavernous fireplace was unlit and empty,
with a cloud of soot blowing about in the chill wind that came down the chimney.
Presently Nahum asked him if the extra wood had made him any more comfortable,
and then Ammi saw what had happened. The stoutest cord had broken at last, and
the hapless farmer's mind was proof against more sorrow.
Questioning tactfully, Ammi could get no clear data at all about the missing
Zenas. "In the well - he lives in the well - " was all that the clouded father
would say. Then there flashed across the visitor's mind a sudden thought of the
mad wife, and he changed his line of inquiry. "Nabby? Why, here she is!" was the
surprised response of poor Nahum, and Ammi soon saw that he must search for
himself. Leaving the harmless babbler on the couch, he took the keys from their
nail beside the door and climbed the creaking stairs to the attic. It was very
close and noisome up there, and no sound could be heard from any direction. Of
the four doors in sight, only one was locked, and on this he tried various keys
of the ring he had taken. The third key proved the right one, and after some
fumbling Ammi threw open the low white door.
It was quite dark inside, for the window was small and half-obscured by the
crude wooden bars; and Ammi could see nothing at all on the wide-planked floor.
The stench was beyond enduring, and before proceeding further he had to retreat
to another room and return with his lungs filled with breathable air. When he
did enter he saw something dark in the corner, and upon seeing it more clearly
he screamed outright. While he screamed he thought a momentary cloud eclipsed
the window, and a second later he felt himself brushed as if by some hateful
current of vapour. Strange colours danced before his eyes; and had not a present
horror numbed him he would have thought of the globule in the meteor that the
geologist's hammer had shattered, and of the morbid vegetation that had sprouted
in the spring. As it was he thought only of the blasphemous monstrosity which
confronted him, and which all too clearly had shared the nameless fate of young
Thaddeus and the livestock. But the terrible thing about the horror was that it
very slowly and perceptibly moved as it continued to crumble.
Ammi would give me no added particulars of this scene, but the shape in the
comer does not reappear in his tale as a moving object. There are things which
cannot be mentioned, and what is done in common humanity is sometimes cruelly
judged by the law. I gathered that no moving thing was left in that attic room,
and that to leave anything capable of motion there would have been a deed so
monstrous as to damn any accountable being to eternal torment. Anyone but a
stolid farmer would have fainted or gone mad, but Ammi walked conscious through
that low doorway and locked the accursed secret behind him. There would be Nahum
to deal with now; he must be fed and tended, and removed to some place where he
could be cared for.
Commencing his descent of the dark stairs. Ammi heard a thud below him. He even
thought a scream had been suddenly choked off, and recalled nervously the clammy
vapour which had brushed by him in that frightful room above. What presence had
his cry and entry started up? Halted by some vague fear, he heard still further
sounds below. Indubitably there was a sort of heavy dragging, and a most
detestably sticky noise as of some fiendish and unclean species of suction. With
an associative sense goaded to feverish heights, he thought unaccountably of
what he had seen upstairs. Good God! What eldritch dream-world was this into
which he had blundered? He dared move neither backward nor forward, but stood
there trembling at the black curve of the boxed-in staircase. Every trifle of
the scene burned itself into his brain. The sounds, the sense of dread
expectancy, the darkness, the steepness of the narrow step - and merciful
Heaven! - the faint but unmistakable luminosity of all the woodwork in sight;
steps, sides, exposed laths, and beams alike.
Then there burst forth a frantic whinny from Ammi's horse outside, followed at
once by a clatter which told of a frenzied runaway. In another moment horse and
buggy had gone beyond earshot, leaving the frightened man on the dark stairs to
guess what had sent them. But that was not all. There had been another sound out
there. A sort of liquid splash - water - it must have been the well. He had left
Hero untied near it, and a buggy wheel must have brushed the coping and knocked
in a stone. And still the pale phosphorescence glowed in that detestably ancient
woodwork. God! how old the house was! Most of it built before 1670, and the
gambrel roof no later than 1730.
A feeble scratching on the floor downstairs now sounded distinctly, and Ammi's
grip tightened on a heavy stick he had picked up in the attic for some purpose.
Slowly nerving himself, he finished his descent and walked boldly toward the
kitchen. But he did not complete the walk, because what he sought was no longer
there. It had come to meet him, and it was still alive after a fashion. Whether
it had crawled or whether it had been dragged by any external forces, Ammi could
not say; but the death had been at it. Everything had happened in the last
half-hour, but collapse, greying, and disintegration were already far advanced.
There was a horrible brittleness, and dry fragments were scaling off. Ammi could
not touch it, but looked horrifiedly into the distorted parody that had been a
face. "What was it, Nahum - what was it?" He whispered, and the cleft, bulging
lips were just able to crackle out a final answer.
"Nothin'... nothin'... the colour... it burns... cold an' wet, but it burns...
it lived in the well... I seen it... a kind of smoke... jest like the flowers
last spring... the well shone at night... Thad an' Merwin an' Zenas...
everything alive... suckin' the life out of everything... in that stone... it
must a' come in that stone pizened the whole place... dun't know what it
wants... that round thing them men from the college dug outen the stone... they
smashed it... it was the same colour... jest the same, like the flowers an'
plants... must a' ben more of 'em... seeds... seeds... they growed... I seen it
the fust time this week... must a' got strong on Zenas. . . he was a big boy,
full o' life... it beats down your mind an' then gets ye... burns ye up... in
the well water... you was right about that... evil water... Zenas never come
back from the well... can't git away... draws ye... ye know summ'at's comin' but
tain't no use... I seen it time an' agin senct Zenas was took... whar's Nabby,
Ammi?... my head's no good... dun't know how long sense I fed her... it'll git
her ef we ain't keerful... jest a colour. . . her face is gittin' to hev that
colour sometimes towards night... an' it burns an' sucks... it come from some
place whar things ain't as they is here... one o' them professors said so... he
was right... look out, Ammi, it'll do suthin' more... sucks the life out..."
But that was all. That which spoke could speak no more because it had completely
caved in. Ammi laid a red checked tablecloth over what was left and reeled out
the back door into the fields. He climbed the slope to the ten-acre pasture and
stumbled home by the north road and the woods. He could not pass that well from
which his horses had run away. He had looked at it through the window, and had
seen that no stone was missing from the rim. Then the lurching buggy had not
dislodged anything after all - the splash had been something else - something
which went into the well after it had done with poor Nahum.
When Ammi reached his house the horses and buggy had arrived before him and
thrown his wife into fits of anxiety. Reassuring her without explanations, he
set out at once for Arkham and notified the authorities that the Gardner family
was no more. He indulged in no details, but merely told of the deaths of Nahum
and Nabby, that of Thaddeus being already known, and mentioned that the cause
seemed to be the same strange ailment which had killed the live-stock. He also
stated that Merwin and Zenas had disappeared. There was considerable questioning
at the police station, and in the end Ammi was compelled to take three officers
to the Gardner farm, together with the coroner, the medical examiner, and the
veterinary who had treated the diseased animals. He went much against his will,
for the afternoon was advancing and he feared the fall of night over that
accursed place, but it was some comfort to have so many people with him.
The six men drove out in a democrat-wagon, following Ammi's buggy, and arrived
at the pest-ridden farmhouse about four o'clock. Used as the officers were to
gruesome experiences, not one remained unmoved at what was found in the attic
and under the red checked tablecloth on the floor below. The whole aspect of the
farm with its grey desolation was terrible enough, but those two crumbling
objects were beyond all bounds. No one could look long at them, and even the
medical examiner admitted that there was very little to examine. Specimens could
be analysed, of course, so he busied himself in obtaining them - and here it
develops that a very puzzling aftermath occurred at the college laboratory where
the two phials of dust were finally taken. Under the spectroscope both samples
gave off an unknown spectrum, in which many of the baffling bands were precisely
like those which the strange meteor had yielded in the previous year. The
property of emitting this spectrum vanished in a month, the dust thereafter
consisting mainly of alkaline phosphates and carbonates.
Ammi would not have told the men about the well if he had thought they meant to
do anything then and there. It was getting toward sunset, and he was anxious to
be away. But he could not help glancing nervously at the stony curb by the great
sweep, and when a detective questioned him he admitted that Nahum had feared
something down there so much so that he had never even thought of searching it
for Merwin or Zenas. After that nothing would do but that they empty and explore
the well immediately, so Ammi had to wait trembling while pail after pail of
rank water was hauled up and splashed on the soaking ground outside. The men
sniffed in disgust at the fluid, and toward the last held their noses against
the foetor they were uncovering. It was not so long a job as they had feared it
would be, since the water was phenomenally low. There is no need to speak too
exactly of what they found. Merwin and Zenas were both there, in part, though
the vestiges were mainly skeletal. There were also a small deer and a large dog
in about the same state, and a number of bones of small animals. The ooze and
slime at the bottom seemed inexplicably porous and bubbling, and a man who
descended on hand-holds with a long pole found that he could sink the wooden
shaft to any depth in the mud of the floor without meeting any solid
Twilight had now fallen, and lanterns were brought from the house. Then, when it
was seen that nothing further could be gained from the well, everyone went
indoors and conferred in the ancient sitting-room while the intermittent light
of a spectral half-moon played wanly on the grey desolation outside. The men
were frankly nonplussed by the entire case, and could find no convincing common
element to link the strange vegetable conditions, the unknown disease of
live-stock and humans, and the unaccountable deaths of Merwin and Zenas in the
tainted well. They had heard the common country talk, it is true; but could not
believe that anything contrary to natural law had occurred. No doubt the meteor
had poisoned the soil, but the illness of persons and animals who had eaten
nothing grown in that soil was another matter. Was it the well water? Very
possibly. It might be a good idea to analyze it. But what peculiar madness could
have made both boys jump into the well? Their deeds were so similar-and the
fragments showed that they had both suffered from the grey brittle death. Why
was everything so grey and brittle?
It was the coroner, seated near a window overlooking the yard, who first noticed
the glow about the well. Night had fully set in, and all the abhorrent grounds
seemed faintly luminous with more than the fitful moonbeams; but this new glow
was something definite and distinct, and appeared to shoot up from the black pit
like a softened ray from a searchlight, giving dull reflections in the little
ground pools where the water had been emptied. It had a very queer colour, and
as all the men clustered round the window Ammi gave a violent start. For this
strange beam of ghastly miasma was to him of no unfamiliar hue. He had seen that
colour before, and feared to think what it might mean. He had seen it in the
nasty brittle globule in that aerolite two summers ago, had seen it in the crazy
vegetation of the springtime, and had thought he had seen it for an instant that
very morning against the small barred window of that terrible attic room where
nameless things had happened. It had flashed there a second, and a clammy and
hateful current of vapour had brushed past him - and then poor Nahum had been
taken by something of that colour. He had said so at the last - said it was like
the globule and the plants. After that had come the runaway in the yard and the
splash in the well-and now that well was belching forth to the night a pale
insidious beam of the same demoniac tint.
It does credit to the alertness of Ammi's mind that he puzzled even at that
tense moment over a point which was essentially scientific. He could not but
wonder at his gleaning of the same impression from a vapour glimpsed in the
daytime, against a window opening on the morning sky, and from a nocturnal
exhalation seen as a phosphorescent mist against the black and blasted
landscape. It wasn't right - it was against Nature - and he thought of those
terrible last words of his stricken friend, "It come from some place whar things
ain't as they is here... one o' them professors said so..."
All three horses outside, tied to a pair of shrivelled saplings by the road,
were now neighing and pawing frantically. The wagon driver started for the door
to do something, but Ammi laid a shaky hand on his shoulder. "Dun't go out
thar," he whispered. "They's more to this nor what we know. Nahum said somethin'
lived in the well that sucks your life out. He said it must be some'at growed
from a round ball like one we all seen in the meteor stone that fell a year ago
June. Sucks an' burns, he said, an' is jest a cloud of colour like that light
out thar now, that ye can hardly see an' can't tell what it is. Nahum thought it
feeds on everything livin' an' gits stronger all the time. He said he seen it
this last week. It must be somethin' from away off in the sky like the men from
the college last year says the meteor stone was. The way it's made an' the way
it works ain't like no way 0' God's world. It's some'at from beyond."
So the men paused indecisively as the light from the well grew stronger and the
hitched horses pawed and whinnied in increasing frenzy. It was truly an awful
moment; with terror in that ancient and accursed house itself, four monstrous
sets of fragments-two from the house and two from the well-in the woodshed
behind, and that shaft of unknown and unholy iridescence from the slimy depths
in front. Ammi had restrained the driver on impulse, forgetting how uninjured he
himself was after the clammy brushing of that coloured vapour in the attic room,
but perhaps it is just as well that he acted as he did. No one will ever know
what was abroad that night; and though the blasphemy from beyond had not so far
hurt any human of unweakened mind, there is no telling what it might not have
done at that last moment, and with its seemingly increased strength and the
special signs of purpose it was soon to display beneath the half-clouded moonlit
All at once one of the detectives at the window gave a short, sharp gasp. The
others looked at him, and then quickly followed his own gaze upward to the point
at which its idle straying had been suddenly arrested. There was no need for
words. What had been disputed in country gossip was disputable no longer, and it
is because of the thing which every man of that party agreed in whispering later
on, that the strange days are never talked about in Arkham. It is necessary to
premise that there was no wind at that hour of the evening. One did arise not
long afterward, but there was absolutely none then. Even the dry tips of the
lingering hedge-mustard, grey and blighted, and the fringe on the roof of the
standing democrat-wagon were unstirred. And yet amid that tense godless calm the
high bare boughs of all the trees in the yard were moving. They were twitching
morbidly and spasmodically, clawing in convulsive and epileptic madness at the
moonlit clouds; scratching impotently in the noxious air as if jerked by some
allied and bodiless line of linkage with subterrene horrors writhing and
struggling below the black roots.
Not a man breathed for several seconds. Then a cloud of darker depth passed over
the moon, and the silhouette of clutching branches faded out momentarily. At
this there was a general cry; muffled with awe, but husky and almost identical
from every throat. For the terror had not faded with the silhouette, and in a
fearsome instant of deeper darkness the watchers saw wriggling at that tree top
height a thousand tiny points of faint and unhallowed radiance, tipping each
bough like the fire of St. Elmo or the flames that come down on the apostles'
heads at Pentecost. It was a monstrous constellation of unnatural light, like a
glutted swarm of corpse-fed fireflies dancing hellish sarabands over an accursed
marsh, and its colour was that same nameless intrusion which Ammi had come to
recognize and dread. All the while the shaft of phosphorescence from the well
was getting brighter and brighter, bringing to the minds of the huddled men, a
sense of doom and abnormality which far outraced any image their conscious minds
could form. It was no longer shining out; it was pouring out; and as the
shapeless stream of unplaceable colour left the well it seemed to flow directly
into the sky.
The veterinary shivered, and walked to the front door to drop the heavy extra
bar across it. Ammi shook no less, and had to tug and point for lack of
controllable voice when he wished to draw notice to the growing luminosity of
the trees. The neighing and stamping of the horses had become utterly frightful,
but not a soul of that group in the old house would have ventured forth for any
earthly reward. With the moments the shining of the trees increased, while their
restless branches seemed to strain more and more toward verticality. The wood of
the well-sweep was shining now, and presently a policeman dumbly pointed to some
wooden sheds and bee-hives near the stone wall on the west. They were commencing
to shine, too, though the tethered vehicles of the visitors seemed so far
unaffected. Then there was a wild commotion and clopping in the road, and as
Ammi quenched the lamp for better seeing they realized that the span of frantic
greys had broken their sapling and run off with the democrat-wagon.
The shock served to loosen several tongues, and embarrassed whispers were
exchanged. "It spreads on everything organic that's been around here," muttered
the medical examiner. No one replied, but the man who had been in the well gave
a hint that his long pole must have stirred up something intangible. "It was
awful," he added. "There was no bottom at all. Just ooze and bubbles and the
feeling of something lurking under there." Ammi's horse still pawed and screamed
deafeningly in the road outside, and nearly drowned its owner's faint quaver as
he mumbled his formless reflections. "It come from that stone - it growed down
thar - it got everything livin' - it fed itself on 'em, mind and body - Thad an'
Merwin, Zenas an' Nabby - Nahum was the last - they all drunk the water - it got
strong on 'em - it come from beyond, whar things ain't like they be here - now
it's goin' home -"
At this point, as the column of unknown colour flared suddenly stronger and
began to weave itself into fantastic suggestions of shape which each spectator
described differently, there came from poor tethered Hero such a sound as no man
before or since ever heard from a horse. Every person in that low-pitched
sitting room stopped his ears, and Ammi turned away from the window in horror
and nausea. Words could not convey it - when Ammi looked out again the hapless
beast lay huddled inert on the moonlit ground between the splintered shafts of
the buggy. That was the last of Hero till they buried him next day. But the
present was no time to mourn, for almost at this instant a detective silently
called attention to something terrible in the very room with them. In the
absence of the lamplight it was clear that a faint phosphorescence had begun to
pervade the entire apartment. It glowed on the broad-planked floor and the
fragment of rag carpet, and shimmered over the sashes of the small-paned
windows. It ran up and down the exposed corner-posts, coruscated about the shelf
and mantel, and infected the very doors and furniture. Each minute saw it
strengthen, and at last it was very plain that healthy living things must leave
that house.
Ammi showed them the back door and the path up through the fields to the
ten-acre pasture. They walked and stumbled as in a dream, and did not dare look
back till they were far away on the high ground. They were glad of the path, for
they could not have gone the front way, by that well. It was bad enough passing
the glowing barn and sheds, and those shining orchard trees with their gnarled,
fiendish contours; but thank Heaven the branches did their worst twisting high
up. The moon went under some very black clouds as they crossed the rustic bridge
over Chapman's Brook, and it was blind groping from there to the open meadows.
When they looked back toward the valley and the distant Gardner place at the
bottom they saw a fearsome sight. At the farm was shining with the hideous
unknown blend of colour; trees, buildings, and even such grass and herbage as
had not been wholly changed to lethal grey brittleness. The boughs were all
straining skyward, tipped with tongues of foul flame, and lambent tricklings of
the same monstrous fire were creeping about the ridgepoles of the house, barn
and sheds. It was a scene from a vision of Fuseli, and over all the rest reigned
that riot of luminous amorphousness, that alien and undimensioned rainbow of
cryptic poison from the well - seething, feeling, lapping, reaching,
scintillating, straining, and malignly bubbling in its cosmic and unrecognizable
Then without warning the hideous thing shot vertically up toward the sky like a
rocket or meteor, leaving behind no trail and disappearing through a round and
curiously regular hole in the clouds before any man could gasp or cry out. No
watcher can ever forget that sight, and Ammi stared blankly at the stars of
Cygnus, Deneb twinkling above the others, where the unknown colour had melted
into the Milky Way. But his gaze was the next moment called swiftly to earth by
the crackling in the valley. It was just that. Only a wooden ripping and
crackling, and not an explosion, as so many others of the party vowed. Yet the
outcome was the same, for in one feverish kaleidoscopic instant there burst up
from that doomed and accursed farm a gleamingly eruptive cataclysm of unnatural
sparks and substance; blurring the glance of the few who saw it, and sending
forth to the zenith a bombarding cloudburst of such coloured and fantastic
fragments as our universe must needs disown. Through quickly reclosing vapours
they followed the great morbidity that had vanished, and in another second they
had vanished too. Behind and below was only a darkness to which the men dared
not return, and all about was a mounting wind which seemed to sweep down in
black, frore gusts from interstellar space. It shrieked and howled, and lashed
the fields and distorted woods in a mad cosmic frenzy, till soon the trembling
party realized it would be no use waiting for the moon to show what was left
down there at Nahum's.
Too awed even to hint theories, the seven shaking men trudged back toward Arkham
by the north road. Ammi was worse than his fellows, and begged them to see him
inside his own kitchen, instead of keeping straight on to town. He did not wish
to cross the blighted, wind-whipped woods alone to his home on the main road.
For he had had an added shock that the others were spared, and was crushed
forever with a brooding fear he dared not even mention for many years to come.
As the rest of the watchers on that tempestuous hill had stolidly set their
faces toward the road, Ammi had looked back an instant at the shadowed valley of
desolation so lately sheltering his ill-starred friend. And from that stricken,
far-away spot he had seen something feebly rise, only to sink down again upon
the place from which the great shapeless horror had shot into the sky. It was
just a colour - but not any colour of our earth or heavens. And because Ammi
recognized that colour, and knew that this last faint remnant must still lurk
down there in the well, he has never been quite right since.
Ammi would never go near the place again. It is forty-four years now since the
horror happened, but he has never been there, and will be glad when the new
reservoir blots it out. I shall be glad, too, for I do not like the way the
sunlight changed colour around the mouth of that abandoned well I passed. I hope
the water will always be very deep - but even so, I shall never drink it. I do
not think I shall visit the Arkham country hereafter. Three of the men who had
been with Ammi returned the next morning to see the ruins by daylight, but there
were not any real ruins. Only the bricks of the chimney, the stones of the
cellar, some mineral and metallic litter here and there, and the rim of that
nefandous well. Save for Ammi's dead horse, which they towed away and buried,
and the buggy which they shortly returned to him, everything that had ever been
living had gone. Five eldritch acres of dusty grey desert remained, nor has
anything ever grown there since. To this day it sprawls open to the sky like a
great spot eaten by acid in the woods and fields, and the few who have ever
dared glimpse it in spite of the rural tales have named it "the blasted heath."
The rural tales are queer. They might be even queerer if city men and college
chemists could be interested enough to analyze the water from that disused well,
or the grey dust that no wind seems to disperse. Botanists, too, ought to study
the stunted flora on the borders of that spot, for they might shed light on the
country notion that the blight is spreading - little by little, perhaps an inch
a year. People say the colour of the neighboring herbage is not quite right in
the spring, and that wild things leave queer prints in the light winter snow.
Snow never seems quite so heavy on the blasted heath as it is elsewhere. Horses
- the few that are left in this motor age - grow skittish in the silent valley;
and hunters cannot depend on their dogs too near the splotch of greyish dust.
They say the mental influences are very bad, too; numbers went queer in the
years after Nahum's taking, and always they lacked the power to get away. Then
the stronger-minded folk all left the region, and only the foreigners tried to
live in the crumbling old homesteads. They could not stay, though; and one
sometimes wonders what insight beyond ours their wild, weird stories of
whispered magic have given them. Their dreams at night, they protest, are very
horrible in that grotesque country; and surely the very look of the dark realm
is enough to stir a morbid fancy. No traveler has ever escaped a sense of
strangeness in those deep ravines, and artists shiver as they paint thick woods
whose mystery is as much of the spirits as of the eye. I myself am curious about
the sensation I derived from my one lone walk before Ammi told me his tale. When
twilight came I had vaguely wished some clouds would gather, for an odd timidity
about the deep skyey voids above had crept into my soul.
Do not ask me for my opinion. I do not know - that is all. There was no one but
Ammi to question; for Arkham people will not talk about the strange days, and
all three professors who saw the aerolite and its coloured globule are dead.
There were other globules - depend upon that. One must have fed itself and
escaped, and probably there was another which was too late. No doubt it is still
down the well - I know there was something wrong with the sunlight I saw above
the miasmal brink. The rustics say the blight creeps an inch a year, so perhaps
there is a kind of growth or nourishment even now. But whatever demon hatchling
is there, it must be tethered to something or else it would quickly spread. Is
it fastened to the roots of those trees that claw the air? One of the current
Arkham tales is about fat oaks that shine and move as they ought not to do at
What it is, only God knows. In terms of matter I suppose the thing Ammi
described would be called a gas, but this gas obeyed the laws that are not of
our cosmos. This was no fruit of such worlds and suns as shine on the telescopes
and photographic plates of our observatories. This was no breath from the skies
whose motions and dimensions our astronomers measure or deem too vast to
measure. It was just a colour out of space - a frightful messenger from unformed
realms of infinity beyond all Nature as we know it; from realms whose mere
existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the black extra-cosmic gulfs it
throws open before our frenzied eyes.
I doubt very much if Ammi consciously lied to me, and I do not think his tale
was all a freak of madness as the townsfolk had forewarned. Something terrible
came to the hills and valleys on that meteor, and something terrible - though I
know not in what proportion - still remains. I shall be glad to see the water
come. Meanwhile I hope nothing will happen to Ammi. He saw so much of the thing
- and its influence was so insidious. Why has he never been able to move away?
How clearly he recalled those dying words of Nahum's - "can't git away - draws
ye - ye know summ'at's comin' but tain't no use - " Ammi is such a good old man
- when the reservoir gang gets to work I must write the chief engineer to keep a
sharp watch on him. I would hate to think of him as the grey, twisted, brittle
monstrosity which persists more and more in troubling my sleep.

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