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 gentle 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.
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
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 curving 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 had 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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 vegetation.
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.
End of Part One... Go to