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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 knew.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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'... 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
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.
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.
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.
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 obstruction.
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?
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.
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..."
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."
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 sky.
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.
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.
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.
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'
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.
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.
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 chromaticism.
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
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
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
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
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.
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 night.
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
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.