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Author Topic: THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE  (Read 387 times)
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« on: February 27, 2007, 12:19:51 am »

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 grasped 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 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 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 ammonia 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
certainly 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
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