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THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE

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Author Topic: THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE  (Read 148 times)
Zodiac
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« on: February 27, 2007, 12:21:03 am »

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 vegetation.

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.

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