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THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE


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Author Topic: THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE  (Read 371 times)
Zodiac
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« on: February 27, 2007, 12:21:41 am »

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 knew.

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.
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