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Author Topic: THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE  (Read 387 times)
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Posts: 4530

« on: February 27, 2007, 12:22:20 am »

It was 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 to crumble.

Ammi 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.

Commencing 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.

Then 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.

A feeble 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'...nothin'...the burns...cold an' wet, but
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 that 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 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' beats down your mind an' then gets ye...burns ye the well was right about that...evil water...
Zenas never come back from the well...can't git away...draws
know summ'at's comin' but tain't no use...I seen it time an' agin
senct Zenas was took...whar's Nabby, Ammi? head's no good...
dun't know how long sense I fed'll git her ef we ain't
keerful...jest a colour...her face is gittin' to hev that colour
sometimes towards' it burns an' come from some
place whar things ain't as they is o' them professors said
so...he was right...look out, Ammi, it'll do suthin'
the life out..."

But 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.

When 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.

The 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.

Ammi 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.

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