The Desolation of Soom

Clark Ashton Smith

The desert of Soom is said to lie at the world's unchartable extreme, between the lands that are little known and those that are scarcely ever conjectured. It is dreaded by travelers, for its bare and ever-moving sands are without oases, and a strange horror is rumored to dwell among them. Of this horror many tales are told and nearly all the tales are different. Some say that the thing has neither visible form nor audible voice, and others that it is a dire chimera with multitudinous heads, horns and tails, and a tongue whose sound is like the tolling of bells in deep funereal vaults. Of the caravans and solitary wanderers who have ventured into Soom, none has returned without a story to tell; and some have never returned at all, or have come back with brains devoured to madness by the terror and vertigo of infinite empty space... Yes, there are many tales, of a thing that follows furtively or with the pandemonium of a thousand devils; of a thing that lurks and lies in wait behind the unstable dunes; of a thing that roars or whispers balefully from the sand or from the wind; or stirs unseen in the coiling silence; or falls from the air like a crushing incubus; or yawns like a sudden pit before the feet of the traveler.

But once on a time there were two lovers who came to the desert of Soom, and who had occasion to cross the sterile sands. They did not know the evil rumor of the place; and since they had found an abiding Eden in each other's eyes, it is perhaps doubtful if they even knew that they were passing through a desert. And they alone, of all who dared this fearsome desolation, have no tale to relate of any troublous thing, of any horror that followed or lurked before them, either seen or unseen, inaudible or heard; and for them there was no multi-headed chimera, no yawning pit or incubus. and never could they comprehend the stories that were told by less fortunate wayfarers.

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Printed on: October 31, 2020