^Slaves of the Black Pillar^ [The Drug from Algol] (Synopsis and Fragment)

Clark Ashton Smith


A strange drug from a world of Algol, which causes an astral projection of the users into this world, leaving their bodies on earth in a cataleptic state. Condemned prisoners, and those in a state of despair or suicidal grief, are approached by a strange dwarfish being who seems to have the power of coming through walls and traversing vast areas in an instant. This being offers them the drug as a way out; and taking it they are permanently separated from their bodies and carried into the remote world, where they find themselves the slaves of a cruel potentate, and subject to unimaginable tortures and conditions. Two lovers are trapped into using the drug, after the receipt of false telegrams telling of each other's death. They meet on the far world, among a medley of astral victims. They learn the source of the drug, which is the iridescent mineral secretion of a ^black stone pillar^ [strange stone], situated at one of the magnetic poles of the planet. They are unable to leave the vicinity of this stone, which exerts a fatal magnetism. As part of the tortures they are told by their captors of a drug which, if taken by the astrals, would draw their physical bodies to them across the gulf of space, and release them from the bondage of the pillar.

Slaves Of The Black Pillar


I The Iridescent Drug

I, Donald Renny, have decided to write this narrative, after some hesitation, in order that a mystery of several years' standing may be cleared up for all time. The mystery is one that has baffled the most exhaustive medical research, and has both beguiled and terrified the general public. I refer to that strange malady which doctors have vainly tried to classify as a new form of catalepsy, or an obscure variety of sleeping sickness; that marble paralysis whose many victims, with two exceptions, are still in a state that is neither life nor death as human beings understand these words. Since I myself am one of the two exceptions, it will be seen that I speak with a certain authority, and should be entitled to a careful hearing. I might add that the other exception (who has been my wife for six months) is prepared to substantiate the story in all its main details.

It is only for the sake of enlightenment, the cause of science, that I write down my inconceivable experiences. I have no hope that my disclosures will lead to the freeing of those other unfortunates whose bodies are thralls to oblivion, and whose souls are the sad recruits of an ultra-zodiacal hell. For the slaves of the Black Pillar, there is no hope, except the blind caprice of that otherworld destiny, by which Valeria and myself were freed in a manner so fortuitous. On earth, at least, there is nothing that can be done: they who have listened to the Grey Dwarf {in a previous draft: Yellow Dwarf) , and have yielded to his tempting, are henceforth beyond the mediation of man.

It was in the fall of 1932 that the first instances of the bizarre disease were chronicled briefly and inconspicuously in daily newspapers. The victims were people from various walks of life, but their uniform lack of any special prominence kept the cases from arousing much interest, except in the minds of anxious relatives and puzzled physicians.

The disease, in each instance, came suddenly and with no recognizable premonitory symptoms, as far as anyone knew; and the victims were invariably alone at the time of its onset. They were found lying in a state of deep coma, from which nothing could rouse them. Their condition was marked by extreme, cadaverous pallor, and a death-like rigidity, with pulse-beats of phenomenal slowness, barely perceptible. The coma, with no change of any nature, was seemingly permanent.

By the end of 1932, more than a hundred cases of the new malady had been reported. Half of them were in America, and the rest in widely sundered portions of the world. Nothing, however, had been learned regarding the causation; nor was there any cure in prospect. Doctors could only watch the cases, and hope for some future change or sign of improvement. Blood-analysis of the stricken persons had not revealed the presence of any germ or bodily diathesis that could conceivably have brought about the prolonged inanimation; and the natural diagnosis of catalepsy, suggested in the beginning, was ruled out by the very duration of the statue-like coma. The disease became popularly known as the White Sleep.

Since I knew little of medical matters and was unacquainted with any of the earlier victims, I gave no more than a cursory attention to the newspaper articles. I did, however, note one curious fact: nearly all of the stricken people had either suffered serious bereavements at a recent date, or were in grave financial trouble or other personal difficulties. This lent a certain plausibility to the theory, advanced later by more than one expert, that the new malady was of nervous origin.

With the striking-down of two men who were better known, or more notorious than its former victims had been, the White Sleep ^acquired the distinction of [was dignified by] huge headlines, and became a theme of universal discussion. One of these men was the financier Albert Arkham, whose Midas-like wealth had vanished overnight in a spectacular failure. Coming on the heels of his bankruptcy, the seizure of Arkham by the strange paralysis was a thing to inveigle the fancy of sensation-glutted throngs.

A few days later, the scare-heads concerning Arkham were rivaled by others announcing that James Hawk, an infamous gangster under sentence of death in Sing-Sing, had also succumbed to the White Sleep. Hawk would have gone to the electric chair in a few days; but his payment of the legal penalty was now deferred indefinitely, while he lay like a wan image of faintly breathing marble, with baffled doctors trying to revive him so that justice should not be cheated of its due.

I remember seeing the published pictures of Arkham and Hawk, and discussing their cases idly with my acquaintances. Even then, the matter failed to interest me overmuch, for I was thoroughly, and not inexcusably, preoccupied with my own affairs. It did not seem that the strange disease, which invariably chose the doomed or the unhappy for its prey, was anything that could ever enter my own life. I had received a fresh promotion in the New York Insurance firm for which I worked; and Valeria Carton and I were planning to be married very soon. With the salary I was now receiving, Valeria would be able to give up her position as a lawyer's stenographer in Brooklyn.

Life, under the circumstances, was too roseate and auroral for the incidence of an unexplained malady among human beings to arouse my concern. Then, with the overwhelming horror of the unexpected, the mystery was brought home to me early in 1933.

I had been busy for several days, and during that time had not seen Valeria, who lived in Brooklyn. Returning to my room on Washington Square late one evening, I received a telephone call which proved to be from Valeria's landlady, who knew of our engagement, and had somehow secured my address. She informed me that Valeria had been found unconscious in her room, in the same state of frozen coma that had seized so many people during the past autumn and winter.

Aghast and mystified beyond all measure, I went without delay to the modest lodging-house in Brooklyn. It was after midnight when I arrived; but the motherly landlady, much agitated, was waiting for me. She took me to Valeria's room, explaining as we went that a local doctor had been called and had left after making his diagnosis, since there was obviously nothing to be done in the present state of medical knowledge.

My fiancée, fully dressed, was lying on her bed. I had never before seen a case of the weird cataleptic malady; and I was appalled by the white, glacial effigy, as if I were gazing on the dead. Surely the woman before me was not Valeria; my beloved had gone, and had left in her place this cold and hollow simulacrum. The features were still lovely, they still possessed their gracious outlines, but all that had made Valeria so dear to me was somehow absent; and I felt an inexpressible loss and alienation. It seemed as if her soul had departed upon some awful, unknown journey, stranger and further than death itself.

^xxx^ xxx was added by Smith.
[xxx] xxx was deleted by Smith.
(October 1931}

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Printed on: January 21, 2019