A Star-Change

Clark Ashton Smith

It was on Spanish Mountain, where he had climbed from Donner to escape the society of his fellow-campers, that Lemuel Sarkis first et the people of the planet Mlok.

Since he was far from being an expert mountaineer, he had not cared to assail the crowning peaks of the long, somber ridge, but had contented himself with the lower, more accessible eastern terminus From this, he could look down on the waters of Frog Lake, lying dark and still at the bottom of a bare declivity.

Among volcanic-looking boulders, well Out of the wind that swept the upper ridge, he seated himself in morose contemplation while the mountain shadows lengthened, shaken out like lazy wings, and a pale light crept eastward on the waters of black opal below. The vastness of the solitude, its grim and craggy grandeur, began to have a soothing effect upon Sarkis; and the human trivialities and banalities that had driven him to flight assumed their proper insignificance in the mighty perspectives on which he peered.

He had seen no one, not even a sheepherder or fisherman, in his climb through the forested ravines and up the sun-flower-covered slopes. He was startled as well as annoyed when a pebble loosened as if by some unheard foot fall clattered past him and went over the precipice. Someone else had climbed the mountain; and his misanthropic aversion rose in a gall-like bitterness as he turned to survey the intruder.

Instead of the tourist or mountaineer he had expected, he saw two beings who bore not even the remotest appearance to humanity, and, moreover, were obviously unrelated to any species of earth-life. Not only for that first startled moment, but during the entire episode that followed, Sarkis wondered if he had fallen asleep and had been visited by some preposterous dream.

Each of the beings was about four feet high, with a somewhat doubtful division into head and body. Their formation was incredibly flat and two-dimensional; and they seemed to float rather than stand, as if swimming through the air. The upper division, which one accustomed to earthly physical structures would have taken for the head, was much larger than the lower, and more rotund. It resembled the featureless disk of a moonfish, and was fringed with numberless interbranching tendrils or feelers like a floral arabesque.

The lower division suggested a Chinese kite. It was marked with unknown goblin features, same of which may have been eyes, of a peculiarly elongated and oblique sort. It ended in three broad, streamer-like members, subdividing into webby tassels, that trailed on the ground but seemed wholly inadequate for the purpose of legs.

The coloration of these beings baffled Sarkis. He received alternate impressions of opal-shot blackness, elusive greyness and blood-bright violet.

Impossible, beyond belief, they hung before him among the rocks, swaying forward with a dreamy slowness, as if attached to the ground by their tasseled streamers. Their fringes of woven tendrils seemed to float toward him, quivering with restless life, and certain of their eye-like features gradually brightened and drew his gaze with the hypnotic gleaming of crystals.

The feeling of divorce from reality increased upon him; for now he seemed to hear a low, insistent humming, to which he could assign no definite source. It corresponded vaguely with the slow vibration of the fringes in its beat and cadence. He heard it all around him in the air, like a mesh of sound; and yet somehow it was inside his own brain, as if the unused cells were thrilling with a telepathic murmur from worlds unknown to man.

The humming grew louder, it took an a partial coherence and articulation, as if certain sounds were repeated over and over in a long-drawn sequence. Still more articulate it grew, seeming to form a prolonged vocable. Startlingly it dawned upon him that the vocable was intended for the English phrase, "Come with us," and he realized that the beings were trying earnestly to convey an invitation by means of unearthly vocal organs.

Like one who has been mesmerized, without fear or wonder, he gave himself up to the impressions that besieged his senses. On the flat, vacant, moonfish disks, very gradually, dim, intricate lines and masses limned themselves, growing brighter and more distinct till they began to suggest an actual picture.

Sarkis could comprehend little enough of what he saw; but he received an idea of immense distance and alien, distorted perspective. In a blare of exotic light, a sea-like flood of intense color, strange-angled machineries towered, and structures that might have been either buildings or vegetable growths, receded on a ground of baffling dimension and doubtful inclination. Through this baroque scenery, there floated forms that bore a slight and incoherent resemblance to the beings who confronted him: a resemblance like the broken hint of natural shapes maintained in the utmost perversions of cubism. Together with these forms, as if convoyed by them, there moved another figure having an equally remote and dubious likeness to a human being.

Somehow, Sarkis divined that this latter figure was intended for himself. The scene was a picture of some foreign world or dimension which these fantastic creatures invited him to visit! Alike in all its details the tableau was duplicated on the disks.

With curious lucidity and coolness, he pondered the invitiation. Should he accept it? And if he did accept, what would happen? Of course, it was all a dream—and dreams were tricky things, with a habit of vanishing if one tried consciously to fathom their elusive vistas. But —supposing it were not a dream? From what world, then, had these beings emerged, and by what mode of transit were they enabled to visit the earth? Surely they could not have come from any planet of the solar system: their utter strangeness seemed to argue that they were children of another galaxy, or at least of another sun than ours.

The beings appeared to perceive his hesitation. The pictures on their bodies faded, and were slowly replaced by others, as if they sought to woo him with the varied sceneries of their native world. At the same time, the humming noise resumed ; and after awhile, the equivocal monotone began to suggest familiar words, most of which continued to elude Sarkis. He seemed to make out an eerie prolongation of "offer" and "escape," as if these vocables were uttered by some enormous, droning insect.

Then, through the strange hypnotic sound, he heard the crisp laughter of a girl and the gay chattering of human voices. Plainly several people had climbed the mountain and were coming toward him along the slope, though he could not see them as yet.

The dreamy charm was broken, and he felt a shock of actual fear as well as deep startlement when he saw that the unknown visitors were still before him. Those intruding human voices had convinced him that the happening was no dream. He felt the involuntary recoil of the earth-born mind from things that are monstrous and inexplicable.

The voices drew nearer behind the rocks, and he thought that he recognized the tones of one or more of his fellow-campers. Then, as he continued to face the apparitions, he discerned above their grotesquely floating forms the sudden flash of sourceless coppery metals that barred the air, hanging aloft like some mechanical mirage. A maze of slanted rods and curving reticulations seemed to hover and descend about the two beings. An instant later, it was gone, and the visitants had also disappeared!

Sarkis hardly saw the approach of a woman and two men, all membes of the party he had wished to avoid. To a bewilderment like that of some rudely awakened sleeper, was added the eerie consternation of one who thinks that be has met the supernatural.

A week later, Sarkis had returned to his lodgings in San Francisco and had resumed the tedious commercial art which formed his on reliable source of livelihood. This uncongenial work had involved the ruthless smothering of higher ambitions. He had wanted to paint imaginative pictures, had dreamt of fixing in opulent color a fantasy such as Beardsley had caught in ornate line. But such pictures, it seemed, were in small request.

The happening on Spanish Mountain had stirred his imagination profoundly, though lie was still doubtful of its actuality. lie gave him self to endless speculation, and often he cursed the untimely interruption that had caused the visitants to vanish.

It seemed to him that the beings (if they were not mere hallucinatory images) had appeared in answer to his own vague and undirected longings for the supermundane. Like envoys from a foreign universe, they had sought him out, had favored him with their invitation. Their attempt at verbal communication argued a knowledge of English; and it was plain that they could come and go at will, no doubt by means of some occult mechanism.

What did they want with him? he wondered. What would have been his fate if he had accompanied them?

His pictorial bent for the fantastic was deeply stimulated; and more than once, after his daily stint of advertising art was done, he tried to paint the visitants from memory. This he found peculiarly difficult: the images with which he sought to deal were without analogy; and their very hues and proportions baffled his recollection. It was as if an alien spectrum, a trans-Euclidean geometry, had somehow been involved.

One eve, he stood glowering with dissatisfaction before his easel. The picture, he thought, was a silly smudge of over-painted colors which utterly failed to convey the true outlandishness of its theme.

There was no sound or other warning, nothing that could consciously attract his attention. But turning abruptly, he saw behind him the two beings he had met on Spanish Mountain. They swayed slowly in the lamplight between the cluttered table and a somewhat shabby divan, trailing their tasseled members on an old rug whose fading floral designs were splashed with fresh paint.

With the loaded brush in his fingers, Sarkis could only stand and stare, held in the same hypnotic thrall that had swept him beyond fear or wonder on the mountain. Once more he beheld the gradual, somnolent waving or the arabesque feelers; again he heard the dreamy montonous hum that resolved itself into longdrawn vocables, inviting him to go with the visitants. Again, on the moonfish disks, were depicted scenes that would have been the despair of a futurist.

Almost without emotion or thought of any kind, Sarkis gave an audible consent. He hardly knew that he had spoken.

Slowly, as it had begun, the waving motion of the feelers ceased. The consonant humming died, the pictures faded. Then, as before, there came the coppery flash of air-suspended machinery. Broad, oblique rods and concave meshes hovered between ceiling and floor, descended about the alien entities—and about Sarkis himself. Dimly, between the glowing bars, he described the familiar furnishings of his room.

An instant more, and the room vanished like a film of shadow wiped away in light. There was no sense of movement or of transit; but if semed that a foreign sky had opened above, pouring down a deluge of crimson. Redness streamed upon him, it filled his eyes with a fury as of boiling blood, it dripped over him in sullen or burning cascades.

By degrees, he began to distinguish outlines and masses. The bars and meshes were still around him, his strange companions were still beside him. They were weirdly altered now, and they swam in the crimson flood like the goblin fish of some infernal sea. Involuntarily, Sarkis shrank away from them: they were terrifying, monstrous.

He saw now that he was standing on a curiously tesselated floor that curved upward on all sides like the bottom of a huge saucer. High, outward-sloping walls, windowless and roofless, towered all about. The mechanism that surrounded him was also topless, and he perceived tat it was changing. Very slowly, like dying flames, the rods and meshes sank and disappeared in a circle of small sockets that were part of the floor.

A deep vermilion heaven domed the tower, pouring down the thick, heavy light. The material of which the building was composed, whether stone, metal or some unheard-of element, flowed with lusters of liquid ruby and dissolving cinnabar.

Sarkis became aware that the air he breathed, though well-supplied with oxygen, was uncomfortably thick and seemed to choke his lungs. Also, when he tried to move, he found his weight enormously increased, as if by the gravitation of a gigantic planet.

Where he was or how be had gotten there, he could not imagine. He had nursed an artistic longing for the weird, the otherworldly; but he had never dreamed of this utter and delirious alienation from know things. Moreover, he bad not foreseen the shock to human nerves that would ensue an actual transition into another sphere. His sensations of physical discomfort were soon supplemented by a sort of optic torture: the light troubled him, it stimulated his senses cruelly, and yet it stifled and oppressed him at the same time,

A multitude of beings similar to his companions began to enter the topless tower, floating gradually down from the sky or swimming in through low doors. They crowded about him, and he found himself moving toward one of the exits, with their feelers and streamers tugging gently at his limbs. He felt an unreasoning terror at their touch, like a child in the grip of nightmare shadows. Their loud humming awoke in his brain the thought of some hostile horde of abominably droning insects.

Passing through the doorway, he entered a sea of light in which he was unable to discern clearly the features of the landscape. Almost vertically overhead, he saw the blinding blot of a vast sun, The throng of goblin people, increasing momently, bore him down a grassless, barren slope whose bottom was lost in the inundating crimson.

More and more, he felt an inexpressible malaise, a frightful mixture of confusion, irritation and depression to which all his senses contributed. He tried to recall the circumstances of his departure from earth, tried to assure himself that there was some natural explanation of all that had happened. The beings whose invitations he had accepted were, he told himself, friendly and well-meaning, and he would suffer no harm, But such thoughts were powerless to calm his agitated nerves, now subject to the assault of innumerable vibratory forces which the human system had never been meant to sustain.

The torture deepened. His journey down the slope, rendered doubly slow by the dragging gravitational pull and the leisurely drifting of his fantastic entourage, who seemed to obey another and more decelerated tempo of time than man, was literally a descent into hell. Every impression became a source of pain and terror, and he found a lurking menace of evil in all that surrounded him.

At the bottom of the slope, a second roofless bowl-shaped tower loomed from the murk, on the shore of a stagnant sea. To him, at that moment, it was like a shrine of alien diabolism, hateful and menacing and he wanted to scream aloud with a nameless horror when the goblin creatures bore him toward it and urged him through its portals.

The interior of this tower yawning to the red sky, was lined with countless outlandish carvings from floor to top. In the center of the floor, there stood a curious couch, made from a pile of mattress-thick fabrics.

Eyeing the couch with nervous dubiety, Sarkis became aware that the throng had melted away, as if its curiosity were appeased. A mere half-dozen of the beings remained; and since all were equally monstrous, he could not be sure if his original companions were among them.

They gathered around him with their hateful droning, pulling him toward the couch He resisted, but the tasseled streamers were unbelievably strong, and they tightened about him, clammily repulsive as the tentacles of octopi. The couch was innocent enough, and no doubt the creatures were merely offering him a hospitality which, in their own way, they had tried to accommodate to human needs. But Sarkis felt the terror of a fever patient, whose doctors and attendants seem like hellish torturers.

His last remnant of control gave way, and he shrieked and fought wildly. His own voice assumed an uncanny volume in the thick air, returning upon him deafeningly, surrounding him with ventriloquistic clamors; and he seemed to lift a mountainous load as he struggled.

Very gently but firmly, the creatures laid him on the couch. Fearing he knew not what, he still tried to resist them. Two of the beings proceeded to join their streamers across his recumbent body, interlacing the divided ends like fingers; and two others arranged their members in like fashion across his legs. Floating just above the floor, they held him securely to the couch, like doctors who have tied down a delirious patienit.

Lying helpless, he saw the remaining two swim skyward and vanish beyond the tower's rim. After awhile he ceased his futile struggling; but his attendants still held him bound with their flat, clammy streamers.

Sarkis lived in an aching torment, whose duration was not to be measured by earthly time. The red sky appeared to descend upon him, heavier and closer; and the enigmatic details of the sculptures on the tower walls perturbed him with sly suggestions of alien foulness and fear. He saw Satanic faces that leered or frowned obscenely, and faceless gargoyle things that seemed to palpitate with malignant life in the Crimson.

The sky took on an awful, ardent glowing. With intolerable slowness the huge sun, rising to its meridian, filled with its orb the cup that was formed by the tower's rim. The intricate carvings ran with redouble light, the stellar monsters and gargoyles dripped a venomous ruby that maddened the staring eyes of Sarkis, till he closed his lids against it, and still saw in his branded brain the corrosive, inexorably irritant color. Finally a great blackness came upon him: a sluggish and leaden Lethe, through which he sank interminably, still pursued by floating blots of acrid crimson, before losing himself.

He awoke in a sort of stupefaction, drugged and exhausted, as if his nerves had been burnt out by that cruel debauch of red. With nightmare effort, he opened his eyes to a heaven of funereal violet. The red sun had been succeeded by a purple binary of equal magnitude, whose orb was now intersecting the topless tower with a mournfully glaring crescent.

Sarkis could not collect his shattered thoughts; but a shapeless fear, an awareness of something irremediably wrong and baleful, rose in his mind. He was still held by the streamers of his four attendants; and moving his head, he saw that several others were floating patiently beside the couch. With their adroit members, more supple and capacious than hands, they bore a multitude of strange articles.

Seeing that he had awakened, they swam toward him, proffering certain smooth, elongated, fruit-like objects. One of them held to his lips a shallow bowl filled with a semi-viscid liquor, which he was plainly expected to drink.

Utterly astray and unstrung, Sarkis shrank in renewed terror from these beings. Bathed in that lugubrious violet, their outré forms were cadaverous as dead things from another star. An infinite melancholia poured from the purple sun, cascaded from the sloping walls, jetted from the monstrous carvings. The humming of his attendants, who doubtless sought to reassure him, was heavy with a dirge-like horror. Refusing the offered food and drink, he closed his eyes and lay inert beneath the dismal madness that had fallen upon him.

All that followed was as if part of this madness, and not to be separated from its teeming phantasms. Sarkis was lifted from the couched by his attendants, who formed a sort of cradle with their streamers, in which they carried him from the tower and along some endless road. At intervals he opened his eyes to ghastly-looking plants that swam and swayed in the violet air like sea-weed in an ocean-stream.

Presently he knew that his bearers were descending a steep incline, as if to some deeper circle of this dolorous inferno. Walls that might have been those of a slanted catacomb, lit with a bluish, deathly lambence, stifled him with their closeness.

At length he found himself in a great chamber, whose furnishings, to his distraught eyes, bore the aspect of frightful instruments of torture. Sarkis' alarm was increased when the flat-bodied people stretched him on a slightly hollowed slab of pale mineral whose fittings of machinery at sides and ends were reminiscent of some medieval rack.

A stony fear weighed down his faculties, arrested his breathing; and he did not resist. One of his torturers was floating above him in the hell-blue light, while the others swam in a sort of ring about the slab. The floating creature laid the fringy tips of its middle streamer on his mouth and nostrils, and he felt an odd shock from the contact.

An icy coldness flowed across his face, into his brow and head, into his neck, his arms, his body. It seemed that a strange, benumbing force had been exerted by the creature; the flowing coldness was followed by a loss of all sensation, and a singular detachment from the terror and malaise that had tormented him. Without alarm or speculation, he considered the beings about him, who were now removing his garments and applying to his body the sinister little disks and needle-studded plates that formed part of the slab's mechanical equipment.

It was all meaningless to him; and in some fashion that he did not even try to understand, the whole scene took on an ever-growing dimness and remoteness, as if he were floating away from it—and from himself—into another dimension.

His return to awareness was like a new birth. Strangeness there was, such as an infant would find in its surroundings; but fear and pain were wholly gone. He found nothing monstrous or unnatural or menacing in the world that was now revealed to his senses.

Later, when he had learned to communicate easily with the people of Mlok, they told him of the singular and radical operations which they had deemed it necessary to perform upon him: operations involving his nerves and sense-organs, so as to alleviate, by changing all his impressions and even certain subconscious functions, the torment he had suffered from the images and vibratory rays of a world in which the human senses were not prepared to function properly.

At first they had not understood his sufferings, since they themselves, being far more adaptive than men, endured little discomfort in passing from one world to another. But, having diagnosed his condition, they had hastened to palliate it through the resources of a super-human Science.

Just what had been done to him, Sarkis could never wholly grasp; but the results of the operations, admitted him to an entire new range of perceptions. His other-world hosts had wished to make him hear, see, feel and perceive in much the same manner as themselves.

Perhaps the profoundest change was in his visual images. He saw new colors of supernal softness and beauty. The red daylight, which had almost maddened him, was now a clear and nameless hue which he somehow associated with emerald green. The light of the violet binary no longer depressed him, and its color was remotely allied to pale amber.

His ideas of form had undergone a corresponding alteration. The bodies and members of the alien people, which he had thought almost two dimensional, and which had terrified him with their goblin grotescjuery, presented many subtle planes and curves, together with a depth that argued the addition of at least one totally new dimension. The whole effect was esthetically pleasing, with a fundamental symmetry such as he had previously discerned in well-shaped human bodies. The vegetation, scenery and architecture no longer impressed him abnormal or monstrous.

His sense of time had now become synchronized with the slow tempo of the heavy planet, and the speech and movement of the people had lost that former sense of undue prolongation. The thick air, the weighty gravitation, had also ceased to discomfit him.

Moreover, he had acquired several new senses. One of these can best be described as a combination of hearing and touch: many sound images, especially those of high pitch, were perceived by his tactical nerves as a gently varied tapping. Another sense was that of audible color: certain hues were always accompanied by an overtone of sound, often highly musical.

His intercourse with the people of Mlok was carried on through non-verbal mediums. After the operations, they could impress telepathic words and images upon his mind. Their other modes of communication which involved for them less expenditure of energy than pure telepathy, were mastered more gradually by Sarkis. The reflex of thought-pictures, thrown on their bodies as on a screen, became intelligible to him; and the sound-vibration of their arabesque feelers, which served them in lieu of vocal cords, was now fully articulate, with its higher notes perceivable as a graduated tactile pressure.

He learned that his hosts, who called themselves the Mloki after their planet, were an old and highly developed race for whom the marvels of scientific masterdom had become secondary to the delights of pure perception and reflection. Mlok, they told him, was the third planet of a binary solar system in a galaxy so remote, astronomically speaking, that its light had never reached the earth.

The manner in which they had visited the earth and had taken Sarkis to their own world was indeed strange, and involved the use of an arcanic force, which, by projecting itself through the fifth dimensioned could exist simultaneously in opposite corners of the universe. The apparatus of coppery-looking bars and meshes which had descended upon Sarkis was composed of this force. How it was controlled and manipulated, he never quite understood, apart from the fact that it was closely obedient to a certain nervous power possessed by the Mlok They had often visited the earth, as well as many other alien planets, through curiosity. In spite of their divergent sense-development, they had acquired a surprising knowledge of terrene conditions. Two of them, whose names were Nlaa and Nluu, had found Sarkis on Spanish Mountain, and had perceived telepathically his dissatisfaction with mundane life Being sympathetic in their way, and also curious concerning he result of such an experiment, they had invited him to accompany them in their return to Mlok.

The real events of Sarkis' life among the Mloki were his new and wonderful sensations. The outward happenings were all very simple, for the existence of this people, apart from their excursions to remote worlds, was almost wholly contemplative.

For his food and drink, they supplied him with many fruits and vegetable juices. The Mloki themselves drew their nourishment directly from the air and light; and their topless towers were designed to collect and focus all the solar rays, the absorption of which was to them a rare, epicurean pleasure. To a limited extent, the alteration of Sarkis' nerves had given him a similar faculty; but he still depended mainly on grosser foods.

One very remarkable feature of the sensory change in Sarkis was the vagueness which attended his impressions of his own body. He seemed to possess a dream-like immateriality, and to drift rather than walk in his movement from place to place.

He spent much of his time in converse with certain of the Mlok especially Nlaa and Nluu, who took a tutelary interest in their protégé, and never wearied of imparting to him their immensely recondite and various knowledge. He acquired undreamt-of conceptions regarding time, space, life, matter and energy, and was also instructed in novel esthetics and in highly complicated arts which made painting appear a silly and barbarous pastime.

How long he remained in Mlok, he never knew. His instructors, a long-lived people to whom centuries were no more than years, gave little importance to the formal measurement of time. But many of the long, double days and brief, irregular nights had gone by, before a homesickness for the lost earth began to torment him. Amid all the beguilements and novelties of his existence, beneath his altered senses, a nostalgia rose in his brain, which was still, at bottom, the brain of an earthman.

The feeling came upon him by degrees. His memories of the world he had formerly detested and from which he had longed to escape, took on a haunting charm and poignancy, and were touched with an enchantment such as belongs to early childhood. He recoiled from the sensory opulence of the world about him, and yearned for the simple scenes and faces of the human sphere.

The Mloki, well aware of the growth of this feeling, tried to distract him with new impressions and took him on a tour of their planet. In this tour, they employed a vessel which swam through the thick air like a submarine in some tellurian ocean. Nlaa and Nluu accompanied the earthman, solicitous, and eager to point out the marvels of each latitude.

The effect however, was merely to aggravate Sarkis' nostalgia. Peering down on the domeless Karnaks and Babylons of this ultra-cosmic world he thought of the earth-cities with a craving which, in view of his former aversion for the works of man, he would never have believed possible. Drifting among prodigious mountains, where mundane peaks would have been lost like boulders, he recalled the Sierras with a sick yearning that moved him almost to tears.

After rounding the equator of Mlok, and visiting the iceless poles, the expedition returned to its starting-point, which lay in the tropic realms Sarkis, now desperately ill and languishing, implored Nlaa and Nluu to send him back by means of the occult force-projector to his own world. They tried to dissuade him, saying that his homesickness was merely a brain-wrought illusion that would wear off in time.

In order to relieve him permanently and speedily from his suffering, they proposed a certain treatment of his brain-cells. By the injection of a rare vegetable serum, they could alter his very memories and mental reactions. These, as well as his sense-impressions, would then approximate those of the Mloki.

Sarkis, though he shrank in a way from the proposed mental transformation, which would have removed him utterly and forever beyond humanity, might well have consented. But certain untoward happenings, wholly unforeseen, were to bring about another eventuation than this.

The planetary system to which Mlok belonged was on the very extreme of its native island universe. In the short intersolar nights, this universe could he seen as a nebulous star-cloud, filling half of the heavens; but the other half was dark and rayless as the Coal Sack familiar to terrene astronomers. It seemed that there were no living stars in the sable gulf, unless at a distance that had not yet permitted their rays to reach the observatories of Mlok.

Nevertheless, there came from this void the first invasion that had ever threatened the security of the two-sunned planet. The first warning of this invasion was a dark cloud—a thing hitherto unknown in Miolk, whose humid element was constant in the thick seas and heavy air, without evaporation or precipitation. The cloud, which had the form of a trapezium, drew down and widened rapidly above the southern zones, doming the sky with intense ebon. It broke on the lands beneath in a rain of black, liquid globules, which acted like a mordant chemical. Flesh, stone, soil, vegetation, everything that was touched by the rain, dissolved instantly, forming tarry pools and rills that soon merged in an ever-spreading sea.

The news of this catastrophe became known immediately all over the planet. The corrosive sea was watched from air-vessels, and every effort was made to curb its inroads. Dykes of atomic energy were built to enclose it; and belts of elemental fire were centered upon the pollution, to burn it away. But all such measures were in vain: the sea like a liquid cancer, ate steadily into the huge planet.

Some of the black fluid was obtained by Mloki who sacrificed their own lives in submitting it to analysis. Even as the element began its ravages upon their bodies, they announced their findings as to its nature. The globules that had fallen from space, they thought, were protoplasmic organisms of an unknown type, which had the power of liquefying all other forms of matter in what was seemingly an illimitable process of assimilation. This process had formed the eroding sea.

Another rain of globules was soon reported, this time in the northern hemisphere. A third precipitation, following swiftly, made certain then eventual doom of Mlok. The people could only flee from the dissolving littorals of the three oceans, which were widening in ravenous circles and would sooner or later unite and surround the planet. It became known, also, that the other worlds of the system, which were not peopled by intelligent beings, had been attacked by the lethal organisms,

The Mloki, a philosophic race, long given to equable meditation on cosmic change and death, were resigned to the coining annihilation Though they could have fled to alien worlds by means of their space projectors, they preferred to perish with their planet.

Nlaa and Nluu, however, as well as their fellows in general, now became anxious for the return of Lemuel Sarkis to his own sphere. It was not just or proper, they argued, that he should share the doom of an ultra-terrene people. They had promptly abandoned the idea of subjecting him to further medical treatment, and could only urge his immediate departure.

In a state of oddly bewildered emotions, he was taken by Nlaa and Nluu to the tower through which he had entered Mlok. From the hill on which this tower stood, he could discern the black arc of the encroaching sea of dissolution on the far horizon.

Enjoined by his preceptors, he took his place amid the circle of floor-sockets that formed the generators of the transporting mechanism. With much regret and sadness, he said farewell to Nlaa and Nluu, after vainly pressing them to accompany him.

Since, as they told him, they could determine by means of their thought-images the very spot in which he was to land, he had expresses a desire to return to Earth via his studio in San Francisco. Moreover, since travel in time was no less feasible than space-transit, his mundane reappearance would occur on the morning that had followed his departure.

Slowly, and having now a different form and hue for his altered eyes, the bars and meshes sprang from the tower floor and surrounded Sarkis, All at once the air darkened strangely. He turned again toward Nlaa and Nluu for a parting glimpse—and found that they, as well as the tower, had vanished. The transition had already taken place!

The pseudo-metallic rods and meshes began to dissolve about him and he looked for the familiar outlines and furnishings of his studio. A puzzlement assailed him, and then a hideously growing doubt. Surely Nlaa and Nluu had made a mistake, or else the projecting power had failed to return him to his chosen bourn. Seemingly he had been landed in a totally unknown sphere or dimension.

Around him, in a sullen light, he saw the looming of dark, chaotic masses, whose very contours were touched with nightmare menace. Surely this place was not his studio room—these crazily angled cliffs that closed him in were not walls, but the sides of some infernal pit! The dome above, with its dolorously distorted planes, pouring down a hellish glare, was not the skylighted roof that he recalled. The bulging horrors that rose before him along the bottom of the pit, with obscene forms and corrupt hues, were surely not his easel, table and chairs.

He took a single step, and was alarmed by the horrible lightness which he felt. As if by some miscalculation of distance, the step carried him against one of the looming objects, and he ran his hands over it, finding that the thing, whatever it might be, was clammily repulsive to the touch as well as repugnant to sight. Something about it, however, on close inspection, was remotely familiar. The thing was like an over-swollen, geometric travesty of an armchair!

Sarkis felt a nervous perturbation, a vague and all-surrounding terror comparable to that if his first impressions in Mlok. He realized that Nlaa and Nluu had kept their word, and had returned him to his studio; but the realization merely increased his bewilderment. Because of if the profound sensory changes to which he had been subjected by the Mlok his perceptions of form, light, color and perspective were no longer those of an earthman. Therefore the well-remembered room and its furnishings were wholly monstrous to him. Somehow, in his nostalgia, and the haste and flurry of his departure, he had failed to foresee the inevitability of this change of aspect in all earthly things.

A hideous vertigo swept upon him with the full understanding of his predicament. He was, virtually, in the position of a madman who knows well his own madness, but is utterly without power to control it. Whether or not his new mode of cognition was closer to ultimate reality than the former human mode, lie could not know. It mattered little, in the overwhelming sense of estrangement, amid which he sought desperately to recover the least hint or vestige of the world that he remembered,

With the doubtful groping of one who seeks an exit from some formidable maze, he searched for the door, which he had left unlocked on the evening when he accepted the invitation of Nlaa and Nluu. His very sense of direction, he found, had become inverted; the relative nearness and proportion of objects baffled him; but at last, after many stumblings and collisions with the misshapen furniture, he found an insanely faceted projection amid the perverted planes of the wall. This, he somehow determined, was the door-knob.

After repeated effort he opened the door, which seemed to be of unnatural thickness, with convex distortions. Beyond, he saw a yawning cavern with lugubrious arches, which he knew to be the hall of the apartment house in which he lived.

His progress along the hall and down the two flights of stairs to the street-level was like a pilgrimage in some ever-deepening nightmare. The time was early morning, and he met no one. But apart from the maddening visual distortion of everything about him, he was assailed, as he went on, by a multitude of other sense-impressions that confirmed and increased his neural torture.

He heard the noises of the awakening city, set to an alien tempo of delirious speed and fury: a hurtling of cruel clangors, whose higher notes beat upon him like a pounding of hammers, a volleying of pebbles. The ceaseless impingement stunned him more and more; it seemed that the thronging strokes would batter in his very brain.

He emerged at length on what he knew to he the city street: a broad avenue that ran toward the ferry building. The early traffic had begun and to Sarkis, the passing cars and pedestrians seemed to whirl with lightning speed, like the souls of the damned in some nether chasm of an insane hell. For him, the morning sunlight was a lurid, baleful gloom that flowed in forky rays from a demonian Eye that brooded above the chasm.

The buildings, with pestilent hues and outlines, were full of the terror of delirium, the abomination of ill dreams. The people were ghastly creatures whose headlong movement barely permitted him to form a clear impression of their bulging eyes, their bloated faces and bodies. They terrified him, even as the people of Mlok beneath the maddening vermilion sun.

The air was thin and bodiless to him, and he suffered a peculiar discomfort from the lessened pressure and gravity, which now added to his feeling of hopeless alienation. He seemed to move like a wildered phantom through the dismal Hades to which he had been committed.

He heard the voices of the monsters who went flying past: voices that partook of the same giddy acceleration as their movements, so that the words were indistinguishable. It was like the sound of some vocal record, played too fast on a phonograph.

Sarkis groped his way along the pavement, searching for some familiar landmark in the alien-angled masses of the buildings. Sometimes he thought that he was about to discover a remembered hotel or shop-front—and then, a moment later, the broken similitude was lost in a mad bizarrerie.

He came to an open space, which he had known as a small park, with well-kept trees and shrubbery amid the greening grass. He had been fond of the place, and its memory had often haunted him in his cosmic homesickness. Now, stumbling upon it in that city of delirium, he sought vainly to retrieve the longed-for charm and loveliness.

The trees and shrubs were like towering fungi, loathsome, unclean, and the grass was a vermin-grey foulness from which he turned in sick revulsion.

Astray in that labyrinth of fear, and virtually out of his senses, he fled at random, and tried to cross an arterial where cars were hurtling by at the apparent speed of projectiles. Here, with no warning that his eyes or ears could perceive, something struck him down like a sudden bolt, and he slid into merciful oblivion.

He awoke an hour later in the hospital to which he had been taken. The injuries which he had sustained, from being knocked down by the slowly driven car before which he had thrust himself as if deaf and blind, were not serious, but his general condition puzzled the doctors.

When, with reviving consciousness, he began to scream horribly, and to shrink away as if in mortal terror from his attendants, they were indined to diagnose the case as delirium tremens. His nerves were obviously in a bad way; though, curiously enough, the doctors failed to detect the presence of alcohol or any known drug to support their diagnosis.

Sarkis failed to respond to the powerful sedatives which they administered. His sufferings, which seemed to take the form of terrific hallucinations, were prolonged and progressive. One of the internes noted a queer deformation of his eyeballs; and there was much speculation regarding the singular long-drawn slowness of His screams and writhings. However, though baffling, his case was readily enough dismissed by the doctors when, a week later, he persisted in dying. It was merely one more of those unsolved enigmas that sometimes occur even in the best-regulated of professions.

Printed from: www.eldritchdark.com/writings/short-stories/200
Printed on: November 17, 2017