1927 The Colour Out of Space

(Virgil Finlay)
Written 1927.03, published in Amazing Stories 1927.09.

Opening Statement:
     West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight...It was too much like a landscape of Salvator Rosa; too much like some forbidden woodcut in a tale of terror. 
     But even all this was not so bad as the blasted heath.
What in Brown Jenkin's Name..?
     A strangely-hued meteorite causes the rustic landscape to deform, with the local inhabitants soon following suit.
     The narrator visits the strange forest west of Arkham, soon scheduled to be remade into a reservoir. He meets a fearful old man named Ammi Pierce who tells a strange story about the forest’s history:
     A meteor lands next to farmer Nahum Gardner’s well in the forest. The rock remains hot and strangely shrinks over time. When Miskatonic scientists examine a fragment under a spectroscope, they find strange color bands, hinting at a new element. Back at the meteorite, they discover strangely colored “globules” which are easily smashed open (but are seemingly hollow). Overnight, a lightning storm destroys the rest of the meteorite, leaving only a crater.   
     In the fall, Nahum’s crops turn out to be foul, probably due to the meteorite’s contamination of the groundwater. Strange animals and strangely-colored flora are also seen in the area - in fact the entire forest seems to glow. Eventually, all of the animal and plant life in the area dies and turns grey. During this period Nahum's wife and son both go mad. The mad son dies under mysterious circumstances, and his other son suddenly goes missing, leaving behind only a melted metal pail.  
     Weeks later, Ammi Pierce visits Nahum and finds the farmer’s wife still living, but in a “decayed” state. Nahum has gone mad, claiming that his son "lives in the well”. A strange gaseous entity attacks the babbling Nahum, causing him to “crumble”. With his last breath, he tells Pierce that he suspects something had hatched from the meteorite's seed globules, and now lives in the well.  
     Investigators later arrive with Ammi, and dredge up the organic remains of Nahum’s sons in the well muck. That night, the men see a gaseous beam shooting out of the well. The tree branches begin spasmodically twitching towards the sky as if perturbed by underground forces. As everything begins to glow, the men retreat from the farm. Looking back, they see a glowing gaseous entity fly into the sky, as the wooded area disintegrates into blue powder. Ammi notices with horror that some of the strangely-colored gas sinks back into the ground. Years later, the radius of the “blasted heath” continues to slowly spread outward. The narrator warns that the one globule seed had escaped to cause the horror at Nahum's farm, but others from the meteorite may still remain.
Essential Saltes:
     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 colour… it burns… cold an’ wet… but it burns… it lived in the well… I seen it… a kind o’ smoke… jest like the flowers last spring… the well shone at night… Thad an’ Mernie an’ Zenas… everything alive… suckin’ the life out of everything… in that stone… it 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 it… it was that 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’ life… it beats down your mind an’ then gits ye… burns ye up… in the well water… you was right about that… evil water… Zenas never come back from the well… can’t git away… draws ye… ye know summ’at’s comin’, but ’tain’t no use… I seen it time an’ agin senct Zenas was took… whar’s Nabby, Ammi?… my head’s no good… dun’t know how long senct I fed her… it’ll git her ef we ain’t keerful… jest a colour… her face is gettin’ to hev that colour sometimes towards night… an’ it burns an’ sucks… it come from some place whar things ain’t as they is here… one o’ them professors said so… he was right… look out, Ammi, it’ll do suthin’ more… sucks the life out…” 
     But that was all. That which spoke could speak no more because it had completely caved in. 
* * * * *
     For the terror had not faded with the silhouette, and in a fearsome instant of deeper darkness the watchers saw wriggling at that treetop height a thousand tiny points of faint and unhallowed radiance, tipping each bough like the fire of St. Elmo or the flames that came down on the apostles’ heads at Pentecost. It was a monstrous constellation of unnatural light, like a glutted swarm of corpse-fed fireflies dancing hellish sarabandes over an accursed marsh; and its colour was that same nameless intrusion which Ammi had come to recognize and dread. All the while the shaft of phosphorescence from the well was getting brighter and brighter, bringing to the minds of the huddled men a sense of doom and abnormality which far outraced any image their conscious minds could form. It was no longer shining out, it was pouring out; and as the shapeless stream of unplaceable colour left the well it seemed to flow directly into the sky... 
* * * * * 
     ..No watcher can ever forget that sight, and Ammi stared blankly at the stars of Cygnus, Deneb twinkling above the others, where the unknown colour had melted into the Milky Way. But his gaze was the next moment called swiftly to earth by the crackling in the valley. It was just that. Only a wooden ripping and crackling, and not an explosion, as so many others of the party vowed. Yet the outcome was the same, for in one feverish, kaleidoscopic instant there burst up from that doomed and accursed farm a gleamingly eruptive cataclysm of unnatural sparks and substance; blurring the glance of the few who saw it, and sending forth to the zenith a bombarding cloudburst of such coloured and fantastic fragments as our universe must needs disown. Through quickly re-closing vapours they followed the great morbidity that had vanished, and in another second they had vanished too. Behind and below was only a darkness to which the men dared not return, and all about was a mounting wind which seemed to sweep down in black, frore gusts from interstellar space.
From Dr. Armitage's Notes:
  • The concept of human disintegration was previously hinted at in "The Shunned House".
  • Although a science-fiction story, Lovecraft does not rope in any of his space gods for this story.
  • Cites artist Salvatore Rosa.

The Horrible Conclusion:
     How clearly he recalled those dying words of Nahum’s—“can’t git away… draws ye… ye know summ’at’s comin’, but ’tain’t no use…” Ammi is such a good old man—when the reservoir gang gets to work I must write the chief engineer to keep a sharp watch on him. I would hate to think of him as the grey, twisted, brittle monstrosity which persists more and more in troubling my sleep.
Read it here.

Follow'd by "The Very Old Folk".
Amazing Stories, Sept 1927, Frank R. Paul