THE MOON POOL (25)
November 26, 2021
HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize A. Merritt’s 1919 proto-sf novel The Moon Pool for HILOBROW’s readers. Often cited as an influence on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, it was first published in All-Story Weekly (1918–19) as two short stories.
The Crimson Sea
I was in the heart of a rose pearl, swinging, swinging; no, I was in a rosy dawn cloud, pendulous in space. Consciousness flooded me, in reality I was in the arms of one of the man frogs, carrying me as though I were a babe, and we were passing through some place suffused with glow enough like heart of pearl or dawn cloud to justify my awakening vagaries.
Just ahead walked Lakla in earnest talk with Rador, and content enough was I for a time to watch her. She had thrown off the metallic robes; her thick braids of golden brown hair with their flame glints of bronze were twined in a high coronal meshed in silken net of green; little clustering curls escaped from it, clinging to the nape of the proud white neck, shyly kissing it. From her shoulders fell a loose, sleeveless garment of shimmering green belted with a high golden girdle; skirt folds dropping barely below the knees.
She had cast aside her buskins, too, and the slender, high-arched feet were sandalled. Between the buckled edges of her kirtle I caught gleams of translucent ivory as exquisitely moulded, as delectably rounded, as those revealed so naively beneath the hem.
Something was knocking at the doors of my consciousness—some tragic thing. What was it? Larry! Where was Larry? I remembered; raised my head abruptly; saw at my side another frog-man carrying O’Keefe, and behind him, Olaf, step instinct with grief, following like some faithful, wistful dog who has lost a loved master. Upon my movement the monster bearing me halted, looked down inquiringly, uttered a deep, booming note that held the quality of interrogation.
Lakla turned; the clear, golden eyes were sorrowful, the sweet mouth drooping; but her loveliness, her gentleness, that undefinable synthesis of all her tender self that seemed always to circle her with an atmosphere of lucid normality, lulled my panic.
“Drink this,” she commanded, holding a small vial to my lips.
Its contents were aromatic, unfamiliar but astonishingly effective, for as soon as they passed my lips I felt a surge of strength; consciousness was restored.
“Larry!” I cried. “Is he dead?”
Lakla shook her head; her eyes were troubled.
“No,” she said; “but he is like one dead—and yet unlike—”
“Put me down,” I demanded of my bearer.
He tightened his hold; round eyes upon the Golden Girl. She spoke—in sonorous, reverberating monosyllables—and I was set upon my feet; I leaped to the side of the Irishman. He lay limp, with a disquieting, abnormal sequacity, as though every muscle were utterly flaccid; the antithesis of the rigor mortis, thank God, but terrifyingly toward the other end of its arc; a syncope I had never known. The flesh was stone cold; the pulse barely perceptible, long intervalled; the respiration undiscoverable; the pupils of the eyes were enormously dilated; it was as though life had been drawn from every nerve.
“A light flashed from the road. It struck his face and seemed to sink in,” I said.
“I saw,” answered Rador; “but what it was I know not; and I thought I knew all the weapons of our rulers.” He glanced at me curiously. “Some talk there has been that the stranger who came with you, Double Tongue, was making new death tools for Lugur,” he ended.
Marakinoff! The Russian at work already in this storehouse of devastating energies, fashioning the weapons for his plots! The Apocalyptic vision swept back upon me—
“He is not dead.” Lakla’s voice was poignant. “He is not dead; and the Three have wondrous healing. They can restore him if they will—and they will, they will!” For a moment she was silent. “Now their gods help Lugur and Yolara,” she whispered; “for come what may, whether the Silent Ones be strong or weak, if he dies, surely shall I fall upon them and I will slay those two—yea, though I, too perish!”
“Yolara and Lugur shall both die.” Olaf’s eyes were burning. “But Lugur is mine to slay.”
That pity I had seen before in Lakla’s eyes when she looked upon the Norseman banished the white wrath from them. She turned, half hurriedly, as though to escape his gaze.
“Walk with us,” she said to me, “unless you are still weak.”
I shook my head, gave a last look at O’Keefe; there was nothing I could do; I stepped beside her. She thrust a white arm into mine protectingly, the wonderfully moulded hand with its long, tapering fingers catching about my wrist; my heart glowed toward her.
“Your medicine is potent, handmaiden,” I answered. “And the touch of your hand would give me strength enough, even had I not drunk it,” I added in Larry’s best manner.
Her eyes danced, trouble flying.
“Now, that was well spoken for such a man of wisdom as Rador tells me you are,” she laughed; and a little pang shot through me. Could not a lover of science present a compliment without it always seeming to be as unusual as plucking a damask rose from a cabinet of fossils?
Mustering my philosophy, I smiled back at her. Again I noted that broad, classic brow, with the little tendrils of shining bronze caressing it, the tilted, delicate, nut-brown brows that gave a curious touch of innocent diablerie to the lovely face—flowerlike, pure, high-bred, a touch of roguishness, subtly alluring, sparkling over the maiden Madonnaness that lay ever like a delicate, luminous suggestion beneath it; the long, black, curling lashes—the tender, rounded, bare left breast—
“I have always liked you,” she murmured naively, “since first I saw you in that place where the Shining One goes forth into your world. And I am glad you like my medicine as well as that you carry in the black box that you left behind,” she added swiftly.
“How know you of that, Lakla?” I gasped.
“Oft and oft I came to him there, and to you, while you lay sleeping. How call you him?” She paused.
“Larry!” I said.
“Larry!” she repeated it excellently. “And you?”
“Goodwin,” said Rador.
I bowed quite as though I were being introduced to some charming young lady met in that old life now seemingly aeons removed.
“Yes—Goodwin.” she said. “Oft and oft I came. Sometimes I thought you saw me. And he—did he not dream of me sometime—?” she asked wistfully.
“He did.” I said, “and watched for you.” Then amazement grew vocal. “But how came you?” I asked.
“By a strange road,” she whispered, “to see that all was well with him—and to look into his heart; for I feared Yolara and her beauty. But I saw that she was not in his heart.” A blush burned over her, turning even the little bare breast rosy. “It is a strange road,” she went on hurriedly. “Many times have I followed it and watched the Shining One bear back its prey to the blue pool; seen the woman he seeks”—she made a quick gesture toward Olaf—”and a babe cast from her arms in the last pang of her mother love; seen another woman throw herself into the Shining One’s embrace to save a man she loved; and I could not help!” Her voice grew deep, thrilled. “The friend, it comes to me, who drew you here, Goodwin!”
She was silent, walking as one who sees visions and listens to voices unheard by others, Rador made a warning gesture; I crowded back my questions, glanced about me. We were passing over a smooth strand, hard packed as some beach of long-thrust-back ocean. It was like crushed garnets, each grain stained deep red, faintly sparkling. On each side were distances, the floor stretching away into them bare of vegetation—stretching on and on into infinitudes of rosy mist, even as did the space above.
Flanking and behind us marched the giant batrachians, fivescore of them at least, black scale and crimson scale lustrous and gleaming in the rosaceous radiance; saucer eyes shining circles of phosphorescence green, purple, red; spurs clicking as they crouched along with a gait at once grotesque and formidable.
Ahead the mist deepened into a ruddier glow; through it a long, dark line began to appear—the mouth I thought of the caverned space through which we were going; it was just before us; over us—we stood bathed in a flood of rubescence!
A sea stretched before us—a crimson sea, gleaming like that lost lacquer of royal coral and the Flame Dragon’s blood which Fu S’cze set upon the bower he built for his stolen sun maiden—that going toward it she might think it the sun itself rising over the summer seas. Unmoved by wave or ripple, it was placid as some deep woodland pool when night rushes up over the world.
It seemed molten—or as though some hand great enough to rock earth had distilled here from conflagrations of autumn sunsets their flaming essences.
A fish broke through, large as a shark, blunt-headed, flashing bronze, ridged and mailed as though with serrate plates of armour. It leaped high, shaking from it a sparkling spray of rubies; dropped and shot up a geyser of fiery gems.
Across my line of vision, moving stately over the sea, floated a half globe, luminous, diaphanous, its iridescence melting into turquoise, thence to amethyst, to orange, to scarlet shot with rose, to vermilion, a translucent green, thence back into the iridescence; behind it four others, and the least of them ten feet in diameter, and the largest no less than thirty. They drifted past like bubbles blown from froth of rainbows by pipes in mouths of Titans’ young. Then from the base of one arose a tangle of shimmering strands, long, slender whiplashes that played about and sank slowly again beneath the crimson surface.
I gasped—for the fish had been a ganoid—that ancient, armoured form that was perhaps the most intelligent of all life on our planet during the Devonian era, but which for age upon age had vanished, save for its fossils held in the embrace of the stone that once was their soft bottom beds; and the half-globes were Medusae, jelly-fish—but of a size, luminosity, and colour unheard of.
Now Lakla cupped her mouth with pink palms and sent a clarion note ringing out. The ledge on which we stood continued a few hundred feet before us, falling abruptly, though from no great height to the Crimson Sea; at right and left it extended in a long semicircle. Turning to the right whence she had sent her call, I saw rising a mile or more away, veiled lightly by the haze, a rainbow, a gigantic prismatic arch, flattened, I thought, by some quality of the strange atmosphere. It sprang from the ruddy strand, leaped the crimson tide, and dropped three miles away upon a precipitous, jagged upthrust of rock frowning black from the lacquered depths.
And surmounting a higher ledge beyond this upthrust a huge dome of dull gold, Cyclopean, striking eyes and mind with something unhumanly alien, baffling; sending the mind groping, as though across the deserts of space, from some far-flung star, should fall upon us linked sounds, coherent certainly, meaningful surely, vaguely familiar—yet never to be translated into any symbol or thought of our own particular planet.
The sea of crimson lacquer, with its floating moons of luminous colour—this bow of prismed stone leaping to the weird isle crowned by the anomalous, aureate excrescence—the half human batrachians-the elfland through which we had passed, with all its hidden wonders and terrors—I felt the foundations of my cherished knowledge shaking. Was this all a dream? Was this body of mine lying somewhere, fighting a fevered death, and all these but images floating through the breaking chambers of my brain? My knees shook; involuntarily I groaned.
Lakla turned, looked at me anxiously, slipped a soft arm behind me, held me till the vertigo passed.
“Patience,” she said. “The bearers come. Soon you shall rest.”
I looked; down toward us from the bow’s end were leaping swiftly another score of the frog-men. Some bore litters, high, handled, not unlike palanquins—
“Asgard!” Olaf stood beside me, eyes burning, pointing to the arch. “Bifrost Bridge, sharp as sword edge, over which souls go to Valhalla. And she—she is a Valkyr—a sword maiden, Ja!”
I gripped the Norseman’s hand. It was hot, and a pang of remorse shot through me. If this place had so shaken me, how must it have shaken Olaf? It was with relief that I watched him, at Lakla’s gentle command, drop into one of the litters and lie back, eyes closed, as two of the monsters raised its yoke to their scaled shoulders. Nor was it without further relief that I myself lay back on the soft velvety cushions of another.
The cavalcade began to move. Lakla had ordered O’Keefe placed beside her, and she sat, knees crossed Orient fashion, leaning over the pale head on her lap, the white, tapering fingers straying fondly through his hair.
Presently I saw her reach up, slowly unwind the coronal of her tresses, shake them loose, and let them fall like a veil over her and him.
Her head bent low; I heard a soft sobbing—I turned away my gaze, lorn enough in my own heart, God knew!
RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.
SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable |
Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit” | Max Brand’s The Untamed | Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” | Clare Winger Harris’s “A Runaway World” | Francis Stevens’s “Thomas Dunbar” | George Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” | Robert W. Chambers’s “The Harbor-Master” | Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s “The Hall Bedroom” | Clare Winger Harris’s “The Fifth Dimension” | Francis Stevens’s “Behind the Curtain” | more to come.