THE MOON POOL (26)
December 3, 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 Three Silent Ones
The arch was closer—and in my awe I forgot for the moment Larry and aught else. For this was no rainbow, no thing born of light and mist, no Bifrost Bridge of myth—no! It was a flying arch of stone, stained with flares of Tyrian purples, of royal scarlets, of blues dark as the Gulf Stream’s ribbon, sapphires soft as midday May skies, splashes of chromes and greens—a palette of giantry, a bridge of wizardry; a hundred, nay, a thousand, times greater than that of Utah which the Navaho call Nonnegozche and worship, as well they may, as a god, and which is itself a rainbow in eternal rock.
It sprang from the ledge and winged its prodigious length in one low arc over the sea’s crimson breast, as though in some ancient paroxysm of earth it had been hurled molten, crystallizing into that stupendous span and still flaming with the fires that had moulded it.
Closer we came and closer, while I watched spellbound; now we were at its head, and the litter-bearers swept upon it. All of five hundred feet wide it was, surface smooth as a city road, sides low walled, curving inward as though in the jetting-out of its making the edges of the plastic rock had curled.
On and on we sped; the high thrusting precipices upon which the bridge’s far end rested, frowned close; the enigmatic, dully shining dome loomed ever greater. Now we had reached that end; were passing over a smooth plaza whose level floor was enclosed, save for a rift in front of us, by the fanged tops of the black cliffs.
From this rift stretched another span, half a mile long, perhaps, widening at its centre into a broad platform, continuing straight to two massive gates set within the face of the second cliff wall like panels, and of the same dull gold as the dome rising high beyond. And this smaller arch leaped a pit, an abyss, of which the outer precipices were the rim holding back from the pit the red flood.
We were rapidly approaching; now upon the platform; my bearers were striding closely along the side; I leaned far out—a giddiness seized me! I gazed down into depth upon vertiginous depth; an abyss indeed—an abyss dropping to world’s base like that in which the Babylonians believed writhed Talaat, the serpent mother of Chaos; a pit that struck down into earth’s heart itself.
Now, what was that—distance upon unfathomable distance below? A stupendous glowing like the green fire of life itself. What was it like? I had it! It was like the corona of the sun in eclipse—that burgeoning that makes of our luminary when moon veils it an incredible blossoming of splendours in the black heavens.
And strangely, strangely, it was like the Dweller’s beauty when with its dazzling spirallings and writhings it raced amid its storm of crystal bell sounds!
The abyss was behind us; we had paused at the golden portals; they swung inward. A wide corridor filled with soft light was before us, and on its threshold stood—bizarre, yellow gems gleaming, huge muzzle wide in what was evidently meant for a smile of welcome—the woman frog of the Moon Pool wall.
Lakla raised her head; swept back the silken tent of her hair and gazed at me with eyes misty from weeping. The frog-woman crept to her side; gazed down upon Larry; spoke—spoke—to the Golden Girl in a swift stream of the sonorous, reverberant monosyllables; and Lakla answered her in kind. The webbed digits swept over O’Keefe’s face, felt at his heart; she shook her head and moved ahead of us up the passage.
Still borne in the litters we went on, winding, ascending until at last they were set down in a great hall carpeted with soft fragrant rushes and into which from high narrow slits streamed the crimson light from without.
I jumped over to Larry, there had been no change in his condition; still the terrifying limpness, the slow, infrequent pulsation. Rador and Olaf—and the fever now seemed to be gone from him—came and stood beside me, silent.
“I go to the Three,” said Lakla. “Wait you here.” She passed through a curtaining; then as swiftly as she had gone she returned through the hangings, tresses braided, a swathing of golden gauze about her.
“Rador,” she said, “bear you Larry—for into your heart the Silent Ones would look. And fear nothing,” she added at the green dwarf’s disconcerted, almost fearful start.
Rador bowed, was thrust aside by Olaf.
“No,” said the Norseman; “I will carry him.”
He lifted Larry like a child against his broad breast. The dwarf glanced quickly at Lakla; she nodded.
“Come!” she commanded, and held aside the folds.
Of that journey I have few memories. I only know that we went through corridor upon corridor; successions of vast halls and chambers, some carpeted with the rushes, others with rugs into which the feet sank as into deep, soft meadows; spaces illumined by the rubrous light, and spaces in which softer lights held sway.
We paused before a slab of the same crimson stone as that the green dwarf had called the portal, and upon its polished surface weaved the same unnameable symbols. The Golden Girl pressed upon its side; it slipped softly back; a torrent of opalescence gushed out of the opening—and as one in a dream I entered.
We were, I knew, just under the dome; but for the moment, caught in the flood of radiance, I could see nothing. It was like being held within a fire opal—so brilliant, so flashing, was it. I closed my eyes, opened them; the lambency cascaded from the vast curves of the globular walls; in front of me was a long, narrow opening in them, through which, far away, I could see the end of the wizards’ bridge and the ledged mouth of the cavern through which we had come; against the light from within beat the crimson light from without—and was checked as though by a barrier.
I felt Lakla’s touch; turned.
A hundred paces away was a dais, its rim raised a yard above the floor. From the edge of this rim streamed upward a steady, coruscating mist of the opalescence, veined even as was that of the Dweller’s shining core and shot with milky shadows like curdled moonlight; up it stretched like a wall.
Over it, from it, down upon me, gazed three faces—two clearly male, one a woman’s. At the first I thought them statues, and then the eyes of them gave the lie to me; for the eyes were alive, terribly, and if I could admit the word—supernaturally—alive.
They were thrice the size of the human eye and triangular, the apex of the angle upward; black as jet, pupilless, filled with tiny, leaping red flames.
Over them were foreheads, not as ours—high and broad and visored; their sides drawn forward into a vertical ridge, a prominence, an upright wedge, somewhat like the visored heads of a few of the great lizards—and the heads, long, narrowing at the back, were fully twice the size of mankind’s!
Upon the brows were caps—and with a fearful certainty I knew that they were not caps—long, thick strands of gleaming yellow, feathered scales thin as sequins! Sharp, curving noses like the beaks of the giant condors; mouths thin, austere; long, powerful, pointed chins; the—flesh—of the faces white as the whitest marble; and wreathing up to them, covering all their bodies, the shimmering, curdled, misty fires of opalescence!
Olaf stood rigid; my own heart leaped wildly. What—what were these beings?
I forced myself to look again—and from their gaze streamed a current of reassurance, of good will—nay, of intense spiritual strength. I saw that they were not fierce, not ruthless, not inhuman, despite their strangeness; no, they were kindly; in some unmistakable way, benign and sorrowful—so sorrowful! I straightened, gazed back at them fearlessly. Olaf drew a deep breath, gazed steadily too, the hardness, the despair wiped from his face.
Now Lakla drew closer to the dais; the three pairs of eyes searched hers, the woman’s with an ineffable tenderness; some message seemed to pass between the Three and the Golden Girl. She bowed low, turned to the Norseman.
“Place Larry there,” she said softly—”there at the feet of the Silent Ones.”
She pointed into the radiant mist; Olaf started, hesitated, stared from Lakla to the Three, searched for a moment their eyes—and something like a smile drifted through them. He stepped forward, lifted O’Keefe, set him squarely within the covering light. It wavered, rolled upward, swirled about the body, steadied again—and within it there was no sign of Larry!
Again the mist wavered, shook, and seemed to climb higher, hiding the chins, the beaked noses, the brows of that incredible Trinity—but before it ceased to climb, I thought the yellow feathered heads bent; sensed a movement as though they lifted something.
The mist fell; the eyes gleamed out again, inscrutable.
And groping out of the radiance, pausing at the verge of the dais, leaping down from it, came Larry, laughing, filled with life, blinking as one who draws from darkness into sunshine. He saw Lakla, sprang to her, gripped her in his arms.
“Lakla!” he cried. “Mavourneen!” She slipped from his embrace, blushing, glancing at the Three shyly, half-fearfully. And again I saw the tenderness creep into the inky, flame-shot orbs of the woman being; and a tenderness in the others too—as though they regarded some well-beloved child.
“You lay in the arms of Death, Larry,” she said. “And the Silent Ones drew you from him. Do homage to the Silent Ones, Larry, for they are good and they are mighty!”
She turned his head with one of the long, white hands—and he looked into the faces of the Three; looked long, was shaken even as had been Olaf and myself; was swept by that same wave of power and of—of—what can I call it?—holiness that streamed from them.
Then for the first time I saw real awe mount into his face. Another moment he stared—and dropped upon one knee and bowed his head before them as would a worshipper before the shrine of his saint. And—I am not ashamed to tell it—I joined him; and with us knelt Lakla and Olaf and Rador.
The mist of fiery opal swirled up about the Three; hid them.
And with a long, deep, joyous sigh Lakla took Larry’s hand, drew him to his feet, and silently we followed them out of that hall of wonder.
But why, in going, did the thought come to me that from where the Three sat throned they ever watched the cavern mouth that was the door into their abode; and looked down ever into the unfathomable depth in which glowed and pulsed that mystic flower, colossal, awesome, of green flame that had seemed to me fire of life itself?
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.