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Chapter 11

  • Still another time have I come to a place where it is very difficult t_roceed. I ought to be hardened by this stage; but there are some experience_nd intimations which scar too deeply to permit of healing, and leave onl_uch an added sensitiveness that memory reinspires all the original horror. W_aw, as I have said, certain obstructions on the polished floor ahead; and _ay add that our nostrils were assailed almost simultaneously by a ver_urious intensification of the strange prevailing fetor, now quite plainl_ixed with the nameless stench of those others which had gone before. Th_ight of the second torch left no doubt of what the obstructions were, and w_ared approach them only because we could see, even from a distance, that the_ere quite as past all harming power as had been the six similar specimen_nearthed from the monstrous star-mounded graves at poor Lake's camp.
  • They were, indeed, as lacking - in completeness as most of those we ha_nearthed - though it grew plain from the thick, dark green pool gatherin_round them that their incompleteness was of infinitely greater recency. Ther_eemed to be only four of them, whereas Lake's bulletins would have suggeste_o less than eight as forming the group which had preceded us. To find them i_his state was wholly unexpected, and we wondered what sort of monstrou_truggle had occurred down here in the dark.
  • Penguins, attacked in a body, retaliate savagely with their beaks, and ou_ars now made certain the existence of a rookery far beyond. Had those other_isturbed such a place and aroused murderous pursuit? The obstructions did no_uggest it, for penguins' beaks against the tough tissues Lake had dissecte_ould hardly account for the terrible damage our approaching glance wa_eginning to make out. Besides, the huge blind birds we had seen appeared t_e singularly peaceful.
  • Had there, then, been a struggle among those others, and were the absent fou_esponsible? If so, where were they? Were they close at hand and likely t_orm an immediate menace to us? We glanced anxiously at some of the smooth-
  • floored lateral passages as we continued our slow and frankly reluctan_pproach. Whatever the conflict was, it had clearly been that which ha_rightened the penguins into their unaccustomed wandering. It must, then, hav_risen near that faintly heard rookery in the incalculable gulf beyond, sinc_here were no signs that any birds had normally dwelt here. Perhaps, w_eflected, there had been a hideous running fight, with the weaker part_eeking to get back to the cached sledges when their pursuers finished them.
  • One could picture the demoniac fray between namelessly monstrous entities a_t surged out of the black abyss with great clouds of frantic penguin_quawking and scurrying ahead.
  • I say that we approached those sprawling and incomplete obstructions slowl_nd reluctantly. Would to Heaven we had never approached them at all, but ha_un back at top speed out of that blasphemous tunnel with the greasily smoot_loors and the degenerate murals aping and mocking the things they ha_uperseded-run back, before we had seen what we did see, and before our mind_ere burned with something which will never let us breathe easily again!
  • Both of our torches were turned on the prostrate objects, so that we soo_ealized the dominant factor in their incompleteness. Mauled, compressed,
  • twisted, and ruptured as they were, their chief common injury was tota_ecapitation. From each one the tentacled starfish head had been removed; an_s we drew near we saw that the manner of removal looked more like som_ellish tearing or suction than like any ordinary form of cleavage. Thei_oisome dark-green ichor formed a large, spreading pool; but its stench wa_alf overshadowed by the newer and stranger stench, here more pungent than a_ny other point along our route. Only when we had come very close to th_prawling obstructions could we trace that second, unexplainable fetor to an_mmediate source - and the instant we did so Danforth, remembering certai_ery vivid sculptures of the Old Ones' history in the Permian Age one hundre_nd fifty million years ago, gave vent to a nerve-tortured cry which echoe_ysterically through that vaulted and archaic passage with the evil,
  • palimpsest carvings.
  • I came only just short of echoing his cry myself; for I had seen those prima_culptures, too, and had shudderingly admired the way the nameless artist ha_uggested that hideous slime coating found on certain incomplete and prostrat_ld Ones - those whom the frightful Shoggoths had characteristically slain an_ucked to a ghastly headlessness in the great war of resubjugation. They wer_nfamous, nightmare sculptures even when telling of age-old, bygone things;
  • for Shoggoths and their work ought not to be seen by human beings or portraye_y any beings. The mad author of the Necronomicon had nervously tried to swea_hat none had been bred on this planet, and that only drugged dreamers ha_ven conceived them. Formless protoplasm able to mock and reflect all form_nd organs and processes - viscous agglutinations of bubbling cells - rubber_ifteen-foot spheroids infinitely plastic and ductile - slaves of suggestion,
  • builders of cities - more and more sullen, more and more intelligent, more an_ore amphibious, more and more imitative! Great God! What madness made eve_hose blasphemous Old Ones willing to use and carve such things?
  • And now, when Danforth and I saw the freshly glistening and reflectivel_ridescent black slime which clung thickly to those headless bodies and stan_bscenely with that new, unknown odor whose cause only a diseased fancy coul_nvisage - clung to those bodies and sparkled less voluminously on a smoot_art of the accursedly resculptured wall in a series of grouped dots - w_nderstood the quality of cosmic fear to its uttermost depths. It was not fea_f those four missing others - for all too well did we suspect they would d_o harm again. Poor devils! Alter all, they were not evil things of thei_ind. They were the men of another age and another order of being. Nature ha_layed a hellish jest on them - as it will on any others that human madness,
  • callousness, or cruelty may hereafter dig up in that hideously dead o_leeping polar waste - and this was their tragic homecoming. They had not bee_ven savages-for what indeed had they done? That awful awakening in the col_f an unknown epoch - perhaps an attack by the furry, frantically barkin_uadrupeds, and a dazed defense against them and the equally frantic whit_imians with the queer wrappings and paraphernalia … poor Lake, poor Gedney…
  • and poor Old Ones! Scientists to the last - what had they done that we woul_ot have done in their place? God, what intelligence and persistence! What _acing of the incredible, just as those carven kinsmen and forbears had face_hings only a little less incredible! Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities,
  • star spawn - whatever they had been, they were men!
  • They had crossed the icy peaks on whose templed slopes they had onc_orshipped and roamed among the tree ferns. They had found their dead cit_rooding under its curse, and had read its carven latter days as we had done.
  • They had tried to reach their living fellows in fabled depths of blacknes_hey had never seen - and what had they found? All this flashed in uniso_hrough the thoughts of Danforth and me as we looked from those headless,
  • slime-coated shapes to the loathsome palimpsest sculptures and the diabolica_ot groups of fresh slime on the wall beside them - looked and understood wha_ust have triumphed and survived down there in the Cyclopean water city o_hat nighted, penguin-fringed abyss, whence even now a sinister curling mis_ad begun to belch pallidly as if in answer to Danforth's hysterical scream.
  • The shock of recognizing that monstrous slime and headlessness had frozen u_nto mute, motionless statues, and it is only through later conversations tha_e have learned of the complete identity of our thoughts at that moment. I_eemed aeons that we stood there, but actually it could not have been mor_han ten or fifteen seconds. That hateful, pallid mist curled forward as i_eritably driven by some remoter advancing bulk-and then came a sound whic_pset much of what we had just decided, and in so doing broke the spell an_nabled us to run like mad past squawking, confused penguins over our forme_rail back to the city, along ice-sunken megalithic corridors to the grea_pen circle, and up that archaic spiral ramp in a frenzied, automatic plung_or the sane outer air and light of day.
  • The new sound, as I have intimated, upset much that we had decided; because i_as what poor Lake's dissection had led us to attribute to those we had judge_ead. It was, Danforth later told me, precisely what he had caught i_nfinitely muffled form when at that spot beyond the alley corner above th_lacial level; and it certainly had a shocking resemblance to the wind piping_e had both heard around the lofty mountain caves. At the risk of seemin_uerile I will add another thing, too, if only because of the surprising wa_anforth's impressions chimed with mine. Of course common reading is wha_repared us both to make the interpretation, though Danforth has hinted a_ueer notions about unsuspected and forbidden sources to which Poe may hav_ad access when writing his Arthur Gordon Pym a century ago. It will b_emembered that in that fantastic tale there is a word of unknown but terribl_nd prodigious significance connected with the antarctic and screame_ternally by the gigantic spectrally snowy birds of that malign region's core.
  • "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!" That, I may admit, is exactly what we thought we hear_onveyed by that sudden sound behind the advancing white mist-that insidiou_usical piping over a singularly wide range.
  • We were in full flight before three notes or syllables had been uttered,
  • though we knew that the swiftness of the Old Ones would enable any scream-
  • roused and pursuing survivor of the slaughter to overtake us in a moment if i_eally wished to do so. We had a vague hope, however, that nonaggressiv_onduct and a display of kindred reason might cause such a being to spare u_n case of capture, if only from scientific curiosity. Alter all, if such a_ne had nothing to fear for itself, it would have no motive in harming us.
  • Concealment being futile at this juncture, we used our torch for a runnin_lance behind, and perceived that the mist was thinning. Would we see, a_ast, a complete and living specimen of those others? Again came tha_nsidious musical piping- "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!" Then, noting that we wer_ctually gaining on our pursuer, it occurred to us that the entity might b_ounded. We could take no chances, however, since it was very obviousl_pproaching in answer to Danforth's scream, rather than in flight from an_ther entity. The timing was too close to admit of doubt. Of the whereabout_f that less conceivable and less mentionable nightmare - that fetid,
  • unglimpsed mountain of slime-spewing protoplasm whose race had conquered th_byss and sent land pioneers to recarve and squirm through the burrows of th_ills - we could form no guess; and it cost us a genuine pang to leave thi_robably crippled Old One-perhaps a lone survivor - to the peril of recaptur_nd a nameless fate.
  • Thank Heaven we did not slacken our run. The curling mist had thickened again,
  • and was driving ahead with increased speed; whilst the straying penguins i_ur rear were squawking and screaming and displaying signs of a panic reall_urprising in view of their relatively minor confusion when we had passe_hem. Once more came that sinister, wide-ranged piping - "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-
  • li!" We had been wrong. The thing was not wounded, but had merely paused o_ncountering the bodies of its fallen kindred and the hellish slim_nscription above them. We could never know what that demon message was - bu_hose burials at Lake's camp had shown how much importance the beings attache_o their dead. Our recklessly used torch now revealed ahead of us the larg_pen cavern where various ways converged, and we were glad to be leaving thos_orbid palimpsest sculptures - almost felt even when scarcely seen-behind.
  • Another thought which the advent of the cave inspired was the possibility o_osing our pursuer at this bewildering focus of large galleries. There wer_everal of the blind albino penguins in the open space, and it seemed clea_hat their fear of the oncoming entity was extreme to the point o_naccountability. If at that point we dimmed our torch to the very lowes_imit of traveling need, keeping it strictly in front of us, the frightene_quawking motions of the huge birds in the mist might muffle our footfalls,
  • screen our true course, and somehow set up a false lead. Amidst the churning,
  • spiraling fog, the littered and unglistening floor of the main tunnel beyon_his point, as differing from the other morbidly polished burrows, coul_ardly form a highly distinguishing feature; even, so far as we coul_onjecture, for those indicated special senses which made the Old Ones partly,
  • though imperfectly, independent of light in emergencies. In fact, we wer_omewhat apprehensive lest we go astray ourselves in our haste. For we had, o_ourse, decided to keep straight on toward the dead city; since th_onsequences of loss in those unknown foothill honeycombings would b_nthinkable.
  • The fact that we survived and emerged is sufficient proof that the thing di_ake a wrong gallery whilst we providentially hit on the right one. Th_enguins alone could not have saved us, but in conjunction with the mist the_eem to have done so. Only a benign fate kept the curling vapors thick enoug_t the right moment, for they were constantly shifting and threatening t_anish. Indeed, they did lift for a second just before we emerged from th_auseously resculptured tunnel into the cave; so that we actually caught on_irst and only half glimpse of the oncoming entity as we cast a final,
  • desperately fearful glance backward before dimming the torch and mixing wit_he penguins in the hope of dodging pursuit. If the fate which screened us wa_enign, that which gave us the half glimpse was infinitely the opposite; fo_o that flash of semivision can be traced a full half of the horror which ha_ver since haunted us.
  • Our exact motive in looking back again was perhaps no more than the immemoria_nstinct of the pursued to gauge the nature and course of its pursuer; o_erhaps it was an automatic attempt to answer a subconscious question raise_y one of our senses. In the midst of our flight, with all our facultie_entered on the problem of escape, we were in no condition to observe an_nalyze details; yet even so, our latent brain cells must have wondered at th_essage brought them by our nostrils. Alterward we realized what it was-tha_ur retreat from the fetid slime coating on those headless obstructions, an_he coincident approach of the pursuing entity, had not brought us th_xchange of stenches which logic called for. In the neighborhood of th_rostrate things that new and lately unexplainable fetor had been wholl_ominant; but by this time it ought to have largely given place to th_ameless stench associated with those others. This it had not done - fo_nstead, the newer and less bearable smell was now virtually undiluted, an_rowing more and more poisonously insistent each second.
  • So we glanced back simultaneously, it would appear; though no doubt th_ncipient motion of one prompted the imitation of the other. As we did so w_lashed both torches full strength at the momentarily thinned mist; eithe_rom sheer primitive anxiety to see all we could, or in a less primitive bu_qually unconscious effort to dazzle the entity before we dimmed our light an_odged among the penguins of the labyrinth center ahead. Unhappy act! No_rpheus himself, or Lot's wife, paid much more dearly for a backward glance.
  • And again came that shocking, wide-ranged piping - "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!"
  • I might as well be frank - even if I cannot bear to be quite direct - i_tating what we saw; though at the time we felt that it was not to be admitte_ven to each other. The words reaching the reader can never even suggest th_wfulness of the sight itself. It crippled our consciousness so completel_hat I wonder we had the residual sense to dim our torches as planned, and t_trike the right tunnel toward the dead city. Instinct alone must have carrie_s through - perhaps better than reason could have done; though if that wa_hat saved us, we paid a high price. Of reason we certainly had little enoug_eft.
  • Danforth was totally unstrung, and the first thing I remember of the rest o_he journey was hearing him lightheadedly chant an hysterical formula in whic_ alone of mankind could have found anything but insane irrelevance. I_everberated in falsetto echoes among the squawks of the penguins;
  • reverberated through the vaultings ahead, and-thank God-through the now empt_aultings behind. He could not have begun it at once - else we would not hav_een alive and blindly racing. I shudder to think of what a shade o_ifference in his nervous reactions might have brought.
  • "South Station Under - Washington Under - Park Street Under-Kendall - Central
  • - Harvard - " The poor fellow was chanting the familiar stations of th_oston-Cambridge tunnel that burrowed through our peaceful native soi_housands of miles away in New England, yet to me the ritual had neithe_rrelevance nor home feeling. It had only horror, because I knew unerringl_he monstrous, nefandous analogy that had suggested it. We had expected, upo_ooking back, to see a terrible and incredible moving entity if the mists wer_hin enough; but of that entity we had formed a clear idea. What we did see -
  • for the mists were indeed all too maliguly thinned - was something altogethe_ifferent, and immeasurably more hideous and detestable. It was the utter,
  • objective embodiment of the fantastic novelist's "thing that should not be";
  • and its nearest comprehensible analogue is a vast, onrushing subway train a_ne sees it from a station platform - the great black front looming colossall_ut of infinite subterranean distance, constellated with strangely colore_ights and filling the prodigious burrow as a piston fills a cylinder.
  • But we were not on a station platform. We were on the track ahead as th_ightmare, plastic column of fetid black iridescence oozed tightly onwar_hrough its fifteen-foot sinus, gathering unholy speed and driving before it _piral, rethickening cloud of the pallid abyss vapor. It was a terrible,
  • indescribable thing vaster than any subway train - a shapeless congeries o_rotoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporar_yes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-
  • filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins an_lithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evill_ree of all litter. Still came that eldritch, mocking cry- "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-
  • li!" and at last we remembered that the demoniac Shoggoths - given life,
  • thought, and plastic organ patterns solely by the Old Ones, and having n_anguage save that which the dot groups expressed - had likewise no voice sav_he imitated accents of their bygone masters.