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The Transition of Juan Romero

The Transition of Juan Romero

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Update: 2020-04-22

  • Of the events which took place at the Norton Mine on October eighteenth andnineteenth, 1894, I have no desire to speak. A sense of duty to science is allthat impels me to recall, in the last years of my life, scenes and happeningsfraught with a terror doubly acute because I cannot wholly define it. But Ibelieve that before I die I should tell what I know of the - shall I saytransition - of Juan Romero.
  • My name and origin need not be related to posterity; in fact, I fancy it isbetter that they should not be, for when a man suddenly migrates to the Statesor the Colonies, he leaves his past behind him. Besides, what I once was isnot in the least relevant to my narrative; save perhaps the fact that duringmy service in India I was more at home amongst white-bearded native teachersthan amongst my brother-officers. I had delved not a little into odd Easternlore when overtaken by the calamities which brought about my new life inAmerica’s vast West - a life wherein I found it well to accept a name - mypresent one - which is very common and carries no meaning.
  • In the summer and autumn of 1894 I dwelt in the drear expanses of the CactusMountains, employed as a common labourer at the celebrated Norton Mine, whosediscovery by an aged prospector some years before had turned the surroundingregion from a nearly unpeopled waste to a seething cauldron of sordid life. Acavern of gold, lying deep beneath a mountain lake, had enriched its venerablefinder beyond his wildest dreams, and now formed the seat of extensivetunneling operations on the part of the corporation to which it had finallybeen sold. Additional grottoes had been found, and the yield of yellow metalwas exceedingly great; so that a mighty and heterogeneous army of minerstoiled day and night in the numerous passages and rock hollows. TheSuperintendent, a Mr. Arthur, often discussed the singularity of the localgeological formations; speculating on the probable extent of the chain ofcaves, and estimating the future of the titanic mining enterprises. Heconsidered the auriferous cavities the result of the action of water, andbelieved the last of them would soon be opened.
  • It was not long after my arrival and employment that Juan Romero came to theNorton Mine. One of the large herd of unkempt Mexicans attracted thither fromthe neighbouring country, he at first attracted attention only because of hisfeatures; which though plainly of the Red Indian type, were yet remarkable fortheir light colour and refined conformation, being vastly unlike those of theaverage "greaser" or Piute of the locality. It is curious that although hediffered so widely from the mass of Hispanicised and tribal Indians, Romerogave not the least impression of Caucasian blood. It was not the Castilianconquistador or the American pioneer, but the ancient and noble Aztec, whomimagination called to view when the silent peon would rise in the earlymorning and gaze in fascination at the sun as it crept above the easternhills, meanwhile stretching out his arms to the orb as if in the performanceof some rite whose nature he did not himself comprehend. But save for hisface, Romero was not in any way suggestive of nobility. Ignorant and dirty, hewas at home amongst the other brown-skinned Mexicans; having come (so I wasafterward told) from the very lowest sort of surroundings. He had been foundas a child in a crude mountain hut, the only survivor of an epidemic which hadstalked lethally by. Near the hut, close to a rather unusual rock fissure, hadlain two skeletons, newly picked by vultures, and presumably forming the soleremains of his parents. No one recalled their identity, and they were soonforgotten by the many. Indeed, the crumbling of the adobe hut and the closingof the rock-fissure by a subsequent avalanche had helped to efface even thescene from recollection. Reared by a Mexican cattle-thief who had given himhis name, Juan differed little from his fellows.
  • The attachment which Romero manifested toward me was undoubtedly commencedthrough the quaint and ancient Hindoo ring which I wore when not engaged inactive labour. Of its nature, and manner of coming into my possession, Icannot speak. It was my last link with a chapter of my life forever closed,and I valued it highly. Soon I observed that the odd-looking Mexican waslikewise interested; eyeing it with an expression that banished all suspicionof mere covetousness. Its hoary hieroglyphs seemed to stir some faintrecollection in his untutored but active mind, though he could not possiblyhave beheld their like before. Within a few weeks after his advent, Romero waslike a faithful servant to me; this notwithstanding the fact that I was myselfbut an ordinary miner. Our conversation was necessarily limited. He knew but afew words of English, while I found my Oxonian Spanish was something quitedifferent from the patois of the peon of New Spain.
  • The event which I am about to relate was unheralded by long premonitions.
  • Though the man Romero had interested me, and though my ring had affected himpeculiarly, I think that neither of us had any expectation of what was tofollow when the great blast was set off. Geological considerations haddictated an extension of the mine directly downward from the deepest part ofthe subterranean area; and the belief of the Superintendent that only solidrock would be encountered, had led to the placing of a prodigious charge ofdynamite. With this work Romero and I were not connected, wherefore our firstknowledge of extraordinary conditions came from others. The charge, heavierperhaps than had been estimated, had seemed to shake the entire mountain.
  • Windows in shanties on the slope outside were shattered by the shock, whilstminers throughout the nearer passages were knocked from their feet. JewelLake, which lay above the scene of action, heaved as in a tempest. Uponinvestigation it was seen that a new abyss yawned indefinitely below the seatof the blast; an abyss so monstrous that no handy line might fathom it, norany lamp illuminate it. Baffled, the excavators sought a conference with theSuperintendent, who ordered great lengths of rope to be taken to the pit, andspliced and lowered without cessation till a bottom might be discovered.
  • Shortly afterward the pale-faced workmen apprised the Superintendent of theirfailure. Firmly though respectfully, they signified their refusal to revisitthe chasm or indeed to work further in the mine until it might be sealed.
  • Something beyond their experience was evidently confronting them, for so faras they could ascertain, the void below was infinite. The Superintendent didnot reproach them. Instead, he pondered deeply, and made plans for thefollowing day. The night shift did not go on that evening.
  • At two in the morning a lone coyote on the mountain began to howl dismally.
  • From somewhere within the works a dog barked an answer; either to the coyote -or to something else. A storm was gathering around the peaks of the range, andweirdly shaped clouds scudded horribly across the blurred patch of celestiallight which marked a gibbous moon’s attempts to shine through many layers ofcirro-stratus vapours. It was Romero’s voice, coming from the bunk above, thatawakened me, a voice excited and tense with some vague expectation I could notunderstand:
  • "Madre de Dios! - el sonido - ese sonido - oiga Vd! - lo oye Vd? \- señor,THAT SOUND!"
  • I listened, wondering what sound he meant. The coyote, the dog, the storm, allwere audible; the last named now gaining ascendancy as the wind shrieked moreand more frantically. Flashes of lightning were visible through the bunk-housewindow. I questioned the nervous Mexican, repeating the sounds I had heard:
  • "El coyote - el perro - el viento?"
  • But Romero did not reply. Then he commenced whispering as in awe:
  • "El ritmo, señor - el ritmo de la tierra - THAT THROB DOWN IN THE GROUND!"
  • And now I also heard; heard and shivered and without knowing why. Deep, deep,below me was a sound - a rhythm, just as the peon had said - which, thoughexceedingly faint, yet dominated even the dog, the coyote, and the increasingtempest. To seek to describe it was useless - for it was such that nodescription is possible. Perhaps it was like the pulsing of the engines fardown in a great liner, as sensed from the deck, yet it was not so mechanical;not so devoid of the element of the life and consciousness. Of all itsqualities, remoteness in the earth most impressed me. To my mind rushedfragments of a passage in Joseph Glanvil which Poe has quoted with tremendouseffect[[1]](footnotes.xml#footnote_1): "… .. the vastness, profundity, andunsearchableness of His works, which have a depth in them greater than thewell of Democritus." Suddenly Romero leaped from his bunk, pausing before meto gaze at the strange ring on my hand, which glistened queerly in every flashof lightning, and then staring intently in the direction of the mine shaft. Ialso rose, and both of us stood motionless for a time, straining our ears asthe uncanny rhythm seemed more and more to take on a vital quality. Thenwithout apparent volition we began to move toward the door, whose rattling inthe gale held a comforting suggestion of earthly reality. The chanting in thedepths - for such the sound now seemed to be - grew in volume anddistinctness; and we felt irresistibly urged out into the storm and thence tothe gaping blackness of the shaft. We encountered no living creature, for themen of the night shift had been released from duty, and were doubtless at theDry Gulch settlement pouring sinister rumours into the ear of some drowsybartender. From the watchman’s cabin, however, gleamed a small square ofyellow light like a guardian eye. I dimly wondered how the rhythmic sound hadaffected the watchman; but Romero was moving more swiftly now, and I followedwithout pausing. As we descended the shaft, the sound beneath grew definitelycomposite. It struck me as horribly like a sort of Oriental ceremony, withbeating of drums and chanting of many voices. I have, as you are aware, beenmuch in India. Romero and I moved without material hesitancy through driftsand down ladders; ever toward the thing that allured us, yet ever with apitifully helpless fear and reluctance. At one time I fancied I had gone mad\- this was when, on wondering how our way was lighted in the absence of lampor candle, I realized that the ancient ring on my finger was glowing witheerie radiance, diffusing a pallid lustre through the damp, heavy air around.
  • It was without warning that Romero, after clambering down one of the many wideladders, broke into a run and left me alone. Some new and wild note in thedrumming and chanting, perceptible but slightly to me, had acted on him in astartling fashion; and with a wild outcry he forged ahead unguided in thecavern’s gloom. I heard his repeated shrieks before me, as he stumbledawkwardly along the level places and scrambled madly down the rickety ladders.
  • And frightened as I was, I yet retained enough of my perception to note thathis speech, when articulate, was not of any sort known to me. Harsh butimpressive polysyllables had replaced the customary mixture of bad Spanish andworse English, and of these, only the oft repeated cry "Huitzilopotchli"
  • seemed in the least familiar. Later I definitely placed that word in the worksof a great historian[[2]](footnotes.xml#footnote_2) \- and shuddered when theassociation came to me. The climax of that awful night was composite butfairly brief, beginning just as I reached the final cavern of the journey. Outof the darkness immediately ahead burst a final shriek from the Mexican, whichwas joined by such a chorus of uncouth sound as I could never hear again andsurvive. In that moment it seemed as if all the hidden terrors andmonstrosities of earth had become articulate in an effort to overwhelm thehuman race. Simultaneously the light from my ring was extinguished, and I sawa new light glimmering from lower space but a few yards ahead of me. I hadarrived at the abyss, which was now redly aglow, and which had evidentlyswallowed up the unfortunate Romero. Advancing, I peered over the edge of thatchasm which no line could fathom, and which was now a pandemonium offlickering flame and hideous uproar. At first I beheld nothing but a seethingblur of luminosity; but then shapes, all infinitely distant, began to detachthemselves from the confusion, and I saw - was it Juan Romero? - but God! Idare not tell you what I saw! … Some power from heaven, coming to my aid,obliterated both sights and sounds in such a crash as may be heard when twouniverses collide in space. Chaos supervened, and I knew the peace ofoblivion. I hardly know how to continue, since conditions so singular areinvolved; but I will do my best, not even trying to differentiate betwixt thereal and the apparent. When I awakened, I was safe in my bunk and the red glowof dawn was visible at the window. Some distance away the lifeless body ofJuan Romero lay upon a table, surrounded by a group of men, including the campdoctor. The men were discussing the strange death of the Mexican as he layasleep; a death seemingly connected in some way with the terrible bolt oflightning which had struck and shaken the mountain. No direct cause wasevident, and an autopsy failed to show any reason why Romero should not beliving. Snatches of conversation indicated beyond a doubt that neither Romeronor I had left the bunk-house during the night; that neither of us had beenawake during the frightful storm which had passed over the Cactus range. Thatstorm, said men who had ventured down the mine shaft, had caused extensivecaving-in, and had completely closed the deep abyss which had created so muchapprehension the day before. When I asked the watchman what sounds he hadheard prior to the mighty thunder-bolt; he mentioned a coyote, a dog, and thesnarling mountain wind - nothing more. Nor do I doubt his word. Upon theresumption of work, Superintendent Arthur called upon some especiallydependable men to make a few investigations around the spot where the gulf hadappeared. Though hardly eager, they obeyed, and a deep boring was made.
  • Results were very curious. The roof of the void, as seen when it was open, wasnot by any means thick; yet now the drills of the investigators met whatappeared to be a limitless extent of solid rock. Finding nothing else, noteven gold, the Superintendent abandoned his attempts; but a perplexed lookoccasionally steals over his countenance as he sits thinking at his desk. Oneother thing is curious. Shortly after waking on that morning after the storm,I noticed the unaccountable absence of my Hindoo ring from my finger. I hadprized it greatly, yet nevertheless felt a sensation of relief at itsdisappearance. If one of my fellow-miners appropriated it, he must have beenquite clever in disposing of his booty, for despite advertisements and apolice search, the ring was never seen again. Somehow I doubt if it was stolenby mortal hands, for many strange things were taught me in India. My opinionof my whole experience varies from time to time. In broad daylight, and atmost seasons I am apt to think the greater part of it a mere dream; butsometimes in the autumn, about two in the morning when the winds and animalshowl dismally, there comes from inconceivable depths below a damnablesuggestion of rhythmical throbbing … and I feel that the transition of JuanRomero was a terrible one indeed.