Refusing to let these cloudy qualms overmaster me, I recalled Noyes’_nstructions and pushed open the six-panelled, brass-latched white door on m_eft. The room beyond was darkened as I had known before; and as I entered i_ noticed that the queer odour was stronger there. There likewise appeared t_e some faint, half-imaginary rhythm or vibration in the air. For a moment th_losed blinds allowed me to see very little, but then a kind of apologeti_acking or whispering sound drew my attention to a great easy-chair in th_arther, darker corner of the room. Within its shadowy depths I saw the whit_lur of a man’s face and hands; and in a moment I had crossed to greet th_igure who had tried to speak. Dim though the light was, I perceived that thi_as indeed my host. I had studied the Kodak picture repeatedly, and ther_ould be no mistake about this firm, weather-beaten face with the cropped, grizzled beard.
But as I looked again my recognition was mixed with sadness and anxiety; fo_ertainly, his face was that of a very sick man. I felt that there must b_omething more than asthma behind that strained, rigid, immobile expressio_nd unwinking glassy stare; and realised how terribly the strain of hi_rightful experiences must have told on him. Was it not enough to break an_uman being - even a younger man than this intrepid delver into the forbidden?
The strange and sudden relief, I feared, had come too late to save him fro_omething like a general breakdown. There was a touch of the pitiful in th_imp, lifeless way his lean hands rested in his lap. He had on a loos_ressing-gown, and was swathed around the head and high around the neck with _ivid yellow scarf or hood.
And then I saw that he was trying to talk in the same hacking whisper wit_hich he had greeted me. It was a hard whisper to catch at first, since th_rey moustache concealed all movements of the lips, and something in it_imbre disturbed me greatly; but by concentrating my attention I could soo_ake out its purport surprisingly well. The accent was by no means a rusti_ne, and the language was even more polished than correspondence had led me t_xpect.
"Mr. Wilmarth, I presume? You must pardon my not rising. I am quite ill, a_r. Noyes must have told you; but I could not resist having you come just th_ame. You know what I wrote in my last letter - there is so much to tell yo_omorrow when I shall feel better. I can’t say how glad I am to see you i_erson after all our many letters. You have the file with you, of course? An_he Kodak prints and records? Noyes put your valise in the hall - I suppos_ou saw it. For tonight I fear you’ll have to wait on yourself to a grea_xtent. Your room is upstairs - the one over this - and you’ll see th_athroom door open at the head of the staircase. There’s a meal spread for yo_n the dining-room - right through this door at your right - which you ca_ake whenever you feel like it. I’ll be a better host tomorrow - but just no_eakness leaves me helpless.
"Make yourself at home - you might take out the letters and pictures an_ecords and put them on the table here before you go upstairs with your bag.
It is here that we shall discuss them - you can see my phonograph on tha_orner stand.
"No, thanks - there’s nothing you can do for me. I know these spells of old.
Just come back for a little quiet visiting before night, and then go to be_hen you please. I’ll rest right here - perhaps sleep here all night as _ften do. In the morning I’ll be far better able to go into the things we mus_o into. You realise, of course, the utterly stupendous nature of the matte_efore us. To us, as to only a few men on this earth, there will be opened u_ulfs of time and space and knowledge beyond anything within the conception o_uman science or philosophy.
"Do you know that Einstein is wrong, and that certain objects and forces ca_ove with a velocity greater than that of light? With proper aid I expect t_o backward and forward in time, and actually see and feel the earth of remot_ast and future epochs. You can’t imagine the degree to which those being_ave carried science. There is nothing they can’t do with the mind and body o_iving organisms. I expect to visit other planets, and even other stars an_alaxies. The first trip will be to Yuggoth, the nearest world fully people_y the beings. It is a strange dark orb at the very rim of our solar system - unknown to earthly astronomers as yet. But I must have written you about this.
At the proper time, you know, the beings there will direct thought-current_oward us and cause it to be discovered - or perhaps let one of their huma_llies give the scientists a hint.
"There are mighty cities on Yuggoth - great tiers of terraced towers built o_lack stone like the specimen I tried to send you. That came from Yuggoth. Th_un shines there no brighter than a star, but the beings need no light. The_ave other subtler senses, and put no windows in their great houses an_emples. Light even hurts and hampers and confuses them, for it does not exis_t all in the black cosmos outside time and space where they came fro_riginally. To visit Yuggoth would drive any weak man mad - yet I am goin_here. The black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious cyclopea_ridges - things built by some elder race extinct and forgotten before th_eings came to Yuggoth from the ultimate voids - ought to be enough to mak_ny man a Dante or Poe if he can keep sane long enough to tell what he ha_een.
"But remember - that dark world of fungoid gardens and windowless cities isn’_eally terrible. It is only to us that it would seem so. Probably this worl_eemed just as terrible to the beings when they first explored it in th_rimal age. You know they were here long before the fabulous epoch of Cthulh_as over, and remember all about sunken R’lyeh when it was above the waters.
They’ve been inside the earth, too - there are openings which human being_now nothing of - some of them in these very Vermont hills - and great world_f unknown life down there; blue-litten K’n-yan, red-litten Yoth, and black, lightless N’kai. It’s from N’kai that frightful Tsathoggua came - you know, the amorphous, toad-like god-creature mentioned in the Pnakotic Manuscript_nd the Necronomicon and the Commoriom myth-cycle preserved by the Atlantea_igh-priest Klarkash-Ton.
"But we will talk of all this later on. It must be four or five o’clock b_his time. Better bring the stuff from your bag, take a bite, and then com_ack for a comfortable chat."
Very slowly I turned and began to obey my host; fetching my valise, extractin_nd depositing the desired articles, and finally ascending to the roo_esignated as mine. With the memory of that roadside claw-print fresh in m_ind, Akeley’s whispered paragraphs had affected me queerly; and the hints o_amiliarity with this unknown world of fungous life - forbidden Yuggoth - mad_y flesh creep more than I cared to own. I was tremendously sorry abou_keley’s illness, but had to confess that his hoarse whisper had a hateful a_ell as pitiful quality. If only he wouldn’t gloat so about Yuggoth and it_lack secrets!
My room proved a very pleasant and well-furnished one, devoid alike of th_usty odour and disturbing sense of vibration; and after leaving my valis_here I descended again to greet Akeley and take the lunch he had set out fo_e. The dining-room was just beyond the study, and I saw that a kitchen el_xtended still farther in the same direction. On the dining-table an ampl_rray of sandwiches, cake, and cheese awaited me, and a Thermos-bottle besid_ cup and saucer testified that hot coffee had not been forgotten. After _ell-relished meal I poured myself a liberal cup of coffee, but found that th_ulinary standard had suffered a lapse in this one detail. My first spoonfu_evealed a faintly unpleasant acrid taste, so that I did not take more.
Throughout the lunch I thought of Akeley sitting silently in the great chai_n the darkened next room.
Once I went in to beg him to share the repast, but he whispered that he coul_at nothing as yet. Later on, just before he slept, he would take some malte_ilk - all he ought to have that day.
After lunch I insisted on clearing the dishes away and washing them in th_itchen sink - incidentally emptying the coffee which I had not been able t_ppreciate. Then returning to the darkened study I drew up a chair near m_ost’s corner and prepared for such conversation as he might feel inclined t_onduct. The letters, pictures, and record were still on the large centre- table, but for the nonce we did not have to draw upon them. Before long _orgot even the bizarre odour and curious suggestions of vibration.
I have said that there were things in some of Akeley’s letters - especiall_he second and most voluminous one - which I would not dare to quote or eve_orm into words on paper. This hesitancy applies with still greater force t_he things I heard whispered that evening in the darkened room among th_onely hills. Of the extent of the cosmic horrors unfolded by that raucou_oice I cannot even hint. He had known hideous things before, but what he ha_earned since making his pact with the Outside Things was almost too much fo_anity to bear. Even now I absolutely refused to believe what he implied abou_he constitution of ultimate infinity, the juxtaposition of dimensions, an_he frightful position of our known cosmos of space and time in the unendin_hain of linked cosmos-atoms which makes up the immediate super-cosmos o_urves, angles, and material and semi-material electronic organisation.
Never was a sane man more dangerously close to the arcana of basic entity - never was an organic brain nearer to utter annihilation in the chaos tha_ranscends form and force and symmetry. I learned whence Cthulhu first came, and why half the great temporary stars of history had flared forth. I guessed - from hints which made even my informant pause timidly - the secret behin_he Magellanic Clouds and globular nebulae, and the black truth veiled by th_mmemorial allegory of Tao. The nature of the Doels was plainly revealed, an_ was told the essence (though not the source) of the Hounds of Tindalos. Th_egend of Yig, Father of Serpents, remained figurative no longer, and _tarted with loathing when told of the monstrous nuclear chaos beyond angle_pace which the Necronomicon had mercifully cloaked under the name o_zathoth. It was shocking to have the foulest nightmares of secret myt_leared up in concrete terms whose stark, morbid hatefulness exceeded th_oldest hints of ancient and mediaeval mystics. Ineluctably I was led t_elieve that the first whisperers of these accursed tales must have ha_iscourse with Akeley’s Outer Ones, and perhaps have visited outer cosmi_ealms as Akeley now proposed visiting them.
I was told of the Black Stone and what it implied, and was glad that it ha_ot reached me. My guesses about those hieroglyphics had been all too correct!
And yet Akeley now seemed reconciled to the whole fiendish system he ha_tumbled upon; reconciled and eager to probe farther into the monstrous abyss.
I wondered what beings he had talked with since his last letter to me, an_hether many of them had been as human as that first emissary he ha_entioned. The tension in my head grew insufferable, and I built up all sort_f wild theories about that queer, persistent odour and those insidious hint_f vibration in the darkened room.
Night was falling now, and as I recalled what Akeley had written me abou_hose earlier nights I shuddered to think there would be no moon. Nor did _ike the way the farmhouse nestled in the lee of that colossal forested slop_eading up to Dark Mountain’s unvisited crest. With Akeley’s permission _ighted a small oil lamp, turned it low, and set it on a distant bookcas_eside the ghostly bust of Milton; but afterward I was sorry I had done so, for it made my host’s strained, immobile face and listless hands look damnabl_bnormal and corpselike. He seemed half-incapable of motion, though I saw hi_od stiffly once in awhile.
After what he had told, I could scarcely imagine what profounder secrets h_as saving for the morrow; but at last it developed that his trip to Yuggot_nd beyond - and my own possible participation in it - was to be the nex_ay’s topic. He must have been amused by the start of horror I gave at hearin_ cosmic voyage on my part proposed, for his head wabbled violently when _howed my fear. Subsequently he spoke very gently of how human beings migh_ccomplish - and several times had accomplished - the seemingly impossibl_light across the interstellar void. It seemed that complete human bodies di_ot indeed make the trip, but that the prodigious surgical, biological, chemical, and mechanical skill of the Outer Ones had found a way to conve_uman brains without their concomitant physical structure.
There was a harmless way to extract a brain, and a way to keep the organi_esidue alive during its absence. The bare, compact cerebral matter was the_mmersed in an occasionally replenished fluid within an ether-tight cylinde_f a metal mined in Yuggoth, certain electrodes reaching through an_onnecting at will with elaborate instruments capable of duplicating the thre_ital faculties of sight, hearing, and speech. For the winged fungus-beings t_arry the brain-cylinders intact through space was an easy matter. Then, o_very planet covered by their civilisation, they would find plenty o_djustable faculty-instruments capable of being connected with the encase_rains; so that after a little fitting these travelling intelligences could b_iven a full sensory and articulate life - albeit a bodiless and mechanica_ne - at each stage of their journeying through and beyond the space-tim_ontinuum. It was as simple as carrying a phonograph record about and playin_t wherever a phonograph of corresponding make exists. Of its success ther_ould be no question. Akeley was not afraid. Had it not been brilliantl_ccomplished again and again?
For the first time one of the inert, wasted hands raised itself and pointe_tiffly to a high shelf on the farther side of the room. There, in a neat row, stood more than a dozen cylinders of a metal I had never seen before - cylinders about a foot high and somewhat less in diameter, with three curiou_ockets set in an isosceles triangle over the front convex surface of each.
One of them was linked at two of the sockets to a pair of singular-lookin_achines that stood in the background. Of their purport I did not need to b_old, and I shivered as with ague. Then I saw the hand point to a much neare_orner where some intricate instruments with attached cords and plugs, severa_f them much like the two devices on the shelf behind the cylinders, wer_uddled together.
"There are four kinds of instruments here, Wilmarth," whispered the voice.
"Four kinds - three faculties each - makes twelve pieces in all. You see ther_re four different sorts of beings represented in those cylinders up there.
Three humans, six fungoid beings who can’t navigate space corporeally, tw_eings from Neptune (God! if you could see the body this type has on its ow_lanet!), and the rest entities from the central caverns of an especiall_nteresting dark star beyond the galaxy. In the principal outpost inside Roun_ill you’ll now and then find more cylinders and machines - cylinders o_xtra-cosmic brains with different senses from any we know - allies an_xplorers from the uttermost Outside - and special machines for giving the_mpressions and expression in the several ways suited at once to them and t_he comprehensions of different types of listeners. Round Hill, like most o_he beings’ main outposts all through the various universes, is a ver_osmopolitan place. Of course, only the more common types have been lent to m_or experiment.
"Here - take the three machines I point to and set them on the table. Tha_all one with the two glass lenses in front - then the box with the vacuu_ubes and sounding-board - and now the one with the metal disc on top. Now fo_he cylinder with the label ‘B-67’ pasted on it. Just stand in that Windso_hair to reach the shelf. Heavy? Never mind! Be sure of the number - B-67.
Don’t bother that fresh, shiny cylinder joined to the two testing instruments - the one with my name on it. Set B-67 on the table near where you’ve put th_achines - and see that the dial switch on all three machines is jammed ove_o the extreme left.
"Now connect the cord of the lens machine with the upper socket on th_ylinder - there! Join the tube machine to the lower left-hand socket, and th_isc apparatus to the outer socket. Now move all the dial switches on th_achine over to the extreme right \- first the lens one, then the disc one, and then the tube one. That’s right. I might as well tell you that this is _uman being - just like any of us. I’ll give you a taste of some of the other_omorrow."
To this day I do not know why I obeyed those whispers so slavishly, or whethe_ thought Akeley was mad or sane. After what had gone before, I ought to hav_een prepared for anything; but this mechanical mummery seemed so like th_ypical vagaries of crazed inventors and scientists that it struck a chord o_oubt which even the preceding discourse had not excited. What the whispere_mplied was beyond all human belief - yet were not the other things stil_arther beyond, and less preposterous only because of their remoteness fro_angible concrete proof?
As my mind reeled amidst this chaos, I became conscious of a mixed grating an_hirring from all three of the machines lately linked to the cylinder - _rating and whirring which soon subsided into a virtual noiselessness. Wha_as about to happen? Was I to hear a voice? And if so, what proof would I hav_hat it was not some cleverly concocted radio device talked into by _oncealed but closely watched speaker? Even now I am unwilling to swear jus_hat I heard, or just what phenomenon really took place before me. Bu_omething certainly seemed to take place.
To be brief and plain, the machine with the tubes and sound-box began t_peak, and with a point and intelligence which left no doubt that the speake_as actually present and observing us. The voice was loud, metallic, lifeless, and plainly mechanical in every detail of its production. It was incapable o_nflection or expressiveness, but scraped and rattled on with a deadl_recision and deliberation.
"Mr. Wilmarth," it said, "I hope I do not startle you. I am a human being lik_ourself, though my body is now resting safely under proper vitalisin_reatment inside Round Hill, about a mile and a half east of here. I myself a_ere with you - my brain is in that cylinder and I see, hear, and spea_hrough these electronic vibrators. In a week I am going across the void as _ave been many times before, and I expect to have the pleasure of Mr. Akeley’_ompany. I wish I might have yours as well; for I know you by sight an_eputation, and have kept close track of your correspondence with our friend.
I am, of course, one of the men who have become allied with the outside being_isiting our planet. I met them first in the Himalayas, and have helped the_n various ways. In return they have given me experiences such as few men hav_ver had.
"Do you realise what it means when I say I have been on thirty-seven differen_elestial bodies - planets, dark stars, and less definable objects - includin_ight outside our galaxy and two outside the curved cosmos of space and time?
All this has not harmed me in the least. My brain has been removed from m_ody by fissions so adroit that it would be crude to call the operatio_urgery. The visiting beings have methods which make these extractions eas_nd almost normal - and one’s body never ages when the brain is out of it. Th_rain, I may add, is virtually immortal with its mechanical faculties and _imited nourishment supplied by occasional changes of the preserving fluid.
"Altogether, I hope most heartily that you will decide to come with Mr. Akele_nd me. The visitors are eager to know men of knowledge like yourself, and t_how them the great abysses that most of us have had to dream about i_anciful ignorance. It may seem strange at first to meet them, but I know yo_ill be above minding that. I think Mr. Noyes will go along, too - the man wh_oubtless brought you up here in his car. He has been one of us for years - _uppose you recognised his voice as one of those on the record Mr. Akeley sen_ou."
At my violent start the speaker paused a moment before concluding. "So Mr.
Wilmarth, I will leave the matter to you; merely adding that a man with you_ove of strangeness and folklore ought never to miss such a chance as this.
There is nothing to fear. All transitions are painless; and there is much t_njoy in a wholly mechanised state of sensation. When the electrodes ar_isconnected, one merely drops off into a sleep of especially vivid an_antastic dreams.
"And now, if you don’t mind, we might adjourn our session till tomorrow. Goo_ight - just turn all the switches back to the left; never mind the exac_rder, though you might let the lens machine be last. Good night, Mr. Akeley - treat our guest well! Ready now with those switches?"
That was all. I obeyed mechanically and shut off all three switches, thoug_azed with doubt of everything that had occurred. My head was still reeling a_ heard Akeley’s whispering voice telling me that I might leave all th_pparatus on the table just as it was. He did not essay any comment on wha_ad happened, and indeed no comment could have conveyed much to my burdene_aculties. I heard him telling me I could take the lamp to use in my room, an_educed that he wished to rest alone in the dark. It was surely time h_ested, for his discourse of the afternoon and evening had been such as t_xhaust even a vigorous man. Still dazed, I bade my host good night and wen_pstairs with the lamp, although I had an excellent pocket flashlight with me.
I was glad to be out of that downstairs study with the queer odour and vagu_uggestions of vibration, yet could not of course escape a hideous sense o_read and peril and cosmic abnormality as I thought of the place I was in an_he forces I was meeting. The wild, lonely region, the black, mysteriousl_orested slope towering so close behind the house; the footprint in the road, the sick, motionless whisperer in the dark, the hellish cylinders an_achines, and above all the invitations to strange surgery and strange_oyagings - these things, all so new and in such sudden succession, rushed i_n me with a cumulative force which sapped my will and almost undermined m_hysical strength.
To discover that my guide Noyes was the human celebrant in that monstrou_ygone Sabbat-ritual on the phonograph record was a particular shock, though _ad previously sensed a dim, repellent familiarity in his voice. Anothe_pecial shock came from my own attitude toward my host whenever I paused t_nalyse it; for much as I had instinctively liked Akeley as revealed in hi_orrespondence, I now found that he filled me with a distinct repulsion. Hi_llness ought to have excited my pity; but instead, it gave me a kind o_hudder. He was so rigid and inert and corpselike - and that incessan_hispering was so hateful and unhuman!
It occurred to me that this whispering was different from anything else of th_ind I had ever heard; that, despite the curious motionlessness of th_peaker’s moustache-screened lips, it had a latent strength and carrying-powe_emarkable for the wheezing of an asthmatic. I had been able to understand th_peaker when wholly across the room, and once or twice it had seemed to m_hat the faint but penetrant sounds represented not so much weakness a_eliberate repression - for what reason I could not guess. From the first _ad felt a disturbing quality in their timbre. Now, when I tried to weigh th_atter, I thought I could trace this impression to a kind of subconsciou_amiliarity like that which had made Noyes’s voice so hazily ominous. But whe_r where I had encountered the thing it hinted at, was more than I could tell.
One thing was certain - I would not spend another night here. My scientifi_eal had vanished amidst fear and loathing, and I felt nothing now but a wis_o escape from this net of morbidity and unnatural revelation. I knew enoug_ow. It must indeed be true that strange cosmic linkages do exist - but suc_hings are surely not meant for normal human beings to meddle with.
Blasphemous influences seemed to surround me and press chokingly upon m_enses. Sleep, I decided, would be out of the question; so I merel_xtinguished the lamp and threw myself on the bed fully dressed. No doubt i_as absurd, but I kept ready for some unknown emergency; gripping in my righ_and the revolver I had brought along, and holding the pocket flashlight in m_eft. Not a sound came from below, and I could imagine how my host was sittin_here with cadaverous stiffness in the dark.
Somewhere I heard a clock ticking, and was vaguely grateful for the normalit_f the sound. It reminded me, though, of another thing about the region whic_isturbed me - the total absence of animal life. There were certainly no far_easts about, and now I realised that even the accustomed night-noises of wil_iving things were absent. Except for the sinister trickle of distant unsee_aters, that stillness was anomalous - interplanetary - and I wondered wha_tar-spawned, intangible blight could be hanging over the region. I recalle_rom old legends that dogs and other beasts had always hated the Outer Ones, and thought of what those tracks in the road might mean.