The fox woman; and other stories, by Abraham Merritt

The White Road

(EDITOR'S NOTE: When A. Merritt passed away in 1943, he left several unfinished projects on his desk. Two of these literary fragments proved to be the opening chapters of novels. As a service to the great legion of Merritt readers, the editor of this volume is pleased to include these short fragmentary works here. It is believed that “The White Road” was to have been a novel based on the theme of “Thru the Dragon Glass,” and “When Old Gods Wake,” which, immediately follows this in this book, was to be a sequel to his novel “The Face in the Abyss.” Tantalisingly incomplete, we think they show even in their few pages the same delicate Merritt touch that characterizes his best work. ~D. A. W.)

CHAPTER I. GATE OF THE WHITE ROAD

DAVID CORFAX laid down the last torn sheet of the stained old parchment with a wonder that had grown steadily while he read. What he had read was incredible, but the true incredibility lay in that it had been written. Therein was the. heart of his wonder and the indefinable terror of it. For what the writing dealt with was — the White Road!

All his life he had known the White Road. You saw it first as a slit, a hair-line of white light, just the width of your eyes and somewhere, it seemed behind them — somewhere between your brain and your eyes, in your own head. In childhood, it had been after you had gone to bed; sometimes as soon as your lids closed, sometimes when you were dropping off to sleep. Later it might come in broad daylight, while you sat thinking or reading. But at those times you never got far on the White Road.

The laws of this world not those of yours.

All his life he had known the White Road; in all his life he had spoken of it only to three persons. Two of these were dead; the third had been a child whom he had not seen for years and who should long ago have forgotten. Yet it had been she who had sent him the parchment. And out of it had come a voice silent four hundred years, and speaking of the White Road as one who had been a pilgrim upon it.

How young he had been when first he saw the White Road, David Corfax could not tell. But it was as real to him as was this old house in which he sat, the sun of a September afternoon streaming through the window upon this yellowed manuscript which told him that the White Road was no dream — or if a dream then not his alone.

And there had been that enigmatic postscript of Deborah's: “I too have seen the White Road!”

Was it real after all? Whether real or not, it had its mechanics, unchanging, unchangeable. First there was the humming, not heard but felt, a vibration along every nerve, in every cell. Then the slit, the hair-line of white light.

Then the slit would open — half an inch, an inch. And then the White Road would begin to unroll. You could see straight ahead of you, but that was all. It was as though you stood a little distance back of the slit.

In a sort of black box that moved smoothly along the road. And yet you seemed to be out on the road, too. Sometimes the sides would sweep past swiftly, as though you were galloping on some effortlessly moving horse; sometimes slowly as though you were walking. But once the road began to unroll you never stopped. And you never looked back, that is until you learned that looking back meant journey's end. When you stopped, the slit went out — like a light and you were back in your room. You looked back into your room. When you turned, the road was gone.

Nor could you control the motion with which you went, nor could you, try as you would, by any effort of will cause the window that opened on the road to appear. It was there, without warning — or it was not. Nor could he ever remember clearly what he had seen when on the White Road. The road itself was always plain — wide and smoothly paved, sometimes straight sometimes curving, going on and on and on. There were people, but of what kind he never remem bered. There were forests, colorful and flowered . . . a towering range of mountains, strangely serrated, toothed, pinnacled . . . enormously high, purple and amethyst and looking as though they had been cut from cardboard . . . no distance to them and with garlands of little suns circling their peaks . . . there was a city of domes and minarets . . . beside a purple sea. And there were things that terrified . . . that had been in childhood when he had learned to look back to escape them. Later, he faced them . . . but could not remember, waking, what he had faced. Memory of music . . . like Sibelius.

The road appeared without warning? No, there was always the humming that preceded it. It was a strange sound, not heard but felt. It seemed to vibrate through him, and as it did so his body became weightless. He could not feel the bed he lay in if he clenched his hands he could not feel the fingers . . . the humming seemed to deaden all nerves of touch. It grew louder, swifter rather rising in vibrancy rather than in pitch as the slit widened. He remembered, ah, there was one thing he remembered clearly enough. One night the humming had quickened and the slit had opened wider than ever before — or since. And over it, like a climber, a woman's hand, long-fingered, yellow as old ivory had clawed with talons like a condor had crept. And two unwinking, amber eyes had glared into his. He remembered how he had screamed, and his mother had come to him, and he could see today the fright, the numb horror, that had appeared upon her face when he had wept and sobbed about the White Road . . . he had been no more than six then. He remembered.

When you looked back, and the road came again, you had to begin at the beginning. But if you could hold your nerve, and not look back, after a while you went to sleep. Then, if the dream came again the next night, as sometimes it did, you would go on from where you had stopped the night before. That was how he had gotten as far as sight of the strange city beside the purple sea. Three nights he had been on the road. Yes, there was some system, some law governing it.

There was a dark: road too. That was an evil road. Even in childhood he knew that it came close to the White Road and was to be avoided. But later, he felt a pull as he put it, to this road. And often yielded. He could see nothing on this, could only hear voices. And he must go so gently, so quietly. There was a hill, and behind it the murmur of voices, the creaking of stays, the sounds of a port. He knew it was a hill, because it loomed blackly against a faintly red sky, as though there were fires burning. He knew that he must never look over that hill, never go over it or he would be utterly lost. Could never return.

Then his mother had died. He had gone through boarding school, through college, become a wanderer. Two years on the desert.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09