The Metal Monster, by Abraham Merritt

Chapter XXX

Burned Out

Ruth sighed and stirred. By the glare of the lightnings, now almost continuous, we saw that her rigidity, and in fact all the puzzling cataleptic symptoms, had disappeared. Her limbs relaxed, her skin faintly flushed, she lay in deepest but natural slumber undisturbed by the incessant cannonading of the thunder under which the walls of the blue globe shuddered. Ventnor passed through the curtains of the central hall; he returned with one of Norhala’s cloaks; covered the girl with it.

An overwhelming sleepiness took possession of me, a weariness ineffable. Nerve and brain and muscle suddenly relaxed, went slack and numb. Without a struggle I surrendered to an overpowering stupor and cradled deep in its heart ceased consciously to be.

When my eyes unclosed the chamber of the moonstone walls was filled with a silvery, crepuscular light. I heard the murmuring and laughing of running water, the play, I lazily realized, of the fountained pool.

I lay for whole minutes unthinking, luxuriating in the sense of tension gone and of security; lay steeped in the aftermath of complete rest. Memory flooded me.

Quietly I sat up; Ruth still slept, breathing peacefully beneath the cloak, one white arm stretched over the shoulder of Drake — as though in her sleep she had drawn close to him.

At her feet lay Ventnor, as deep in slumber as they. I arose and tip-toed over to the closed door.

Searching, I found its key; a cupped indentation upon which I pressed.

The crystalline panel slipped back; it was moved, I suppose, by some mechanism of counterbalances responding to the weight of the hand. It must have been some vibration of the thunder which had loosed that mechanism and had closed the panel upon the heels of our entrance — so I thought — then seeing again in memory that uncanny, deliberate shutting was not at all convinced that it had been the thunder.

I looked out. How many hours the sun had been up there was no means of knowing.

The sky was low and slaty gray; a fine rain was falling. I stepped out.

The garden of Norhala was a wreckage of uprooted and splintered trees and torn masses of what had been blossoming verdure.

The gateway of the precipices beyond which lay the Pit was hidden in the webs of the rain. Long I gazed down the canyon — and longingly; striving to picture what the Pit now held; eager to read the riddles of the night.

There came from the valley no sound, no movement, no light.

I reentered the blue globe and paused on the threshold — staring into the wide and wondering eyes of Ruth bolt upright in her silken bed with Norhala’s cloak clutched to her chin like a suddenly awakened and startled child. As she glimpsed me she stretched out her hand. Drake, wide awake on the instant, leaped to his feet, his hand jumping to his pistol.

“Dick!” called Ruth, her voice tremulous, sweet.

He swung about, looked deep into the clear and fearless brown eyes in which — with leaping heart I realized it — was throned only that spirit which was Ruth’s and Ruth’s alone; Ruth’s clear unshadowed eyes glad and shy and soft with love.

“Dick!” she whispered, and held soft arms out to him. The cloak fell from her. He swung her up. Their lips met.

Upon them, embraced, the wakening eyes of Ventnor dwelt; they filled with relief and joy, nor was there lacking in them a certain amusement.

She drew from Drake’s arms, pushed him from her, stood for a moment shakily, with covered eyes.

“Ruth,” called Ventnor softly.

“Oh!” she cried. “Oh, Martin — I forgot —” She ran to him, held him tight, face hidden in his breast. His hand rested on the clustering brown curls, tenderly.

“Martin.” She raised her face to him. “Martin, it’s GONE! I’m — ME again! All ME! What happened? Where’s Norhala?”

I started. Did she not know? Of course, lying bound as she had in the vanished veils, she could have seen nothing of the stupendous tragedy enacted beyond them — but had not Ventnor said that possessed by the inexplicable obsession evoked by the weird woman Ruth had seen with her eyes, thought with her mind?

And had there not been evidence that in her body had been echoed the torments of Norhala’s? Had she forgotten? I started to speak — was checked by Ventnor’s swift, warning glance.

“She’s — over in the Pit,” he answered her quietly. “But do you remember nothing, little sister?”

“There’s something in my mind that’s been rubbed out,” she replied. “I remember the City of Cherkis — and your torture, Martin — and my torture —”

Her face whitened; Ventnor’s brow contracted anxiously. I knew for what he watched — but Ruth’s shamed face was all human; on it was no shadow nor trace of that alien soul which so few hours since had threatened us.

“Yes,” she nodded, “I remember that. And I remember how Norhala repaid them. I remember that I was glad, fiercely glad, and then I was tired — so tired. And then — I come to the rubbed-out place,” she ended perplexedly.

Deliberately, almost banally had I not realized his purpose, he changed the subject. He held her from him at arm’s length.

“Ruth!” he exclaimed, half mockingly, half reprovingly. “Don’t you think your morning negligee is just a little scanty even for this Godforsaken corner of the earth?”

Lips parted in sheer astonishment, she looked at him. Then her eyes dropped to her bare feet, her dimpled knees. She clasped her arms across her breasts; rosy red turned all her fair skin.

“Oh!” she gasped. “Oh!” And hid from Drake and me behind the tall figure of her brother.

I walked over to the pile of silken stuffs, took the cloak and tossed it to her. Ventnor pointed to the saddlebags.

“You’ve another outfit there, Ruth,” he said. “We’ll take a turn through the place. Call us when you’re ready. We’ll get something to eat and go see what’s happening — out there.”

She nodded. We passed through the curtains and out of the hall into the chamber that had been Norhala’s. There we halted, Drake eyeing Martin with a certain embarrassment. The older man thrust out his hand to him.

“I knew it, Drake,” he said. “Ruth told me all about it when Cherkis had us. And I’m very glad. It’s time she was having a home of her own and not running around the lost places with me. I’ll miss her — miss her damnably, of course. But I’m glad, boy — glad!”

There was a little silence while each looked deep into each other’s hearts. Then Ventnor dropped Dick’s hand.

“And that’s all of THAT,” he said. “The problem before us is — how are we going to get back home?”

“The — THING— is dead.” I spoke from an absolute conviction that surprised me, based as it was upon no really tangible, known evidence.

“I think so,” he said. “No — I KNOW so. Yet even if we can pass over its body, how can we climb out of its lair? That slide down which we rode with Norhala is unclimbable. The walls are unscalable. And there is that chasm — she — spanned for us. How can we cross THAT? The tunnel to the ruins was sealed. There remains of possible roads the way through the forest to what was the City of Cherkis. Frankly I am loathe to take it.

“I am not at all sure that all the armored men were slain — that some few may not have escaped and be lurking there. It would be short shrift for us if we fell into their hands now.”

“And I’m not sure of THAT,” objected Drake. “I think their pep and push must be pretty thoroughly knocked out — if any do remain. I think if they saw us coming they’d beat it so fast that they’d smoke with the friction.”

“There’s something to that,” Ventnor smiled. “Still I’m not keen on taking the chance. At any rate, the first thing to do is to see what happened down there in the Pit. Maybe we’ll have some other idea after that.”

“I know what happened there,” announced Drake, surprisingly. “It was a short circuit!”

We gaped at him, mystified.

“Burned out!” said Drake. “Every damned one of them — burned out. What were they, after all? A lot of living dynamos. Dynamotors — rather. And all of a sudden they had too much juice turned on. Bang went their insulations — whatever they were.

“Bang went they. Burned out — short circuited. I don’t pretend to know why or how. Nonsense! I do know. The cones were some kind of immensely concentrated force — electric, magnetic; either or both or more. I myself believe that they were probably solid — in a way of speaking — coronium.

“If about twenty of the greatest scientists the world has ever known are right, coronium is — well, call it curdled energy. The electric potentiality of Niagara in a pin point of dust of yellow fire. All right — they or IT lost control. Every pin point swelled out into a Niagara. And as it did so, it expanded from a controlled dust dot to an uncontrolled cataract — in other words, its energy was unleashed and undammed.

“Very well — what followed? What HAD to follow? Every living battery of block and globe and spike was supercharged and went — blooey. The valley must have been some sweet little volcano while that short circuiting was going on. All right — let’s go down and see what it did to your unclimbable slide and unscalable walls, Ventnor. I’m not sure we won’t be able to get out that way.”

“Come on; everything’s ready,” Ruth was calling; her summoning blocked any objection we might have raised to Drake’s argument.

It was no dryad, no distressed pagan clad maid we saw as we passed back into the room of the pool. In knickerbockers and short skirt, prim and self-possessed, rebellious curls held severely in place by close-fitting cap and slender feet stoutly shod, Ruth hovered over the steaming kettle swung above the spirit lamp.

And she was very silent as we hastily broke fast. Nor when we had finished did she go to Drake. She clung close to her brother and beside him as we set forth down the roadway, through the rain, toward the ledge between the cliffs where the veils had shimmered.

Hotter and hotter it grew as we advanced; the air steamed like a Turkish bath. The mists clustered so thickly that at last we groped forward step by step, holding to each other.

“No use,” gasped Ventnor. “We couldn’t see. We’ll have to turn back.”

“Burned out!” said Dick. “Didn’t I tell you? The whole valley was a volcano. And with that deluge falling in it — why wouldn’t there be a fog? It’s why there IS a fog. We’ll have to wait until it clears.”

We trudged back to the blue globe.

All that day the rain fell. Throughout the few remaining hours of daylight we wandered over the house of Norhala, examining its most interesting contents, or sat theorizing, discussing all phases of the phenomena we had witnessed.

We told Ruth what had occurred after she had thrown in her lot with Norhala; and of the enigmatic struggle between the glorious Disk and the sullenly flaming Thing I have called the Keeper.

We told her of the entombment of Norhala.

When she heard that she wept.

“She was sweet,” she sobbed; “she was lovely. And she was beautiful. Dearly she loved me. I KNOW she loved me. Oh, I know that we and ours and that which was hers could not share the world together. But it comes to me that Earth would have been far less poisonous with those that were Norhala’s than it is with us and ours!”

Weeping, she passed through the curtainings, going we knew to Norhala’s chamber.

It was a strange thing indeed that she had said, I thought, watching her go. That the garden of the world would be far less poisonous blossoming with those Things of wedded crystal and metal and magnetic fires than fertile as now with us of flesh and blood and bone. To me came appreciations of their harmonies, and mingled with those perceptions were others of humanity — disharmonious, incoordinate, ever struggling, ever striving to destroy itself —

There was a plaintive whinnying at the open door. A long and hairy face, a pair of patient, inquiring eyes looked in. It was a pony. For a moment it regarded us — and then trotted trustfully through; ambled up to us; poked its head against my side.

It had been ridden by one of the Persians whom Ruth had killed, for under it, slipped from the girths, a saddle dangled. And its owner must have been kind to it — we knew that from its lack of fear for us. Driven by the tempest of the night before, it had been led back by instinct to the protection of man.

“Some luck!” breathed Drake.

He busied himself with the pony, stripping away the hanging saddle, grooming it.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58