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Juxtaposed, Yet Infinitely Distant
by C.S. Barlow
This is not fiction. I know that I will not be believed, but this is an account of actual events.
I will not be believed for I cannot prove my tale's factuality -- a mad woman's ravings and an old man's dreams are not evidence enough to sway mankind in his firm convictions concerning the ways of the universe. This work will be read as fantasy, this introduction viewed as an inexperienced author's employment of an age-old, completely transparent, plot device.
Perhaps -- and here another worn literary trick -- it is safer that way. You will sit, on finishing the story, and you will momentarily ponder over its content, shake your head at the author's warped imagination, and turn the page to begin the magazine's next true fable.
Yes, it is safer that way, for you will read of eldritch artifacts, monsters and abominations, so, if you do trust in their sincerity, who can foretell the possible consequences?
My name is Karl Stephenson; I am a professor of astronomy. It is unlikely you will have heard of me for I have made little contribution to this grand science's expansion, being more of a recapitulator than a thinker, though I live in hope that one of my students will manage to prove Le Verrier's Vulcan, or explain the dark night sky. However, you may know -- or know of -- the university at which I studied and now teach: the Miskatonic, at Arkham.
If you are ignorant of the place, then, almost undoubtedly, you have little interest in archaeology or the occult, and are unfamiliar with academia. Its centuries-old library, covering almost a quarter of the campus, houses one of the greatest publicly accessible collections of arcane literature and ancient history in the world. Hidden within the barely decipherable languages of some texts are references to certain gods and long forgotten cities that have been the basis of many a college-funded expedition to exotic, often hellish locations. Some were surprisingly successful, but an uncomfortable number also suffered considerable tragedy.
The university is well situated in Arkham in relation to its darker attributes, for the town has neighbours of mystery and unwholesomeness: around eighty miles westward rise the Appalachians, their lush and undulating forests long thought by the various insular communities of the area to be a veil obscuring unspeakable acts of devil worship and human sacrifice. Twenty miles northwards, all but severed from the rest of the area by marshland, lies Innsmouth; an ancient port where, in the winter of '27, a most peculiar and secretive Federal investigation took place in which a number of seemingly abandoned houses were unexplainidly dynamited, and a sizable portion of the town's populace arrested and seldom heard of since. And approximately twenty five miles northwestward is the village of Dunwhich, with its borders of thick forest and unnaturally regular, stone-crowned mounds, its tiny in-bred populace, and its past of witchhunts and legends of queer beings half seen between trees.
Being, therefore, almost a bastion of weirdness, Miskatonic University has always been a popular gathering ground for society's unconformists -- pale, sickly poets and artists plagued with terrifying nightmares; medical students with wild new notions; parapsychologists convinced they have discovered methods of communicating with the dead through telepathy; anthropologists certain that Darwin was wrong, that mankind's evolution was in fact contrived by fantastic interstellar races.
It was as just such an irregular that I first considered this story's subject, Stanley Connerly.
He studied archaeology, but during free periods often frequented my lectures on astronomy, exhibiting keen interest in virtually everything I talked of: Hubble's observations; Tombaugh's Pluto (he asked whether life could exist on that -- surely -- barren sphere); Saturn's rings. I would often come across him in the library nose-deep in some exotic volume, whereupon we would idly compare his knowledge of archaeology with mine of the stars and planets and debate the surprising number -- surprising at least to me, Connerly seemed to actually expect the various relationships -- of connections between modern astronomy's discoveries and ancient history's beliefs and predictions (of course, not all was congruent, one idea he possessed of a space beyond space, beyond angled space, as he put it, where monstrous nuclear entities existed, was obviously preposterous). It was during the course of these conversations that our friendship began.
As far as women were concerned, Connerly was little seen in their close company. He often received their attention (being, I suppose, quite handsome), but rarely returned it. "For some perverse reason, Stephenson, I love only unattainable women -- those elegant creatures seen in paintings or read about in fictions, or those long dead. I cannot help regarding reality's woman, on the occasions when I do feel the need to dally with them, as a substitute for these dreams. Hmph! I have always desired the impossible! I very much doubt that I will ever marry."
During the longer holidays (as he insisted on calling them), Connerly almost invariably crossed the Atlantic to Scotland and what had been his family home for generations, secluded Connerly House on the shore of Loch Morar. There he would stay with his octogenarian father (his mother died of a cancer in '25 at the age of fifty four), the Lord Henry Connerly, and discuss -- for they had similar interests -- the young man's studies.
On Connerly's return to Arkham after such a "holiday" he would, for a few days, study only as necessary, passing much of his spare time upon the Garrison Street bridge gazing up the Miskatonic River, or into its syrupy depths. His father's health was steadily failing, and on every visit there was some new deterioration: "He suffers wracking coughs, Stephenson, coupled with a 'complete lassitude of the bones' as he calls it, and is a-bed more and more often. Old-age grips him, and the loss of Mother has left him without any real fight. Doctors suggest warmer, drier climes to slow the process -- but he would never leave the House."
Yet soon, cold as you may consider it, the sight of some dusty tome in a darkened corner of the library, or the rumour of important discoveries at some far-off dig, would once again drag Connerly's veritable lust for knowledge above his paternal worries -- re-immersing him in arcania.
For almost a year, Connerly and a number of his fellow students and professors -- not purely archaeological; occultists, anthropologists, and historians were also involved -- had been attempting to persuade the university's senate as to the possible wealth of information and academic fame to be gained from an expedition to an unspecific site in the southwest corner of the Iren Tala Basin in Mongolia, north of the Yin Shan Mountains. The reason for their repeated requests was as follows: a relative of one of the campaigning archaeological professors, living in Egypt, had purchased from a Cairo bookshop some peculiar text fragments which he posted to the professor as a birthday gift, trusting they would prove of interest. Of unknown specific antiquity, written in an Arabic variant so singular it took months to translate, they appeared to be part of the of the diary of an extremely well-traveled Arabian tradesman. Mainly concerned with business transactions too patchy to offer much information, there was hidden amongst them this one incongruous warning: "True followers of Muhammad heed! Beware/avoid the village of the Worshippers/Lovers/Servants of The Unutterable Name. It is the doorway/passage to the Screaming Spheres!" Accompanying maps and symbols hinted at the rough position in the Gobi Desert as the place to circumvent.
Connerly explained the excerpt to me thus: "We are almost certain that 'The Unutterable Name' refers to Hastur or He Who is Not to be Named, an extremely powerful pagan deity supposed to reside near Aldebaran (a name you're doubtless familiar with, Stephenson). Concerning 'the passage to the Screaming Spheres' we're unsure, but I would think it simply implies that the village was the place of enrollment for all would-be Hastur cultists, an idea our journeying friend obviously, probably correctly, found abominable.
"Why correctly?" I asked.
"Well, even today there are followers of Hastur, highly primitive tribes, mainly; and amongst those who have had dealings with them they are regarded with considerable distaste and suspicion."
"Ah. And what, exactly, are 'the Screaming Spheres'?"
"I don't know. We've never come across the phrase before. Depending on your point of view, they could be a Hell of some sort, or a Heaven. Perhaps they're a metaphor invented by the Arab. It's not impossible that they allude to worlds about Aldebaran."
"That's a concept well before its time, then," I scoffed, "As far as dating the fragments is concerned, you've already informed me that the best anyone has been able to do is place them no later than the 5th century, the opposite parameter being virtually the first written Arabic word! And from the 2nd century to the 17th -- though Arabs had no access to it until the 8th -- the foremost astronomical literature was Ptolemy's Almagest, and his theories left little provision for planets orbiting any stars other than our own!"
My friend looked at me with a raised eyebrow, a slight smile, and I recalled the curious affinities discovered during our conversations in the library. Peevishly not even admitting that his idea could, in view of this, be correct, I merely grunted.
He continued. "The senate must back us! So much could be learned!"
At last overcome by the intellectuals' fervour (having previously been adverse to risk necessarily large amounts of money on an aside buried amongst a few scraps of paper), the senate finally agreed to the proposals. Arrangements for the expedition, which would commence in April, 1932, and terminate in early October to coincide with the region's short summer, were executed.
On the 3rd of September I received the following letter -- reeking of an unholy amalgamation of dung and coffee -- from my absent friend:
Today is 15th June. You must forgive me for not writing earlier, but time is most valuable here. You must also forgive my seeming curtness, and for the same reasons.
We arrived at Ulaanbaatar -- or Urga or Ulan Bator, depending upon whose maps you consult -- on 14th April, & by the 16th were well on our way along a road that, had we elected to follow it into China, would have taken us beyond Peking. However, at Saynshanda, we met our Kalmuck guides & turned SW -- the road continuing SE -- to begin the trek across the basin.
Tues. of the following week saw our arrival at what we believed the village's site (to within about seven miles), & we set up camp. The next day eight of us -- including myself -- divided into pairs, &, each pair accompanied by a Kalmuck guide, journeyed N, S, E, and W in search of signs of the ancient habitat. My group, heading E, discovered nothing, but on return we found that the N group had, within just three miles, happened upon a collection of curiously regular, sand-covered mounds (shades of Dunwhich, eh?). At the reappearance of the remaining scouting parties camp was immediately struck & we relocated to the site.
Then there were only three mounds, today we have exposed all five. They are about 3' high, covered over with complex but now eroded swirls, spaced 50' apart, arranged pentagonally, & cut -- in some unknown manner supplying us with a great deal of argumentative fuel -- from the underlying granite.
Excavations in progress at selected spots outside the pentagram are revealing much about living accommodations and conditions, as well as a fair amount of osseous material. But the dig of most interest to me lies at its focus where a deep concavity is being unearthed. This would undoubtedly have been the position of the object the cultists worshipped, the alter -- idol? Fetish? -- devoted to Hastur, & we hope against hope that it may yet lie there (as you may realize this is atypical -- in almost any other religion such objects are displayed prominently, not kept in holes! Perhaps the well served as a sacrificial pit, the object suspended above it on some long-since rotted scaffold? Or was it merely a safe haven for the artifact during storms? It's feasible there never was any 'object', or, assuming its existence, that it has long since been stolen. When one investigates ancient occurrences, possibilities become endless).
It is useless to attempt to keep you more regularly informed, Stephenson, As it is, this letter will probably reach you after my return! I will tell all when I next see you.
Mid-November was the triumphant expedition's homecoming (I will record few of their triumphs here, for most have little real relevance to this tale and are widely documented and freely accessible elsewhere). Connerly, however, was absent. During the journey back to Boston, I was told, he had been the recipient of a message informing of distressing turns in his father's condition, and so, on alighting, had sought immediate passage for Scotland.
For the first few months of the year I addressed many letters to Connerly House enquiring after the Lord's health, but received no replies. I surmised that either the old man had at last died, leaving his son in deep mourning, or that he yet fought to live, leaving Stanley no time to respond to my queries.
In late August I heard news from an English visitor to the university that the Lord had indeed passed away, in fact at the year's turning, and more than this, that Connerly had been married! Admittedly offended at not having been earlier informed of these events, I penned another letter. I waited three weeks for my answer, though Connerly was not the author:
For my atrocious manners in taking the liberty of opening your letter to my husband I offer my sincerest apologies, but I believe you will forgive me once you learn my reasons. I will endeavour to be brief, but it is always wise to start at the beginning:-
I am, or rather was, a history student at the Miskatonic, and I have long been enamoured of Stanley Connerly. When I heard of the Mongolian expedition and his place therein, I quickly applied for, and was granted, a position. To my great delight, during the expedition's course, Stanley and I became very close. On our return to Boston, when Stanley learnt of his father's deterioration and resolved to go to Scotland, I asked to accompany him. I did not wish to be an ocean away when he would surely require comfort and sympathy.
The evening of the 2nd of January saw the sad inevitable, and Stanley entered into a period of almost abyssal mourning, during which I endevoured to be respectfully attentive to his every need. Some four months passed before I was grateful and pleased to note Stanley gradually overcome his remorse and return, as best he could, to his old self. It was then he proposed marriage, and I, overjoyed, accepted.
We were married at this mansion, and lounged through our honeymoon here, and I am most sincere when I tell you, Sir, that these events were the happiest of my life. But now all is dark.
Three months ago my husband began to pass almost all his waking hours within his study, deeming only to emerge for meals. In a somewhat teasing manner I asked him what he did (foolishly, nay, pathetically, believing he was about some pleasant surprise for me), but to my distress he would reveal nothing, and actually forbade my, or anyone else's, access to the room. He began to avoid me, and two weeks ago, without explanation, ceased to sleep in our bed. Three days gone saw the culmination when I discovered that he had appropriated food and drink from the kitchen and locked himself in the study. He ignores my pleas to come out, to explain his behaviour, he ignores my frustrated shouts and -- yes -- screams; he simply tells me he wants no interruptions, and to keep the staff away.
Receiving your letter this morning, and knowing from my once frequent conversations with Stanley of your friendship, I resolved to write to you.
What shall I do? Why does he torture me so? I fear for his sanity. This singular behaviour is beyond my wits to comprehend or deal with. He drives me to despair! Am I so detestable to his sight?
In desperation I turn to you. Could you come and speak with him, Sir? You may be able to help. Could you come? We will of course pay all expenses.
Yours in Hope,
I should think my concern over all this needs no explanation. Speedy arrangements were made with the university and, after sending word to Kathrine of my compliance, I set off.
Connerly House was a rambling affair of mullioned windows and sharply angled roofs, backed and bordered by a wide strip of well-tended garden, its high south wall bordering the clear waters of Morar. I breathed in the quiet Scottish air and knocked on the impressively arched front door. After stating my name to the aged butler I was conducted to a small library to await Lady Connerly.
Within moments she entered, and I understood immediately -- at least in part -- why Connerly had finally fallen for "reality's woman", for Kathrine was exceedingly beautiful -- possessing long raven hair and the complexion of one well acquainted with open spaces. In a rather quiet voice she thanked me for my prompt arrival, for putting aside my teaching at such short notice, and asked if I required refreshment after my journey. Having eaten at Fort William whilst awaiting transport to the House, I replied that a sherry would be welcome. She busied herself about a small cabinet and presently handed me a generous measure.
As I sipped I found it difficult to broach the subject of Stanley, and, as it seemed stupid to talk of anything else, a momentary silence ensued between us. But presently, as if that nice hurdle had already been leaped, Kathrine said:
"Since I wrote you he has ceased to speak, no matter how I implore. I told him of your coming but he gave no reaction. I try to embarrass him, I threaten to force my way in, even to involve the police, but still he ignores me. I only know he lives because recently he cut a judas through the door, and you can make of that what you will."
She took a slow breath. "How long does he expect me to put up with this, Mr Stephenson? If he wishes me to leave, why can't he simply say so?"
I could not answer, knowing I did not possess the necessary qualities to console her (what was wrong with Connerly that he could treat a woman so? Could treat anyone so? How had he suddenly become so selfish and uncaring?). Rather abruptly I asked, "Where is his study?"
She smiled grimly, "The top floor. I'll show you."
I set down my sherry and she led me back into the wide hallway and up three flights of darkly stained wooden stairs to a short, unfurnished corridor illuminated by a small skylight and terminating in a stout oak door.
"Stanley," called Kathrine, quite loudly, "A friend has come to see you." She turned to me, "I will leave you, Mr Stephenson. If you are to get anything from him it won't be in my presence." She turned and walked down the stairs.
There came a scuffling from behind the door, and then Connerly's voice, unheard by me for over a year. "She's gone, hasn't she, Stephenson? Just check would you?"
"Why... Eh, yes." Flustered, I looked over the banister in time to see Kathrine's dark head reach the first landing and continue descending. I turned back to the door expectantly.
The lock clicked, the handle turned and was pulled back. "I was hoping you would arrive, my friend. Someone should witness this. Come in, come in. Lock the door behind you."
The room was black, nothing visible, and I hesitated a moment before doing as Connerly asked.
"Oh. Sorry, Stephenson. Waiting and wondering is easier in darkness. I'll open the curtains a touch. You'll have to forgive the smell, too. Even whilst trying to bypass some of Nature's forces, one must still obey others. I dump it in the lake, through the window, but there's nothing to disinfect the bucket with. Anyway, the worst of that should fade soon. I stopped eating four days ago."
I closed the door, turned its key, and, in the process, sniffed. Emanating from somewhere to my left was a notable faecal aroma.
Thin daylight suddenly filtered into the room as heavy drapes obscuring the window were pulled slightly apart. There, in a far corner, was a lidded metal bucket. I looked elsewhere. The dim rays revealed a wide desk upon which rested two books and a large, cloth-covered spherical object. The walls supported well-stacked bookshelves, the odd hunting trophy, and various maps. A chair scraped, and I watched Connerly sit at the desk. He was wearing his dressing gown, pyjama bottoms, and, for some unguessable reason, a deerstalker hat with flaps in place. In different circumstances I would have found this spectacle quite comical.
"That's enough light for now, I think. I'm not used to it -- it hurts my eyes. Sit down, Stephenson. It's good to see you -- I hoped you would come. I can't think of anyone else I would rather, eh, reveal all to."
"What's going on, Connerly?" I asked, incredulous, "Why are you living like a ... like this? Don't you realize what your wife is going through? What is this madness?"
He raised and lowered his hands in a pacifying manner. "Calm down. Calm down. This isn't madness, it's incredible! And I am fully aware of Kathrine's pain. Believe me, I sympathize, but... Oh, good God, man! Let me explain. Sit. You'll understand in a while."
I lowered myself into the indicated chair, wondering how he could possibly resolve such insanity.
(The following revelation has been condensed, for the sake of impatient readers, by omitting many interruptions caused by my reactions to certain of its contents. Other extraneous material, for reasons stipulated earlier, also goes unrepeated).
"At my letter's closing I believe I mentioned my interest in the pentagram's centre, of the cavity we were exposing?" he asked. "It was about eight feet in diameter, and almost perfectly circular, with a seamless wall that descended vertically before, within a foot of the lip, gradually angling inwards towards the horizontal. Like the five mounds, it was covered in swirling carvings which, unlike the them, straightened as we dug, resembling radiant beams emitted from a buried sun. By the afternoon of June 26th we had carefully excavated down to nine feet, the beams within two feet of meeting, when the walls again sharply dropped. At this discovery only I was in the well, watched by our leader, Harry League, at the lip. Knowing I had at last hit bottom, I threw caution to the winds and delved brashly. I almost immediately touched something and looked up at League, about to scream in jubilation, when fate stayed my cry. There came a sudden commotion from above, and he, distracted, didn't notice my emotion. The noise grew and he quickly left to discover its cause, leaving me alone. My only concern lay beneath -- I began scooping sand. Minutes later I had exposed a globe, fully a foot 'round, fashioned from unfamiliar green stone and resting in a shallow cup of granite where the beams became a node."
He stopped. Some raptor screamed raucously over the lake outside. "Then I committed my crime. I was suddenly possessed of an incredibly selfish notion: to keep the sphere for myself. Carefully cradling it (finding it surprisingly light), I climbed to the edge of the well and looked across the site. Everyone had gathered northwestwards where, it seemed, a fight had broken out amongst the Kalmucks. Sinning against my profession, my colleagues, and shaming myself, I dashed unnoticed to my tent, hid the artifact amongst my baggage, and then joined the group. After the dispute's settlement, I showed League the stone cup, acting as sorry as he over its emptiness. At the expedition's end I took -- often illegal -- pains to ensure my secret would remain clandestine throughout our return journey. So, Stephenson. Before you sits a traitorous and egoistic thief. I used to regard with contempt those people barring access to invaluable books and other items held in private collections -- and here I am, kin to them."
He paused again. "Up until the news of my father's deterioration I was obsessed, the thought of the artifact ever on my mind. After, of course, it was almost forgotten; I delayed in Boston only to quickly arrange its covert passage to Scotland. Now to Kathrine. During the dig she became my closest companion, and I doubt there has ever been a closer. When she asked to accompany me here my affirmative reply was immediate. I enjoyed her company immensely and sub-consciously knew I would soon need it. Whilst I suffered my father's worsening condition she was wonderful, angelic. I believe I actually loved her with the same ardour she obviously felt towards me. My father, in his more lucid moments (he was given to reliving his past), adored her, continually hinting that we should marry. It was, indeed, his dying wish. After his death, as during his demise, Kathrine was tremendous -- present when I needed company, absent when I required solitude; instinctively knowing my desires. I became convinced there could be nothing more perfect than having her as my wife. Hmph.
"For weeks all was bliss, until some chance occurrence -- forgotten now -- caused me to recall the globe. Curiosity, the compulsion to know, once more took precedence in my mind. I began my research. I spent whole days and nights here, and, as I learned the globe's secrets -- a slow process involving careful correspondence (my father's extensive library containing no works even mentioning such an artifact) -- I neglected my wife's concerns to the point of actively ignoring them. Most all of my love for her dissipated. Her presence became a hindrance to my pursuits. I could not share my discoveries with her. Then, being somewhat paranoid, for fear of her reaction to my theft, and today because the situation has progressed too far to allow her any part in it. Purely my father's memory, the time involved, and the fact that it would break her heart stayed me from divorce.
"But now the intellectual fever is passed, the hard work over, and I sit simply awaiting results, thinking. I know how she is tortured, and she deserves infinitely better. Tell her, Stephenson, that everything will soon be made clear, she'll have worries no longer -- all will be as was. You'll be lying, but the truth, were it learned, she would consider much worse. Ah, but what is the truth? At last we come to the crux."
He reached over to the covered object and removed the cloth with a matador's flourish. There was the globe as he described it, the cause of so much hurt and excitement.
"It doesn't look like much does it? But believe me, Stephenson ...."
He leaned back, slowly stroking the left ear-flap of the deerstalker. "You are a scientific man believing in the generally acknowledged laws of matter and time. But there are higher sciences, my friend, and I am learning something of them. As I have said, my research necessarily involved communication with others having access to certain literatures. Such letters had to be composed with thought, the wrong word or phrase would have the academic world knocking at my door, accompanied by various occult fanatics. My patience was admirably returned, however, when I was delivered, after considerable fiscal outlay, of a manuscript considerable as the globe's instruction book. For it is a tool, Stephenson, not some simple idol. An copy of a translation, from an unspecified language, into Greek by Theodorus Philetas, the ancient scholar who re-wrote the Necronomicon in the same language from the original Arabic. Perhaps the infamous Mad Arab is the writer?
"But I digress. I made a further, hasty translation into English, and then began to experiment. My first actions were conducted in scepticism and embarrassment, for the manuscript, in no uncertain terms, informed me that the globe was infused with powers unimaginable, and some of the directions as to releasing this potential were more than a little peculiar. But it was the results I achieved that caused me to lock myself in here, free from all distraction, from Kathrine. You see the globe is a library and a transporter unbounded by Einstein's theories. Through it I know of Hastur's servants. Not the human worshippers of this planet, Stephenson, but his actual attendants living on and about the worlds of Aldebaran.
"I learned of their magnificent cities, many moored in the black ether itself; of the further plains of existence they continually explore; of the other entities and races beyond their home-star, some allies, others eon-long foes. It's incredible! Think of it! Perhaps all that is written in the Necronomicon is true? Interstellar races; interdimensional deities! All true! Ah, I see your thought: 'Then the universe must be a terrible place indeed!' Not so, it's not all as abominable as Abd al-Azrad -- I refuse to call him Abdul Al-Hazred -- would have us believe, the globe's records prove this. My mind overflows with such visions... I'm going there, Stephenson, to Aldebaran. You do not believe me? You think I'm deranged? Then look -- my journey has already begun."
He opened the drapes further, allowing more light, and then proceeded to unlace his deerstalker. Foreboding swelled within me. Connerly was obviously lunatic, and his tale utter fantasy, but here he was, about to somehow authenticate it all.
The knot undone, he positioned himself in profile and raised the left flap.
His ear had gone.
Not sliced off, there was no ugly scar, but as if it were miraculously invisible. All that remained was an oval of slightly indented flesh, the perimeter red but unbleeding and sparingly dotted with tiny circles and ellipses -- the ends of veins. The centre was naturally skin-covered where it sank inwards towards the tympanum. Hardly believing my eyes, I could only ask, "Doesn't it hurt?"
He smiled, "Not in the slightest. It's still connected, you see, even though lightyears away. Juxtaposed, yet infinitely distant. Hmm. Let me explain chronologically: three days ago I found a speaking file telling how, by correctly, eh, tuning the globe, I could instantaneously whisk myself to the Aldebaran system and witness firsthand the wonders that would otherwise haunt my imagination till death. The temptation was undeniable. Who before was ever offered such opportunity?
"I proceeded with the adjustments, and, after a further day, sat awaiting the moment of transmission, shaking with anticipation. As you observe, however, I did not suddenly find myself basking in Aldebaran's rays. A key act must have been misperformed or omitted, for, without even a tingle, only the third toe of my right foot was displaced. I felt -- and feel -- it lightly resting on a cool, unseen surface -- most definitely not my slipper's soft sole -- and, with tentative movements, I was aware of it sliding over an alien floor, or lifting into alien air. Partial, where I expected total, success: what can be experienced of other worlds through a toe?! Bitterly disappointed, I once more began the slow tuning process. During this I discerned a strange far-off whistling in my left ear, put up a hand to rub the affliction away... And discovered my head's new asymmetry.
"The whistling was from another world! I was making the crossing piecemeal! For a while I toyed with the notion of completing the second attempt in the hope of wholly rejoining my disembodied appendages, but the possibility that I may further, and more drastically, complicate matters prevented me. The trip was progressing, simply contrary to my designs. Resolved, I delicately paced the room -- endeavouring to find obstructions in the other place that may conceivably restrict my perambulations here. Luckily there were none."
"But how can this be?" I interrupted, my eyes entranced by the side of his head, my mind by his words, "How can your body continue as if whole when split in this astounding manner?"
"I don't know. I tried consulting the sphere on the matter, but it was diverting all its energies towards my voyage. Perhaps two pairs of energy fields bridge the void in some incomprehensible fashion; two fields at Aldebaran, where the side of my head and foot should be, the others here, in place of ear and toe. Whatever sensory information the absent extremities collect is transferred between fields to me. If the toe were trodden on, I would wince; were the ear spoken to, I would hear. There is definitely some kind of force present, for I cannot physically touch either this exposed flesh," he indicated the red oval, "Or that of the stump. Hopefully, these shields also prevent microscopic assault. I only trust that my whole body is to complete the journey -- I do not wish to be left with an arm here or a leg there. And of course I have yet to learn for certain whether ear and toe share the same place."
He released the flap, beaming like a little boy.
"This is too much," I said, "Unbelievable. Do you have confidence in these Aldebarans? What about the Arab's fear of the Mongolian village? The distrust of today's Hastur worshippers? What would happen if something was poked down your left ear? Why -- "
"Stephenson! Stephenson! Slowly! Slowly, man! The Aldebarans aren't some vastly intelligent universal evil snatching up other lifeforms for incomprehensible atrocities, you know. They are a glorious, magnificent race, and I will be twentieth century man's ambassador to them! As for today's Hasturites, they are Tartuffes. They have acquired the name by chance and employ it only as excuse to sate their disgusting appetites in orgiastic ritual, knowing nothing of the true Hastur. The Arab was simply frightened by things totally beyond his understanding -- he could not comprehend, therefore he became afraid. Poking objects down my ear? Hmm. If soundwaves and nerve-pulses can make the crossing... It's not an inviting prospect, I admit.
My stream of questions was not yet dammed. "But where did the globe originate? How, exactly, does it work? Did the ancient cultists travel to Aldebaran? When are you coming back? How do you know you can exist there?"
"The globes are unaware missionaries sent out by the Aldebarans to spread Hastur's Word throughout the stars. They search for life-bearing planets to... well... preach cosmic doctrines; broadcasting their sermons in whatever language is required. The sphere, having established its flock, then selects the most pious and deserving and transports them to Aldebaran as reward for their fervour -- experiencing Heaven whilst alive. 'Ah,' you say, 'Why isn't this globe broadcasting?' I can only guess: for whatever reason, the village was destroyed or deserted, and the sphere forgotten, missed, or deliberately left alone. Over the ensuing centuries it deteriorated, losing its autotomous abilities -- leaving it operable only by application of varying pressures at different, key parts of its surface."
His mood became sombre. "I don't think I will ever be coming back, Stephenson. There will be enough potential experiences their to outlast my life a million times. But now evening's here. I am tired and Kathrine will be frantic. You had better go, my friend. We will speak more tomorrow."
My brain boiled as I descended the stairs. Hastur; Aldebaran; space cities; other realities; talking stones; disconnected -- yet connected -- toes and ears; interstellar battles; alien races... I felt dazed, overloaded with information. The Universe I had spent my life learning and teaching of had abruptly changed -- what once seemed a thing of infinite loneliness was now almost crowded. And Connerly was involved with it all -- gradually departing Earth for a star sixty eight lightyears away!
Kathrine, innocent sacrifice to Connerly's intellectual lusts, was waiting in the hall.
"What did he say? What did he tell you?"
The anguish in her face dragged me back to worldly matters, to her pain, and, momentarily, I could not answer.
"Speak to me, Mr. Stephenson! What is he doing in that Godforsaken study?!"
And I told her Connerly's lies, now my own. All will be clear soon, I said. Everything is all right.
For a short while she herself seemed lost for words. Then her expression changed, became neutrally set; her voice similarly timbred, she said, "That is good news. Did he give indication as to just how soon?"
I had failed the girl, she recognized my prevarication. She had asked me to bring her husband back to his senses, back to her, and instead I assisted him in further hurting her. "A matter of days, surely," I said, feeling the fool in her knowing gaze.
"Thankyou, Mr. Stephenson. A meal has been prepared in the dining room. Forgive me if I do not eat with you, I am not particularly hungry. Good evening."
I lay dozing in a guestroom the butler had directed me to, unable to properly sleep. Pictures -- imaginary and factual -- passed through my mind: Connerly's unbalanced head; primitive tribesmen gathered beneath a desert sun, obeisant to a stone proselytizer; gargantuan armies clashing in the cold void, releasing unimaginable energies in their confrontations; Kathrine's betrayed face ....
After hours of restlessly weaving through these visions I must have eventually slept, for I suddenly awoke to the sound of a clock chiming four. I turned on my back, waiting to fall into slumber once more, when a scream tore through the quiet following the dongs.
It was not borne purely of pain, but of that and frustration; and I knew its source. I donned my dressing gown and started for Connerly's study, intercepting the startled butler in the process. Together we trod the flight of stairs leading to the short corridor.
Silver moonbeams from the skylight slanted down upon the study door, clearly illuminating the distraught figure slumped against it, raven hair obscuring her face, white gown in disarray, back heaving with the power of her grief, fist weakly thudding against oak. How could Connerly ignore this? Sat behind that door, twiddling his toes on another world, while his wife screamed for attention. Such awful single-mindedness.
The butler, whispering, asked what we should do.
I could not face her. She was beyond comfort -- in any case, I, her apostate, was not the one to offer it. I signaled that we should depart.
Three words, almost drowned in sobs, followed us:
"Talk to me."
At nine I ate a solitary breakfast (a servant told me Kathrine had not yet risen), and then proceeded to Connerly's study.
With my tread on the last step, I heard his voice. "You're alone, aren't you, Stephenson? Of course you are -- I recognize her footsteps. Let me get the key."
A click, and the door swung back into the gloomy study. With no less trepidation than before, I entered.
"My right forearm and hand went during the night, Stephenson. I can pick my ear and rub my toe! Sit down and watch."
I closed and locked the door. The drapes, again, were only partly open, and, as previously, my friend was positioned before them, though without the deerstalker. With a touch of horror I noted the slackness of his dressing gown's right sleeve. As I sat, Connerly leaned over the table, exhibiting the left side of his head. "Watch," he repeated.
I stared at the impossible absence, noting with peripheral sight the movement of his right arm up across his chest (sleeve unsupported from the elbow down). A pink disc unexpectedly eclipsed what remained of the ear, grew, and was quickly centred, target-like, by a smaller white disc, which itself gained a honeycomb heart. I was looking at the perfect, living, cross-section of a finger.
"It's wonderful, isn't it, Stephenson? Think how a biologist would value this! Would you like to see the stump? It's quite fascinating observing the muscles flex."
I declined. Surprised at my ability to disregard the situation, I told Connerly what I had resolved to say since the early morning's incidents, "You must stop this at once, Stanley. You don't know what you're getting into! And you're driving your wife, your wife, mad! Didn't you hear her this morning?"
The glee on his face disappeared, he lowered his arm and sat back. "I heard her. But I have told you, Stephenson, she cannot know. Stop this? Were I so inclined, it would be impossible. The sphere is inaccessible, responding to nothing while it transports me. Didn't you tell Kathrine what I said?"
"She saw through it."
"Unfortunate. But there's nothing to be done about it. Nothing, I tell you. Forget the subject. Now, you must have other questions."
I glared at him. It was true, in spite of myself there were more queries. But I could not ask them, I would be condoning his actions.
"Ah. I see I have upset you. Then I shall assume your questions: you recall my letter mentioning the difficulty the cultists must have faced constructing the pentagram? And how none of us at the dig could explain how they did it? Well, it's obvious now, isn't it? As the globe easily whisks beings to Aldebaran, what's to stop it summoning aid for the cultists from the star? It's quite fantastic -- ahhh."
"What?" I asked.
He grinned. "My right thigh has just crossed over."
I leaned forwards. Where the thigh should have filled his pyjama leggings they lay loose, deflated. And yet there was the knob of his knee and the remainder of his leg, upright.
"Can you stand?"
He stood, and walked about as if nothing was amiss, tugging at the empty material happily.
And that was the way of it for the next few days. Each time I entered his study -- I was given the key; he knew he would eventually become unable to admit me -- to find another part of him, in haphazard order, missing. Fingers, further toes, his scalp. He even guessed when internal organs had "crossed over": "My stomach seems surprisingly yielding today, Stephenson." He came to resemble a walking anatomy lesson, and I saw his wisdom in banishing Kathrine, whom I saw less and less and grew more despairing of, for she now rarely left her rooms. I often wondered if she wanted me gone, but -- thankfully, because I had become as enthusiastic as Connerly -- she never suggested it. I myself had grown almost uncaring at Connerly's aspect, but I had had time to adjust.
His other ear departed, and I was forced to scribble my comments upon a pad. Eagerly, we both awaited the transporting of an eye, his sense of touch feeling nothing but cool floors and still air, his ears catching nothing but occasional whistles. What wonders would he behold? What sights?
And one morning I found him, stood upon his remaining foot, his visibly unattached left hand resting on the desk, continually turning his head about, his right eye closed, the left open and revealing, to my excitement, bunched extraocular muscles and his optic nerve.
I grabbed his shoulder, startling his whole eye open. He grinned. The stump of his right arm moved towards his empty eyesocket -- he was covering that eye there to simplify his vision here.
"It's happened, Stephenson! I've seen Aldebaran as if it were our own sun! It's huge, incredibly bright, but maroon clouds diffuse the rays. Maroon clouds? Yes, man! The clouds are maroon, and the sky is three different shades of yellow! It's the most amazing sight! Over there I'm in a roofless chamber, circular with a diameter double that of this study, black, and seamless, with walls far too high to see over and no apparent window or egress. There's another sphere there, twin to this. They'll be connected, don't you think? Wait a minute."
He closed his right lid again, and let his arm drop. "This planet must spin faster than Earth, Aldebaran's disappearing over the wall... There, it's gone. Oh! A flight of ... of things has just shot across the sky -- I didn't see them clearly, I'm not sure if they were creatures or machines. It's beginning to darken now. The sky's turning orange... falling quickly through red... purple. Oh Good God, man! The cities! They outnumber the stars! I can see them flashing message beams to one-another. Pyramids, cuboids, cylinders. And the moons, Stephenson! Huge moons! Faces swarming with... I don't know, indistinct moving things. They must be bigger than New York! Hello, I can hear that whistling again, but louder this time. Continuing to increase in volume. Oh! The floor just shuddered. The walls are beginning to open outwards, like a flower! The whistling's getting quite uncomfortable ... I can almost see what's about me ... I seem to be on a tow--"
He stopped. His jigsaw body began to shudder.
Like a fool I shouted at him, "Connerly! Connerly, what's wrong, man?!"
He started to pant, canine-like. His jaw clamped shut, hung slack, and then stretched wide, "BRING ME BACK STEPHENSON! Oh Jesus God."
Desperate, I moved to grab his shoulder, but it winked out of this existence. I almost stumbled. His dressing gown began to slide off.
The words rolled together as he began to shout, "There are towers everywhere to the horizon and there are THINGS on them winged THINGS too pulling and tearing and chittering Byhakee they are Byhakee! Wrongwrongwrong! GodLordGod!"
The door crashed open behind me. I had neglected to lock it. I knew who it was, but I could not turn, I was transfixed:-
"The SCREAMING STOP THE SCREAMING something's coming for me a city! Huge incomprehensible city its opening oh Good Jesus BRING ME BACK!"
The top of his skull went, leaving only the eye and a slice of brain. Kathrine gibbered behind me. Then his extant limbs, as one, jumped the terrifying gap.
"SCREAMING stopistopit they ring me now flapping chittering I smell them taste them! Something's descend... What is it what STOP SCREAMING backbackbackbackba-"
The transference accelerated. His head crossed, silencing him; his torso, and the dressing gown fell floor-wards. Only a rapidly beating heart and bloodshot eye were left, suspended. The orb swivelled away from me, its pupil gaping towards Kathrine... and was gone. The heart swelled, fit to burst, before it too vanished.
And that is it.
Kathrine went mad; and, blamed with her husband's disappearance, has been incarcerated in an insane asylum -- which I, to my everlasting shame, allowed (but what could I do? Tell the truth?). Background and the complete lack of evidence has kept me from possible sentence.
The globe lies at the bottom of Loch Morar, and Connerly's notes and books have been incinerated.
I offer no answers. I have none. Some amongst you will scoff at my tale, accusing me of weaving fantasy about facts. Please continue; as I said at the beginning, it is safer that way.