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The House In The Arena







From: The House On The Borderland

And so, after a time, I came to the mountains. Then, the course of my
journey was altered, and I began to move along their bases, until, all
at once, I saw that I had come opposite to a vast rift, opening into the
mountains. Through this, I was borne, moving at no great speed. On
either side of me, huge, scarped walls of rocklike substance rose sheer.
Far overhead, I discerned a thin ribbon of red, where the mouth of the
chasm opened, among inaccessible peaks. Within, was gloom, deep and
somber, and chilly silence. For a while, I went onward steadily, and
then, at last, I saw, ahead, a deep, red glow, that told me I was near
upon the further opening of the gorge.

A minute came and went, and I was at the exit of the chasm, staring out
upon an enormous amphitheatre of mountains. Yet, of the mountains, and
the terrible grandeur of the place, I recked nothing; for I was
confounded with amazement to behold, at a distance of several miles and
occupying the center of the arena, a stupendous structure built
apparently of green jade. Yet, in itself, it was not the discovery of
the building that had so astonished me; but the fact, which became every
moment more apparent, that in no particular, save in color and its
enormous size, did the lonely structure vary from this house in which
I live.

For a while, I continued to stare, fixedly. Even then, I could scarcely
believe that I saw aright. In my mind, a question formed, reiterating
incessantly: 'What does it mean?' 'What does it mean?' and I was unable
to make answer, even out of the depths of my imagination. I seemed
capable only of wonder and fear. For a time longer, I gazed, noting
continually some fresh point of resemblance that attracted me. At last,
wearied and sorely puzzled, I turned from it, to view the rest of the
strange place on to which I had intruded.

Hitherto, I had been so engrossed in my scrutiny of the House, that I
had given only a cursory glance 'round. Now, as I looked, I began to
realize upon what sort of a place I had come. The arena, for so I have
termed it, appeared a perfect circle of about ten to twelve miles in
diameter, the House, as I have mentioned before, standing in the center.
The surface of the place, like to that of the Plain, had a peculiar,
misty appearance, that was yet not mist.

From a rapid survey, my glance passed quickly upward along the slopes
of the circling mountains. How silent they were. I think that this same
abominable stillness was more trying to me than anything that I had so
far seen or imagined. I was looking up, now, at the great crags,
towering so loftily. Up there, the impalpable redness gave a blurred
appearance to everything.

And then, as I peered, curiously, a new terror came to me; for away up
among the dim peaks to my right, I had descried a vast shape of
blackness, giantlike. It grew upon my sight. It had an enormous equine
head, with gigantic ears, and seemed to peer steadfastly down into the
arena. There was that about the pose that gave me the impression of an
eternal watchfulness--of having warded that dismal place, through
unknown eternities. Slowly, the monster became plainer to me; and then,
suddenly, my gaze sprang from it to something further off and higher
among the crags. For a long minute, I gazed, fearfully. I was strangely
conscious of something not altogether unfamiliar--as though something
stirred in the back of my mind. The thing was black, and had four
grotesque arms. The features showed indistinctly, 'round the neck, I
made out several light-colored objects. Slowly, the details came to me,
and I realized, coldly, that they were skulls. Further down the body was
another circling belt, showing less dark against the black trunk. Then,
even as I puzzled to know what the thing was, a memory slid into my
mind, and straightway, I knew that I was looking at a monstrous
representation of Kali, the Hindu goddess of death.

Other remembrances of my old student days drifted into my thoughts. My
glance fell back upon the huge beast-headed Thing. Simultaneously, I
recognized it for the ancient Egyptian god Set, or Seth, the Destroyer
of Souls. With the knowledge, there came a great sweep of
questioning--'Two of the--!' I stopped, and endeavored to think. Things
beyond my imagination peered into my frightened mind. I saw, obscurely.
'The old gods of mythology!' I tried to comprehend to what it was all
pointing. My gaze dwelt, flickeringly, between the two. 'If--'

An idea came swiftly, and I turned, and glanced rapidly upward,
searching the gloomy crags, away to my left. Something loomed out under
a great peak, a shape of greyness. I wondered I had not seen it earlier,
and then remembered I had not yet viewed that portion. I saw it more
plainly now. It was, as I have said, grey. It had a tremendous head; but
no eyes. That part of its face was blank.

Now, I saw that there were other things up among the mountains. Further
off, reclining on a lofty ledge, I made out a livid mass, irregular and
ghoulish. It seemed without form, save for an unclean, half-animal face,
that looked out, vilely, from somewhere about its middle. And then I saw
others--there were hundreds of them. They seemed to grow out of the
shadows. Several I recognized almost immediately as mythological
deities; others were strange to me, utterly strange, beyond the power of
a human mind to conceive.

On each side, I looked, and saw more, continually. The mountains were
full of strange things--Beast-gods, and Horrors so atrocious and bestial
that possibility and decency deny any further attempt to describe them.
And I--I was filled with a terrible sense of overwhelming horror and
fear and repugnance; yet, spite of these, I wondered exceedingly. Was
there then, after all, something in the old heathen worship, something
more than the mere deifying of men, animals, and elements? The thought
gripped me--was there?

Later, a question repeated itself. What were they, those Beast-gods,
and the others? At first, they had appeared to me just sculptured
Monsters placed indiscriminately among the inaccessible peaks and
precipices of the surrounding mountains. Now, as I scrutinized them with
greater intentness, my mind began to reach out to fresh conclusions.
There was something about them, an indescribable sort of silent vitality
that suggested, to my broadening consciousness, a state of
life-in-death--a something that was by no means life, as we understand
it; but rather an inhuman form of existence, that well might be likened
to a deathless trance--a condition in which it was possible to imagine
their continuing, eternally. 'Immortal!' the word rose in my thoughts
unbidden; and, straightway, I grew to wondering whether this might be
the immortality of the gods.

And then, in the midst of my wondering and musing, something happened.
Until then, I had been staying just within the shadow of the exit of the
great rift. Now, without volition on my part, I drifted out of the
semi-darkness and began to move slowly across the arena--toward the
House. At this, I gave up all thoughts of those prodigious Shapes above
me--and could only stare, frightenedly, at the tremendous structure
toward which I was being conveyed so remorselessly. Yet, though I
searched earnestly, I could discover nothing that I had not already
seen, and so became gradually calmer.

Presently, I had reached a point more than halfway between the House
and the gorge. All around was spread the stark loneliness of the place,
and the unbroken silence. Steadily, I neared the great building. Then,
all at once, something caught my vision, something that came 'round one
of the huge buttresses of the House, and so into full view. It was a
gigantic thing, and moved with a curious lope, going almost upright,
after the manner of a man. It was quite unclothed, and had a remarkable
luminous appearance. Yet it was the face that attracted and frightened
me the most. It was the face of a swine.

Silently, intently, I watched this horrible creature, and forgot my
fear, momentarily, in my interest in its movements. It was making its
way, cumbrously 'round the building, stopping as it came to each window
to peer in and shake at the bars, with which--as in this house--they
were protected; and whenever it came to a door, it would push at it,
fingering the fastening stealthily. Evidently, it was searching for an
ingress into the House.

I had come now to within less than a quarter of a mile of the great
structure, and still I was compelled forward. Abruptly, the Thing turned
and gazed hideously in my direction. It opened its mouth, and, for the
first time, the stillness of that abominable place was broken, by a
deep, booming note that sent an added thrill of apprehension through me.
Then, immediately, I became aware that it was coming toward me, swiftly
and silently. In an instant, it had covered half the distance that lay
between. And still, I was borne helplessly to meet it. Only a hundred
yards, and the brutish ferocity of the giant face numbed me with a
feeling of unmitigated horror. I could have screamed, in the supremeness
of my fear; and then, in the very moment of my extremity and despair, I
became conscious that I was looking down upon the arena, from a rapidly
increasing height. I was rising, rising. In an inconceivably short
while, I had reached an altitude of many hundred feet. Beneath me, the
spot that I had just left, was occupied by the foul Swine-creature. It
had gone down on all fours and was snuffing and rooting, like a
veritable hog, at the surface of the arena. A moment and it rose to its
feet, clutching upward, with an expression of desire upon its face such
as I have never seen in this world.

Continually, I mounted higher. A few minutes, it seemed, and I had
risen above the great mountains--floating, alone, afar in the redness.
At a tremendous distance below, the arena showed, dimly; with the mighty
House looking no larger than a tiny spot of green. The Swine-thing was
no longer visible.

Presently, I passed over the mountains, out above the huge breadth of
the plain. Far away, on its surface, in the direction of the ring-shaped
sun, there showed a confused blur. I looked toward it, indifferently. It
reminded me, somewhat, of the first glimpse I had caught of the
mountain-amphitheatre.

With a sense of weariness, I glanced upward at the immense ring of
fire. What a strange thing it was! Then, as I stared, out from the dark
center, there spurted a sudden flare of extraordinary vivid fire.
Compared with the size of the black center, it was as naught; yet, in
itself, stupendous. With awakened interest, I watched it carefully,
noting its strange boiling and glowing. Then, in a moment, the whole
thing grew dim and unreal, and so passed out of sight. Much amazed, I
glanced down to the Plain from which I was still rising. Thus, I
received a fresh surprise. The Plain--everything had vanished, and only
a sea of red mist was spread far below me. Gradually as I stared this
grew remote, and died away into a dim far mystery of red against an
unfathomable night. A while, and even this had gone, and I was wrapped
in an impalpable, lightless gloom.





Next: The Earth

Previous: The Plain Of Silence



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