H.P. Lovecraft, first published in the November 1919 edition of The Vagrant; translated into modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
This story has been added to our Classics in the Rain collection! Listen to Danie Dreadful’s magnificent narration here for the full experience!
Considering I will die tonight – I am writing this under significant distress. I am broke and at the end of my drug supply; it is the only thing that makes life bearable. I cannot stand this torture any longer; I will jump out of this attic window and into the dirty street below. Do not think I am weak or a degenerate just because of my addiction to morphine. When you have read these hastily scrawled words, you might begin to see why my only options are to forget or to die, but you will never be able to fully understand.
Our cargo ship was attacked by a German sea-raider on one of the most secluded parts of the Pacific. It was at the beginning of the Great War, and the Hun’s naval forces were still at full strength. Our ship was a noteworthy prize, and the crew were treated with fairness and consideration as war prisoners. Our captors soon grew too comfortable, and five days later, I managed to escape in a small boat with enough food and water to last a good a while.
When I was finally free, I had no idea where I was; I have never been a good navigator. Based on the sun and stars, I guessed that I was somewhat south of the equator, but I did not know the longitude, and there was no island or coast in sight. The weather was fair, and I drifted aimlessly under the scorching sun for countless days while waiting to see land or a ship, but neither appeared. I became depressed as I floated alone across the endless, blue sea.
The change happened while I slept, but I will never know how; though my sleep was filled with troubled dreams, it was uninterrupted. When I finally woke, it was to find myself half-sucked into a slimy swampland of hellish, black sludge that extended as far as I could see, and my boat was grounded in the distance.
Though one might expect my first reaction to be shock at the extremely surprising change of scenery, I was actually more terrified than anything; there was a sinister quality in the air and putrid soil that chilled me to the very core. The ground was littered with rotting fish and indescribable things that stuck out from the nasty mud. Mere words cannot express the unspeakable horrors found in the absolute silence of vast, empty spaces. There was nothing to see or hear except for an endless sea of black slime, yet the landscape’s monotony and total stillness filled me with a nauseating fear.
The sun was blazing, and the cruel, cloudless sky was almost black – as if it were reflecting the inky ground. As I crawled into my stranded boat, I realized there was only one theory that could explain my situation. Through some kind of volcanic eruption, a portion of the ocean floor must have been thrown to the surface – exposing areas that had remained hidden for millions of years. The new land was so large that I could not hear the surging ocean no matter how hard I listened. There were no birds eating the dead things, either.
I sat in the boat thinking and sulking for several hours; now that it was laid on its side, the boat offered some shade from the sun. As the day progressed, the ground became less sticky and seemed like it would dry enough to travel for a short time. I slept little that night, and the next day, I packed my food and water in preparation for a journey; I planned to set out on foot in search of the missing sea and possible rescue.
On the third morning, the soil was dry enough to walk easily. The stench of the fish was maddening, but I had much bigger concerns and boldly continued my adventure. All day, I marched west using the highest mound on the rolling landscape as my guide. That night, I made camp, and the following day, I continued walking toward the mound; it hardly seemed any closer than on day one. By the fourth evening, I made it to the bottom and realized the mound was much taller than it appeared from a distance. Too exhausted to climb up – I slept in the hill’s shadow.
I do not know why my dreams were so wild that night, but I woke in a cold sweat when the half-full moon was high above the eastern plain. I decided to stay awake; the things I saw were too horrible to relive, and in the moon’s glow, I realized how unwise it had been to travel by day. Without the parching sun’s glare, my journey would have cost less energy; now, I felt quite able to make the climb that discouraged me at sunset. Retrieving my pack, I started up the mound.
I have said the unbroken monotony of the rolling plain was horrifying, but I was even more frightened when I reached the summit. Down the other side, I saw an immeasurable pit, but the moon was not yet high enough to light up its black crevices. It felt like I was on the edge of the world – looking over the rim and into an infinite chaos of eternal night. Mixed in with my terror were odd memories of Paradise Lost and Satan’s hideous climb through the realms of darkness.
As the moon rose higher, I began to see the valley’s slopes were not quite as perpendicular as I imagined. Ledges and rock protrusions provided fairly easy foot-holds for climbing down, and after a few hundred feet, the drop lessened gradually. Urged on by an impulse I cannot explain, I scrambled down the rocks and stood on the gentler slope beneath – gazing into the black depths where the light had yet to reach.
Suddenly, I noticed a huge object on the steep slope opposite of my position, and it gleamed white in the moon’s rays. I assured myself it was only a gigantic piece of stone, but I was aware that its shape and location were not Nature’s doing. A closer inspection filled me with sensations I cannot express. Despite its enormous size and the fact it sat at the bottom of the sea since the world was young – I knew without a doubt it was a statue; living and thinking creatures had worked on – and perhaps even worshiped – the massive object.
Though dazed and frightened, I still felt a certain thrill of scientific delight as I examined my surroundings more closely. The moon – now near its highest point – shined weirdly and vividly above the towering peaks surrounding the valley; it revealed a body of water flowing at the bottom – winding out of sight in both directions and almost lapping my feet on the slope. Across the chasm, the waves washed the base of the ancient statue, and I could see traces of inscriptions and crude sculptures. The hieroglyphics were unknown to me, and unlike anything I had ever seen in books; they mostly consisted of conventional aquatic symbols such as fish, eels, octopi, crustaceans, mollusks, and whales. Several characters obviously represented marine-life unknown to the modern world, but I witnessed many of their decomposing bodies along my journey.
Thanks to their enormous size, a group of statues were plainly visible on the other side of the valley. I think these things were meant to resemble men; the creatures appeared to be worshiping some kind of monolithic shrine that was also beneath the waves. I dare not speak of their features in detail; the mere thought of it makes me feel faint. They were more grotesque than even Poe could imagine; their general shapes were unquestionably human despite having webbed hands and feet, wide, flabby lips, bulging eyes, and other unpleasant features. They were also carved out of proportion with their background; one of the creatures was in the process of killing a whale that was only a little larger than himself.
After a moment’s thought, I decided they must be the imaginary gods of some primitive tribe – one whose last descendant died ages before the first Neanderthal was born. This unexpected glimpse into the past was far beyond what any anthropologist could dare to imagine. I stood there contemplating this while the moon cast strange reflections on the silent waters before me.
Then, I suddenly saw something giant and repulsive emerge from the dark waters. Only a slight ripple indicated its rise to the surface. The nightmarish monster darted to the monolith and flung its enormous, scaly arms around it while bowing its hideous head and crying; I think I went mad.
I do not remember much of my frantic climb up the slope or delirious journey back to the boat. I believe I sang a lot and laughed when I was unable to sing. I have partial memories of a big storm happening at some point after reaching the boat; I know I heard thunder and the other sounds seemed to also be from bad weather.
The next time I woke, I was in a San Francisco hospital; I had been brought there by the captain of an American ship that found my boat in the middle of the ocean. I said many things in my delirious state, but no one paid any attention to my words. The people who rescued me knew nothing about the landmass in the Pacific, and I decided not to bother them with it. Eventually, I asked a respected professor who specialized in ancient societies a few questions about the Philistine legend of Dagon, the Fish-God – but I gave up soon after his conservative beliefs became obvious.
At night, especially when the moon is half-full, I still see that thing. I tried morphine, but it only provides temporary relief, and it has turned me into a hopeless slave. Now that I have written a full account to inform or amuse my fellow man, I will end it all. I often ask myself if it could have been pure fantasy – a heat-stroke induced hallucination as I laid raving in the boat after my escape – but I always see the same hideously vivid vision in reply. I cannot think of the deep sea without shivering at the nameless things that may be crawling on its slimy bottom – worshiping their ancient stone idols and carving their own disgusting images on giant slabs of submerged granite. I dream of a day when they might rise above the waters to drag the puny remnants of mankind down in their horrible talons— of a day when the land will sink, and the dark ocean floor will rise among universal chaos.
The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as if some giant, slippery body is moving against it. It will not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!