algernon jameson marquand was a poet and a dreamer, but he had the misfortune to be born into a world in which poetry was not a profession and dreaming was not an option.
that world was planet 33-t-c, in the remote hinterlands of the galaxy.
terrible, unspeakable things had been whispered about planet 33-t-c in olden times, when the galaxy was first being colonized.
first the planet had been abhorred and denounced, then made the subject of jokes, and then forgotten.
there were now only two known human inhabitants. algernon, and his father, a hardbitten retired spaceman of the old school, who maintained the only surviving way station on planet 33-t-c.
but except for the shuttle which brought them supplies every six months (in earth time), few indeed were the travelers who came their way, and the days and nights - and it was mostly nights, as the planet revolved alone at no small distance around a small and dying sun - were long and dark and lonely.
the station, and the small dwelling attached to it, were located not far from the planet’s only river, which flowed sluggishly from its source in a range of white mountains to the north, where no human had dared to tread for countless generations.
there was little meaningful conversation between the rugged old space veteran and his sensitive dreamy progeny.
algernon had no memories of his mother, and attempts to question his father about her brought forth only grim mutterings about “foul and unspeakable things” and “ancient curses” and “this godforsaken planet” - things which the old man was wont to mumble of in any case night after night, as he sat at the kitchen table quaffing glass after glass of foul space-brew.
the only trace algernon’s maternal forebear had left behind was a small shelf of books of poetry, which algernon read and reread, and which led him to aspire to a poet’s laurels himself.
the little library consisted of shakespeare’s sonnets, palgrave’s golden treasury, and the works of tennyson, robert and elizabeth barrett browning, swinburne, joyce kilmer, and edgar guest - this last being algernon’s favorite.
having committed it to memory, oft did he murmur to himself the lines from edgar guest’s “mother” -
Oh, the long nights that she came at my call to me!
Oh, the soft touch of her hands on my brow!
Oh, the long years that she gave up her all to me!
Oh, how I yearn for her gentleness now!
the station was located on a hill, surrounded by endless acres of marshland where the vanished would be pioneers had built their houses.
houses which had been gradually abandoned amidst rumors and sightings of unspeakable malevolent beings - foul, gibbering and impossibly bloblike and bubbling creatures - or was it all one creature? - that slithered under the planet’s crust - until, finding an opening in the surface, they suddenly pounced on their prey and absorbed it into their gaseous, jelly-like monstrousness.
during the long nights, and despite the barely coherent warnings of his father, algernon was wont ever and anon to descend the hill and explore the swampy valley and the houses still extant on it.
one night, when the light of a few stars had broken through the atmosphere of planet 3-t-c, rendering the night a little less dark than usual, algernon approached the largest of the abandoned houses, one he had never dared enter before.
at the high tide, such as it had been, of colonization, the house had belonged to the governor-general of the planet. it had been the site of glittering balls and great feasts, and later had been rumored to have been the site of unspeakably depraved orgies, involving forbidden rites, and, some said, even involving a serpent-like subterranean race native to the planet.
be that as it may, algernon had never abandoned hope of finding some trace or token of his mother in the darkened houses, and on this night, as on a few others, he found the resolve to mount some creaking steps…
algernon found himself on the sagging porch of the governor-general’s mansion.
the great front door sagged open. algernon slipped through it.
he was in what looked like a great ballroom. couches lined two walls, and what looked like a stage stood against a third wall. but the dancers and musicians had long since disappeared.
algernon felt, rather than saw, legions of foul insects in the couches and draperies along the walls.
at the far end of the ballroom, beside the stage, he saw a door.
a black door, with a curious sheen or polish to it, as if it alone had somehow been spared the ravages of time.
algernon crossed the floor of the ballroom. he grasped the brass handle of the black door.
he pulled the door open. as he had suspected, it concealed a stairwell.
algernon started down the stairs. down, down into total darkness he carefully placed his steps.
suddenly he heard a slithering, then a rushing sound -
and then the foul, slobbering, gibbering mass of indescribable pulsing horror was upon him, and he was dragged helpless into its hunger and into the black depths -