In the valley of Nis the accursed waning moon shines thinly, tearing a path for its light with feeble horns through the lethal foliage of a great upas-tree. And within the depths of the valley, where the light reaches not, move forms not meet to be beheld. Rank is the herbage on each slope, where evil vines and creeping plants crawl amidst the stones of ruined palaces, twining tightly about broken columns and strange monoliths, and heaving up marble pavements laid by forgotten hands. And in trees that grow gigantic in crumbling courtyards leap little apes, while in and out of deep treasure-vaults writhe poison serpents and scaly things without a name.
What they called me, that was what started it. I’m as good an American as the next fellow, and maybe a little bit better than men like that, big men drinking in a bar who can’t find anything better to do than to spit on a man and call him Mex. As if a Mexican is something to hide or to be ashamed of. We have our own heroes and our own strength and we don’t have to bend down to men like that, or any other men. But when they called me that I saw red and called them names back.
“Mex kid,” one of the men said, a big red-haired bully with his sleeves rolled back and muscles like ropes on the big hairy arms. “Snot-nosed little Mex brat.”
In time as well as space my fancy roams far from here. It led me once to the edge of certain cliffs that were low and red and rose up out of a desert: a little way off in the desert there was a city. It was evening, and I sat and watched the city.
Presently I saw men by threes and fours come softly stealing out of that city’s gate to the number of about twenty. I heard the hum of men’s voices speaking at evening.
“It is well they are gone,” they said. “It is well they are gone. We can do business now. It is well they are gone.” And the men that had left the city sped away over the sand and so passed into the twilight.
“Who are these men?” I said to my glittering leader.
“The poets,” my fancy answered. “The poets and artists.”
“Why do they steal away?” I said to him. “And why are the people glad that they have gone?”
He said: “It must be some doom that is going to fall on the city, something has warned them and they have stolen away. Nothing may warn the people.”
I heard the wrangling voices, glad with commerce, rise up from the city. And then I also departed, for there was an ominous look on the face of the sky.
And only a thousand years later I passed that way, and there was nothing, even among the weeds, of what had been that city.
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, was an Anglo-Irish writer and dramatist, who went by the pen name of Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) and wrote over 90 volumes of fiction, essays, poems and plays over the course of his life. His short story, “The City”, was first published in 1915 as part of his book Fifty-One Tales, a collection of fantasy short stories which is considered to have been a major influence on the work of early fantasy writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and others.
When that happened which had been so long in happening and the world hit a black, uncharted star, certain tremendous creatures out of some other world came peering among the cinders to see if there were anything there that it were worth while to remember. They spoke of the great things that the world was known to have had; they mentioned the mammoth. And presently they saw man’s temples, silent and windowless, staring like empty skulls.
“Some great thing has been here,” one said, “in these huge places.” “It was the mammoth,” said one. “Something greater than he,” said another.
And then they found that the greatest thing in the world had been the dreams of man.
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, was an Anglo-Irish writer and dramatist, who went by the pen name of Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) and wrote over 90 volumes of fiction, essays, poems and plays over the course of his life. His short story, “After the Fire”, was first published in 1915 as part of his book Fifty-One Tales, a collection of fantasy short stories which is considered to have been a major influence on the work of early fantasy writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and others.
I am Basil Elton, keeper of the North Point light that my father and grandfather kept before me. Far from the shore stands the grey lighthouse, above sunken slimy rocks that are seen when the tide is low, but unseen when the tide is high. Past that beacon for a century have swept the majestic barques of the seven seas. In the days of my grandfather there were many; in the days of my father not so many; and now there are so few that I sometimes feel strangely alone, as though I were the last man on our planet.
From far shores came those white-sailed argosies of old; from far Eastern shores where warm suns shine and sweet odours linger about strange gardens and gay temples. The old captains of the sea came often to my grandfather and told him of these things, which in turn he told to my father, and my father told to me in the long autumn evenings when the wind howled eerily from the East. And I have read more of these things, and of many things besides, in the books men gave me when I was young and filled with wonder.
I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more. Penniless, and at the end of my supply of the drug which alone makes life endurable, I can bear the torture no longer; and shall cast myself from this garret window into the squalid street below. Do not think from my slavery to morphine that I am a weakling or a degenerate. When you have read these hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realise, why it is that I must have forgetfulness or death.
It was in one of the most open and least frequented parts of the broad Pacific that the packet of which I was supercargo fell a victim to the German sea-raider. The great war was then at its very beginning, and the ocean forces of the Hun had not completely sunk to their later degradation; so that our vessel was made a legitimate prize, whilst we of her crew were treated with all the fairness and consideration due us as naval prisoners. So liberal, indeed, was the discipline of our captors, that five days after we were taken I managed to escape alone in a small boat with water and provisions for a good length of time.