Dover Book

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    Ok, now this one really gave me the creepies, and I am not given over to being much affected by horror stories. I had read one of Hodgson's short stories in a collection of horror tales called Great Horror Stories: Tales by Stoker, Poe, Lovecraft and Others. The title of his contribution was The Derelict about seamen finding an abandoned ship, and upon boarding are attacked by an ooey-gooey slime that eats their feet. Ho Hum. B-movie stuff. So I didn't have high expectations of this one, despite critical acclaim.
    I was in error. This is a masterpiece; of horror, yes, but more science fiction. And my theory about science fiction is that there is always the possibility of it actually happening which doubles the terror. Hodgson was influenced by Wells's The Time Machine, which is fairly obvious, however this one is much more frightening. In Well's story, The Time Traveler willingly and knowingly travels into the far future to witness the dying of the sun, and even when he is in the less far future where there is still life, he is more or less mostly in control of his situation and safety. Not that there aren't scary moments.
    But in Hodgson's story, the writer of the manuscript (we don't know his name or much else about him) is totally a victim, being drawn into a portal to a different dimension, which then opens him to attack in his world. At the end, he witnesses the death of our solar system. Though Wells only devoted a very small segment of his book to the dying sun, nearly half of Hodgson's story explores this theme. I also found it personally interesting that I would have chosen to read these two books within a few months of each other, not knowing what either was about. If you read my Articles, you will know that I firmly believe that life on Earth as we know it is coming to an end although not in the way depicted in either of these stories. Yet.
    As in The Derelict, the tale is told as a story within a story. Two friends decide to take a vacation to a remote area in Ireland where the one, Tonnison, had previously been. The fishing had been great, so he returns with his friend who narrates the story. It is in an extremely remote area, and though the natives are friendly, they speak pure Irish, not English, so they are really not able to communicate.
    One day, the two campers decide to go down the river in the opposite direction. They are astounded to find that the river suddenly stops. Assuming it still flows but out of sight and will be visible again farther down, they continue to explore. They do find it, and along with it some pretty strange stuff. The woods suddenly clears into a gaping chasm, where the river roars through the rocks into an abyss. But even more interesting is a rock that juts out over the precipice that appears to be the ruins of a building. Tonnison explores and cries out wildly to his friend that he has found what appears to be a manuscript. They both are feeling surrounded by something evil, and make haste to leave. When they return to the tent, they read what they have found. And that is the tale of this book.
    It begins as an old man, the resident of the building along with his elderly sister Mary and his beloved dog, Pepper tells of a horrifying experience he has one evening when he is transported into a strange dimension where he sees a huge arena, and what looks like ancient gods. But he also see horrifying swine-like creature who are attempting to break into a great building. What is most puzzling is that the building is a replica, although much larger, of his own house.
    He finds himself back on earth, but soon after, as he walks with Pepper near the Pit where he knows there is a subterranean river, Pepper gets excited. They hear pig-like squeals and Pepper runs into the bushes, then yelps in pain, emerging with a gaping claw scratch on his ribs. The man quickly gets him home, and he and his sister tend to the wound. He, thinking it better not to mention the cause of attack, says it was a wild cat.
    But trouble has really begun, because the swine monsters have discovered the portal into his dimension, and soon after he is pursued by them, he and Mary just making it into the house in time. Pepper is still recuperating in his basket. Mary becomes paralyzed with fear, and temporarily loses her sense. He locks her in her room, then goes about, gun in hand, bolting and boarding up the doors. The windows are barred. He makes new discoveries about the house, including the fact that there is a trap door in the huge cellar which is above the Pit. For a few days, he will not go out, but after the night of attack, it appears the swine monsters have retreated. After a couple days, Mary is herself again, but they do not discuss what happened. Pepper has been with her in her room, as she nursed him back to health, and now he is finally able to walk.
    After that, armed with guns, he takes off to explore, and decides to go down into the Pit. He secures a rope onto a tree and leaves Pepper above. But Pepper manages to get down with him, and it is a good thing.
    He has noticed a gradual rise in the water level over a few weeks, but the opening to the Pit is still free. What he does not realize is that, as he is exploring a heavy rain pours down, and almost too late he makes his way out. But he slips and falls, being pulled into the chasm. Pepper grabs his jacket and drags him up. He is dazed and weak, but manages to pull Pepper, a large dog, up the cliff with the rope. He cuts the knot free, and they get back to the house. He becomes very ill. When he recovers, he sees that the opening to the Pit is now covered from the much higher water level in the lake, thus closing off the dimensional portal.
    But the house is evil, and against his better judgment, he stays, because (and we know little about this), he is able to communicate with his late Beloved here. Then one evening, the most terrible thing happens: time begins to speed up out of control and he witnesses the sun accelerating its path around the earth, faster and faster. Days pass in seconds; hundreds, thousands, millions of years pass. The house crumbles, he sees Pepper's body and his own, reduced to dust, but his consciousness remains. He then witnesses the death of the solar system.
    This is really a classic edge-of-your-seat thriller with some awesome sci-fi fantasy. I absolutely recommend reading it. If you like Wells, you will love this one.

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