with a strange wonder that we remember
the dark menace that rose upon us from the hidden world—and how it
ended. Nor have I, Arnold Vance, any less of wonder than those about
me, for all that I saw that they did not, for all that I stood where
never men had stood before at the heart of that dread mystery and
Four men only were there at the end, though a
reeling world bore witness to it when it came. Four men—Dr. Howard
Kelsall, Clifton Darrell, Richard Fenton and myself—dared down into
horrors undreamed of by all earth’s generations, alone penetrated into
that greater horror that was rising upon the unsuspecting earth.
The first and eldest, Dr. Howard Kelsall, held
at that time the post of chief geologist of the great Manson Foundation
in New York. It was a much coveted position but Kelsall was conceded by
all to have merited it.
It is unnecessary for me to recapitulate here
the achievements that had established his reputation—his great “double
buckling” theory of the formation of the Rocky and Andes
mountain-chains, his well-known calculations of the shift in primeval
ocean levels and the others. Suffice it to say that he had won a very
real fame and that his fame had been shared in late years by his chief
assistant at the Foundation, young Clifton Darrell.
Kelsall and Darrell, though the one was of
middle age and the other in his twenties, were strong friends, and
their friendship had come to be shared also by Richard Fenton and
myself, two of the Foundation’s younger physicists. An unusual quartet
of friends we made, but one which was bound strongly together.
At the time when the manifestations from the
hidden world began, the time of the appearance of the first light shaft
at Kismaya, we four were sharing an apartment in the east Fifties, all
of us chancing to be without immediate families. It was the custom of
Dr. Kelsall and myself to walk from this apartment each morning to the
Foundation building, the other two preferring the subway.
And it was at the end of one of these walks,
on a morning late in March, that the first news of the appearance of
the light-shafts was given to me by Dr. Kelsall himself. We were
passing up the steps of the great gray Foundation building on that
morning when he paused and pulled from his pocket a folded newspaper,
which he tendered me.
“I forgot until now to show you this, Vance,”
he remarked, directing my attention to a small article on the folded
paper’s side. “A strange occurrence—strange, that is, if it isn’t the
work of some reporter’s imagination.”
I took the paper and we paused there at the
top of the steps as I read the little article. It was but a few inches
in length, a cable dispatch dated from the little coast town of
Kismaya, lying in British East Africa, just south of the equator. The
dispatch stated that a strange manifestation of light or force of some
kind had stricken with panic the entire population of a native village
some miles to the north, on the preceding night.
In this village, which, incidentally, lay at
most exactly upon the line of the equator, there had been on that night
two white traders also, who vouched for the truth of the surprising
though somewhat incomprehensible story which the terror stricken
According to that story it had been but a few
hours before midnight, at the edge of the assemblage of huts that were
their habitations. There had been no sound, no warning. A brilliant
shaft of blinding blue light had abruptly stabbed upward from the earth
at the village’s edge to a height of fifty feet.
This light shaft, they said, had been perhaps
five feet in diameter and near the top had been set in its blinding
blue light an equally dazzling spot or circular portion of pure white
light. For perhaps two minutes the giant light shaft had towered there,
the terror stunned natives near it frozen in fear.
In those moments they had been able to see
from the circle of white light in its side, near the top, that the
brilliant shaft was turning, slowly turning around and around. Then
suddenly it had sunk and vanished, the ground where it had appeared
seeming quite unchanged by its apparition, which sent all in the fear
stricken village racing from it.
The thing was puzzling enough surely, and as I
handed the paper back to Dr. Kelsall I shook my head. “It’s past me,” I
told him. “Sounds like the work of the reportorial imagination you
He nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps
so, Vance,” he said. “Though the story was corroborated by the white
men and the evidence seems quite circumstantial.”
APPARENTLY the casual verdict which I rendered
upon that first dispatch was the one given also by the world at large,
for in the days that followed no further reference to the thing
appeared in the newspapers. Such strange phenomena, indeed, are not
unfamiliar among the dispatches of the great press services, the
greater part of them being hoaxes of one kind or another, so it is not
surprising that this particular incident evoked no further interest.
I know that I had completely forgotten it by
the next day and Dr. Kelsall made no reference to it in the days that
followed. It was not, indeed, until the appearance in the press of the
dispatch from Moram Island, some twenty days later, that the first
Kismaya affair was jerked back to my memory and to those of many others.
Moram Island, according to this new dispatch,
was one of the innumerable islands lying off the western tip of Dutch
New Guinea, a few miles to the north of the equator. Besides a number
of Dutch planters and officials it was occupied by the brown-skinned
islanders who had always lived there and it was from planters and
islanders alike that this second report now came. The gist of the thing
was that, a little before morning on the preceding day, a terrific beam
of light had been seen on the sea south of the island.
It had seemed miles to the south indeed, so
far that it must have been almost exactly over the equator itself. A
great perpendicular shaft of intense blue brilliance, it had shot up
from the waters southward like a great beacon through the night, had
hovered a minute or two, and then had flashed down and out of sight.
The awed watchers on Moram Island had thought
it at first the beam of some ship’s searchlight. But the coming of dawn
a little later had disclosed no craft whatever to the southward, making
the thing seem quite inexplicable.
In itself, no doubt, this second phenomenon
would have aroused but little comment but the earlier and similar
occurrence at Kismaya now made of this second incident something of
more interest. Scientists, when questioned concerning it, agreed in
attributing the two great light flashes to falling meteors.
They doubted whether the flashes had really
lasted for minutes as reported and refused to take seriously the
details concerning the turning shaft of blue light and the white circle
of light upon it that had been reported from Kismaya. A meteor-flash,
as they pointed out, is almost instantaneous though very brilliant.
The fact that no meteor had struck the ground
at Kismaya they attributed to the burning up of the meteor and its
total annihilation as it flashed downward. The second surprising fact
that both flashes had taken place almost exactly upon the equator they
explained by the assumption that the earth was entering a thin belt or
region of meteors which happened to lie in the same plane with our
This theory, as they pointed out, meant that
more meteor flashes might be expected in the equatorial regions and
though the theory had its defects it was certainly the most plausible
advanced. It was true that the great steady shafts of brilliance that
had been described by the witnesses at Kismaya and at Moram Island were
very different from a meteor’s lightning flash downward.
But that could be accounted for by the
excitement of the witnesses, so that the whole matter seemed
satisfactorily explained. Dr. Kelsall, to whom I knew this second
incident would be of interest, was on a short field trip to the
Adirondacks, so that at that time I had no opportunities of discussing
it with him and had forgotten it by the time that he returned.
Three weeks after that second phenomenon
though, the matter was brought forcibly back to my mind and to the
world’s by the Callarnia incident. The Callarnia was one of those giant
cruise ships designed to transport a thousand passengers in utmost
luxury about the world and at the time of the incident was heading
homeward over the central Pacific from such a globe circling cruise.
It had ventured in the past months through the
Atlantic and the Mediterranean, through the Indian and the Pacific
Oceans. As that day closed it was heading east northeastward toward
Panama on the last lap of its trip, its position some five hundred
miles north of the Marquesas with the equator a little north of the
As the sunset of that day flared westward the
great ship’s passengers had gathered upon its boat deck, where a group
of queerly garbed sailors were preparing to perform the ancient
nautical ceremonies that were considered proper to “crossing the line.”
By the time twilight had come, the ceremonies,
were already going on amid the shouts and laughter of passengers and
crew alike, the exact line of the equator lying at that time a little
toward the north, the ship forging slowly and obliquely toward it.
It happened, therefore, as the dim dusk
thickened, intent upon the clowning of the group before them,
passengers and sailors alike had no thought of the thing that was to
come. No thought until, in another moment, the thing was upon them.
A half mile ahead of the ship there stabbed
suddenly upward through the deepening twilight a shaft of dazzling blue
radiance that seemed to spring up from the sea itself, that hung at a
height of fifty feet, slowly turning. Near its top was a circle of pure
white light by which that turning could be marked.
In that first stunned instant as the
passengers and sailors, in answer to a wild cry, gazed toward the
blinding shaft, it seemed to them that that shaft extended down to
depths inconceivable in the waters themselves, glimmering faintly
For a minute, a minute that seemed an eternity
to them, the giant beam slowly turned there. Then as abruptly as it had
appeared, it snapped down and out of existence, leaving those on the
great ship staring at each other, white faced in the darkening dusk.
SUCH was the tale the great cruise-liner’s
radio sent sputtering forth. It appeared within hours in the New York
journals. This, the third of these strange incidents, aroused for a
short time at least an interest which the first two had failed to evoke.
Again the thing had happened, and upon earth’s
equator as in the first two instances! The matter seemed to many
startling for that reason but the scientific authorities questioned
concerning it only boredly referred their questioners to their earlier
The thing, they said, was but another instance
of meteor fall as had been the first two. Happening at the equator it
confirmed their theory that the earth’s equatorial regions were in the
plane of a thin meteor-belt through which the earth was passing.
The statements of those on the Callarnia to
the effect that the great blue shaft of light had remained for a full
minute or two, and had slowly turned with its white circle of light
upon it, the scientists discredited.
For, as they explained, a meteor’s brilliant
flash, caused by its burning up before it can reach earth’s surface,
often is so intense as to impress the visual nerves with a sense of
duration for longer than is really the case.
This explanation, reasonable enough, was
concurred in by those newspapers which made independent comment on the
strange triple incident. Desirous as they were of a sensation, they
were aware that the flashing out of three brilliant light shafts on
three far regions of earth’s surface was of but little intrinsic
interest to their readers, save for a few of the more scientifically
For a day or so they published what comments
they could gather on the Callarnia incident but the very lack of
further developments made it soon of no more interest to them. And so,
quickly enough, this third strange phenomenon was forgotten by
newspapers and readers as had been the first and second.
My own interest had been definitely caught by
the strange recurrence of the phenomenon and I resolved to discuss it
with Dr. Kelsall, who had shown such interest in its first happening.
When I reached our apartment that evening, I found that Dr. Kelsall had
not yet arrived from the Foundation, nor was he there when Darrell and
Fenton and I returned home after dinner.
It was natural enough, however, that this
subject uppermost in my mind just then should have entered our
conversation and we were engaged in a discussion of it when Dr. Kelsall
finally entered. I apprised him, briefly, of the subject of our talk.
To my surprise, when I had done so, he ventured no suggestion on the
thing, but sat beside us in silence.
Gazing out beyond us, as we watched him in
silence for the moment, his strong face and keen steel gray eyes
brooding upon something, he sat there for moments unspeaking before
turning finally toward us.
“Darrell—Fenton—Vance,” he said, his eyes
moving over us. “It’s about this thing that I wanted to talk to you
“These three light shafts?” asked Darrell and
“Yes,” he said, “these three great lightshafts
that have flashed into being, one after another, at three different
spots around earth’s equator. And what in your opinion caused the light
shafts to appear? Meteors?”
Darrell shook his head. “No, that’s what we
were discussing when you came in, Kelsall, and we decided that they
couldn’t be meteor flashes. For all who saw them say that they were
great beams or shafts of light instead of flashes and no meteors were
seen or heard. Yet what could have caused them?”
“I do not know,” Kelsall said quietly. “But
one thing I do know, a thing that none other on earth has guessed. I
know where and when the next of these enigmatic light shafts will come
and I propose that we four go there and solve the mystery when it does
ASTOUNDED, we stared toward him. But before we
could ask him a question of the many that whirled in our brains he had
turned and taken the small globe from the table beside him, had turned
back to us and was speaking quietly on.
“Before you can understand the thing I have
discovered,” he said, “you must understand the locations in which these
three strange light shafts have appeared on earth. As you know the
first light shaft appeared just north of Kismaya in British East
Africa, just on the equator, on the night of March 22nd, two and one
half hours before midnight.
“The second—” he spun the globe a
little—“appeared here on the equator, just south of Moram Island off
New Guinea. Both light shafts, as you know, appeared almost exactly
upon earth’s equator. But there is a stranger thing that no one else
noticed—and that is that the second light shaft appeared just one
fourth around earth’s equator from the first!”
“Strange, is it not? Yet here is something as
strange. At this dot I mark on the blue of the Pacific is the latitude
and longitude reported by the Callarnia on the evening that the third
light shaft appeared before it. That dot, the position of the third
light shaft, is exactly another fourth round earth’s equator from the
position of the second light shaft, exactly a half around earth’s
equator from the first!
“In other words these mysterious shafts of
brilliant blue light have flashed into being in a regular progression
around earth’s equator, each appearing exactly upon that equator, each
appearing exactly a fourth around earth’s circumference from the last!
“That being so, can it be doubted that when
the fourth light shaft appears it will occur in the same regular
progression, at a spot another fourth around earth’s equator from the
third? Thus one has only to measure with accurate maps from the
position of the third light shaft, a fourth around earth’s equator, to
find the spot where the next light shaft will show!
“And that is what I have done today. Doing so
I found that spot. It lies in the Brazilian jungle just north of the
Amazon River’s mouth, lying between two little-known rivers, the Malgre
and the Tauraurua, which join each other exactly at the equator. It is
upon the ground between those two joining rivers there in the Brazilian
jungle that the next of these strange light shafts will undoubtedly
“But, you will say, when will it appear? Well,
if you will reread the accounts of the three light shafts you will
discover that they were separated by as regular intervals of time as of
space. Exactly twenty days, six and a half hours elapsed between the
appearance of the first light shaft at Kismaya and the second at Moram
“The same exact interval of twenty days, six
and a half hours elapsed between the Moram Island appearance and the
sighting of the third light shaft by the Callarnia. With this regular
progression in mind therefore, it cannot be doubted that the same
interval will separate the appearance of the third and fourth light
shafts if a fourth appears.
“So that we can say almost positively that if
a fourth shaft does appear it will do so twenty days, six and a half
hours from the last, which sets as the time of its appearance a half
hour before midnight on the night of May twenty first, more than two
weeks from now. And I propose that we four be there when it does.
“We alone of all men know where and when it
will appear, if it does appear, and we shall endeavor to penetrate the
mystery. And mystery it is. For whence come these shafts of brilliance,
which could not have been made by any known device of men, yet have
appeared around earth’s equator with human and more than human
exactness and regularity of time and place? What is their cause, their
“To us four is given the chance to solve these
questions. In their solution we may penetrate mysteries and forces as
yet undreamed of by any on earth. You, Darrell and Fenton and
Vance—will you not go?”
There was a moment’s silence at his final
question, silence in which, with minds awhirl, we gazed at him and at
each other. Then suddenly, as our eyes met, we knew without words each
other’s thought and Darrell turned to Kelsall, speaking for all of us.
“We’re with you, Kelsall,” he said quietly.
“Whatever mystery ties behind these light-shafts, we’re going with you
to solve it.”