The Selenite’s Face
I found myself sitting crouched together
in a tumultuous darkness. For a long time I could
not understand where I was, nor how I had come to this
perplexity. I thought of the cupboard into which
I had been thrust at times when I was a child, and
then of a very dark and noisy bedroom in which I had
slept during an illness. But these sounds about
me were not the noises I had known, and there was
a thin flavour in the air like the wind of a stable.
Then I supposed we must still be at work upon the
sphere, and that somehow I had got into the cellar
of Cavor’s house. I remembered we had finished
the sphere, and fancied I must still be in it and
travelling through space.
“Cavor,” I said, “cannot we have
There came no answer.
“Cavor!” I insisted.
I was answered by a groan. “My head!”
I heard him say; “my head!”
I attempted to press my hands to my
brow, which ached, and discovered they were tied together.
This startled me very much. I brought them up
to my mouth and felt the cold smoothness of metal.
They were chained together. I tried to separate
my legs and made out they were similarly fastened,
and also that I was fastened to the ground by a much
thicker chain about the middle of my body.
I was more frightened than I had yet
been by anything in all our strange experiences.
For a time I tugged silently at my bonds. “Cavor!”
I cried out sharply. “Why am I tied?
Why have you tied me hand and foot?”
“I haven’t tied you,” he answered.
“It’s the Selenites.”
The Selenites! My mind hung on
that for a space. Then my memories came back
to me: the snowy desolation, the thawing of the
air, the growth of the plants, our strange hopping
and crawling among the rocks and vegetation of the
crater. All the distress of our frantic search
for the sphere returned to me.... Finally the
opening of the great lid that covered the pit!
Then as I strained to trace our later
movements down to our present plight, the pain in
my head became intolerable. I came to an insurmountable
barrier, an obstinate blank.
“Where are we?”
“How should I know?”
“Are we dead?”
“They’ve got us, then!”
He made no answer but a grunt.
The lingering traces of the poison seemed to make
him oddly irritable.
“What do you mean to do?”
“How should I know what to do?”
“Oh, very well!” said
I, and became silent. Presently, I was roused
from a stupor. “O Lord!” I cried;
“I wish you’d stop that buzzing!”
We lapsed into silence again, listening
to the dull confusion of noises like the muffled sounds
of a street or factory that filled our ears. I
could make nothing of it, my mind pursued first one
rhythm and then another, and questioned it in vain.
But after a long time I became aware of a new and
sharper element, not mingling with the rest but standing
out, as it were, against that cloudy background of
sound. It was a series of relatively very little
definite sounds, tappings and rubbings, like a loose
spray of ivy against a window or a bird moving about
upon a box. We listened and peered about us,
but the darkness was a velvet pall. There followed
a noise like the subtle movement of the wards of a
well-oiled lock. And then there appeared before
me, hanging as it seemed in an immensity of black,
a thin bright line.
“Look!” whispered Cavor very softly.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know.”
The thin bright line became a band,
and broader and paler. It took upon itself the
quality of a bluish light falling upon a white-washed
wall. It ceased to be parallel-sided; it developed
a deep indentation on one side. I turned to remark
this to Cavor, and was amazed to see his ear in a
brilliant illumination all the rest of him
in shadow. I twisted my head round as well as
my bonds would permit. “Cavor,” I
said, “it’s behind!”
His ear vanished gave place to an eye!
Suddenly the crack that had been admitting
the light broadened out, and revealed itself as the
space of an opening door. Beyond was a sapphire
vista, and in the doorway stood a grotesque outline
silhouetted against the glare.
We both made convulsive efforts to
turn, and failing, sat staring over our shoulders
at this. My first impression was of some clumsy
quadruped with lowered head. Then I perceived
it was the slender pinched body and short and extremely
attenuated bandy legs of a Selenite, with his head
depressed between his shoulders. He was without
the helmet and body covering they wear upon the exterior.
He was a blank, black figure to us,
but instinctively our imaginations supplied features
to his very human outline. I, at least, took it
instantly that he was somewhat hunchbacked, with a
high forehead and long features.
He came forward three steps and paused
for a time. His movements seemed absolutely noiseless.
Then he came forward again. He walked like a bird,
his feet fell one in front of the other. He stepped
out of the ray of light that came through the doorway,
and it seemed as though he vanished altogether in
For a moment my eyes sought him in
the wrong place, and then I perceived him standing
facing us both in the full light. Only the human
features I had attributed to him were not there at
Of course I ought to have expected
that, only I didn’t. It came to me as an
absolute, for a moment an overwhelming shock.
It seemed as though it wasn’t a face, as though
it must needs be a mask, a horror, a deformity, that
would presently be disavowed or explained. There
was no nose, and the thing had dull bulging eyes at
the side in the silhouette I had supposed
they were ears. There were no ears.... I
have tried to draw one of these heads, but I cannot.
There was a mouth, downwardly curved, like a human
mouth in a face that stares ferociously....
The neck on which the head was poised
was jointed in three places, almost like the short
joints in the leg of a crab. The joints of the
limbs I could not see, because of the puttee-like
straps in which they were swathed, and which formed
the only clothing the being wore.
There the thing was, looking at us!
At the time my mind was taken up by
the mad impossibility of the creature. I suppose
he also was amazed, and with more reason, perhaps,
for amazement than we. Only, confound him! he
did not show it. We did at least know what had
brought about this meeting of incompatible creatures.
But conceive how it would seem to decent Londoners,
for example, to come upon a couple of living things,
as big as men and absolutely unlike any other earthly
animals, careering about among the sheep in Hyde Park!
It must have taken him like that.
Figure us! We were bound hand
and foot, fagged and filthy; our beards two inches
long, our faces scratched and bloody. Cavor you
must imagine in his knickerbockers (torn in several
places by the bayonet scrub) his Jaegar shirt and
old cricket cap, his wiry hair wildly disordered, a
tail to every quarter of the heavens. In that
blue light his face did not look red but very dark,
his lips and the drying blood upon my hands seemed
black. If possible I was in a worse plight than
he, on account of the yellow fungus into which I had
jumped. Our jackets were unbuttoned, and our shoes
had been taken off and lay at our feet. And we
were sitting with our backs to this queer bluish light,
peering at such a monster as Durer might have invented.
Cavor broke the silence; started to
speak, went hoarse, and cleared his throat. Outside
began a terrific bellowing, as if a mooncalf were in
trouble. It ended in a shriek, and everything
was still again.
Presently the Selenite turned about,
flickered into the shadow, stood for a moment retrospective
at the door, and then closed it on us; and once more
we were in that murmurous mystery of darkness into
which we had awakened.