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by [?]

[Sidenote: The tragic misadventure of a man to whom the sky became an appalling abyss, drawing him ever upward.]

The sky sagged downward, bellying blackly with a sudden summer rain, giving me a vision of catching my train in sodden clothing after the short-cut across the fields, which I was taking in company with my brother Tristan and his fiancee.

The sullen atmosphere ripped apart with an electric glare; our ears quivered to the throbbing sky, while huge drops, jarred loose from the air by the thunder-impact, splattered sluggishly, heavily, about us. Little breezes swept out from the storm center, lifting the undersides of the long grass leaves to view in waves of lighter green. I complained peevishly.

“Ah, mop up!” said Tristan. “You’ve plenty of time, and there’s the big oak! It’s as dry under there as a cave!”

“I think that’ll be fun!” twittered Alice. “To wait out a thunder-storm under a tree!”

“Under a tree?” I said. “Hardly! I’m not hankering to furnish myself as an exhibit on the physiological effects of a lightning stroke–no, sir!”

“Rats!” said Tristan. “All that’s a fairy-tale–trees being dangerous in a thunder-storm!”

* * * * *

The rain now beat through our thin summer clothing, as Tristan seized Alice’s hand and towed her toward the spreading shelter. I followed them at first, then began to lag with an odd unwillingness. I had been only half serious in my objection, but all at once that tree exercised an odd repulsion on me; an imaginary picture of the electric fluid coursing through my shriveling nerve-channels grew unpleasantly vivid.

Suddenly I knew I was not going under that tree. I stopped dead, pulling my hat brim down behind to divert the rivulet coursing down the back of my neck, calling to the others in a voice rather cracked from embarrassment. They looked back at me curiously, and Alice began to twit me, standing in the rain, while Tristan desired to know whether we thought we were a pair of goldfish; in his estimation, we might belong to the piscine tribe all right, but not to that decorative branch thereof. To be frank, he used the term “suckers.” Feeling exceptionally foolish, I planted myself doggedly in the soaking grass as Alice turned to dash for the tree.

Then the thing happened; the thing which to this hour makes the fabric of space with its unknown forces seem an insecure and eery garment for the body of man. Over the slight rise beyond the tree, as the air crackled, roared and shook under the thunder-blasts, there appeared an object moving in long, leisurely bounds, drifting before the wind, and touching the ground lightly each time. It was about eighteen inches in diameter, globular, glowing with coruscating fires, red, green, and yellow; a thing of unearthly and wholly sinister beauty.

Alice poised with one foot half raised, and shrieked at Tristan, half terrified, half elated at the sight. He wheeled quickly, there under the tree, and slowly backed away as the thing drifted in to keep him company in his shelter. We could not see his face, but there was a stiffness to his figure indicating something like fear. Suddenly things I had read rose into my memory. This was one of those objects variously called “fire-balls,” “globe-lightning,” “meteors,” and the like.

I also recalled the deadly explosive potencies said to be sometimes possessed by such entities, and called out frantically:

“Tristan! Don’t touch it! Get away quickly, but don’t disturb the air!”

He heard me and, as the object wavered about in the comparative calm under the tree, drifting closer to him, started to obey. But it suddenly approached his face, and seized with a reckless terror, he snatched off his hat and batted at it as one would at a pestilent bee. Instantly there was a blinding glare, a stunning detonation, and a violent air-wave which threw me clear off my feet and to the ground. I sat up blindly with my vision full of opalescent lights and my ears ringing, unable to hear, see, or think.