The Seed from the Sepulcher
by Clark Ashton Smith

"Yes, I found the place," said Falmer. "It's a queer sort
of place, pretty much as the legends describe it." He spat
quickly into the fire, as if the act of speech had been
physically distasteful to him, and, half averting his face
from the scrutiny of Thone, stared with morose and
somber eyes into the jungle-matted Venezuelan darkness.

Thone, still weak and dizzy from the fever that had
incapacitated him for continuing their journey to its end,
was curiously puzzled. Falmer, he thought, had under-
gone an inexplicable change during the three days of his
absence; a change that was too elusive in some of its
phases to be fully defined or delimited.

Other phases, however, were all too obvious. Falmer,
even during extreme hardship or illness, had heretofore
been unquenchably loquacious and cheerful. Now he
seemed sullen, uncommunicative, as if preoccupied with
far-off things of disagreeable import. His bluff face had
grown hollow-- even pointed-- and his eyes had narrowed
to secretive slits. Thone was troubled by these changes,
though he tried to dismiss his impressions as mere distem-
pered fancies due to the influence of the ebbing fever.

"But can't you tell me what the place was like?", he

"There isn't much to tell," said Falmer, in a queer
grumbling tone. "Just a few crumbling walls and falling

"But didn't you find the burial-pit of the Indian legend,
where the gold was supposed to be?"

"I found it-- but there was no treasure." Falmer's
voice had taken on a forbidding surliness; and Thone
decided to refrain from further questioning.

"I guess," he commented lightly, "that we had better
stick to orchid hunting. Treasure trove doesn't seem to be
in our line. By the way, did you see any unusual flowers or
plants during the trip?"

"Hell, no," Falmer snapped. His face had gone sud-
denly ashen in the firelight, and his eyes had assumed a set
glare that might have meant either fear or anger. "Shut up,
can't you? I don't want to talk. I've had a headache all
day; some damned Venezuelan fever coming on, I sup-
pose. We'd better head for the Orinoco tomorrow. I've
had all I want of this trip."'

James Falmer and Roderick Thone, professional orchid
hunters, with two Indian guides, had been following an
obscure tributary of the upper Orinoco. The country was
rich in rare flowers; and, beyond its floral wealth, they had
been drawn by vague but persistent rumors among the
local tribes concerning the existence of a ruined city
somewhere on this tributary; a city that contained a burial
pit in which vast treasures of gold, silver, and jewels had
been interred together with the dead of some nameless
people. The two men had thought it worthwhile to investi-
gate these rumors. Thone had fallen sick while they were
still a full day's journey from the site of the ruins, and
Falmer had gone on in a canoe with one of the Indians,
leaving the other to attend to Thone. He had returned at
nightfall of the third day following his departure.

Thone decided after a while, as he lay staring at his
companion, that the latter's taciturnity and moroseness
were perhaps due to disappointment over his failure to find
the treasure. It must have been that, together with some
tropical infection working in the man's blood. However,
he admitted doubtfully to himself, it was not like Falmer to
be disappointed or downcast under such circumstances.
Falmer did not speak again, but sat glaring before him
as if he saw something invisible to others beyond the
labyrinth of fire-touched boughs and lianas in which the
whispering, stealthy darkness crouched. Somehow, there
was a shadowy fear in his aspect. Thone continued to
watch him, and saw that the Indians, impassive and cryp-
tic, were also watching him, as if with some obscure
expectancy. The riddle was too much for Thone, and he
gave it up after a while, lapsing into restless, fever-
turbulent slumber from which he awakened at intervals, to
see the set face of Falmer, dimmer and more distorted each
time with the slowly dying fire and the invading shadows.

Thone felt stronger in the morning: his brain was clear,
his pulse tranquil once more; and he saw with mounting
concern the indisposition of Falmer, who seemed to rouse
and exert himself with great difficulty, speaking hardly a
word and moving with singular stiffness and sluggishness.
He appeared to have forgotten his announced project of
returning toward the Orinoco, and Thone took entire
charge of the preparations for departure. His companion's
condition puzzled him more and more-- apparently there
was no fever and the symptoms were wholly ambiguous.
However, on general principles, he administered a stiff
dose of quinine to Falmer before they started.

The paling saffron of sultry dawn sifted upon them
through the jungle tops as they loaded their belongings
into the dugouts and pushed off down the slow current.
Thone sat near the bow of one of the boats, with Falmer in
the rear, and a large bundle of orchid roots and part of their
equipment filling the middle. The two Indians occupied
the other boat, together with lhe rest of the supplies.

It was a monotonous journey. The river wound like a
sluggish olive snake between dark, interminable walls of
forest, from which the goblin faces of orchids leered.
There were no sounds other than the splash of paddles, the
furious chattering of monkeys, and petulant cries of
fiery-colored birds. The sun rose above the jungle and
poured down a tide of torrid brilliance.

Thone rowed steadily looking back over his shoulder at
times to address Falmer with some casual remark or
friendly question. The latter, with dazed eyes and features
queerly pale and pinched in the sunlight, sat dully erect
and made no effort to use his paddle. He offered no reply
to the queries of Thone, but shook his head at intervals,
with a sort of shuddering motion that was plainly involun-
tary. After a while he began to moan thickly, as if in pain
or delirium.

They went on in this manner for hours. The heat grew
more oppressive between' the stifling walls of jungle.
Thone became aware of a shriller cadence in the moans of
his companion. Looking back, he saw that Falmer had
removed his sun-helmet, seemingly oblivious of the mur-
derous heat, and was clawing at the crown of his head with
frantic fingers. Convulsions shook his entire body, the
dugout began to rock dangerously as he tossed to and fro in
a paroxysm of manifest agony. His voice mounted to a
high un-human shrieking.

Thone made a quick decision. There was a break in the
lining palisade of somber forest, and he headed the boat
for shore immediately. The Indians followed, whispering
between themselves and eyeing the sick man with glances
of apprehensive awe and terror that puzzled Thone tre-
mendously. He felt that there was some devilish mystery
about the whole affair; and he could not imagine what was
wrong with Falmer. All the known manifestations of
malignant tropical diseases rose before him like a rout of
hideous fantasms; but among them, he could not recog-
nize the thing that had assailed his companion.

Having gotten Falmer ashore on a semicircle of liana-
latticed beach without the aid of the Indians, who seemed
unwilling to approach the sick man, Thone administered a
heavy hypodermic injection of morphine from his
medicine chest. This appeared to ease Falmer's suffering,
and the convulsions ceased. Thone, taking advantage of
their remission, proceeded to examine the crown of
Falmer's head.

He was startled to find, amid the thick disheveled hair, a
hard and pointed lump which resembled the tip of a begin-
ning horn, rising under the still-unbroken skin. As if
endowed with erectile and resistless life, it seemed to
grow beneath his fingers.

At the same time, abruptly and mysteriously, Falmer
opened his eyes and appeared to regain full consciousness;
For a few minutes he was more his normal self than at any
time since his return from the ruins. He began to talk, as if
anxious to relieve his mind of some oppressing burden.
His voice was peculiarly thick and toneless, but Thone
was able to follow his mutterings and piece them together.

"'The pit! The pit!", said Falmer. "The infernal thing
that was in the pit, in the deep sepulcher! . . . I wouldn't go
back there for the treasure of a dozen El Dorados . . . I
didn't tell you much about those ruins, Thone. Somehow
it was hard-- impossibly hard-- to talk."

"I guess the Indian knew there was something wrong
with the ruins. He led me to the place... but he wouldn't
tell me anything about it; and he waited by the riverside
while I searched for the treasure.

"Great grey walls there were, older than the jungle:
old as death and time. They must have been quarried
and reared by people from some lost planet. They loomed
and leaned at mad, unnatural angles, threatening to crush
the trees about them. And there were columns, too: thick,
swollen columns of unholy form, whose abominable carv-
ings the jungle had not wholly screened from view.

"There was no trouble finding that accursed burial pit.
The pavement above had broken through quite recently, I
think. A big tree had pried with its boa-like roots between
the flagstones that were buried beneath centuries of mold.
One of the flags had been tilted back on the pavement, and
another had fallen through into the pit. There was a large
hole, whose bottom I could see dimly in the forest-
strangled light. Something glimmered palely at the bot-
tom; but I could not be sure what it was.

"I had taken along a coil of rope, as you remember. I
tied one end of it to a main root of the tree, dropped the
other through the opening, and went down like a monkey.
When I got to the bottom I could see little at first in the
gloom, except the whitish glimmering all around me, at
my feet. Something that was unspeakably brittle and fri-
able crunched beneath me when I began to move. I turned
on my flashlight, and saw that the place was fairly littered
with bones. Human skeletons lay tumbled everywhere.
They must have been removed long ago... I groped around
amid the bones and dust, feeling pretty much like a ghoul,
but couldn't find anything of value, not even a bracelet or
a finger-ring on any of the skeletons.

"It wasn't until I thought of climbing out that I noticed
the real horror. In one of the corners-- the comer nearest to
the opening in the roof-- I looked up and saw it in the
webby shadows. Ten feet above my head it hung, and I
had almost touched it, unknowingly, when I descended
the rope.

"It looked like a sort of white lattice-work at first. Then
I saw that the lattice was partly formed of human bones-- a
complete skeleton, very tall and stalwart, like that of a warrior.
A pale withered thing grew out of the skull, like a set of
fantastic antlers ending in myriads of long and stringy
tendrils that had spread upward till they reached
the roof. They must have lifted the skeleton, or body,
along with them as they climbed.

"I examined the thing with my flashlight. It must have
been a plant of some sort, and apparently it had started to
grow in the cranium: Some of the branches had issued
from the cloven crown, others through the eye holes, the
mouth, and the nose holes, to flare upward. And the roots
of the blasphemous thing had gone downward, trellising
themselves on every bone. The very toes and fingers were
ringed with them, and they drooped in writhing coils.
Worst of all, the ones that had issued from the toe-ends
were rooted in a second skull, which dangled just below,
with fragments of the broken-off root system. There was a
litter of fallen bones on the floor in the corner.

"The sight made me feel a little weak, somehow, and
more than a little nauseated that abhorrent, inexplicable
mingling of the human and the plant. I started to climb the
rope, in a feverish hurry to get out, but the thing fascinated
me in its abominable fashion, and I couldn't help pausing.
to study it a little more when I had climbed halfway. I
leaned toward it too fast, I guess, and the rope began to
sway, bringing my face lightly against the leprous,
antler-shaped boughs above the skull.

"Something broke-- possibly a sort of pod on one of the
branches. I found my head enveloped in a cloud of pearl-
grey powder, very light, fine, and scentless. The stuff
settled on my hair, it got into my nose and eyes, nearly
choking and blinding me. I shook it off as well as I could.
Then I climbed on and pulled myself through the
opening . . ."

As if the effort of coherent narration had been too
heavy a strain, Falmer lapsed into disconnected mumblings. The
mysterious malady, whatever it was, returned upon him,
and his delirious ramblings were mixed with groans of
torture. But at moments he regained a flash of coherence.

"My head! My head!" he muttered. "There must be
something in my brain, something that grows and spreads;
I tell you, I can feel it there. I haven't felt right at any time
since I left the burial pit... My mind has been queer ever
since . It must have been the spores of the ancient
devil-plant . . . The spores have taken root . . . The thing is
splitting my skull, going down into my brain-- a plant that
springs out of a human cranium-- as if from a flower pot!"

The dreadful convulsions began once more, and Falmer
writhed uncontrollably in his companion's arms, shriek-
ing with agony. Thone, sick at heart and shocked by his
sufferings, abandoned all effort to restrain him and took
up the hypodermic. With much difficulty, he managed to
inject a triple dose, and Falmer grew quiet by degrees, and
lay with open glassy eyes, breathing stertorously. Thone,
for the first time, perceived an odd protrusion of his
eyeballs, which seemed about to start from their sockets,
making it impossible for the lids to close, and lending the
drawn features an expression of mad horror. It was as if
something were pushing Falmer's eyes from his head.

Thone, trembling with sudden weakness and terror, felt
that he was involved in some unnatural web of nightmare.
He could not, dared not, believe the story Falmer had told
him, and its implications. Assuring himself that his com-
panion had imagined it all, had been ill throughout with
the incubation of some strange fever, he stooped over and
found that the horn-shaped lump on Falmer's head had
now broken through the skin.

With a sense of unreality, he stared at the object that his
prying fingers had revealed amid the matted hair. It was
unmistakably a plant-bud of some sort, with involuted
folds of pale green and bloody pink that seemed about to
expand. The thing issued from above the central suture of
the skull.

A nausea swept upon Thone, and he recoiled from the
lolling head and its baleful outgrowth, averting his gaze.
His fever was returning, there was a woeful debility in all
his limbs, and he heard the muttering voice of delirium
through the quinine-induced ringing in his ears. His eyes
blurred with a deathly and miasmal mist.

He fought to subdue his illness and impotence. He must
not give way to it wholly; he must go on with Falmer and
the Indians and reach the nearest trading station, many
days away on the Orinoco, where Falmer could receive aid.

As if through sheer volition, his eyes cleared, and he
felt a resurgence of strength. He looked around for the
guides, and saw, with a start of uncomprehending sur-
prise, that they had vanished. Peering further, he observed
that one of the boats-- the dugout used by the Indians--
had also disappeared. It was plain that he and Falmer
had been deserted. Perhaps the Indians had known what
was wrong with the sick man, and had been afraid. At any
rate, they were gone, and they had taken much of the camp
equipment and most of the provisions with them.

Thone turned once more to the supine body of Falmer,
conquering his repugnance with effort. Resolutely he
drew out his clasp knife and, stooping over the stricken
man, he excised the protruding bud, cutting as close to the
scalp as he could with safety. The thing was unnaturally
tough and rubbery; it exuded a thin, sanguinous fluid; and
he shuddered when he saw its internal structure, full of
nerve-like filaments, with a core that suggested cartilage.

He flung it aside, quickly, on, the river sand. Then, lifting
Falmer in his arms, he lurched and staggered towards the
remaining boat. He fell more than once, and lay half
swooning across the inert body. Alternately carrying and
dragging his burden, he reached the boat at last. With the
remainder of his failing strength, he contrived to prop
Falmer in the stern against the pile of equipment.

His fever was mounting apace. After much delay, with
tedious, half-delirious exertions, he pushed off from the
shore, till the fever mastered him wholly and the oar
slipped from oblivious fingers . . .

He awoke in the yellow glare of dawn, with his brain
and his senses comparatively clear. His illness had left a
great languor, but his first thought was of Falmer. He
twisted about, nearly falling overboard in his debility, and
sat facing his companion.

Falmer still reclined, half sitting, half lying, against the
pile of blankets and other impedimenta. His knees were
drawn up, his hands clasping them as if in tetanic rigor.
His features had grown as stark and ghastly as those of a
dead man, and his whole aspect was one of mortal rigidity.
It was this, however, that caused Thone to gasp with
unbelieving horror.

During the interim of Thone's delirium and his lapse
into slumber, the monstrous plant bud, merely stimulated,
it would seem, by the act of excision, had grown again
with preternatural rapidity, from Falmer's head. A loath-
some pale-green stem was mounting thickly, and had
started to branch like antlers after attaining a height of six
or seven inches.

More dreadful than this, if possible, similar growths
had issued from the eyes; and their stems, climbing verti-
cally across the forehead, had entirely displaced the
eyeballs. Already they were branching like the thing from
the crown. The antlers were all tipped with pale vermilion.
They appeared to quiver with repulsive animations, nod-
ding rhythmically in the warm, windless air . . . From the
mouth another stem protruded, curling upward like a long
and whitish tongue. It had not yet begun to bifurcate.

Thone closed his eyes to shut away the shocking vision.
Behind his lids, in a yellow dazzle of light, he still saw the
cadaverous features, the climbing stems that quivered
against the dawn like ghastly hydras of tomb-etiolated
green. They seemed to be waving toward him, growing
and lengthening as they waved. He opened his eyes again,
and fancied, with a start of new terror; that the antlers were
actually taller than they had been a few moments previous.

After that, he sat watching them in a sort of baleful
hypnosis. The illusion of the plant's visible growth, and
freer movement-- if it were illusion-- increased upon him.
Falmer, however, did not stir, and his parchment face
appeared to shrivel and fall in, as if the roots of the growth
were draining his blood, were devouring his very flesh in
their insatiable and ghoulish hunger.

Thone wrenched his eyes away and stared at the river
shore. The stream had widened and the current had grown
more sluggish. He sought to recognize their location,
looking vainly for some familiar landmark in the
monotonous dull-green cliffs of jungle that lined the mar-
gin. He felt hopelessly lost and alienated. He seemed to be
drifting on an unknown tide of madness and nightmare,
accompanied by something more frightful than corruption

His mind began to wander with an odd inconsequence,
coming back always, in a sort of closed circle, to the thing
that was devouring Falmer. With a flash of scientific
curiosity, he found himself wondering to what genus it
belonged. It was neither fungus nor pitcher plant, nor
anything that he had ever encountered or heard of in his
explorations. It must have come, as Falmer had sug-
gested, from an alien world: it was nothing that the earth
could conceivably have nourished

He felt, wih a comforting assurance, that Falmer was
dead. That at least, was a mercy. But even as he shaped the
thought he heard a low, gutteral moaning, and, peering at
Falmer in a horrible startlement, saw that his limbs and
body were twitching slightly. The twitching increased,
and took on a rhythmic regularity, though at no time did it
resemble the agonized and violent convulsions of the
previous day. It was plainly automatic, like a sort of
galvanism; and Thone saw that it was timed with the
languorous and loathsome swaying of the plant. The effect
on the watcher was insidiously mesmeric and somnolent;
and once he caught himself beating the detestable rhythm
with his foot.

He tried to pull himself together, groping desperately
for something to which his sanity could cling. Ineluctably,
his illness returned: fever, nausea, and revulsion worse
than the loathliness of death . . . But before he yielded to it
utterly, he drew his loaded revolver from the holster and
fired six times into Falmer's quivering body . . . He knew
that he had not missed, but after the final bullet Falmer still
moaned and twitched in unison with the evil swaying of
the plant, and Thone, sliding into delirium, heard still the
ceaseless, automatic moaning.

There was no time in the world of seething unreality and
shoreless oblivion through which he drifted. When he
came to himself again, he could not know if hours or
weeks had elapsed. But he knew at once that the boat was
no longer moving; and lifting himself dizzily, he saw that
it had floated into shallow water and mud and was nosing
the beach of a tiny, jungle-tufted isle in mid-river. The
putrid odor of slime was about him like a stagnant pool;
and he heard a strident humming of insects.

It was either late morning or early afternoon, for the sun
was high in the still heavens. Lianas were drooping above
him from the island trees like uncoiled serpents, and
epiphytic orchids, marked with ophidian mottlings,
leaned toward him grotesquely from lowering boughs.
Immense butterflies went past on sumptuously spotted wings.

He sat up, feeling very giddy and lightheaded, and
faced again the horror that accompanied him. The thing
had grown incredibly: the three-antlered stems, mounting
above Falmer's head, had become gigantic and had put out
masses of ropy feelers that tossed uneasily in the air, as if
searching for support-- or new provender. In the topmost
antlers a prodigious blossom had opened-- a sort of fleshy
disk, broad as a man's face and white as leprosy.

Falmer's features had shrunken till the outlines of every
bone were visible as if beneath tightened paper. He was a
mere death's head in a mask of human skin; and beneath
his clothing the body was little more than a skeleton. He
was quite still now, except for the communicated quiver-
ing of the stems. The atrocious plant had sucked-him dry,
had eaten his vitals and his flesh.

Thone wanted to hurl himself forward in a mad impulse
to grapple with the growth. But a strange paralysis held
him back. The plant was like a living and sentient thing-- a
thing that watched him, that dominated him with its un-
clean but superior will. And the huge blossom, as he
stared, took on the dim, unnatural semblance of a face. It
was somehow like the face of Falmer, but the lineaments
were twisted all awry, and were mingled with those of
something wholly devilish and nonhuman. Thone could
not move-- he could not take his eyes from the blasphe-
mous abnormality.

By some miracle, his fever had left him; and it did not
return. Instead, there came an eternity of frozen fright and
madness in which he sat facing the mesmeric plant. It
towered before him from the dry, dead shell that had been
Falmer, its swollen, glutted stems and branches swaying
gently, its huge flower leering perpetually upon him with
its impious travesty of a human face. He thought that he
heard a low, singing sound, ineffably sweet, but whether
it emanated from the plant or was a mere hallucination of
his overwrought senses, he could not know.

The sluggish hours went by, and a gruelling sun poured
down its beams like molten lead from some titanic vessel
of torture. His head swam with weakness and the fetor-
laden heat, but he could not relax the rigor of his posture.
There was no change in the nodding monstrosity, which
seemed to have attained its full growth above the head of
its victim. But after a long interim Thone's eyes were drawn
to the shrunken hands of Falmer, which still
clasped the drawn-up knees in a spasmodic clutch.
Through the ends of the fingers, tiny white rootlets had
broken and were writhing sIowly in the air, groping, it
seemed, for a new source of nourishment. Then from the
neck and chin, other tips were breaking, and over the
whole body the clothing stirred in a curious manner, as if
with the crawling and lifting of hidden lizards.

At the same time the singing grew louder, sweeter,
more imperious, and the swaying of the great plant
assumed an indescribably seductive tempo. It was like the
allurement of voluptuous sirens, the deadly languor of
dancing cobras. Thone felt an irresistible compulsion: a
summons was being laid upon him, and his drugged mind
and body must obey it. The very fingers of Falmer, twist-
ing viperishly, seemed beckoning to him. Suddenly he
was on hs hands and knees in the bottom of the boat.
Inch by inch, with terror and fascination contending in
his brain, he crept forward, dragging himself over the
disregarded bundle of orchid-plants, inch by inch, foot
by foot, till his head was against the withered hands of
Falmer, from which hung and floated the questing roots.

Some cataleptic spell had made him helpless. He felt
the rootlets as they moved like delving fingers through his
hair and over his face and neck, and started to strike in
with agonizing, needle-sharp tips. He could not stir, he
could not even close his lids. In a frozen stare, he saw the
gold and carmine flash of a hovering butterfly as the roots
began to pierce his pupils.

Deeper and deeper went the greedy roots, while new
filaments grew out to enmesh him like a witch's net . . .
For a while, it seemed that the dead and the living writhed
together in leashed convulsions . . . At last Thone hung
supine amid the lethal, ever-growing web; bloated and
colossal, the plant lived on; and in its upper branches,
through the still, stifling afternoon, a second flower began
to unfold.

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