Goblin Reservation by Simak Clifford Chapter 11

Maxwell opened the book.

"Albert Lambert," said the opening page of text, "was born in Chicago, Illinois, January 11, 1973. Famed as a portrayer of grotesque symbolism, his early years gave no promise of his great accomplishments. His initial work, while it was competent and showed a skillful craftsmanship and a deep insight into his subject matter, was not particularly outstanding. His grotesque period came after his fiftieth year and, rather than developing, burst into full flower almost overnight, as if the artist had developed it secretly and did not show his canvasses of this period until he was satisfied with this new phase of his work. But there is no evidence that this actually was the case; rather, there seems to be some evidence that it was not... ."

Maxwell flipped over the text pages to reach the color plates and leafed quickly through examples of the artist's early work. And there, in the space of one page to the next, the paintings changed-the artistic concept, the color, even, it seemed to Maxwell, the very craftsmanship. As if the work had been that of two different artists, the first tied intellectually to some inner need of orderly expression, the second engulfed, obsessed, ridden by some soul-shaking experience of which he tried to cleanse himself by spreading it on canvas.

Stark, dark, terrible beauty beat out of the page and in the dusky silence of the library reading room it seemed to Maxwell that he could hear the leathery whisper of black wings. Outrageous creatures capered across the outrageous landscape, and yet the landscape and the creatures, Maxwell sensed at once, were not mere fantasy, were no whimsical product of a willful unhinging of the mind, but seemed to be solidly based upon some outre geometry predicated upon a logic and an outlook alien to anything he had ever seen. The form, the color, the approach and the attitude were not merely twisted human values; one had the instant feeling that they might be, instead, the prosaic representation of a situation in an area entirely outside any human value. Grotesque symbolism, the text had said, and it might be there, of course, but if so, Maxwell told himself, a symbolism that could only be arrived at most tortuously after painful study.

He turned the page and there it was again, that complete divergence from humanity-a different scene with different creatures against a different landscape, but carry-ing, as had that first plate, the shattering impact of actuality, no figment of the artist's mind, but the representation of a scene he once had gazed upon and sought now to expurgate from mind and memory. As a man might wash his hands, Maxwell thought, lathering them fiercely with a bar of strong, harsh soap, scrubbing them again and yet again, endlessly, in a desperate attempt to remove by physical means a psychic stain that he had incurred. A scene that he had gazed upon, perhaps, not through human eyes, but through the alien optics of a lost and unguessed race.

Maxwell sat fascinated, staring at the page, wanting to pull his eyes away, but unable to, trapped by the weird and awful beauty, by some terrible, hidden purpose that he could not understand. Time, the Shrimp had said, was something that his race had never thought of, a universal factor that had not impinged upon his culture, and here, captured in these color plates, was something that man had never thought of, had never even dreamed.

He reached out his hand to grasp the book and close it, but he hesitated as if there were some reason he should not close the book, some compelling reason to continue staring at the plate.

And in that hesitancy, he became aware of a certain strangeness that might keep him staring at the page-a puzzling factor that he had not recognized consciously, but that had been nagging at him.

He took his hands away and sat staring at the plate, then slowly turned the page and as he glanced at that third plate, the strangeness leaped out at him-a brushed-in flickering, an artistic technique that made an apparent shimmer, as if something of substance were there and twinkling, seen one moment, not quite seen the next.

He sat, slack-jawed, and watched the flickering-a trick of the eye, most likely, a trick of the eye encouraged by the mastery of the artist over paint and brush. But trick of the eye or not, easy of recognition by anyone who had seen the ghostly race of the crystal planet.

And through the hushed silence of the dusky room one question hammered at him: How could Albert Lambert have known about the people of the crystal planet?