From the Ocean’s Depths by Sewell Peaslee Wright
Her head was a little to one side, in the attitude of one who listens intently.
From somewhere out on the
black, heaving Atlantic, the
rapid, muffled popping of a
speed-boat’s exhaust drifted
clearly through the night.
I dropped my
book and stretched,
in my chair.
There was real
romance and adventure! Rum-runners,
seeking out their hidden port with
their cargo of contraband from Cuba.
Heading fearlessly through the darkness,
fighting the high seas, still running
storm of a day
or so before, daring
dangers for the
sake of the straw-packed
bottles they carried. Sea-bronzed
men, with hard, flat muscles
and fearless eyes; ready guns slapping
their thighs as they––
Absorbed in my mental picture of
these modern free-booters, the sudden
alarm of the telephone startled me like
an unexpected shot fired beside my ear.
Brushing the cigarette ashes from my
smoking-jacket, I crossed the room and
snatched up the receiver.
“Hello!” I snapped ungraciously into
the mouthpiece. It was after eleven by
the ship’s clock on the mantel, and if––
“Taylor?” The voice––Warren Mercer’s
familiar voice––rattled on without
waiting for a reply. “Get in your car
and come down here as fast as possible.
Come just as you are, and––”
“What’s the matter?” I managed
to interrupt him. “Burglars?”
I had never heard Mercer
speak in that high-pitched, excited
voice before; his usual speech was slow
and thoughtful, almost didactic.
“Please, Taylor, don’t waste time
questioning me. If it weren’t urgent, I
wouldn’t be calling you, you know.
Will you come?”
“You bet!” I said quickly, feeling
rather a fool for ragging him when he
was in such deadly earnest. “Have––”
The receiver snapped and crackled;
Mercer had hung up the instant he had
my assurance that I would come. Usually
the very soul of courtesy and consideration,
that act alone would have
convinced me that there was an urgent
need for my presence at The Monstrosity.
That was Mercer’s own name for
the impressive pile that was at once his
residence and his laboratory.
I threw off the smoking-jacket and
pulled on a woolen golfing sweater, for
the wind was brisk and sharpish. In
two minutes I was backing the car out
of the garage; a moment later I was off
the gravelled drive and tearing down
the concrete with the accelerator all the
way down, and the black wind shrieking
around the windshield of my little
My own shack was out of the city
limits––a little place I keep to live in
when the urge to go fishing seizes me,
which is generally about twice a year.
Mercer picked the place up for me at
The Monstrosity was some four miles
further out from town, and off the
highway perhaps a half-mile more.
I made the four miles in just a shade
over that many minutes, and clamped
on the brakes as I saw the entrance to
the little drive that led toward the sea,
and Mercer’s estate.
With gravel rattling on my
fenders, I turned off the concrete
and swept between the two massive,
stuccoed pillars that guarded the
drive. Both of them bore corroded
bronze plates, “The Billows,” the name
given The Monstrosity by the original
owner, a newly-rich munitions manufacturer.
The structure itself loomed up before
me in a few seconds, a rambling
affair with square-shouldered balconies
and a great deal of wrought-iron work,
after the most flamboyant Spanish pattern.
It was ablaze with light. Apparently
every bulb in the place was burning.
Just a few yards beyond the surf
boomed hollowly on the smooth, shady
shore, littered now, I knew, by the pitiful
spoils of the storm.
As I clamped on my brakes, a swift
shadow passed two of the lower windows.
Before I could leap from the
car, the broad front door, with its
rounded top and circular, grilled window,
was flung wide, and Mercer came
running to meet me.
He was wearing a bathrobe, hastily
flung on over a damp bathing suit, his
bare legs terminating in a pair of disreputable
“Fine, Taylor!” he greeted me. “I
suppose you’re wondering what it’s all
about. I don’t blame you. But come
in, come in! Just wait till you see her!”
“Her?” I asked, startled. “You’re not
in love, by any chance, and bringing me
down here like this merely to back up
your own opinion of them eyes and
them lips, Mercer?”
He laughed excitedly.
“You’ll see, you’ll see! No, I’m
not in love. And I want you to help,
and not admire. There are only Carson
and myself here, you know, and the
job’s too big for the two of us.” He
hurried me across the broad concrete
porch and into the house. “Throw the
cap anywhere and come on!”
Too much amazed to comment further,
I followed my friend. This was a
Warren Mercer I did not know. Usually
his clean-cut, olive-tinted face was a
polite mask that seldom showed even
the slightest trace of emotion. His eyes,
dark and large, smiled easily, and shone
with interest, but his almost beautiful
mouth, beneath the long slim mustache,
always closely cropped, seldom smiled
with his eyes.
But it was his present excited speech
that amazed me most. Mercer, during
all the years I had known him, had
never been moved before to such tempestuous
outbursts of enthusiasm. It
was his habit to speak slowly and
thoughtfully, in his low, musical voice;
even in the midst of our hottest arguments,
and we had had many of them,
his voice had never lost its calm, unhurried
To my surprise, instead of leading
the way to the really comfortable, although
rather gaudy living room, Mercer
turned to the left, towards what
had been the billiard room, and was
now his laboratory.
The laboratory, brilliantly illuminated,
was littered, as usual, with apparatus
of every description. Along
one wall were the retorts, scales, racks,
hoods and elaborate set-ups, like the articulated
glass and rubber bones of
some weird prehistoric monster, that
demonstrated Mercer’s taste for this
branch of science. On the other side
of the room a corresponding workbench
was littered with a tangle of
coils, transformers, meters, tools and
instruments, and at the end of the
room, behind high black control panels,
with gleaming bus-bars and staring,
gaping meters, a pair of generators
hummed softly. The other end of the
room was nearly all glass, and opened
onto the patio and the swimming pool.
Mercer paused a moment, with
his hand on the knob of the
door, a strange light in his dark eyes.
“Now you’ll see why I called you
here,” he said tensely. “You can judge
for yourself whether the trip was worth
while. Here she is!”
With a gesture he flung open the
door, and I stared, following his glance,
down at the great tiled swimming pool.
It is difficult for me to describe the
scene. The patio was not large, but it
was beautifully done. Flowers and
shrubs, even a few small palms, grew
in profusion in the enclosure, while
above, through the movable glass roof––made
in sections to disappear in fine
weather––was the empty blackness of
None of the lights provided for the
illumination of the covered patio was
turned on, but all the windows surrounding
the patio were aglow, and I
could see the pool quite clearly.
The pool––and its occupant.
We were standing at one side of
the pool, near the center. Directly
opposite us, seated on the bottom
of the pool, was a human figure,
nude save for a great mass of tawny
hair that fell about her like a silken
mantle. The strangely graceful figure
of a girl, one leg stretched out straight
before her, the other drawn up and
clasped by the interlocked fingers of
her hands. Even in the soft light I
could see her perfectly, through the
clear water, her pale body outlined
sharply against the jade green tiles.
I tore myself away from the staring,
curious eyes of the figure.
“In God’s name, Mercer, what is it?
Porcelain?” I asked hoarsely. The
thing had an indescribably eery effect.
He laughed wildly.
“Porcelain? Watch ... look!”
My eyes followed his pointing finger.
The figure was moving. Gracefully it
arose to its full height. The great
cloud of corn-colored hair floated down
about it, falling below the knees. Slowly,
with a grace of movement comparable
only with the slow soaring of a
gull, she came toward me, walking on
the bottom of the pool through the
clear water as though she floated in air.
Fascinated, I watched her. Her
eyes, startlingly large and dark in
the strangely white face, were fixed on
mine. There was nothing sinister in
the gaze, yet I felt my body shaking
as though in the grip of a terrible fear.
I tried to look away, and found myself
unable to move. I felt Mercer’s tense,
sudden grip upon my arm, but I did
not, could not, look at him.
“She––she’s smiling!” I heard him
exclaim. He laughed, an excited, high-pitched
laugh that irritated me in some
She was smiling, and looking up into
my eyes. She was very close now,
within a few feet of us. She came still
closer, until she was at my very feet as
I stood on the raised ledge that ran
around the edge of the pool, her head
thrown back, staring straight up at me
through the water.
I could see her teeth, very white between
her coral-pink lips, and her
bosom rising and falling beneath the
veil of pale gold hair. She was breathing
Mercer literally jerked me away from
the edge of the pool.
“What do you think of her, Taylor?”
he asked, his dark eyes dancing with
“Tell me about it,” I said, shaking
my head dazedly. “She is not human?”
“I don’t know. I think so. As human
as you or I. I’ll tell you all I
know, and then you can judge for yourself.
I think we’ll know in a few minutes,
if my plans work out. But first
slip on a bathing suit.”
I didn’t argue the matter. I let Mercer
lead me away without a word. And
while I was changing, he told me all
he knew of the strange creature in the
“Late this afternoon I decided to
go for a little walk along the
beach,” Mercer began. “I had been
working like the devil since early in
the morning, running some tests on
what you call my thought-telegraph. I
felt the need of some fresh sea air.
“I walked along briskly for perhaps
five minutes, keeping just out of reach
of the rollers and the spray. The shore
was littered with all sorts of flotsam
and jetsam washed up by the big storm,
and I was just thinking that I would
have to have a man with a truck come
and clean up the shore in front of the
place, when, in a little sandy pool, I
“She was laying face down in the
water, motionless, her head towards
the sea, one arm stretched out
before her, and her long hair wrapped
around her like a half-transparent
“I ran up and lifted her from the
water. Her body was cold, and deathly
white, although her lips were faintly
pink, and her heart was beating, faintly
“Like most people in an emergency.
I forgot all I ever knew about first aid.
All I could think of was to give her a
drink, and of course I didn’t have a
flask on my person. So I picked her up
in my arms and brought her to the
house as quickly as I could. She seemed
to be reviving, for she was struggling
and gasping when I got here with her.
“I placed her on the bed in the guest
room and poured her a stiff drink of
Scotch––half a tumblerful, I believe.
Lifting up her head, I placed the glass
to her lips. She looked up me, blinking,
and took the liquor in a single
draught. She did not seem to drink it,
but sucked it out of the glass in a
single amazing gulp––that’s the only
word for it. The next instant she was
off the bed, her face a perfect mask of
hate and agony.
“She came at me, hands clutching and
clawing, making odd murmuring or
mewing sounds in her throat. It was
then that I noticed for the first time
that her hands were webbed!”
“Webbed?” I asked, startled.
“Webbed,” nodded Mercer
solemnly. “As are her feet. But listen,
Taylor. I was amazed, and not a little
rattled when she came for me. I ran
through the French windows out into
the patio. For a moment she ran after
me, rather awkwardly and heavily, but
swiftly, nevertheless. Then she saw
“Apparently forgetting that I existed,
she leaped into the water, and as
I approached a moment later I could
see her breathing deeply and gratefully,
a smile of relief upon her features,
as she lay upon the bottom of the pool.
Breathing, Taylor, on the bottom of the
pool! Under eight feet of water!”
“And then what, Mercer?” I reminded
him, as he paused, apparently
lost in thought.
“I tried to find out more about her.
I put on my bathing suit and dived into
the pool. Well, she came at me like a
shark, quick as a flash, her teeth showing,
her hands tearing like claws
through the water. I turned, but not
quickly enough to entirely escape.
See?” Mercer threw back the dressing
robe, and I saw a ragged tear in his
bathing suit on his left side, near the
waist. Through the rent three deep,
jagged scratches were clearly visible.
“She managed to claw me, just
once,” Mercer resumed, wrapping
the robe about him again. “Then
I got out and called on Carson for help.
I put him into a bathing suit, and we
both endeavored to corner her. Carson
got two bad scratches, and one rather
serious bite that I have bandaged. I
have a number of lacerations, but I
didn’t fare so badly as Carson because
I am faster in the water than he is.
“The harder we tried, the more determined
I became. She would sit
there, calm and placid, until one of us
entered the water. Then she became a
veritable fury. It was maddening.
“At last I thought of you. I phoned,
and here we are!”
“But, Mercer, it’s a nightmare!” I
protested. We moved out of the room.
“Nothing human can live under water
and breathe water, as she does!”
Mercer paused a moment, staring at
“The human race,” he said gravely,
“came up out of sea. The human race
as we know it. Some may have gone
back.” He turned and walked away
again, and I hurried after him.
“What do you mean. Mercer? ‘Some
may have gone back?’ I don’t get it.”
Mercer shook his head, but made no
other reply until we stood again on the
edge of the pool.
The girl was standing where we had
left her, and as she looked up into my
face, she smiled again, and made a
quick gesture with one hand. It
seemed to me that she invited me to
“I believe she likes you, Taylor,”
said Mercer thoughtfully.
“You’re light, light skin, light hair.
Carson and I are both very dark, almost
swarthy. And in that white bathing
suit––yes, I believe she’s taken a fancy
Mercer’s eyes were dancing.
“If she has,” he went on, “it’ll make
our work very easy.”
“What work?” I asked suspiciously.
Mercer, always an indefatigable experimenter,
was never above using his
friends in the benefit of science. And
some of his experiments in the past
had been rather trying, not to say exciting.
“I think I have what you call my
thought-telegraph perfected, experimentally,”
he explained rapidly. “I fell
asleep working on it at three o’clock,
or thereabouts, this morning, and some
tests with Carson seem to indicate that
it is a success. I should have called
you to-morrow, for further test. Nearly
five years of damned hard work to
a successful conclusion, Taylor, and
then this mermaid comes along and
makes my experiment appear about as
important as one of those breakers rolling
in out there!”
“And what do you plan to do now?”
I asked eagerly, glancing down at the
beautiful pale face that glimmered up
at me through the clear water of the
“Why, try it on her!” exclaimed
Mercer with mounting enthusiasm.
“Don’t you see, Taylor? If it
will work on her, and we can direct her
thoughts, we can find out her history,
the history of her people! We’ll add a
page to scientific history––a whole big
chapter!––that will make us famous.
Man this is so big it’s swept me off my
feet! Look!” And he held out a thin,
aristocratic brown hand before my
eyes, a hand that shook with nervous
“I don’t blame you,” I said quickly.
“I’m no savant, and still I see what an
amazing thing this is. Let’s get busy.
What can I do?”
Mercer reached around the door into
the laboratory and pressed a button.
“For Carson,” he explained. “We’ll
need his help. In the meantime, we’ll
look over the set-up. The apparatus is
strewn all over the place.”
He had not exaggerated. The set-up
consisted of a whole bank of tubes,
each one in its own shielding copper
box. On a much-drilled horizontal
panel, propped up on insulators, were
half a score of delicate meters of one
kind and another, with thin black fingers
that pulsed and trembled. Behind
the panel was a tall cylinder wound
with shining copper wire, and beside it
another panel, upright, fairly bristling
with knobs, contact points, potentiometers,
rheostats and switches. On the
end of the table nearest the door was
still another panel, the smallest of the
lot, bearing only a series of jacks along
one side, and in the center a switch
with four contact points. A heavy,
snaky cable led from this panel to the
maze of apparatus further on.
“This is the control panel,” explained
Mercer. “The whole affair,
you understand, is in laboratory
form. Nothing assembled. Put the different
antennae plug into these jacks.
He picked up a weird, hastily built
contrivance composed of two semi-circular
pieces of spring brass, crossed at
right angles. On all four ends were
bright silvery electrodes, three of them
circular in shape, one of them elongated
and slightly curved. With a quick, nervous
gesture, Mercer fitted the thing to
his head, so that the elongated electrode
pressed against the back of his
neck, extending a few inches down his
spine. The other three circular electrodes
rested on his forehead and either
side of his head. From the center of
the contrivance ran a heavy insulated
cord, some ten feet in length, ending
in a simple switchboard plug, which
Mercer fitted into the uppermost of the
“Now,” he directed, “you put on this
one”––he adjusted a second contrivance
upon my head, smiling as I shrank from
the contact of the cold metal on my
He moved the switch from the position
marked “Off” to the second contact
point, watching me intently, his
dark eyes gleaming.
Carson entered, and Mercer gestured
to him to wait. Very nice old chap,
Carson, impressive even in his bathing
suit. Mercer was mighty lucky to have
a man like Carson....
Something seemed to tick suddenly,
somewhere deep in my consciousness.
“Yes, that’s very true: Carson is a
most decent sort of chap.” The words
were not spoken. I did not hear them,
I knew them. What––I glanced at Mercer,
and he laughed aloud with pleasure
“It worked!” he cried. “I received
your thought regarding Carson, and
then turned the switch so that you received
my thought. And you did!”
Rather gingerly I removed the thing
from my head and laid it on the table.
“It’s wizardry, Mercer! If it will
work as well on her....”
“It will, I know it will!––if we can
get her to wear one of these,” replied
Mercer confidently. “I have only three
of them; I had planned some three-cornered
experiments with you, Carson,
and myself. We’ll leave Carson out of
to-night’s experiment, however, for
we’ll need him to operate this switch.
You see, as it is now wired only one
person transmits thoughts at a time.
The other two receive. When the
switch is on the first contact, Number
One sends, and Numbers Two and
Three receive. When the switch is on
Number Two, then he sends thoughts,
and Numbers One and Three receive
them. And so on. I’ll lengthen these
leads so that we can run them out into
the pool, and then we’ll be ready. Somehow
we must induce her to wear one of
these things, even if we have to use
force. I’m sure the three of us can
“We should be able to,” I smiled. She
was such a slim, graceful, almost delicate
little thing; the thought that three
strong men might not be able to control
her seemed almost amusing.
“You haven’t seen her in action yet,”
said Mercer grimly, glancing up from
his work of lengthening the cords that
led from the antennae to the control
panel. “And what’s more, I hope you
I watched him in silence as he
spliced and securely taped the last
“All set,” he nodded. “Carson, will
you operate the switch for us? I believe
everything is functioning properly.”
He surveyed the panel of instruments
hastily, assuring himself that
every reading was correct. Then, with
all three of the devices he called antennae
in his hand, their leads plugged
into the control panel, he led the way
to the side of the pool.
The girl was strolling around the
edge of the pool, feeling the smooth
tile sides with her hands as we came
into view, but as soon as she saw us she
shot through the water to where we
It was the first time I had seen her
move in this fashion. She seemed to
propel herself with a sudden mighty
thrust of her feet against the bottom;
she darted through the water with the
speed of an arrow, yet stopped as gently
as though she had merely floated
As she looked up, her eyes unmistakably
sought mine, and her smile
seemed warm and inviting. She made
again that strange little gesture of invitation.
With an effort I glanced at Mercer.
There was something devilishly fascinating
about the girl’s great, dark,
“I’m going in,” I said hoarsely.
“Hand me one of your head-set things
when I reach for it.” Before he could
protest, I dived into the pool.
I headed directly towards the
heavy bronze ladder that led to the
bottom of the pool. I had two reasons
in mind. I would need something to
keep me under water, with my lungs
full of air, and I could get out quickly
if it were necessary. I had not forgotten
the livid, jagged furrows in Mercer’s
Quickly as I shot to the ladder she
was there before me, a dim, wavering
white shape, waiting.
I paused, holding to a rung of the
ladder with one hand. She came closer,
walking with the airy grace I had noted
before, and my heart pounded against
my ribs as she raised one long, slim
arm towards me.
The hand dropped gently on my
shoulder, pressed it as though in token
of friendship. Perhaps, I thought
quickly, this was, with her, a sign of
greeting. I lifted my own arm and returned
the salutation, if salutation it
were, aware of a strange rising and
falling sound, as of a distant humming,
in my ears.
The sound ceased suddenly, on a rising
note, as though of inquiry, and it
dawned on me that I had heard the
speech of this strange creature. Before
I could think of a course of action, my
aching lungs reminded me of the need
of air, and I released my hold on the
ladder and let my body rise to the surface.
As my head broke the water, a
hand, cold and strong as steel,
closed around my ankle. I looked
down. The girl was watching me, and
there was no smile on her face now.
“All right!” I shouted across the pool
to Mercer, who was watching anxiously.
Then, filling my lungs with air
again, I pulled myself, by means of the
ladder, to the bottom of the pool. The
restraining hand was removed instantly.
The strange creature thrust her face
close to mine as my feet touched bottom,
and for the first time I saw her
She was beautiful, but in a weird,
unearthly sort of way. As I had already
noticed, her eyes were of unusual
size, and I saw now that they were an
intense shade of blue, with a pupil of
extraordinary proportion. Her nose
was well shaped, but the nostrils were
slightly flattened, and the orifices were
rather more elongated than I had ever
seen before. The mouth was utterly
fascinating, and her teeth, revealed by
her engaging smile, were as perfect as
it would be possible to imagine.
The great mane of hair which enveloped
her was, as I have said, tawny in
hue, and almost translucent, like the
stems of some seaweeds I have seen.
And as she raised one slim white hand
to brush back some wisps that floated
by her face, I saw distinctly the webs
between her fingers. They were barely
noticeable, for they were as transparent
as the fins of a fish, but they were there,
extending nearly to the last joint of
As her face came close to my own,
I became aware of the humming,
crooning sound I had heard before,
louder this time. I could see, from the
movement of her throat, that I had been
correct in assuming that she was attempting
to speak with me. I smiled
back at her and shook my head. She
seemed to understand, for the sound
ceased, and she studied me with a little
thoughtful frown, as though trying to
figure out some other method of communication.
I pointed upward, for I was feeling
the need for fresh air again, and slowly
mounted the ladder. This time she did
not grasp me, but watched me intently,
as though understanding what I did,
and the reasons for it.
“Bring one of your gadgets over
here, Mercer,” I called across the pool.
“I think I’m making progress.”
“Good boy!” he cried, and came running
with two of the antennae, the
long insulated cords trailing behind
him. Through the water the girl
watched him, evident dislike in her
eyes. She glanced at me with sudden
suspicion as Mercer handed me the two
instruments, but made no hostile move.
“You won’t be able to stay in the
water with her,” explained Mercer
rapidly. “The salt water would short
the antennae, you see. Try to get her
to wear one, and then you get your
head out of water, and don yours. And
remember, she won’t be able to communicate
with us by words––we’ll have
to get her to convey her thoughts by
means of mental pictures. I’ll try to
impress that on her. Understand?”
I nodded, and picked up one of
the instruments. “Fire when ready,
Gridley,” I commented, and sank again
to the bottom of the pool.
I touched the girl’s head with one
finger, and then pointed to my own
head, trying to convey to her that she
could get her thoughts to me. Then I
held up the antennae and placed it on
my own head to show that it could not
My next move was to offer her the
instrument, moving slowly, and smiling
reassuringly––no mean feat under
She hesitated a moment, and then,
her eyes fixed on mine, she slowly
fixed the instrument over her own head
as she had seen me adjust it upon my
I smiled and nodded, and pressed her
shoulder in token of friendly greeting.
Then, gesturing toward my own head
again, and pointing upward. I climbed
“All right, Mercer,” I shouted.
“Start at once, before she grows restless!”
“I’ve already started!” he called
back, and I hurriedly donned my own
Bearing in mind what Mercer had
said, I descended the ladder but a few
rungs, so that my head remained out of
water, and smiled down at the girl,
touching the instrument on my head,
and then pointing to hers.
I could sense Mercer’s thoughts now.
He was picturing himself walking
long the shore, with the stormy ocean
in the background. Ahead of him I
saw the white body lying face downward
in the pool. I saw him run up to
the pool and lift the slim, pale figure
in his arms.
Let me make it clear, at this point,
that when I say that I saw these
things, I mean only that mental images
of them penetrated my consciousness.
I visualized them just as I could close
my eyes and visualize, for example, the
fireplace in the living room of my own
I looked down at the girl. She was
frowning, and her eyes were very wide.
Her head was a little on one side, in
the attitude of one who listens intently.
Slowly and carefully Mercer thought
out the whole story of his experiences
with the girl until she had plunged
into the pool. Then I saw again the
beach, with the girl’s figure in the pool.
The picture grew hazy; I realized Mercer
was trying to picture the bottom of
the sea. Then he pictured again the
girl lying in the pool, and once again
the sea. I was aware of the soft little
tick in the center of my brain that announced
that the switch had been
moved to another contact point.
I glanced down at her. She was staring
up at me with her great, curious
eyes, and I sensed, through the medium
of the instrument I wore, that she was
thinking of me. I saw my own features,
idealized, glowing with a strange
beauty that was certainly none of my
own. I realized that I saw myself, in
short, as she saw me. I smiled back at
her, and shook my head.
A strange, dim whirl of pictures
swept through my consciousness.
I was on the bottom of the
ocean. Shadowy shapes swept by silently,
and from above, a dim bluish
light filtered down on a scene such as
mortal eyes have never seen.
All around were strange structures
of jagged coral, roughly circular as to
base, and rounded on top, resembling
very much the igloos of the Eskimos.
The structures varied greatly in size,
and seemed to be arranged in some sort
of regular order, like houses along a
narrow street. Around many of them
grew clusters of strange and colorful
seaweeds that waved their banners
gently, as though some imperceptible
current dallied with them in passing.
Here and there figures moved, slim
white figures that strolled along the
narrow street, or at times shot overhead
like veritable torpedoes.
There were both men and women
moving there. The men were broader
of shoulder, and their hair, which they
wore to their knees, was somewhat
darker in color than that of the women.
Both sexes were slim, and there was a
remarkable uniformity of size and appearance.
None of the strange beings wore garments
of any kind, nor were they necessary.
The clinging tresses were cinctured
at the waist with a sort of cord
of twisted orange-colored material, and
some of the younger women wore bands
of the same material around their
Nearest of all the figures was
the girl who was visualizing all
this for us. She was walking slowly
away from the cluster of coral structures.
Once or twice she paused, and
seemed to hold conversation with
others of the strange people, but each
time she moved on.
The coral structures grew smaller
and poorer. Finally the girl trod alone
on the floor of the ocean, between great
growths of kelp and seaweeds, with
dim, looming masses of faintly tinted
coral everywhere. Once she passed
close to a tilted, ragged hulk of some
ancient vessel, its naked ribs packed
with drifted sand.
Sauntering dreamily, she moved
away from the ancient derelict. Suddenly
a dim shadow swept across the
sand at her feet, and she arrowed from
the spot like a white, slim meteor. But
behind her darted a black and swifter
Like a flash she turned and faced the
monster. Something she had drawn
from her girdle shone palely in her
hand. It was a knife of whetted stone
Darting swiftly downward her feet
spurned the yellow sand, and she shot
at her enemy with amazing speed. The
long blade swept in an arc, ripped the
pale belly of the monster just as he
turned to dart away.
A great cloud of blood dyed the
water. The white figure of the
girl shot onward through the scarlet
Blinded, she did not see that the jutting
ribs of the ancient ship were in
her path. I seemed to see her crash,
head on, into one of the massive timbers,
and I cried out involuntarily, and
glanced down at the girl in the water
at my feet.
Her eyes were glowing. She knew
that I had understood.
Hazily, then, I seemed to visualize
her body floating limply in the water.
It was all very vague and indistinct,
and I understood that this was not
what she had seen, but what she
thought had happened. The impressions
grew wilder, swirled, grew gray
and indistinct. Then I had a view of
Mercer’s face, so terribly distorted it
was barely recognizable. Then a kaleidoscopic
maze of inchoate scenes,
shot through with flashes of vivid,
agonizing colors. The girl was thinking
of her suffering, taken out of her
native element. In trying to save her,
Mercer had almost killed her. That,
no doubt, was why she hated him.
My own face appeared next, almost
godlike in its kindliness and its imagined
beauty, and I noticed now that
she was thinking of me with my yellow
hair grown long, my nostrils elongated
like her own––adjusted to her own
ideas of what a man should be.
I flung the instrument from my
head and dropped to the bottom of
the pool. I gripped both her shoulders,
gently, to express my thanks and friendship.
My heart was pounding. There was
a strange fascination about this girl
from the depths of the sea, a subtle appeal
that was answered from some deep
subterranean cavern of my being. I
forgot, for the moment, who and what
I was. I remembered only that a note
had been sounded that awoke an echo
of a long-forgotten instinct.
I think I kissed her. I know her
arms were about me, and that I pressed
her close, so that our faces almost met.
Her great, weirdly blue eyes seemed to
bore into my brain. I could feel them
I forgot time and space. I saw only
that pale, smiling face and those great
dark eyes. Then, strangling, I tore myself
from her embrace and shot to the
Coughing, I cleared my lungs of the
water I had inhaled. I was weak and
shaking when I finished, but my head
was clear. The grip of the strange fantasy
that had gripped me was shaken
Mercer was bending over me; speaking
“I was watching, old man,” he said
gently. “I can imagine what happened.
A momentary, psychic fusing of an ancient,
long since broken link. You, together
with all mankind, came up out
of the sea. But there is no retracing
I nodded, my head bowed on my
“Sorry, Mercer,” I muttered. “Something
got into me. Those big eyes of
hers seemed to tug at threads of memory
... buried.... I can’t describe
He slapped me on my naked shoulder,
a blow that stung, as he had intended
it to. It helped jerk me back to
“You’ve got your feet on the ground
again, Taylor,” he commented soothingly.
“I think there’s no danger of
you losing your grip on terra firma
again. Shall we carry on?”
“There’s more you’d like to learn?
That you think she can give us?” I
“I believe,” replied Mercer, “that she
can give us the history of her people,
if we can only make her understand
what we wish. God! If we only could!”
The name of the Deity was a prayer as
Mercer uttered it.
“We can try, old-timer,” I said, a bit
Mercer hurried back to the other
side of the pool, and I adjusted my
head-set again, smiling down at the
girl. If only Mercer could make her
understand, and if only she knew what
we wanted to learn!
I was conscious of the little click that
told me the switch had been moved.
Mercer was ready to get his message
Fixing my eyes on the girl pleadingly,
I settled myself by the edge of the
pool to await the second and more momentous
part of our experiment.
The vision was vague, for Mercer
was picturing his thoughts with
difficulty. But I seemed to see again
the floor of the ocean, with the vague
light filtering down from above, and
soft, monstrous growths waving their
branches lazily in the flood.
From the left came a band of men
and women, looking around as though
in search of some particular spot. They
stopped, and one of the older men
pointed, the others gathering around
him as though in council.
Then the band set to work. Coral
growth were dragged to the spot. The
foundation for one of the semi-circular
houses was laid. The scene swirled
and cleared again. The house was completed.
Several other houses were in
process of building.
Slowly and deliberately, the scene
moved. The houses were left behind.
Before my consciousness now was only
a vague and shadowy expanse of ocean
floor, and in the sand dim imprints that
marked where the strange people had
trod, the vague footprints disappearing
in the gloom in the direction from
which the little weary band had come.
To me, at least, it was quite clear that
Mercer was asking whence they came.
Would it be as clear to the girl? The
switch clicked, and for a moment I was
sure Mercer had not been able to make
his question clear to her.
The scene was the interior of one
of the coral houses. There were
persons there, seated on stone or coral
chairs, padded with marine growths.
One of the occupants of the room was
a very old man; his face was wrinkled,
and his hair was silvery. With him
were a man and a woman, and a little
girl. Somehow I seemed to recognize
the child as the girl in the pool.
The three of them were watching the
old man. While his lips did not move,
I could see his throat muscles twitching
as the girl’s had done when she
made the murmuring sound I had
guessed was her form of speech.
The scene faded. For perhaps
thirty seconds I was aware of nothing
more than a dim gray mist that seemed
to swirl in stately circles. Then, gradually,
it cleared somewhat. I sensed the
fact that what I saw now was what the
old man was telling, and that the majestic,
swirling mist was the turning
back of time.
Here was no ocean bottom, but land,
rich tropical jungle. Strange exotic
trees and dense growths of rank undergrowth
choked the earth. The trees
were oddly like undersea growths,
which puzzled me for an instant. Then
I recalled that the girl could interpret
the old man’s words only in terms of
that which she had seen and understood.
This was the way she visualized
There was a gray haze of mist
everywhere. The leaves were glistening
with condensed moisture; swift
drops fell incessantly to the soaking
Into the scene roamed a pitiful band
of people. Men with massive frames,
sunken in with starvation, women tottering
with weakness. The men carried
great clubs, some tipped with
rudely shaped stone heads, and both
men and women clothed only in
short kittles of skin.
They searched ceaselessly for something,
and I guessed that something
was food. Now and then one or the
other of the little band tore up a root
and bit at it, and those that did so soon
doubled into a twitching knot of suffering
and dropped behind.
At last they came to the edge of the
sea. A few yards away the water was
lost in the dense steaming miasma that
hemmed them in on all sides. With
glad expressions on their faces, the
party ran down to the edge of the
water and gathered up great masses of
clams and crabs. At first they ate the
food raw, tearing the flesh from the
shells. Then they made what I understood
was a fire, although the girl was
able to visualize it only as a bright red
spot that flickered.
The scene faded, and there was only
the slowly swirling mist that I understood
indicated the passing of centuries.
Then the scene cleared again.
I saw that same shore line, but the
people had vanished. There was
only the thick, steamy mist, the tropic
jungle crowding down to the shore,
and the waves rolling in monotonously
from the waste of gray ocean beyond
the curtain of fog.
Suddenly, from out of the sea, appeared
a series of human heads, and
then a band of men and women that
waded ashore and seated themselves
upon the beach, gazing restlessly out
across the sea.
This was not the same band I had
seen at first. These were a slimmer
race, and whereas the first band had
been exceedingly swarthy, these were
They did not stay long on shore, for
they were restless and ill at ease. It
seemed to me they came there only
from force of habit, as though they
obeyed some inner urge they did not
understand. In a few seconds they rose
and ran into the water, plunged into it
as though they welcomed its embrace,
and disappeared. Then again the
vision was swallowed up by the swirling
mists of time.
When the scene cleared again,
it showed the bottom of the sea.
A group of perhaps a hundred pale
creatures moved along the dim floor of
the ocean. Ahead I could see the dim
outlines of one of their strange cities.
The band approached, seemed to talk
with those there, and moved on.
I saw them capture and kill fish for
food, saw them carve the thick, spongy
hearts from certain giant growths and
eat them. I saw a pair of killer sharks
swoop down on the band, and the
quick, deadly accuracy with which
both men and woman met the attack.
One man, older than the rest, was injured
before the sharks were vanquished,
and when their efforts to
staunch his wounds proved unavailing,
they left him there and moved on. And
as they left I saw a dim, crawling shape
move closer, throw out a long, whiplike
tentacle, and wrap the body in a
They came to and passed other communities
of beings like themselves, and
a city of their own, in much the way
that Mercer had visualized it.
Fading, the scene changed to the interior
of the coral house again. The
old man finished his story, and moved
off into a cubicle in the rear of the
place. Dimly, I could see there a low
couch, piled high with soft marine
growths. Then the scene shifted once
A man and a woman hurried up and
down the narrow streets of the strange
city the girl had pictured when she
showed us how she had met with the
shark, and struck her head, so that for
a long period she lost consciousness
and was washed ashore.
Others, after a time, joined them
in their search, which spread out
to the floor of the ocean, away from
the dwellings. One party came to the
gaunt skeleton of the ancient wreck,
and found the scattered, fresh-picked
bones of the shark the girl had killed.
The man and the woman came up, and
I looked closely into their faces. The
woman’s features were torn with grief;
the man’s lips were set tight with suffering.
Here, it was easy to guess, were
the mother and the father of the girl.
A milling mass of white forms shot
through the water in every direction,
searching. It seemed that they were
about to give up the search when suddenly,
from out of the watery gloom,
there shot a slim white figure––the girl!
Straight to the mother and father
she came, gripping the shoulder of
each with frantic joy. They returned
the caress, the crowd gathered around
them, listening to her story as they
moved slowly, happily, towards the
Instead of a picture, I was conscious
then of a sound, like a single pleading
word repeated softly, as though someone
said “Please! Please! Please!” over
and over again. The sound was not at
all like the English word. It was a
soft, musical beat, like the distant
stroke of a mellow gong, but it had all
the pleading quality of the word it
seemed to bring to mind.
I looked down into the pool. The
girl had mounted the ladder until her
face was just below the surface of the
water. Her eyes met mine and I knew
that I had not misunderstood.
I threw off the instrument on my
head, and dropped down beside her.
With both hands I grasped her shoulders,
and, smiling, I nodded my head
She understood, I know she did. I
read it in her face. When I climbed
the ladder again, she looked after me,
Although I had not spoken to her,
she had read and accepted the promise.
Mercer stared at me silently,
grimly, as I told him what I
wished. Whatever eloquence I may
have, I used on him, and I saw his cold,
scientific mind waver before the
warmth of my appeal.
“We have no right to keep her from
her people,” I concluded. “You saw her
mother and father, saw their suffering,
and the joy her return would bring.
You will, Mercer––you will return her
to the sea?”
For a long time, Mercer did not reply.
Then he lifted his dark eyes to
mine, and smiled, rather wearily.
“It is the only thing we can do,
Taylor,” he said quietly. “She is not
a scientific specimen; she is, in her
way, as human as you or I. She would
probably die, away from her own kind,
living under conditions foreign to her.
And you promised her, Taylor,
whether you spoke your promise or
not.” His smile deepened a bit. “We
cannot let her receive too bad an
opinion of her cousins who live above
the surface of the sea!”
And so, just as the dawn was
breaking, we took her to the
shore. I carried her, unresisting,
trustful, in my arms, while Mercer
bore a huge basin of water, in which
her head was submerged, so that she
might not suffer.
Still in our bathing suits we waded
out into the ocean, until the waves
splashed against our faces. Then I
lowered her into the sea. Crouching
there, so that the water was just above
the tawny glory of her hair, she gazed
up at us. Two slim white hands
reached towards us, and with one accord,
Mercer and I bent towards her.
She gripped both our shoulders with a
gentle pressure, smiling at us.
Then she did a strange thing. She
pointed, under the water, out towards
the depths and with a broad, sweeping
motion of her arm, indicated the
shore, as though to say that she intended
to return. With a last swift,
smiling glance up into my face, she
turned. There was a flash of white
through the water. She was gone....
Silently, through the silence and
beauty of the dawn, we made our way
back to the house.
As we passed through the laboratory,
Mercer glanced out at the
“Man came up from the sea,” he said
slowly, “and some men went back to it.
They were forced back to the teeming
source from whence they came, for
lack of food. You saw that, Taylor––saw
her forebears become amphibians,
like the now extinct Dipneusta and
Ganoideii, or the still existing Neoceratodus,
Polypterus and Amia. Then
their lungs became, in effect, gills, and
they lost their power of breathing atmospheric
air, and could use only air
dissolved in water.
“A whole people there beneath the
waves that land-man never dreamed of––except,
perhaps, the sailors of olden
days, with their tales of mermaids,
which we are accustomed to laugh at in
“But why were no bodies ever
washed ashore?” I asked. “I would
“You saw why,” interrupted Mercer
grimly. “The ocean teems with hungry
life. Death is the signal for a
feast. It was little more than a
miracle that her body came ashore, a
miracle due perhaps to the storm which
sent the hungry monsters to the
greater depths. And even had a body
come ashore it would have been buried
as that of some unknown, unfortunate
human. The differences between these
people and ourselves would not be
noticeable to a casual observer.
“No, Taylor, we have been party to
what was close to a miracle. And we
are the only witnesses to it, you and
Carson and myself. And”––he sighed
deeply––“it is over.”
I did not reply. I was thinking of
the girl’s odd gesture, at parting, and
I wondered if it were indeed a finished