Colour out of space (species)

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A colour out of space is a fictional extraterrestrial in the writings of the horror fiction author H. P. Lovecraft. It first appeared in Lovecraft's short story "The Colour Out of Space" (1927).

Description[edit]

In Lovecraft's story, the colours out of space are unknowable, non-humanoid extraterrestrial creatures who suck life out of all living things in the area. They arrived in a meteorite that fell in a rural area west of the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, landing next to a well, on farmland belonging to Nahum Gardner.

Meteorite properties[edit]

The meteorite possesses odd properties:

  • It wastes away when exposed to natural air.
  • It continuously produces significant amounts of heat.
  • It is unusually soft for something resembling rock.
  • No noticeable gases released when heated over charcoal.
  • No reaction to the borax bead test.
  • No apparent reaction to any producible temperature, including that of the oxy-hydrogen blowpipe.
  • Highly malleable.
  • Luminous. Especially noticeable in dark surroundings.
  • Spectroscopic analysis during heating resulted in shining bands unknown previously in the visible spectrum.
  • Mostly immune from reaction to all laboratory-standard reagents, ranging from water to aqua regia. Small and faint traces of Widmanstätten pattern appear on it in response to acid reagents. Same reagents also slightly cool it.
  • Generally accepted to be a metal of some sort.
  • Possesses the qualities expected of a magnetic material.
  • Affinity for electricity, to the point where it could divert lightning strikes to itself.
  • Mutually damaging to silicon compounds.

The colours inhabit small colored, fragile globules within such meteors, exhibiting the odd band of colors described above. A simple hammer tap is sufficient to break one open, resulting in no noticeable release of anything at all.

Environmental impact[edit]

They possess mutagenic properties. The crops on the farm near the impact site grew to great size and unnatural gloss, but this was useless as their taste was bitter, sour and unlikeable in the extreme. Animals in the area were also affected, their bodies, behavior and activity showing hints of alteration, such as leaping distances well above their normal capability, malformed body proportions and appearances, and footprints in the snow of unnatural configuration.

Snow around the house melted faster than anywhere else nearby, and skunk cabbages of prodigious size and unusual color sprouted out of the soil. The trees budded early and were observed to be moving even with no wind of any sort. Sprouting saxifrage bore the same unnatural hues as the cabbages. Within a few months all plant life near the site took on unnatural properties and odd hues to the point where the road running near it fell into disuse, owing to people fearful of seeing such a sight.

Insects were also affected in a similar manner. Their bodies and movement pattern noticeably altered from what was known through past experience, and behaving in a manner contradictory as such. It is probably safe to assume that they are affected to a similar degree as other animals.

Effects on mammals[edit]

Later on in the story, cows grazing on grass near the site produced milk of worthless quality. The cows were moved away, a solution that worked as the milk returned to normal thereafter. The grass near the site, the same general area the cows fed in, started taking gray colours and became strangely brittle. Horses in the stable one night were driven violently mad by it, and had to be shot for their own good when found a week later after they were released from the stables during their bout of madness. Woodchucks populating the area have also been affected; at one point two villagers find and shoot one specimen described as strangely deformed, with "an expression which no one ever saw in a woodchuck before".

Effects on plant life[edit]

The plant life in the area, even the mutated ones, started taking after the fate of the grass, turning brittle, growing smaller than normal, growing increasingly more hideous-looking, gray, and in the case of the crops, tasteless. The insects followed suit, dropping dead rapidly.

The vegetation thereafter began crumbling like dust into grayish powder, and it was soon discovered afterwards that the well water was of undrinkable quality. The rest of the farm animals also fell to the same fate. The poultry turned gray, rapidly died and their meat found useless as food, being dry and of disgusting taste. Hogs grew massively fat, developed isolated mutations on their bodies here and there, and then soon after turned gray and collapsed like the rest of them, their meat found inedible for the same reasons as the poultry. Cows were next, portions of their bodies, or even the entire thing, shrank incredibly. The result was the same. They turned gray and died.

Although all plant life in the area tended to die away, some, most notably trees, reacted in an unusual way - one member of the family claimed that the branches of some trees "swayed also when there was no wind," although it is never established if this swaying was the result of specific manipulation from the alien species, or was merely another example of the unusual growths.

Aftermath[edit]

The majority of the colours eventually returned to space in a dramatic fashion, with everything it had ever touched glowing with its unnatural colours, and the trees pointing their branches up towards the sky. It then rapidly shot itself up into space, leaving a hole in a cloud as the only sign of its departure. All things organic that it had associated itself with crumpled into dust. A small portion remained in the well where it had originally taken up residence. The farm which had been invaded was located near one of four towns later flooded to form a reservoir.

Other appearances[edit]

Danforth mentions the name "colour out of space" in At the Mountains of Madness. They are also mentioned in the adaptation, Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: At the Mountains of Madness as well as the movie The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu.

The colours are included in Lovecraft-inspired role playing games, such as in the Call of Cthulhu game, where a colour out of space is a monster that the player characters may encounter.

A colour out of space appears to Lovecraft in the story "To Mars and Providence".

A colour out of space is featured in the 1984 film of Stephen King's "Children of the Corn". It is substituted for the large monster called for in the movie script's final scene, and appears as a skein of coloured light stretching up into space and departing, while a portion of it sinks back to earth.

References[edit]

  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1984) [1927]. "The Colour Out of Space". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). The Dunwich Horror and Others (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-037-8.  Definitive version.