^Vulthoom^ [Beach Combers of Mars] (Synopsis)

Clark Ashton Smith

Two earthmen, stranded on Mars, and without funds, are approached by a great Martian, who offers them lucrative employment of an un-specified nature. Accepting the offer, they find themselves in the hands of the followers of ^Vulthoom^ [Yaruum], the evil deity of the Martians, who is worshipped in underground temples. Vulthoom is an actual being, almost immortal, who is said to have come to Mars thousands of years before from a world of the outer void. He is possessed of mysterious, though not necessarily supernatural, powers. His worship is forbidden by law, [and he is inimical to all earthmen] but he has many adherents, and desires to establish his power on earth as well as on Mars. He makes use of a terrible and degrading drug, administered as a perfume to enslave his devotees. The drug, ^which emanates from a fossilized flower,^ [in a black mineral prepared in the shape of an oblate sphere, the symbol of Vulthoom,] is worshipped on his altars, and gives off its carnalizing, brutalizing odor beneath the application of heat.

The two earthmen are compelled to take part in the ritual of the drug. One falls a temporary victim to its influence; the other, through some rare constitutional quirk, is comparatively immune. At the height of the drug-orgy, Vulthoom appears ^behind a geometric screen of {... }^ [in person] and approaches the terrestrials with a proposition. He will send them back to earth to proselytize his cause, if they will go voluntarily. [Otherwise, he will implant certain terrible organisms in their brains — tiny living things that control the victim without killing him.] [Otherwise, he will send them down into the underworld caverns of Mars, to be the victims of certain terrible organisms that implant themselves in the brain without killing.]

They refuse, and are turned loose in his caverns, ostensibly to wander as they will, but actually prisoners, besieged by terrible impressions and subtle influences — even pseudo-memories of a subjection to Vulthoom in some other frame of time and space — all of which is designed to break down their resistance. They see the frightful weaponties of Vulthoom; and a bodiless voice tells them the use of these weapons, to impress them further with the powers of the strange lord. They are separated, and each is made to believe that the other has yielded. Chanler, the more resistant, mad with rage at this belief, shatters a vial which is one of the weapons of Vulthoom —a vial that looses a black fire which eats its way upward through matter, and lets in the waters of the Yahan Canal on the cavern-world of the monster. Trying to escape before this catastrophe, Chanler finds his companion in the universal confusion; and both of them see Vulthoom for the first and last time, as the waters sweep him {... } cataract from his hidden sanctuary.

{detail:} Vulthoom and his people have awakened after a hibernation of a thousand akkals, or ten thousand years.

^xxx^ xxx was added by Smith.
[xxx] xxx was deleted by Smith.

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