The Hashish Man, by Lord Dunsany
I was at a dinner in London the other day. The ladies had gone upstairs,
and no one sat on my right; on my left there was a man I did not know, but
he knew my name somehow apparently, for he turned to me after a while, and
said, "I read a story of yours about Bethmoora in a review."
Of course I remembered the tale. It was about a beautiful Oriental city
that was suddenly deserted in a day—nobody quite knew why. I said, "Oh,
yes," and slowly searched in my mind for some more fitting acknowledgment
of the compliment that his memory had paid me.
I was greatly astonished when he said, "You were wrong about the gnousar
sickness; it was not that at all."
I said, "Why! Have you been there?"
And he said, "Yes; I do it with hashish. I know Bethmoora well." And he
took out of his pocket a small box full of some black stuff that looked
like tar, but had a stranger smell. He warned me not to touch it with my
finger, as the stain remained for days. "I got it from a gipsy," he said.
"He had a lot of it, as it had killed his father." But I interrupted him,
for I wanted to know for certain what it was that had made desolate that
beautiful city, Bethmoora, and why they fled from it swiftly in a day.
"Was it because of the Desert's curse?" I asked. And he said, "Partly it
was the fury of the Desert and partly the advice of the Emperor Thuba
Mleen, for that fearful beast is in some way connected with the Desert on
his mother's side." And he told me this strange story: "You remember the
sailor with the black scar, who was there on the day that you described
when the messengers came on mules to the gate of Bethmoora, and all the
people fled. I met this man in a tavern, drinking rum, and he told me all
about the flight from Bethmoora, but knew no more than you did what the
message was, or who had sent it. However, he said he would see Bethmoora
once more whenever he touched again at an eastern port, even if he had to
face the Devil. He often said that he would face the Devil to find out the
mystery of that message that emptied Bethmoora in a day. And in the end he
had to face Thuba Mleen, whose weak ferocity he had not imagined. For one
day the sailor told me he had found a ship, and I met him no more after
that in the tavern drinking rum. It was about that time that I got the
hashish from the gipsy, who had a quantity that he did not want. It takes
one literally out of oneself. It is like wings. You swoop over distant
countries and into other worlds. Once I found out the secret of the
universe. I have forgotten what it was, but I know that the Creator does
not take Creation seriously, for I remember that He sat in Space with all
His work in front of Him and laughed. I have seen incredible things in
fearful worlds. As it is your imagination that takes you there, so it is
only by your imagination that you can get back. Once out in aether I met a
battered, prowling spirit, that had belonged to a man whom drugs had
killed a hundred years ago; and he led me to regions that I had never
imagined; and we parted in anger beyond the Pleiades, and I could not
imagine my way back. And I met a huge grey shape that was the Spirit of
some great people, perhaps of a whole star, and I besought It to show me
my way home, and It halted beside me like a sudden wind and pointed, and,
speaking quite softly, asked me if I discerned a certain tiny light, and I
saw a far star faintly, and then It said to me, 'That is the Solar
System,' and strode tremendously on. And somehow I imagined my way back,
and only just in time, for my body was already stiffening in a chair in my
room; and the fire had gone out and everything was cold, and I had to move
each finger one by one, and there were pins and needles in them, and
dreadful pains in the nails, which began to thaw; and at last I could move
one arm, and reached a bell, and for a long time no one came, because
every one was in bed. But at last a man appeared, and they got a doctor;
and HE said that it was hashish poisoning, but it would have been all
right if I hadn't met that battered, prowling spirit.
"I could tell you astounding things that I have seen, but you want to know
who sent that message to Bethmoora. Well, it was Thuba Mleen. And this is
how I know. I often went to the city after that day you wrote of (I used
to take hashish of an evening in my flat), and I always found it
uninhabited. Sand had poured into it from the desert, and the streets were
yellow and smooth, and through open, swinging doors the sand had drifted.
"One evening I had put the guard in front of the fire, and settled into a
chair and eaten my hashish, and the first thing that I saw when I came to
Bethmoora was the sailor with the black scar, strolling down the street,
and making footprints in the yellow sand. And now I knew that I should see
what secret power it was that kept Bethmoora uninhabited.
"I saw that there was anger in the Desert, for there were storm clouds
heaving along the skyline, and I heard a muttering amongst the sand.
"The sailor strolled on down the street, looking into the empty houses as
he went; sometimes he shouted and sometimes he sang, and sometimes he
wrote his name on a marble wall. Then he sat down on a step and ate his
dinner. After a while he grew tired of the city, and came back up the
street. As he reached the gate of green copper three men on camels
"I could do nothing. I was only a consciousness, invisible, wandering: my
body was in Europe. The sailor fought well with his fists, but he was
over-powered and bound with ropes, and led away through the Desert.
"I followed for as long as I could stay, and found that they were going by
the way of the Desert round the Hills of Hap towards Utnar Véhi, and then
I knew that the camel men belonged to Thuba Mleen.
"I work in an insurance office all day, and I hope you won't forget me if
ever you want to insure—life, fire, or motor—but that's no part of my
story. I was desperately anxious to get back to my flat, though it is not
good to take hashish two days running; but I wanted to see what they would
do to the poor fellow, for I had heard bad rumours about Thuba Mleen. When
at last I got away I had a letter to write; then I rang for my servant,
and told him that I must not be disturbed, though I left my door unlocked
in case of accidents. After that I made up a good fire, and sat down and
partook of the pot of dreams. I was going to the palace of Thuba Mleen.
"I was kept back longer than usual by noises in the street, but suddenly I
was up above the town; the European countries rushed by beneath me, and
there appeared the thin white palace spires of horrible Thuba Mleen. I
found him presently at the end of a little narrow room. A curtain of red
leather hung behind him, on which all the names of God, written in
Yannish, were worked with a golden thread. Three windows were small and
high. The Emperor seemed no more than about twenty, and looked small and
weak. No smiles came on his nasty yellow face, though he tittered
continually. As I looked from his low forehead to his quivering under lip,
I became aware that there was some horror about him, though I was not able
to perceive what it was. And then I saw it—the man never blinked; and
though later on I watched those eyes for a blink, it never happened once.
"And then I followed the Emperor's rapt glance, and I saw the sailor lying
on the floor, alive but hideously rent, and the royal torturers were at
work all round him. They had torn long strips from him, but had not
detached them, and they were torturing the ends of them far away from the
sailor." The man that I met at dinner told me many things which I must
omit. "The sailor was groaning softly, and every time he groaned Thuba
Mleen tittered. I had no sense of smell, but I could hear and see, and I
do not know which was the most revolting—the terrible condition of the
sailor or the happy unblinking face of horrible Thuba Mleen.
"I wanted to go away, but the time was not yet come, and I had to stay
where I was.
"Suddenly the Emperor's face began to twitch violently and his under lip
quivered faster, and he whimpered with anger, and cried with a shrill
voice, in Yannish, to the captain of his torturers that there was a spirit
in the room. I feared not, for living men cannot lay hands on a spirit,
but all the torturers were appalled at his anger, and stopped their work,
for their hands trembled in fear. Then two men of the spear-guard slipped
from the room, and each of them brought back presently a golden bowl, with
knobs on it, full of hashish; and the bowls were large enough for heads to
have floated in had they been filled with blood. And the two men fell to
rapidly, each eating with two great spoons—there was enough in each
spoonful to have given dreams to a hundred men. And there came upon them
soon the hashish state, and their spirits hovered, preparing to go free,
while I feared horribly, but ever and anon they fell back again to their
bodies, recalled by some noise in the room. Still the men ate, but lazily
now, and without ferocity. At last the great spoons dropped out of their
hands, and their spirits rose and left them. I could not flee. And the
spirits were more horrible than the men, because they were young men, and
not yet wholly moulded to fit their fearful souls. Still the sailor
groaned softly, evoking little titters from the Emperor Thuba Mleen. Then
the two spirits rushed at me, and swept me thence as gusts of wind sweep
butterflies, and away we went from that small, pale, heinous man. There
was no escaping from these spirits' fierce insistence. The energy in my
minute lump of the drug was overwhelmed by the huge spoonsful that these
men had eaten with both hands. I was whirled over Arvle Woondery, and
brought to the lands of Snith, and swept on still until I came to Kragua,
and beyond this to those bleak lands that are nearly unknown to fancy. And
we came at last to those ivory hills that are named the Mountains of
Madness, and I tried to struggle against the spirits of that frightful
Emperor's men, for I heard on the other side of the ivory hills the
pittering of those beasts that prey on the mad, as they prowled up and
down. It was no fault of mine that my little lump of hashish could not
fight with their horrible spoonsful…."
Some one was tugging at the hall-door bell. Presently a servant came and
told our host that a policeman in the hall wished to speak to him at once.
He apologised to us, and went outside, and we heard a man in heavy boots,
who spoke in a low voice to him. My friend got up and walked over to the
window, and opened it, and looked outside. "I should think it will be a
fine night," he said. Then he jumped out. When we put our astonished heads
out of the window to look for him, he was already out of sight.