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XI


`I have already told you of the sickness and confusion that
comes with time travelling. And this time I was not seated
properly in the saddle, but sideways and in an unstable fashion.
For an indefinite time I clung to the machine as it swayed and
vibrated, quite unheeding how I went, and when I brought myself
to look at the dials again I was amazed to find where I had
arrived. One dial records days, and another thousands of days,
another millions of days, and another thousands of millions.
Now, instead of reversing the levers, I had pulled them over so
as to go forward with them, and when I came to look at these
indicators I found that the thousands hand was sweeping round as
fast as the seconds hand of a watch--into futurity.

`As I drove on, a peculiar change crept over the appearance of
things. The palpitating greyness grew darker; then--though I was
still travelling with prodigious velocity--the blinking
succession of day and night, which was usually indicative of a
slower pace, returned, and grew more and more marked. This
puzzled me very much at first. The alternations of night and day
grew slower and slower, and so did the passage of the sun across
the sky, until they seemed to stretch through centuries. At last
a steady twilight brooded over the earth, a twilight only broken
now and then when a comet glared across the darkling sky. The
band of light that had indicated the sun had long since
disappeared; for the sun had ceased to set--it simply rose and
fell in the west, and grew ever broader and more red. All trace
of the moon had vanished. The circling of the stars, growing
slower and slower, had given place to creeping points of light.
At last, some time before I stopped, the sun, red and very large,
halted motionless upon the horizon, a vast dome glowing with a
dull heat, and now and then suffering a momentary extinction. At
one time it had for a little while glowed more brilliantly again,
but it speedily reverted to its sullen red heat. I perceived by
this slowing down of its rising and setting that the work of the
tidal drag was done. The earth had come to rest with one face to
the sun, even as in our own time the moon faces the earth. Very
cautiously, for I remembered my former headlong fall, I began to
reverse my motion. Slower and slower went the circling hands
until the thousands one seemed motionless and the daily one was
no longer a mere mist upon its scale. Still slower, until the
dim outlines of a desolate beach grew visible.

`I stopped very gently and sat upon the Time Machine, looking
round. The sky was no longer blue. North-eastward it was inky
black, and out of the blackness shone brightly and steadily the
pale white stars. Overhead it was a deep Indian red and
starless, and south-eastward it grew brighter to a glowing
scarlet where, cut by the horizon, lay the huge hull of the sun,
red and motionless. The rocks about me were of a harsh reddish
colour, and all the trace of life that I could see at first was
the intensely green vegetation that covered every projecting
point on their south-eastern face. It was the same rich green
that one sees on forest moss or on the lichen in caves: plants
which like these grow in a perpetual twilight.

`The machine was standing on a sloping beach. The sea
stretched away to the south-west, to rise into a sharp bright
horizon against the wan sky. There were no breakers and no
waves, for not a breath of wind was stirring. Only a slight oily
swell rose and fell like a gentle breathing, and showed that the
eternal sea was still moving and living. And along the margin
where the water sometimes broke was a thick incrustation of
salt--pink under the lurid sky. There was a sense of oppression
in my head, and I noticed that I was breathing very fast. The
sensation reminded me of my only experience of mountaineering,
and from that I judged the air to be more rarefied than it is
now.

`Far away up the desolate slope I heard a harsh scream, and
saw a thing like a huge white butterfly go slanting and
flittering up into the sky and, circling, disappear over some low
hillocks beyond. The sound of its voice was so dismal that I
shivered and seated myself more firmly upon the machine. Looking
round me again, I saw that, quite near, what I had taken to be a
reddish mass of rock was moving slowly towards me. Then I saw
the thing was really a monstrous crab-like creature. Can you
imagine a crab as large as yonder table, with its many legs
moving slowly and uncertainly, its big claws swaying, its long
antennae, like carters' whips, waving and feeling, and its
stalked eyes gleaming at you on either side of its metallic
front? Its back was corrugated and ornamented with ungainly
bosses, and a greenish incrustation blotched it here and there.
I could see the many palps of its complicated mouth flickering
and feeling as it moved.

`As I stared at this sinister apparition crawling towards me,
I felt a tickling on my cheek as though a fly had lighted there.
I tried to brush it away with my hand, but in a moment it
returned, and almost immediately came another by my ear. I
struck at this, and caught something threadlike. It was drawn
swiftly out of my hand. With a frightful qualm, I turned, and I
saw that I had grasped the antenna of another monster crab that
stood just behind me. Its evil eyes were wriggling on their
stalks, its mouth was all alive with appetite, and its vast
ungainly claws, smeared with an algal slime, were descending upon
me. In a moment my hand was on the lever, and I had placed a
month between myself and these monsters. But I was still on the
same beach, and I saw them distinctly now as soon as I stopped.
Dozens of them seemed to be crawling here and there, in the
sombre light, among the foliated sheets of intense green.

`I cannot convey the sense of abominable desolation that hung
over the world. The red eastern sky, the northward blackness,
the salt Dead Sea, the stony beach crawling with these foul,
slow-stirring monsters, the uniform poisonous-looking green of
the lichenous plants, the thin air that hurts one's lungs: all
contributed to an appalling effect. I moved on a hundred years,
and there was the same red sun--a little larger, a little
duller--the same dying sea, the same chill air, and the same
crowd of earthy crustacea creeping in and out among the green
weed and the red rocks. And in the westward sky, I saw a curved
pale line like a vast new moon.

`So I travelled, stopping ever and again, in great strides of
a thousand years or more, drawn on by the mystery of the earth's
fate, watching with a strange fascination the sun grow larger and
duller in the westward sky, and the life of the old earth ebb
away. At last, more than thirty million years hence, the huge
red-hot dome of the sun had come to obscure nearly a tenth part
of the darkling heavens. Then I stopped once more, for the
crawling multitude of crabs had disappeared, and the red beach,
save for its livid green liverworts and lichens, seemed lifeless.
And now it was flecked with white. A bitter cold assailed me.
Rare white flakes ever and again came eddying down. To the
north-eastward, the glare of snow lay under the starlight of the
sable sky and I could see an undulating crest of hillocks pinkish
white. There were fringes of ice along the sea margin, with
drifting masses further out; but the main expanse of that salt
ocean, all bloody under the eternal sunset, was still unfrozen.

`I looked about me to see if any traces of animal life
remained. A certain indefinable apprehension still kept me in
the saddle of the machine. But I saw nothing moving, in earth or
sky or sea. The green slime on the rocks alone testified that
life was not extinct. A shallow sandbank had appeared in the sea
and the water had receded from the beach. I fancied I saw some
black object flopping about upon this bank, but it became
motionless as I looked at it, and I judged that my eye had been
deceived, and that the black object was merely a rock. The stars
in the sky were intensely bright and seemed to me to twinkle very
little.

`Suddenly I noticed that the circular westward outline of the
sun had changed; that a concavity, a bay, had appeared in the
curve. I saw this grow larger. For a minute perhaps I stared
aghast at this blackness that was creeping over the day, and then
I realized that an eclipse was beginning. Either the moon or the
planet Mercury was passing across the sun's disk. Naturally, at
first I took it to be the moon, but there is much to incline me
to believe that what I really saw was the transit of an inner
planet passing very near to the earth.

`The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in
freshening gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in
the air increased in number. From the edge of the sea came a
ripple and whisper. Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was
silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it.
All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of
birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of
our lives--all that was over. As the darkness thickened, the
eddying flakes grew more abundant, dancing before my eyes; and
the cold of the air more intense. At last, one by one, swiftly,
one after the other, the white peaks of the distant hills
vanished into blackness. The breeze rose to a moaning wind. I
saw the black central shadow of the eclipse sweeping towards me.
In another moment the pale stars alone were visible. All else
was rayless obscurity. The sky was absolutely black.

`A horror of this great darkness came on me. The cold, that
smote to my marrow, and the pain I felt in breathing, overcame
me. I shivered, and a deadly nausea seized me. Then like a
red-hot bow in the sky appeared the edge of the sun. I got off
the machine to recover myself. I felt giddy and incapable of
facing the return journey. As I stood sick and confused I saw
again the moving thing upon the shoal--there was no mistake now
that it was a moving thing--against the red water of the sea. It
was a round thing, the size of a football perhaps, or, it may be,
bigger, and tentacles trailed down from it; it seemed black
against the weltering blood-red water, and it was hopping
fitfully about. Then I felt I was fainting. But a terrible
dread of lying helpless in that remote and awful twilight
sustained me while I clambered upon the saddle.





The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
Category:
Science Fiction

English
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