The Colour Out of Space by Mech Han (www.deviantart.com)
Previously we reviewed the environmental impacts of the Colour out of space. This discussion reviews the human health-related impacts of the Colour.
As previously mentioned, within a few months of the meteor hitting the Earth on the Gardner Farm, Nahum was complaining about feeling very tired and rationalizing it as his age catching up with him. However, throughout the fall and into winter the Gardner family in general appeared to be tired and unresponsive to the other members of the community. Were these the initial symptoms of something similar to radiation poisoning?
By spring the Gardner family thought they were suffering from hallucinations but it appears this was not case. The strange colors and visions, the swaying of the trees in the absence of wind were not manifestations of their minds. These appeared to be real events. However by June, approximately one year after the meteor’s fall, Ms. Gardner begins to go mad. It was initially manifested as her screaming about things in the air she could not describe. This was not limited to strange sites but also strange sounds. “Things moved and changed and flutter, and ears tingled to impulses which were not wholly sounds.” She also appeared to be wasting away, almost as if she was fasting.
The impact of the “Colour disease” from a comic by Erik Kriek
Nahum would not send her to the County asylum; instead she was allowed to wander around the farm. She did not appear to be a threat to her or her family. However, when the boys grew afraid of her and one of them – Thaddeus – nearly fainted at the strange and contorted face his mother made, Nahum locked her in the attic. As the “Colour disease” progressed in Nahum’s wife, she began to have spells and fits of screaming. A visit from Ammi, a neighboring farmer and friend of the Gardner’s, revealed that the well water had a salty and strange taste to it; again more evidence to support that the Colour moved through the Gardner farm and its associated ecosystem through the groundwater. In spite of Ammi’s warnings not to drink the well water, the Gardner family continued to drink it “listlessly and mechanically as they ate their meagre and ill-cooked meals and did their thankless and monotonous chores through the aimless days.” In addition, it was reported that they, “walked half in another world between lines of nameless guards to a certain and familiar doom.” Again, more symptoms of something like radiation poisoning?
By September Thaddeus’s mind snapped. He went to the well for water and came running back whispering about “the moving colours down there.” Eventually Thaddeus had to be locked in another attic room, across the hall from his mother’s. Thaddeus and his mother screamed at each other in what appeared to be some strange alien language. This had a terrible impact on the family, in particular the youngest son Merwin.
Thaddeus finally succumbed to the disease and poor Nahum had to bury him in the back. Merwin now started to scream with his mother faintly answering him. A few days later Merwin disappeared; he when to the well at night to fetch some water and never came back. There was a scream from the well but not trace of Merwin or his lantern. Later the lantern was found and both it and the well’s pail were crushed and appeared to be melted, yet there was no evidence of intense heat. Was this the result of some type of high energy radiation?
What happened to the Gardner boys when they approached the well? From a comic by Erik Kriek
In November Ammi once again visited the Gardner farm, finding Nahum very weak and lying on a couch in the kitchen. He was still conscious and able to talk to his remaining son Zenas, who was nowhere to be found. Nahum appeared delusional, asking if the fire in the fireplace made the room comfortable for Ammi when there was no fire burning. When asked about his son, Nahum said he lives in the well. Ammi then went to attic to check on Nahum’s wife. She appeared be a withered, husk of a thing that slowly approached Ammi had she crumbled away.
The Colour Out of Space by Pixx 73 (www.deviantart.com)
Something grazed Ammi while he was upstairs and when he returned to Nahum, he too was slowly eroding away into dry, grey fragments. Before Nahum died he did tell Ammi that indeed it was the Colour that did this; it burns cold and wet. He described it as a smoke that sucked the life out of everything. He also said it was in the well water; beats down your mind and burns you up from the inside. Ammi also found out that Zenas went to the well like Merwin and never came back. Nahum’s last words were, “…sucks the life out…” and then his body completely caved in.
The final stages of the Colour disease from the 2010 German film “The Color Out of Space”
HPL’s “The Colour Out of Space” is frequently cited as modern, cautionary tale of the potential dangers of radioactivity. Indeed, in a previous article we provided some information on how the health problems associated with the use of radium in the manufacturing industry and the associated reporting of these problems may have been read by HPL. However, when comparing the early and later symptoms of radiation sickness to how the Colour affected the Gardner family, there is not a substantial amount of overlap between the two.
According to the Mayo Clinic the early symptoms of radiation sickness include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, headache and fever. When the symptoms are first manifested is based on the degree or amount of exposure, however all are between 10 minutes and within 24 hours. Later symptoms of radiation sickness include dizziness and disorientation, weakness and fatigue, as well as hair loss, bloody vomit and stools, infections, poor wound healing and low blood pressure. These later symptoms can occur immediately or take as long as four weeks to be exhibited depending on the degree of exposure (www.mayoclinic.org).
Nose bleeds and the inability to heal wounds are some of the later symptoms of radiation sickness (iStock photo from http://www.cbsnews.com)
A girl suffering hair loss from the affects of the Hiroshima bomb in 1945 (www.wikipedia.com)
With the exception of some of the later symptoms of radiation sickness such as dizziness and disorientation, weakness and fatigue, there is actually very little overlap in the symptoms of radiation sickness and the “Colour disease.” In radiation sickness there is loss of hair, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and internal / external bleeding. In the Colour disease the body is very slowly wasted away, there is no indication that the individual is more prone to infections and the body eventually turns to a grey, brittle ash. In addition, the symptoms of radiation sickness appear over a relatively short period of time, from upon immediate exposure to within a month. In contrast, it took over a year for the Colour disease to run its course.
As others have noted, such as the Grim Blogger (www.grimreivews.blogspot.com), the symptoms of large scale radiation poisoning was more than likely not a major influence on HPL’s tale; mainly because the story was written before the nuclear age was in full swing. However, I think we living in the post-nuclear era see the strange glowing colors and the wasting away of all living biomass as an interpretation of the impacts of radiation poisoning. Most notable is the blasted heath, which reminds many of the devastating impacts of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The blasted health was described as “five acres of grey desolation that sprawled open to the sky like a great spot eaten by acid in the woods and fields…” It was also covered with a grey ash that was never blown away by the wind. No wonder we think of the photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki taken in 1945 after the atomic bombs were dropped.
Nagasaki Journey: The Photographs of Yosuke Yamahata (www.english.illinois.edu)
Next time we will be wrapping up our discussion on “The Colour Out of Space.” Also, I want to thank everyone who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign. We made our goal with 28 days to go (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-1)! Steve and I are thinking of an added bonus to offer if we hit another established threshold. However, we are working on this and an announcement will be made sometime in the near future. Again, thank you one and all for contributing! Fred
The blasted heath in “The Colour Out of Space” by Pixx 73 (www.deviantart.com)