The White Road
by Abraham Merritt
(EDITOR'S NOTE: When A. Merritt passed away in 1943, he left several
unfinished projects on his desk. Two of these literary fragments proved
to be the opening chapters of novels. As a service to the great legion
of Merritt readers, the editor of this volume is pleased to include
these short fragmentary works here. It is believed that “The White
Road” was to have been a novel based on the theme of “Thru the Dragon
Glass,” and “When Old Gods Wake,” which, immediately follows this in
this book, was to be a sequel to his novel “The Face in the Abyss.”
Tantalisingly incomplete, we think they show even in their few pages
the same delicate Merritt touch that characterizes his best work. ~D.
DAVID CORFAX laid down the last torn sheet of the stained old
parchment with a wonder that had grown steadily while he read. What he
had read was incredible, but the true incredibility lay in that it had
been written. Therein was the. heart of his wonder and the indefinable
terror of it. For what the writing dealt with was —the White Road!
All his life he had known the White Road. You saw it first as a
slit, a hair-line of white light, just the width of your eyes and
somewhere, it seemed behind them —somewhere between your brain and
your eyes, in your own head. In childhood, it had been after you had
gone to bed; sometimes as soon as your lids closed, sometimes when you
were dropping off to sleep. Later it might come in broad daylight,
while you sat thinking or reading. But at those times you never got far
on the White Road.
The laws of this world not those of yours.
All his life he had known the White Road; in all his life he had
spoken of it only to three persons. Two of these were dead; the third
had been a child whom he had not seen for years and who should long ago
have forgotten. Yet it had been she who had sent him the parchment. And
out of it had come a voice silent four hundred years, and speaking of
the White Road as one who had been a pilgrim upon it.
How young he had been when first he saw the White Road, David Corfax
could not tell. But it was as real to him as was this old house in
which he sat, the sun of a September afternoon streaming through the
window upon this yellowed manuscript which told him that the White Road
was no dream —or if a dream then not his alone.
And there had been that enigmatic postscript of Deborah's: “I too
have seen the White Road!”
Was it real after all? Whether real or not, it had its mechanics,
unchanging, unchangeable. First there was the humming, not heard but
felt, a vibration along every nerve, in every cell. Then the slit, the
hair-line of white light.
Then the slit would open —half an inch, an inch. And then the White
Road would begin to unroll. You could see straight ahead of you, but
that was all. It was as though you stood a little distance back of the
In a sort of black box that moved smoothly along the road. And yet
you seemed to be out on the road, too. Sometimes the sides would sweep
past swiftly, as though you were galloping on some effortlessly moving
horse; sometimes slowly as though you were walking. But once the road
began to unroll you never stopped. And you never looked back, that is
until you learned that looking back meant journey's end. When you
stopped, the slit went out —like a light and you were back in your
room. You looked back into your room. When you turned, the road was
Nor could you control the motion with which you went, nor could you,
try as you would, by any effort of will cause the window that opened on
the road to appear. It was there, without warning —or it was not. Nor
could he ever remember clearly what he had seen when on the White Road.
The road itself was always plain —wide and smoothly paved, sometimes
straight sometimes curving, going on and on and on. There were people,
but of what kind he never remem bered. There were forests, colorful and
flowered . . . a towering range of mountains, strangely serrated,
toothed, pinnacled . . . enormously high, purple and amethyst and
looking as though they had been cut from cardboard . . . no distance to
them and with garlands of little suns circling their peaks . . . there
was a city of domes and minarets . . . beside a purple sea. And there
were things that terrified . . . that had been in childhood when he had
learned to look back to escape them. Later, he faced them . . . but
could not remember, waking, what he had faced. Memory of music . . .
The road appeared without warning? No, there was always the humming
that preceded it. It was a strange sound, not heard but felt. It seemed
to vibrate through him, and as it did so his body became weightless. He
could not feel the bed he lay in if he clenched his hands he could not
feel the fingers . . . the humming seemed to deaden all nerves of
touch. It grew louder, swifter rather rising in vibrancy rather than in
pitch as the slit widened. He remembered, ah, there was one thing he
remembered clearly enough. One night the humming had quickened and the
slit had opened wider than ever before —or since. And over it, like a
climber, a woman's hand, long-fingered, yellow as old ivory had clawed
with talons like a condor had crept. And two unwinking, amber eyes had
glared into his. He remembered how he had screamed, and his mother had
come to him, and he could see today the fright, the numb horror, that
had appeared upon her face when he had wept and sobbed about the White
Road . . . he had been no more than six then. He remembered.
When you looked back, and the road came again, you had to begin at
the beginning. But if you could hold your nerve, and not look back,
after a while you went to sleep. Then, if the dream came again the next
night, as sometimes it did, you would go on from where you had stopped
the night before. That was how he had gotten as far as sight of the
strange city beside the purple sea. Three nights he had been on the
road. Yes, there was some system, some law governing it.
There was a dark: road too. That was an evil road. Even in childhood
he knew that it came close to the White Road and was to be avoided. But
later, he felt a pull as he put it, to this road. And often yielded. He
could see nothing on this, could only hear voices. And he must go so
gently, so quietly. There was a hill, and behind it the murmur of
voices, the creaking of stays, the sounds of a port. He knew it was a
hill, because it loomed blackly against a faintly red sky, as though
there were fires burning. He knew that he must never look over that
hill, never go over it or he would be utterly lost. Could never return.
Then his mother had died. He had gone through boarding school,
through college, become a wanderer. Two years on the desert.