“Pardon me, young fella, is this the home of Edgar Poe?”
There was a solid man of medium stature looking at me. He had a short nose, a broad face, and skin that was deeply weathered and tanned. I knew Eddie still had some bad debts, so I didn‟t answer the man directly.
“What‟s your name, sir?” I asked him.
“Jeremiah Reynolds,” said he. “Come to see Mr. Poe from Washington. I sent him a letter advising him of my arrival today.”
I got to my feet and made him welcome. “Eddie‟s been talking about you. He went out, but I reckon he‟ll be back soon. My name‟s Mason Bustler, I... I know some Reynoldses in Hardware, Virginia.”
“I‟m from everywhere but Virginia,” said Reynolds, setting down his travel case and taking a seat. When he smiled, which was often, his leathery skin creased in many wrinkles. “So, Mason, what is your trade? And what does Mr. Poe say about me? Good things, I trust?”
“Mr. Poe‟s taken me on as a printer‟s devil at the Southern Literary Messenger,” I said. “And about you... he believes in the Symmes theory that there‟s big holes at the North and South poles leading to the inside of the earth. He was disappointed that you didn‟t tell Congress about the Hollow Earth in your speech last month.”
“Ten years ago I was a firebrand like our Eddie,” said Reynolds, chuckling a bit. “I traveled from city to city with Mr. Symmes giving speeches. He was an odd duck, our Symmes. He‟s dead now, you know; his grave in Ohio is marked with a great hollow sphere. Symmes and I made some converts, and Congress approved an expedition, but nothing came of it. In the end I had to lead my own expedition to the high southern latitudes. We made sixty-seven degrees; a thousand miles south of the Falklands. Surely you‟ve heard of the South Sea Fur Company and Exploring Expedition?”
“Was that trip the subject of your pamphlet?” I said politely.
“Indeed.” Reynolds beamed. “It is a pleasure to meet a young lad of such erudition! You have profited from your association with Mr. Poe! Yes, I led my own expedition for the southern Hole, but very soon the crew—ignorant money-hungry sealers—rebelled and forced us to turn back. Rather than return empty-handed, I had the crew put me off in Chile, where I spent some years tramping about. It took me nearly five years to get back to what we call civilization. Civilization indeed, that pack of purple-bottomed Jacksonians that is our poor young nation‟s Congress. The Symmes Hole is real, young Mason. I have specimens and tales to prove it. What think you of this?”
He drew a thumb-size white lump out of his pocket and passed it to me. It was an animal‟s tooth, marked all over with lines into which some native craftsman had rubbed ink. Along the length of the tooth was a thin map—the map of Chile, with all its intricacies of islands. Carved in less detail was the eastern, Patagonian, coast of South America, and even more sketchily presented were the jagged battlements of the southern wall of ice. The striking thing about this crude globe was that a hole had been drilled in the tooth tip, and the tooth‟s interior had been to some degree hollowed out. Etched on the inside was a mythical landscape of fruits and great beasts.
“The natives speak of a Hollow Earth?” I said, handing the tooth back to Reynolds.
“Indeed.” He nodded, his genial face grown solemn. “They call it the land of Tekelili, and their gods are said to live there. When a volcano erupts, it is the gods reaching out from Tekelili. I have more than the natives‟ reports, Mason, much more. I hesitate to speak openly of these things—I do not seek the ridicule of poor Symmes—but as you are a friend of Eddie‟s, you will understand. Did you know that in the southernmost climes of Chile the seals and migratory birds head out across the water towards the Pole when the season grows colder? And that there is a great white whale named Mocha Dick who turns his flukes, and sounds, and never resurfaces till three days have passed? He swims through a deep ocean hole to surface on the seas of Tekelili, Mason. Would that I could ride there in his belly.”
“Isn‟t Congress going to vote for an exploring expedition?”
Reynolds laughed wearily. “I believe now that they will finally vote the money for a proper United States exploring expedition, but the expedition will be, as Mr. Poe fears, of little ultimate use. A scheming pock-faced poltroon named Captain Wilkes is even now machinating to take command of the expedition; there is no hope of his pushing past seventy degrees southern latitude to the eighties and on towards the final polar ninety, where the great mystery must be found. The high southern latitudes hold wonders beyond imagining. There is a whole new world there for the men with the courage to vault the walls of ice!”
Rudy Rucker, The Hollow Earth