C. L. MOORE “Shambleau.” Novelette. Northwest Smith #1. First published in Weird tales, November 1833, First reprinted in Avon Fantasy Reader #7, edited by Donald A. Wollheim (Avon, softcover, 1948). First collected in Shambleau and Others (Gnome Press, hardcover, 1953).

   It begins as a well-constructed space opera should, taking some place in the future, but somehow ineffably combined with the legends of the past:

   MAN HAS CONQUERED Space before. You may be sure of that. Somewhere beyond the Egyptians, in that dimness out of which come echoes of half -mythical names — Atlantis, Mu — somewhere back of history’s first beginnings there must have been an age when mankind, like us today, built cities of steel to house its star-roving ships and knew the names of the planets in their own native tongues — heard Venus’ people call their wet world “Sha-ardol” in that soft, sweet, slurring speech and mimicked Mars’ guttural “Lakkdiz” from the harsh tongues of Mars’ dryland dwellers. You may be sure of it. Man has conquered Space before, and out of that conquest faint, faint echoes run still through a world that has forgotten the very fact of a civilization which must have been as mighty as our own.

   The story than continues with Northwest Smith rescuing a strange female but still alien creature from a mob intent on destroying her. Once they are both safe, Smith sees her in the passage that hints at even more eroticism to come. This would have been heady stuff back in 1933.

   She had risen soundlessly. He turned to face her, sheathing his gun and stared at first with curiosity and then in the entirely frank openness with which men regard that which is not wholly human. For she was not. He knew it at a glance, though the brown, sweet body was shaped like a woman’s and she wore the garment of scarlet — he saw it was leather — with an ease that few unhuman beings achieve toward clothing. He knew it from the moment he looked into her eyes, and a shiver of unrest went over him as he met them. They were frankly green as young grass, with slit-like, feline pupils that pulsed unceasingly, and there was a look of dark, animal wisdom in their depths — that look of the beast which sees more than man.

   The attraction between Smith and the Shambleau (for that is who she is) continues, until two nights later, as they share living (and sleeping) space, straight from pages of H. P. Lovecraft:

   She unfastened the last fold and whipped the turban off. From what he saw then Smith would have turned his eyes away— and he had looked on dreadful things before, without flinching — but he could not stir. He could only lie there on his elbow staring at the mass of scarlet, squirming — worms, hairs, what? — that writhed over her head in a dreadful mockery of ringlets. And it was lengthening, falling, somehow growing before his eyes, down over her shoulders in a spilling cascade, a mass that even at the beginning could never have been hidden under the skull-tight turban she had worn.

   He was beyond wondering, but he realized that. And still it squirmed and lengthened and fell, and she shook it out in a horrible travesty of a woman shaking out her unbound hair — until the unspeakable tangle of it — twisting, writhing, obscenely scarlet — hung to her waist and beyond, and still lengthened, an endless mass of crawling horror that until now, somehow, impossibly, had been hidden under the tight-bound turban. It was like a nest of blind, restless red worms … it was — it was like naked entrails endowed with an unnatural aliveness, terrible beyond words.

   Smith lay in the shadows, frozen without and within in a sick numbness that came of utter shock and revulsion.

   What comes next I leave to your imagination. But read it yourself, you should. You’ll never forget it. It is difficult to believe that this was C. L. Moore’s first published story. I do not know how long it took SF fans of the day to learn that “C. L.” stood for “Catherine Lucille,” nor what their reaction was wen they did, but I am indeed curious.