THE THING FROM — ‘OUTSIDE’ (1)

By: George Allan England
October 19, 2021

Frontispiece to Fridtjof Nansen’s In Northern Mists: Arctic Exploration in Early Times, 1911

HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize George Allan England’s 1923 proto-sf story “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” for HILOBROW’s readers. The story first appeared in Hugo Gernsback’s magazine Science and Invention.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8.

***

They sat about their camp-fire, that little party of Americans retreating southward from Hudson Bay before the oncoming menace of the great cold. Sat there, stolid under the awe of the North, under the uneasiness that the day’s trek had laid upon their souls. The three men smoked. The two women huddled close to each other. Fireglow picked their faces from the gloom of night among the dwarf firs. A splashing murmur told of the Albany River’s haste to escape from the wilderness, and reach the Bay.

“I don’t see what there was in a mere circular print on a rock-ledge to make our guides desert,” said Professor Thorburn. His voice was as dry as his whole personality. “Most extraordinary.”

They knew what it was, all right,” answered Jandron, geologist of the party. “So do I.” He rubbed his cropped mustache. His eyes glinted grayly. “I’ve seen prints like that before. That was on the Labrador. And I’ve seen things happen, where they were.”

“Something surely happened to our guides, before they’d got a mile into the bush,” put in the Professor’s wife; while Vivian, her sister, gazed into the fire that revealed her as a beauty, not to be spoiled even by a tam and a rough-knit sweater. “Men don’t shoot wildly, and scream like that, unless —”

“They’re all three dead now, anyhow,” put in Jandron. “So they’re out of harm’s way. While we — well, we’re two hundred and fifty wicked miles from the C.P.R. rails.”

“Forget it, Jandy!” said Marr, the journalist. “We’re just suffering from an attack of nerves, that’s all. Give me a fill of ’baccy. Thanks. We’ll all be better in the morning. Ho-hum! Now, speaking of spooks and such —”

He launched into an account of how he had once exposed a fraudulent spiritualist, thus proving — to his own satisfaction — that nothing existed beyond the scope of mankind’s everyday life. But nobody gave him much heed. And silence fell upon the little night-encampment in the wilds; a silence that was ominous.

Pale, cold stars watched down from spaces infinitely far beyond man’s trivial world.

Next day, stopping for chow on a ledge miles upstream, Jandron discovered another of the prints. He cautiously summoned the other two men. They examined the print, while the women-folk were busy by the fire. A harmless thing the marking seemed; only a ring about four inches in diameter, a kind of cup-shaped depression with a raised center. A sort of glaze coated it, as if the granite had been fused by heat.

Jandron knelt, a well-knit figure in bright mackinaw and canvas leggings, and with a shaking finger explored the smooth curve of the print in the rock. His brows contracted as he studied it.

“We’d better get along out of this as quick as we can,” said he in an unnatural voice. “You’ve got your wife to protect, Thorburn, and I, — well, I’ve got Vivian. And —”

“You have?” nipped Marr. The light of an evil jealousy gleamed in his heavy-lidded look. “What you need is an alienist.”

“Really, Jandron,” the Professor admonished, “you mustn’t let your imagination run away with you.”

“I suppose it’s imagination that keeps this print cold!” the geologist retorted. His breath made faint, swirling coils of vapor above it.

“Nothing but a pot-hole,” judged Thorburn, bending his spare, angular body to examine the print. The Professor’s vitality all seemed centered in his big-bulged skull that sheltered a marvellous thinking machine. Now he put his lean hand to the base of his brain, rubbing the back of his head as if it ached. Then, under what seemed some powerful compulsion, he ran his bony finger around the print in the rock.

“By Jove, but it is cold!” he admitted. “And looks as if it had been stamped right out of the stone. Extraordinary!”

“Dissolved out, you mean,” corrected the geologist. “By cold.”

The journalist laughed mockingly.

“Wait till I write this up!” he sneered. “‘Noted Geologist Declares Frigid Ghost Dissolves Granite!'”

Jandron ignored him. He fetched a little water from the river and poured it into the print.

“Ice!” ejaculated the Professor. “Solid ice!”

“Frozen in a second,” added Jandron, while Marr frankly stared.

“And it’ll never melt, either. I tell you, I’ve seen some of these rings before; and every time, horrible things have happened. Incredible things! Something burned this ring out of the stone — burned it out with the cold of interstellar space. Something that can import cold as a permanent quality of matter. Something that can kill matter, and totally remove it.”

“Of course that’s all sheer poppycock,” the journalist tried to laugh, but his brain felt numb.

“This something, this Thing,” continued Jandron, “is a Thing that can’t be killed by bullets. It’s what caught our guides on the barrens, as they ran away — poor fools!”

A shadow fell across the print in the rock. Mrs. Thorburn had come up, was standing there. She had overheard a little of what Jandron had been saying.

“Nonsense!” she tried to exclaim, but she was shivering so she could hardly speak.

***

RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'”.

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