THE THING FROM — ‘OUTSIDE’ (3)
November 2, 2021
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.
Jandron woke first, in a red dawn.
He blinked at the fire, as he crawled from his sleeping-bag. The fire was dead; and yet it had not burned out. Much wood remained unconsumed, charred over, as if some gigantic extinguisher had in the night been lowered over it.
“Hmmm!” growled Jandron. He glanced about him, on the ledge. “Prints, too. I might have known!”
He aroused Marr. Despite all the journalist’s mocking hostility, Jandron felt more in common with this man of his own age than with the Professor, who was close on sixty.
“Look here, now!” said he. “It has been all around here. See? It put out our fire — maybe the fire annoyed It, some way — and It walked round us, everywhere.” His gray eyes smouldered. “I guess, by gad, you’ve got to admit facts, now!”
The journalist could only shiver and stare.
“Lord, what a head I’ve got on me, this morning!” he chattered. He rubbed his forehead with a shaking hand, and started for the river. Most of his assurance had vanished. He looked badly done up.
“Well, what say?” demanded Jandron. “See these fresh prints?”
“Damn the prints!” retorted Marr, and fell to grumbling some unintelligible thing. He washed unsteadily, and remained crouching at the river’s lip, inert, numbed.
Jandron, despite a gnawing at the base of his brain, carefully examined the ledge. He found prints scattered everywhere, and some even on the river-bottom near the shore. Wherever water had collected in the prints on the rock, it had frozen hard. Each print in the river-bed, too, was white with ice. Ice that the rushing current could not melt.
“Well, by gad!” he exclaimed. He lighted his pipe and tried to think. Horribly afraid — yes, he felt horribly afraid, but determined. Presently, as a little power of concentration came back, he noticed that all the prints were in straight lines, each mark about two feet from the next.
“It was observing us while we slept,” said Jandron.
“What nonsense are you talking, eh?” demanded Marr. His dark, heavy face sagged. “Fire, now, and grub!”
He got up and shuffled unsteadily away from the river. Then he stopped with a jerk, staring.
“Look! Look a’ that axe!” he gulped, pointing.
Jandron picked up the axe, by the handle, taking good care not to touch the steel. The blade was white-furred with frost. And deep into it, punching out part of the edge, one of the prints was stamped.
“This metal,” said he, “is clean gone. It’s been absorbed. The Thing doesn’t recognize any difference in materials. Water and steel and rock are all the same to It.
“You’re crazy!” snarled the journalist. “How could a Thing travel on one leg, hopping along, making marks like that?”
“It could roll, if it was disk-shaped. And —”
A cry from the Professor turned them. Thorburn was stumbling toward them, hands out and tremulous.
“My wife —!” he choked.
Vivian was kneeling beside her sister, frightened, dazed.
“Something’s happened!” stammered the Professor. “Here — come here —!”
Mrs. Thorburn was beyond any power of theirs, to help. She was still breathing; but her respirations were stertorous, and a complete paralysis had stricken her. Her eyes, half-open and expressionless, showed pupils startlingly dilated. No resources of the party’s drug-kit produced the slightest effect on the woman.
The next half-hour was a confused panic, breaking camp, getting Mrs. Thorburn into a canoe, and leaving that accursed place, with a furious energy of terror that could no longer reason. Up-stream, ever up against the swirl of the current the party fought, driven by horror. With no thought of food or drink, paying no heed to landmarks, lashed forward only by the mad desire to be gone, the three men and the girl flung every ounce of their energy into the paddles. Their panting breath mingled with the sound of swirling eddies. A mist-blurred sun brooded over the northern wilds. Unheeded, hosts of black-flies sang high-pitched keenings all about the fugitives. On either hand the forest waited, watched.
Only after two hours of sweating toil had brought exhaustion did they stop, in the shelter of a cove where black waters circled, foam-flecked. There they found the Professor’s wife — she was dead.
Nothing remained to do but bury her. At first Thorburn would not hear of it. Like a madman he insisted that through all hazards he would fetch the body out. But no — impossible. So, after a terrible time, he yielded.
In spite of her grief, Vivian was admirable. She understood what must be done. It was her voice that said the prayers; her hand that — lacking flowers — laid the fir boughs on the cairn. The Professor was dazed past doing anything, saying anything.
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'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit”.