THE THING FROM — ‘OUTSIDE’ (6)
November 23, 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.
Presently darkness folded down. The men smoked, thankful that tobacco still held out. Vivian lay in a bunk that Jandron had piled with spruce boughs for her, and seemed to sleep. The Professor fretted like a child, over the blisters his paddle had made upon his hands. Marr laughed, now and then; though what he might be laughing at was not apparent. Suddenly he broke out:
“After all, what should It want of us?”
“Our brains, of course,” the Professor answered, sharply.
“That lets Jandron out,” the journalist mocked.
“But,” added the Professor, “I can’t imagine a Thing callously destroying human beings. And yet —”
He stopped short, with surging memories of his dead wife.
“What was it,” Jandron asked, “that destroyed all those people in Valladolid, Spain, that time so many of ’em died in a few minutes after having been touched by an invisible Something that left a slight red mark on each? The newspapers were full of it.”
“Piffle!” yawned Marr.
“I tell you,” insisted Jandron, “there are forms of life as superior to us as we are to ants. We can’t see ’em. No ant ever saw a man. And did any ant ever form the least conception of a man? These Things have left thousands of traces, all over the world. If I had my reference-books —”
“Tell that to the marines!”
“Charles Fort, the greatest authority in the world on unexplained phenomena,” persisted Jandron, “gives innumerable cases of happenings that science can’t explain, in his ‘Book of the Damned.’ He claims this earth was once a No-Man’s land where all kinds of Things explored and colonized and fought for possession. And he says that now everybody’s warned off, except the Owners. I happen to remember a few sentences of his: ‘In the past, inhabitants of a host of worlds have dropped here, hopped here, wafted here, sailed, flown, motored, walked here; have come singly, have come in enormous numbers; have visited for hunting, trading, mining. They have been unable to stay here, have made colonies here, have been lost here.”
“Poor fish, to believe that!” mocked the journalist, while the Professor blinked and rubbed his bulging forehead.
“I do believe it!” insisted Jandron. “The world is covered with relics of dead civilizations that have mysteriously vanished, leaving nothing but their temples and monuments.”
“How about Easter Island? How about all the gigantic works there and in a thousand other places! — Peru, Yucatan and so on — which certainly no primitive race ever built?”
“That’s thousands of years ago,” said Marr, “and I’m sleepy. For heaven’s sake, can it!”
“Oh, all right. But how explain things, then!”
“What the devil could one of those Things want of our brains?” suddenly put in the Professor. “After all, what?”
“Well, what do we want of lower forms of life? Sometimes food. Again, some product or other. Or just information. Maybe It is just experimenting with us, the way we poke an ant-hill. There’s always this to remember, that the human brain-tissue is the most highly-organized form of matter in this world.”
“Yes,” admitted the Professor, “but what —?”
“It might want brain-tissue for food, for experimental purposes, for lubricant — how do I know?”
Jandron fancied he was still explaining things; but all at once he found himself waking up in one of the bunks. He felt terribly cold, stiff, sore. A sift of snow lay here and there on the camp floor, where it had fallen through holes in the roof.
“Vivian!” he croaked hoarsely. “Thorburn! Marr!”
Nobody answered. There was nobody to answer. Jandron crawled with immense pain out of his bunk, and blinked round with bleary eyes. All of a sudden he saw the Professor, and gulped.
The Professor was lying stiff and straight in another bunk, on his back. His waxen face made a mask of horror. The open, staring eyes, with pupils immensely dilated, sent Jandron shuddering back. A livid ring marked the forehead, that now sagged inward as if empty.
“Vivian!” croaked Jandron, staggering away from the body. He fumbled to the bunk where the girl had lain. The bunk was quite deserted.
On the stove, in which lay half-charred wood — wood smothered out as if by some noxious gas — still stood the coffee-pot. The liquid in it was frozen solid. Of Vivian and the journalist, no trace remained.
Along one of the sagging beams that supported the roof, Jandron’s horror-blasted gaze perceived a straight line of frosted prints, ring-shaped, bitten deep.
Shaking, sick, gray, half-blind with a horror not of this world, Jandron peered slowly around. The duffle-bag and supplies were gone. Nothing was left but that coffee-pot and the revolver at Jandron’s hip.
Jandron turned, then. A-stare, his skull feeling empty as a burst drum, he crept lamely to the door and out — out into the snow.
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”