THE THING FROM — ‘OUTSIDE’ (7)
November 28, 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.
Snow. It came slanting down. From a gray sky it steadily filtered. The trees showed no leaf. Birches, poplars, rock-maples all stood naked. Only the conifers drooped sickly-green. In a little shallow across the river snow lay white on thin ice.
Ice? Snow? Rapt with terror, Jandron stared. Why, then, he must have been unconscious three or four weeks? But how —?
Suddenly, all along the upper branches of trees that edged the clearing, puffs of snow flicked down. The geologist shuffled after two half-obliterated sets of footprints that wavered toward the landing.
His body was leaden. He wheezed, as he reached the river. The light, dim as it was, hurt his eyes. He blinked in a confusion that could just perceive one canoe was gone. He pressed a hand to his head, where an iron band seemed screwed up tight, tighter.
“Vivian! Marr! Halloooo!”
Not even an echo. Silence clamped the world; silence, and a cold that gnawed. Everything had gone a sinister gray.
After a certain time — though time now possessed neither reality nor duration — Jandron dragged himself back to the camp and stumbled in. Heedless of the staring corpse he crumpled down by the stove and tried to think, but his brain had been emptied of power. Everything blent to a gray blur. Snow kept slithering in through the roof.
“Well, why don’t you come and get me, Thing?” suddenly snarled Jandron. “Here I am. Damn you, come and get me!”
Voices. Suddenly he heard voices. Yes, somebody was outside, there. Singularly aggrieved, he got up and limped to the door. He squinted out into the gray; saw two figures down by the landing. With numb indifference he recognized the girl and Marr.
“Why should they bother me again?” he nebulously wondered. “Can’t they go away and leave me alone?” He felt peevish irritation.
Then, a modicum of reason returning, he sensed that they were arguing. Vivian, beside a canoe freshly dragged from thin ice, was pointing; Marr was gesticulating. All at once Marr snarled, turned from her, plodded with bent back toward the camp.
“But listen!” she called, her rough-knit sweater all powdered with snow. “That’s the way!” She gestured downstream.
“I’m not going either way!” Marr retorted. “I’m going to stay right here!” He came on, bareheaded. Snow grayed his stubble of beard; but on his head it melted as it fell, as if some fever there had raised the brain-stuff to improbable temperatures. “I’m going to stay right here, all summer.” His heavy lids sagged. Puffy and evil, his lips showed a glint of teeth. “Let me alone!”
Vivian lagged after him, kicking up the ash-like snow. With indifference, Jandron watched them. Trivial human creatures!
Suddenly Marr saw him in the doorway and stopped short. He drew his gun; he aimed at Jandron.
“You get out!” he mouthed. “Why in ———— can’t you stay dead?”
“Put that gun down, you idiot!” Jandron managed to retort. The girl stopped and seemed trying to understand. “We can get away yet, if we all stick together.”
“Are you going to get out and leave me alone?” demanded the journalist, holding his gun steadily enough.
Jandron, wholly indifferent, watched the muzzle. Vague curiosity possessed him. Just what, he wondered, did it feel like to be shot?
Mart pulled trigger.
The cartridge missed fire. Not even powder would burn.
Marr laughed, horribly, and shambled forward. “Serves him right!” he mouthed, “He’d better not come back again!”
Jandron understood that Marr had seen him fall. But still he felt himself standing there, alive. He shuffled away from the door. No matter whether he was alive or dead, there was always Vivian to be saved.
The journalist came to the door, paused, looked down, grunted and passed into the camp. He shut the door. Jandron heard the rotten wooden bar of the latch drop. From within echoed a laugh, monstrous in its brutality.
Then quivering, the geologist felt a touch on his arm.
“Why did you desert us like that?” he heard Vivian’s reproach. “Why?”
He turned, hardly able to see her at all.
“Listen,” he said, thickly. “I’ll admit anything. It’s all right. But just forget it, for now. We’ve got to get out o’ here. The Professor is dead, in there, and Marr’s gone mad and barricaded himself in there. So there’s no use staying. There’s a chance for us yet. Come along!”
He took her by the arm and tried to draw her toward the river, but she held back. The hate in her face sickened him. He shook in the grip of a mighty chill.
“Go, with — you?” she demanded.
“Yes, by God!” he retorted, in a swift blaze of anger, “or I’ll kill you where you stand. It shan’t get you, anyhow!”
Swiftly piercing, a greater cold smote to his inner marrows. A long row of the cup-shaped prints had just appeared in the snow beside the camp. And from these marks wafted a faint, bluish vapor of unthinkable cold.
“What are you staring at?” the girl demanded.
“Those prints! In the snow, there — see?” He pointed a shaking finger.
“How can there be snow at this season?”
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”.