A RUNAWAY WORLD (7)
December 15, 2022
HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize “A Runaway World,” by Clare Winger Harris. This story, her first, appeared in the July 1926 issue of Weird Tales; it entered the public domain in 2022.
Since young Marden had taken me into his confidence I spent many hours of each waking period, for one could not call them days, at his side studying the star which grew steadily brighter. I believe as I look back through the years of my life that the increasing magnitude of that star was the most appalling and ominous sight I had ever beheld. Many were the times that in dreams I saw the Earth rushing into the blazing hell. I invariably awoke with a scream, and covered with perspiration. I sat, it seems, for days at a time watching it, fascinated as if under the hypnotic influence of an evil eye. Finally its presence could no longer be kept a secret from the others who saw outside the windows the brightness that increased as time went on.
Printed indelibly on my memory was our first excursion out of doors after three years of confinement. Walking warily along the deserted streets, we were reminded of the ancient cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. It was not ashes and lava that had worked the doom of hundreds of human beings; the destroyer in this case was intangible, but nevertheless potent. Many silent huddled forms were seen here and there, bringing tears to our eyes as we recognized this friend and that: but the greatest tragedies were in the homes where many whole families were discovered grouped together around whatever source of heat they had temporarily relied upon for warmth. We learned that none who had depended upon coal had survived the frigidity, and in some instances starvation had wiped out entire households.
The scene which was the greatest shock to the reconnoitering party was that staged in Guy Barnes’ store. The old grocer had been game to the end, and his body was found behind the counter. where he had apparently been overcome by the intensity of the cold, during his labors for his fellow-men. The last overwhelming cold had descended so swiftly that many had been unable to reach shelter in time.
Next came the sad task of burying our dead. Prompt action was necessary, for the ever growing disk of the great sun hastened the process of decay. The simplest of ceremonies were all that could be employed by men and women struggling to return the living world to pre-catastrophe normality.
The sun grew terrible to behold, as large in diameter as our old sun. Still it seemed good to be once more in the open! The children scampered about and Ed and I had a race to the square and back. Scorch to death we might in a very short time, but it was certainly a pleasant thing to spend a few days in this solar glow which we had been denied so long.
Came a time when we could no longer be ignorant of the fact that it was growing uncomfortably warm. Finally we decided to do as everyone else was doing; pack up our earthly possessions and move to a part of the Earth’s surface where the heat was not so direct.
Ed came over, mopping his forehead with his handkerchief.
“You folks about ready?” he queried. “We’re all packed up. The Mardens are going in our car.”
I walked to the door and gazed across the seared landscape toward the mammoth fiery orb. Suddenly I gave a startled cry. The new sun was not in its accustomed place in the heavens. It was several degrees lower down, and to the east!
“Look!” I cried, pointing with trembling finger. “My God — do you see!”
I think Ed concluded I had gone insane, but he followed the direction of my gaze.
“Jim, old fellow, you’re right,” he ejaculated, “as sure as Mars was farther from the sun than we were, that sun is setting, which means—”
“That we are rotating on our axis and probably revolving around the new sun,” I finished triumphantly. “But we are turning from east to west instead of from west to east as formerly. If the whole world wasn’t temperate nowadays I should think I had been imbibing some of the poisonous drink of our ancestors!”
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” | Max Brand’s The Untamed | Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” | Clare Winger Harris’s “A Runaway World” | Francis Stevens’s “Thomas Dunbar” | George Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” | Robert W. Chambers’s “The Harbor-Master” | Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s “The Hall Bedroom” | Clare Winger Harris’s “The Fifth Dimension” | Francis Stevens’s “Behind the Curtain” | more to come.