Friday, January 22, 2010

"A Leak in the Fountain of Youth" by Amelia Reynolds Long, part 1

Amelia Reynolds Long (1904 - 1978) was a writer, poet, and museum curator from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Long was part of the first generation of fantastic fiction writers to appear in the pulp genre magazines, publishing her first story, "The Twin Soul", in the March 1928 issue of Weird Tales. Long went on to publish twenty-two fantasy and science fiction stories, mostly in Weird Tales and Astounding Stories, before switching to mystery novels in the late 1930s.

All of Long's early stories have passed into the public domain, but for the most part are unavailable online. We here at the Johnny Pez blog have chosen to correct this oversight by posting some of her short fiction here in a blog-friendly multipart format. Earlier this month, we published Long's story "Cosmic Fever" from the February 1937 issue of Astounding. We now follow up with a pair of stories featuring the character of Professor Aloysius O'Flannigan. First up, from the August 1936 issue of Astounding, is "A Leak in the Fountain of Youth", originally published as by A. R. Long. Unlike most of the stories posted on this blog, "A Leak in the Fountain of Youth" is not confined to the pages of a pulp fiction magazine -- it was reprinted in the 2003 anthology Sci-Fi Womanthology, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman and Pam Keesey. So now, without further ado, we present:

A Leak in the Fountain of Youth
by Amelia Reynolds Long

This is not an attempt to seek vulgar publicity for the extraordinary experimental work in gland control carried on by my friend, Professor Aloysius O'Flannigan; neither is it an effort to exonerate him in the public mind of the supposed murder of Gustavus Adolphus Lindstrom. In the first place, any type of publicity whatsoever is highly distasteful to Aloysius; and, in the second, the living presence of Gustavus himself is exoneration enough. All I wish to do is to set down the truth, in order that the wild rumors accusing a reputable man of science of such preposterous -- not to say scandalous -- behavior, may be stilled.

Although Aloysius O'Flannigan is still a very young man, he has already accomplished some most remarkable things in the field of biochemistry. Not least among these is his growth-and-age-control serum, based upon a series of highly intricate experiments with the glandular system.

"It is really quite simple when you get down to it, Eric," he told me one day in his laboratory. "Science has known for a long time that the growth and aging of the body are governed by certain glands. There is, for example, the pituitary gland, controlling skeletal growth; the thymus, regulating physical development to adolescence; the thyroid, governing mental and nervous development; and all the rst of them.

"Science has even realized that the control of these glands and their hormones means practical control of the development of the individual. And that is what I plan to do, Eric."

Here he leaned forward and tapped me impressively on the knee, while his blue eyes shone excitedly behind his shell-rimmed spectacles. "I mean to control the entire glandular system, so that a man may become old or young, large or small, at will. It's entirely logical."

I shook my head. "It may sound entirely logical in theory," I told him, "but you'll find it's going to be something else in practice. I don't want to hurt your feelings, Aloysius, but if you think, for example, that you can turn an old man into a boy, you're -- well, due for a keen disappointment. It can't be done."

"And why not?' he demanded.

"Why not!" I echoed. "Well, for one thing, there's skeletal growth. Be reasonable, Aloysius. It is perfectly comprehensible that you may be able to arrest bodily development through control of the glandular system; but to claim that you can reverse the process is sheer nonsense."

"You understand the process of coalition in the unicellular animals, don't you?" he asked. The light of battle was beginning to appear in his unusually mild eyes.

"Certainly," I answered, a little nettled that he should question my knowledge on such an elementary point of zoology. "It is the reverse of the process of subdivision. Instead of one amoeba or protozoan subdividing to form two new individuals, two amoebae coalesce to form one. But what has that got to do with --"

He interrupted me. "And you realize that the individual cell structure of the human body is similar to that of the unicellular animals, including cell division in the process of growth, don't you?" he persisted. "Well, then, why couldn't coalition take place in a similar manner, also?"

"But it doesn't," I protested. "You know very well that it doesn't."

"But it could through control of the glandular system. Don't you see it?"

All I could see was that we were arguing in a circle, so I gave it up.

* * *

It was about three months after this that the bank robbery occurred. I read the account of it in the morning paper as I ate my breakfast; but at the time noticed nothing beyond the fact that our largest Suburban Bank had been relieved of one hundred thousand dollars by a masked man who had entered just a minute before closing time the day before, and held up the place single-handed. Just as he was leaving, his mask had slipped down; the paying teller had seen . . . Here the story was continued on an inside page, and I, being in something of a hurry, did not take the time to finish it.

I had planned to drop around to see Aloysius that morning to ask his opinion on an article I had written on the unemployment situation in early Babylonia, but when I reached his home, all thoughts of the matter were driven from my mind. Our old college friend, Gustavus Adolphus Lindstrom, had just arrived ahead of me and he was in trouble.

Now, being in trouble is not precisely a new position for Gustavus Adolphus. In the first place he is a free-verse poet, and in the second -- But the first will cover everything, so I will not trouble to elaborate.

Usually his escapades are of the picturesque but comparatively harmless variety, but this one was different. In fact, it was so different that it centered around the Suburban Bank robbery, with Gustavus Adolphus cast in the leading role.

It was one of those damning cases of circumstantial evidence and mistaken identification. The paying teller of the bank had been taken down to police headquarters to try to identify the holdup man in the rogues' gallery. When he had failed to find his man among the accepted celebrities, the police, in desperation, had brought out a collection of minor offenders; and from these the misguided bank clerk had picked out Gustavus Adolphus!

"But, Gussie," inquired Aloysius, "how in the world did your picture ever get in the rogues' gallery?"

Gustavus Adolphus looked somewhat embarrassed. "You see, it was this way," he began. "A few years ago, I headed a movement for the practical revival of classicism. One of our aims was to bring back the ancient Greek forms of dress for both men and women, and I, as head of the movement, felt it my duty to put the theory into practice.

"But, when I walked down Broadway in the tunic and sandals of Sophocles' time, I was arrested at Forty-second Street and charged with both appearing in public improperly clad and attracting a crowd that obstructed traffic. I -- I spent three months in jail," he finished lamely.

* * *

While he was explaining this to Aloysius, my mind was busy with the problem at hand. "Of course, it's a case of wrong identification based on coincidental resemblance," I said now. To assume that Gustavus Adolphus would have held up a bank, even if he had known how, was naturally ridiculous. "But the mistake can be cleared up readily enough. All you need to do is produce your alibi for yesterday afternoon and then --"

"But that's just the trouble," he interrupted piteously. "I haven't got an alibi."

"You -- what?" Aloysius and I stared at him in blank amazement.

"What I mean is, I've got an alibi, but I can't prove it," he explained. He looked pathetically from one of us to the other.

"But where were you?" I demanded.

"In a Greek sarcophagus at the university museum," he answered meekly.

I began to lose patience. "This is no time for flippancy," I told him. "Stop trying to create a sensation, and tell us where you were."

"But I have told you," he protested. "I wanted to write a poem on the death of Socrates, so I went to the Greek wing of the museum and climbed into the stone sarcophagus -- the one with the opening above the face and shoulder of the occupant -- to put myself in the mood. I -- I'm afraid no one saw me there."

"Didn't anyone come into the Greek wing?" Aloysius inquired.

"Oh, yes," Gustavus Adolphus said. "One of the university students came in with a young lady. He came quite close to where I was, and flicked cigarette ashes through the opening of the sarcophagus. But since the interior of one of those things is rather dark, he couldn't have seen me unless he had deliberately leaned over and peered in."

"But you must have been able to see him," I pointed out. "Couldn't you recognize him if you saw him again?"

"I'm afraid not," he admitted regretfully. "You see, the cigarette ashes landed in my eye and I wasn't able to see anything for quite some time. All I know about him is that the young lady addressed him as Lover Boy, and that is hardly sufficient for identification."

Aloysius and I agreed that it was not.

"This is beginning to be serious," Aloysius said gravely, as we appeared to be at a deadlock. "If you can't prove an alibi, you'll never be able to convince the police that a mistake has been made."

"I realize it," Gustavus said, "and I don't know what to do or where to go."

I was tempted to suggest back into the sarcophagus, but, as I had warned him only a minute before, it was hardly the time for levity. Something had to be done, and done quickly.

I looked at Aloysius. "What are we going to do?" I queried.

"I thought," Gustavous Adolphus ventured timidly, "that perhaps Aloysius could do something to me with his science, so that the police couldn't recognize me."

Aloysius' nostrils quivered. "Be quiet, both of you," he commanded, "while I think."

He began to stride up and down the room, his chin sunk forward upon his breast, and his hands clasped loosely behind his back. Gustavus and I watched him anxiously. We both knew that if he was to think of something, it would have to be fast and it would have to be good.

Suddenly he stopped in the middle of his pacing, and smote his left palm with his right fist. His eyes were gleaming behind his thick-lensed spectacles.

"I've got it!" he cried. "My glandular controls serum, of course!"

I sprang out of my chair at the words. "No, Aloysius, no!" I exclaimed aghast. "You wouldn't dare!"

He ignored me, and addressed Gustavus Adolphus. "Its a new formula that I completed less than a week ago," he explained. "By its use, I can change you temporarily to a boy of about sixteen. Shall I do it?"

"Don't you let him," I warned Gustavus. "It's liable to kill you."

Gustavus looked uncertainly from me to Aloysius. "Is it dangerous?" he inquired.

"Of course not," Aloysius declared impatiently. "Why, only yesterday I changed a battled-scarred tomcat to a mewling kitten, and today it's enjoying life to the full."

"Will it hurt?"

"You'll have to ask the tomcat. But it's practically certain to be painless, since you merely fall asleep, and when you waken, years have dropped from your age."

"It sounds rather attractive," Gustavus confessed.

"It sounds too quick to be good," I commented.

"Eric, you be quiet," Aloysius snapped at me. Now that the chance to try out his pet theory upon a human being had been practically dropped in his lap, he wasn't going to have it snatched away by anybody. "Under ordinary circumstances, the treatment would cover a period of months, but we've got no time for that now. We've got to act fast."

(to be continued)


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

It's nice to see exposure for a female pulp author... I mean, C.L. Moore can't hog all the glory, nor would she have wanted to do so!

Thanks again for bringing up some "lost" pulpy goodness.

Johnny Pez said...

Thanks, 4B. If we bloggers don't rescue these stories from oblivion, who will? Apart from Project Gutenberg, I mean.