Saturday, April 17, 2010

"The Moon Woman" by Minna Irving, part 1

We at the Johnny Pez blog are taking another break from our longstanding Harl Vincent obsession, since we don't have any stories by Vincent available to post. Instead, we'll be posting a story by an even more obscure writer.

Minna Irving (1857 - 1940) was the pen name of Minnie Odell Michiner, a poet who lived in Tarrytown, New York. Although she published a poetry collection, "Songs of a Haunted Heart" in 1888, and published poems in turn-of-the-century periodicals such as Munsey's, The Smart Set, and The Gray Goose, "The Moon Woman" was her only science fiction story. "The Moon Woman" appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine and in the eighty years since then, it has never been reprinted. The Johnny Pez blog will be rescuing this story from oblivion and granting it the immortality of online publication. As always, we will be presenting the story in a blog-friendly multipart format. And now, without further ado, the first installment of

The Moon Woman
by Minna Irving

In a Winged World

Professor James Holloway Hicks was thirty-five when he discovered the wonderful serum of suspended animation. By injecting this marvelous fluid into the veins, a living body became practically dead and remained so for a certain length of time without undergoing the processes of decay.

When the serum ceased to act, the apparently dead man would revive and take up the thread of life again where he left it, and as well as ever. The period of suspended animation was governed by the quantity of serum injected into the blood.

Professor Hicks had repeatedly demonstrated the perfect success of his great discovery on dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, and even on horses, but for obvious reasons had failed to find a human subject. Though he offered a large reward to any man or woman willing to be "made dead" for six months or a year, no one could be found courageous enough to risk it. Even would-be suicides shied at the test, preferring to travel to the next world on a high-speed ticket, or by the popular gas route, to taking chances with an unknown drug, which might for all any one knew (even Professor Hicks himself) bind the body in the chains of pseudo death but leave the brain alive -- truly a frightening condition to contemplate.

So after vainly advertising for a subject, and even canvassing the park benches at night in the hope of persuading some wretched creature to lend himself to the glorious cause of science, the professor decided to try it on himself.

One blustery March night found him seated in his handsomely appointed library ready for an excursion in death. Opposite him sat his friend, Dr. Horace Blinkman, and upon the carved teakwood table between the two men lay the black box containing the serum in a small vial and a little hypodermic syringe filled for the supreme test.

Outside in the bitter wind the professor's luxurious limousine waited at a side door to bear him away to his temporary tomb.

Professor Hicks was clothed in a long, loose robe of fine white woolen stuff, fleeced inside with lambs-wool of a sufficient thickness to protect his inanimate body from freezing hard in winter in the damp cold atmosphere of the marble mausoleum which he had built especially for this great experiment.

His affairs had been put in order a few days before, and in case of his death occurring through any unforeseen contingency, such as some unsuspected freak of the serum, he had made a will leaving his entire fortune to Dr. Blinkman. The doctor needed it; his own scientific experiments had drained his pockets without adding to his reputation, and more than one loan-shark and pawnbroker was acquainted with his shuffling step and slovenly figure. He had borrowed heavily, too, from Hicks, and had been living on the professor's bounty for months.

The clock struck twelve -- the hour appointed for the experiment to begin. Professor Hicks rolled up his loose woolen sleeve, revealing a white and muscular forearm, and Dr. Blinkman picked up the fatal hypodermic and poised it above the large vein at the wrist.

"Two punctures," instructed the professor calmly, "each injection will last for six months. A year will pretty thoroughly prove to the world the immense value of my serum. You are to occupy this house during my absence. One year from tonight at exactly twelve o'clock you will come to the mausoleum with my attorney, one other gentleman of science chosen by yourself, and several members of the press to witness my triumphant resurrection. Now goodbye."

Dr. Blinkman gripped the professor's extended hand, jabbed the needle twice in his wrist and the thing was done.

"I will compose my limbs on the davenport," remarked the professor, "so that you may be better able to observe the action of the serum, and take careful notes."

He stretched himself upon the richly upholstered couch and crossed his hands upon his breast. A valuable ruby on his little finger winked malevolently in the clear flood of light from the electrolier. Already a deathly pallor was stealing over his smooth-shaven cheek, and his eyes were fast losing their accustomed brilliance.

"I feel as though my limbs were going to sleep," he murmured drowsily, "there is a prickling sensation all over me, and a numbness. Horace, I -- am -- so -- sleepy."

His voice died away in a whisper, his faint respirations became slower and slower, and at 12:15 he was to all appearances stone-dead.

Dr. Blinkman closed his ancient silver watch with a snap and laid his hand upon the professor's brow; it was damp and cold. He lifted one of his hands and it dropped limply from his clasp. He held a small pocket-mirror to the blue lips and the clear surface of the glass remained undimmed. There was no pulse, and not the faintest flutter of the heart could be detected. Any coroner in the land would have pronounced Professor Hicks as dead as a door-nail.

* * *

Dr. Blinkman stood regarding the inert form with knitted brows. What if he were really dead? It would mean great things to him, all this ease and luxury would be his as the professor's sole heir. Yet he knew the apparently lifeless form before him was not dead. He knew he would return to life at the appointed time. He had assisted at too many experiments with the serum on animals to doubt it. His own setter dog had been dead and was alive again none the worse for three weeks siesta in the professor's laboratory. The vial glittering on the table caught his eye.

What if he should administer a little more -- enough to make the professor sleep a little longer, say five or ten years? That would leave him in undisturbed enjoyment of this splendid mansion and the income from certain stocks and bonds long enough to complete some experiments he had under way, and so put him on his feet in the scientific world. Professor Hicks would think his reckoning had been wrong.

But would he? Had he not proved the exact duration of the serum too many times to be fooled? The professor was a "square man," loathing deceit, despising trickery, and utterly incapable of a dishonorable action himself.

He would denounce him without mercy if he played any tricks on him. He remembered, too, that each puncture must be made in a different place, and the tiny scars would reveal his perfidy.

The doctor paced the room, his hands clasped behind him, black temptation wrestling with his soul.

A year of this luxury, and then to return to his dingy lodgings in Harlem with their faded brown curtains, worn leather chairs, and tattered rugs; once more to be hounded by the loan-sharks, to make furtive rounds of the dusty pawn-shops again, to beg for time from the slatternly landlady -- his whole being revolted at the thought of it all.

It would be lifting a man into Heaven for a brief time, then plunging him into the depths of Hell forever.

His bloodshot eyes raged over the de luxe editions that lined the walls on three sides, the costly desk-fittings, the rare bronzes, the marble figures guarding the doorway with its sweeping curtains of heavy brocade. He gazed at the humidor with its expensive cigars; his mind traveled to the cobwebbed bottles in the cellars, the gray limousine with its Turkish upholstery and silver vase always filled with fresh flowers now waiting outside, and from the bottom of his treacherous heart he fervently wished the still form on the davenport was really dead, that all these luxuries might be his, not for a few fleeting months but for as long as he lived.

It would be easy to inject any one of the deadly poisons in the laboratory into the veins of the unconscious man, and the long sleep would become the sleep of death.

But each poison left its damning evidence behind, and murder is an ugly word. He was ghastly pale, beads of sweat glistened on his forehead and his knees shook under him.

He picked up the vial of serum, trying to guess the operative power of the fluid it still contained. The oily stuff gave off an opalescent shimmer as he turned it this way and that in his trembling fingers.

Within that tiny crystal cylinder lay his future. It would not be murder -- not if all Professor Hicks claimed for it was true. The professor would simply sleep on for a number of years, ten or twenty according to the amount administered, and wake up at the end of that time safe and sound and with all his faculties unimpaired. Meantime he would revel in the luxuries he coveted, and would have the means and leisure to conduct the costly experiments in cancer-cure that he felt sure would bring him fame and fortune.

He picked up the little syringe and crossed to the quiet form on the couch. Blinkman had no clear idea of the quantity that should be injected to produce a quarter of a century of suspended animation, and he was too agitated to figure it out, but when he folded back the professor's sleeve and made half a dozen punctures, he felt dissatisfied. Perhaps it would only last four or five years and the professor would wake up and be furious -- for every little scar would be a witness against him.

He had already gone too far now to draw back, so he determined to make sure and use all of the stuff in the vial.

He filled and refilled the syringe, jabbing wildly at the professor's arms and legs until the last drop was gone. Then with a sigh he sank down in the big velvet chair and stared dumbly at the seemingly dead body before him.

Was he dead? Perhaps he had been from the first. His muscles were so rigid, his flesh so clammily cold, already the violet shadows of dissolution lay beneath his closed eyes. The doctor shuddered and reached for a bracer of brandy.

A bell jangled sharply in the silence. He staggered to his feet and passed into the hall, throwing a fearful glance over his shoulder as he went; it was hard to believe it was not a dead man stretched out on the davenport.

He flung open the door and admitted the professor's attorney, Mr. Lecky, who was to accompany the body to the mausoleum and see it properly installed within.

"Is everything ready?" he inquired brusquely afer a cold nod from Dr. Blinkman. He was a man of stern common sense and had opposed as strongly as he dared the experiment which he frankly characterized as "a crack-brained freak."

"I have been awaiting your arrival for almost an hour," returned the doctor smoothly as he led the way to the library. "The serum has acted beautifully, and Professor Hicks' discovery is a monumental success."

Mr. Lecky gazed down at the recumbent form with a look of profound disgust, yielding to pity:

"Are you sure he is not dead?" he asked sharply.

Dr. Blinkman turned his head away under pretense of closing the black box. He could not meet those searching eyes. A sense of guilt overwhelmed him, but he managed to retain his cool professional manner.

"Our distinguished friend," he replied suavely, "has already no doubt fully explained to you the effects of the serum upon the living body. It is suspended animation, my dear Mr. Lecky, suspended animation, that is all. He can neither hear, feel, think, taste, move nor speak; at the present moment all the organs have suspended their functions; he is insensible to heat or cold, hunger or thirst. His system needs no fuel because there is no waste, but he is not dead. But had we not better be on the way? We have a long, cold ride before us."

He took from a chair where they had been laid in readiness by the professor himself a long black cloak and soft felt hat of the same somber hue. The helpless scientist was closely enveloped in the folds of the cloak, the soft hat was pulled well down over his head so that his rigid white face was concealed under the broad brim, and the two men supported him between them to the lomousine so cleverly that to the waiting chauffeur his master appeared in the dim light to be walking in his usual fashion between his friends.

He was lifted into the car and placed in an upright position on the rear seat. The doctor and the lawyer placed themselves with their backs to the driver, and the limousine rolled smoothly and almost noiselessly out of the stone gateway and turned northward in the deserted road.

Never did either of those two men forget that night ride. The full moon was veiled with thin clouds and a light snow had fallen earlier in the evening. From its purity the black ruts of the road stood out in bold relief. No living thing was abroad, not even a dog barked, and all the houses were dark. The wayside bushes powdered with snow rushed to meet them like sheeted ghosts in the headlights of the car, sped by them, and vanished in the gloom.

Professor Hicks had built his mausoleum of sleep on the top of a hill in a grove of cedars. Thick woods and rocky pastures sloped steeply down from it on all sides, and an abandoned cemetary at the bottom completed the profound desolation of the spot.

At the foot of the hill the car stopped, the two men got out and carefully lifted the stiff form to the ground, still supporting it between them.

* * *

That morning the professor had summoned his chauffeur to him in the library, and had said: "Stewart, I am going to Europe for a year. Dr. Blinkman will reside here during my absence, and will take charge of everything. You are to take your orders from him, but look to Mr. Lecky for your wages. Bring the car round to the side door tonight at midnight, as I am going to the house of a friend up in the country who will entrust me with a rare and delicate culture to deliver for him at a laboratory in Paris. I will, therefore, go directly from his house to the steamer tomorrow, so you will return without me. Dr. Blinkman and Mr. Lecky will accompany me tonight, however, and you will bring them back here. I am explaining these matters to you so that you will understand why I do not return with them.

"I will say goodbye to you now, Stewart, as I will have other things to occupy me tonight."

Thus had the professor paved the way for the midnight journey to the mausoleum, and nipped in the bud any suspicion of foul play that might have been born of the peculiar circumstances under which he was to disappear.

"Wait here," said Dr. Blinkman to the chauffeur, "there is no road up to the house on this side, only a short cut through the woods. We will be back in half an hour."

While in sight of the furred figure on the front seat of the limousine, the men went slowly with the professor slightly in advance propelled by their hands on his shoulders. The chauffeur paused in the act of lighting a cigarette to watch the three dark figures:

"Now I wonder what the legal guy has to do with this trip? Gee! doctors are all nuts."

Once behind the shelter of the thick bushes and low-hanging branches, the two men picked up the professor by the head and feet and carried him swiftly up the hillside.

It was a stiff climb to the mausoleum, and they laid their burden down on the marble steps and stood gasping for breath, and wiping the sweat from their flushed faces, though the night was cold.

Neither spoke, an invisible finger of silence seemed laid upon their lips. The mausoleum was a magnificent structure, perfectly round in shape with a row of fluted pillars supporting the overhanging roof. It was encircled by a flight of shallow marble steps, and bronze bas-reliefs, typifying the immortality of the soul, formed eight panels set deeply in the walls. The domed roof was flattened at the top to receive a thick glass skylight which was protected by an iron grill-work set in a leaden frame. The bronze door swung outward, and was supplemented by an inner door of iron studded with brass nails. Ventilation was supplied by slits in the walls close to the roof, and cunningly concealed in the pattern of the ornate frieze.

As the doors creaked open, Dr. Blinkman involuntarily shrank back from the pitch-black interior, but Lecky, more self-possessed or perhaps less imaginative, stepped into the inky chamber and felt along the wall until he found the electric light button. Instantly a flood of soft radiance poured down upon the place and streamed out across the marble steps on the dark form huddled there.

The floor was paved with blocks of black and white marble. In the center stood a bronze sarcophagus lined with softly padded white velvet. The sarcophagus was of unusual size; at the head was a pillow of white velvet for the professor's head to rest upon, and at the foot an air-tight metal box containing food-tabloids and a bottle of champagne.

A bronze canopy supported on iron rods sheltered the sarcophagus and completely concealed the open interior from any inquisitive person who might climb to the roof and look down through the skylight. Heavy metallic fringes depended from this canopy all around.

Gently, almost reverently the two men laid Professor Hicks in his gruesome bed, arranged the velvet pillow beneath his head, straightened his white robe and threw the black cloak across the foot of the sarcophagus like a pall. A duplicate key was left by his side in case the effects of the serum should wear off sooner than expected.

The light was then turned off and the doctor and lawyer stepped out side by side into the chill March morning, closing and locking the heavy doors behind them. The cold light of a struggling moonbeam pierced the clouds and fell across the marble steps as they turned once to look back; all else was in blackest shadow.

(continue to part 2)

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