Sunday, April 18, 2010

"The Moon Woman" by Minna Irving, part 2

This is the second installment of "The Moon Woman", an early science fiction story by the poet Minna Irving that appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. This represents the first appearance by this story since its original publication over eighty years ago.

The story so far:
Professor James Holloway Hicks has perfected a suspended animation serum, but he is unable to find a human subject to test it on, so he decides to test it on himself. With the help of his friend Dr. Horace Blinkman, Hicks places himself in suspended animation for a year. Blinkman, however, is deep in debt, and Hicks has made Blinkman the heir to his considerable fortune. Blinkman give into temptation, and injects Hicks with the entire supply of the serum, ensuring that Hicks will remain in suspended animation for decades . . .

One Year Later

A year had passed since the March night when Professor Hicks had been secretly laid away in the marble mausoleum on the lonely hilltop. Dr. Blinkman again sat in the library awaiting the arrival of Mr. Lecky and the representatives of the press.

With him was Professor Perkins, alert, keen-eyed, bubbling over with skepticism. "Mark my words," he cried, "you will find that I am right, and our learned friend has been another martyr to the great cause of science. Dear me! where do the others stay? It is time we were off."

"I sent the car to the 8:15 to meet Mr. Lecky," replied the doctor, "and the correspondents will also come up by that train. They should all be here together in a few minutes now."

Dr. Blinkman had improved with a year of easy living. His form had taken on flesh, his face a ruddy color, and his manner the pomposity of one accustomed to command. He had no fear of the result of the night's trip to the mausoleum; he felt sure that Hicks was dead months ago of too much serum. He had tried heavy doses repeatedly on animals in the interim, and while they had lain without signs of decay for a week or month, according to the dose, at the end of that time all had given indisputable evidence that they were dead. He had even kept several until the odor became unbearable, desiring to convince himself beyond all doubt that the serum was fatal in large doses.

All his experiments had set his mind at rest. Tomorrow everything would be his, he thought exultantly as the blare of a motor-horn announced Mr. Lecky's arrival.

The lawyer was soon followed by the hired touring-car containing the special correspondents who had been invited to the "resurrection."

After some light refreshments and a hasty explanation from Mr. Lecky regarding the nature of the professor's experiment, the entire party was on the road to the mausoleum within the hour.

The night was clear and cold, the sky studded with millions of stars and the earth blanketed with a heavy fall of snow. Stewart, hunched down in the front of the limousine with his gloved hands on the wheel and the speed limit off, was turning matters over in his mind:

"Darn funny," he was thinking, "this trip out in the woods again same time as last year, with all these strange guys along too. Something I don't understand. These professors are all crazy anyhow, but Hicks was a good old scout. Wish he'd come back and give this Blinkman bozo the air."

Thus ruminating, he arrived at the foot of the hill with the hired car close behind, and the whole party piled out in the snow, and started to climb the narrow path Indian file, leaving the chauffeurs to gossip and smoke.

Not a footprint of man or beast had broken the smooth snow on the circular steps. The strange edifice rose glimmering from the snows that banked it and hooded it, white, cold, silent, a fit waiting-room on the mysterious route to eternity. Ice had filled the lock of the bronze outer door and had to be thawed out with matches before the key could be inserted. A reporter who carried an electric flash-light threw the beam on the lock and the rest stood grouped at the bottom of the steps, all eyes and ears and shivering with cold and expectancy. By tacit consent, as the great door swung slowly outward, Dr. Blinkman, Professor Perkins, and the newspaper men dropped back to let Mr. Lecky enter first. As on his first visit the preceding year he pressed the button on the wall and the electric light streamed down upon the interior from the rows of bulbs around the skylight.

Everything was exactly as it was left twelve months before.

One by one the awe-stricken men stepped softly in and gathered round the sarcophagus, staring down wide-eyed upon the white face of Professor Hicks. No change had taken place in those frozen features; there were no indications of decay and neither were there any signs of life. To all appearances he was still a dead man -- and the hands of Mr. Lecky's watch pointed to ten minutes after midnight.

The professor was overdue on his journey back from oblivion. No one moved, no one spoke, every eye was rivited unwinkingly upon the rigid form stretched out under the bronze canopy, every heart beat madly with suspense, and teeth chattered like castanets with excitement and the deadly cold of the tomb.

"One o'clock," said Professor Perkins at last as he pocketed his watch. "Supposing Professor Hicks' theory of his serum to have been correct, perhaps it would be as well to assist returning circulation by rubbing the extremities. Let us remove him from his present resting-place to the floor."

So the poor professor who had sacrificed himself on the altar of science was tenderly lifted from his huge bronze coffin, and for more than an hour the men took turns at rubbing his icy hands and feet, and working his stiff arms up and down like pump-handles; at the end of that time, and after every test known to medical science had been applied, Professor Perkins sadly pronounced him to be dead.

He was restored to the sarcophagus, the long black cloak was again thrown over him, this time to conceal his face, and Mr. Lecky, turning to the horrified group, spoke briefly and solemnly:

"I have already explained to you, gentlemen of the press, the fact that we are obeying the instructions of the late Professor Hicks in gathering here tonight. He made an heroic experiment in the interest of science and it has failed. On my return to my office tomorrow, I will hand you the explanation of this most lamentable affair as prepared by him to be given to the world in the event of just what has happened -- his death. In view of the peculiar circumstances surrounding his demise, I think you will all agree with me that a second burial would be a mockery, and that we cannot do better than to leave him here to the long sleep, from which we are now convinced he will never wake in the flesh."

Slowly, solemnly, the silent company passed out, the great door clanged shut for the last time, and the mausoleum's quiet occupant was left to await the resurrection dawn.

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