Spawn of the Comet - Otis Adelbert Kline - ebook

Spawn of the Comet ebook

Otis Adelbert Kline



Silently, without warning they came, those fishermen of deep space who spread their net for man – living flying saucers the Earth must destroy – yet who multiplied by dying! „Spawn of the Comet” is a short alien invasion story by Otis Adelbert Kline. Otis Adelbert Kline (1891–1946) born in Chicago, Illinois, USA, was an adventure novelist and literary agent during the pulp era. He is best known for his interplanetary adventure novels set on Venus and Mars, which instantly became science-fiction classics. Much of his work first appeared in the magazine „Weird Tales”. Kline was an amateur orientalist and a student of Arabic, like his friend and sometime collaborator, E. Hoffmann Price. Recommended for lovers of the offbeat.

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I WAS spending the week-end in the country with Sue.

To me, Dick Perry, one of the cave-dwelling desk slaves in Chicago’s busy Loop, that was the height of bliss. Sue Davis, the eminent biologist and biochemist, was my fiancee. We were at the Davis country home.

The comet had come and gone, and the earth, as well as all earthly creatures, had settled down to its former more or less well-ordered existence.

It was Saturday forenoon–one of those drowsy, peaceful, pleasant mornings in late July so characteristic of the verdant Mississippi Valley. Sue and I had gone for a stroll on the farm, had crossed a field of nodding, fragrant clover, and had paused where a single huge hackberry tree cast its speckled shade over a small grass plot.

I was lying on my back in the grass and gazing dreamily up into the clear blue sky, while Sue, seated beside me, wove a garland of clover blossoms. Feeling poetic–I was but twenty-two and Sue nineteen–I began to compare the blue eyes with that of the heavens, and the spun gold of her hair with the sunbeams that danced down through the gently waving hackberry leaves, and to compose a verse suited to my mood. But there came a droning sound, louder than that made by the thousands of bees in the clover.

“The mail plane is coming in,” said Sue. “Sit up, lazybones, and watch it land. The field is only a mile from here.”

As I sat up the unmistakable droning of an airplane grew louder. Looking skyward, I could not see it at first. But I did see something which I had- not noticed before–a small, wispy white cloud scudding rapidly northward. Then I saw the plane coming from the west.

It appeared to me that cloud and plane were traveling at about the same speed, and if either changed its velocity or direction, they would meet. Nothing phenomenal in that, of course. I have often seen planes fly through the clouds. But here were the only cloud and the only plane in sight, and it would be interesting, I thought, if they should meet when each had so much open space in which to travel.

As they drew closer together I saw that the cloud was considerably higher than the plane.

“They won’t meet, after all,” I said, half to myself, half to my fair companion.

But scarcely had the words left my lips ere a strange thing happened. It appeared to me that the cloud, which was roughly disk-shaped with a few ragged streamers beneath, tilted and glided downward toward the level of the plane.

It came to me in the next instant that from our viewpoint the motions of all heavenly objects near the zenith must necessarily be relative–that the plane might have ascended toward the cloud. And yet this would not account for the apparent tilting of the cirrus disk.

Plane and cloud met. For a moment the airplane was completely concealed. But as it emerged once more into view I noticed that it was beginning a steep climb.

“He must be going to loop the loop,” I said, but the words had scarcely left my lips when the motor died. It appeared that the pilot had misjudged the amount of speed necessary for the climb and had not opened the throttle enough. The plane appeared to stop for a moment–then fell backward and downward, went into a sideslip, and hurtled groundward, out of control.

Sue gripped my arm and uttered a little scream of terror. We both leaped to our feet just as the ship crashed in a pasture not more than a half mile from where we stood, and about an equal distance from the landing field.

“Oh, how terrible!” Sue exclaimed. “Let’s run over and see what we can do. The pilot may not be dead.”

“Not one chance in a thousand for that,” I answered, “the way he crashed. But we’ll hurry over anyway.”

We ran across the clover field and climbed the pasture fence.

AS WE neared the wreck we saw three men, evidently from the airport, coming from the other direction. They arrived at the spot when we did.

The plane had struck with one wing down. That wing was partly crumpled by the shock of the collision. The nose was buried in the soft, boggy ground of the pasture, and the fuselage was a twisted wreck. Hanging about it like an invisible aura was a sickening, musty odor–a revolting, charnel scent, as if some ancient grave had been desecrated.

Fearing the effect on Sue of the horrible sight which I felt positive would be revealed, I suggested to her that she look the other way when two of the men from the airport went into the wreck for the remains of the pilot.

But the cries of horror which I expected to Lear from the two men did not materialize. Instead, they uttered exclamations of astonishment.

The man who was standing outside the wreck called to one of them:

“What’s the matter, Bill?”

“We can’t find no sign of a body here,” was the reply. “This crate must have been flying without a pilot.”

“Maybe Jackson fell out before the crack-up,” said the man outside.

“Must have been a long time before, if he did,” was the answer, “because I was watching the ship come in, and I’d have seen him if he fell out. Besides, she behaved all right until she passed through the cloud:”

“He might have fallen out in the cloud,” said the man outside.

“And then flew away with it? Don’t talk foolish.”

“Well, anyway, he’s not here. Whew! What a smell! Notice it?”

“Notice it! I’m strangling!”

The three men dragged out the mail sacks, shouldered them, and moved off in the direction of the landing field.

Sue and I were turning to go when my attention was attracted by several long, silky bits of what appeared to be hair or thread, caught in the rudder. Puzzled by the presence of material of this sort in so unusual a place, I walked closer to examine it. On nearer inspection it appeared like glossy blond hair of rather coarse texture.

I touched a strand of it with an inquisitive forefinger, and an astounding thing happened. With lightning-like rapidity that part of it which dangled beyond my finger and the rudder to which it was attached, assumed the shape of a spiral spring and jerked my finger toward the rudder.

Automatically I attempted to jerk my finger away. But the. effort was unavailing. Despite the apparent flimsiness of the strand which held it, it was bound as tightly to that rudder as if it had been held by a length of piano wire.

The strand, I observed, was caught in a cleft where the wood had split. I had been pulling downward from this point. I pulled a second time, this time upward, and the strand instantly came free, but it was no sooner freed from the crotch than it wrapped its remaining coils around my finger.

“What are you doing?” asked Sue.

“I have discovered something very strange,” I replied, showing her my tightly wrapped finger.

“Why, it’s nothing but a hair,” she said, and attempted to pull it from my finger, which was already beginning to show signs of congested circulation. But she could neither stretch nor break it. And the two ends had, twisted about each other, forming a splice that was as tight and immovable as the other loops.

“Don’t touch it!” I warned her, withdrawing my finger. “It’s not a hair.”

“Then what is it?” she asked, surprised.

“I don’t know,” I responded, “but something more sinister than you imagine. There are two more hanging on the rudder. Don’t go near them. I’ll try to get them and take them to your father for examination. Whatever they axe, they seem to be endowed with life and an unbelievable amount of strength.”

I obtained a dry weed-stalk near by and touched one of the remaining strands with it. To my surprise it did not move, but hung as limp and lifeless as if it had been what it appeared to be–a hair or thread.

Breaking the stalk in two, I caught the two strands between the two pieces of weed-stalk, and turned them until I had enough purchase to pull them from the cleft. I continued to turn them until they were wound around the stalks. Then Sue and I left for the house.

The walk of a mile and a half to the Davis home occupied only twenty-five minutes. But before we had traversed half that distance my finger, which had turned blue and begun to throb unmercifully, started to bleed where the strands surrounded it. These strands, which I was unable to pull off, continued to sink deeper into my flesh as if they slowly contracted, and I was conscious of a burning sensation, as if some powerful corrosive were searing the wound.

Upon entering the house we found Sue’s father, Professor Absolom Davis, working in small but excellently equipped experimental laboratory.

A small man with a pointed, iron gray beard, he is scarcely taller than his daughter, who is five feet two. Yet he has always appeared to me as a man of concentrated, dynamic energy. Despite the fact that we had apparently interrupted some intensely engrossing experiment as we burst unceremoniously into his laboratory, he beamed cordially at us through his large, thick-lensed glasses, and exclaimed:

“Well, well! Back so soon? Did you have a pleasant stroll?”

I briefly related to him the incidents that had just taken place–showed him the strands I had wrapped around the sticks, after warning him not to touch them, and also exhibited my tightly wrapped finger.

After examining it for a moment, he poured some alcohol into a test tube and. plunged the numbed digit into it. There was no result except an increased burning sensation where the strands had broken through the skin.

Wrinkling his brow in puzzlement, he put some alcohol into a second test tube, and into this dropped a small quantity of clear, pungent-smelling liquid. I was ordered to plunge my finger into this, but the result was no different than before, except that the burning was slightly intensified.

AFTER watching it for a moment, the professor prepared a third solution, using distilled water instead of alcohol, and dropping into it something with a peculiar, almond-like odor. Almost instantly the two spliced tendrils uncurled, and upon removing my finger from the test tube I was able to unwind the coils as easily as if they had been common thread.

Directing me to thoroughly wash my hands at once, the professor took a pair of surgical scissors and cut off a piece of the substance which had been wrapped around my finger.

The stuff seemed difficult to cut, and snapped like a piece of steel wire when severed. Then he put it under a compound microscope and examined it. The experiment which he had previously been conducting seemed completely forgotten in the excitement of this new investigation.

“What is it?” I asked, after washing my hands.

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