The Black Flame - Stanley G. Weinbaum - ebook

The Black Flame ebook

Stanley G. Weinbaum

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When „The Black Flame” was first published in 1939, Stanley G. Weinbaum had already been dead for three years. This novel contains of two short novels: „Dawn of Flame” and „The Black Flame”. Both are very similar stories, the reason for that is that Weinbaum had not released the first one and reworked it into the longer second part. The story itself is a weird SciFi love story set in a very distant future. Mankind had nearly become extinct, but recovers to a good number by the help of scientists who also discover the secret of stopping people from aging and dieing.

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Liczba stron: 230

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Contents

Chapter 1. Penalty—And Aftermath

Chapter 2. Evanie The Sorceress

Chapter 3. Forest Meeting

Chapter 4. A Bit Of Ancient History

Chapter 5. The Village

Chapter 6. The Metamorphs

Chapter 7. Panate Blood

Chapter 8. In Time Of Peace

Chapter 9. The Way To Urbs

Chapter 10. Revolution

Chapter 11. Flight

Chapter 12. The Messenger

Chapter 13. The Trail Back

Chapter 14. The Master

Chapter 15. Two Women

Chapter 16. Immortality

Chapter 17. The Destiny Of Man

Chapter 18. The Sky-Rat

Chapter 19. Death Flight?

Chapter 20. The Conspirators

Chapter 21. The Dinner At The Sleeper’s

Chapter 22. Declaration

Chapter 23. The Amphimorphs In The Pool

Chapter 24. The Atomic Bomb

Chapter 25. Inferno

Chapter 26. The Master Sits In Judgement

1. PENALTY - AND AFTERMATH

Thomas Marshall Connor was about to die. The droning voice of the prison chaplain gradually dulled his perception instead of stimulating his mind. Everything was hazy and indistinct to the condemned man. He was going to the electric chair in just ten minutes to pay the supreme penalty because he had accidentally killed a man with his bare fists.

Connor, vibrantly alive, vigorous and healthy, only twenty-six, a brilliant young engineer, was going to die. And, knowing, he did not care. But there was nothing at all nebulous about the gray stone and cold iron bars of the death cell. There was nothing uncertain about the split down his trouser leg and the shaven spot on his head.

The condemned man was acutely aware of the solidarity of material things about him. The world he was leaving was concrete and substantial. The approaching footsteps of the death guard sounded heavily in the distance.

The cell door opened, and the chaplain ceased his murmuring. Passively Thomas Marshall Connor accepted his blessings, and calmly took his position between his guards for his last voluntary walk.

He remained in his state of detachment as they seated him in the chair, strapped his body and fastened the electrodes. He heard the faint rustling of the witnesses and the nervous, rapid scratching of reporters’ pencils. He could imagine their adjectives–“Calloused murderer”… “Brazenly indifferent to his fate.”

But it was as if the matter concerned a third party.

He simply relaxed and waited. To die so quickly and painlessly was more a relief than anything. He was not even aware when the warden gave his signal. There was a sudden silent flash of blue light. And then–nothing at all.

*     *

*

So this was death. The slow and majestic drifting through the Stygian void, borne on the ageless tides of eternity.

Peace, at last–peace, and quiet, and rest.

But what was this sensation like the glimpse of a faint, faraway light which winked on and off like a star? After an interminable period the light became fixed and steady, a thing of annoyance. Thomas Marshall Connor, slowly became aware of the fact of his existence as an entity, in some unknown state. The senses and memories that were his personality struggled weakly to reassemble themselves into a thinking unity of being–and he became conscious of pain and physical torture.

There was a sound of shrill voices, and a stir of fresh air. He became aware of his body again. He lay quiet, inert, exhausted. But not as lifeless as he had lain for–how long?

When the shrill voices sounded again, Connor opened unseeing eyes and stared at the blackness just above him. After a space he began to see, but not to comprehend. The blackness became a jagged, pebbled roof no more than twelve inches from his eyes–rough and unfinished like the under side of a concrete walk.

The light became a glimmer of daylight from a point near his right shoulder.

Another sensation crept into his awareness. He was horribly, bitterly cold. Not with the chill of winter air, but with the terrible frigidity of inter-galactic space. Yet he was on–no, in, earth of some sort. It was as if icy water flowed in his veins instead of blood. Yet he felt completely dehydrated. His body was as inert as though detached from his brain, but he was cruelly imprisoned within it. He became conscious of a growing resentment of this fact.

Then, stimulated by the shrilling, piping voices and the patter of tiny feet out there somewhere to the right, he made a tremendous effort to move. There was a dry, withered crackling sound–like the crumpling of old parchment–but indubitably his right arm had lifted!

The exertion left him weak and nauseated. For a time he lay as in a stupor. Then a second effort proved easier. After another timeless interval of struggling torment his legs yielded reluctant obedience to his brain. Again he lay quietly, exhausted, but gathering strength for the supreme effort of bursting from his crypt.

For he knew now where he was. He lay in what remained of his grave. How or why, he did not know. That was to be determined.

With all his weak strength he thrust against the left side of his queer tomb, moving his body against the crevice at his right. Only a thin veil of loose gravel and rubble blocked the way to the open. As his shoulder struck the pile, it gave and slid away, outward and downward, in a miniature avalanche.

Blinding daylight smote Connor like an agony. The shrill voices screamed.

“‘S moom!” a child’s voice cried tremulously. “‘S moom again!”

Connor panted from exertion, and struggled to emerge from his hole, each movement producing another noise like rattling paper. And suddenly he was free! The last of the gravel tinkled away and he rolled abruptly down a small declivity to rest limply at the bottom of the little hillside.

He saw now that erosion had cut through this burial ground–wherever it was–and had opened a way for him through the side of his grave. His sight was strangely dim, but he became aware of half a dozen little figures in a frightened semicircle beyond him.

Children! Children in strange modernistic garb of bright colors, but nevertheless human children who stared at him with wide-open mouths and popping eyes. Their curiously cherubic faces were set in masks of horrified terror.

Suddenly recalling the terrors he had sometimes known in his own childhood, Connor was surprised they did not flee. He stretched forth an imploring hand and made a desperate effort to speak. This was his first attempt to use his voice, and he found that he could not.

The spell of dread that held the children frozen was instantly broken. One of them gave a dismayed cry: “A-a-a-h! ‘S a specker!”

In panic, shrieking that cry, the entire group turned and fled. They disappeared around the shoulder of the eroded hill, and Connor was left, horribly alone. He groaned from the depths of his despair and was conscious of a faint rasping noise through his cracked and parched lips.

He realized suddenly that he was quite naked–his shroud had long since moldered to dust. At the same moment that full comprehension of what this meant came to him, he was gazing in horror at his body. Bones! Nothing but bones, covered with a dirty, parchment-like skin!

So tightly did his skin cover his skeletal framework that the very structure of the bones showed through. He could see the articulation at knuckles, knees, and toes. And the parchment skin was cracked like an ancient Chinese vase, checked like aged varnish. He was a horror from the tomb, and he nearly fainted at the realization.

After a swooning space, he endeavored to arise. Finding that he could not, he began crawling painfully and laboriously toward a puddle of water from the last rain. Reaching it, he leaned over to place his lips against its surface, reckless of its potability, and sucked in the liquid until a vast roaring filled his ears.

The moment of dizziness passed. He felt somewhat better, and his breathing rasped a bit less painfully in his moistened throat. His eyesight was slowly clearing and as he leaned above the little pool, he glimpsed the specter reflected there. It looked like a skull–a face with lips shrunken away from the teeth, so fleshless that it might have been a death’s head.

“Oh, God!” he called out aloud, and his voice croaked like that of a sick raven. “What and where am I!”

In the back of his mind all through this weird experience, there had been a sense of something strange aside from his emergence from a tomb in the form of a living scarecrow. He stared up at the sky.

The vault of heaven was blue and fleecy with thewhitest of clouds. The sun was shining as he had never thought to see it shine again. The grass was green. The ground was normally earthy. Everything was as it should be–but there was a strangeness about it that frightened him. Instinctively he knew that something was direfully amiss.

It was not the fact that he failed to recognize his surroundings. He had not had the strength to explore; neither did he know where he had been buried. It was that indefinable homing instinct possessed in varying degree by all animate things. That instinct was out of gear. His time sense had stopped with the throwing of that electric switch–how long ago? Somehow, lying there under the warming rays of the sun, he felt like an alien presence in a strange country.

“Lost!” he whimpered like a child.

After a long space in which he remained in a sort of stupor, he became aware of the sound of footsteps. Dully he looked up. A group of men, led by one of the children, was advancing slowly toward him. They wore brightly colored shirts–red, blue, violet–and queer baggy trousers gathered at the ankles in an exotic style.

With a desperate burst of energy, Connor gained his knees. He extended a pleading skeletonlike claw.

“Help me!” he croaked in his hoarse whisper.

The beardless, queerly effeminate-looking men halted and stared at him in horror.

“‘Assim!” shrilled the child’s voice. “‘S a specker. ‘S dead.”

One of the men stepped forward, looking from Connor to the gaping hole in the hillside.

“Wassup?” he questioned.

Connor could only repeat his croaking plea for aid.

“‘Esick,” spoke another man gravely. “Sleeper, eh?”

There was a murmur of consultation among the men with the bright clothes and oddly soft, womanlike voices.

“T’ Evanie!” decided one. “T’ Evanie, the Sorc’ess.”

They closed quickly around the half reclining Connor and lifted him gently. He was conscious of being borne along the curving cut to a yellow country road, and then black oblivion descended once more to claim him.

When he regained consciousness the next time, he found that he was within walls, reclining on a soft bed of some kind. He had a vague dreamy impression of a girlish face with bronze hair and features like Raphael’s angels bending over him. Something warm and sweetish, like glycerin, trickled down his throat.

Then, to the whispered accompaniment of that queerly slurred English speech, he sank into the blissful repose of deep sleep.

2. EVANIE THE SORCERESS

There were successive intervals of dream and oblivion, of racking pain and terrible nauseating weakness; of voices murmuring queer, unintelligible words that yet were elusively familiar.

Then one day he awoke to the consciousness of a summer morning. Birds twittered; in the distance children shouted. Clear of mind at last, he lay on a cushioned couch puzzling over his whereabouts, even his identity, for nothing within his vision indicated where or who he was.

The first thing that caught his attention was his own right hand. Paper- thin, incredibly bony, it lay like the hand of death on the rosy coverlet, so transparent that the very color shone through. He could not raise it; only a twitching of the horrible fingers attested its union with his body.

The room itself was utterly unfamiliar in its almost magnificently simple furnishings. There were neither pictures nor ornaments. Only several chairs of aluminum-like metal, a gleaming silvery table holding a few ragged old volumes, a massive cabinet against the opposite wall, and a chandelier pendant by a chain from the ceiling. He tried to call out. A faint croak issued.

The response was startlingly immediate. A soft voice said, “Hahya?” in his ear and he turned his head pain-fully to face the girl of the bronze hair, seated at his side. She smiled gently.

She was dressed in curious green baggy trousers gathered at the ankle, and a brilliant green shirt. She had rolled the full sleeves to her shoulders. Hers was like the costume of the men who had brought him here.

“Whahya?” she said softly.

He understood.

“Oh! I’m–uh–Thomas Connor, of course.”

“F’m ‘ere?”

“From St. Louis.”

“Selui? ‘S far off.”

Far off? Then where was he? Suddenly a fragment of memory returned. The trial–Ruth–that catastrophic episode of the grim chair. Ruth! The yellow-haired girl he had once adored, who was to have been his wife–the girl who had coldly sworn his life away because he had killed the man she loved.

Dimly memory came back of how he had found her in that other man’s arms on the very eve of their wedding; of his bitter realization that the man he had called friend had stolen Ruth from him. His outraged passions had flamed, the fire had blinded him, and when the ensuing battle had ended, the man had been crumpled on the green sward of the terrace, with a broken neck.

He had been electrocuted for that. He had been strapped in that chair!

Then–then the niche on the hill. But how–how? Had he by some miracle survived the burning current? He must have–and he still had the penalty to pay!

He tried desperately to rise.

“Must leave here!” he muttered. “Get away–must get away.” A new thought. “No! I’m legally dead. They can’t touch me now; no double jeopardy in this country. I’m safe!”

Voices sounded in the next room, discussing him.

“F’m Selui, he say,” said a man’s voice. “Longo, too.” “Eah,” said another. ” ‘S lucky to live–lucky! ‘L be rich.”

That meant nothing to him. He raised his hand with a great effort; it glistened in the light with an oil of some sort. It was no longer cracked, and the ghost of a layer of tissue softened the bones. His flesh was growing back.

His throat felt dry. He drew a breath that ended in a tickling cough.

“Could I have some water?” he asked the girl.

“N-n-n!” She shook her head. “N’ water. S’m licket?” “Licket?” Must be liquid, he reflected. He nodded, and drank the mug of thick fluid she held to his lips.

He grinned his thanks, and she sat beside him. He wondered what sort of colony was this into which he had fallen–with their exotic dress and queer, clipped English.

His eyes wandered appreciatively over his companion; even if she were some sort of foreigner, she was gloriously beautiful, with her bronze hair gleaming above the emerald costume.

“C’n talk,” she said finally as if in permission.

He accepted. “What’s your name?”

“‘M Evanie Sair. Evanie the Sorc’ess.”

“Evanie the Sorceress!” he echoed. “Pretty name–Evanie. Why the Sorceress, though? Do you tell fortunes?” The question puzzled her.

“N’onstan,” she murmured.

“I mean–what do you do?”

“Sorc’y.” At his mystified look, she amplified it. “To give strength–to make well.” She touched his fleshless arm.

“But that’s medicine–a science. Not sorcery.”

“Bah. Science–sorc’y. ‘S all one. My father, Evan Sair

the Wizard, taught me.” Her face shadowed. “‘S dead now.” Then abruptly: “Whe’s your money?” she asked. He stared. “Why–in St. Louis. In a bank.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “N-n-n! Selui! N’safe!”

“Why not?” He started. “Has there been another flood of bank-bustings?”

The girl looked puzzled.

“N’safe,” she reiterated. “Urbs is better. For very long, Urbs is better.” She paused. “When’d you sleep?”

“Why, last night.”

“N-n-n. The long sleep.”

The long sleep! It struck him with stunning force that his last memories before that terrible awakening had been of a September world–and this was mid-summer! A horror gripped him. How long–how long–had he lain in his–grave? Weeks? No–months, at least.

He shuddered as the girl repeated gently, “When?”

“In September,” he muttered.

“What year?”

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