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The Shadow Girl
     

The Shadow Girl

by Ray Cummings
 

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A mysterious tower appears in the middle of a city, bearing a troubled girl from the future in search of help from today. One of Cummings' best works, THE SHADOW GIRL remains thoroughly readable and enjoyable even though it was first published more than eighty years ago.

"He is a Verne returned and a Wells going forward," remarked "Bob" Davis

Overview

A mysterious tower appears in the middle of a city, bearing a troubled girl from the future in search of help from today. One of Cummings' best works, THE SHADOW GIRL remains thoroughly readable and enjoyable even though it was first published more than eighty years ago.

"He is a Verne returned and a Wells going forward," remarked "Bob" Davis, dean of American magazine editors. "He is the American H.G. Wells," say other critics. Cummings has an unusual flair for things scientific as evidenced by the fact that while at Princeton University he accomplished the remarkable feat of absorbing three years of physics in that many months. His five years' association with Thomas Edison as the latter's personal assistant also added to Cummings's scientific knowledge. His bizarre early life, living on orange plantations in Puerto Rico, striking oil in Wyoming, gold seeking in British Columbia, timber cruising in the North, before he was twenty, also left its imprint.

"Leaving Mr. Edison's employ, Cummings began writing scientific fiction for many magazines. His stories gripped the popular imagination and they "clicked." Mr. Cummings's success as a writer has been meteoric, for in a few years he has become one of the world's most popular authors of scientific fiction.... --Argosy-Allstory Weekly, Feb. 8, 1930

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781434481788
Publisher:
Wildside Press
Publication date:
05/07/2007
Pages:
132
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.44(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER I

The extraordinary and mysterious visions of the shadow girl appeared on the television set which Alan and I had just erected in his workshop. It was nearly midnight--a hot sultry evening in late June. We had worked all evening installing it. Alan's sister, Nanette, sat quietly in a corner, modeling a little statue in green clay. Occasionally she would ask us how we were getting along.

We were planning to receive the broadcasting from one of the New York stations--a program which had been advertised for 11:30 P.M.

The room was dark as we sat at the small instrument table with the nineteen-inch screen erect against the wall. The set hummed as the current went into it. The screen lighted unevenly; we could not locate with any precision the necessary channels; not one of the broadcasting studios which we knew were at that moment on the air, would come in.

Nanette was disappointed and impatient as I manipulated the dials at random, and Alan verified the connections. "Is there nothing on it?"

"Presently, Nan. Alan must have grounded it badly--I'm sure we have everything else--"

I stopped abruptly. My grip tightened on her arm. We all sat tense. An image was forming on the screen.

Alan said sharply: "Don't touch it, Ed!" I relinquished the dials.

We sat watching, tense, and interested. Then mystified, awed. And presently upon us all there settled a vague, uneasy sense of fear.

For this, confronting us, was the Unknown.

The screen glowed, not with the normal gray-silver, but with what seemed a pale, wan starlight. A blurred image; but it was slowly clarifying. A dim purple sky, with misty stars.

We sat staringinto the depths of the television scenes. Depths unmeasurable; illimitable distance. I recall my first impression when in the foreground faint gray-blue shadows began forming: was this an earthly scene? It seemed not. Blurred shadows in the starlight, crawling mist of shadows, congealing into dim outlines.

We saw presently the wide area of a starlit night. A level landscape of vegetation. Grassy lawns, trees, a burbling brook, shimmering like a thread of silver in the starlight. The image was sharp now, distinct, and without suggestion of flicker. Every color rounded and full. Deep-toned nature, pale and serene in the starlight.

A minute passed. In the center foreground of the vista a white wraith was taking form. And suddenly--as though I had blinked--there was a shape which an instant before had not been there. Solid reality. Of everything in the scene, it was most solid, most real.

A huge, gray-white skeleton tower, its base was set on a lawn where now I could see great beds of flowers, vivid with colored blossoms. The brook wound beside it. It was a pentagon tower. Its height might have been two hundred feet or more, narrowing at the top almost to a point. Skeleton girders with all the substantiality of steel, yet with a color more like aluminum.

We were, visually, fairly close to this tower. The image of it stood the full height of our screen. A balcony girded it near the top. A room, like an observatory, was up there, with tiny ovals of windows. Another large room was midway down. I could see the interior--ladder steps, and what might have been a shaft with a lifting elevator.

The tower's base was walled solid. It seemed, as we stared, that like a camera moving forward, the scene was enlarging--

We found ourselves presently gazing, from a close viewpoint, at the base of the tower. It was walled, seemingly by masonry, into a room. There were windows, small and high above the ground. Climbing vines and trellised flowers hung upon the walls. There was a broad, front doorway up a stone flight of steps.

And I became aware now of what I had not noticed before: the gardens surrounding the tower were enclosed with a high wall of masonry. A segment of it was visible now as a background to the scene. A wall, looped and turreted at intervals as though this was some fortress.

The whole lay quiet and calm in the starlight. No sign of human movement. Nanette said:

"But, Edward, isn't anyone in sight? No people--"

And Alan: "Ed, look! There--back there on the wall--"

It seemed on the distant wall that a dark figure was moving. A guard? A pacing sentry?

And now, other movement. A figure appeared of a girl. She came slowly from within and stood at the head of the entrance steps. The glow of an interior light outlined her clearly: a slim, small girl, in a robe faintly sky-blue. Flowing hair, pale as spun gold with the light shining on it like a halo.

She stood a moment, quietly staring out into the night. We could not see her face clearly. She stood like a statue, gazing. And then, quietly, she turned and I caught a glimpse of her face--saw it clearly for an instant, its features imprinted clearly on my mind. A young girl, nearly matured; a face, it seemed, very queenly, singularly beautiful--

She moved back into the tower room. There was a sudden blur over the scene. Like a puff of dissipating vapor, it was gone.

The television screen before us glowed with its uneven illumination. Everything was as it had been a few moments before. The broadcasting studios would not come in. Our apparatus was not working properly. The tuner was misaligned. It was grounded badly. Or our fundamental calibration was in error. Something wrong. What, we never knew.

But we had seen this vision--flung at us, from somewhere. A vision, shining clear in every detail of form and color and movement. The image of things solid and real. Things existing--somewhere.

That was the first of the visions. The second came that same night, near dawn. We did not dare to touch our instrument. The dials, we found, had been set by me at random with a resulting wave-length which could not bring in any of the known broadcasting studios. We left them so, and did not try to find what might be wrong with the hookup. The image had come, it might come again if we left things as they were.

We sat, for hours that night, watching the screen. It glowed uneven; many of its cells were dark, others flickered red and green.

Nanette at last fell asleep beside us. Alan and I talked together softly so as not to disturb her. We had promised that if anything showed, we would awaken her. We discussed the possibility. But often we were silent. The thing already had laid its spell upon us. This vision, this little glimpse of somewhere. It had come, perhaps, from some far-distant world? Incredible! But I recall that instinctively I thought so.

Yet why should I? A tower, and a dim expanse of starlit landscape. And a girl, humanly beautiful. Surely these were things that could exist now on our earth. The atmosphere, we knew as a matter of common everyday science, teems with potential visions and sound.

Alan strove to be more rational. "But, Ed, look here--we've caught some distant unknown broadcaster."

"But who broadcasts a scene like that at night? This is 1962, Alan, not the year 2000."

He shrugged his wide, thin shoulders. His face was very solemn. He sat with his long, lean length hunched in his chair, chin cupped in his palms, the attitude of a youthful pagan thinker, confronted with a disturbing problem. But there was a very boyish modernity mingled with it; a lock of his straight black hair fell on his forehead. He seized it, twisted it, puzzled, and looked up at me and smiled.

Then Alan said a thing very strange; he said it slowly, musingly, as though the voicing of it awed him.

"I think it was Earth. I wonder if it was something that has been, or that will be--"

It came again, near dawn. The same tower, the same scene, starlit spread of landscape. The same grim encircling wall, with stalking dark figures upon it. We did not at first see the girl. The tower doorway stood open; the room inside glowed with its dim light. A moment of inactivity; and then it seemed that at this inexplicable place at which we were gazing--this unnamable time which seemed the present on our screen--a moment of action had come. A dark figure on the wall rose up--a small black blob against the background of stars. The figure of a man. His arms went up in a gesture.

Another figure had come to the tower doorway, a youth, strangely garbed. We could see him clearly: white-skinned, a young man. He stood gazing; and he saw the signal from the wall, and answered it. Behind him, the girl appeared. We could see them speak. An aspect of haste enveloped all their movements--a surreptitious haste, furtive, as though this that they were doing was forbidden.

The signal was repeated from the wall. They answered. They turned. The youth pushed the girl aside. He was stopping at the doorway, and her eager movement to help seemed to annoy him. He straightened. He had unfastened the tower door. He and the girl slid it slowly closed. It seemed very heavy. They pushed at it. The doorway closed with them inside.

We had awakened Nanette. She sat tense between us, with her long braids of thick, chestnut hair falling unheeded over her shoulders, her hand gripping each of us.

"Tell me!"

Alan said: "That door's heavy. They can't close it--yes! They've got it closed. I fancy they're barring it inside. The thing is all so silent--but you could imagine the clang of bars. I don't see the guard on the wall. It's dark over there. There's no one in sight. But, Nan, you can see that something's going to happen. See it--or feel it. Ed, look! Why--"

He broke off. Nanette's grip tightened on us.

A change had fallen upon all the scene. It seemed at first that our instrument was failing. Or that a "hole" had come, and everything momentarily was fading. But it was not that. The change was inherent to the scene itself. The tower outlines blurred, dimmed. This image of its solidarity was dissolving. Real, solid, tangible no longer. But it did not move; it did not entirely fade. It stood there, a glowing shimmering wraith of a tower, gray-white, ghostlike. A thing now of impalpable aspect, incredibly unsubstantial, imponderable, yet visible in the starlight.

The wall was gone! I realized it suddenly. The wall, and the garden and the flowers and the stream. All the background, all the surrounding details gone! The tower, like a ghost, stood ghostly and alone in a void of shapeless gray mist.

But the stars remained. The purple night, with silver stars. But even they were of an aspect somehow different. Moving visibly! For an instant I thought so.

Time passed as we sat there gazing--time marked only by my dim knowledge that Alan was talking with Nanette. Changes were sweeping the scene. The gray mist of background under the stars held a distance unfathomable. A space, inconceivable, empty to my straining vision.

And then, presently, there were things to see. It seemed that the infinite had suddenly contracted. The wraith of the tower stood unchanged. But abruptly I saw that it stood in a deep wooded area, rearing itself above a tangled forest. A river showed, a mile or so away, crossing the background in a white line. The stars were gone, it was night no longer. A day of blue sky, with white-massed clouds. The sun shone on the distant river.

The tower stood, faded even more in the daylight. I searched the forest glade around its base. Figures were there! Familiar in aspect; a group of savages--of this earth? Yes, I could not mistake them: Indians. Red-skinned, feathered figures, in vivid ceremonial headdress as though this day they had been dancing in the forest glade. And saw the strange apparition of this tower. Saw it? Why, they were seeing it now! Prostrated in a group on the mossy ground, awed, fear-struck, gazing fearfully upon this thing unknown; prostrate because this thing unknown must therefore be a god, and being a god, must be angry and threatening and to be placated.

An instant and I knew that this which Alan Tremont and Edward Williams were permitted was a mere pause. A tableau. A snatched vision from somewhere--sometime; presented all in an instant and whirled away.

But the phantom of the tower stood motionless, unchanged. The gray background whirled, pregnant with things unseeable. No! It was night. There were the familiar, unchanging stars. I became aware that the wraith of the tower was solidifying. The gray shadows under it were turning dark. Gray--then black--then deep green. Trees and grass. A small white spread of water near at hand.

The tower now was solid, tangible and real of aspect as we had first seen it. The doorway was still closed. Around it now was the dark stretch of a cultivated park-like space. All clear and distinct. A reality here, beyond anything we had seen before.

I gasped. Alan's swift words to Nanette echoed as though from my own thoughts. This was wholly familiar! This familiar space, pictured in quiet detail upon the screen. Familiar trees, little paths with benches along them, grassy lawns, a small, starlit lake. A winding roadway, with lights at intervals. In the distance, behind the tower, I could plainly see a large, low building of stone. A city street behind it, beyond the park. All familiar.

Alan gasped: "Why, it's here! This is barely a mile from us! That's Central Park! That's the Metropolitan Museum!"

Central Park, New York City. But when? We knew there was no tower like that in Central Park. Was this the future of Central Park at which we were staring?

The vision was more than a glimpse now. It held, vividly persisting in every reality of its smallest detail. The same space of that forest glade. But now man called it "Central Park." No ignorant savages were prostrated here now, before this phantom of the tower. No one here--

And then I saw, in the foreground, a man in a blue uniform standing on one of the paths of the park. A light shone on him. He stood, pressed backward against the light-pole staring at the tower with a hand upflung against his mouth. Instinctive fear. But not prostrate upon the ground. He stood tense. And dropped his hand and stood peering. Incredulous.

"Ed--see that police officer there! He sees the tower!"

The tower door opened. I fancied I saw the figure of the girl step furtively out and disappear into the shadows of the starlit park. I could not be sure. It was dark. But in the background, above the Metropolitan Museum, above the city buildings lining Fifth Avenue, I could see that the east was glowing with the coming dawn. A mass of billowing clouds flushed pink.

The tower doorway was closed again. The tower melted into a spectre, illusive, tenuous, but still there. A gossamer tower. And then it was gone. Everything was gone. But as though, in my fancy, or perhaps merely the persistence of vision, for one brief instant I seemed to see the park empty of the intruding tower; and the policeman, standing there incredulous at this that he had seen which was now vanished.

The television screen was empty of image. Alan was on his feet. "Ed! Look at the sky out there! That's the same sky!"

The workshop faced to the east. The same star-strewn sky of the vision was outside our window--the same sky, with the same modeling of clouds, flushed with the coming day.

Alan voiced my realizations. "Why, that's this dawn we've been seeing! The tower--in the park behind us--that policeman is out there now--he saw it! That's today! That just happened--now!"

* * * *
CHAPTER II

It was clear to us, or at least in part, what had occurred. The little fragment of Space occupied by Central Park was, throughout the visions, what we had been seeing. The tower was there; the tower had not moved--in Space. We had first seen it in some far distant realm--of Time. And it had moved, not in Space, but in Time. We had glimpsed the tower almost stopping, frightening those savages who, in what we call the Past, were roaming this little island of Manhattan. The same Space. The same enclosing rivers. But no city then. Or perhaps, near the southern end, where the converging rivers merged in broader water, there might just have been a group of struggling settlers. Cabins of hewn, notched logs, stockaded against the marauding redskins of the adjacent forest. A dense forest then, was north of the trail called "Maiden Lane." Far up there was this Space which now we call Central Park, with the great New York city now around it, grown in three short centuries from the infant New Amsterdam.

And the tower, immovable in Space, had come in Time to 1962. Had paused. This very morning. Had stopped and frightened a policeman of 1962, in Central Park. And then had become again a phantom, an in another instant, wholly invisible.

I recall my surprise at Alan's apparent understanding of this incredible thing which had come, all unheralded, upon us.

I found suddenly that there were things in the life of Alan which I did not know. Things he shared with Nanette; but not with me. An eagerness was in his manner as we discussed this thing. His dark cheeks were flushed with emotion; his dark eyes had a queer glow of excitement.

"I think, Ed, that I can understand a good many things of this. Things father knew, in theory--things he told me--" He checked himself. And when I questioned, he stopped me.

"Wait, Ed. It's confusing. It seems tremendous." And then he added: "And perhaps--dastardly."

What could he mean by that? Nanette said: "But, Alan--that girl--there was a girl, came here to New York this morning--"

The girl! The shadow girl, from out of the shadows! She, at least, was something tangible now. WE had seen here in Central Park this morning. The television screen now was vacant. It was destined never again to show us anything, but that we did not know. We had seen a girl arriving? Then, if so, she must be here--in Central Park, now.

Alan said: "I wonder if we should report it. That girl probably will be found." He had been into one of the other rooms of the small apartment a few moments before. He drew me there now. "Ed, I want to show you something significant. Perhaps significant--I don't know, yet."

Nanette followed after us. The bedroom faced south. We were high in a towering apartment building, just east of Fifth Avenue.

Over the lower roofs of the city I could see far to the south. In the waning starlight down there a single searchlight beam was standing up into the sky.

"Where is it?" I demanded. "The Battery? A ship in the harbor? Or Staten Island?"

Somewhere down there, a white shaft of light standing motionless. It was fading in the growing daylight.

"On Staten Island," said Alan. "It's a small searchlight on the roof of the Turber Hospital. It often stands like that. Haven't you ever noticed it?"

I supposed I had. But never thought of it. Why should I?

Alan added musingly: "It's queer--because I was wondering if it would chance to be there now, and there it is."

"But, Alan, see here--you're making a mystery of this. Heaven knows it's mysterious enough of itself, without your adding more."

He smiled. I saw suddenly a grimness as the smile faded and he set his wide, thin lips. There were things which he was beginning to piece together. Things, involving us so soon into such a maelstrom of events! But now, Alan only said:

"This Dr. Turber--Wolf Tuber--have you ever heard of him?"

"No," I said. "What has he to do with this? Whatever it is, you've guarded it very carefully from me, Alan."

There must have been a touch of bitterness in my tone. He laughed. "Nonsense! I haven't known anything worth discussing."

Nanette touched me: "It was something father told us just before he died. Just a theory of his--a suspicion."

"So inexplicable," said Alan. "But he was so earnest, that morning he died. Telling us what might be things of scientific fact, but probably would never be disclosed--to us or anyone. Yet now it may be--these things this morning seem to fit in. Ed, it's not secret--not from you."

"Then," I said, "who is Dr. Turber? What is he to you?"

"Nothing. He was, in 1940, a young medical student. Then, for a short while, he worked for father. He now owns the Turber Hospital--a private institution, a sort of sanatorium. He is, in his way, a genius. A specialist in nervous disorders. And father said he was--or would have been, had he stuck at it--an eminent physicist. But he did not. He left father--he stole, father thought, a large sum of father's money. I don't know the details. They're not important. Nothing was proved. He became--well, you might call him father's enemy. Certainly they disliked each other. I've met him casually several times. A scoundrelly sort of fellow, but his look. And that--of what I actually know--is all."

We were back in the workshop. The television screen still glowed, but it was empty of image. Nanette said gently: "Tell him, Alan, about Dr. Turber, and me."

It gave me a start. Alan said: "He seems to have fallen head over heels in love with Nanette. He had always liked her--"

"I was always afraid of him," she put in.

"And when Nanette grew up, even though then he was father's enemy, Turber came to him--wanted to marry Nanette--"

I could well imagine it. Nanette was tall, slim, with long chestnut hair incongruous in this day of short-haired girls. To me she was very beautiful indeed.

Alan went on: "I won't go into details. His persistent attentions were unwelcomed. Father told him so, and Nanette told him."

"I was always afraid of him," she repeated.

Alan smiled wryly. "I threw him out once--a snaky sort of fellow. We want none of him--do we, sister?"

"No," she said. "Tell Edward about Dr. Turber's life--father's theory."

"It would mean much to you, Ed. There were things--so father thought--of mystery about this Turber. Things inexplicable. His curious, unexplained absences from the hospital. Things about him which father sensed. And the searchlight, that for no apparent reason for years now has been occasionally flashing from the hospital roof. It marks Turber's absence, I know that much."

"And Turber's assistant," said Nanette. "That Indian--whatever he is--at the hospital."

"Yes. He, too. Father pieced it together into a very strange, half-formed theory. I have always thought it must have been born of father's dislike for the fellow. And father told it to me the morning of his death. That, too, I felt must have colored it. Father's mind, there at the last, roaming a little--not quite clear. But this, Ed--this morning--these visions of ours--we saw them, you know, we can't deny that. They seem, vaguely, to fit. Oh, there's no use theorizing--not yet. That girl we saw--"

Upon the girl it hinged, of course. The vision was gone. And at best it was only a vision. But the girl might be real--here in 1962.

We did not report what we saw to the police. Perhaps we had fancied that a girl came out of a phantom tower in Central Park this morning. And, if we had seen it on the television, even so, it might not actually have happened.

Had there actually been a policeman, there in the park, who had seen it? And was there existing, here in New York today, this girl of the shadows?

We waited, and the thing turned tangible indeed! Became a reality, for presently we learned that it had touched others than ourselves.

The early afternoon papers carried a small item. Some of them put it on the front page. But it was only a joke--a little thing to read, to laugh at, and forget. There had been in actuality, a policeman at dawn in Central Park; and he had been less reticent, more incautious than ourselves. He had told what he saw. And the newspapers wrote it:

GHOST OF EIFFEL TOWER INVADES CENTRAL PARK
POLICEMAN FIGHTS PHANTOM

Something to laugh at and forget. A chuckle, donated to a busy city by earnest Officer Macfarland who undoubtedly was already sorry that he had not kept his mouth shut.

And the girl?

The later afternoon papers carried another item. Who would connect the two? Who, indeed! For this other item was still smaller, unobtrusive, not even amusing. Nor novel--and therefore, worthy of nothing but a passing glance:

Unknown girl found at gate of Central Park.

Unable to speak intelligibly. Victim of amnesia.

Taken to Bellevue. Later transferred to

Turber Hospital, Staten Island.

Who would think anything of that? But we three knew that we stood upon the threshold of a mystery, with its shadowy portals swinging wide to lure us in.

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