The Girl in the Golden Atom
by Ray Cummings
Table of Contents|
Proceed to part 5
installment 4 of 9
Chapter III: After Forty-Eight Hours
THE Banker snored stertorously from his mattress in a corner of the room. In an easy-chair near by, with his feet on the table, lay the Very Young Man, sleeping also.
The Doctor and the Big Business Man sat by the handkerchief conversing in low tones.
“How long has it been now?” asked the latter.
“Just forty hours,” answered the Doctor; “and he said that forty-eight hours was the limit. He should come back at about ten tonight.”
“I wonder if he will come back,” questioned the Big Business Man nervously. “Lord, I wish he wouldn’t snore so loud,” he added irritably, nodding in the direction of the Banker. ,
They were silent for a moment, and then he went on: “’You’d better try to sleep a little while, Frank. You’re worn out. I’ll watch here.”
“I suppose I should,” answered the Doctor wearily. “Wake up that kid, he’s sleeping most of the time.”
“No, I’ll watch,” repeated the Big Business Man. “You lie down over there.”
The Doctor did so while the other settled himself more comfortably on a cushion beside the handkerchief, and prepared for his lonely watching.
The Doctor apparently dropped off to sleep at once, for he did not speak again. The Big Business Man sat staring steadily at the ring, bending nearer to it occasionally. Every ten or fifteen minutes he looked at his watch.
Perhaps an hour passed in this way, when the Very Young Man suddenly sat up and yawned. “Haven’t they come back yet?” he asked in a sleepy voice.
The Big Business Man answered in a much lower tone. “What do you mean-they?”
“I dreamed that he brought the girl back with him,” said the Very Young Man.
“Well, if he did, they have not arrived. You’d better go back to sleep. We’ve got six or seven hours yet, maybe more.”
The Very Young Man rose and crossed the room. “No, I’ll watch a while,” he said, seating himself on the floor. “What time is it?”
“Quarter to three.”
“He said he’d be back by ten tonight. I’m crazy to see that girl.”
The Big Business Man rose and went over to a dinnertray, standing near the door. “Lord, I’m hungry. I must have forgotten to eat today.” He lifted up one of the silver covers. What he saw evidently encouraged him, for he drew up a chair and began his lunch.
The Very Young Man lighted a cigarette. “It will be the tragedy of my life,” he said, “if he never comes back.”
The Big Business Man smiled. “How about his life?” he answered, but the Very Young Man had fallen into a reverie and did not reply.
The Big Business Man finished his lunch in silence and was just about to light a cigar when a sharp exclamation brought him hastily to his feet.
“Come here, quick, I see something.” The Very Young Man had his face close to the ring and was trembling violently.
The other pushed him back. “Let me see. Where?” “There, by the scratch; he’s lying there; I can see him.”
The Big Business Man looked and then hurriedly woke the Doctor.
“He’s come back,” he said briefly; “you can see him there.” The Doctor bent down over the ring while the hers woke up the Banker.
“He doesn’t seem to be getting any bigger,” said the Very Young Man . “he’s just lying there. Maybe he’s dead.”
“What shall we do?” asked the Big Business Man, and as if to pick up the ring. The Doctor shoved him way. “Don’t do that!” he said sharply. “Do you want kill him?”
“He’s sitting up,” cried the Very Young Man. “He’s alright.”
“He must have fainted,” said the Doctor. “Probably he’s taking more of the drug now.”
“He’s much larger,” said the Very Young Man; “look him!”
The tiny figure was sitting sideways on the ring, with feet hanging over the outer edge. It was growing perceptibly larger each instant, and in a moment it slipped down off the ring and sank in a heap on the handkerchief.
“Good Heavens! Look at him!” cried the Big Business Man. “He’s all covered with blood.”
The little figure presented a ghastly sight. As it steadily grew larger they could see and recognize the Chemist’s haggard face, his cheek and neck stained with blood, and his white suit covered with dirt.
“Look at his feet,” whispered the Big Business Man. They were horribly cut and bruised and greatly swollen.
The Doctor bent over and whispered gently, “What can I do to help you?” The Chemist shook his head. His body, lying prone upon the handkerchief, had torn it apart in growing. When he was about twelve inches in length he raised his head. The Doctor bent closer. “Some brandy, please,” said a wraith of the Chemist’s voice. It was barely audible.
“He wants some brandy,” called the Doctor. The Very Young Man looked hastily around, then opened the door and dashed madly out of the room. When he returned, the Chemist had grown to nearly four feet. He was sitting on the floor with his back against the Doctor’s knees. The Big Business Man was wiping the blood off his face with a damp napkin.
“Here!” cried the Very Young Man, thrusting forth the brandy. The Chemist drank a little of it. Then he sat up, evidently somewhat revived.
“I seem to have stopped growing,” he said. “Let’s finish it up now. God! how I want to be the right size again,” he added fervently.
The Doctor helped him extract the vials from under his arm, and the Chemist touched one of the pills to his tongue. Then he sank back, closing his eyes. “I think that should be about enough,” he murmured.
No one spoke for nearly ten minutes. Gradually the Chemist’s body grew, the Doctor shifting his position several times as it became larger. It seemed finally to have stopped growing, and was apparently nearly its former size.
“Is he asleep?” whispered the Very Young Man.
The Chemist opened his eyes. “No,” he answered. “I’m all right now, I think.” He rose to his feet, the Doctor and the Big Business Man supporting him on either side.
“Sit down and tell us about it,” said the Very Young Man. “Did you find the girl?”
The Chemist smiled wearily. “Gentlemen, I cannot talk now. Let me have a bath and some dinner. Then I will tell you all about it.” The Doctor rang for an attendant, and led the Chemist to the door, throwing a blanket around him as he did so. In the doorway the Chemist paused and looked back with a wan smile over the wreck of the room.
“Give me an hour,” he said. “And eat something yourselves while I am gone.” Then he left, closing the door after him.
When he returned, fully dressed in clothes that were ludicrously large for him, the room had been straightened up, and his four friends were finishing their meal. He took his place among them quietly and lighted a cigar.
“Well, gentlemen, I suppose that you are interested to hear what happened to me,” he began. The Very Young Man asked his usual question.
“Let him alone,” said the Doctor. “You will hear it all soon enough.”
“Was it all as you expected?” asked the Banker. It was his first remark since the Chemist returned.
“To a great extent, yes,” answered the Chemist. “But I had better tell you just what happened.” The Very Young Man nodded his eager agreement.
“When I took those first four pills,” began the Chemist in a quiet, even tone, “my immediate sensation was a sudden reeling of the senses, combined with an extreme nausea. This latter feeling passed after a moment.
“You will remember that I seated myself upon the floor and closed my eyes. When I opened them my head had steadied itself somewhat, but I was oppressed by a curious feeling of drowsiness, impossible to shake off.
“My first mental impression was one of wonderment when I saw you all begin to increase in size. I remember standing up beside that chair, which was then half again its normal size, and you” — indicating the Doctor — ”towered beside me as a giant of nine or ten feet high.
“Steadily upward, with a curious crawling motion, grew the room and all its contents. Except for the feeling of sleep that oppressed me, I felt quite my usual self. No change appeared happening to me, but everything else seemed growing to gigantic and terrifying proportions.
“Can you imagine a human being a hundred feet high? That is how you looked to me as I stepped upon that huge expanse of black silk and shouted my last good-bye to you!
“Over to my left lay the ring, apparently fifteen or twenty feet away. I started to walk towards it, but although it grew rapidly larger, the distance separating me from it seemed to increase rather than lessen. Then I ran, and by the time I arrived it stood higher than my waist — a beautiful, shaggy, golden pit.
“I jumped upon its rim and clung to it tightly. I could feel it growing beneath me, as I sat. After a moment I climbed upon its top surface and started to walk towards the point where I knew the scratch to be,
“I found myself now, as I looked about, walking upon a narrow, though ever broadening, curved path. The ground beneath my feet appeared to be a rough, yellowish quartz. This path grew rougher as I advanced. Below the bulging edges of the path, on both sides, lay a shining black plain, ridged and indented, and with a sunlike sheen on the higher portions of the ridges. On the one hand this black plain stretched in an unbroken expanse to the horizon. On the other, it appeared as a circular valley, enclosed by a shining yellow wall.
“The way had now become extraordinarily rough. I bore to the left as I advanced, keeping close to the outer, edge. The other edge of the path I could not see. I c1mbered along hastily, and after a few moments was confronted by a row of rocks and bowlders lying directly across my line of progress. I followed their course for a short distance, and finally found a space through which I could pass.
“This transverse ridge was perhaps a hundred feet deep. Behind it and extending in a parallel direction lay a tremendous valley. I knew then I had reached my first objective.
“I sat down upon the brink of the precipice and watched the cavern growing ever wider and deeper. Then I realized that I must begin my descent if ever I was to reach the bottom. For perhaps six hours I climbed steadily downwards. It was a fairly easy descent after the first little while, for the ground seemed to open up before me as I advanced, changing its contour so constantly that I was never at a loss for an easy downward path.
“My feet suffered cruelly from the shaggy, metallic ground, and I soon had to stop and rig a sort of protection for the soles of them from a portion of the harness over my shoulder. According to the stature I was when I reached the bottom, I had descended perhaps twelve thousand feet — during this time.
“The latter part of the journey found me nearing the bottom of the cavern. Objects around me no longer seemed to increase in size, as had been constantly the case before, and I reasoned that probably my stature was remaining constant.
“I noticed, too, as I advanced, a curious alteration in ‘the form of light around me. The glare from above (the sky showed only as a narrow dull ribbon of blue) barely penetrated to the depths of the cavern’s floor. But all about me there was a soft radiance, seeming to emanate from the rocks themselves.
“The sides of the cavern were shaggy and rough, beyond anything I had ever seen. Huge bowlders, hundreds of feet in diameter, were embedded in them. The bottom also was strewn with similar gigantic rocks.
“I surveyed this lonely waste for some time in dismay, not knowing in what direction lay my goal. I knew that I was at the bottom of the scratch, and by the comparison of its size I realized I was well started on my journey.
“I have not told you, gentlemen, that at the time I marked the ring I made a deeper indentation in one portion of the scratch and focused the microscope upon that. This indentation I now searched for. Luckily I found it, legs than half a mile away-an almost circular pit, perhaps five miles in diameter, with shining walls extending downwards into blackness. There seemed no possible way of descending into it, so I sat down near its edge to think out my plan of action.
“I realized now that I was faint and hungry, and whatever I did must be done quickly. I could turn back to you, or I could go on. I decided to risk the latter course, and took twelve more of the pills-three times my original dose.”
The Chemist paused for a moment, but his auditors were much too intent to question him. Then he resumed in his former matter-of-fact tone.
“After my vertigo had passed somewhat — it was much more severe this time — I looked up and found my surroundings growing at a far more rapid rate than before. I staggered to the edge of the pit. It was opening up and widening out at an astounding rate. Already its, sides were becoming rough and broken, and I saw many places where a descent would be possible.
Copyright © 1919 by Ray Cummings