The Runaway Skyscraper, p.1Murray Leinster / Science Fiction
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The Runaway Skyscraper
_by_ Murray Leinster
COMPLETE IN THIS ISSUE.[*]
The whole thing started when the clock on the Metropolitan Towerbegan to run backward. It was not a graceful proceeding. The handshad been moving onward in their customary deliberate fashion,slowly and thoughtfully, but suddenly the people in the officesnear the clock's face heard an ominous creaking and groaning.There was a slight, hardly discernible shiver through the tower,and then something gave with a crash. The big hands on the clockbegan to move backward.
Immediately after the crash all the creaking and groaning ceased,and instead, the usual quiet again hung over everything. One ortwo of the occupants of the upper offices put their heads out intothe halls, but the elevators were running as usual, the lightswere burning, and all seemed calm and peaceful. The clerks andstenographers went back to their ledgers and typewriters, thebusiness callers returned to the discussion of their errands,and the ordinary course of business was resumed.
Arthur Chamberlain was dictating a letter to Estelle Woodward,his sole stenographer. When the crash came he paused, listened,and then resumed his task.
It was not a difficult one. Talking to Estelle Woodward was atno time an onerous duty, but it must be admitted that ArthurChamberlain found it difficult to keep his conversation strictlyupon his business.
He was at this time engaged in dictating a letter to his principalcreditors, the Gary & Milton Company, explaining that their demandfor the immediate payment of the installment then due upon his officefurniture was untimely and unjust. A young and budding engineer inNew York never has too much money, and when he is young as ArthurChamberlain was, and as fond of pleasant company, and not toofond of economizing, he is liable to find all demands for paymentuntimely and he usually considers them unjust as well. Arthurfinished dictating the letter and sighed.
Miss Woodward, he said regretfully, I am afraid I shall nevermake a successful man.
Miss Woodward shook her head vaguely. She did not seem to take hisremark very seriously, but then, she had learned never to take any ofhis remarks seriously. She had been puzzled at first by his manner oftreating everything with a half-joking pessimism, but now ignored it.
She was interested in her own problems. She had suddenly decidedthat she was going to be an old maid, and it bothered her. Shehad discovered that she did not like any one well enough to marry,and she was in her twenty-second year.
She was not a native of New York, and the few young men she had metthere she did not care for. She had regretfully decided she was toofinicky, too fastidious, but could not seem to help herself. Shecould not understand their absorption in boxing and baseball andshe did not like the way they danced.
She had considered the matter and decided that she would have toreconsider her former opinion of women who did not marry. Heretoforeshe had thought there must be something the matter with them.Now she believed that she would come to their own estate, andprobably for the same reason. She could not fall in love and shewanted to.
She read all the popular novels and thrilled at the love-scenescontained in them, but when any of the young men she knew becamein the slightest degree sentimental she found herself bored, anddisgusted with herself for being bored. Still, she could not help it,and was struggling to reconcile herself to a life without romance.
She was far too pretty for that, of course, and Arthur Chamberlainoften longed to tell her how pretty she really was, but herabstracted air held him at arms' length.
He lay back at ease in his swivel-chair and considered, looking ather with unfeigned pleasure. She did not notice it, for she was somuch absorbed in her own thoughts that she rarely noticed anythinghe said or did when they were not in the line of her duties.
Miss Woodward, he repeated, I said I think I'll never make asuccessful man. Do you know what that means?
She looked at him mutely, polite inquiry in her eyes.
It means, he said gravely, that I'm going broke. Unless somethingturns up in the next three weeks, or a month at the latest, I'llhave to get a job.
And that means-- she asked.
All this will go to pot, he explained with a sweeping gesture. Ithought I'd better tell you as much in advance as I could.
You mean you're going to give up your office--and me? she asked,a little alarmed.
Giving up you will be the harder of the two, he said with a smile,but that's what it means. You'll have no difficulty finding a newplace, with three weeks in which to look for one, but I'm sorry.
I'm sorry, too, Mr. Chamberlain, she said, her brow puckered.
She was not really frightened, because she knew she could getanother position, but she became aware of rather more regret thanshe had expected.
There was silence for a moment.
Jove! said Arthur, suddenly. It's getting dark, isn't it?
It was. It was growing dark with unusual rapidity. Arthur went tohis window, and looked out.
Funny, he remarked in a moment or two. Things don't look justright, down there, somehow. There are very few people about.
He watched in growing amazement. Lights came on in the streetsbelow, but none of the buildings lighted up. It grew darker anddarker.
It shouldn't be dark at this hour! Arthur exclaimed.
Estelle went to the window by his side.
It looks awfully queer, she agreed. It must be an eclipseor something.
They heard doors open in the hall outside, and Arthur ran out. Thehalls were beginning to fill with excited people.
What on earth's the matter? asked a worried stenographer.
Probably an eclipse, replied Arthur. Only it's odd we didn'tread about it in the papers.
He glanced along the corridor. No one else seemed better informedthan he, and he went back into his office.
Estelle turned from the window as he appeared.
The streets are deserted, she said in a puzzled tone. What'sthe matter? Did you hear?
Arthur shook his head and reached for the telephone.
I'll call up and find out, he said confidently. He held thereceiver to his ear. What the-- he exclaimed. Listen to this!
A small-sized roar was coming from the receiver. Arthur hung upand turned a blank face upon Estelle.
Look! she said suddenly, and pointed out of the window.
All the city was now lighted up, and such of the signs as theycould see were brilliantly illumined. They watched in silence.The streets once more seemed filled with vehicles. They darted along,their headlamps lighting up the roadway brilliantly. There was,however, something strange even about their motion. Arthur andEstelle watched in growing amazement and perplexity.
Are--are you seeing what I am seeing? asked Estellebreathlessly. _I_ see them _going backward_!
Arthur watched, and collapsed into a chair.
For the love of Mike! he exclaimed softly.