The World BeyondRay Cummings / Science Fiction
Produced by Greg Weeks, adhere and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
This etext was produced from Amazing Stories July 1942. Extensiveresearch did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on thispublication was renewed.
_Out of nowhere came these grim, cold, black-clad men, to kidnap threeEarth people and carry them to a weird and terrible world where a mancould be a giant at will._
Lee Anthony crouched and set himself to resist theattack of the robed men.]
THE WORLD BEYOND
By RAY CUMMINGS
The old woman was dying. There could be no doubt of it now. Surely shewould not last through the night. In the dim quiet bedroom he satwatching her, his young face grim and awed. Pathetic business, thisending of earthly life, this passing on. In the silence, from the livingroom downstairs the gay laughter of the young people at the birthdayparty came floating up. His birthday--Lee Anthony, twenty-one years oldtoday. He had thought he would feel very different, becoming--legally--aman. But the only difference now, was that old Anna Green who had beenalways so good to him, who had taken care of him almost all his life,now was dying.
Terrible business. But old age is queer. Anna knew what was happening.The doctor, who had given Lee the medicines and said he would be back inthe morning, hadn't fooled her. And she had only smiled.
Lee tensed as he saw that she was smiling now; and she opened her eyes.His hand went to hers where it lay, so white, blue-veined on the whitebedspread.
I'm here, Anna. Feel better?
Oh, yes. I'm all right. Her faint voice, gently tired, mingled withthe sounds from the party downstairs. She heard the laughter. Youshould be down there, Lee. I'm all right.
I should have postponed it, he said. And what you did, preparing forit--
She interrupted him, raising her thin arm, which must have seemed soheavy that at once she let it fall again. Lee--I guess I am glad you'rehere--want to talk to you--and I guess it better be now.
Tomorrow--you're too tired now--
For me, she said with her gentle smile, there may not be anytomorrow--not here. Your grandfather, Lee--you really don't rememberhim?
I was only four or five.
Yes. That was when your father and mother died in the aero accident andyour grandfather brought you to me.
Very vaguely he could remember it. He had always understood that AnnaGreen had loved his grandfather, who had died that same year.
What I want to tell you, Lee-- She seemed summoning all her lastremaining strength. Your grandfather didn't die. He just went away.What you've never known--he was a scientist. But he was a lot more thanthat. He had--dreams. Dreams of what we mortals might be--what we oughtto be--but are not. And so he--went away.
This dying old woman; her mind was wandering?...
Oh--yes, Lee said. But you're much too tired now, Anna dear--
Please let me tell you. He had--some scientific apparatus. I didn't seeit--I don't know where he went. I think he didn't know either, where hewas going. But he was a very good man, Lee. I think he had anintuition--an inspiration. Yes, it must have been that. A man--inspired.And so he went. I've never seen or heard from him since. Yet--what hepromised me--if he could accomplish it--tonight--almost now, Lee, wouldbe the time--
* * * * *
Just a desperately sick old woman whose blurred mind was seeing visions.The thin wrinkled face, like crumpled white parchment, was transfiguredas though by a vision. Her sunken eyes were bright with it. A wondermentstirred within Lee Anthony. Why was his heart pounding? It seemedsuddenly as though he must be sharing this unknown thing of science--andmysticism. As though something within him--his grandfather's bloodperhaps--was responding.... He felt suddenly wildly excited.
Tonight? he murmured.
Your grandfather was a very good man, Lee--
And you, Anna--all my life I have known how good you are. Not like mostwomen--you're just all gentleness--just kindness--
That was maybe--just an inspiration from him. Her face was bright withit. I've tried to bring you up--the way he told me. And what I musttell you now--about tonight, I mean--because I may not live to see it--
Her breath gave out so that her faint tired voice trailed away.
What? he urged. What is it, Anna? About tonight--
What a tumult of weird excitement was within him! Surely this wassomething momentous. His twenty-first birthday. Different, surely, forLee Anthony than any similar event had ever been for anyone else.
He promised me--when you were twenty-one--just then--at this time, ifhe could manage it--that he would come back--
Come back, Anna? Here?
Yes. To you and me. Because you would be a man--brought up, the best Icould do to make you be--like him--because you would be a man who wouldknow the value of love--and kindness--those things that ought to rulethis world--but really do not.
This wild, unreasoning excitement within him...! You think he willcome--tonight, Anna?
I really do. I want to live to see him. But now--I don't know--
He could only sit in silence, gripping her hand. And again the gayvoices of his guests downstairs came up like a roar of intrusion. Theydidn't know that she was more than indisposed. She had made him promisenot to tell them.
Her eyes had closed, and now she opened them again. They're having agood time, aren't they, Lee? That's what I wanted--for you and themboth. You see, I've had to be careful--not to isolate you fromlife--life as it is. Because your grandfather wanted you to be normal--ahealthy, happy--regular young man. Not queer--even though I've tried toshow you--
If he--he's coming tonight, Anna--we shouldn't have guests here.
When they have had their fun--
They have. We're about finished down there. I'll get rid of them--tellthem you're not very well--
She nodded. Perhaps that's best--now--
He was hardly aware of how he broke up the party and sent them away.Then in the sudden heavy silence of the little cottage, here in thegrove of trees near the edge of the town, he went quietly back upstairs.
* * * * *
Her eyes were closed. Her white face was placid. Her faint breath wasbarely discernible. Failing fast now. Quietly he sat beside her. Therewas nothing that he could do. The doctor had said that very probably shecould not live through the night. Poor old Anna. His mind rehearsed thelife that she had given him. Always she had been so gentle, so wise,ruling him with kindness.
He remembered some of the things she had reiterated so often that hischildish mind had come to realize their inevitable truth. The greatestinstinctive desire of every living creature is happiness. And the way toget it was not by depriving others of it. It seemed now as though thisold woman had had something of goodness inherent to her--as though shewere inspired? And tonight she had said, with her gentle smile as shelay dying, that if that were so--it had been an inspiration from hisgrandfather.
Something of science which his grandfather had devised, and which hadenabled him to--go away. What could that mean? Go where? And why had hegone? To seek an ideal? Because he was dissatisfied with life here? Herhalf incoherent words had seemed to imply that. And now, because Lee wastwenty-one--a man--his grandfather was coming back. Because he hadthought that Lee would be able to help him?... Help him to do--what?
He stirred in his chair. It was nearly midnight now. The littlecottage--this little second floor bedroom where death was hovering--washeavy with brooding silence. It was awesome; almost frightening. He bentcloser to the bed. Was she dead? No, there was still a faint flutteringbreath, but it seemed now that there would be no strength for her tospeak to him again.
Mysterious business, this passing on. Her eyelids were closed, a symbolof drawn blinds of the crumbling old house in which she had lived for solong. It was almost a tenantless house now. And yet she was somewheredown there behind those drawn blinds. Reluctant perhaps to leave, stillshe lingered, with the fires going out so that it must be cold ... coldand silent where she huddled. Or was she hearing now the great organ ofthe Beyond with its sweep of harmonies summoning her to come--welcomingher....
A shiver ran through young Lee Anthony as he saw that the pallidbloodless lips of the white wrinkled face had stirred into a smile. Downthere somewhere her spirit--awed and a little frightened doubtless--hadopened some door to let the sound of the organ in--and to let in thegreat riot of color which must have been outside.... And then she hadnot been frightened, but eager....
He realized suddenly that he was staring at an empty shell and that oldAnna Green had gone....
* * * * *
A sound abruptly brought Lee out of his awed thoughts. It was outsidethe house--the crunching of wheels in the gravel of the driveway--thesqueal of grinding brakes. A car had stopped. He sat erect in his chair,stiffened, listening, with his heart pounding so that the beat of itseemed to shake his tense body. His grandfather--returning?
An automobile horn honked. Footsteps sounded on the verandah. The frontdoorbell rang.
There were voices outside as he crossed the living room--a man's voice,and then a girl's laugh. He flung open the door. It was a young man indinner clothes and a tall blonde girl. Tom Franklin, and a vivid,theatrical-looking girl, whom Lee had never seen before. She was inchestaller than her companion. She stood clinging to his arm; her beautifulface, with beaded lashes and heavily rouged lips, was laughing. She wasswaying; her companion steadied her, but he was swaying himself.
Easy, Viv, he warned. We made it--tol' you we would.... Hello there,Lee ol' man--your birthday--think I'd forget a thing like that, not onyour life. So we come t'celebrate--meet Vivian Lamotte--frien' o' mine.Nice kid, Viv--you'll like her.
Hello, the girl said. She stared up at Lee. He towered above her, andbeside him the undersized and stoop-shouldered Franklin was swayinghappily. Admiration leaped into the girl's eyes.
Say, she murmured, you sure are a swell looker for a fact. He saidyou were--but my Gawd--
And his birthday too, Frank agreed, so we're gonna celebrate-- Hisslack-jawed, weak-chinned face radiated happiness and triumph. Camefas' to get here in time. I tol' Viv I could make it--we never hit athing--
Why, yes--come in, Lee agreed awkwardly. He had only met young TomFranklin once or twice, a year ago now, and Lee had completely forgottenit. The son of a rich man, with more money than was good for him....With old Anna lying there upstairs--surely he did not want these happyinebriated guests here now....
He stood with them just inside the threshold. I--I'm awfully sorry, hebegan. My birthday--yes, but you see--old Mrs. Green--my guardian--justall the family I've got--she died, just a few minutes ago--upstairshere--I've been here alone with her--
It sobered them. They stared blankly. Say, my Gawd, that's tough, thegirl murmured. Your birthday too. Tommy listen, we gotta getgoin'--can't celebrate--
It seemed that there was just a shadow out on the dark verandah. A tallfigure in a dark cloak.
Why--what the hell, Franklin muttered.
A group of gliding soundless figures were out there in the darkness. Andacross the living room the window sash went up with a thump. A blackshape was there, huddled in a great loose cloak which was over the headso that the thing inside was shapeless.
For an instant Lee and his two companions stood stricken. The shapesseemed babbling with weird unintelligible words. Then from the windowcame words of English:
_We--want--_ Slow words, strangely intoned. Young Tom Franklin brokein on them.
Say--what the devil--who do you people think you are, comin' in here--He took a swaying step over the threshold. There was a sudden sharpcommand from one of the shapes. Lee jumped in front of the girl. On theverandah the gliding figures were engulfing Franklin; he had fallen.
Lee went through the door with a leap, his fist driving at the cowledhead of one of the figures--a solid shape that staggered backward fromhis blow. But the others were on him, dropping down before his rush,gripping his legs and ankles. He went down, fighting. And then somethingstruck his face--something that was like a hand, or a paw with clawsthat scratched him. His head suddenly was reeling; his senses fading....
* * * * *
How long he fought Lee did not know. He was aware that the girl wasscreaming--and that he was hurling clutching figures away--figures thatcame pouncing back. Then the roaring in his head was a vast uproar. Thefighting, scrambling dark shapes all seemed dwindling until they weretiny points of white light--like stars in the great abyss ofnothingness....
He knew--as though it were a blurred dream--that he was lying inert onthe verandah, with Franklin and the girl lying beside him.... The housewas being searched.... Then the muttering shapes were standing here. Leefelt himself being picked up. And then he was carried silently out intothe darkness. The motion seemed to waft him off so that he knew nothingmore.