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HERE is a new author who will command your attention through the pages of this magazine, we hope for a long time to come.

In his first effort, Mr. Repp has given us a wealth of everything that should be contained in a first-class science fiction story.

Radium, which forms the main vehicle for the author's story, is a substance of which very little is known as yet. It is so scarce and so expensive that only the wealthiest institutions can command even a few grams.

But radium may not always be scarce, indeed, there may be hidden, somewhere, unlimited deposits in the form of a salt held in solution.

What physical and physiological effects a large radium pool might have on one, is not known. But one thing remains sure, that if you did approach closely to a large amount of this substance, something very strange would happen to you. Indeed, if you remained there long enough it might be that your entire physical structure might be affected.

This is the author's conclusion and it is based on sound scientific reasoning.


THE RADIUM POOL
(Part 1, Science Wonder Stories, August 1929)

by Ed Earl Repp

To begin with, you may not believe this story, yet I sincerely urge you not to allow the apparent strangeness of it to create a prejudice against it. Many weird tales, most of which are true, come from the vast wastes of desert jungles. How little we actually know of Death Valley—the lowest spot on earth and the hottest! With its shifting sand-dunes, sun-baked hills, saline formations and mysterious atmospheres, the Valley of Death has long been the subject of mysteries for fiction and fact. In truth, it is the one spot on the North American Continent that has not been thoroughly explored either by desert rat or scientist. This is true especially of what lies beneath the surface. Neither has it been thoroughly explored on the surface—the area is too great—and it has never been found possible to remain there for any length of time! Only those who have spent much time in Death Valley can appreciate its intriguing mysteries, its radiant beauty and deathly lure!

James Dowell.

CHAPTER I
A Choice Assignment

AT my little desk tucked away in the corner of the editorial rooms of the Outstander, behind the broad, paper-littered table of the city editor, I sat praying for something to happen. Anything would do that would break the spell of semi-consciousness that had captured me during a lull in city news. I had cleared off my desk, inserted a new ribbon in the typewriter, winked a couple of times at the switchboard operator, and fell into a delightful doze. As star reporter for the Outstander I felt that I had some privileges and, under the conditions, a little snooze would not imperil my position, providing I did my snoozing where the city editor would have to yelp only once to have me at his side. Earlier in the day I had interviewed the District Attorney without any startling results. I had gone so far as to visit the Grand Jury impanelled to investigate charges of bribery in the city administration, but failed to learn the results of their probe. Then I had returned to the office to await anything that might come in. Now, under the pall of a quiet and none too cool afternoon, even the city editor was fighting to keep awake. As I dozed, I dreamed of visiting the glacier at Bishop. Then I floated down to Rio Janeiro. From there, all in a period of perhaps several quiet minutes, I traveled to San Juan Capistrano where I found that the old Bells of San Juan Mission were ringing loudly for the first time in a half century. I awoke with a start. The telephone on the city desk was jangling like a fire-bell.

I sat dazed for an instant. Then my brain cleared from its inertia and I sat back expecting something to happen. I heard the City Editor slam down the receiver. His swivel chair squeaked as he spun around.

"Dowell!" he called, lustily.

"Yes sir!" I answered, rubbing my bleary eyes. "Oh, I see you snapped out of it, eh? I was figuring to have the janitor bring you a cot to sleep on—or send you to a hotel for a rest, or——"

"Or tell me to take a vacation, huh?" I returned. "This is a helluva day!"

The City Editor grinned.

"Where'd yuh like to go, Dowell?" he asked.

"North Pole, boss! Or maybe up to Bishop to sleep in one of those glacial caves they rave so much about. Ought to be cool there."

"That's a good one on you, Dowell. But I am going to give you a little vacation in appreciation of your commendable work of late. I'm mighty sorry I can't let you go to the North Pole or to Bishop either. You're going to Death Valley!"

"I'm what!"

"I said you leave for Death Valley and I don't mean in December either!"

"That's a fine—oh well, it might be worse!"

"It could be, but it isn't. I gotta send you out because you seem to be the only reporter on the staff who understands scientific work. You like geology, archeology, anthropology and so on. You ought to be happy at a chance to work with a real scientist. You dash out to the Southland Institute of Technology and make arrangements with Professor Bloch to accompany him to Death Valley. Professor Bloch phoned in—yes, while you were sleepin' like the original babe in the woods—and invited us to send a reporter out to cover his reconnaissance of some important human fossils reported found in the Valley. He'll be gone several days, will pay all expenses and you ought to learn something. It'll be a feather in your hat if you bring in a corking scientific yarn for the Outstander Syndicate—and don't forget the bonus offered for the best story of the month."

"But its quite out of the ordinary to send the star reporter out on a goose chase, boss," I parried, hoping that he'd change his mind.

"It is, but not when a man like Professor Bloch asks for the star hand on this journal. You know he has always suspected that there's more in Death Valley than anybody ever learned. Who knows—he might make the greatest discovery ever as regards human development in America! I'm doing you a favor, Dowell, but you don't seem to appreciate it! I'd go myself if I wasn't tied down to this desk. Now get the hell out of here and remember that if a man bites a dog—that's news. And don't try to make a monkey out of this paper, either!"

"Okay, general! I'll wire you from Barstow on the way back so you can reserve a room for me down in the ice house. And thanks for the—er— the vacation!"

"Don't mention it, Dowell!" the City Editor laughed. "Have a hot time!"

A Rescue

THE trip to Death Valley was uneventful. We camped at what Professor Bloch believed to be the lost Mesquite Springs. The sun had just settled over the edge of the Funerals and the pack animals which we had picked up at Stovepipe Wells were munching barley at the tail of the buckboard when the professor beheld something bobbing about among the sand dunes. The object was too far away to make certain with the naked eye whether it was a man or an animal. Professor Bloch got out his field glasses and discovered that it was a man.

We watched him for several minutes and during that time he fell seven times. He was staggering in circles and appeared to move Only because some hidden power forced him to. Presently he fell again and this time he lay still. So Professor Bloch saddled a burro and rode out to get him. I stood up on the tail of the buckboard and watched the silent drama.

Coyotes had followed the stumbling' man patiently waiting for him to die. The professor rode to a spot where they were squatted on their hunkers, circled a small area and found his man. He brought him back to the camp, and after we washed the alkali and sand ticks from his eyes we gave him water. When it was safe enough for him to have all the water he wanted, we gave him food, after which he said his name was of no consequence but he had been foreman of the Panamint Mining Company over Balch way. Hysterically he told us that he had lost his partner, interspersing his words with fragments of a tale that made Professor Bloch's strong brows knit together and his eyes flash.

"He's gone—he'll never see this world again!" the man interrupted when I asked him if it were not too late for us to help his partner.

He inquired if by any chance we had ever heard of his partner, "Driftin'" Sands. I told him that I had, for I wanted the story which seemed to lie hazily in the back of his befuddled brain.

"Well!" he said, hysterically, "He's found his sweetheart, Allie Lane! We followed the trail together and we found her 'way over in hell across the Manalava plain! You can see it way over there in hell—it's the red streak table land off to the southeast. For more than forty years, Sands had been driftin' over the deserts searching for her. At last they are together!"

"Sands and I struck out for the Manalava Plain. Our water gave out. We were looking for a lost mine and Sands' girl!"

The prospector took a long pull at the canteen. Professor Bloch and I squatted in the sand beside our tiny cook fire. The mine foreman pointed with trembling hand, towards the southeast where the vague and sinister outlines of a mountain range loomed mysteriously in the ghostly desert dusk.

"That's a terrible place!" he groaned. "We found a band of heathens there where not even a sidewinder would dare to venture. That flat, above all else in these deserts, is the hottest place this side of hell! And the heathens? Waugh!—"

Professor Bloch sat bolt upright and eyed the prospector whose withered, leather-like visage loomed like a spectre in the glare of the camp-fire. His face glowed with a ghostly tint of greenish phosphorescence—like the radium dobbed face of a glowing watch-dial!

"Pardon my interruption, old man." Professor Bloch said, apologetically. "Did I understand you to say that strange human beings exist on the Manalava Plain?"

"A band of heathens, yes!" replied the prospector with a shudder. They ain't human, they're frog-faced beasts about seven feet tall, with funny long arms, long legs and big heads! We stumbled on them accidentally and they made us prisoners! God help Driftin' Sands and Allie Lane!"

"Did you escape?" I inquired, rather disdainfully, for I was figuring that the prospector suffered from the heat. I glanced over him. His hands now were steady but his lips trembled a trifle. He shook his head slowly and closed his eyes. I accepted the movement as an attempt to shut out some terrible vision from his sun-scorched brain.

"Yes, young fellow, I got away! But only because I was left for dead! And I come mighty close to passing on, too. I got a family over at Balch, and kids that's been needin' me, otherwise I couldn't have made it here!" he answered, heatedly, taking offense at my doubting attitude.

"I always suspected that a race of peculiar people existed out this way," Professor Bloch put in. "This account does not startle me in the least. In fact, my associate, Dr. Jorg Jamesson, recovered some strange and almost human remains in this neighborhood that gave rise to startling revelations. Lately our astronomers have noticed peculiar atmospheric conditions over Death Valley that seemed, to indicate some tremendous radioactive force emanating from the earth's surface!"

"If I remember right," the prospector commented, "Sands and I met your Dr. Jamesson sometime ago around here. We didn't have time to talk much with him. I believe he showed us some bones that appeared to be human. Let's see! Yes! He showed us a skull—a big skull that was twice as large as mine, with an overdropping forehead, and the face of a frog! Those Manalava heathens had the same kind of froggish faces!"

"Then that evidently proves Dr. Jamesson's contention that a race of freaks exists or existed here in Death Valley!" Professor Bloch slapped a thigh enthusiastically. Then turning to me he said: "Dowell, I told your City Editor that something was going to be found out here to substantiate Jamesson's assertions."

The Prospector's Story

I NODDED. "But what's the story about Driftin' Sands and Allie Lane?" I inquired of the prospector. It sounded like a good human interest yarn to me. I did not believe that it had any significance with Professor Bloch's project but it would make great feature stuff!

"Yes, yes! Go ahead with your story, old timer, by all means," the professor said.

"Well," the prospector began, somewhat wildly, "As I said, that's a terrible place, that Manalava flat, and we were near the end of our strings when we reached it.

"Our water was gone. We had two good drinks from a barrel cactus before we reached the edge of the Manalava flats. That rotten stuff didn't help any to quench our thirst. Near the flats we found a good spring with dead men's bones strewn around it. A fight had taken place there once—Indians and whites, and they must have fought for the water.

"The spring lies in a little box canyon opening out into the valley. Sands and I could see the sun glistening on the whitened bones even while we were yet a mile away from them. Our water was gone and it was safer to continue than to turn back.

"The whites had held the spring and the Indians fought from behind boulders on the hillsides. By the spring there's a semi-circle of old prairie schooners with arrowheads sticking in the rotted framework. You can find more arrowheads around the skeletons. There are no drafts there and the bones have lain untouched for years. Even coyotes and buzzards have stayed away from the Manalava Plain! I don't understand why Indians, with their superstition, would venture near the earthly hell.

"The spring was worth fighting for, I said to myself, as I ducked my head in the water. The water was cool and tasted good, but it had a greenish tint—that was the color peculiar to the heathens under the Manalava Plain! We camped at the spring all night.

"Sands did not sleep well that night. He seemed to be high-strung and excited in the morning. He claimed that he heard voices throughout the night and after breakfast he began talking about Allie Lane.

"You've heard the tale about Allie Lane, of course. Everybody who has lived in California long must have heard about it. She was Sand's sweetheart back in Kansas City when he was a youngster. He came to California first and Allie, with her father, started West with a wagon train the following spring in 1880. If that train had ever arrived, Sands would have known it. For over forty years he had been searching for news of Allie up and down the coast until it cracked his mind some.

"Allie must have meant a lot to him, for he never married and for forty years he's been drifting over California asking folks if they'd ever met up with anybody by the name of Lane from Kansas City.

"Allie Lane had been a member of a train such as lay scattered around the spring. This was worrying him, I could see. He was a bit off on the subject after having searched for her so long. It taxed his brain, and Sands was an old man. I watched him as he puttered and poked around those whitened, petrified bones.

"There was a wagon train—the remains of one that had probably taken the southern route across from El Paso, heading info California over the old Fremont Trail. It wasn't necessary for them to head into Death Valley; so they must have gone off the right trail and strayed through an unknown pass into the Valley where they died fighting the Apaches at this water hole.

"I tried to argue the old fellow out of the idea that Allie Lane had been killed, telling him that she had arrived safe, married, and forgotten all about him. But he would have none of it and flew into a rage, saying that she promised to wait for him and that he'd meet her alive in California. I let it go at that.

"I sat down on the wreck of one of the schooners and watched him putter around the bones. He had loved this Allie Lane in the days of his youth when he left her back in Kansas City. I suppose he had an indelible picture of her as she was when he left her, stamped in his brain, and did not figure that now she would be an old lady, even if she was alive.

"So Driftin' Sands continued his two great searches. One was for Allie Lane, first and always, and the other was for gold of which he had found plenty.

"I'm sure that Sands and I were the first to enter that Canyon since the fight by the spring. There was not a speck of ashes to prove that anyone else had ever camped there.

"The canyon was free from sand storms, and sheltered on practically all sides except for the Valley opening; and even if the sight of human bones would drive one away, there was always the spring to lure a man back. But it was hard on the nerves to stay there. There was something eerie and ghostly about the whole section of desert that was not caused by a few bones scattered around. We were to learn what it was later.

"Sands found an old trunk half buried in the sand. It was rotted and sprung by sun and weather and it crumbled at the touch of a hand. In that trunk Sands found an old family picture album. The photographs were so dim that very few were distinguishable. He pored over them nervously and when he had gone almost to the last page, his shaking fingers held a leaf. He found a picture that glued his eyes to the rotted book and then I had my first sight of Allie Lane!

CHAPTER II
What Sands Heard

"THE face on the tintype displayed the features of the most beautiful girl I have ever seen! Her features were clear-cut, her eyes soft and appealing. In spite of the years, that one picture, out of a hundred old tintypes, remained clear and distinct. Underneath the picture was a written description that we could not read with the naked eye. The ink had long since disappeared, leaving only faint traces of point imprints. I got out my magnifying glass that I used to study ore specimens, and read the words:

"Allie Lane,
"Kansas City, Missouri.
March 19, 1878

"I handed the glass to Sands and went over to douse my head in the spring. You see, I'd heard the name of Allie Lane so many times that when I came face to face with that picture of her, it fairly upset me.

"Presently Sands returned my glass and without speaking we packed our outfit, rolled in the spring, and struck off toward the Manalava Plain.

"That night was like all the rest. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and slept. But toward morning Sands awakened me.

"'Pardner! Get up!' he said. 'I hear a wagon passing off there in the valley and if we hit the trail now we can hook up with it until we reach the Manalava Springs. It's a long hike to the flats and water's scarce! Hear the wagon crashin' through the brush?'

"I raised on my elbow and listened. There was not a sound to be heard. I looked at Sands queerly. Was the heat and the excitement of seeing Allie's picture, affecting his mind, and anyway, why should a wagon of all things be trekking thru the desert during the dead of night? Anyone but an utter fool would use an auto. But I yielded to his excitement and we started out at once, leaving behind an extra blanket and some canned goods so as to travel lighter. I allowed Sands to lead where he thought the sounds came from.

"We went on and on, I all the while arguing that I could hear nothing while Sands insisted he heard the wagon continually.

"Little by little the gray and orange of approaching dawn began to steal over the valley. The world was assuming a definite shape and the day's heat began to mount even before the first rays of the rising sun were visible. A mile in front of us a great, red streak rose against the skyline, looming dimly and awesomely out of the lightening eastern heavens. Sands remarked at its ghostliness and informed me that we were nearing the southern extremities of the terrible Manalava Plain. I had never been in the section of Death Valley and of a certainty, Sands had never been nearer than he was then.

"In some forgotten day a volcano had scattered its red hot lava and settled it into a stretch of plain which covered an area of thirty miles either way, although no trace of a volcanic mountain was visible. Bare and flat as a table-top and as hot under the glare of the sun as the inside of an oven! Such was the Manalava Plain, never explored, unmapped——a lost world of its own.

"Sands kept on insisting we were coming nearer to the sounds.

"Rapidly it became light enough for us to see the Plain. The sun, a huge fiery ball, popped up almost suddenly from behind the Manalava Plain and instantly the world was sweltering. Its golden glow reflected on the red lava of the Plain and created a murky green haze that added to the heat and burned acridly through the lungs. The odor was ungodly and unworldly!

"'There's the wagon!' Sands suddenly exclaimed. "I looked all over the desert, and not a thing like a wagon did I see.

"'I don't see a thing,' I told him soberly.

"'You don't,' he exclaimed incredulously. 'Why look out there.' He pointed toward the base of a low hill. There was not a thing to be seen. I knew then that his mind was slipping under the terrific strain. I tried to argue with him. I even shot off my pistol to show him that there would be no response. But Sands insisted on going on. Rather than have him travel into that hell alone, I shook my head and followed after him.

"We climbed the buttress of a low hill and swung to the left, discovering a natural causeway that led up and out into the very table-top of the Manalava Plain itself.

"Before us in unbroken desolation lay the forgotten country—Manalava Plain! The formation of the floor was a soft lava-like surface—rock that had once flowed in liquid form and after hardening to some extent, gave the country a flat and shiny -appearance like a great field of red asphalt.

"'The wagon is gone,' Sands exclaimed suddenly.

"'That's mighty peculiar, Driftin',' I said 'That they're gone when you said that they weren't more than a mile ahead of us.'

"'I don't savvy it at all,' he replied. 'But let's follow further. They'll sure need help.'

"Helplessly I followed.

Following A Phantom

"HERE was the Manalava Plain—as flat and Al smooth as a plate of glass—and stretching for miles either way, bare and deserted. Surely we were the only actual beings on the mesa!

"Perhaps, I thought, old Driftin' Sands was suffering from hallucinations. Perhaps ...

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