Coffin of Life and Death can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



Fantastic Adventures APRIL 1948

Living on Mars was easy,
but dying was a different matter because
the dead often came back from the grave
alive—due to a peculiar type of coffin

Coffin of Life and Death

by Robert Wade

THE high, dusty Martian hill was devoid of traffic. The road itself was almost unused. Few people came this way. Martians, gay and fun-loving stayed in the valley where the honky-tonks and the dance halls were. They left old Peter Shad alone. He need never fear intruders in his old mansion on Randy Hill.

I reached the rusted gate and went into the Shad estate. Fortunately for me, Shad didn't know I had been here many times before. At least, I didn't think he knew. There was no one but Gloria to tell him, and my meetings with Gloria were personal. No danger of her telling her grumpy old grandfather about our wandering among the twisted, aged trees that surrounded the house. No fear of her telling him that she and I hoped some day to elope to some small Venusian valley and escape Shad's domineering rule.

For the present, I preferred to remain unknown. Blake Wallace, member of the Martian to Earth Free Lance Space Pilot's Association. A rather windy title for a group of hardened pilots who flew everything and anything along the badly charted course.

For the present, as I said, I remained just Blake Wallace, answering an ad in the Martian Space News.

The ad was worded queerly, but being accustomed to Peter Shad and his ways, I took this opportunity to penetrate the old fort-like mansion in which Shad kept his granddaughter in virtual isolation.

I found my way around the house and to the small, windowless door at the rear. A huge sign on the front door had told me:

"Visitors please go to the rear entrance."

That was Shad's way of putting people, high and low, in their proper place.

I knocked and waited. A dog started howling within the house. As I waited, my eyes moved once more over the rough blocks of sticka, brought from the quarries of Mars and stacked in rough, rugged lines to make a home. It was a poor choice of building material. Sticka is black as night and not unlike soft coal in appearance. It doesn't make for a cheerful residence.

The door opened abruptly and I faced Peter Shad. He was a tall, stooped man, in his late sixties. His eyes, black as midnight, studied my space uniform. The uniform is good-looking and I wore it to make a good impression on the old coot.

"Yes?" he said.

"My name is Wallace," I said, "Blake Wallace. I'm answering your ad in the Space News."

I can't understand why the man put me on the defensive. Usually I'm not the timid type. He seemed to catch me before I was ready to speak. Later I was to learn why. Peter Shad's mind was a long way ahead, thinking and speaking through his lips before most men had time to prepare themseles for his verbal outburst.

"Come in."

His voice was colorless, without inflection. I might have been a dog, summoned to the kitchen for my dinner.

He turned and went into the dusty, un-used kitchen. The man had an odd, shuffling walk that reminded me of the Zombies of Venus. Like death, the walk was. Death on its feet, moving ahead slowly, stiffly.

I walked across the kitchen, noticing the filth and rubbish that had collected there. Gloria had told me what to expect.

"Grandfather has our meals brought up from Ardun," she said. "They are left on the porch and he brings them in himself. I eat in the library."

She had shuddered then, and continued:

"Grandfather lives alone—in the locked room."

The locked room was a place she had hated since she came to Peter Shad a dozen years ago. A place that she could never enter and where he lived alone. A place of queer sounds that came through the sturdy pith door.

SHAD went along a dark hall and ahead of me, I could see a fire burning in a fireplace in the library beyond. We entered the library. Gloria, reading in a chair by the fire, arose slowly. Her violet eyes, intense, fearful, warned me not to betray our friendship. Her hair, black as the sticka stone, gleamed in the light of the small fire.

Shad motioned to her.

"My granddaughter, Gloria."

I took her hand, not daring to hold it.

"I'm very glad to meet you, Miss...?"

"Williams," she said. "Gloria Williams."

She backed away from me toward the fire.

Shad said, "Come with me."

We went out of the library, up a rickety flight of stairs and Shad paused before a huge door. He produced an electric key from his pocket, rapped lightly at the panel and a silvery, musical note came from the panel. The door opened and he motioned me inside.

This was the locked room. The room that Gloria had never been allowed to enter. Then was I to learn Peter Shad's secret?

Frankly I was disappointed. The place was as dirty as the kitchen. A combination library and bedroom, I thought, as I surveyed the book lined walls and the unmade bed in one corner. There was a desk. The dim flame of the trupa juice lamp flickered over it.

Peter Shad seemed not to notice my curiosity. He shuffled to the desk and sat down. There was no place for me to sit. I stood there looking at him.

His cloak was dark and dropped to his knees. His eyes continued to bum into me. The remainder of his face was pale and sunken. He might have been dead, save for the intense life in those eyes.

"You said your name was...?"

"Blake Wallace," I said. "You advertised for a Free Lance pilot to handle a charter trip to earth."

It was all business then. I had to sell myself first. Later, perhaps I could gain his friendship and dare to tell him about Gloria and myself.

I produced a leather folder from my pocket and spread my credentials and recommendations before him. I was proud of those papers. I had letters from King Wanta of Venus, Carpus Wiley, the prominent earth pilot, and many others. I noticed that his eyes were approving when he passed them back to me.

"You seem to be a reliable young man," he said. "You are a fine flyer, if these credentials are in order."

He looked thoughtful.

"Of course I could...

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