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The City of the Living Dead

By Laurence Manning and Fletcher Pratt


THIS story, in our opinion, is one of the most unusual that has appeared in recent years, for it deals with a subject which is bound up with our whole existence.

We all know that our experiences come to us through our senses; that is, the senses of hearing, sight, touch, smell, taste, etc.; and that, if these senses were removed, although we would still know we were alive, the world itself would cease to exist for us.

But suppose that, instead of having our natural organs of sense, we were supplied with artificial ones, and that by the medium of a mechanical device we could experience any sensation or event that we wish. Then, you might say, we would be living in a true Utopia. However, this is not really so, and, as our authors point out so convincingly, there might be a total degeneration of our human race, and even a cessation of all life.


THE sun sank slowly behind the far-off, torn and rocky crags, throwing up a last red glare like a shout of defiance as the white tooth of Herjehogmen mountain blotted the last beams from Alvrosdale. A deep-toned copper bell rang across the evening, and the young men and girls, leaving their dancing on the ice, came trooping up the path in little groups to the Hall of Assembly, laughing and talking. Their gay-colored clothes stood out brilliantly against the white background of the snow in the Northern twilight that often seems like day.

At the door of the Hall they parted—not without sadness, since for many it was the last parting—some going into the Hall, others passing on up the path to the line of houses. Those who entered were grave, though they had smiled not long before. Yet they were a goodly company for all that, some three-score in number and all in the fire of youth.

Within the hall might be seen benches; a great fire against one wall, and against the other the mouldering remains of those Machines that were the last relics of the days of old. At the center was a dais with places for the elders of Alvros, and midmost among these sat a man full of years, but in no wise feeble. Strong, stern, white-headed, he bore on one arm the silver band of authority, and in his hand he held a small, shiny Machine, round in shape and with a white face which bore twelve characters written in black. As the youth took their places, he twisted this Machine, so that it rang a bell, loud and stridently. Then there was silence, and the old man rose to speak.

"My friends," said he, "you will leave Alvrosdale tomorrow. Your skis are even now prepared; your glider wings await you outside. In this Hall of Assembly, which was once the House of Power, we are met tonight, as is the custom of our people, that I may tell the story of the last of the Anglesk and warn you of the dangers you will meet. Some of you—God grant it may be few!?will be caught in treacherous winds and flung against the Mountain of the South to die. Some may be caught by the Demon Power, whom the Anglesk worshipped. Some will find green fields and prosperity, and will meet the others of our folk who have gone before . . . But a few of you will wish to return. To these I now say—stay behind! You are better off here! And I cannot go on with my tale till I have asked whether there are any among you who would prefer the life of this quiet dale to that of the outer world, with its Power, its mountains, and its living dead."

HE made a pause, and for a breathing space none stirred. Then a maid of the company arose, sobbing; she cast her shawl over her face and said she would live and die in Alvrosdale; then she went forth from the Hall. With her went likewise the young man of her choice, and as the door of the Hall clanged to behind them, the rest sat the closer and gave ear to the voice of the old man.

"There are none now left alive," he said, "who remember Hal Hallstrom in his youth; but I give you my word that it was as lusty a youth as any of yours. I was light and gay and would roll the flavor of adventure under my tongue. In those days, before the year 4060 A. D., as was the reckoning, there were legends of the lords of old, and how the Demon Power drove them through the skies and over the waters and under the earth. But they were the rusty legends of those who tell a tale without understanding its meaning. This very Hall of Assembly was held to be the home of the Demon Power, a place so accursed that none dare approach it. This Demon was believed to be the same who had so dealt with the Mountain of the South that it fell across the neck of our dale and cut it off from the world in long past ages. We know now that this is not true; but men thought otherwise then.

"In those days I heard also legends that came down from my fathers' fathers, how, when the Mountain of the South closed off the dale, the Anglesk sent men through the air to bring us this thing and that; but such tales were held foolish beyond words. Now, lo!?we ourselves fly through the air, though not as the Anglesk with the aid of the Demon Power.

"Also there were legends of the splendor of the villages of the Anglesk: how they piled stone on stone to make mountainous dwellings in which the night was bright as day by suns of their own contriving; how they quarreled and slew each other from afar with thunderbolts; how the voices of men long dead spoke to them from Machines, and the voices of men far away spoke to them through the clouds.

"Old wives' tales? But I was young, and youth must ever test the false and true by the touchstone of experience, even as you now go forth to do.... One who has reached my age seeks neither for truth nor beauty any more, but only for rest." Herewith, one of the elders touched the arm of the old man, who thereupon looked around and, as one who has been recalled to his narrative, went on.

Wanderlust

"ON a day in spring, then, as I was in charge of the flock close by the brink where Oster Dalalven plunges into the channel that carries it under the Mountain of the South, I was seized with a great longing to see these dwellings where men moved in light and music.

"Thereupon, so hasty was my mood, I slung my quiver over my shoulder without more ado, and with staff in hand set out for the Mountain of the South, making a wide circuit to the east to go around this very House of Power.

"In those days few in Alvrosdale and none outside could equal me as a cragsman. But I had need of all my skill, for, as I advanced, the edges of the Mountain of the South became ever more rugged, torn into heaps and pinnacles as sharp as daggers. All morning long I clambered among the rocky screes, not seldom tearing clothes or skin, and at noon made pause and ate, though sparingly, of the bread and cheese that I had brought for my lunch. Of water there was none, nor did I see any sign of trees or other life. The Mountain of the South is a vast wilderness of stone, hard and desolate, not mellowed with age like our summits of the Keel.

"But still my heart was high, and after my midday meal I took to climbing again. My road grew worse; thrice I was near to death, as some ledge I was on ran out into sheerest precipice without room to turn back. The loneliness of the place weighed down upon my spirit also, for all that day I saw no living thing—I, who had always known the kindly dale of Alvros, where the cow- bells tinkle ever within hearing. And at night I made camp just below the edge of the line where the snows mantle the rugged pinnacles.

"In the morn, as I started on, I still saw the summit towering far above me, and now I dared not turn back, for fear of the rocks and avalanches. All day I tramped the snow. Toward afternoon I found a glacier that eased my labor somewhat; yet up it I must move with utmost caution, for there were great crevasses running down for miles. Into its heart, often so hidden that it was not until I thrust my stick down through the crust of snow that they became visible. That night I built myself a cairn of ice in the lee of a rock, and camped supperless and cold.

"I AWOKE so stiff that the third day of my ascent was like to be my last. A storm had come up and veiled the head of the mountain; I was weak with the chill, the wounds in my hands were nipped by the icy blast, and my hunger had become a terrible gnawing pain. The glacier petered out and I had to clamber among rocks again—rocks that were covered with a glare of ice.

"The wind shrieked about me among the rocks; the storm blotted out all knowledge of the sun, and I knew that if another night found me ...

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