Overnight a mysterious tower sprang up in the city park - where there had been none. And a girl ran from it, seeking help. But the price of her rescue could mean destruction to that town not once but three times over. For the tower was a time-bridge that brought a tyrant’s future metropolis face to face with a piratical colony of the past - to make today’s city their battleground! One of Cummings’ best works, The Shadow Girl remains thoroughly readable and enjoyable even though it was first published more than eighty years ago.
46,730 words, with a reading time of ~ 2.8 hours (~ 186 pages), and first published in 1929. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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The extraordinary and mysterious visions of the shadow girl appeared on the television set which Alan and I had just erected in his workshop. It was nearly midnight–a hot sultry evening of late June. We had worked all evening installing it. Alan’s sister, Nanette, sat quietly in a corner, modeling a little statue in green clay. Occasionally she would ask us how we were getting along.
We were planning to receive the broadcasting from one of the New York stations–a program which had been advertised for 11:30 P.M.
The room was dark as we sat at the small instrument table with the nineteen-inch screen erect against the wall. The set hummed as the current went into it. But at once we saw that something was wrong. The screen lighted unevenly; we could not locate with any precision the necessary channels; not one of the broadcasting studios which we knew were at that moment on the air, would come in.
Nanette was disappointed and impatient as I manipulated the dials at random, and Alan verified the connections. “Is there nothing on it?”
“Presently, Nan. Alan must have grounded it badly–I’m sure we have everything else–”
I stopped abruptly. My grip tightened on her arm. We all sat tense. An image was forming on the screen.
Alan said sharply: “Don’t touch it, Ed!” I relinquished the dials.
We sat watching, tense, and interested. Then mystified, awed. And presently upon us all there settled a vague, uneasy sense of fear.
For this, confronting us, was the Unknown.
The screen glowed, not with the normal gray-silver, but with what seemed a pale, wan starlight. A blurred image; but it was slowly clarifying. A dim purple sky, with misty stars.
We sat staring into the depths of the television scenes. Depths unmeasurable; illimitable distance. I recall my first impression when in the foreground faint gray-blue shadows began forming: was this an earthly scene? It seemed not. Blurred shadows in the starlight, crawling mist of shadows, congealing into dim outlines.
We saw presently the wide area of a starlit night. A level landscape of vegetation. Grassy lawns, trees, a purpling brook, shimmering like a thread of pale silver in the starlight. The image was sharp now, distinct, and without suggestion of flicker. Every color rounded and full. Deep-toned nature, pale and serene in the starlight.
A minute passed. In the center foreground of the vista a white wraith was taking form. And suddenly–as though I had blinked–there was a shape which an instant before had not been there. Solid reality. Of everything in the scene, it was most solid, most real.
A huge, gray-white skeleton tower, its base was set on a lawn where now I could see great beds of flowers, vivid with colored blossoms. The brook wound beside it. It was a pentagon tower. Its height might have been two hundred feet or more, narrowing at the top almost to a point. Skeleton girders with all the substantiality of steel, yet with a color more like aluminum.
We were, visually, fairly close to this tower. The image of it stood the full height of our screen. A balcony girded it near the top. A room, like an observatory, was up there, with tiny ovals of windows. Another larger room was midway down. I could see the interior–ladder steps, and what might have been a shaft with a lifting elevator.
The tower’s base was walled solid. It seemed, as we stared, that like a camera moving forward, the scene was enlarging–
We found ourselves presently gazing, from a close viewpoint, at the base of the tower. It was walled, seemingly by masonry, into a room. There were windows, small and high above the ground. Climbing vines and trellised flowers hung upon the walls. There was a broad, front doorway up a stone flight of steps.
And I became aware now of what I had not noticed before: the gardens surrounding the tower were enclosed with a high wall of masonry. A segment of it was visible now as a background to the scene. A wall, looped and turreted at intervals as though this were some fortress.
The whole lay quiet and calm in the starlight. No sign of human movement. Nanette said:
“But, Edward, isn’t any one in sight? No people–”
And Alan: “Ed, look! There–back there on the wall–”
It seemed on the distant wall that a dark figure was moving. A guard? A pacing sentry?
And now, other movement. A figure appeared of a girl. She came slowly from within and stood at the head of the entrance steps. The glow of an interior light outlined her clearly: a slim, small girl, in a robe faintly sky-blue. Flowing hair, pale as spun gold with the light shining on it like a halo.
She stood a moment, quietly staring out into the night. We could not see her face clearly. She stood like a statue gazing. And then, quietly, she turned and I caught a glimpse of her face–saw it clearly for an instant, its features imprinted clearly on my mind. A young girl, nearly matured; a face, it seemed, very queerly, singularly beautiful–