A PESTILENT VAPOR (1903) – Written by Alice MacGowan, this neglected story introduced a figure who should have become as famous in his way as H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man.
The tale is set in “the far future” of 1950. The mad scientist Dr Sylvester assassinates the U.S. President for refusing to grant Sylvester the appointment he wanted to an overseas post where he could continue his bizarre experiments.
The not so good doctor is taken into custody and gets even more spiteful satisfaction out of the way the country is rife with rioting and protests. Dr Sylvester wants to further his plans by exploiting the spreading anarchy and disappears from his prison cell.
Sylvester has discovered a way of transforming his body into a gaseous state. When no one was watching him he turned into a vapor and drifted out of the prison, returning to his human form when he had reached safety.
Unfortunately the rioting and looting has left many outlets without adequate supplies of chemicals to whip up a new batch of his solution. Without it, he runs the risk of losing his solidity permanently and just dissipating into scattered gas molecules.
Dr Sylvester is a nationwide fugitive, limiting his ability to obtain the chemicals he needs even when he finds establishments that have what he needs. He tries to make do by stealing some substitute ingredients but his condition worsens.
Out of desperation our main character seeks out an old acquaintance named Wallace. Sylvester explains to him that his research led him to perfect nutrients in gas form, gasses he could live on in lieu of food.
A steady diet of those gasses eventually transformed his entire body into a barely solid mass. Dr Sylvester was able to keep his body intact from then on by sheer concentration. It was in his gaseous form that he got close enough to assassinate the President after solidifying his body.
Bullets cannot harm him in his present, ever-intensifying state but he also can no longer hold objects to steal them. Before the mad doctor can get Wallace to obtain the chemicals he needs his body reaches the point of no return.
Dr Sylvester’s body dissipates in horrific fashion right before Wallace’s eyes. Wallace is so disturbed by this macabre sight that he suffers a heart attack and dies. On that note the story ends.
Personally, I think this story might have become a minor classic if it was fleshed out a little to include Dr Sylvester stalking the President and maybe using his strange powers to commit acts of sabotage throughout Washington, D.C. to add to the chaos afflicting the country after the assassination. +++
FOR TEN MORE EXAMPLES OF ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2014/03/03/ten-neglected-examples-of-ancient-science-fiction/
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/
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