Nothing Happens on the Moon – Paul Ernst [1939]

Astounding Science Fiction, February 1939

Astounding Science Fiction, February 1939

Clow Hartigan is a Spaceways employee on station RC3, stuck like a wart on the side of Earth’s moon and he can tell you from long, dull, personal experience that nothing EVER happens on the moon.

Today’s scifi submission comes to us from Paul Ernst and in many ways it seems a trite little tale with a trite little story to tell until you realize that it’s from 1939.  Taken in this historical context, Ernst has cobbled together a fairly forward-looking bit of fiction.

Clow makes his monthly status call to report, as he always does, that absolutely nothing has happened.  He makes the same stale, crude jokes month after month with the radio operator in New York and follows a routine as unvaried as his perpetual diet of Tang and freeze-dried root beer floats.  The station hasn’t been planted on the moon for research or mining or anything of real use.  No, it’s just there in the event that some spacecraft, outward bound for a much more interesting location than lunar station RC3, should get into trouble and need assistance.  So like the lonely lighthouse keeper, Clow waits impatiently for his six-month tour of duty to end so he can return to the land of real root beer floats.

All is well and good, of course, until something actually does happen.  While out strolling on the moon for his – morning/evening/who the hell ever knows what time it is when the sun stays out for 14 days at a time anyway – constitutional, a meteor streaks down from the heavens.  (Such a silly phrase, does anything ever streak UP from the heavens?)  Ever-curious and aware that occasionally such lucky finds yield a hefty resale value, he lunges manfully toward the spot of the impact.  (Parenthetically, it’s worth noting that our author correctly predicts the enhanced agility of humans in lower gravity, but fails to predict the more than compensatory bulk of space suits.)  After a bit of juggling he manages to locate the meteor and bring it into the station.

Now as modern readers we all know well and good what’s going to happen next.  Predictably, the meteor breaks open and an unknown something escapes, leaving only an empty shell behind.  Most befuddlingly, the something is apparently invisible.  While Clow is searching for the visually insubstantial something, it comes back and eats the shell from which it so recently escaped leaving our confused spaceman with absolutely no evidence that the thing ever existed in the first place.  Now panicked, he seals all the doors only to hear a heart-rending shriek.  Unable to locate the source of the noise, it subsides as soon as it began leaving our hero even MORE confused as to what in the hell is actually going on.  Days pass without further incident and he begins to think himself a bit crazy.

As the long and dark days pass, Clow casts his mind back to a story he heard during his training.  There was a man, by name of Stuyvesant, who reported that he’d encountered a strange creature during his stay on Mercury station RC10.  This purported denizen of the infernal Mercurial planet was said to live and feed on the bare rock itself.  The authorities dismissed Stuyvesant as a loon and put him to every possible test to prove it.  Eventually he had avoided committal but only after not insignificant effort on his part.  It is with this thought in mind that Clow takes himself back to the moon for another happy stroll about a month after the initial encounter.

Not long into his stroll he finds himself at the brink of a large and previously unknown hole in the lunar surface.  He watches in horror as bits of rock disappear down an invisible gullet that has apparently grown 100-fold since last he saw it.  Panicked beyond all reason he races back towards his shelter only barely managing to stay ahead of the now-pursuing and evidently ravenous beast.  Since last we saw it the beast has grown immensely and is making significant headway by ramming itself repeatedly against the thin metal skin of the station.  Thinking quickly, Clow traps the beast in an airlock where he is able to electrocute it with a power cable.  Once dead, the creature quickly returns to the dry and rocky dust which was its diet and again our hero is left with no evidence that the thing ever existed.  Remembering the fate of Stuyvesant, when the next monthly status report comes, he quietly keeps mum and wisely keeps to his routine of uninteresting status reports.  Nothing EVER happens on the moon, after all.


Filed under 1930s, science fiction

2 responses to “Nothing Happens on the Moon – Paul Ernst [1939]

  1. Pingback: What are the top SF short stories of all time? « M J Wright

  2. That story left a huge impression on me as a kid — and I have a painting I did of the climax of the tale, when we finally get to see the Great Whatzit in all its geometrical glory.

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