Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"It Occurred to Me That Some Unseen Dimension, If One Could but Penetrate It, Would Be the Ideal Place for the Commission of a Homicide"

"Murder in the Fourth Dimension."
By Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961).
First appearance: Amazing Detective Tales, October 1930.
Reprinted in Tales of Wonder and Super-Science, Spring 1941 and 100 Menacing Little Murder Stories (1998), among others.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and at The Eldritch Dark HERE (no illo or editorial comment—see just below).
"In this little story, Clark Ashton Smith gives us yet another glimpse of an alien dimension, which this time is entered not so much in the interests of scientific knowledge as for the completion of a murderer's evil designs. We think you will never have read a story quite like this before."
They say the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime; in this story, curiously enough, it's the other way around.

The thousand injuries of Halpin has our narrator borne as he best could, but when Halpin carries away his heart's desire he vows revenge. He and Edgar Halpin had long been friends:
. . . through our school days and through the first years of our professional life as law-partners. But when Halpin married the one woman I had ever loved with complete devotion, all friendship ceased on my side and was replaced by an ice-like barrier of inexorable enmity. Even the death of Alice, five years after the marriage, made no difference, for I could not forgive the happiness of which I had been deprived—the happiness they had shared during those years, like the thieves they were. I felt that she would have cared for me if it had not been for Halpin—indeed, she and I had been almost engaged before the beginning of his rivalry.
Slowly but surely over the next several years the narrator draws his plans against Halpin:
Apart from my legal studies and duties, during those ten years, I apprised myself of everything available that dealt with the methods of murder. Crimes of passion allured me with a fateful interest, and I read untiringly the records of particular cases. I made a study of weapons and poisons; and as I studied them, I pictured to myself the death of Halpin in every conceivable way. I imagined the deed as being done at all hours of the day and night, in a multitude of places. The only flaw in these dreams was my inability to think of any spot that would assure perfect safety from subsequent detection.
It was my bent toward scientific speculation and experiment that finally gave me the clue I sought. I had long been familiar with the theory that other worlds or dimensions may co-exist in the same space with ours by reason of a different molecular structure and vibrational rate, rendering them intangible for us. . . .
The world is not enough to contain his vengeance, and he possesses adequate scientific knowledge to devise a means of assuring himself of "perfect safety from subsequent detection" when he puts his murderous plan into operation—in the Fourth Dimension:
It was an unearthly land—a land such as might have existed before the creation of life. There were undulating blanks of desolation beneath the uniform grey of a heaven without moon or sun or stars or clouds, from which an uncertain and diffused glimmering was cast upon the world beneath. There were no shadows, for the light seemed to emanate from all directions. The soil was a grey dust in places and a grey viscidity of slime in others; and the mounds I have already mentioned were like the backs of prehistoric monsters heaving from the primal ooze. There were no signs of insect or animal life, there were no trees, no herbs, and not even a blade of grass, a patch of moss or lichen, or a trace of algae. Many rocks were strewn chaotically through the desolation; and their forms were such as an idiotic demon might have devised. The light was so dim that all things were lost at a little distance; and I could not tell whether the horizon was near or far.
What better place to kill and not leave any traces:
All circumstantial evidence, as well as the corpse itself, would be lacking—in other words, one would have a perfect absence of what is known as the corpus delicti.
In this timeless limbo, committing the perfect murder would be ridiculously easy to get away with—but, as you've probably guessed, there's a catch, an element that our killer, like so many others like him, has arrogantly overlooked . . .
Comment: Some readers may find that having a man invent a Nobel-prize-worthy scientific breakthrough just to exact revenge is risible at best and understandably regard the story as unintentionally funny, but don't forget that Ahab and Khan Noonien Singh used the most advanced technology available to them at the time (without, of course, inventing anything).

- Clark Ashton Smith was an active part of "the Lovecraft circle"; see Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and an entire website devoted to him (HERE).
- For more about the Fourth Dimension, go to Clifford Pickover's site (HERE) and Wikipedia (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).

The bottom line: "Perfect grammar—persistent, continuous, sustained—is the fourth dimension, so to speak: many have sought it, but none has found it."
Mark Twain

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