“They Came from Mars” is a tiny, 16-page, double-column science fiction yarn written by Wilfred P. Cockroft, and published by Gerald G. Swan (reportedly in 1945). There are no ads within providing any indication of publication. Date of publication is based on British Library records, and, undoubtedly, info found in fanzines.
The tale opens with the wreck of a man-made spaceship on the coastal beach of Mallen. Arriving late on the scene is Doctor Morson. Three sailors had already clambered into the ship to rescue the crew, but the three they found and extracted were well past death. Morson enters and accidentally cuts himself on the hull. Inside, he discovers a fourth corpse and a diary. This latter he retains, for his interest in this whole space affair is aroused.
Returning home, his hand is throbbing, and he settles down to read the diary. About less than half of the booklet deals primarily with the daily recorded exploits of the crew, their arrival on Mars, and records of plant life and animals, etc. They attempt to capture a six-legged furry critter (see cover scan) for further investigation. However, a bright, indescribable object zooms toward them and they run for their lives, and the animal captured, now has escaped.
They depart the red planet for earth but each are afflicted with pain and other ailments begin to take hold. Turns out they were all injured while on Mars. The ground they walked on in places managed to slice into their space boots. Each sick, desperately in flight to return to earth, the diary abruptly ends and leaves no clue as to what transpired…but, the doctor already has a clue, as his own hand continues to throb….
The story then shifts from space story to more of a weird sort of feel to the tale.
Morson continues to treat patients and his own ailment worsens to the point that he is an incoherent, non-functioning entity. He is sent to an asylum; shortly thereafter, his estate is sold. The asylum doctor attends the estate sale and is outbid on a full lot offer of all the doctor’s books by a competing doctor (Harvey) whom was an old friend of Morson’s. Harvey discloses that he wants the books for certain reasons. Eventually, time passes, and he finds the diary among the trove.
He returns to the asylum and shares his discovery with that doctor; they compare notes, and he notes that he believes Morson, as they know him, is dying, and is infested with some form of Martian parasite, that will “seed” once Morson’s body fully terminates. That it does! They run from and seal the airtight room just in time as the body explodes a spray of particles into the air. The “alien” has seeded, and is looking for a fresh host to inhabit.
And, what of the three sailors? The doctor traces their activities to the Orient, and learns that through some odd mishap, the entire ship went down, all hands down to the frozen watery depths of the sea. Did the alien entities die, or, are they forming even now their own ranks under the sea, to one day take over the entire human race? Only time will tell…..
Honestly, I’m sure that most glance at the story and give it the rolling-eye treatment, write it off as purely juvenile, but, no, I disagree. It is a first-rate job, with a solid plot, and the weird-strange-bizarre is smartly handled and everything is rationalized, which is precisely the foundation for what the editors of Weird Tales magazine desired of their own stories.
I would love the opportunity to read further stories by Mr. Cockroft one day. I possess a further half-dozen assorted other tales by this author. Perhaps one day I’ll give those stories their due.
SIDE NOTE: I wonder if it terribly irked that man that so many blithering idiots then and now continue to erroneously spell his name as Cockcroft rather than Cockroft….