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First episode taken from Adventure No. 1402 - December 1st 1951.

The transparent terror that grows – and grows – AND GROWS!


Young Elmer was one of those kids who always wanted everything he saw. Being the spoiled ten-year-old son of wealthy parents, he usually got it. It was not surprising, therefore, that when he caught sight of the attractive-looking object on the counter of the toy department of Sellingers’ Multiple Stores, New York’s largest emporium, he gave an avaricious whoop.

“Pop,” he yelled. “I wanna have that!” His indulgent parent, busily counting out a wad of dollar bills to pay for a purchase, did not even bother to look up. “Okay, son,” he nodded, “you just have it right away.” Elmer’s pointing finger drew the lady assistant’s attention to the article he required. The girl looked at him with obvious distaste, then she shifted her gaze to the object which Elmer indicated. It was a small globe about the size of a tennis ball, fairly transparent, and glowing with colour just like a newly-born soap bubble. Inside, delicate shades of pink, blue, yellow, and green swirled and danced. It was certainly the sort of thing which would appeal to a youngster. The assistant’s brows came together in a frown as she gazed at the bubble. She could not remember having seen it there before. It could be a new line just introduced into the department, but surely the floor manager would have drawn her attention to it? As it was, she had no idea even of the price. “What’s keeping you?” bawled young Elmer impatiently. “Buck up and let’s have the thing—I wanna play with it.” The girl put out a hand to pick up the bubble, then the frown on her face deepened as she discovered that she could not pick it up. It would not budge from the counter. In spite of all her efforts to dislodge it, it remained as though it were glued there! “Well, what d’you know about that?” she muttered to herself, then said to Elmer. “Sorry, but I guess you’ll have to hang on while I go and make a few enquiries.” Followed by an angry glare from Elmer, she hurried off in search of the floor manager. Elmer then reached out to grab up the new toy for himself, and received his first shock when he found it was stuck fast to the counter. He pulled and tugged at the bubble angrily, but although it was pliable to his touch, nothing could shift it. Five seconds later came shock number two for Elmer. “Gee, pop, look at that!” he yelled. “Now what’s wrong, son?” his father enquired as he turned. He followed the direction of Elmer’s finger and what he saw was a beautifully-coloured globe—the size of a football! It’s got bigger—it’s got bigger!”

More than half the customers moving to and fro nearby stopped to stare at this excited youngster, his eyes wildly a-gleam. They also took in what Elmer was pointing at, and began to crowd about the counter with a chorus of gasps of amazement and disbelief. The bubble was steadily increasing in size, getting larger and larger every moment! “Well, did you ever!” exclaimed one shopper. “What’s the big idea?” asked another. “Is this a new advertising stunt?” Crash! Several objects fell from the counter to the floor as the bubble continued to expand. More and more people were adding themselves to the crowd of curious onlookers, most of whom were grinning broadly. “Say, that’s real cute!” “You’re telling me—they can do anything these days!” The young assistant and a lanky, immaculately-clad individual who was evidently the floor manager, pushed their way through the throng. “Ladies and gentlemen, allow me please—” They had reached the counter and when the girl saw the bubble, which had ceased expanding and was now staying put at the size of a largish beach ball, she gave a startled gasp. With eyes like saucers, she started in to explain but after a moment or so the manager cut her short. “Say, listen, what is all this. Miss Frampton?” He stared at the bubble, the colours in which, with the increase of size had merged into a sort of shell-pink. “I’ve never seen this thing before. What’s it doing here?” “I—I don’t know, sir.” The girl was feeling scared, and looking at it. “When I left here a few minutes ago, it was only as big as—as—my fist.” “Nonsense!” The manager snorted. “How the deuce has it got that size then?” What—” He was interrupted by a sudden uproar. “Look—look!”


This time the manager saw it for himself. Before his own eyes the bubble began to swell some more. There were more crashes as it expanded inch by inch, until it was almost five feet in diameter, towering above the counter, whitish-pink and transparent enough to allow various articles beyond to be seen through it.

“G-g-good gracious!” The manager staggered back, his face a study in bewilderment. “This—this is ridiculous. It’s impossible! It—it’s—” he broke off, then said unsteadily. “I’m fetching the police. It’s up to them to deal with this!” Turning on his heel, he carved a path through the bystanders who were ten deep now, craning their necks so as not to miss the extraordinary sight. With his departure a strange silence settled down on the crowd. On all sides the question was being asked—what was the big idea? The fact that the manager and staff knew nothing at all about it and could not explain it, made it all the more mysterious and perplexing. What did it mean? Where had the thing come from? What was it doing here? And, above all, what was the secret of its continual expansion? Subdued murmurs greeted the arrival of a burly, New York cop, piloted through the crowd by a shaken manager, who looked as though it would have taken a puff of wind to blow away the remainder of his bewildered senses. The policeman stepped to the counter, eyed the offending bubble, then glanced at the manager. “Huh, that the thing?” he asked. “Let’s have it down here then.” He gave the bubble a shove, and started with surprise at the resistance it offered. He pushed harder—still harder—then he glared round belligerently at the interested, half-amused throng behind him. He attacked the bubble again but, although its contours were distorted beneath his pressure, the huge tenuous globe stayed put. Even when two or three men standing by lent a hand, their combined attempts failed to move it. “Okay!” The cop stepped back, gasping, red faced, and annoyed. “There’s only one way, an’ that’s to burst the darned thing!” He reached for his gun, and instinctively the watchers surged backwards. “Now wait for it, folks,” the policeman warned as he took careful aim. “This is gonna be some bang—and how!” He fired. The loud report was followed by a plop. The cop ducked fast, just in time to avoid being hit by something which flew straight at him.

He stooped and picked up the object which had fallen to the floor, then let it fall again because it was uncomfortably hot. It was the bullet he had fired! Instead of piercing the skin of the bubble, it had been immediately repelled. While the crowd looked on, gaping fascinatedly at this astounding affair, the baffled policeman took a large clasp-knife from his pocket and opened it. He squared his shoulders and advanced grimly upon the bubble. Three times he struck out viciously, and the third time the blade of the knife snapped off in his hand—without leaving so much as a dent in the envelope of the bubble! The cop swore loud and long, pushed back his cap, and mopped his forehead. Then came the climax of the whole dramatic sequence of events. Slowly, very slowly, as if air were being withdrawn from it by invisible hands, the bubble started to deflate itself. Smaller it grew and smaller. Back to the size of the beach ball—now it was only a large balloon—then no bigger than a tennis ball—smaller still—a marble. Finally it disappeared altogether! During the whole of the deflating process, the crowd was too awestruck for either sound or movement. But now pandemonium broke loose as, in a bunch, they made for the street to broadcast a story they realised no one would believe. And yet it was true—they had seen it with their own eyes. Somewhere in the background, young Elmer, disappointed and frustrated, was beginning to fling a fit of temperament because the thing he wanted he very definitely could not have. But nobody was taking the slightest notice of him. The bubble had come to New York!


Johnny Spott, crime reporter for the New York “Courier and Echo,” glanced down at a couple of galley proofs lying on the news editor’s desk. He whistled as he read them—a mild whistle, for it took even more than this unusual story to really startle a hard-boiled Yankee pressman.


What is the ‘The Bubble’? “Shoppers during the rush hour this afternoon on the ground floor of Sellingers’ Stores, on Sixth Avenue, got something they didn’t have to pay for! They were treated to the astounding spectacle of a round object, no bigger than an orange, which grew—and grew—and grew—until it reached the height of a man. Resting on the glass top of one of the counters, it looked as fragile as an immense soap bubble. Yet investigation proved that if couldn’t be pushed or pulled from its location, and that it was impervious to attack by a sharp bladed knife, or a bullet from a gun. After attracting the attention of a huge throng of bewildered sightseers, it deflated itself as steadily and silently as it had expanded, finally disappearing altogether. Yet no one went within yards of the thing! Why was it done? Advertisement? The management says ‘no.’ They just can’t account for it at all. Hoax? Maybe. But who’s the funny guy? Sellingers’ are feeling sore, and so is the cop who was called in from outside to cope with the situation. It’s certainly a swell story!”

There was a bit more in the same vein. Johnny flicked the newsprint with one finger and asked—“Who turned that in?” “Carterson,” replied Bill Emmetts, the news editor. “He happened to be on the spot, buying some photographic material.” Jeff Carterson was the “Courier’s” candid-camera man, and like Johnny Spott, he held a well paid staff job. They were both top line newshounds, forever sniffing around for the scent which would put them on the headline trail, and always ready to take chances for a scoop which would put their own paper one jump ahead of their rivals. “Did Jeff get a picture?” Johnny enquired. “Sure. We’re running the story as a front page feature in this evening’s early edition. Things are a bit quiet just now, so we can afford to splash it.” “What d’you make of it yourself, Bill?” “Publicity for Sellingers’, of course.” “But they deny having anything to do with it.” “Naturally—because the stunt would lose half its punch if the public thought they’d wangled it themselves.” Jeff Carterson held the same view when Johnny spoke to him an hour or so later. “You can bet your boots that Sellingers’ worked it somehow, Johnny. Give us a couple o’ days and it’ll bust wide open. What beats me though,” Jeff went on, “is how they managed to work it.” Johnny stubbed out a cigarette end with a chuckle. “Concealed tubing underneath the counter, operated at a distance to let air into a glorified balloon,” he hazarded. “You’re wrong, bud!” replied the cameraman. “I examined the counter myself when the show was over. There wasn’t a darned thing to be seen—except this!” He fumbled in a waistcoat pocket and handed something to Johnny.

It was a tiny pellet, the size of a small pea, and it seemed to be made of some metallic substance like aluminium. Actually, it looked just like one of those little, silvery balls used to decorate iced cakes. Held in the palm of his hand, Johnny stared at it curiously. “What is it?” “The cause of all the trouble,” was the laconic answer. Johnny handed the pellet back to the cameraman and grunted—“I don’t get it, Jeff!” “I was at Sellingers’ this afternoon,” explained Carterson, “and I saw everything that happened. After that bubble had deflated itself and disappeared, I went over to the counter and did a bit of snooping. Everyone else was rushing round in little circles wondering whether they were crackers, or dreaming. I found this tiny pellet lying on the exact spot where the thing had stood, and when I showed it to the dame behind the counter, she shook her head. ‘Don’t ask me,’ she said blankly, when I quizzed her about it, ‘I can’t tell you what it is. I won’t be able to think straight for weeks after what’s happened here!’ So I shoved the thing in my pocket,” finished the cameraman, “in case it came in useful one of these days.” Johnny nodded and held out his hand again. “Let’s have another look-see!” Then after a moment he asked. “Mind if I hang on to it, Jeff?” “Okay by me—you’re the guy who deals with mysteries in this joint. If you can make head or tail of it fire ahead!” Johnny Spott slipped the pellet into his own pocket. “When you gave the copy room boys your story didn’t you say that the Bubble couldn’t be shifted from its location? How come you could pick this up, then?” “Don’t ask me. I suppose something happens to it when it starts expanding. Mind you, I may be wrong when I say that thing really is the Bubble—or the start of it, anyway! I watched the thing get smaller and smaller till it was no more than a kid’s marble. After that I lost sight of it. It seems screwy that anything the size of a peanut could swell up the way the bubble did, but that’s how it was. Figure it out for yourself, Sherlock!” The cameraman walked away leaving Johnny with his problem.


That evening the “Courier and Echo” carried the Bubble story beneath banner headlines. It gave New York something to talk about in the bars, the speak-easies, the nightclubs, and the theatre queues.

But it did not last, for few sensations do last longer than six hours in New York. Almost before dawn broke over the giant city folk had forgotten, and when the first morning editions came out with news of a murder in Hollywood, the incident in Sellingers’ Stores was already a thing of the past. But just before noon thing started to move again. Johnny Spott, by reason of his importance as the paper’s ace crime reporter, had been given a little room to himself on the fourteenth floor of the “Courier and Echo’s” gigantic building. He was there, studying a report from one of his contacts, concerning a fresh outbreak of dope trafficking down Harlem way, when the intercom telephone on his desk rang shrilly. He picked up the receiver. “Yeah? Spott this end,” he stated. It was Bill Emmett, the news editor, and for one whose coolness was a legend with the staff, his voice was almost shaking. “Say, Johnny, can you come right down? I’ve got something for you—it’s just come over the tape! Hustle, son!” “Okay! What is it—murder?” “No, bank robbery. But that darned Bubble seems to come into it—it’s a queer story, Johnny!” “I’ll be right along, Bill!” Sweeping his papers into the drawer of a desk, Johnny sprang up and made a dash for the elevator. A minute later he was in Emmett’s room. “Okay, Bill—spill it!” he invited. The news editor slipped across his table a piece of paper on which was pasted a message torn from a tape machine. “Get a grip on this,” he said tensely. Johnny read—




“Boy what a story!” Johnny exclaimed. “You can’t cal this a publicity gag, Bill!” “Who’s trying to?” was the retort. “Yesterday’s business may have been just fun and games, but today’s lot cost ten grand!” “You want me to handle it?” “Sure, it’s a crime, ain’t it?” snorted the news editor. “What do you think we pay you all that dough for? Get going, brother—I’ll hold up the front page for you!” “I’m on my way!” Johnny Spott retorted as he jerked to his feet. “I’ll have it on your plate for lunch, Bill!” He was being rash. A mighty lot was to happen before New York had finished with the Bubble! The reporter travelled to 135th Street by cab, and when he reached the premises of Empire Consolidated, the first person he encountered was a uniformed policeman. His spirits rose as he recognised Sergeant Steve Davis, of the Mobile Squad, for where Steve was, Captain Lenaghan could not be very far behind, and Johnny had worked with the captain before. Lenaghan slick, tenacious and Irish—always pretended to resent the “Courier’s” crime expert hanging round, but he managed, nevertheless, to slip Johnny a lot of useful dope when they found themselves on a case together. “Howdy, Steve, what’s cooking?” Johnny greeted the sergeant. The cop shifted a blob of gum to the other side of his face and jerked a finger over his shoulder. “Bank’s suspended business fer a coupla hours, Mr Spott. The cap’n’s inside puttin’ ‘em through it.” “How’s he feeling?” “Not so good!” Sergeant Davis grinned. “He’s already had some o’ you newshounds grillin’ him an’ he didn’t like it much. He had ‘em kicked out on their ears!” “Can I see him, d’you think?” asked Johnny. “Dunno. Stick around if you like an’ Mebbe—” The cop broke off short, then pointed, “Say, here he comes now.” A big, burly, red-faced man wearing the uniform of a captain of the New York city police was coming along the corridor. He pulled up within a few feet of Johnny and glared at him ferociously. “Bejabbers, this is all I needed to make my day complete!” he groaned. “I guessed ye’d soon be showin’ yer face, Spott, but I got nothin’ for ye—nothin’ at all, see!” “Aw, that’s too bad, Captain,” chuckled the reporter. “And just when I thought I’d got something for you!” “Eh? What’s that?” Mike Lenaghan threw Johnny a sharp glance. “If ye’re—” “Come clean, Cap, and let’s know exactly what’s happened. Not necessarily for publication—you know that.” “Huh! Okay, then, ye can have it—but it’s a crazy yarn!” Lenaghan relented. “Some dame was cashin’ a cheques in the bank an hour or so ago an’ she spotted a balloon on the floor. Thought a kid had dropped it, though there wasn’t no kid around. Tried to pick it up, she did, but she couldn’t budge it. Then all o’ a sudden the darned thing began to swell—got bigger an’ bigger, an’ nary a spalpeen so much as puttin’ a finger on it! After that, I guess everythin’ went hay-wire. All the customers an’ staff started rushin’ around like mad. The chief cashier took a hand, but he needed the manager to help him before they got the panic sorted out an’ stopped.” “But there was a robbery, wasn’t there?” put in Johnny. “D’ye think I only came to enquire after me overdraft?” hooted Lenaghan. “By the time they had cleared the premises, this bloomin’ Bubble had vanished—an’ so had ten grand o’ the bank’s dough.” Johnny Spott knitted his brows thoughtfully, and after a moment asked—“Look here, Mike, d’you mind if I have a look-see inside?” “Oh, I suppose so—but what d’ye expect to find there?” “You never know,” was the vague reply. “Is it okay with you though?” “Shure, but I’ll be right there, too. I trust you newshounds just about as far as I can spit—an’ that ain’t far! C’mon—this way.”


The police captain conducted Johnny through swing doors into the public section of the bank premises, where the members of the staff were attempting to readjust themselves to more or less normal working conditions. “Just where did the Bubble do it’s stuff?” enquired the reporter and had the spot pointed out to him. For several seconds Johnny searched the floor on hands and knees, followed by the curious gaze of twenty pairs of eyes. Then suddenly a grunt of satisfaction escaped the reporter and, rising to his feet, he held out something. “Here’s a present for you, Captain.” Lenaghan took what he was offered, a tiny, silvery-coloured pellet. He stared at it blankly. “Say, what the heck’s this?” “That’s the Bubble,” stated Johnny calmly. “Don’t ask me to explain, because I’d advise you to stick tight to that, because one of these days it’s likely to be Exhibit One.” Captain Lenaghan eyed the reporter suspiciously. “An’ how by all that’s wonderful did ye know what to look for, hey? If ye know anythin’, Spott, come clean or else—” “Okay, okay!” Johnny soothed. “No need to start a temperature, Captain. Take a look at this.” He produced the pellet which Jeff Carterson had given him the previous evening. “Another o’ ‘em!” The policeman glared at Johnny then roared, “D’ye wanna drive me scats? Come clean—an’ I want all of it!” Johnny grinned and proceeded to explain. “So you see, Captain,” he finished, “there might be something in it after all. Carterson wasn’t sure that what he’d found had anything to do with the bubble in Sellingers’ Stores. But now—” “I’ll keep ‘em both an’ hand ‘em out to the scientific bureau,” grunted Lenaghan. “There ain’t nothin’ can beat those guys—they know all the answers.” “Sure—and do I get their findings, Captain? One good turn deserves another, you know.” Lenaghan looked dubious for a moment, then growled—“Okay—come down to headquarters later an’ we’ll tell ye what we know. Mebbe with reservations—depends how useful we think ye can be to us. “Fine.” Johnny turned away with a wave of his hand. So long, then. Be seeing you!”


The late afternoon special of the New York “Courier and Echo” ran its own exclusive dealing with the bank robbery.


“Shortly before noon today, the self-expanding bubble which mystified shoppers in Sellingers’ Stores on Sixth Avenue yesterday afternoon, made another appearance. This time it turned up in the 135th Street branch of the Empire Consolidated Bank. A crowd of bank clients, tellers, clerks, and stenographers watched the thing swell, unaided, to immense proportions. Something like a minor panic ensued, and the staff had a tough time before they managed to get things quietened down and the bank cleared. When after doing its stuff for about fifteen minutes, the Bubble disappeared, it was discovered that ten thousand dollars of the bank’s takings had disappeared with it! At first, the police were not inclined to connect the two incidents. But the ‘Courier’s’ own crime reporter, Johnny Spott, found on the scene of the robbery a clue of vital importance, which may lead to startling developments. What is the Bubble? If you want to find out Watch the ‘Courier!” “Be on the ‘Spott’ with Johnny!”

Other newspapers, of course, covered the story of the bank robbery. But Johnny had certainly put his own paper one up by finding that pellet on the bank premises, and so linking up the appearance of the mysterious Bubble on 135th Street with its demonstration of the previous day on Sixth Avenue. In due course, Johnny dropped in at police headquarters, and managed to get hold of Captain Lenaghan. The cop shook his head in answer to the newspaper man’s first question. “Nothin’ doin’, Johnny! Those coupla pellets just don’t mean a thing. The boys in the scientific bureau have done everythin’ except swallow ‘em, but they ain’t none the wiser.” “But can’t they even tell what the things are made of?” “Yep, they can do that. They’re mostly tungsten, with a certain amount of silver chloride. But when I suggested that one o’ those pellets might expand into the Bubble, you ought to have heard the laughs. Say, have you ever heard of tungsten expanding?” “I guess this scientific stuff isn’t much in my line,” Johnny confessed, “but I’d always understood that tungsten was one of the toughest metals!” “An’ so it is, son. As a matter o’ fact,” went on Lenaghan, “I guess the boys thought I was plumb crazy. I must’ve been, too, to listen to all yer blarney! But ye sounded so all-fired serious. Bah, that thing swellin’ to six feet high! Take it from me, brother, them pellets had nothin’ whatever to do with the Bubble.” “You don’t think the Bubble stunt was linked up with the lifting of that money, then?” “Shure I do—an’ here’s how I figure it out. Someone inside the bank started that Bubble stunt as a means to an end. When everythin’ was at sixes an’ sevens, in walked a second guy an’ helped himself to ten grand. I reckon that dodge was worked at Sellingers’ so’s to get folks on their toes an’ make ‘em panic. Then it was easier to pull off the bank job.” “Maybe you’re right,” said the reporter slowly. “In which case we shan’t hear any more of the Bubble.” “Not unless they try the same trick again—an’ if they do we’ll be ready for ‘em!”


Johnny Spott left police headquarters and made his way back to the “Courier” building. As he went, he heard plenty of people discussing the bank robbery and. Of course, the strange phenomenon of the Bubble. Two women on a street car were expressing their opinion that foreign agents were responsible. At a street corner an individual in frayed clerical attire was trying to convince his hearers that the Bubble betokened the end of the world! “Pardon me, sir—I think you dropped this?” The crime reporter swung round at the sound of the voice close to his elbow. A man who looked like a waiter was handing something over to him. Johnny took it mechanically with a word of thanks, and the other man moved off into the crowd on the sidewalk. Johnny Spott glanced down at what he had been given—a slim cigarette case. It certainly was not his, and he had never set eyes on it before. He turned it over in his hand and saw there were no initials or means of identification. Idly he pressed the catch, then uttered a stifled exclamation as something sharp stabbed into his thumb. The case sprang open. Inside was a slip of card bearing in block capitals—



The “Courier’s” crime expert sucked his pricked thumb, and his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. So they were not finished with the Bubble after all! Perhaps things were only just beginning!


THE BUBBLE 14 episodes Adventure issues 1405 – 1415 (1951 – 1952)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd

Vic Whittle 2007