Short Story: “Who Goes There?” By Don A. Stuart.

“Who Goes There?” is a science-fiction novella written by John W. Campbell, Jr written under the pen name Don A. Stuart.

It has been adapted four times as a motion picture…

“The Thing From Another World” (1951). Trailer HERE.
“Horror Express” (1972). Trailer HERE.
“The Thing” (1982). Trailer HERE.
“The Thing” (2011). Trailer HERE.

The original story was first published in Astounding Science-Fiction magazine in August 1938.

Cover

I have reproduced John W. Campbell Jr’s original short story (Illustrations and all!) up on here for your pleasure with zero permission and here shall it remain until such time when I am sued for copyright infringement.

“Who Goes There?”.
Don A. Stuart.

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Chapter I:

The place stank. A queer, mingled stench that only the ice-buried cabins of an Antarctic camp know, compounded of reeking human sweat, and the heavy, fish-oil stench of melted seal blubber. An overtone of liniment combated the musty smell of sweat-and-snow-drenched furs. The acrid odor of burnt cooking fat, and the animal, not-unpleasant smell of dogs, diluted by time, hung in the air.

Lingering odors of machine oil contrasted sharply with the taint of harness dressing and leather. Yet somehow, through all that reek of human beings and their associates – dogs, machines and cooking – came another taint. It was a queer, neck-ruffling thing, a faintest suggestion of an odor alien among the smells of industry and life. And it was a life-smell. But it came from the thing that lay bound with cord and tarpaulin on the table, dripping slowly, methodically onto the heavy planks, dank and gaunt under the unshielded glare of the electric light.

Blair, the little bald-pated biologist of the expedition, twitched nervously at the wrappings, exposing clear, dark ice beneath and then pulling the tarpaulin back into place restlessly. His little birdlike motions of suppressed eagerness danced his shadow across the fringe of dingy gray underwear hanging from the low ceiling, the equatorial fringe of stiff, graying hair around his naked skull a comical halo about the shadow’s head.

Commander Garry brushed aside the lax legs of a suit of underwear, and stepped toward the table. Slowly his eyes traced around the rings of men sardined into the Administration Building. His tall, stiff body straightened finally, and he nodded. “Thirty-seven. All here.” His voice was low, yet carried the clear authority of the commander by nature, as well as by title.

“You know the outline of the story back of that find of the Secondary Pole Expedition. I have been conferring with second-in-Command McReady, and Norris, as well as Blair and Dr. Copper. There is a difference of opinion, and because it involves the entire group, it is only just that the entire Expedition personnel act on it.

“I am going to ask McReady to give you the details of the story, because each of you has been too busy with his own work to follow closely the endeavors of the others. McReady?”

Moving from the smoke-blued background, McReady was a figure from some forgotten myth, a looming, bronze statue that held life, and walked. Six-feet-four inches he stood as he halted beside the table, and, with a characteristic glance upward to assure himself of room under the lower ceiling beam, straightened. His rough, clashingly orange windproof jacket he still had on, yet on his huge frame it did not seem misplaced. Even here, four feet beneath the drift-wind that droned across the Antarctic waste above the ceiling, the cold of the frozen continent leaked in, and gave meaning to the harshness of the man. And he was bronze – his great red-bronze beard, the heavy hair that matched it. The gnarled, corded hands gripping, relaxing, gripping relaxing on the table planks were bronze. Even the deep-sunken eyes beneath heavy brows were bronzed.

Age-resisting endurance of the metal spoke in the cragged heavy outlines of his face, and the mellow tones of the heavy voice. “Norris and Blair agree on one thing, that animal we found was not-terrestrial in origin. Norris fears there may be danger in that; Blair says there is none.

“But I’ll go back to how, and why, we found it. To all that was known before we came here, it appeared that this point was exactly over the South Magnetic Pole of Earth. The compass does point straight down here, as you all know. The more delicate instruments of the physicists, instruments especially designed for this expedition and its study of the magnetic pole, detected a secondary effect, a secondary, less powerful magnetic influence about 80 miles southwest of here.

“The Secondary Magnetic Expedition went out to investigate it. There is no need for details. We found it, but it was not the huge meteorite or magnetic mountain Norris had expected to find. Iron ore is magnetic, of course; iron more so – and certain special steels even more magnetic from the surface indications, the secondary pole we found was small, so small that the magnetic effect it had was preposterous. No magnetic material conceivable could have that effect. Soundings through the ice indicated it was within one hundred feet of the glacier surface.

“I think you should know the structure of the place. There is a broad plateau, a level sweep that runs more than 150 miles due south from the Secondary station, Van Wall says. He didn’t have time or fuel to fly farther, but it was running smoothly due south then. Right there, where that buried thing was, there is an ice-drowned mountain ridge, a granite wall of unshakable strength that has damned back the ice creeping from the south.

“And four hundred miles due south is the South Polar Plateau. You have asked me at various times why it gets warmer here when the wind rises, and most of you know. As a meteorologist I’d have staked my word that no wind could blow at -70 degrees – that no more than a 5-mile wind could blow at -50 – without causing warming due to friction with ground, snow and ice and the air itself.

“We camped there on the lip of that ice-drowned mountain range for twelve days. We dug out camp into the blue ice that formed the surface, and escaped most of it. But for twelve consecutive days the wind blew at 45 miles an hour. It went as high as 48, and fell to 41 at times. The temperature was -63 degrees. It rose to -60 and fell to -68. It was meteorologically impossible, and it went on uninterruptedly for twelve days and twelve nights.

“Somewhere to the south, the frozen air of South Polar Plateau slides down from that 18,000-foot bowl, down a mountain pass, over a glacier, and starts north. There must be a funneling mountain chain that directs it, and sweeps it away for four hundred miles to hit that bald plateau where we found the secondary pole, and 350 miles farther north reaches the Antarctic Ocean.

“It’s been frozen there since Antarctica froze twenty million years ago. There never has been a thaw there.

“Twenty million years ago Antarctica was beginning to freeze. We’ve investigated, thought and built speculations. What we believe happened was about like this.

“Something came down out of space, a ship. We saw it there in the blue ice, a thing like a submarine without a conning tower or directive vanes. 280 feet long and 45 feet in diameter at its thickest.

“Eh, Van Wall? Space? Yes, but I’ll explain that better later.” McReady’s steady voice went on.

“It came down from space, driven and lifted by forces men haven’t discovered yet, and somehow – perhaps something went wrong then – it tangled with Earth’s magnetic field. It came south here, out of control probably, circling the magnetic pole. That’s a savage country there, but when Antarctica was still freezing it must have been a thousand times more savage. There must have been blizzard snow, as well as drift, new snow falling as the continent glaciated. The swirl there must have been particularly bad, the wind hurling a solid blanket of white over the lip of that now-buried mountain.

“The ship struck solid granite head-on, and cracked up. Not every one of the passengers in it was killed, but the ship must have been ruined, her driving mechanism locked. It tangled with Earth’s field, Norris believes. No thing made by intelligent beings can tangle with the dead immensity of a planet’s natural forces and survive.

“One of its passengers stepped out. The wind we saw there never fell below 41, and the temperature never rose above -60. Then – the wind must have been stronger. And there was drift falling in a solid sheet. The thing was lost completely in ten paces.”

He paused for a moment, the deep, steady voice giving way to the drone of wind overhead, and the uneasy, malicious gurgling in the pipe of the galley stove.

Drift – a drift-wind was sweeping by overhead. Right now the snow picked up by the mumbling wind fled in level, blinding lines across the face of the buried camp. If a man stepped out of the tunnels that connected each of the camp buildings beneath the surface, he’d be lost in ten paces. Out there, the slim, black finger of the radio mast lifted 300 feet into the air, and at its peak was the clear night sky. A sky of thin, whining wind rushing steadily from beyond to another beyond under the licking, curling mantle of the aurora. And off north, the horizon flamed with queer, angry colors of the midnight twilight. That was spring 300 feet above Antarctica.

At the surface – it was white death. Death of a needle-fingered cold driven before the wind, sucking heat from any warm thing. Cold – and white mist of endless, everlasting drift, the fine, fine particles of licking snow that obscured all things.

Kinner, the little, scar-faced cook, winced. Five days ago he had stepped out to the surface to reach a cache of frozen beef. He had reached it, started back – and the drift-wind leapt out of the south. Cold, white death that streamed across the ground blinded him in twenty seconds. He stumbled on wildly in circles. It was half an hour before rope-guided men from below found him in the impenetrable murk.

It was easy for man – or thing – to get lost in ten paces.

“And the drift-wind then was probably more impenetrable than we know.” McReady’s voice snapped Kinner’s mind back. Back to welcome, dank warmth of the Ad Building. “The passenger of the ship wasn’t prepared either, it appears. It froze within ten feet of the ship.

“We dug down to find the ship, and our tunnel happened to find the frozen-animal. Barclay’s ice-ax struck its skull.

“When we saw what it was, Barclay went back to the tractor, started the fire up and when the steam pressure built, sent a call for Blair and Dr. Copper. Barclay himself was sick then. Stayed sick for three days, as a matter of fact.

“When Blair and Copper came, we cut out the animal in a block of ice, as you see, wrapped it and loaded it on the tractor for return here. We wanted to get into that ship.

“We reached the side and found the metal was something we didn’t know. Our beryllium-bronze, non-magnetic tools wouldn’t touch it. Barclay had some tool-steel on the tractor, and that wouldn’t scratch it either. We made reasonable tests – even tried some acid from the batteries with no results.

“They must have had a passivating process to make magnesium metal resist acid that way, and the alloy must have been at least 95 per cent magnesium. But we had no way of guessing that, so when we spotted the barely opened locked door, we cut around it. There was clear, hard ice inside the lock, where we couldn’t reach it. Through the little crack we could look in and see that only metal and tools were in there, so we decided to loosen the ice with a bomb.

“We had decanite bombs and thermite. Thermite is the ice-softener; decanite might have shattered valuable things, where the thermite’s heat would just loosen the ice. Dr. Copper, Norris and I placed a 25-pound thermite bomb, wired it, and took the connector up the tunnel to the surface, where Blair had the steam tractor waiting. A hundred yards the other side of that granite wall we set off the thermite bomb.

“The magnesium metal of the ship caught, of course. The glow of the bomb flared and died, then it began to flare again. We ran back to the tractor, and gradually the glare built up. From where we were we could see the whole ice-field illuminated from beneath with an unbearable light; the ship’s shadow was a great, dark cone reaching off toward the north, where the twilight was just about gone. For a moment it lasted, and we counted three other shadow-things that might have been other – passengers – frozen there. Then the ice was crashing down and against the ship.

“That’s why I told you about that place. The wind sweeping down from the Pole was at our backs. Steam and hydrogen flame were torn away in white ice-fog; the flaming heat under the ice there was yanked away toward the Antarctice Ocean before it touched us. Otherwise we wouldn’t have come back, even with the shelter of that granite ridge that stopped the light.

“Somehow in the blinding inferno we could see great hunched things, black bulks glowing, even so. They shed even the furious incandescence of the magnesium for a time. Those must have been the engines, we knew. Secrets going in blazing glory – secrets that might have given Man the planets. Mysterious things that could lift and hurl that ship-and had soaked in the force of the Earth’s magnetic field. I saw Norris’ mouth move, and ducked. I couldn’t hear him.

“Insulation – something – gave way. All Earth’s field they’d soaked up twenty million years before broke loose. The aurora in the sky above licked down, and the whole plateau there was bathed in cold fire that blanketed vision. The ice-ax in my hand got red hot, and hissed on the ice. Metal buttons on my clothes burned into me. And a flash of electric blue seared upward from beyond the granite wall.

“Then the walls of ice crashed down on it. For an instant it squealed the way dry-ice does when it’s pressed between metal.

“We were blind and groping in the dark for hours while our eyes recovered. We found every coil within a mile was fused rubbish, the dynamo and every radio set, the earphones and speakers. If we hadn’t had the steam tractor, we wouldn’t have gotten over to the Secondary Camp.

“Van Wall flew in from Big Magnet at sun-up, as you know. We came home as soon as possible. That is the history of – that.” McReady’s great bronze beard gestured toward the thing on the table.

Chapter II:

Blair stirred uneasily, his little bony fingers wriggling under the harsh light. Little brown freckles on his knuckles slid back and forth as the tendons under the skin twitched. He pulled aside a bit of the tarpaulin and looked impatiently at the dark icebound thing inside.

McReady’s big body straightened somewhat. He’d ridden the rocking, jarring steam tractor forty miles that day, pushing on to Big Magnet here. Even his calm will had been pressed by the anxiety to mix again with humans. It was lone and quiet out there in Secondary Camp, where a wolf-wind howled down from the Pole. Wolf-wind howling in his sleep – winds droning and the evil, unspeakable face of that monster leering up as he’d first seen it through clear, blue ice, with a bronze ice-ax buried in its skull.

The giant meteorologist spoke again. “The problem is them. Blair wants to examine the thing. Thaw it out and make micro slides of its tissues and so forth. Norris doesn’t believe that is safe, and Blair does. Dr. Copper agrees pretty much with Blair. Norris is a physicist, of course, not a biologist. But he makes a point I think we should all hear. Blair has described the microscopic life-forms biologists find living, even in this cold an inhospitable place. They freeze every winter, and thaw every summer – for three months – and live.

“The point Norris makes is – they thaw, and live again. There must have been microscopic life associated with this creature. There is with every living thing we know. And Norris is afraid that we may release a plague – some germ disease unknown to Earth – if we thaw those microscopic things that have been frozen there for twenty million years.

“Blair admits that such micro-life might retain the power of living. Such unorganized things as individual cells can retain life for unknown periods, when solidly frozen. The beast itself is as dead as those frozen mammoths they find in Siberia. Organized, highly developed life-forms can’t stand that treatment.

“But micro-life could. Norris suggests that we may release some disease-form that man, never having met it before, will be utterly defenseless against.

“Blair’s answer is that there may be such still living germs, but that Norris has the case reversed. They are utterly non-immune to man. Our life chemistry probably – ”

“Probably!” The little biologist’s head lifted in a quick, birdlike motion. The halo of gray hair about his bald head ruffled as though angry. “Heh. One look – ”

“I know,” McReady acknowledged. “The thing is not Earthly. It does not seem likely that it can have a life-chemistry sufficiently like ours to make cross-infection remotely possible. I would say that there is no danger.”

McReady looked toward Dr. Copper. The physician shook his head slowly. “None whatever,” he asserted confidently. “Man cannot infect or be infected by germs that live in such comparatively close relatives as the snakes. And they are, I assure you,” his clean-shaven face grimaced uneasily, “much nearer to us than – that.”

Vance Norris moved angrily. He was comparatively short in this gathering of big men, some five-feet-eight, and his stocky, powerful build tended to make him seem shorter. His black hair was crisp and hard, like short, steel wires, and his eyes were the gray of fractured steel. If McReady was a man of bronze, Norris was all steel. His movements, his thoughts, his whole bearing had the quick, hard impulse of steel spring. His nerves were steel – hard, quick-acting – swift corroding.

He was decided on his point now, and he lashed out in its defense with a characteristic quick, clipped flow of words. “Different chemistry be damned. That thing may be dead-or, by God, it may not – but I don’t like it. Damn it, Blair, let them see the foul thing and decide for themselves whether they want that thing thawed out in this camp.

“Thawed out, by the way. That’s got to be thawed out in one of the shacks tonight, if it is thawed out. Somebody – who’s watchman tonight? Magnetic – oh, Connant. Cosmic rays tonight. Well, you get to sit up with that twenty-million-year-old mummy of his.

“Unwrap it, Blair. How the hell can they tell what they are buying if they can’t see it? It may have a different chemistry. I don’t know what else it has, but I know it has something I don’t want. If you can judge by the look on its face – it isn’t human so maybe you can’t – it was annoyed when it froze. Annoyed, in fact, is just about as close an approximation of the way it felt as crazy, mad, insane hatred. Neither one touches the subject.

“How the hell can these birds tell what they are voting on? They haven’t seen those three red eyes, and the blue hair like crawling worms. Crawling – damn, it’s crawling there in the ice right now!

“Nothing Earth ever spawned had the unutterable sublimation of devastating wrath that thing let loose in its face when it looked around this frozen desolation twenty million years ago. Mad? It was mad clear through – searing, blistering mad!

“Hell, I’ve had bad dreams ever since I looked at those three red eyes. Nightmares. Dreaming the thing thawed out and came to life – that it wasn’t dead, or even wholly unconscious all those twenty million years, but just slowed, waiting – waiting. You’ll dream, too, while that damned thing that Earth wouldn’t own is dripping, dripping in the Cosmos House tonight.

“And, Connant,” Norris whipped toward the cosmic ray specialist, “won’t you have fun sitting up all night in the quiet. Wind whining above – and that thing dripping – ” He stopped for a moment, and looked around.

“I know. That’s not science. But this is, it’s psychology. You’ll have nightmares for a year to come. Every night since I looked at that thing I’ve had ’em., That’s why I hate it – sure I do – and don’t want it around. Put it back where it came from and let it freeze for another twenty million years. I had some swell nightmares – that it wasn’t made like we are – which is obvious – but of a different kind of flesh that it can really control. That it can change its shape, and look like a man – and wait to kill and eat –

“That’s not a logical argument. I know it isn’t. The thing isn’t Earth-logic anyway.

“Maybe it has an alien body-chemistry, and maybe its bugs do have a different body-chemistry. A germ might not stand that, but, Blair and Copper, how about a virus? That’s just an enzyme molecule, you’ve said. That wouldn’t need anything but a protein molecule of any body to work on.

“And how are you so sure that, of the million varieties of microscopic life it may have, none of them are dangerous? How about diseases like hydrophobia – rabies – that attacks any warm-blooded creature, whatever its body-chemistry may be? And parrot fever? Have you a body like a parrot, Blair? And plain rot – gangrene – necrosis, do you want? That isn’t choosy about body-chemistry! ”

Blair looked up from his puttering long enough to meet Norris’ angry gray eyes for an instant. “So far the only thing you have said this thing gave off that was catching was dreams. I’ll go so far as to admit that.” An impish, slightly malignant grin crossed the little man’s seamed face. “I had some, too. So. It’s dream-infectious. No doubt an exceedingly dangerous malady.

“So far as your other things go, you have a badly mistaken idea about viruses. In the first place, nobody has shown that the enzyme-molecule theory, and that alone, explains them. And in the second place, when you catch tobacco mosaic or wheat rust, let me know. A wheat plant is a lot nearer your body-chemistry than this other-world creature is.

“And your rabies is limited, strictly limited. You can’t get it from, nor give it to, a wheat plant or a fish – which is a collateral descendant of a common ancestor of yours. Which this, Norris, is not.” Blair nodded pleasantly toward the tarpaulined bulk on the table.

“Well, thaw the damned thing in a tub of formalin if you must thaw it. I’ve suggested that – ”

“And I’ve said there would be no sense in it. You can’t compromise. Why did you and Commander Garry come down here to study magnetism? Why weren’t you content to stay at home? There’s magnetic force enough in New York. I could no more study the life this thing once had from a formalin-pickled sample than you could get the information you wanted back in New York. And – if this one is so treated, never in all time to come can there be a duplicate! The race it came from must have passed away in the twenty millions years it lay frozen, so that even if it came from Mars then, we’d never find its like. And – the ship is gone.

“There’s only one way to do this – and that is the best possible way. It must be thawed slowly, carefully, and not in formalin.”

Commander Garry stood forward again, and Norris stepped back muttering angrily. “I think Blair is right, gentlemen. What do you say?”

Connant grunted. “It sounds right to us, I think – only perhaps he ought to stand watch over it while it’s thawing.” He grinned ruefully, brushing a stray lock of ripe-cherry hair back from his forehead. “Swell idea, in fact – if he sits up with his jolly little corpse.”

Garry smiled slightly. A general chuckle of agreement rippled over the group. “I should think any ghost it may have had would have starved to death if it hung around here that long, Connant,” Garry suggested. “And you look capable of taking care of it. ‘Ironman’ Connant ought to be able to take out any opposing players, still.”

Connant shook himself uneasily. “I’m not worrying about ghosts. Let’s see that thing. I – ”

Eagerly Blair was stripping back the ropes. A single throw of the tarpaulin revealed the thing. The ice had melted somewhat in the heat of the room and it was clear and blue as thick, good glass. It shone wet and sleek under the harsh light of the unshielded globe above.

The room stiffened abruptly. It was face up there on the plain, greasy planks of the table. The broken half of the bronze ice-ax was still buried in the queer skull. Three mad, hate-filled eyes blazed up with a living fire, bright as fresh-spilled blood. from a face ringed with a writhing, loathsome nest of worms, blue, mobile worms that crawled where hair should grow

Van Wall, six feet and 200 pounds of ice-nerved pilot, gave a queer, strangled gasp and butted, stumbled his way out to the corridor. Half the company broke for the doors. The others stumbled away from the table.

McReady stood at one end of the table watching them, his great body planted solid on his powerful legs. Norris from the opposite end glowered at the thing with smoldering heat. Outside the door, Garry was talking with half a dozen of the men at once.

Blair had a tack hammer. The ice that cased the thing schluffed crisply under its steel claw as it peeled from the thing it had cased for twenty thousand thousand years –

Chapter III:

I know you don’t like the thing, Connant, but it just has to be thawed out right. You say leave it as it is till we get back to civilization. All right, I’ll admit your argument that we could do a better and more complete job there is sound.

3

But – how are we going to get this across the Line? We have to take this through one temperate zone, the equatorial zone, and half way through the other temperate zone before we get it to New York. You don’t want to sit with it one night, but you suggest, then, that I hang its corpse in the freezer with the beef?” Blair looked up from his cautious chipping, his bald, freckled skull nodding triumphantly.

Kinner, the stocky, scar-faced cook, saved Connant the trouble of answering. “Hey, you listen, mister. You put that thing in the box with the meat, and by all the gods there ever were, I’ll put you in to keep it company. You birds have brought everything movable in this camp in onto my mess tables here already, and I had to stand for that. But you go putting things like that in my meat box or even my meat cache here, and you cook your own damn grub.”

“But, Kinner, this is the only table in Big Magnet that’s big enough to work on,” Blair objected. “Everybody’s explained that.”

“Yeah, and everybody’s brought everything in here. Clark brings his dogs every time there’s a fight and sews them up on that table. Ralsen brings in his sledges. Hell, the only thing you haven’t had on that table is the Boeing. And you’d ‘a’ had that in if you coulda figured a way to get it through the tunnels.’

Commander Garry chuckled and grinned at Van Wall, the huge Chief Pilot. Van Wall’s great blond beard twitched suspiciously as he nodded gravely to Kinner. “You’re right, Kinner. The aviation department is the only one that treats you right.”

“It does get crowded, Kinner,” Garry acknowledged. “But I’m afraid we all find it that way at times. Not much privacy in an Antarctic camp.”

“Privacy? What the hell’s that? You know, the thing that really made me weep, was when I saw Barclay marchin’ through here chantin’ ‘The last lumber in the camp! The last lumber in the camp!’ and carryin’ it out to build that house on his tractor. Damn it, I missed that moon cut in the door he carried out more’n I missed the sun when it set. That wasn’t just the last lumber Barclay was walkin’ off with. He was carryin’ off the last bit of privacy in this blasted place.”

A grin rode even on Connant’s heavy face as Kinner’s perennial good-natured grouch came up again. But it died away quickly as his dark, deep-set eyes turned again to the red-eyed thing Blair was chipping from its cocoon of ice. A big hand ruffed his shoulder-length hair, and tugged at a twisted lock that fell behind his ear in a familiar gesture. “I know that cosmic ray shack’s going to be too crowded if I have to sit up with that thing,” he growled. “Why can’t you go on chipping the ice away from around it – you can do that without anybody butting in, I assure you – and then hang the thing up over the power-plant boiler? That’s warm enough. It’ll thaw out a chicken, even a whole side of beef, in a few hours.”

“I know.” Blair protested, dropping the tack hammer to gesture more effectively with his bony, freckled fingers, his small body tense with eagerness, “but this is too important to take any chances. There never was a find like this; there never can be again. It’s the only chance men will ever have, and it has to be done exactly right.

“Look, you know how the fish we caught down near the Ross Sea would freeze almost as soon as we got them on deck, and come to life again if we thawed them gently? Low forms of life aren’t killed by quick freezing and slow thawing. We have – ”

“Hey, for the love of Heaven – you mean that damned thing will come to life!” Connant yelled. “You get the damned thing – Let me at it! That’s going to be in so many pieces – ”

“NO! No, you fool – ” Blair jumped in front of Connant to protect his precious find. “No. Just low forms of life. For Pete’s sake let me finish. You can’t thaw higher forms of life and have them come to. Wait a moment now – hold it! A fish can come to after freezing because it’s so low a form of life that the individual cells of its body can revive, and that alone is enough to re-establish life. Any higher forms thawed out that way are dead. Though the individual cells revive, they die because there must be organization and cooperative effort to live. That cooperation cannot be re-established. There is a sort of potential life in any uninjured, quick-frozen animal. But it can’t – can’t under any circumstances – become active life in higher animals. The higher animals are too complex, too delicate. This is an intelligent creature as high in its evolution as we are in ours. Perhaps higher. It is as dead as a frozen man would be.”

“How do you know?” demanded Connant, hefting the ice-ax he had seized a moment before.

Commander Garry laid a restraining hand on his heavy shoulder. “Wait a minute, Connant. I want to get this straight. I agree that there is going to be no thawing of this thing if there is the remotest chance of its revival. I quite agree it is much too unpleasant to have alive, but I had no idea there was the remotest possibility.”

Dr. Copper pulled his pipe from between his teeth and heaved his stocky, dark body from the bunk he had been sitting in. “Blair’s being technical. That’s dead. As dead as the mammoths they find frozen in Siberia. Potential life is like atomic energy – there, but nobody can get it out, and it certainly won’t release itself except in rare cases, as rare as radium in the chemical analogy. We have all sorts of proof that things don’t live after being frozen – not even fish, generally speaking – and no proof that higher animal life can under any circumstances. What’s the point, Blair?”

The little biologist shook himself. The little ruff of hair standing out around his bald pate waved in righteous anger. “The point is,” he said in an injured tone, ‘that the individual cells might show the characteristics they had in life, if it is properly thawed. A man’s muscle cells live many hours after he has died. Just because they live, and a few things like hair and fingernail cells still live, you wouldn’t accuse a corpse of being a Zombie, or something.

“Now if I thaw this right, I may have a chance to determine what sort of world it’s native to. We don’t, and can’t know by any other means, whether it came from Earth or Mars or Venus or from beyond the stars.

“And just because it looks unlike men, you don’t have to accuse it of being evil, or vicious or something. Maybe that expression on its face is its equivalent to a resignation to fate. White is the color of mourning to the Chinese. If men can have different customs, why can’t a so-different race have different understandings of facial expressions?”

Connant laughed softly, mirthlessly. “Peaceful resignation! If that is the best it could do in the way of resignation, I should exceedingly dislike seeing it when it was looking mad. That face was never designed to express peace. It just didn’t have any philosophical thoughts like peace in its make-up.

“I know it’s your pet – but be sane about it. The thing grew up on evil, adolesced slowly roasting alive the local equivalent of kittens, and amused itself through maturity on new and ingenious torture. ”

“You haven’t the slight right to say that,” snapped Blair. “How do you know the first thing about the meaning of a facial expression inherently inhuman! It may well have no human equivalent whatever. That is just a different development of Nature, another example of Nature’s wonderful adaptability. Growing on another, perhaps harsher world, it has different form and features. But it is just as much a legitimate child of Nature as you are. You are displaying the childish human weakness of hating the different. On its own world it would probably class you as a fish-belly, white monstrosity with an insufficient number of eyes and a fungoid body pale and bloated with gas.

“Just because its nature is different, you haven’t any right to say it’s necessarily evil.”

Norris burst out a single, explosive, “Haw!” He looked down at the thing. “May be that things from other worlds don’t have to be evil just because they’re different. But that thing was! Child of Nature, eh? Well, it was a hell of an evil Nature.”

“Aw, will you mugs cut crabbing at each other and get the damned thing off my table?” Kinner growled. “And put a canvas over it. It looks indecent.”

“Kinner’s gone modest,” jeered Connant.

Kinner slanted his eyes up to the big physicist. The scarred cheek twisted to join the line of his tight lips in a twisted grin. “All right, big boy, and what were you grousing about a minute ago? We can set the thing in a chair next to you tonight, if you want. ”

“I’m not afraid of its face,” Connant snapped. “I don’t like keeping awake over its corpse particularly, but I’m going to do it.”

Kinner’s grin spread. “Uh-huh.” He went off to the galley stove and shook down ashes vigorously, drowning the brittle chipping of the ice as Blair fell to work again.

Chapter IV:

“Cluck, ” reported the cosmic ray counter, cluck-brrrp-cluck. ” Connant started and dropped his pencil.

“Damnation.” The physicist looked toward the far corner, back at the Geiger counter on the table near that comer, and crawled under the desk at which he had been working to retrieve the pencil. He sat down at his work again, trying to make his writing more even. It tended to have jerks and quavers in it, in time with the abrupt proud-hen noises of the Geiger counter. The muted whoosh of the pressure lamp he was using for illumination, the mingled gargles and bugle calls of a dozen men sleeping down the corridor in Paradise House formed the background sounds for the irregular, clucking noises of the counter, the occasional rustle of falling coal in the copper-bellied stove. And a soft, steady drip-drip-drip from the thing in the corner.

Connant jerked a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, snapped it so that a cigarette protruded and jabbed the cylinder into his mouth. The lighter failed to function, and he pawed angrily through the pile of papers in search of a match. He scratched the wheel of the lighter several times, dropped it with a curse and got up to pluck a hot coal from the stove with the coal tongs.

The lighter functioned instantly when he tried it on returning to the desk. The counter ripped out a series of chucking guffaws as a burst of cosmic rays struck through to it. Connant turned to glower at it, and tried to concentrate on the interpretation of data collected during the past week. The weekly summary –

He gave up and yielded to curiosity, or nervousness. He lifted the pressure lamp from the desk and carried it over to the table in the corner. Then he returned to the stove and picked up the coal tongs. The beast had been thawing for nearly 18 hours now. He poked at it with an unconscious caution; the flesh was no longer hard as armor plate, but had assumed a rubbery texture. It looked like wet, blue rubber glistening under droplets of water like little round jewels in the glare of the gasoline pressure lantern. Connant felt an unreasoning desire to pour the contents of the lamp’s reservoir over the thing in its box and drop the cigarette into it. The three red eyes glared up at him sightlessly, the ruby eyeballs reflecting murky, smoky rays of light.

He realized vaguely that he had been looking at them for a very long time, even vaguely understood that they were no longer sightless. But it did not seem of importance, of no more importance than the labored, slow motion of the tentacular things that sprouted from the base of the scrawny, slowly pulsing neck.

Connant picked up the pressure lamp and returned to his chair. He sat down, staring at the pages of mathematics before him. The clucking of the counter was strangely less disturbing, the rustle of the coals in the stove no longer distracting.

The creak of the floorboards behind him didn’t interrupt his thoughts as he went about his weekly report in an automatic manner, filing in columns of data and making brief, summarizing notes.

The creak of the floorboard sounded nearer.

Chapter V:

Blair came up from the nightmare-haunted depths of sleep abruptly. Connant’s face floated vaguely above him; for a moment it seemed a continuance of the wild horror of the dream. But Connant’s face was angry, and a little frightened. “Blair – Blair you damned log, wake up.”

“Uh-eh?” the little biologist rubbed his eyes, his bony, freckled fingers crooked to a mutilated child-fist. From surrounding bunks other faces lifted to stare down at them.

Connant straightened up. “Get up – and get a lift on. Your damned animal’s escaped.”

“Escaped – what! ” Chief Pilot Van Walls’s buull voice roared out with a volume that shook the walls. Down the communication tunnels other voices yelled suddenly. The dozen inhabitants of Paradise House tumbled in abruptly, Barclay, stocky and bulbous in long woolen underwear, carrying a fire extinguisher.

“What the hell’s the matter?” Barclay demanded.

“Your damned beast got loose. I fell asleep about twenty minutes ago, and when I woke up, the thing was gone. Hey, Doc, the hell you say those things can’t come to life. Blair’s blasted potential life developed a hell of a lot of potential and walked out on us.’

Copper stared blankly. “It wasn’t – Earthly,” he sighed suddenly. “I – I guess Earthly laws don’t apply.”

“Well, it applied for leave of absence and took it. We’ve got to find it and capture it somehow.” Connant swore bitterly, his deep-set black eyes sullen and angry. “It’s a wonder the hellish creature didn’t eat me in my sleep.”

Blair stared back, his pale eyes suddenly fearstruck. “Maybe it di – er – uh – we’ll have to find it.

“You find it. It’s your pet. I’ve had all I want to do with it, sitting there for seven hours with the counter clucking every few seconds, and you birds in here singing night-music. It’s a wonder I got to sleep. I’m going through to the Ad Building.”

Commander Garry ducked through the doorway, pulling his belt tight. “You won’t have to. Van’s roar sounded like the Boeing taking off down wind. So it wasn’t dead?”

“I didn’t carry it off in my arms, I assure you,” Connant snapped. “The last I saw, that split skull was oozing green goo, like a squashed caterpillar. Doc just said our laws don’t work – it’s unearthly. Well, it’s an unearthly monster, with an unearthly disposition, judging by the face, wandering around with a split skull and brains oozing out.”

Norris and McReady appeared in the doorway, a doorway filling with other shivering men. “Has anybody seen it coming over here?” Norris asked innocently. “About four feet tall – three red eyes – brains oozing – Hey, has anybody checked to make sure this isn’t a cracked idea of humor? If it is, I think we’ll unite in tying Blair’s pet around Connant’s neck like the ancient Mariner’s albatross.

“It’s no humor,” Connant shivered. “Lord, I wish it were. I’d rather wear -” He stopped. A wild, weird howl shhrieked through the corridors. The men stiffened abruptly, and half turned.

“I think it’s been located,” Connant finished. His dark eyes shifted with a queer unease. He darted back to his bunk in Paradise house, to return almost immediately with a heavy .45 revolver and an ice-ax. He hefted both gently as he started for the corridor toward Dogtown. “It blundered down the wrong corridor – and landed among the huskies. Listen – the dogs have broken their chains – ”

The half-terrorized howl of the dog pack changed to a wild hunting melee. The voices of the dogs thundered in the narrow corridors, and through them came a low rippling snarl of distilled hate. A shrill of pain, a dozen snarling yelps.

Connant broke for the door. Close behind him, McReady, then Barclay and Commander Garry came. Other men broke for the Ad Building, and weapons – the sledge house. Pomroy, in charge of Big Magnet’s five cows, started down the corridor in the opposite direction – he had a six-foot-handled, long-tined pitchfork in mind.

Barclay slid to a halt, as McReady’s giant bulk turned abruptly away from the tunnel leading to Dogtown, and vanished off at an angle. Uncertainly, the mechanician wavered a moment, the fire-extinguisher in his hands, hesitating from one side to the other. Then he was racing after Connant’s broad back. Whatever McReady had in mind, he could be trusted to make it work.

Connant stopped at the bend in the corridor. His breath hissed suddenly through his throat. “Great God – ” The revolver exploded thunderously; three numbing, palpable waves of sound crashed through the confined corridors. Two more. The revolver dropped to the hard-packed snow of the trail, and Barclay saw the ice-ax shift into defensive position. Connant’s powerful body blocked his vision, but beyond he heard something mewing, and, insanely, chuckling. The dogs were quieter; there was a deadly seriousness in their low snarls. Taloned feet scratched at hard-packed snow, broken chains were clinking and tangling.

Connant shifted abruptly, and Barclay could see what lay beyond. For a second he stood frozen, then his breath went out in a gusty curse. The Thing launched itself at Connant, the powerful arms of the man swung the ice-ax flatside first at what might have been a hand. It scrunched horribly, and the tattered flesh, ripped by a half-dozen savage huskies, leapt to its feet again. The red eyes blazed with an unearthy hatred, an unearthly, unkillable vitality.

Barclay turned the fire extinguisher on it; the blinding, blistering stream of chemical spray confused it, baffled it, together with the savage attacks of the huskies, not for long afraid of anything that did, or could live, held it at bay.

McReady wedged men out of his way and drove down the narrow corridor packed with men unable to reach the scene. There was a sure fore-planned drive to McReady’s attack. One of the giant blowtorches used in warming the plane’s engines was in his bronzed hands. It roared gustily as he turned the corner and opened the valve. The mad mewing hissed louder. The dogs scrambled back from the three-foot lance of blue-hot flame.

“Bar, get a power cable, run it in somehow. And a handle. We can electrocute this – monster, if I don’t incinerate it.” McReady spoke with an authority of planned action. Barclay turned down the long corridor to the power plant, but already before him Norris and Van Wall were racing down.

Barclay found the cable in the electrical cache in the tunnel wall. In a half minute he was hacking at it, walking back. Van Wall’s voice rang out in a warning shout of “Power!” as the emergency gasoline-powered dynamo thudded into action. Half a dozen other men were down there now; the coal, kindling were going into the firebox of the steam power plant. Norris, cursing in a low, deadly monotone, was working with quick, sure fingers on the other end of Barclay’s cable, splicing in a contactor in one of the power leads.

The dogs had fallen back when Barclay reached the corridor bend, fallen back before a furious monstrosity that glared from baleful red eyes, mewing in trapped hatred. The dogs were a semi-circle of red-dipped muzzles with a fringe of glistening white teeth, whining with a vicious eagerness that near matched the fury of the red eyes. McReady stood confidently alert at the corridor bend, the gustily muttering torch. held loose and ready for action in his hands. He stepped aside without moving his eyes from the beast as Barclay came up. There was a slight, tight smile on his lean, bronzed face.

Norris’ voice called down the corridor, and Barclay stepped forward. The cable was taped to the long handle of a snow-shovel, the two conductors split, and held 18 inches apart by a scrap of lumber lashed at right angles across the far end of the handle. Bare copper conductors, charged with 220 volts, glinted in the light of pressure lamps. The Thing mewed and halted and dodged. McReady advanced to Barclay’s side. The dogs beyond sensed the plan with the almost-telepathic intelligence of trained huskies. Their whimpering grew shriller, softer, their mincing steps carried them nearer. Abruptly a huge, night-black Alaskan leapt onto the trapped thing. It turned squalling, saber-clawed feet slashing.

Barclay leapt forward and jabbed. A weird, shrill scream rose and choked out. The smell of burnt flesh in the corridor intensified; greasy smoke curled up. The echoing pound of the gas-electric dynamo down the corridor became a slogging thud.

The red eyes clouded over in a stiffening, jerking travesty of a face. Armlike, leglike members quivered and jerked. The dogs leapt forward, and Barclay yanked back his shovel-handled weapon. The thing on the snow did not move as gleaming teeth ripped it open.

Chapter VI:

Garry looked about the crowded room. Thirty-two men, some tensed nervously standing against the wall, some uneasily relaxed, some sitting, most perforce standing, as intimate as sardines. Thirty-two, plus the five engaged in sewing up wounded dogs, made thirty- seven, the total personnel.

Garry started speaking. “All right, I guess we’re here. Some of you – three or four at most – saw what happened. All of you have seen that thing on the table, and can get a general idea. Anyone hasn’t, I’ll lift – ” His hand strayed to the tarpaulin bulking over the thing on the table. There was an acrid odor of singed flesh seeping out of it. The men, stirred restlessly, hasty denials.

“It looks rather as though Charnauk isn’t going to lead any more teams,” Garry went on. “Blair wants to get at this thing, and make some more detailed examination. We want to know what happened, and make sure right now that this is permanently, totally dead. Right?”

Connant grinned. “Anybody that doesn’t agree can sit up with it tonight.”

“All right then, Blair, what can you say about it? What was it?” Garry turned to the little biologist.

“I wonder if we ever saw its natural form. ” Blair looked at the covered mass. “It may have been imitating the beings that built that ship – but I don’t think it was. I think that was its true form. Those of us who were up near the bend saw the thing in action; the thing on the table is the result. When it got loose, apparently, it started looking around. Antarctica still frozen as it was ages ago when the creature first saw it – and froze. From my observations while it was thawing out, and the bits of tissue I cut and hardened then, I think it was native to a hotter planet than Earth. It couldn’t, in its natural form, stand the temperature. There is no life-form on Earth that can live in Antarctica during the winter, but the best compromise is the dog. It found the dogs, and somehow got near enough to Charnauk to get him. The others smelled it – heard it – I don’t know – anyway they wwent wild, and broke chains, and attacked it before it was finished. The thing we found was part Charnauk, queerly only half-dead, part Charnauk half-digested by the jellylike protoplasm of that creature, and part the remains of the thing we originally found, sort of melted down to the basic protoplasm.

“When the dogs attacked it, it turned – into the best fighting thing it could think of. Some other-world beast apparently.”

“Turned,” snapped Garry. “How?”

“Every living thing is made up of jelly – protoplasm and minute, submicroscopic things called nuclei, which control the bulk, the protoplasm. This thing was just a modification of that same worldwide plan of Nature; cells made up of protoplasm, controlled by infinitely tinier nuclei. You physicists might compare it – an individual cell of any living thing – with an atom; the bulk of the atom, the space-filling part, is made up of the electron orbits, but the character of the thing is determined by the atomic nucleus.

“This isn’t wildly beyond what we already know. It’s just a modification we haven’t seen before. It’s as natural, as logical, as any other manifestation of life. It obeys exactly the same laws. The cells are made of protoplasm, their character determined by the nucleus.

“Only in this creature, the cell-nuclei can control those cells at will. It digested Charnauk, and as it digested, studied every cell of his tissue, and shaped its own cells to imitate them exactly. Parts of it – parts that had time to finish changing – are dog-cells. But they don’t have dog-cell nuclei.” Blair lifted a fraction of the tarpaulin. A torn dog’s leg with stiff gray fur protruded. “That, for instance, isn’t dog at all; it’s imitation. Some parts I’m certain about; the nucleus was hiding itself, covering up with dog-cell imitation nucleus. In time, not even a microscope would have shown the difference.”

“Suppose,” asked Norris bitterly, “it had had lots of time?”

“Then it would have been a dog. The other dogs would have accepted it. We would have accepted it. I don’t think anything would have distinguished it, not microscope, nor X-ray, nor any other means. This is a member of a supremely intelligent race, a race that has learned the deepest secrets of biology, and turned them to its use.”

“What was it planning to do?” Barclay looked at the humped tarpaulin.

Blair grinned unpleasantly. The wavering halo of thin hair round his bald pate wavered in the stir of air. “Take over the world, I imagine.”

“Take over the world! Just it, all by itself?” Connant gasped. “Set itself up as a lone dictator?”

“No,” Blair shook his head. The scalpel he had been fumbling in his bony fingers dropped; he bent to pick it up, so that his face was hidden as he spoke. “It would become the population of the world.”

“Become – populate the world? Does it reproduce aasexually?”

Blair shook his head and gulped. “It’s – it doesn’t have to. It weighed 85 pounds. Charnauk weighed about 90. It would have become Charnauk, and had 85 pounds left, to become – oh, Jack for instance, or Chinook. It can imitate anything – that is, become anything. If it had reached the Antarctic Sea, it would have become a seal, maybe two seals. They might have attacked a killer whale, and become either killers, or a herd of seals. Or maybe it would have caught an albatross, or a skua gull, and flown to South America.”

Norris cursed softly. “And every time, it digested something, and imitated it – ”

“It would have had its original bulk left, to start again,” Blair finished. “Nothing would kill it. It has no natural enemies, because it becomes whatever it wants to. If a killer whale attacked, it would become a killer whale. If it was an albatross, and an eagle attacked it, it would become an eagle. Lord, it might become a female eagle. Go back – build a nest and lay eggs!”

“Are you sure that thing from hell is dead?” Dr. Copper asked softly.

“Yes, thank Heaven,” the little biologist gasped. “After they drove the dogs off, I stood there poking Bar’s electrocution thing into it for five minutes. It’s dead and – cooked.”

“Then we can only give thanks that this is Antarctica, where there is not one, single, solitary, living thing for it to imitate, except these animals in camp.”

“Us,” Blair giggled. “It can imitate us. Dogs can’t make 400 miles to the sea; there’s no food. There aren’t any skua gulls to imitate at this season. There aren’t any Penguins this far inland. There’s nothing that can reach the sea from this point – except us. We’ve got the brains. We can do it. Don’t you see – it’s got to imitate us – it’s got to be one of us – that’s the only way it Can fly an airplane – fly a plane for two hours, and rule – be – all Earth’s inhabitants. A world for the taking – if it imitates us!

“It didn’t know yet. It hadn’t had a chance to learn. It was rushed – hurried – look the thing nearest its own size. Look – I’m Pandora! I opened the box! And the only hope that can come out is – That nothing can come out. You didn’t see me. I did It. I fixed it I smashed every magneto. Not a plane can fly. Nothing can fly.” Blair giggled and lay down on the floor crying.

Chief Pilot Van Wall made a dive for the door. His feet were fading echoes in the corridors as Dr. Copper bent unhurriedly over the little man on the floor. From his office at the end of the room he brought something, and injected a solution into Blair’s arm. “He might come out of it when he wakes up,” he sighed rising. McReady helped him lift the biologist onto a near-by bunk. “It all depends on whether we can convince him that thing is dead.”

Van Wall ducked into the shack brushing his heavy blond beard absently. “I didn’t think a biologist would do a thing like that up thoroughly. He missed the spares in the second cache. It’s all right. I smashed them.”

Commander Garry nodded. “I was wondering about the radio.”

Dr. Copper snorted. “You don’t think it can leak out on a radio wave, do you? You’d have five rescue attempts in the next three months if you stop the broadcasts. The thing to do is talk loud and not make a sound. Now I wonder – ”

McReady looked speculatively at the doctor. “It might be like an infectious disease. Everything that drank, any of its blood – ”

Copper shook his head. “Blair missed something. Imitate it may, but it has, to a certain extent, its own body-chemistry, its own metabolism. If it didn’t it would become a dog – and be a dog and nothing more. It has to be an imitation dog. Therefore you can detect it by serum tests. And its chemistry, since it comes from another world. Must be so wholly, radically different that a few cells, such as gained by drops of blood, would be treated as disease germs by the dog, or human body.”

“Blood – would one of those imitations bleed?” Norris demanded.

“Surely. Nothing mystic about blood. Muscle is about 90 per cent water; blood differs only in having-a-couple per cent more water, and less connective tissue. They’d bleed all right,” Copper assured him.

Blair sat up in his bunk suddenly. “Connant – where’s Connant?”

The physicist moved over toward the little biologist. “Here I am. What do you want?”

“Are You?” giggled Blair. He lapsed back into the bunk contorted with silent laughter.

Connant looked at him blankly “Huh? Am I what?”

“Are you there?” Blair burst into gales of laughter. “Are you Connant? The beast wanted to be a man – not a dog – ”

Chapter VII:

Dr. Copper rose wearily from the bunk, and washed the hypodermic carefully. The little tinkles it made seemed loud in the packed room, now that Blair’s gurgling laughter had finally quieted. Copper looked toward Garry and shook his head slowly. “Hopeless, I’m afraid. I don’t think we can ever convince him the thing is dead now.”

Norris laughed uncertainly. “I’m not sure you can convince me. Oh, damn you, McReady. ”

“McReady?” Commander Garry turned to look from Norris to McReady curiously.

“The nightmares,” Norris explained. “He had a theory about the nightmares we had at the Secondary Station after finding that thing.”

“And that was?” Garry looked at McReady levelly.

Norris answered for him, jerkily, uneasily. “That the creature wasn’t dead, had a sort of enormously slowed existence, an existence that permitted it, none the less, to be vaguely aware of the passing of time, of our coming, after endless years. I had a dream it could imitate things.”

“Well,” Copper grunted, “it can.”

“Don’t be an ass,” Norris snapped. “That’s not what’s bothering me. In the dream it could read minds, read thoughts and ideas and mannerisms.”

“What’s so bad about that? It seems to be worrying you more than the thought of the joy we’re going to have with a mad man in an Antarctic camp.” Copper nodded toward Blair’s sleeping form.

McReady shook his great head slowly. “You know that Connant is Connant, because he not merely looks like Connant – which we’re beginning to believe that beast might be able to do – but he thinks like Connant, talks like Connant, moves himself around as Connant does. That takes more than merely a body that looks like him; that takes Connant’s own mind, and thoughts and mannerisms. Therefore, though you know that the thing might make itself look like Connant, you aren’t much bothered, because you know it has a mind from another world, a totally unhuman mind, that couldn’t possibly react and think and talk like a man we know, and do it so well as to fool us for a moment. The idea of the creature imitating one of us is fascinating, but unreal because it is too completely unhuman to deceive us. It doesn’t have a human mind.”

“As I said before,” Norris repeated, looking steadily at McReady, “you can say the damnedest things at the damnedest times. Will you be so good as to finish that thought – one way or the other?”

Kinner, the scar-faced expedition cook, had been standing near Connant. Suddenly he moved down the length of the crowded room toward his familiar galley. He shook the ashes from the galley stove noisily.

“It would do it no good,” said Dr. Copper, softly as though thinking out loud, “to merely look like something it was trying to imitate; it would have to understand its feelings, its reaction. It is unhuman; it has powers of imitation beyond any conception of man. A good actor, by training himself, can imitate another man, another man’s mannerisms, well enough to fool most people. Of course no actor could imitate so perfectly as to deceive men who had been living with the imitated one in the complete lack of privacy of an Antarctic camp. That would take a super-human skill.”

“Oh, you’ve got the bug too?” Norris cursed softly.

Connant, standing alone at one end of the room, looked about him wildly, his face white. A gentle eddying of the men had crowded them slowly down toward the other end of the room, so that he stood quite alone. “My God, will you two Jeremiahs shut up?” Connant’s voice shook. “What am I? Some kind of a microscopic specimen you’re dissecting? Some unpleasant worm you’re discussing in the third person?”

McReady looked up at him; his slowly twisting hand stopped for a moment. “Having a lovely time. Wish you were here. Signed: Everybody.

“Connant, if you think you’re having a hell of a time, just move over on the other end for a while. You’ve got one thing we haven’t; you know what the answer is. I’ll tell you this, right now you’re the most feared and respected man in Big Magnet.”

“Lord, I wish you could see your eyes,” Connant gasped. “Stop staring, will you! What the hell are you going to do?”

“Have you any suggestions, Dr. Copper?” Commander Garry asked steadily. “The present situation is impossible.”

“Oh, is it?” Connant snapped. “Come over here and look at that crowd. By Heaven, they look exactly like that gang of huskies around the corridor bend. Benning, will you stop hefting that damned ice-ax?”

The coppery blade rang on the floor as the aviation mechanic nervously dropped it. He bent over and picked it up instantly, hefting it slowly, turning it in his hands, his browns eyes moving jerkily about the room.

Copper sat down on the bunk beside Blair. The wood creaked noisily in the room. Far down a corridor, a dog yelped in pain, and the dogdrivers’ tense voices floated softly back. “Microscopic examination,” said the doctor thoughtfully, “would be useless, as Blair pointed out. Considerable time has passed. However, serum tests would be definitive.

“Serum tests? What do you mean exactly?” Commander Garry asked.

“If I had a rabbit that had been injected with human blood – a poison to rabbits, of course, as is the blood of any animal save that of another rabbit – and the injections continued in increasing doses for some time, the rabbit would be human-immune. If a small quantity of its blood were drawn off, allowed to separate in a test-tube, and to the clear serum, a bit of human blood were added, there would be a visible reaction, proving the blood was human. If cow, or dog blood were added – or any protein material other than that one thing, human blood – no reaction would take place. That would prove definitely.”

“Can you suggest where I might catch a rabbit for you, Doc?” Norris asked. “That is, nearer than Australia; we don’t want to waste time going that far.”

“I know there aren’t any rabbits in Antarctica,” Copper nodded, “but that is simply the usual animal. Any animal except man will do. A dog for instance. But it will take several days, and due to the greater size of the animal, considerable blood. Two of us will have to contribute.”

“Would I do?” Garry asked.

“That will make two,” Copper nodded. “I’ll get to work on it right away.”

“What about Connant in the meantime?” Kinner demanded. “I’m going out that door and head off for the Ross Sea before I cook for him.”

“He may be human – ” Copper started.

Connant burst out in a flood of curses. “Human! May be human, you damned saw bones! What in hell do you think I am?”

“A monster,” Copper snapped sharply. “Now shut up and listen.” Connant’s face drained of color and he sat down heavily as the indictment was put in words. “Until we know – you know as well as we do that we have reason to question the fact, and only you know how that question is to be answered – we may reasonably be expected to lock you up. If you are – unhuman – you’re a lot more dangerous than poor Blair there, and I’m going to see that he’s locked up thoroughly. I expect that his next stage will be a violent desire to kill you, all the dogs, and probably all of us. When he wakes, he will be convinced we’re all unhuman, and nothing on the planet will ever change his conviction. It would be kinder to let him die, but we can’t do that, of course. He’s going in one shack, and you can stay in Cosmos House with your cosmic ray apparatus. Which is about what you’d do anyway. I’ve got to fix up a couple of dogs.”

Connant nodded bitterly. “I’m human. Hurry that test. Your eyes – Lord, I wish you could see your eyes staring – ”

Commander Garry watched anxiously as Clark, the doghandler, held the big brown Alaskan husky, while Copper began the injection treatment. The dog was not anxious to cooperate; the needle was painful, and already he’d experienced considerable needle work that morning. Five stitches held closed a slash that ran from his shoulder across the ribs half way down his body. One long fang was broken off short; the missing part was to be found half-buried in the shoulder bone of the monstrous thing on the table in the Ad Building.

“How long will that take?” Garry asked, pressing his arm gently. It was sore from the prick of the needle Dr. Copper had used to withdraw blood.

Copper shrugged. “I don’t know, to be frank. I know the general method, I’ve used it on rabbits. But I haven’t experimented with dogs. They’re big, clumsy animals to work with; naturally rabbits are preferable, and serve ordinarily. In civilized places you can buy a stock of human-immune rabbits from suppliers, and not many investigators take the trouble to prepare their own.”

“What do they want with them back there?” Clark asked.

“Criminology is one large field. A says he didn’t murder B, but that the blood on his shirt came from killing a chicken. The State makes a test, then it’s up to A to explain how it is the blood reacts on human-immune rabbits, but not on chicken-immunes.”

“What are we going to do with Blair in the meantime?” Garry asked wearily. “It’s all right to let him sleep where he is for a while, but when he wakes up – ”

“Barclay and Benning are fitting some bolts on the door of Cosmos House,” Copper replied grimly. “Connant’s acting like a gentleman. I think perhaps the way the other men look at him makes him rather want privacy. Lord knows, heretofore we’ve all of us individually prayed for a little privacy. ”

Clark laughed bitterly. “Not any more, thank you. The more the merrier.”

“Blair,” Copper went on, “will also have to have privacy – and locks. He’s going to have a pretty definite plan in mind when he wakes up. Ever hear the old story of how to stop hoof-and-mouth disease in cattle?”

“If there isn’t any hoof-and-mouth disease, there won’t be any hoof-and-mouth disease,” Copper explained. “You get rid of it by killing every animal that exhibits it, and every animal that’s been near the diseased animal. Blair’s a biologist, and knows that story. He’s afraid of this thing we loosed. The answer is probably pretty clear in his mind now. Kill everybody and everything in this camp before a skua gull or a wandering albatross coming in with the spring chances out this way and – catches the disease.”

Clark’s lips curled in a twisted grin. “Sounds logical to me. If things get too bad – maybe we’d better let Blair get loose. It would save us committing suicide. We might also make something of a vow that if things get bad, we see that that does happen.”

Copper laughed softly. “The last man alive in Big Magnet – wouldn’t be a man,” he pointed out. “Somebody’s got to kill those – creatures that don’t desire to kill themselves, you know. We don’t have enough thermite to do it all at once, and the decanite explosive wouldn’t help much. I have an idea that even small pieces of one of those beings would be self-sufficient.”

“If,” said Garry thoughtfully, “they can modify their protoplasm at will, won’t they simply modify themselves to birds and fly away? They can read all about birds, and imitate their structure without even meeting them. Or imitate, perhaps, birds of their home planet.”

Copper shook his head, and helped Clark to free the dog. “Man studied birds for centuries, trying to learn how to make a machine to fly like them. He never did do the trick; his final success came when he broke away entirely and tried new methods. Knowing the general idea, and knowing the detailed structure of wing and bone and nerve-tissue is something far, far different. And as for otherworld birds, perhaps, in fact very probably, the atmospheric conditions here are so vastly different that their birds couldn’t fly. Perhaps, even, the being came from a planet like Mars with such a thin atmosphere that there were no birds.”

Barclay came into the building, trailing a length of airplane control cable. “It’s finished, Doc. Cosmo House can’t be opened from the inside. Now where do we put Blair?”

Copper looked toward Garry. “There wasn’t any biology building. I don’t know where we can isolate him.”

“How about East Cache?” Garry said after a moment’s thought. “Will Blair be able to look after himself – or need attention?”

“He’ll be capable enough. We’ll be the ones to watch out,” Copper assured him grimly. “Take a stove, a couple of bags of coal, necessary supplies and a few tools to fix it up. Nobody’s been out there since last fall, have they?”

Garry shook his head. “if he gets noisy – I thought that might be a good idea.”

Barclay hefted the tools he was carrying and looked up at Garry. “if the muttering he’s doing now is any sign, he’s going to sing away the night hours. And we won’t like his song.”

“What’s he saying?” Copper asked.

Barclay shook his head. “I didn’t care to listen much. You can if you want to. But I gathered that the blasted idiot had all the dreams McReady had, and a few more. He slept beside the thing when we stopped on the trail coming in from Secondary Magnetic, remember. He dreamt the thing was alive, and dreamt more details. And – damn his soul – knew it wasn’t all dreaam, or had reason to. He knew it had telepathic powers that were stirring vaguely, and that it could not only read minds, but project thoughts. They weren’t dreams, you see. They were stray thoughts that thing was broadcasting, the way Blair’s broadcasting his thoughts now – a sort of telepathic muttering in its sleep. That’s why he knew so much about its powers. I guess you and I, Doc, weren’t so sensitive – if you want to believe in telepathy.”

“I have to,” Copper sighed. “Dr. Rhine of Duke University has shown that it exists, shown that some are much more sensitive than others.”

“Well, if you want to learn a lot of details, go listen in on Blair’s broadcast. He’s driven most of the boys out of the Ad Building; Kinner’s rattling pans like coal going down a chute. When he can’t rattle a pan, he shakes ashes.

“By the way, Commander, what are we going to do this spring, now the planes are out of it?”

Garry sighed. “I’m afraid our expedition is going to be a loss. We cannot divide our strength now.

“It won’t be a loss – if we continue to live, and come out of this,” Copper promised him. “The find we’ve made, if we can get it under control, is important enough. The cosmic ray data, magnetic work, and atmospheric work won’t be greatly hindered. ”

Garry laughed mirthlessly. “I was just thinking of the radio broadcasts. Telling half the world about the wonderful results of our exploration flights, trying to fool men like Byrd and Ellsworth back home there that we’re doing something.”

Copper nodded gravely. “They’ll know something’s wrong. But men like that have judgment enough to know we wouldn’t do tricks without some sort of reason, and will wait for our return to judge us. I think it comes to this: men who know enough to recognize our deception will wait for our return. Men who haven’t discretion and faith enough to wait will not have the experience to detect any fraud. We know enough of the conditions here to put through a good bluff.”

“Just so they don’t send ‘rescue’ expeditions,” Garry prayed. “When – if – we’re ever ready to come out, we’ll have to send word to Captain Forsythe to bring a stock of magnetos with him when he comes down. But – never mind that.”

“You mean if we don’t come out?” asked Barclay. “I was wondering if a nice running account of an eruption or an earthquake via radio – with a swell windup by using a stick of decanite under the microphone – would help. Nothing, of course, will entirely keep people out. One of those swell, melodramatic ‘last-man-alive-scenes’ might make ’em go easy though.”

Garry smiled with genuine humor. “is everybody in camp trying to figure that out too?”

Copper laughed. “What do you think, Garry? We’re confident we can win out. But not too easy about it, I guess.”

Clark grinned up from the dog he was petting into calmness. “Confident, did you say, Doc?”

Chapter VIII:

Blair moved restlessly around the small shack. His eyes jerked and quivered in vague, fleeting glances at the four men with him; Barclay, six feet tall and weighing over 190 pounds; McReady, a bronze giant of a man; Dr. Copper, short, squatly powerful; and Benning, five-feet-ten of wiry strength.

Blair was huddled up against the far wall of the East Cache cabin, his gear piled in the middle of the floor beside the heating stove, forming an island between him and the four men. His bony hands clenched and fluttered, terrified. His pale eyes wavered uneasily as his bald, freckled head darted about in birdlike motion.

“I don’t. want anybody coming here. I’ll cook my own food,” he snapped nervously. “Kinner may be human now, but I don’t believe it. I’m going to get out of here, but I’m not going to eat any food you send me. I want cans. Sealed cans.”

“O.K., Blair, we’ll bring’em tonight,” Barclay promised. “You’ve got coal, and the fire’s started. I’ll make a list” – Barclay started forward.

Blair instantly scurried to the farthest corner. “Get out! Keep away from me, you monster!” the little biologist shrieked, and tried to claw his way through the wall of the shack. “Keep away from me – keep away – I won’t be absorbed -I won’t be – ”

Barclay relaxed and moved back. Dr. Copper shook his head. “Leave him alone, Bar. It’s easier for him to fix the thing himself. We’ll have to fix the door, I think – ”

The four men let themselves out. Efficiently, Benning and Barclay fell to work. There were no locks in Antarctica; there wasn’t enough privacy to make them needed. But powerful screws had been driven in each side of the door frame, and the spare aviation control cable, immensely strong, woven steel wire, was rapidly caught between them,. and drawn taut. Barclay went to work with a drill and a keyhole saw. Presently he had a trap cut in the door through which goods could be passed without unlashing the entrance. Three powerful hinges from a stock-crate, two hasps and a pair of three-inch cotter-pins made it proof against opening from the other side.

Blair moved about restlessly inside. He was dragging something over to the door with panting gasps and muttering, frantic curses. Barclay opened the hatch and glanced in, Dr. Copper peering over his shoulder. Blair had moved the heavy bunk against the door. It could not be opened without his cooperation now.

“Don’t know but what the poor man’s fight at that,” McReady sighed. “If he gets loose, it is his avowed intention to kill each and all of us as quickly as possible, which is something we don’t agree with. But we’ve something on our side of that door that is worse than a homicidal maniac. If one or the other has to get loose, I think I’ll come up and undo those lashings here.”

Barclay grinned. “You let me know, and I’ll show you how to get these off fast. Let’s go back.”

The sun was painting the northern horizon in multi-colored rainbows still, though it was two hours below the horizon. The field of drift swept off to the north, sparkling under its flaming colors in a million reflected glories. Low mounds of rounded white on the northern horizon showed the Magnet Range was barely awash above the sweeping drift. Little eddies of wind-lifted snow swirled away from their skis as they set out toward the main encampment two miles away. The spidery finger of the broadcast radiator lifted a gaunt black needle against the white of the Antarctic continent. The snow under their skies was like fine sand, hard and gritty.

“Spring,” said Benning bitterly, “is come. Ain’t we got fun! I’ve been looking forward to getting away from this blasted hole in the ice.”

“I wouldn’t try it now, if I were you.” Barclay grunted. “Guys that set out from here in the next few days are going to be marvelously unpopular.”

“How is your dog getting along, Dr. Copper?” McReady asked. “Any results yet?”

“In 30 hours? I wish there were. I gave him an injection of my blood today. But I imagine another five days will be needed. I don’t know certainly enough to stop sooner.”

“I’ve been wondering – if Connant were – changed, would he have warned us so soon after the animal escaped? Wouldn’t he have waited long enough for it to have a real chance to fix itself? Unless we woke up naturally?” McReady asked slowly.

“The thing is selfish. You didn’t think it looked as though it were possessed of a store of the higher justices, did you?” Dr. Copper pointed out. “Every part of it is all of it, every part of it is all for itself, I imagine. If Connant were changed, to save his skin, he’d have to – but Connant’s feelings aren’t changed; they’re imitated perfectly, or they’re his own. Naturally, the imitation, imitating perfectly Connant’s feelings, would do exactly what Connant would do.”

“Say, couldn’t Norris or Van give Connant some kind of a test? If the thing is brighter than men, it might know more physics than Connant should, and they’d catch it out,” Barclay suggested.

Copper shook his head wearily. “Not if it reads minds. You can’t plan a trap for it. Van suggested that last night. He hoped it would answer some of the questions of physics he’d like to know answers to.”

“This expedition-of-four idea is going to make life happy.” Benning looked at his companions. “Each of us with an eye on the others to make sure he doesn’t do something – peculiar. Man, aren’t we going to be a trusting bunch! Each man eyeing his neighbors with the grandest exhibition of faith and trust – I’m beginning to know what Connant meant by ‘I wish you could see your eyes.’ Every now and then we all have it, I guess. One of you looks around with a sort of ‘I-wonder-if-the-other-three-are-look.” Incidentally, I’m not excepting myself.”

“So far as we know, the animal is dead, with a slight question as to Connant. No other is suspected,” McReady stated slowly. “The ‘always-four’ order is merely a precautionary measure.”

“I’m waiting for Garry to make it four-in-a-bunk,” Barclay sighed. “I thought I didn’t have any privacy before, but since that order – ”

None watched more tensely than Connant. A little sterile glass test-tube, half-filled with straw-colored fluid. One-two-three-four-five drops of the clear solution Dr. Copper had prepared from the drops of blood from Connant’s arm.

4

The tube was shaken carefully, then set in a beaker of clear, warm water. The thermometer read blood heat, a little thermostat clicked noisily, and the electric hotplate began to glow as the lights flickered slightly.

Then – little white flecks of precipitation were forming, snowing down in the clear straw-colored fluid. “Lord,” said Connant He dropped heavily into a bunk, crying like a baby. “Six days – ” Connant sobbed, “six days in there – wondering if that damned test would lie – ”

Garry moved over silently, and slipped his arm across the physicist’s back.

“It couldn’t tie,” Dr. Copper said, “The dog was human-immune – and the serum reacted.”

“He’s – all right?” Norris gasped. “TThen – the animal is dead – dead forever?”

“He is human,” Copper spoke definitely,” and the animal is dead.”

Kinner burst out laughing, laughing hysterically: McReady turned toward him and slapped his face with a methodical one-two, one-two action. The cook laughed, gulped, cried a moment, and sat up rubbing his checks, mumbling his thanks vaguely. “I was scared. Lord, I was scared-”

Norris laughed bitterly. “You think we weren’t, you ape? You think maybe Connant wasn’t?”

The Ad Building stirred with a sudden rejuvenation. Voices laughed, the men clustering around Connant spoke with unnecessarily loud voices, jittery, nervous voices relievedly friendly again. Somebody called out a suggestion, and a dozen started for their skis. Blair. Blair might recover – Dr. Copper fussed with his test-tubes in nervous relief, trying solutions. The party of relief for Blair’s shack started out the door, skis clapping noisily. Down the corridor, the dogs set up a quick yelping howl as the air of excited relief reached them.

Dr. Copper fussed with his tubes. McReady noticed him first, sitting on the edge of the bunk, with two precipitin-whitened test-tubes of straw-colored fluid, his face whiter than the stuff in the tubes, silent tears slipping down from horror-widened eyes.

McReady felt a cold knife of fear pierce through his heart and freeze in his breast. Dr. Copper looked up.

“Garry,” he called hoarsely. “Garry, for God’s sake, come here.”

Commander Garry walked toward him sharply. Silence clapped down on the Ad Building. Connant looked up, rose stiffly from his seat.

“Garry – tissue from the monster – precipitates too. It proves nothing. Nothing but – but the dog was monster-immune too. That one of the two contributing blood – one of us two, you and I, Garry – one of us is a monster.”

Chapter IX:

Bar, call back those men before they tell Blair,” McReady said quietly. Blair went to the door; faintly his shouts came back to the tensely silent men in the room. Then he was back.

“They’re coming,” he said. “I didn’t tell them why. Just that Dr. Copper said not to go.”

“McReady,” Garry sighed, “you’re in command now. May God help you. I cannot.”

The bronzed giant nodded slowly, his deep eyes on Commander Garry.

“I may be the one,” Garry added. “I know I’m not, but I cannot prove it to you in any way. Dr. Copper’s test has broken down. The fact that he showed it was useless, when it was to the advantage of the monster to have that uselessness not known, would seem to prove he was human.”

Copper rocked back and forth slowly on the bunk. “I know I’m human. I can’t prove it either. One of us two is a liar, for that test cannot lie, and it says one of us is. I gave proof that the test was wrong, which seems to prove I’m human, and now Garry has given that argument which proves me human – which he, as the monster, should not do. Round and round and round and round and – ”

Dr. Copper’s head, then his neck and shoulders began circling slowly in time to the words. Suddenly he was lying back on the bunk, roaring with laughter. ‘It doesn’t have to prove one of us is a monster! It doesn’t have to prove that at all! Ho-ho. If we’re all monsters it works the same! We’re all monsters – all of us – Connant and Garry and I – and all of you.”

“McReady,” Van Wall, the blond-bearded Chief Pilot, called softly. “you were on the way to an M.D. when you took up meteorology, weren’t you? Can you make some kind of test?”

McReady went over to Copper slowly, took the hypodermic from his hand, and washed it carefully in 95 per cent alcohol. Garry sat on the bunk edge with wooden face, watching Copper and McReady expressionlessly. “What Copper said is possible,” McReady sighed. “Van, will you help here? Thanks.” The filled needle jabbed into Copper’s thigh. The man’s laughter did not stop, but slowly faded into sobs, then sound sleep as the morphia took hold.

McReady turned again. The men who had started for Blair stood at the far end of the room, skis dripping snow, their faces as white as their skis. Connant had a lighted cigarette in each hand; one he was puffing absently, and staring at the floor. The heat of the one in his left hand attracted him and he stared at it, and the one in the other hand stupidly for a moment. He dropped one and crushed it under his heel slowly.

“Dr. Copper,” McReady repeated, “could be right. I know I’m human – but of course can’t prove it. I’ll repeat the test for my own information. Any of you others who wish to may do the same.”

Two minutes later, McReady held a test-tube with white precipitin settling slowly from straw-colored serum. “It reacts to human blood too, so they aren’t both monsters.”

“I didn’t think they were,” Van Wall sighed. “That wouldn’t suit the monster either; we could have destroyed them if we knew. Why hasn’t the monster destroyed us, do you suppose? It seems to be loose.”

McReady snorted. Then laughed softly. “Elementary, my dear Watson. The monster wants to have life-forms available. It cannot animate a dead body, apparently. It is just waiting – waiting until the best opportunities come. We who remain human, it is holding in reserve.”

Kinner shuddered violently. “Hey. Hey, Mac. Mac, would I know if I was a monster? Would I know if the monster had already got me? Oh Lord, I may be a monster already.”

“You’d know, ” McReady answered.

“But we wouldn’t,” Norris laughed shortly, half-hysterically.

McReady looked at the vial of serum remaining. “There’s one thing this damned stuff is good for, at that,” he said thoughtfully. “Clark, will you and Van help me? The rest of the gang better stick together here. Keep an eye on each other,” he said bitterly. “See that you don’t get into mischief, shall we say?”

McReady started down the tunnel toward Dog Town, with Clark and Van Wall behind him. “You need more serum?” Clark asked.

McReady shook his head. “Tests. There’s four cows and a bull, and nearly seventy dogs down there. This stuff reacts only to human blood and – monsters.”

McReady came back to the Ad Building and went silently to the wash stand. Clark and Van Wall joined him a moment later. Clark’s lips had developed a tic, jerking into sudden, unexpected sneers.

“What did you do?” Connant exploded suddenly. “More immunizing?”

Clark snickered, and stopped with a hiccough. “Immunizing. Haw! Immune all right.”

“That monster,” said Van Wall steadily, “is quite logical. Our immune dog was quite all right, and we drew a little more serum for the tests. But we won’t make any more.”

“Can’t – can’t you use one man’s blood or another dog – ” Norris began.

“There aren’t,” said McReady softly, “any more dogs, Nor cattle, I might add.”

“No more dogs?” Benning sat down slowly.

“They’re very nasty when they start changing,” Van Wall said precisely, “but slow. That electrocution iron you made up, Barclay, is very fast. There is only one dog left – our immune. The monster left that for us, so we could play with our little test. The rest – ” He shrugged and dried his hands.

“The cattle – ,” gulped Kinner.

“Also. Reacted very nicely. They look funny as hell when they start melting. The beast hasn’t any quick escape, when it’s tied in dog chains, or halters, and it had to be to imitate.”

Kinner stood up slowly, His eyes darted around the room, and came to rest horribly quivering on a tin bucket in the galley. Slowly, step by step. he retreated toward the door, his mouth opening and closing silently, like a fish out of water.

“The milk – ” he gasped. “I milked’em an hour ago -” His voice broke into a scream as he dived through the door. He was out on the ice cap without windproof or heavy clothing.

Van Wall looked after him for a moment thoughtfully. “He’s probably hopelessly mad,” he said at length, “but he might be a monster escaping. He hasn’t skis. Take a blowtorch – in case.”

The physical motion of the chase helped them; something that needed doing. Three of the other men were quietly being sick. Norris was lying flat on his back, his face greenish, looking steadily at the bottom of the bunk above him.

“Mac, how long have the – cows been not-cows -”

McReady shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. He went over to the milk bucket, and with his little tube of serum went to work on it. The milk clouded it, making certainty difficult. Finally he dropped the test-tube in the stand and shook his head. “It tests negatively. Which means either they were cows then, or that, being perfect imitations, they gave perfectly good milk.”

Copper stirred restless in his sleep and gave a gurgling cross between a snore and a laugh. Silent eyes fastened on him. “Would morphia – a monster -” somebody started to ask.

“Lord knows,” McReady shrugged. “It affects every Earthly animal I know of.”

Connant suddenly raised his head. “Mac! The dogs must have swallowed pieces of the monster, and the pieces destroyed them! The dogs were where the monster resided. I was locked up. Doesn’t that prove – ”

Van Wall shook his head. “Sorry. Proves nothing about what you are, only proves what you didn’t do.”

“It doesn’t do that,” McReady sighed. “We are helpless. Because we don’t know enough, and so jittery we don’t think straight. Locked up! Ever watch a white corpuscle of the blood go through the wall of a blood vessel? No? It sticks out a pseudopod. And there it is – on the far side of the wall. ”

“Oh,” said Van Wall unhappily. “The cattle tried to melt down, didn’t they? The could have melted down – become just a thread of stuff and leaked under a door to re-collect on the other side. Ropes -no – no, that wouldn’t do it. They couldn’t live in a sealed tank or – ”

“If,” said McReady, “you shoot it through the heart, and it doesn’t die, it’s a monster. That’s the best test I can think of, offhand.”

“No dogs,” said Garry quietly, “and no cattle. It has to imitate men now. And locking up doesn’t do any good. Your test might have work, Mac, but I am afraid it would be hard on the men.”

Chapter X:

Clark looked up from the galley stove as Van Wall, Barclay, McReady and Benning came in, brushing the drift from their clothes. The other men jammed into the Ad Building continued studiously to do as they were doing, playing chess, poker, reading. Ralsen was fixing a sledge on the table; Van and Norris had their heads together over magnetic data, while Harvey read tables in a low voice.

Dr. Copper snored softly on the bunk. Garry was working with Dutton over a sheaf of radio messages on the corner of Dutton’s bunk and a small fraction of the radio table. Connant was using most of the table for Cosmic Ray sheets.

Quite plainly through the corridor, despite two closed doors, they could hear Kinner’s voice. Clark banged a kettle onto the galley stove and beckoned McReady silently. The meterologist went over to him.

“I don’t mind the cooking so damn much,” Clark said nervously, “but isn’t there some way to stop that bird? We all agreed that it would be safe to move him into Cosmos House.”

“Kinner?” McReady nodded toward the door. “I’m afraid not. I can dope him, I suppose, but we don’t have an unlimited supply of morphia, and he’s not in danger of losing his mind. Just hysterical.”

“Well, we’re in danger of losing ours. You’ve been out for an hour and a half. That’s been going on steadily ever since, and it was going for two hours before. There’s a limit, you know.”

Garry wandered over slowly, apologetically. For an instant, McReady caught the feral spark of fear – horror – in Clark’s eyes, and knew at the same instant it was in his own. Garry – Garry or Copper – was certainly a monster.

“If you could stop that, I think it would be a sound policy, Mac,” Garry spoke quietly. “There are -tensions enough in this room. We agreed that it would be safe for Kinner in there, because everyone else in camp is under constant eyeing.” Garry shivered slightly. “And try, try in God’s name, to find some test that will work.”

McReady sighed. “Watch or unwatched, everyone’s tense. Blair’s jammed the trap so it won’t open now. Says he’s got food enough, and keeps screaming ‘Go away, go away – you’re monsters. I won’t be absorbed. I won’t. I’ll tell men when they come. Go away.’ So – we went away.”

“There’s no other test?” Garry pleaded.

McReady shrugged his shoulders. “Copper was perfectly right. The serum test could be absolutely definitive if it hadn’t been – contaminated. But

that’s the only dog left, and he’s fixed now.”

“Chemicals? Chemical tests?”

McReady shook his head. “Our chemistry isn’t that good. I tried the microscope, you know.”

Garry nodded. “Monster-dog and real dog were identical. But – you’ve got to go on. What are we going to do after dinner?”

Van Wall joined them quietly. “Rotation sleeping. Half the crowd asleep; half awake. I wonder how many of us are monsters? All the dogs were. We thought we were safe, but somehow it got Copper -or you.” Van Wall’s eyes flashed uneasily. “It may have gotten every one of you – all of you but myself may be wondering, looking. No, that’s not possible. You’d just spring then. I’d be helpless. We humans might somehow have the greater number now. But – ” he stopped.

McReady laughed shortly. “You’re doing what Norris complained of in me. Leaving it hanging. ‘But if one more is changed – that may shift the balance of power.’ It doesn’t fight. I don’t think it ever fights. It must be a peaceable thing, in its own – inimitable -way. It never had to, because it always gained its end – otherwise.”

Van Wall’s mouth twisted in a sickly grin. “You’re suggesting then, that perhaps it already has the greater numbers, but is just waiting – waiting, all of them – all of you, for all I know – waiting till I, the last human, drop my wariness in sleep. Mac, did you notice their eyes, all looking at us?”

Garry sighed. “You haven’t been sitting here for four straight hours, while all their eyes silently weighed the information that one of us two, Copper or I, is a monster certainly – perhaps both of us.”

Clark repeated his request. “Will you stop that bird’s noise? He’s driving me nuts. Make him tone down, anyway.”

“Still praying?” McReady asked.

“Still praying,” Clark groaned. “He hasn’t stopped for a second. I don’t mind, his praying if it relieves him, but he yells, he sings psalms and hymns and shouts prayers. He thinks God can’t hear well way down here.”

“Maybe He can’t,” Barclay grunted. “Or He’d have done something about this thing loosed from hell.”

“Somebody’s going to try that test you mentioned, if you don’t stop him,” Clark stated grimly. “I think a cleaver in the head would be as positive a test as a bullet in the heart.”

“Go ahead with the food. I’ll see what I can do. There may be something in the cabinets.” McReady moved wearily toward the corner Copper had used as his dispensary. Three tall cabinets of rough boards, two locked, were the repositories of the camp’s medical supplies. Twelve years ago McReady had graduated, had started for an internship, and been diverted to meteorology. Copper was a picked man, a man who knew his profession. thoroughly and modernly. More than half the drugs available were totally unfamiliar to McReady; many of the others he had forgotten. There was no huge medical library here, no series of journals available to learn the things he had forgotten, the elementary, simple things to Copper, things that did not merit inclusion in the small library he had been forced to content himself with. Books are heavy, and every ounce of supplies had been freighted in by air.

McReady picked a barbituate hopefully. Barclay and Van went with him. One man never went anywhere alone in Big Magnet.

Ralsen had his sledge put away, and the physicists had moved off the table, the poker game broken up when they got back. Clark was putting out the food. The click of spoons and the muffled sounds of eating were the only sign of life in the room. There were no words spoken as the three returned; simply all eyes focused on them questioningly, while the jaw moved methodically.

MeReady stiffened suddenly. Kinnerr was screeching out a hymn in a hoarse, cracked voice. He looked wearily at Van Wall with a twisted grin and shook his head. “Hu-uh.”

Van Wall cursed bitterly, and sat down at the table. “We’ll just plumb have to take that till his voice wears out. He can’t yell like that forever.”

“He’s got a brass throat and a cast-iron larynx,” Norris declared savagely. “Then we could be hopeful, and suggest he’s one of our friends. In that case he could go on renewing his throat till doomsday.”

Silence clamped down. For twenty minutes they ate without a word. Then Connant jumped up with an angry violence. “You sit as still as a bunch of graven images. You don’t say a word, but oh Lord, what expressive eyes you’ve got. They roll around like a bunch of glass marbles spilling down a table. They wink and blink and stare – and whisper things. Can you guys look somewhere else for a change, please?

“Listen, Mac, you’re in charge here. Let’s run movies for the rest of the night. We’ve been saving those reels to make’em last. Last for what? Who is it’s going to see those last reels, eh? Let’s see’em while we can, and look at something other than each other.

“Sound idea, Connant I, for one, am quite willing to change this in any way I can.”

“Turn the sound up loud, Dutton. Maybe you can drown out the hymns,” Clark suggested.

“But don’t,” Norris said softly, “don’t turn off the lights altogether.”

“The lights will be out.” McReady shook his head. “We’ll show all the cartoon movies we have. You won’t mind seeing the old cartoons, will you?”

“Goody, goody – a moom pitcher show. I’m just in the mood.” McReady turned to look at the speaker, a lean, lanky New Englander, by the name of Caldwell. Caldwell was stuffing his pipe slowly, a sour eye cocked up to McReady.

The bronze giant was forced to laugh. “O.K., Bart, you win. Maybe we aren’t quite in the mood for Popeye and trick ducks, but it’s something.”

“Let’s play Classifications,” Caldwell suggested slowly. “Or maybe you call it Guggenheim. You draw lines on a piece of paper, and put down classes of things – like animals, you know. One for ‘H’ and one for ‘U’ and so on. Like ‘Human and ‘Unknown’ for instance. I think that would be a hell of a lot better game. Classification, I sort of figure is what we need right now a lot more than movies. Maybe somebody’s got a pencil that he can draw lines with, draw lines between the ‘U’ animals and the ‘H’ animals for instance.”

“McReady’s trying to find that kind of pencil,” Van Wall answered quietly, “but we’ve got three kinds of animals here, you know. One that begins with ‘M’. We don’t want any more.”

“Mad ones, you mean. Uh-huh. Clark, I’ll help you with those pots so we can get our little peepshow going.” Caldwell got up slowly.

Dutton and Barclay and Benning, in charge of the projector and sound mechanism arrangements, went about their job silently, while the Ad Building was cleared and the dishes and pans disposed of. McReady drifted over toward Van Wall slowly, and leaned back in the bunk beside him. “I’ve been wondering, Van,” he said with a wry grin, “whether or not to report my ideas in advance. I forgot the ‘U animals’ as Caldwell named it, could read minds. I’ve a vague idea of something that might work. it’s too vague to bother with though. Go ahead with your show, while I try to figure out the logic of the thing. I’ll take this bunk.”

Van Wall glanced up, and nodded. The movie screen would be practically on a line with his bunk, hence making the pictures least distracting here, because least intelligible. “Perhaps you should tell us what you have in mind. As it is, only the unknowns know what you plan. You might be -unknown before you got it into operation.”

“Won’t take long, if I get it figured out right. But I don’t want any more all-but-the-test-dogmonsters things. We better move Copper into this bunk directly above me. He won’t be watching the screen either.” McReady nodded toward Copper’s gently snoring bulk. Garry helped them lift and move the doctor.

McReady leaned back against the bunk, and sank into a trance, almost, of concentration, trying to calculate chances, operations, methods. He was scarcely aware as the others distributed themselves silently, and the screen lit up. Vaguely Kinner’s hectic, shouted prayers and his rasping hymn-singing annoyed him till the sound accompaniment started. The lights were turned out, but the large, light-colored areas of the screen reflected enough light for ready visibility. It made men’s eyes sparkle as they moved restlessly. Kinner was still praying, shouting, his voice a raucous accompaniment to the mechanical sound. Dutton stepped up the amplification.

So long had the voice been going on, that only vaguely at first was McReady aware that something seemed missing. Lying as he was, just across the narrow room from the corridor leading to Cosmos House, Kinner’s voice had reached him fairly clearly, despite the sound accompaniment of the pictures. It struck him abruptly that it had stopped.

“Dutton, cut that sound,” McReady called as he sat up abruptly. The pictures flickered a moment, soundless and strangely futile in the sudden, deep silence. The rising wind on the surface above bubbled melancholy tears of sound down the stove pipes. “Kinner’s stopped,” McReady said softly.

“For God’s sake start that sound then, he may have stopped to listen,” Norris snapped.

McReady rose and went down the corridor. Barclay and Van Wall left their places at the far end of the room to follow him. The flickers bulged and twisted on the back of Barclay’s gray underwear as he crossed the still-functioning beam of the projector. Dutton snapped on the lights, and the pictures vanished.

Norris stood at the door as McReady had asked. Garry sat down quietly in the bunk nearest the door, forcing Clark to make room for him. Most of the others had stayed exactly where they were. Only Connant walked slowly up and down the room, in steady, unvarying rhythm.

“If you’re going to do that, Connant,” Clark spat, “we can get along without you altogether, whether you’re human or not. Will you stop that damned rhythm?”

“Sorry.” The physicist sat down in a bunk, and watched his toes thoughtfully. It was almost five minutes, five ages while the wind made the only sound, before McReady appeared at the door.

“We,” he announced, “haven’t got enough grief here already. Somebody’s tried to help us out. Kinner has a knife in his throat, which was why he stopped singing, probably. We’ve got monsters, madmen and murderers. Any more ‘M’s’ you can think of, Caldwell? If there are, we’ll probably have ’em before long.”

Chapter XI:

“Is Blair loose?” someone asked.

“Blair is not loose. Or he flew in. If there’s any doubt about where our gentle helper came from – this may clear it up.” Van Hull held a footlong, thin-bladed knife in a cloth. The wooden handle was half-burnt, charred with the peculiar pattern of the top of the galley stove.

Clark stared at it. “I did that this afternoon. I forgot the damn thing and left it on the stove.”

Van Wall nodded. “I smelled it, if you remember. I knew the knife came from the galley.”

“I wonder,” said Benning, looking around at the party warily, “how many more monsters have we? If somebody could slip out of his place, go back of the screen to the galley and then down to the Cosmos House and back – he did come back, didn’t he? Yes -everybody’s here. Well, if one of the gang could do all that – ”

“Maybe a monster did it,” Garry suggested quietly. “There’s that possibility.”

“The monster, as you pointed out today, has only men left to imitate. Would he decrease his – supply, shall we say?” Van Wall pointed out. “No, we just have a plain, ordinary louse, a murderer to deal with. Ordinarily we’d call him an ‘inhuman murderer’ I suppose, but we have to distinguish now. We have inhuman murderers, and now we have human murderers. Or one at least.”

“There’s one less human,” Norris said softly. “Maybe the monsters have the balance of power now.”

“Never mind that,” McReady sighed and turned to Barclay. “Bar, will you get your electric gadget? I’m going to make certain – ”

Barclay turned down the corridor to get the pronged electrocuter, while McReady and Van Wall went back toward Cosmos House. Barclay followed them in some thirty seconds.

The corridor to Cosmos House twisted, as did nearly all corridors in Big Magnet, and Norris stood at the entrance again. But they heard, rather muffled McReady’s sudden shout. There was a savage scurry of blows, dull ch-thunk, shluff sounds. “Bar – Bar -” And a curious, savage mewing scream, silenced before even quick-moving Norris had reached the bend.

Kinner – or what had been Kinner – lay on the floor; cut half in two by the great knife McReady had had. The meteorologist stood against the wall, the knife dripping red in his hand. Van Wall was stirring vaguely on the floor, moaning, his hand half-consciously rubbing at his jaw. Barclay an unutterably savage gleam in his eyes, was methodically leaning on the pronged weapon in his hand, jabbing, jabbing.

Kinner’s arms had developed a queer, scaly fur, and the flesh had twisted. The fingers had shortened, the hand rounded, the fingernails become three-inch long things of dull red horn, keened to steel-hard razor-sharp talons.

McReady raised his head, looked at the knife in his hand and dropped it. “Well, whoever did it can speak up now. He was an inhuman murderer at that -in that he murdered an inhuman. I swear by all that’s holy, Kinner was a lifeless corpse on the floor here when we arrived. But when it found we were going to jab it with the power – it changed.”

Norris stared unsteadily. “Oh. Lord, those things can act. Ye gods – sitting in here for hours, mouthing prayers to a God it hated! Shouting hymns in a cracked voice – hymns about a Church it never knew. Driving us mad with its ceaseless howling –

“Well. Speak up, whoever did it, You didn’t know it, but you did the camp a favor. And I want to know how in blazes you got out of that room without anyone seeing you. It might help in guarding ourselves.”

“His screaming – his singing. Even the sound projector couldn’t drown it.” Clark shivered. “It was a monster.”

“Oh,” said Van Wall in sudden comprehension. “You were sitting right next to the door, weren’t you! And almost behind the projection screen already.”

Clark nodded dumbly. “He – it’s quiet now. It’s a dead – Mac, your test’s no damn good. It was dead anyway, monster or man, it was dead.”

McReady chuckled softly. “Boys, meet Clark, the only one we know is human! Meet Clark, the one who proves he’s human by trying to commit murder-and failing. Will the rest of you please refrain from trying to prove you’re human for a while? I think we may have another test.”

“A test!” Connant snapped joyfully, then his face sagged in disappointment. “I suppose it’s another either-way-you-want-it.”

“No,” said McReady steadily. “Look sharp and be careful. Come into the Ad Building. Barclay, bring your electrocuter. And somebody – Dutton – stand with Barclay to make sure he does it. Watch every neighbor, for by the Hell these monsters come from, I’ve got something, and they know it. They’re going to get dangerous!”

The group tensed abruptly. An air of crushing menace entered into every man’s body, sharply they looked at each other. More keenly than ever before – is that man next to me an inhuman monster?

“What is it?” Garry asked, as they stood again in the main room. “How long will it take?”

“I don’t know exactly,” said McReady, his voice brittle with angry determination. “But I know it will work, and no two ways about it. It depends on a basic quality of the monsters, not on us. ‘Kinner’ just convinced me.” He stood heavy and solid in bronzed immobility, completely sure of himself again at last.

“This,” said Barclay, hefting the woodenhandled weapon, tipped with its two sharppointed, charged conductors, “is going to be rather necessary, I take it. Is the power plant assured?”

Dutton nodded sharply. “The automatic stoker bin is full. The gas power plant is on stand-by. Van Wall and I set it for the movie operation and – we’ve checked it over rather carefully several times, you know. Anything those wires touch, dies,” he assured them grimly “I know that.”

Dr. Copper stirred vaguely in his bunk, rubbed his eyes with fumbling hand. He sat up slowly, blinked his eyes blurred with sleep and drugs, widened with an unutterable horror of drug-ridden nightmares. “Garry,” he mumbled, “Garry – listen. Selfish-from hell they came, and hellish shellfish – I mean self – Do I? What do I mean?” he sank back in his bunk, and snored softly.

McReady looked at him thoughtfully. “We’ll know presently,” he nodded slowly. “But selfish is what you mean all right. You may have thought of that, half-sleeping, dreaming there. I didn’t stop to think what dreams you might be having. But that’s all right. Selfish is the word. They must be, you see.” He turned to the men in the cabin, tense, silent men staring with wolfish eyes each at his neighbor. Selfish, and as Dr. Copper said every part is a whole. Every piece is self-sufficient, an animal in itself.

“That, and one other thing, tell the story. There’s nothing mysterious about blood; it’s just as normal a body tissue as a piece of muscle, or a piece of liver. But it hasn’t so much connective tissue, though it has millions, billions of lifecells.”

McReady’s great bronze beard ruffled in a grim smile. “This is satisfying, in a way. I’m pretty-sure we humans still outnumber you – others. Others standing here. And we have what you, your otherworld race, evidently doesn’t. Not an imitated, but a bred-in-the-bone instinct, a driving, unquenchable fire that’s genuine. We’ll fight, fight with a ferocity you may attempt to imitate, but you’ll never equal! We’re human. We’re real. You’re imitations, false to the core of your every cell.

“All right. It’s a showdown now. You know. You, with your mind reading. You’ve lifted the idea from my brain. You can’t do a thing about it.

“Standing here –

“Let it pass. Blood is tissue. They have to bleed, if they don’t bleed when cut, then, by Heaven, they’re phony! Phony from hell! If they bleed – then that blood, separated from them, is an individual – a newly formed individual in its own right, just as they, split, all of them, from one original, are individuals!

“Get it, Van? See the answer, Bar?”

Van Wall laughed very softly. “The blood – the blood will not obey. It’s a new individual, with all the desire to protect its own life “that the original – the main mass from which it was split — has. The blood will live – and try to crawl away from a hot needle, say!”

McReady picked up the scalpel from the table. From the cabinet, he took a rack of test-tubes, a tiny alcohol lamp, and a length of platinum wire set in a little glass rod. A smile of grim satisfaction rode his lips. For a moment he glanced up at those around him. Barclay and Dutton moved toward him slowly, the wooden-handled electric instrument alert.

“Dutton,” said McReady,” suppose you stand over by the splice there where you’ve connected that in. Just make sure nothing pulls it loose.”

Dutton moved away. “Now, Van, suppose you be first on this.”

White-faced, Van Wall stepped forward. With a delicate precision, McReady cut a vein in the base of his thumb. Van Wall winced slightly, then held steady as a half inch of bright blood collected in the tube. McReady put the tube in the rack, gave Van Wall a bit of alum, and indicated the iodine bottle.

Van Wall stood motionlessly watching. McReady heated the platinum wire in the alcohol lamp flame, then dipped it into the tube. it hissed softly. Five times he repeated the test. “Human, I’d say.” McReady sighed, and straightened. “As yet, my theory hasn’t been actually proven – but I have hopes. I have hopes.

“Don’t, by the way, get too interested in this. We have with us some unwelcome ones, no doubt, Van, will you relieve Barclay at the switch? Thanks. O.K., Barclay, and may I say I hope you stay with us? You’re a damned good guy.”

Barclay grinned uncertainly; winced under the keen edge of the scalpel. Presently, smiling widely, he retrieved his long-handled weapon.

“Mr. Samuel Dutt – BAR!”

The tensity was released in that second. Whatever of hell the monsters may have had within them, the men in that instant matched it. Barclay had no chance to move his weapon as a score of men poured down on that thing that had seemed Dutton. It mewed, and spat, and tried to grow fangs – and was a hundred broken, torn pieces. Without knives, or any weapon save the brute-given strength of a staff of picked men, the thing was crushed, rent.

Slowly they picked themselves up, their eyes smoldering, very quiet in their emotions. A curious wrinkling of their lips betrayed a species of nervousness.

Barclay went over with the electric weapon. Things smoldered and stank. The caustic acid Van Wall dropped on each spilled drop of blood gave off tickling, cough-provoking fumes.

McReady grinned, his deep-set eyes alight and dancing. “Maybe,” he said softly,. “I underrated man’s abilities when I said nothing human could have the ferocity in the eyes of that thing we found. I wish we could have the opportunity to treat in a more befitting manner these things. Something with boiling oil, or melted lead in it, or maybe slow roasting in the power boiler. When I think what a man Dutton was –

“Never mind. My theory is confirmed by – by one who knew? Well, Van Wall and Barclay are proven. I think, then, that I’ll try to show you what I already know. That I too am human.” McReady swished the scalpel in absolute alcohol, burned it off the metal blade, and cut the base of his thumb expertly.

Twenty seconds later he looked up from the desk at the waiting men. There were more grins out there now, friendly grins, yet withal, something else in the eyes.

“Connant,” McReady laughed softly, “was right. The huskies watching that thing in the corridor bend had nothing on you. Wonder why we think only the wolf blood has the right to ferocity? Maybe on spontaneous viciousness a wolf takes tops, but after these seven days – abandon all hope, ye wolves who enter here!

“Maybe we can save time. Connant, would you step for – ”

Again Barclay was too slow. There were more grins, less tensity still, when Barclay and Van Wall finished their work.

Garry spoke in a low, bitter voice. “Connant was one of the finest men we had here – and five minutes ago I’d have sworn he was a man. Those damnable things are more than imitation. “Garry shuddered and sat back in his bunk.

And thirty seconds later, Garry’s blood shrank from the hot platinum wire, and struggled to escape the tube, struggled as frantically as a suddenly feral, red-eyed, dissolving imitation of Garry struggled to dodge the snake-tongue weapon Barclay advanced at him, white faced and sweating. The Thing in the test-tube screamed with a tin, tinny voice as McReady dropped it into the glowing coal of the galley stove.

Chapter XII:

“The last of it?” Dr. Copper looked down from his bunk with bloodshot, saddened eyes. “Fourteen of them – ”

McReady nodded shortly. “In some ways – if only we could have permanently prevented their spreading – I’d like to have even the imitations back. Commander Garry – Connant – Dutton – Clark -”

“Where are they taking those things?” Copper nodded to the stretcher Barclay and Norris were carrying out.

“Outside. Outside on the ice, where they’ve got fifteen smashed crates, half a ton of coal, and presently will add ten gallons of kerosene. We’ve dumped acid on every spilled drop, every torn fragment. We’re going to incinerate those.”

“Sounds like a good plan.” Copper nodded wearily. “I wonder, you haven’t said whether Blair -”

McReady started. “We forgot him! We had so much else! I wonder – do you suppose we can cure him now?

“If -” began Dr. Copper, and stopped meaaningly.

McReady started a second time. “Even a madman. It imitated Kinner and his praying hysteria -” McReady turned toward Van Wall at the long table. “Van, we’ve got to make an expedition to Blair’s shack.”

Van looked up sharply, the frown of worry faded for an instant in surprised remembrance. Then he rose, nodded. “Barclay better go along. He applied the lashings, and may figure how to get in without frightening Blair too much.”

Three quarters of an hour, through -37 cold, while the Aurora curtain bellied overhead. The twilight was nearly 12 hours long, flaming in the north on snow like white, crystalline sand under their skis. A 5-mile wind piled it in drift-lines pointing off to the northwest. Three quarters of an hour to reach the snow-buried shack. No smoke came from the little shack, and the men hastened.

“Blair!” Barclay roared into the wind when he was still a hundred yards away. “Blair!”

“Shut up,” said McReady softly. “And hurry. He may be trying a long hike. If we have to go after him -no planes, the tractors disabled -”

“Would a monster have the stamina a man has?”

“A broken leg wouldn’t stop it for more than a minute,” McReady pointed out.

Barclay gasped suddenly and pointed aloft. Dim in the twilit sky, a winged thing circled in curves of indescribable grace and ease. Great white wings tipped gently, and the bird swept over them in silent curiosity. “Albatross -” Barclay said softly. “First of the season, and wandering way inland for some reason. If a monster’s loose -”

Norris bent down on the ice, and tore hurriedly at his heavy, wind-proof clothing. He straightened, his coat flapping open, a grim blue-metaled weapon in his hand. It roared a challenge to the white silence of Antarctica.

The thing in the air screamed hoarsely. Its great wings worked frantically as a dozen feathers floated down from its tail. Norris fired again. The bird was moving swiftly now, but in an almost straight line of retreat. It screamed again, more feathers dropped and with beating wings it soared behind a ridge of pressure ice, to vanish.

Norris hurried after the others. “It won’t come back,” he panted.

Barclay cautioned him to silence, pointing. A curiously, fiercely blue light beat out from the cracks of the shack’s door. A very low, soft humming sounded inside, a low, soft humming and a clink and clank of tools, the very sounds somehow bearing a message of frantic haste.

McReady’s face paled. “Lord help us if that thing has -” He grabbed Barclay’s shoulder, and made snipping motions with his fingers, pointing toward the lacing of control-cables that held the door.

Barclay drew the wire-cutters from his pocket, and kneeled soundlessly at the door. The snap and twang of cut wires made an unbearable racket in the utter quiet of the Antarctic hush. There was only that strange, sweetly soft hum from within the shack, and the queerly, hectically clipped clicking and rattling of tools to drown their noises.

McReady peered through a crack in the door. His breath sucked in huskily and his great fingers clamped cruelly on Barclay’s shoulder. The meteorologist backed down. “It isn’t,” he explained very softly, “Blair. It’s kneeling on something on the bunk-something that keeps lifting. Whatever it’s working on is a thing like a knap-sack – and it lifts.”

“All at once,” Barclay said grimly. “No Norris, hang back, and get that iron of yours out. It may have – weapons.”

Together, Barclay’s powerful body and McReady’s giant strength struck the door. Inside, the bunk jammed against the door screeched madly and crackled into kindling. The door flung down from broken hinges, the patched lumber of the doorpost dropping inward.

Like a blue-rubber ball, a Thing bounced up. One of its four tentaclelike arms looped out like a striking snake. In a seven-tentacled hand a six-inch pencil of winking, shining metal glinted and swung upward to face them. Its line-thin lips twitched back from snake-fangs in a grin of hate, red eyes blazing.

Norris’ revolver thundered in the confined space. The hate-washed face twitched in agony, the looping tentacle snatched back. The silvery thing in its hand a smashed ruin of metal, the seven-tentacled hand became a mass of mangled flesh oozing greenish-yellow ichor. The revolver thundered three times more. Dark holes drilled each of the three eyes before Norris hurled the empty weapon against its face.

The thing screamed a feral hate, a lashing tentacle wiping at blinded eyes. For a moment it crawled on the floor, savage tentacles lashing out, the body twitching. Then it staggered up again, blinded eyes working, boiling hideously, the crushed flesh sloughing away in sodden gobbets.

Barclay lurched to his feet and dove forward with an ice-ax. The flat of the weighty thing crushed against the side of the head. Again the unkillable monster went down. The tentacles lashed out, and suddenly Barclay fell to his feet in the grip of a living, livid rope. The thing dissolved as he held it, a white-hot band that ate into the flesh of his hands like living fire. Frantically he tore the stuff from him, held his hands where they could not be reached. The blind Thing felt and ripped at the tough; heavy, windproof cloth, seeking flesh – flesh it could convert –

The huge blow-torch McReady had brought coughed solemnly. Abruptly it rumbled disapproval throatily. Then it laughed gurglingly, and thrust out a blue-white, three-foot tongue. The Thing on the floor shrieked, flailed out blindly with tentacles that writhed and withered in the bubbling wrath of the blow-torch. It crawled and turned on the floor, it shrieked and hobbled madly, but always McReady held the blow-torch on the face, the dead eyes burning and bubbling uselessly. Frantically the Thing crawled and howled.

A tentacle sprouted a savage talon – and crisped in the flame. Steadily McReady moved with a planned, grim campaign. Helpless, maddened, the Thing retreated from the grunting torch, the caressing, licking tongue. For a moment it rebelled, squalling in inhuman hatred at the touch of icy snow. Then it fell back before the charring breath of the torch, the stench of its flesh bathing it. Hopelessly it retreated – on and on across the Antarctic snow, The bitter wind swept over it twisting the torch-tongue; vainly it flopped, a trail of oily, stinking smoke bubbling away from it

McReady walked back toward the shack silently. Barclay met him at the door. “No more?” the giant meteorologist asked grimly.

Barclay shook his head. “No more. It didn’t split?”

“It had other things to think about,” McReady assured him. “When I left it, it was a glowing coal. What was it doing?”

Norris laughed shortly. “Wise boys, we are. Smash magnetos, so planes won’t work. Rip the boiler tubing’ out of the tractors. And leave that Thing alone for a week in this shack. Alone and undisturbed.”

McReady looked in at the shack more carefully. The air, despite the ripped door, was hot and humid. On a table at the far end of the room rested a thing of coiled wires and small magnets, glass tubing and radio tubes. At the center a block of rough stone rested. From the center of the block came the light that flooded the place, the fiercely blue light bluer than the glare of an electric arc, and from it came the sweetly soft hum. Off to one side was another mechanism of crystal glass, blown with an incredible neatness and delicacy, metal plates and a queer, shimmery sphere of insubstantiality.

“What is that?” McReady moved nearer.

Norris grunted. “Leave it for investigation. But I can guess pretty well. That’s atomic power. That stuff to the left – that’s a neat little thing for doing what men have been trying to do with 100-ton cyclotrons and so forth. It separates neutrons from heavy water, which he was getting from the surrounding ice.”

“Where did he get all – oh. Of course, A monster couldn’t be locked in – or out. He’s been through the apparatus caches.” McReady stared at the apparatus. “Lord, what minds that race must have -”

“The shimmery sphere – I think it’s a sphere of pure force. Neutrons can pass through any matter, and he wanted a supply reservoir of neutrons. Just project neutrons against silica – calcium – beryllium -almost anything, and the atomic energy is released. That thing is the atomic generator.”

McReady plucked a thermometer from his coat. “It’s 120 in here, despite the open door. Our clothes have kept the heat out to an extent, but I’m sweating now.”

Norris nodded. “The light’s cold. I found that. But it gives off heat to warm the place through that coil. He had all the power in the world. He could keep it warm and pleasant, as his race thought of warmth and pleasantness. Did you notice the light, the color of it?”

McReady nodded. “Beyond the stars is the answer. From beyond the stars. From a hotter planet that circled a brighter, bluer sun they came.”

McReady glanced out the door toward the blasted, smoke-stained trail that flopped and wandered blindly off across the drift. “There won’t be any more coming, I guess. Sheer accident it landed here, and that was twenty million years ago. What did it do all that for?” he nodded toward the apparatus.

Barclay laughed softly. “Did you notice what it was working on when we came? Look.” He pointed toward the ceiling of the shack.

Like a knapsnack made of flattened coffee-tins, with dangling cloth straps and leather belts, the mechanism clung to the ceiling. A tiny, glaring heart of supernal flame burned in it, yet burned through the ceiling’s wood without scorching it. Barclay walked over to it, grasped two of the dangling straps in his hands, and pulled it down with an effort. He strapped it about his body. A slight jump carried him in a weirdly slow arc across the room.

“Anti-gravity,” said McReady softly.

“Anti-gravity,” Norris nodded. “Yes, we had ’em stopped, with no planes, and no birds. The birds hadn’t come – but they had coffee-tins and radio parts, and glass and the machine shop at night. And a week – a whole week – all to itself. America in a single jurnp – with anti-gravity powered by the atomic energy of matter.

“We had ’em stopped, Another half hour – it was just tightening these straps on the device so it could wear it – and we’d have stayed in Antarctica, and shot down any moving thing that came from, the rest of the world.”

5

“The albatross -” McReady said softly. “Do you suppose -”

“With this thing almost finished? With that death weapon it held in its hand?

“No, by the grace of God, who evidently does hear very well, even down here, and the margin of half an hour, we keep our world, and the planets of the system too. Anti-gravity, you know, and atomic power. Because They came from another sun, a star beyond the stars. They came from a world with a bluer sun.”

You May Also Be Interested In…
* Long Story: “The Birds” By Daphne du Maurier
* “The Fly” Bu George Langelaan
* Christine: The Famous 1958 Plymouth Fury

The Soundtrack To My Life. 07/01/2015.

Storytone

Record: Storytone (Deluxe Edition).
Year: 2014.
Artist: Neil Young.

Old Neil Young sure does know how to convince me into getting a ‘Deluxe Edition’ of a record like nobody else. In the case of ‘Storytone’, he’s released the album twice. Each version being completely different.

The first record is a solo effort with Neil on the type of form he was on when he did ‘Philadelphia‘, and the second record, (Maybe my favourite), is that record again with overtly lush and downright Disney-esque orchestration. And it completely works!

Here’s my favourite song from ‘Storytone’…twice…

Olivia Jean

Record: Bathtub Love Killings.
Year: 2014.
Artist: Olivia Jean.

Olivia, you had me at “The name of my album is called ‘Bathtub Love Killings’, based on a serial killer from the 1800’s.”

Olivia Jean fronts (Or fronted?) one of my favourite bands of the last few years, The Black Bells, and this is her solo record. I think I read somewhere that she had these songs kicking around and thought they weren’t suitable for The Black Bells and so, encouraged by Jack White, she put this record together.

So far, this is my favourite song from ‘Bathtub Love Killings’…

The-Taikonauts

Record: Mysteriis Alienis Mundi.
Year: 2013.
Artist: The Taikonauts.

I was listening to Man Or Astroman recently and I decided that I needed more bands like them in my life so I went looking and found The Taikonauts! That was a fucking piece of luck because y’see, I always thought that ‘Psychobilly’ was something that it isn’t. I remember someone telling me about ‘Psychobilly’ being a genre of music and I remember being very interested just on the word alone! But Psychobilly was nothing like I’d imagined it was gonna be. To me, it was a total letdown. What I was really after was Horror/Sci-Fi Surf music! That’s what I originally thought Psychobilly was! But it wasn’t. And that’s where The Taikonauts come in…

Laika

Record: Absurdistan.
Year: 1997.
Artist: Laika And The Cosmonauts.

After discovering The Taikonauts, I was hooked on Sci-Fi/Horror Surf music so I went on the hunt for more and immediately found Laika And The Cosmonauts. At first I thought they were a late 60’s band. They’re not. But the reason I originally thought they were was because the first thing I saw of theirs was this video…

Zombex

Record: Songs From Zombex (OST).
Year: 2014.
Artist: Various.

“Zombex” is a zombie film by Jesse Dayton who is the main man behind one of my favourite horror bands, Captain Clegg And The Night Creatures. The film is not for me. It’s cheap and the acting is terrible and not in the good way. However, the soundtrack is right up my street and Captain Clegg And The Night Creatures even feature on it! You can only download this album right now but you can listen to a sample HERE.

Yells

Record: Yells From The Crypt.
Year: 2005.
Artist: Various.

Listen To This…

Gogol

Record: Pura Vida Conspiracy.
Year: 2013.
Artist: Gogol Bordello.

I like Gogol Bordello but this record is too tame for me. Nothing stood out. I’ve come to expect shit like THIS from them…

TY

Record: Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.
Year: 2014.
Artist: Thom Yorke.

I wasn’t into Thom’s first solo record, ‘The Eraser’, but I fucking LOVE this new one! It was released via BitTorrent and at just over £3.00, you can’t argue with that…

Clangers_ Original Television Music

Record: Clangers. Original Music from The TV Series And More…
Year: 2001.
Artist: Vernon Elliot.

Basement Tapes

Record: The Bootleg Series Vol.11: The Complete Basement Tapes. (6 Disc Version).
Year: 1967/2014.
Artist: Bob Dylan & The Band.

I’ve been waiting for YEARS to hear these tapes like this. 6 Discs is probably gonna be a bit much unless you’re a Dylan nut like I am but there’s a lot of treasure here. So dig it up!

This is one of my very favourite songs…it’s not lost on me that I say that about hundreds of songs but this really is one of my very favourites…

You May Also Be Interested In…
* The Soundtrack To My Life. 09/04/2014
* The Soundtrack To My Life. 14/02/2014
* The Soundtrack To My Life. 19/01/2014

 

“A Trip To the Moon” (1902).

We’re all familiar with this image, right?

Moon

That is from one of the earliest and greatest science fiction films ever made, “Le Voyage dans la Lune”. Or in English, “A Trip To The Moon”. It was released in 1902 and today we’re going to take a look at the both the original black & white print AND the hand coloured version!

Moon Colour

From Wikipedia:
A Trip to the Moon (French: Le Voyage dans la Lune), alternately Voyage to the Moon, is a 1902 French black-and-white silent science fiction film. It is based loosely on two popular novels of the time: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon.
The film was written and directed by Georges Méliès, assisted by his brother Gaston. It was released by Méliès’s company Star Film and is numbered 399–411 in its catalogues. The film runs 14 minutes if projected at 16 frames per second, which was the standard frame rate at the time the film was produced. It was extremely popular at the time of its release, and is the best-known of the hundreds of films made by Méliès. A Trip to the Moon is one of the first known science fiction films, and uses innovative animation and special effects, including the well-known image of the spaceship landing in the Moon’s eye.
It was named one of the 100 greatest films of the 20th century by The Village Voice, ranking at #84.

Plot:
At a meeting of astronomers, their president proposes a trip to the Moon. After addressing some dissent, six brave astronomers agree to the plan. They build a space capsule in the shape of a bullet, and a huge cannon to shoot it into space. The astronomers embark and their capsule is fired from the cannon with the help of “marines”, most of whom are portrayed as a bevy of beautiful women in sailors’ outfits, while the rest are men. The Man in the Moon watches the capsule as it approaches, and it hits him in the eye.
Landing safely on the Moon, the astronomers get out of the capsule and watch the Earth rise in the distance. Exhausted by their journey, the astronomers unroll their blankets and sleep. As they sleep, a comet passes, the Big Dipper appears with human faces peering out of each star, old Saturn leans out of a window in his ringed planet, and Phoebe, goddess of the Moon, appears seated in a crescent-moon swing. Phoebe calls down a snowfall that awakens the astronomers. They seek shelter in a cavern and discover giant mushrooms. One astronomer opens his umbrella; it promptly takes root and turns into a giant mushroom itself.
At this point, a Selenite (an insectoid alien inhabitant of the Moon, named after one of the Greek moon goddesses, Selene) appears, but it is killed easily by an astronomer, as the creatures explode if they are hit with a hard force. More Selenites appear and it becomes increasingly difficult for the astronomers to destroy them as they are surrounded. The Selenites arrest the astronomers and bring them to their commander at the Selenite palace. An astronomer lifts the Chief Selenite off his throne and dashes him to the ground, exploding him.
The astronomers run back to their capsule while continuing to hit the pursuing Selenites, and five get inside. The sixth uses a rope to tip the capsule over a ledge on the Moon and into space. A Selenite tries to seize the capsule at the last minute. Astronomer, capsule, and Selenite fall through space and land in an ocean on Earth. The Selenite falls off and the capsule floats back to the surface, where they are rescued by a ship and towed ashore. The final sequence (missing from some American prints of the film) depicts a celebratory parade in honor of the travelers’ return, including the unveiling of a commemorative statue bearing the motto “Labor omnia vincit” (Latin: “work conquers all”).

“Le Voyage dans la Lune” (1902 Original):

The Hand Coloured Version.
Like many of Méliès’s films, A Trip to the Moon was sold in both black-and-white and hand-colored versions. A hand-colored print, the only one known to survive, was rediscovered in 1993 by the Filmoteca de Catalunya. It was in a state of almost total decomposition, but a frame-by-frame restoration was launched in 1999 and completed in 2010 at the Technicolor Lab of Los Angeles- and after West Wing Digital Studios matched the original hand tinting by colorizing the damaged areas of the newly restored black and white. The restored version finally premiered on 11 May 2011, eighteen years after its discovery and 109 years after its original release, at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, with a new soundtrack by the French band Air.[5] It was released by Flicker Alley as a 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD edition, also including the documentary The Extraordinary Voyage about its restoration on 10 April 2012.

“Le Voyage dans la Lune” (2010 Hand Coloured Version):

Analysis:
Some historians suggest that although A Trip to the Moon was among the most technically innovative films up until that time, it still displays a primitive understanding of narrative film technique. American film scholar Ken Dancyger writes, “[The film is] no more than a series of amusing shots, each a scene unto itself. The shots tell a story, but not in the manner to which we are accustomed. It was not until the work of American Edwin S. Porter that editing became more purposeful.” Porter was inspired partially “by the length and quality of Méliès’s work”.

Although most of the editing in A Trip to the Moon is purely functional, there is one unusual choice: when the astronomers land on the lunar surface, the “same event is shown twice, and very differently”. The first time it is shown crashing into the eye of the Man in the Moon; the second time it is shown landing on the Moon’s flat terrain. The concept of showing an action twice in different ways was experimented with again by Porter in his film Life of an American Fireman, released roughly a year after A Trip to the Moon.
Some have claimed that the film was one of the earliest examples of pataphysical film, while stating that the film aims to “show the illogicality of logical thinking”. Others still have remarked that the director, Georges Méliès, aimed in the film to “invert the hierarchal values of modern French society and hold them up to ridicule in a riot of the carnivalesque”. This is seen as an inherent part of the film’s plot: the story pokes fun at the scientists and at science in general, in that upon travelling to the Moon, the astronomers find that the face of the Moon is, in fact, the face of a man, and that it is populated by little green men.

Distribution:
Méliès had intended to release the film in the United States for profit, but he was never going to see a penny from the film’s distribution. Agents of Thomas Edison had seen the film in London. They bribed the theatre owner, took the film into a lab and made copies for Edison. The film was a sensation in America and a fortune was made off its exhibition. None of it went to George Méliès who eventually went bankrupt as a result. This was due in part to the eventual view which was held towards his films that the special effects were overshadowing the plot.
In an interview of Martin Scorsese by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Scorsese said, “He [Georges Méliès] lost basically most of his financing when the bigger companies came in. What happened here. . . at that time there was a lot going on with copyright and not copyright and that sort of thing.” Stewart said, “There is a story that Edison had taken one of his [Georges Méliès] films, brought it to America and showed it and it became enormously popular in America. But Edison decided not to pay I guess what we would call royalties.” Scorsese replied: “That’s right. So what happened, the film was I think the famous one, ‘A Trip to the Moon.’ They [Thomas Edison and his associates] were just taking the films and making dupes of them. So that was one of the reasons why he [Georges Méliès] was finished financially, ultimately.”

In Popular Culture:
* Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, whose story revolves around Méliès, features a description of the “man in the Moon” scene. Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation Hugo prominently features this scene and includes other scenes from the movie.

* The HBO miniseries From The Earth To The Moon featured a documentary-style recreation of the filming process during its last episode, titled “Le Voyage Dans Le Lune” in honor of Méliès’s work.

* The music video for rock band Queen’s song “Heaven for Everyone” features clips from the original 1902 short film.

* The film served as the basis for The Smashing Pumpkins’ award-winning music video for their song “Tonight, Tonight”.

* Le Voyage Dans La Lune is a 2012 album by French band Air, featuring vocals by Victoria Legrand and Au Revoir Simone. The album is based on and expanded from the soundtrack Air provided for the hand-tinted restoration of the film.

* The trophies given out by Visual Effects Society at their yearly awards ceremony feature the famous shot of the Moon with the rocket in its eye.

* The television series Futurama features an episode titled “The Series Has Landed”, in which the Lunar Park mascot Crater Face resembles Méliès’s “Man in the Moon”. Bender embeds his beer bottle in Crater Face’s eye after Crater Face attempts to confiscate his alcohol.

You May Also Be Interested in…
* “The Fly” By George Langelaan
* “Midnight And The Stars And…Who?”
* Space oddity By David Bowie By Andrew Kolb

“The Fly” By George Langelann.

Filmed as “The Fly”, I have been trying and failing to track down George Langelann‘s original short story for some time now. I finally managed to find it yesterday and I’m happy to report that it is as wonderful and unsettling as I always imagined.

“The Fly” was published in the June, 1957 issue of Playboy magazine. It was first filmed in 1958, and then again in 1986. An opera of the “The Fly” by Howard Shore premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, in 2008.

I have reproduced Langelann’s original short story up on here  for your pleasure with zero permission and here shall it remain until such time when I am sued for copyright infringement.

“The Fly”.
By George Langelann.

I.

TELEPHONES AND telephone bells have always made me uneasy. Years ago, when they were mostly wall fixtures, I disliked them, but nowadays, when they are planted in every nook and corner, they are a downright intrusion. We have a saying in France that a coalman is master in his own house; with the telephone that is no
longer true, and I suspect that even the Englishman is no longer king in his own castle.

At the office, the sudden ringing of the telephone annoys me. It means that, no matter what I am doing, in spite of the switchboard operator, in spite of my secretary, in spite of doors and walls, some unknown person is coming into the room and onto my desk to talk right into my very ear, confidentially – whether I like it or not. At home, the feeling is still more disagreeable, but the worst is when the telephone rings in the dead of night. If anyone could see me turn on the light and get up blinking to answer it, I suppose I would look like any other sleepy man annoyed at being disturbed. The truth in such a case, however, is that I am struggling against panic, fighting down a feeling that a stranger has broken into the house and is in my bedroom. By the time I manage to grab the receiver and say:”Ici Monsieur Delarnbre. Je vous ecoute,” Iam outwardly calm, but I only get back to a more normal state when I recognize the voice at the other end and when I know what is wanted of me.

This effort at dominating a purely animal reaction and fear had become so effective that when my sister-in-law called me at two in the morning, asking me to come over, but first to warn the police that she had just killed my brother, I quietly asked her how and why she had killed Andre.

“But, Francois! I can’t explain all that over the telephone. Please call the police and come quickly.”

“Maybe I had better see you first, Helene?”

“No, you’d better call the police first; otherwise they will start asking you all sorts of awkward questions. They’ll have enough trouble as it is to believe that I did it alone… And, by the way, I suppose you ought to tell them that Andre … Andre’s body, is down at the factory. They may want to go there first.”

“Did you say that Andre is at the factory?”

“Yes … under the steam-hammer.”

“Under the what!”

“The steam-hammer! But don’t ask so many questions. Please come quickly
Francois! Please understand that I’m afraid … that my nerves won’t stand it much longer!”

Have you ever tried to explain to a sleepy police officer that your sister-in-law has just phoned to say that she has killed your brother with a steam-hammer? I repeated my explanation, but he would not let me.

“Oui, monsieur, oui,I bear … but who are you? What is your name? Where do you live? I said, where do you live!”

It was then that Commissaire Charas took over the line and the whole business. He at least seemed to understand everything. Would I wait for him? Yes, he would pick me up and take me over to my brother’s house. When? In five or ten minutes.

I had just managed to pull on my trousers, wriggle into a sweater and grab a hat and coat, when a black Citroen, headlights blazing, pulled up at the door.

“I assume you have a night watchman at your factory, Monsieur Delarnbre. Has he called you?” asked Commissaire Charas, letting in the clutch as I sat down beside him and slammed the door of the car.

“No, he hasn’t. Though of course my brother could have entered the factory through his laboratory where he often works late at night … all night sometimes.”

“Is Professor Delambre’s work connected with your business?”

“No, my brother is, or was, doing research work for the Ministere de l’Air. As hewanted to be away from Paris and yet within reach of where skilled workmen could fix up or make gadgets big and small for his experiments, I offered him one of the old workshops of the factory and he came to live in the first house built by our grandfather on the top of the hill at the back of the factory.”

“Yes, I see. Did he talk about his work? What sort of research work?”

“He rarely talked about it, you know; I suppose the Air Ministry could tell you. I only know that be was about to carry out a number of experiments he had been preparing for some months, something to do with the disintegration of matter, he told me.”

Barely slowing down, the Commissaire swung the car off the road, slid it through the open factory gate and pulled up sharp by a policeman apparently expecting him.

I did not need to hear the policeman’s confirmation. I knew now that my brother was dead, it seemed that I had been told years ago. Shaking like a leaf, I scrambled out after the Commissaire.

Another policeman stepped out of a doorway and led us towards one of the shops where all the lights had been turned on. More policemen were standing by the hammer, watching two men setting up a camera. It was tilted downwards, and I made an effort to look.

It was far less horrid than I had expected. Though I had never seen my brother drunk, he looked just as if he were sleeping off a terrific binge, flat on his stomach across the narrow line on which the white-hot slabs of metal were rolled up to the hammer. I saw at a glance that his head and arm could only be a flattened mess, but that seemed quite impossible; it looked as if he had somehow pushed his head and arms right into the metallic mass of the hammer.

Having talked to his colleagues, the Commissaire turned towards me:

“How can we raise the hammer, Monsieur Delambre?”

“I’ll raise it for you.”

“Would you like us to get one of your men over?”

“No, I’ll be all right. Look, here is the switchboard. It was originally a steam-hammer,but everything is worked electrically here now. Look, Commissaire, the hammer has been set at fifty tons and its impact at zero.”

“At zero…?”

“Yes, level with the ground if you prefer. It is also set for single strokes, which means that it has to be raised after each blow. I don’t know what Helene, my sister-in-law, will have to say about all this, but one thing I am sure of: she certainly did not know how to set and operate the hammer.”

“Perhaps it was set that way last night when work stopped?”

“Certainly not. The drop is never set at zero, Monsieur le Commissaire.”

“I see. Can it be raised gently?”

“No. The speed of the upstroke cannot be regulated. But in any case it is not very fast when the hammer is set for single strokes.”

“Right. Will you show me what to do? It won’t be very nice to watch, you know.”

“No, no, Monsieur le Commissaire. I’ll be all right.”

“All set?” asked the Commissaire of the others. “All right then, Monsieur Delambre. Whenever you like.”

Watching my brother’s back, I slowly but firmly pushed the upstroke button.

The unusual silence of the factory was broken by the sigh of compressed air rushing into the cylinders, a sigh that always makes me think of a giant taking a deep breath before solemnly socking another giant, and the steel mass of the hammer shuddered and then rose swiftly. I also heard the sucking sound as it left the metal base and thought I was going to panic when I saw Andre’s body heave forward as a sickly
gush of blood poured all over the ghastly mess bared by the hammer.

“No danger of it coming down again, Monsieur Delambre?”

“No, none whatever,” I mumbled as I threw the safety switch and, turning around, I was violently sick in front of a young green-faced policeman.

II.

For weeks after, Commissaire Charas worked on the case, listening, questioning, running all over the place, making out reports, telegraphing and telephoning right and left. Later, we became quite friendly and he owned that he had for a long time considered me as suspect number one, but had finally given up that idea because,
not only was there no clue of any sort, but not even a motive.

Helene, my sister-in-law, was so calm throughout the whole business that the doctors finally confirmed what I had long considered the only possible solution: that she was mad. That being the case, there was of course no trial.

My brother’s wife never tried to defend herself in any way and even got quite annoyed when she realized that people thought her mad, and this of course was considered proof that she was indeed mad. She owned up to the murder of her husband and proved easily that she knew how to handle the hammer; but she would never say why, exactly how, or under what circumstances she had killed my brother. The great mystery was how and why had my brother so obligingly stuck his head under the hammer, the only possible explanation for his part in the drama.

The night watchman had heard the hammer all right; he had even heard it twice, he claimed. This was very strange, and the stroke-counter which was always set back to naught after a job, seemed to prove him right, since it marked the figure two. Also, the foreman in charge of the hammer confirmed that after cleaning up the day before the murder, he had as usual turned the stroke-counter back to naught. In spite of
this, Helene maintained that she had only used the hammer once, and this seemed just another proof of her insanity.

Commissaire Charas, who had been put in charge of the case, at first wondered if the victim were really my brother. But of that there was no possible doubt, if only because of the great scar running from his knee to his thigh, the result of a shell that had landed within a few feet of him during the retreat in 1940; and there were also the fingerprints of his left hand which corresponded to those found all over his laboratory and his personal belongings up at the house.

A guard had been put on his laboratory and the next day half-a-dozen officials came down from the Air Ministry. They went through all his papers and took away some of his instruments, but before leaving, they told the Commissaire that the most interesting documents and instruments had been destroyed.

The Lyons police laboratory, one of the most famous in the world, reported that Andre’s head had been wrapped up in a piece of velvet when it was crushed by the hammer, and one day Commissaire Charas showed me a tattered drapery which I immediately recognized as the brown velvet cloth I had seen on a table in my brother’s laboratory, the one on which his meals were served when he could not
leave his work.

After only a very few days in prison, Helene had been transferred to a nearby asylum, one of the three in France where insane criminals are taken care of. My nephew Henri, a boy of six, the very image of his father, was entrusted to me, and eventually all legal arrangements were made for me to become his guardian and tutor.

Helene, one of the quietest patients of the asylum, was allowed visitors and I went to see her on Sundays. Once or twice the Commissaire had accompanied me and, later, I learned that he had also visited Helene alone. But we were never able to obtain any
information from my sister-in-law, who seemed to have become utterly indifferent. She rarely answered my questions and hardly ever those of the Commissaire. She spent a lot of her time sewing, but her favorite pastime seemed to be catching flies, which she invariably released unharmed after having examined them carefully.

Helene only had one fit of raving – more like a nervous breakdown than a fit, said the doctor who had administered morphia to quieten her – the day she saw a nurse swatting flies.

The day after Helene’s one and only fit, Commissaire Charas came to see me.

“I have a strange feeling that there lies the key to the whole business, Monsieur Delambre,” he said.

I did not ask him how it was that he already knew all about Helene’s fit.

“I do not follow you, Commissaire. Poor Madame Delambre could have shown an exceptional interest for anything else, really. Don’t you think that flies just happen to be the border-subject of her tendency to raving?”

“Do you believe she is really mad?” be asked.

“My dear Commissaire, I don’t see how there can be any doubt. Do you doubt it?”

“I don’t know. In spite of all the doctors say, I have the impression that Madame Delambre has a very clear brain … even when catching flies.”

“Supposing you were right, how would you explain her attitude with regard to her little boy? She never seems to consider him as her own child.”

“You know, Monsieur Delambre, I have thought about that also. She may be trying to protect him. Perhaps she fears the boy or, for all we know, hates him?”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand, my dear Commissaire.”

“Have you noticed, for instance, that she never catches flies when the boy is there?”

“No. But come to think of it, you are quite right. Yes, that is strange… Still, I fail to understand.”

“So do I, Monsieur Delambre. And I’m very much afraid that we shall never understand, unless perhaps your sister-in-law should get better.”

“The doctors seem to think that there is no hope of any sort you know.”

“Yes. Do you know if your brother ever experimented with flies?”

“I really don’t know, but I shouldn’t think so. Have you asked the Air Ministry people? They knew all about the work.”

“Yes, and they laughed at me.”

“I can understand that.”

“You are very fortunate to understand anything, Monsieur Delambre. I do not … but I hope to some day.”

III.

“Tell me, Uncle, do flies live a long time?”

We were just finishing our lunch and, following an established tradition between us, I was just pouring some wine into Henri’s glass for him to dip a biscuit in.

Had Henri not been staring at his glass gradually being filled to the brim, something in my look might have frightened him.

This was the first time that he had ever mentioned flies, and I shuddered at the thought that Commissaire Charas might quite easily have been present. I could imagine the glint in his eye as he would have answered my nephew’s question with another question. I could almost hear him saying:

“I don’t know, Henri. Why do you ask?”

“Because I have again seen the fly that Maman was looking for.”

And it was only after drinking off Henri’s own glass of wine that I realized that he had answered my spoken thought.

“I did not know that your mother was looking for a fly.”

“Yes, she was. It has grown quite a lot, but I recognized it all right.”

“Where did you see this fly, Henri, and … how did you recognize it?”

“This morning on your desk, Uncle Francois. Its head is white instead of black, and it has a funny sort of leg.”

Feeling more and more like Commissaire Charas, but trying to look unconcerned, I went on:

“And when did you see this fly for the first time?”

“The day that Papa went away. I had caught it, but Maman made me let it go. And then after, she wanted me to find it again. She’d changed her mind,” and shrugging his shoulders just as my brother used to, he added, “You know what women are.”

“I think that fly must have died long ago, and you must be mistaken, Henri,” I said, getting up and walking to the door.

But as soon as I was out of the dining room, I ran up the stairs to my study. There was no fly anywhere to be seen.

I was bothered, far more than I cared to even think about. Henri had just proved that Charas was really closer to a clue than it had seemed when he told me about his thoughts concerning Helene’s pastime.

For the first time I wondered if Charas did not really know much more than he let on. For the first time also, I wondered about Helene. Was she really insane? A strange, horrid feeling was growing on me, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt that, somehow, Charas was right: Helene was getting away with it!

What could possibly have been the reason for such a monstrous crime? What had led up to it? Just what had happened?

I thought of all the hundreds of questions that Charas had put to Helene, sometimes gently like a nurse trying to soothe, sometimes stern and cold, sometimes barking them furiously. Helene had answered very few, always in a calm quiet voice and never seeming to pay any attention to the way in which the question had been put. Though dazed, she had seemed perfectly sane then.

Refined, well-bred and well-read, Charas was more than just an intelligent police official. He was a keen psychologist and had an amazing way of smelling out a fib or an erroneous statement even before it was uttered. I knew that he had accepted as true the few answers she had given him. But then there had been all those questions which she had never answered: the most direct and important ones. From the very
beginning, Helene had adopted a very simple system. “I cannot answer that question,” she would say in her low quiet voice. And that was that! The repetition of the same question never seemed to annoy her. In all the hours of questioning that she underwent, Helene did not once point out to the Commissaire that he had already asked her this or that. She would simply say, “I cannot answer that question,” as though it was the very first time that that particular question had been asked and the very first time she had made that answer.

This cliché had become the formidable barrier beyond which Commissaire Charas could not even get a glimpse, an idea of what Helene might be thinking. She had very willingly answered all questions about her life with my brother – which seemed a happy and uneventful one – up to the time of his end. About his death, however, all that she would say was that she had killed him with the steam-hammer, but she refused to say why, what had led up to the drama and how she got my brother to put
his head under it. She never actually refused outright; she would just go blank and, with no apparent emotion, would switch over to, “I cannot answer that question for you.”

Helene, as I have said, had shown the Commissaire that she knew how to set and operate the steam-hammer.

Charas could only find one single fact which did not coincide with Helene’s declarations, the fact that the hammer had been used twice. Charas was no longer willing to attribute this to insanity. That evident flaw in Helene’s stonewall defense seemed a crack which the Commissaire might possibly enlarge. But my sister-in-law finally cemented it by acknowledging:

“All right, I lied to you. I did use the hammer twice. But do not ask me why, because I cannot tell you.”

“Is that your only … misstatement, Madame Delambre?” had asked the Commissaire, trying to follow up what looked at last like an advantage.

“It is … and you know it, Monsieur le Commissaire.”

And, annoyed, Charas had seen that Helene could read him like an open book.

I had thought of calling on the Commissaire, but the knowledge that he would inevitably start questioning Henri made me hesitate. Another reason also made me hesitate, a vague sort of fear that he would look for and find the fly Henri had talked of. And that annoyed me a good deal because I could find no satisfactory explanation for that particular fear.

Andre was definitely not the absent-minded sort of professor who walks about in pouring rain with a rolled umbrella under his arm. He was human, had a keen sense of humor, loved children and animals and could not bear to see anyone suffer. I had often seen him drop his work to watch a parade of the local fire brigade, or see the Tour de France cyclists go by, or even follow a circus parade all around the village.
He liked games of logic and precision, such as billiards and tennis, bridge and chess.

How was it then possible to explain his death? What could have made him put his head under that hammer? It could hardly have been the result of some stupid bet or a test of his courage. He hated betting and had no patience with those who indulged in it. Whenever he heard a bet proposed, he would invariably remind all present that, after all, a bet was but a contract between a fool and a swindler, even if it turned out
to be a toss-up as to which was which.

It seemed there were only two possible explanations to Andre’s death. Either he had gone mad, or else he had a reason for letting his wife kill him in such a strange and terrible way. And just what could have been his wife’s role in all this? They surely could not have been both insane?

Having finally decided not to tell Charas about my nephew’s innocent revelations, I thought I myself would try to question Helene.

She seemed to have been expecting my visit for she came into the parlor almost as soon as I had made myself known to the matron and been allowed inside.

“I wanted to show you my garden,” explained Helene as I looked at the coat slung over her shoulders.

As one of the “reasonable” inmates, she was allowed to go into the garden during certain hours of the day. She had asked for and obtained the right to a little patch of ground where she could grow flowers, and I had sent her seeds and some rosebushes out of my garden.

She took me straight to a rustic wooden bench which had been in the men’s workshop and only just set up under a tree close to her little patch of ground.

Searching for the right way to broach the subject of Andre’s death, I sat for a while tracing vague designs on the ground with the end of my umbrella.

“Francois, I want to ask you something,” said Helene after a while.

“Anything I can do for you, Helene?”

“No, just something I want to know. Do flies live very long?”

Staring at her, I was about to say that her boy had asked the very same question a few hours earlier when I suddenly realized that here was the opening I had been searching for and perhaps even the possibility of striking a great blow, a blow perhaps powerful enough to shatter her stonewall defense, be it sane or insane.

Watching her carefully, I replied:

“I don’t really know, Helene; but the fly you were looking for was in my study this morning.”

No doubt about it I had struck a shattering blow. She swung her head round with such force that I heard the bones crack in her neck. She opened her mouth, but said not a word; only her eyes seemed to be screaming with fear.

Yes, it was evident that I had crashed through something, but what? Undoubtedly, the Commissaire would have known what to do with such an advantage; I did not. All I knew was that he would never have given her time to think, to recuperate, but all I could do, and even that was a strain, was to maintain my best poker-face, hoping against hope that Helene’s defenses would go on crumbling.

She must have been quite a while without breathing, because she suddenly gasped and put both her hands over her still open mouth.

“Francois … did you kill it?” she whispered, her eyes no longer fixed, but searching every inch of my face.

“No.”

“You have it then. You have it on you! Give it to me!” she almost shouted, touching me with both her hands, and I knew that had she felt strong enough, she would have
tried to search me.

“No, Helene, I haven’t got it.”

“But you know now. You have guessed, haven’t you?”

“No, Helene. I only know one thing, and that is that you are not insane. But I mean to know all, Helene, and, somehow, I am going to find out. You can choose: either you tell me everything and I’ll see what is to be done, or…”

“Or what? Say it!”

“I was going to say it, Helene … or I assure you that your friend the Commissaire will have that fly first thing tomorrow morning.”

She remained quite still, looking down at the palms of her hands on her lap and, although it was getting chilly, her forehead and hands were moist.

Without even brushing aside a wisp of long brown hair blown across her mouth by the breeze, she murmured:

“If I tell you … will you promise to destroy that fly before doing anything else?”

“No, Helene. I can make no such promise before knowing.”

“But, Francois, you must understand. I promised Andre that fly would be destroyed. That promise must be kept and I can say nothing until it is.”

I could sense the deadlock ahead. I was not yet losing ground, but I was losing the initiative. I tried a shot in the dark:

“Helene, of course you understand that as soon as the police examine that fly, they will know that you are not insane, and then…”

“Francois, no! For Henri’s sake! Don’t you see? I was expecting that fly; I was hoping it would find me here but it couldn’t know what had become of me. What else could it do but go to others it loves, to Henri, to you … you who might know and understand what was to be done!”

Was she really mad, or was she simulating again? But mad or not, she was cornered. Wondering how to follow up and how to land the knockout blow without running the risk of seeing her slip away out of reach, I said very quietly:

“Tell me all, Helene. I can then protect your boy.”

“Protect my boy from what? Don’t you understand that if I am here, it is merely so that Henri won’t be the son of a woman who was guillotined for having murdered his father? Don’t you understand that I would by far prefer the guillotine to the living death of this lunatic asylum?”

“I understand, Helene, and I’ll do my best for the boy whether you tell me or not. If you refuse to tell me, I’ll still do the best I can to protect Henri, but you must understand that the game will be out of my hands, because Commissaire Charas will have the fly.”

“But why must you know?” said, rather than asked, my sister-in-law, struggling to control her temper.

“Because I must and will know how and why my brother died, Helene.”

“All right. Take me back to the … house. I’ll give you what your Commissaire would call my ‘Confession.'”

“Do you mean to say that you have written it!”

“Yes. It was not really meant for you, but more likely for your friend, the Commissaire. I had foreseen that, sooner or later, he would get too close to the truth.”

“You then have no objection to his reading it?”

“You will act as you think fit, Francois. Wait for me a minute.”

Leaving me at the door of the parlor, Helene ran upstairs to her room. In less than a minute she was back with a large brown envelope.

“Listen, Francois; you are not nearly as bright as was your poor brother, but you are not unintelligent. All I ask is that you read this alone. After that, you may do as you wish.”

“That I promise you, Helene,” I said, taking the precious envelope. “I’ll read it tonight and although tomorrow is not a visiting day, I’ll come down to see you.”

“Just as you like,” said my sister-in-law without even saying good-bye as she went back upstairs.

IV.

It was only on reaching home, as I walked from the garage to the house, that I read the inscription on the envelope:

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

(Probably Commissaire Charas)

Having told the servants that I would have only a light supper to be served immediately in my study and that I was not to be disturbed after, I ran upstairs, threw Helene’s envelope on my desk and made another careful search of the room before closing the shutters and drawing the curtains. All I could find was a long since dead mosquito stuck to the wall near the ceiling.

Having motioned to the servant to put her tray down on a table by the fireplace, I poured myself a glass of wine and locked the door behind her. I then disconnected the telephone – I always did this now at night – and turned out all the lights but the lamp on my desk.

Slitting open Helene’s fat envelope, I extracted a thick wad of closely written pages. I read the following lines neatly centered in the middle of the top page:

This is not a confession because, although I killed my husband, I am not a murderess. I simply and very faithfully carried out his last wish by crushing his head and right arm under the steam-hammer of his brother’s factory.

Without even touching the glass of wine by my elbow, I turned the page and started reading.

For very nearly a year before his death(the manuscript began), my husband had told me of some of his experiments. He knew full well that his colleagues of the Air Ministry would have forbidden some of them as too dangerous, but he was keen on obtaining positive results before reporting his discovery.

Whereas only sound and pictures had been, so far, transmitted through space by radio and television, Andre claimed to have discovered a way of transmitting matter. Matter, any solid object, placed in his “transmitter” was instantly disintegrated and reintegrated in a special receiving set.

Andre considered his discovery as perhaps the most important since that of the wheel sawn off the end of a tree trunk. He reckoned that the transmission of matter by instantaneous “disintegration-reintegration” would completely change life as we had known it so far. It would mean the end of all means of transport, not only of goods including food, but also of human beings. Andre, the practical scientist who never allowed theories or daydreams to get the better of him, already foresaw the time when there would no longer be any airplanes, ships, trains or cars and, therefore, no longer any roads or railway lines, ports, airports or stations. All that would be replaced by matter-transmitting and receiving stations throughout the world. Travelers and goods would be placed in special cabins and, at a given signal, would simply disappear and reappear almost immediately at the chosen receiving station.

Andre’s receiving set was only a few feet away from his transmitter, in an adjoining room of his laboratory, and he at first ran into all sorts of snags. His first successful experiment was carried out with an ash tray taken from his desk, a souvenir we had brought back from a trip to London.

That was the first time he told me about his experiments and I had no idea of what he was talking about the day he came dashing into the house and threw the ash tray in my lap.

“Helene, look! For a fraction of a second, a bare ten-millionth of a second, that ash tray had been completely disintegrated. For one little moment it no longer existed! Gone! Nothing left, absolutely nothing! Only atoms traveling through space at the speed of light! And the moment after, the atoms were once more gathered together in the shape of an ash tray!”

“Andre, please … please! What on earth are you raving about?”

He started sketching all over a letter I had been writing. He laughed at my wry face, swept all my letters off the table and said:

“You don’t understand? Right. Let’s start all over again. Helene, do you remember I once read you an article about the mysterious flying stones that seem to come from nowhere in particular, and which are said to occasionally fall in certain houses in India? They come flying in as though thrown from outside and that, in spite of closed doors and windows.”

“Yes, I remember. I also remember that Professor Augier, your friend of the College de France, who had come down for a few days, remarked that if there was no trickery about it, the only possible explanation was that the stones had been disintegrated after having been thrown from outside, come through the walls, and then been reintegrated before hitting the floor or the opposite walls.”

“That’s right. And I added that there was, of course, one other possibility, namely the momentary and partial disintegration of the walls as the stone or stones came through.”

“Yes, Andre. I remember all that, and I suppose you also remember that I failed to understand, and that you got quite annoyed. Well, I still do not understand why and how, even disintegrated, stones should be able to come through a wall or a closed door.”

“But it is possible, Helene, because the atoms that go to make up matter are not close together like the bricks of a wall. They are separated by relative immensities of space.”

“Do you mean to say that you have disintegrated that ash tray, and then put it together again after pushing it through something?”

“Precisely, Helene. I projected it through the wall that separates my transmitter from my receiving set.”

“And would it be foolish to ask how humanity is to benefit from ash trays that can go through walls?”

Andre seemed quite offended, but he soon saw that I was only teasing, and again waxing enthusiastic, he told me of some of the possibilities of his discovery.

“Isn’t it wonderful, Helene?” he finally gasped, out of breath.

“Yes, Andre. But I hope you won’t ever transmit me; I’d be too much afraid of coming out at the other end like your ash tray.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you remember what was written under that ash tray?”

“Yes, of course: MADE IN JAPAN. That was the great joke of our typically British souvenir.”

“The words are still there, Andre; but … look!”

He took the ash tray out of my hands, frowned, and walked over to the window. Then he went quite pale, and I knew that he had seen what had proved to me that he had indeed carried out a strange experiment.

The three words were still there, but reversed and reading:

NAPAJ NI EDAM

Without a word, having completely forgotten me, Andre rushed off to his laboratory. I only saw him the next morning, tired and unshaven after a whole night’s work.

A few days later, Andre had a new reverse which put him out of sorts and made him fussy and grumpy for several weeks. I stood it patiently enough for a while, but being myself bad tempered one evening, we had a silly row over some futile thing, and I reproached him for his moroseness.

“I’m sorry,cherie. I’ve been working my way through a maze of problems and have given you all a very rough time. You see, my very first experiment with a live animal proved a complete fiasco.”

“Andre! You tried that experiment with Dandelo, didn’t you?”

“Yes. How did you know?” he answered sheepishly. “He disintegrated perfectly, but he never reappeared in the receiving set.”

“Oh, Andre! What became of him then?”

“Nothing … there is just no more Dandelo; only the dispersed atoms of a cat wandering, God knows where, in the universe.”

Dandelo was a small white cat the cook had found one morning in the garden and which we had promptly adopted. Now I knew how it had disappeared and was quite angry about the whole thing, but my husband was so miserable over it all that I said nothing.

I saw little of my husband during the next few weeks. He had most of his meals sent down to the laboratory. I would often wake up in the morning and find his bed unslept in. Sometimes, if he had come in very late, I would find that storm-swept appearance which only a man can give a bedroom by getting up very early and fumbling around in the dark.

One evening he came home to dinner all smiles, and I knew that his troubles were over. His face dropped, however, when he saw I was dressed for going out.

“Oh. Were you going out, Helene?”

“Yes, the Drillons invited me for a game of bridge, but I can easily phone them and put it off.”

“No, it’s all right.”

“It isn’t all right. Out with it, dear!”

“Well, I’ve at last got everything perfect and wanted you to be the first to see the miracle.”

Magnifique, Andre! Of course I’ll be delighted.”

Having telephoned our neighbors to say how sorry I was and so forth, I ran down to the kitchen and told the cook that she had exactly ten minutes in which to prepare a “celebration dinner.”

“An excellent idea, Helene,” said my husband when the maid appeared with the champagne after our candlelight dinner. “We’ll celebrate with reintegrated champagne!” and taking the tray from the maid’s hands, he led the way down to the laboratory.

“Do you think it will be as good as before its disintegration?” I asked, holding the tray while he opened the door and switched on the lights.

“Have no fear. You’ll see! Just bring it here, will you,” he said, opening the door of a telephone call-box he had bought and which had been transformed into what he called a transmitter. “Put it down on that now,” he added, putting a stool inside the box.

Having carefully closed the door, he took me to the other end of the room and handed me a pair of very dark sun glasses. He put on another pair and walked back to a switchboard by the transmitter.

“Ready, Helene?” said my husband, turning out all the lights. “Don’t remove your glasses till I give the word.”

“I won’t budge, Andre, go on,” I told him, my eyes fixed on the tray which I could just see in a greenish shimmering light through the glass-paneled door of the telephone booth.

“Right,” said Andre, throwing a switch.

The whole room was brilliantly illuminated by an orange flash. Inside the cabin I had seen a crackling ball of fire and felt its heat on my face, neck and hands. The whole thing lasted but the fraction of a second, and I found myself blinking at green-edged black holes like those one sees after having stared at the sun.

Et voila! You can take off your glasses, Helene.”

A little theatrically perhaps, my husband opened the door of the cabin. Though Andre had told me what to expect, I was astonished to find that the champagne, glasses, tray and stool were no longer there.

Andre ceremoniously led me by the hand into the next room, in a corner of which stood a second telephone booth. Opening the door wide, he triumphantly lifted the champagne tray off the stool.

Feeling somewhat like the good-natured kind-member-of-the-audience that has been dragged onto the music hall stage by the magician, I repressed from saying, “All done with mirrors,” which I knew would have annoyed my husband.

“Sure it’s not dangerous to drink?” I asked as the cork popped.

“Absolutely sure, Helene,” he said, handing me a glass. “But that was nothing. Drink this off and I’ll show you something much more astounding.”

We went back into the other room.

“Oh, Andre! Remember poor Dandelo!”

“This is only a guinea pig, Helene. But I’m positive it will go through all right.”

He set the furry little beast down on the green enameled floor of the booth and quickly closed the door. I again put on my dark glasses and saw and felt the vivid crackling flash.

Without waiting for Andre to open the door, I rushed into the next room where the lights were still on and looked into the receiving booth.

“Oh, Andre! Cheri! He’s there all right!” I shouted excitedly, watching the little animal trotting round and round. “It’s wonderful, Andre. It works! You’ve succeeded!”

“I hope so, but I must be patient. I’ll know for sure in a few weeks’ time.”

“What do you mean? Look! He’s as full of life as when you put him in the other cabin.”

“Yes, so he seems. But we’ll have to see if all his organs are intact, and that will take some time. If that little beast is still full of life in a month’s time, we then consider the experiment a success.”

I begged Andre to let me take care of the guinea pig.

“All right, but don’t kill it by over-feeding,” he agreed with a grin for my enthusiasm.

Though not allowed to take Hop-la – the name I had given the guinea pig – out of its box in the laboratory, I had tied a pink ribbon round its neck and was allowed to feed it twice a day.

Hop-la soon got used to its pink ribbon and became quite a tame little pet, but that month of waiting seemed a year.

And then one day, Andre put Miquette, our cocker spaniel, into his “transmitter.” He had not told me beforehand, knowing full well that I would never have agreed to such an experiment with our dog. But when he did tell me, Miquette had been successfully transmitted half-a-dozen times and seemed to be enjoying the operation thoroughly; no sooner was she let out of the “reintegrator” than she dashed madly into the next room, scratching at the “transmitter” door to have “another go,” as Andre called it.

I now expected that my husband would invite some of his colleagues and Air Ministry specialists to come down. He usually did this when he had finished a research job and, before handing them long detailed reports which he always typed himself, he would carry out an experiment or two before them. But this time, he just went on working. One morning I finally asked him when he intended throwing his usual “surprise party,” as we called it.

“No, Helene; not for a long while yet. This discovery is much too important. I have an awful lot of work to do on it still. Do you realize that there are some parts of the transmission proper which I do not yet myself fully understand? It works all right, but you see, I can’t just say to all these eminent professors that I do this and that
and, poof, it works! I must be able to explain how and why it works. And what is even more important, I must be ready and able to refute every destructive argument they will not fail to trot out, as they usually do when faced with anything really good.”

I was occasionally invited down to the laboratory to witness some new experiment, but I never went unless Andre invited me, and only talked about his work if he broached the subject first. Of course it never occurred to me that he would, at that stage at least, have tried an experiment with a human being; though, had I thought about it – knowing Andre – it would have been obvious that he would never have allowed anyone into the “transmitter” before he had been through to test it first. It was only after the accident that I discovered he had duplicated all his switches inside the disintegration booth, so that he could try it out by himself.

The morning Andre tried this terrible experiment, he did not show up for lunch. I sent the maid down with a tray, but she brought it back with a note she had found pinned outside the laboratory door: “Do not disturb me, I am working.”

He did occasionally pin such notes on his door and, though I noticed it, I paid no particular attention to the unusually large handwriting of his note.

It was just after that, as I was drinking my coffee, that Henri came bouncing into the room to say that he had caught a funny fly, and would I like to see it. Refusing even to look at his closed fist, I ordered him to release it immediately.

“But, Maman, it has such a funny white head!”

Marching the boy over to the open window, I told him to release the fly immediately, which he did. I knew that Henri had caught the fly merely because he thought it looked curious or different from other flies, but I also knew that his father would never stand for any form of cruelty to animals, and that there would be a fuss should he discover that our son had put a fly in a box or a bottle.

At dinnertime that evening, Andre had still not shown up and, a little worried, I ran down to the laboratory and knocked at the door.

He did not answer my knock, but I heard him moving around and a moment later he slipped a note under the door. It was typewritten:

HELENE, I AM HAVING TROUBLE. PUT THE BOY TO BED AND COME BACK IN AN HOUR’S TIME. A.

Frightened, I knocked and called, but Andre did not seem to pay any attention and, vaguely reassured by the familiar noise of his typewriter, I went back to the house.

Having put Henri to bed, I returned to the laboratory, where I found another note slipped under the door. My hand shook as I picked it up because I knew by then that something must be radically wrong. I read:

HELENE, FIRST OF ALL I COUNT ON YOU NOT TO LOSE YOUR NERVE OR DO ANYTHING RASH BECAUSE YOU ALONE CAN HELP ME. I HAVE HAD A SERIOUS ACCIDENT. I AM NOT IN ANY PARTICULAR DANGER FOR THE TIME BEING THOUGH IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. IT IS USELESS CALLING TO ME OR SAYING ANYTHING. I CANNOT ANSWER, I CANNOT SPEAK. I WANT YOU TO DO EXACTLY AND VERY CAREFULLY ALL THAT I ASK. AFTER HAVING KNOCKED THREE TIMES TO SHOW THAT YOU UNDERSTAND AND AGREE, FETCH ME A BOWL OF MILK LACED WITH RUM. I HAVE HAD NOTHING ALL DAY AND CANNOT DO WITHOUT IT.

Shaking with fear, not knowing what to think and repressing a furious desire to call Andre and bang away until he opened, I knocked three times as requested and ran all the way home to fetch what he wanted.

In less than five minutes I was back. Another note had been slipped under the door:

HELENE, FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY. WHEN YOU KNOCK I’LL OPEN THE DOOR. YOU ARE TO WALK OVER TO MY DESK AND PUT DOWN THE BOWL OF MILK. YOU WILL THEN GO INTO THE OTHER ROOM WHERE THE RECEIVER IS. LOOK CAREFULLY AND TRY TO FIND A FLY WHICH OUGHT TO BE THERE BUT WHICH I AM UNABLE TO FIND. UNFORTUNATELY I CANNOT SEE SMALL THINGS VERY EASILY.

BEFORE YOU COME IN YOU MUST PROMISE TO OBEY ME IMPLICITLY. DO NOT LOOK AT ME AND REMEMBER THAT TALKING IS QUITE USELESS. I CANNOT ANSWER. KNOCK AGAIN THREE TIMES.

AND THAT WILL MEAN I HAVE YOUR PROMISE. MY LIFE DEPENDS ENTIRELY ON THE HELP YOU CAN GIVE ME.

I had to wait a while to pull myself together, and then I knocked slowly three times.

I heard Andre shuffling behind the door, then his hand fumbling with the lock, and the door opened.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that he was standing behind the door, but without looking round, I carried the bowl of milk to his desk. He was evidently watching me and I must at all costs appear calm and collected.

Cheri,you can count on me,” I said gently, and putting the bowl down under his desk lamp, the only one alight, I walked into the next room where all the lights were blazing.

My first impression was that some sort of hurricane must have blown out of the receiving booth. Papers were scattered in every direction, a whole row of test tubes lay smashed in a corner, chairs and stools were upset and one of the window curtains hung half torn from its bent rod, In a large enamel basin on the floor a heap of burned documents was still smoldering.

I knew that I would not find the fly Andre wanted me to look for. Women know things that men only suppose by reasoning and deduction; it is a form of knowledge very rarely accessible to them and which they disparagingly call intuition. I already knew that the fly Andre wanted was the one which Henri had caught and which I had made him release.

I heard Andre shuffling around in the next room, and then a strange gurgling and sucking as though he had trouble in drinking his milk.

“Andre, there is no fly here. Can you give me any sort of indication that might help? If you can’t speak, rap or something, you know: once for yes, twice for no.”

I had tried to control my voice and speak as though perfectly calm, but I had to choke down a sob of desperation when he rapped twice for “no.”

“May I come to you, Andre I don’t know what can have happened, but whatever it is, I’ll be courageous, dear.”

After a moment of silent hesitation, he tapped once on his desk.

At the door I stopped aghast at the sight of Andre standing with his head and shoulders covered by the brown velvet cloth he had taken from a table by his desk, the table on which he usually ate when he did not want to leave his work. Suppressing a laugh that might easily have turned to sobbing, I said:

“Andre, we’ll search thoroughly tomorrow, by daylight. Why don’t you go to bed? I’ll lead you to the guest room if you like, and won’t let anyone else see you.”

His left hand tapped the desk twice.

“Do you need a doctor, Andre?”

“No,” he rapped.

“Would you like me to call up Professor Angier? He might be of more help.”

Twice he rapped “no” sharply. I did not know what to do or say. And then I told him:

“Henri caught a fly this morning which he wanted to show me, but I made him release it. Could it have been the one you are looking for? I didn’t see it, but the boy said its head was white.”

Andre emitted a strange metallic sigh, and I just had time to bite my fingers fiercely in order not to scream. He had let his right arm drop, and instead of his long-fingered muscular hand, a gray stick with little buds on it like the branch of a tree, hung out of his sleeve almost down to his knee.

“Andre,mon Cheri, tell me what happened. I might be of more help to you if I knew. Andre … oh, it’s terrible!” I sobbed, unable to control myself.

Having rapped once for yes, he pointed to the door with his left hand.

I stepped out and sank down crying as he locked the door behind me. He was typing again and I waited. At last he shuffled to the door and slid a sheet of paper under it.

HELENE, COME BACK IN THE MORNING. I MUST THINK AND WILL HAVE TYPED OUT AN EXPLANATION FOR YOU. TAKE ONE OF MY SLEEPING TABLETS AND GO STRAIGHT TO BED. I NEED YOU FRESH AND STRONG TOMORROW, MA PAUVRE CHERIE. A.

“Do you want anything for the night, Andre?” I shouted through the door.

He knocked twice for no, and a little later I heard the typewriter again.

The sun full on my face woke me up with a start. I had set the alarm-clock for five but had not heard it, probably because of the sleeping tablets. I had indeed slept like a log, without a dream. Now I was back in my living nightmare and crying like a child I sprang out of bed. It was just on seven!

Rushing into the kitchen, without a word for the startled servants, I rapidly prepared a tray load of coffee, bread and butter with which I ran down to the laboratory.

Andre opened the door as soon as I knocked and closed it again as I carried the tray to his desk. His head was still covered, but I saw from his crumpled suit and his open camp-bed that he must have at least tried to rest.

On his desk lay a typewritten sheet for me which I picked up. Andre opened the other door, and taking this to mean that he wanted to be left alone, I walked into the next room. He pushed the door to and I heard him pouring out the coffee as I read:

DO YOU REMEMBER THE ASH TRAY EXPERIMENT? I HAVE HAD A SIMILAR ACCIDENT. I “TRANSMITTED” MYSELF SUCCESSFULLY THE NIGHT BEFORE LAST. DURING A SECOND EXPERIMENT YESTERDAY A FLY WHICH I DID NOT SEE MUST HAVE GOT INTO THE “DISINTEGRATOR.” MY ONLY HOPE IS TO FIND THAT FLY AND GO THROUGH AGAIN WITH IT. PLEASE SEARCH FOR IT CAREFULLY SINCE, IF IT IS NOT FOUND, I SHALL HAVE TO FIND A WAY OF PUTTING AN END TO ALL THIS.

If only Andre had been more explicit! I shuddered at the thought that he must be terribly disfigured and then cried softly as I imagined his face inside-out, or perhaps his eyes in place of his ears, or his mouth at the back of his neck, or worse!

Andre must be saved! For that, the fly must be found!

Pulling myself together, I said:

“Andre, may I come in?”

He opened the door.

“Andre, don’t despair; I am going to find that fly. It is no longer in the laboratory, but it cannot be very far. I suppose you’re disfigured, perhaps terribly so, but there can be no question of putting an end to all this, as you say in your note; that I will never stand for. If necessary, if you do not wish to be seen, I’ll make you a mask or a cowl so that you can go on with your work until you get well again. If you cannot work, I’ll call Professor Augier, and he and all your other friends will save you, Andre.”

Again I heard that curious metallic sigh as he rapped violently on his desk.

“Andre, don’t be annoyed; please be calm. I won’t do anything without first consulting you, but you must rely on me, have faith in me and let me help you as best I can. Are you terribly disfigured, dear? Can’t you let me see your face? I won’t be afraid, I am your wife, you know.”

But my husband again rapped a decisive “no” and pointed to the door.

“All right. I am going to search for the fly now, but promise me you won’t do anything foolish; promise you won’t do anything rash or dangerous without first letting me know all about it!”

He extended his left hand, and I knew I had his promise.

I will never forget that ceaseless day-long hunt for a fly. Back home, I turned the house inside-out and made all the servants join in the search. I told them that a fly had escaped from the Professor’s laboratory and that it must be captured alive, but it was evident they already thought me crazy. They said so to the police later, and that day’s hunt for a fly most probably saved me from the guillotine later.

I questioned Henri and as he failed to understand right away what I was talking about, I shook him and slapped him, and made him cry in front of the round-eyed maids. Realizing that I must not let myself go, I kissed and petted the poor boy and at last made him understand what I wanted of him. Yes, he remembered, he had found the fly just by the kitchen window; yes, he had released it immediately as told to.

Even in summer time we had very few flies because our house is on the top of a hill and the slightest breeze coming across the valley blows round it. In spite of that, I managed to catch dozens of flies that day. On all the window sills and all over the garden I had put saucers of milk, sugar, jam, meat – all the things likely to attract flies. Of all those we caught, and many others which we failed to catch but which I saw, none resembled the one Henri had caught the day before. One by one, with a magnifying glass, I examined every unusual fly, but none had anything like a white head.

At lunch time, I ran down to Andre with some milk and mashed potatoes. I also took some of the flies we had caught, but he gave me to understand that they could be of no possible use to him.

“If that fly has not been found tonight, Andre, we’ll have to see what is to be done. And this is what I propose: I’ll sit in the next room. When you can’t answer by the yes-no method of rapping, you’ll type out whatever you want to say and then slip it under the door. Agreed?”

“Yes,” rapped Andre.

By nightfall we had still not found the fly. At dinner time, as I prepared Andre’s tray, I broke down and sobbed in the kitchen in front of the silent servants. My maid thought that I had had a row with my husband, probably about the mislaid fly, but I learned later that the cook was already quite sure that I was out of my mind.

Without a word, I picked up the tray and then put it down again as I stopped by the telephone. That this was really a matter of life and death for Andre, I had no doubt. Neither did I doubt that he fully intended committing suicide, unless I could make him change his mind, or at least put off such a drastic decision. Would I be strong
enough? He would never forgive me for not keeping a promise, but under the circumstances, did that really matter? To the devil with promises and honor! At all costs Andre must be saved! And having thus made up my mind, I looked up and dialed Professor Augier’s number.

“The Professor is away and will not be back before the end of the week,” said a polite neutral voice at the other end of the line.

That was that! I would have to fight alone and fight I would. I would save Andre come what may.

All my nervousness had disappeared as Andre let me in and, after putting the tray of food down on his desk, I went into the other room, as agreed.

“The first thing I want to know,” I said as he closed the door behind me, “is what happened exactly. Can you please tell me, Andre?”

I waited patiently while he typed an answer which he pushed under the door a little later.

HELENE, I WOULD RATHER NOT TELL YOU, SINCE GO I MUST, I WOULD RATHER YOU REMEMBER ME AS I WAS BEFORE. I MUST DESTROY MYSELF IN SUCH A WAY THAT NONE CAN POSSIBLY KNOW WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME. I HAVE OF COURSE THOUGHT OF SIMPLY DISINTEGRATING MYSELF IN MY TRANSMITTER, BUT I HAD BETTER NOT BECAUSE, SOONER OR LATER, I MIGHT FIND MYSELF REINTEGRATED. SOME DAY, SOMEWHERE, SOME SCIENTIST IS SURE TO MAKE THE SAME DISCOVERY. I HAVE THEREFORE THOUGHT OF A WAY WHICH IS NEITHER SIMPLE NOR EASY, BUT YOU CAN AND WILL HELP ME.

For several minutes I wondered if Andre had not simply gone stark raving mad.

“Andre,” I said at last, “whatever you may have chosen or thought of, I cannot and will never accept such a cowardly solution. No matter how awful the result of your experiment or accident, you are alive, you are a man, a brain … and you have a soul. You have no right to destroy yourself! You know that!”

The answer was soon typed and pushed under the door.

I AM ALIVE ALL RIGHT, BUT I AM ALREADY NO LONGER A MAN. AS TO MY BRAIN OR INTELLIGENCE, IT MAY DISAPPEAR AT ANY MOMENT. AS IT IS, IT IS NO LONGER INTACT. AND THERE CAN BE NO SOUL WITHOUT INTELLIGENCE. . . AND YOU KNOW THAT!

“Then you must tell the other scientists about your discovery. They will help you and save you, Andre!”

I staggered back frightened as he angrily thumped the door twice.

“Andre … why? Why do you refuse the aid you know they would give you with all their hearts?”

A dozen furious knocks shook the door and made me understand that my husband would never accept such a solution. I had to find other arguments.

For hours, it seemed, I talked to him about our boy, about me, about his family, about his duty to us and to the rest of humanity. He made no reply of any sort. At last I cried:

“Andre … do you hear me?”

“Yes,” he knocked very gently.

“Well, listen then. I have another idea. You remember your first experiment with the ash tray? . . . Well, do you think that if you had put it through again a second time, it might possibly have come out with the letters turned back the right way?”

Before I had finished speaking, Andre was busily typing and a moment later I read his answer:

I HAVE ALREADY THOUGHT OF THAT. AND THAT WAS WHY I NEEDED THE FLY. IT HAS GOT TO GO THROUGH WITH ME. THERE IS NO HOPE OTHERWISE.

“Try all the same, Andre. You never know!”

I HAVE TRIED SEVEN TIMES ALREADY.

–was the typewritten reply I got to that.

“Andre! Try again, please!”

The answer this time gave me a flutter of hope, because no woman has ever understood, or will ever understand, how a man about to die can possibly consider anything funny.

I DEEPLY ADMIRE YOUR DELICIOUS FEMININE LOGIC. WE COULD GO ON DOING THIS EXPERIMENT UNTIL DOOMSDAY. HOWEVER, JUST TO GIVE YOU THAT PLEASURE, PROBABLY THE VERY LAST I SHALL EVER BE ABLE TO GIVE YOU, I WILL TRY ONCE MORE. IF YOU CANNOT FIND THE DARK GLASSES, TURN YOUR BACK TO THE MACHINE AND PRESS YOUR HANDS OVER YOUR EYES. LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU ARE READY.

“Ready, Andre” I shouted without even looking for the glasses and following his instructions.

I heard him moving around and then open and close the door of his “disintegrator.” After what seemed a very long wait, but probably was not more than a minute or so, I heard a violent crackling noise and perceived a bright flash through my eyelids and fingers.

I turned around as the cabin door opened.

His head and shoulders still covered with the brown velvet carpet, Andre was gingerly stepping out of it.

“How do you feel, Andre? Any difference?” I asked touching his arm.

He tried to step away from me and caught his foot in one of the stools which I had not troubled to pick up. He made a violent effort to regain his balance, and the velvet carpet slowly slid off his shoulders and head as he fell heavily backwards.

The horror was too much for me, too unexpected. As a matter of fact, I am sure that, even had I known, the horror-impact could hardly have been less powerful. Trying to push both hands into my mouth to stifle my screams and although my fingers were bleeding, I screamed again and again. I could not take my eyes off him, I could not even close them, and yet I knew that if I looked at the horror much longer, I would go on screaming for the rest of my life.

Slowly, the monster, the thing that had been my husband, covered its head, got up and groped its way to the door and passed it. Though still screaming, I was able to close my eyes.

I who had ever been a true Catholic, who believed in God and another, better life hereafter, have today but one hope: that when I die, I really die, and that there may be no afterlife of any sort because, if there is, then I shall never forget! Day and night, awake or asleep, I see it, and I know that I am condemned to see it forever, even perhaps into oblivion!

Until I am totally extinct, nothing can, nothing will ever make me forget that dreadful white hairy head with its low flat skull and its two pointed ears. Pink and moist, the nose was also that of a cat, a huge cat. But the eyes! Or rather, where the eyes should have been were two brown bumps the size of saucers. Instead of a mouth, animal or human, was a long hairy vertical slit from which hung a black quivering
trunk that widened at the end, trumpet-like, and from which saliva kept dripping.

I must have fainted, because I found myself flat on my stomach on the cold cement floor of the laboratory, staring at the closed door behind which I could hear the noise of Andre’s typewriter.

Numb, numb and empty, I must have looked as people do immediately after a terrible accident, before they fully understand what has happened. I could only think of a man I had once seen on the platform of a railway station, quite conscious, and looking stupidly at his leg still on the line where the train had just passed.

My throat was aching terribly, and that made me wonder if my vocal chords had not perhaps been torn, and whether I would ever be able to speak again.

The noise of the typewriter suddenly stopped and I felt I was going to scream again as something touched the door and a sheet of paper slid from under it.

Shivering with fear and disgust, I crawled over to where I could read it without touching it:

NOW YOU UNDERSTAND. THAT LAST EXPERIMENT WAS A NEW DISASTER, MY POOR HELENE. I SUPPOSE YOU RECOGNIZED PART OF DANDELO’S HEAD. WHEN I WENT INTO THE DISINTEGRATOR JUST NOW, MY HEAD WAS ONLY THAT OF A FLY. I NOW ONLY HAVE ITS EYES AND MOUTH LEFT. THE REST HAS BEEN REPLACED BY PARTS OF THE CAT’S HEAD. POOR DANDELO WHOSE ATOMS HAD NEVER COME TOGETHER. YOU SEE NOW THAT THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE POSSIBLE SOLUTION, DON’T YOU? I MUST DISAPPEAR. KNOCK ON THE DOOR WHEN YOU ARE READY AND I SHALL EXPLAIN WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO. A.

Of course he was right, and it had been wrong and cruel of me to insist on a new experiment. And I knew that there was now no possible hope, that any further experiments could only bring about worse results.

Getting up dazed, I went to the door and tried to speak, but no sound came out of my throat … so I knocked once!

You can of course guess the rest. He explained his plan in short typewritten notes, and I agreed, I agreed to everything!

My head on fire, but shivering with cold, like an automaton, I followed him into the silent factory. In my hand was a full page of explanations: what I had to know about the steam-hammer.

Without stopping or looking back, he pointed to the switchboard that controlled the steam-hammer as he passed it. I went no further and watched him come to a halt before the terrible instrument.

He knelt down, carefully wrapped the carpet round his head, and then stretched out flat on the ground.

It was not difficult. I was not killing my husband. Andre, poor Andre, had gone long ago, years ago it seemed. I was merely carrying out his last wish … and mine.

Without hesitating, my eyes on the long still body, I firmly pushed the “stroke” button right in. The great metallic mass seemed to drop slowly. It was not so much the resounding clang of the hammer that made me jump as the sharp cracking which I had distinctly heard at the same time. My hus … the thing’s body shook a second and then lay still.

It was then I noticed that he had forgotten to put his right arm, his fly-leg, under the hammer. The police would never understand but the scientists would, and they must not! That had been Andre’s last wish, also!

I had to do it and quickly, too; the night watchman must have heard the hammer and would be round any moment. I pushed the other button and the hammer slowly rose. Seeing but trying not to look, I ran up, leaned down, lifted and moved forward the right arm which seemed terribly light. Back at the switchboard, again I pushed the red button, and down came the hammer a second time. Then I ran all the way home.

You know the rest and can now do whatever you think right.

So ended Helene’s manuscript.

V.

The following day I telephoned Commissaire Charas to invite him to dinner.

“With pleasure, Monsieur Delambre. Allow me, however, to ask: is it the
Commissaire you are inviting, or just Monsieur Charas?”

“Have you any preference?”

“No, not at the present moment.”

“Well then, make it whichever you like. Will eight o’clock suit you?”

Although it was raining, the Commissaire arrived on foot that evening.

“Since you did not come tearing up to the door in your black Citroen, I take it you have opted for Monsieur Charas, off duty?”

“I left the car up a side-street,” mumbled the Commissaire with a grin as the maid staggered under the weight of his raincoat.

“Merci,”he said a minute later as I handed him a glass of Pernod into which he tipped a few drops of water, watching it turn the golden amber liquid to pale blue milk.

“You heard about my poor sister-in-law?”

“Yes, shortly after you telephoned me this morning. I am sorry, but perhaps it was all for the best. Being already in charge of your brother’s case, the inquiry automatically comes to me.”

“I suppose it was suicide.”

“Without a doubt. Cyanide, the doctors say quite rightly; I found a second tablet in the unstitched hem of her dress.”

“Monsieur est servi,”announced the maid.

“I would like to show you a very curious document afterwards, Charas.”

“Ah, yes. I heard that Madame Delambre had been writing a lot, but we could find nothing beyond the short note informing us that she was committing suicide.”

During our tête-à-tête dinner, we talked politics, books and films, and the local football club of which the Commissaire was a keen supporter.

After dinner, I took him up to my study, where a bright fire – a habit I had picked up in England during the war – was burning.

Without even asking him, I handed him his brandy and mixed myself what he called “crushed-bug juice in soda water” – his appreciation of whiskey.

“I would like you to read this, Charas; first, because it was partly intended for you and, secondly, because it will interest you. If you think Commissaire Charas has no objection, I would like to burn it after.”

Without a word, he took the wad of sheets Helene had given me the day before and settled down to read them.

“What do you think of it all?” I asked some twenty minutes later as he carefully folded Helene’s manuscript, slipped it into the brown envelope, and put it into the fire.

Charas watched the flames licking the envelope, from which wisps of gray smoke were escaping, and it was only when it burst into flames that he said, slowly raising his eyes to mine:

“I think it proves very definitely that Madame Delambre was quite insane.”

For a long while we watched the fire eating up Helene’s “confession.”

“A funny thing happened to me this morning, Charas. I went to the cemetery, where my brother is buried. It was quite empty and I was alone.”

“Not quite, Monsieur Delambre. I was there, but I did not want to disturb you.”

“Then you saw me.

“Yes. I saw you bury a matchbox.”

“Do you know what was in it?”

“A fly, I suppose.”

“Yes. I had found it early this morning, caught in a spider’s web in the garden.”

“Was it dead?”

“No, not quite. I … crushed it … between two stones. Its head was … white … all white.”

THE END.

You May Also Be Interested In…
* Dead Flies
* Horror Effects Hosted By Tom Savini
* Al Cook’s “Necropolis”

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