The Most Horrible Story In The World – John W. Jakes

The room was a very plain room. It had four walls, a ceiling. a floor. But it was new to Thompson because he had never seen it before. He stood in a relaxed fashion, studying it. There was a desk in the center of the room. It was gray, but Thompson could not identify the material from which it was made. A very old man with a clipped beard sat behind the tlesk. A candle flickered in a brass holder on top of the desk.
“Pardon me,” said Thompson.
The old man looked at him. He had been looking at Thompson for a long time. In fact, Thompson could not remember a time when the old man had not been looking at him.
“You like horror stories. I take it,” the old man said, “That’s why you’re here. Everybody in the world like a good horror story, at least once in their lives.”
“Yes,” said I hompson, filled with vague relief, “I guess that’s why I’m here.”
“Fine.” said the old man. He reached into the desk. Where, Thompson couldn’t tell. Just out of sight. No drawers slid. But his hands came out. and they held a white card. Again they vanished. This time they held a metal-pointed pen. There was ink in the pen. It shone with a night-blue luster in the candle flame.
“Name,” said the old man.
“James Thompson.”
Thompson thought a minute. “March third, nineteen oh two. Is all this necessary?”
The old man seemed annoyed. “Of course. We must have all the records, in order that you may become a fulltime member.”
“Full time member of what?” Thompson asked. He noted that the pen seemed always full of ink.
“The Horror Book Club, of course,” the old man replied. He scratched on the card, writing down the information Thompson had given him. Then he put both card and pen out of sight under the desk. His hands came back up, empty.
“Everything has been taken care of,” he said, smiling. “You’ve been admitted.”
“Is that right.” Thompson said aloud. He had begun to wonder whether membership in this club was exclusive. The candle kept on burning, but it stayed the same size.
“Er . . . what kind of books do you have? I mean, could you let me have an idea of some of your titles? Dracula, Frankenstein, The Turn of the Screw, things like that?”
The old man laughed again, this time like he was chiding a small and extremely foolish child. “Oh no, Mr. Thompson. We deal in actual, stark horror. We never use second-rate products.”
The hands dipped down again. Thompson wondered if it was some kind of game. They came back up. They put a book on the desk. It was a thin book, roughly a foot square. It had a whitish cover. The old man’s fingers rasped on the cover when he put it down on the desk.
“Human skin,” the old man said cheerfully. “Very good binding.”
‘Um . . . yes,” said Thompson. He glanced at the cover. In square letters the cover said, The Most Horrible Story in the World. Smaller type down near the lower right hand corner, said. “James Thompson, February 3, 1955.”
“Why, that’s today,” Thompson said.
The old man waved. “A formality. We always record on the books when a new member enters the club. Keeps the records straight.”
“Oh,” Thompson said. “Do I . . . just start reading?”
The old man shook his head and got up. He took the book in one hand, the candle in the other. “I’ll conduct you to one of our reading rooms. We provide special reading rooms for the use of members.”
Thompson did not comment. He followed the old man. They went through an opening in the wall that he had not seen before. But it was in a dim corner, difficult to see clearly.
They walked down a long hall. On each side of the hall were closed doors. The candle made shapes move on the walls.
“What’s that screaming?” Thompson asked, a bit puzzled. “It seems to come from behind these doors.”
“That’s right,” the old man said over his shoulder. “This is the Horror Book Club, you know. All of our members take an active interest in their reading. They participate. They get horrified. It’s really a horrible book, you know.”
“Is it?” Thompson felt a slight tingle of expectancy run along his back. He felt somewhat masochistic at the moment. A new thought struck him. “Is that the only book you carry?”
“Yes,” said the old man. “We’ve had many editions made. It’s the most horrible story in the world, you understand. The most horrible one ever conceived. That’s why all our members read it.”
The hall seemed to stretch on endlessly. Doors marched by. Screams faded, new screams took their place. “How late are you open?” Thompson asked.
“I stay here all the time,” the old man said. “Members are always coming in. They usually stay for a long time. The book is irresistible.”
“Must be,” Thompson said.
Finally they came to a door. The old man stopped. He seemed to pull at the door and it opened, although there was no handle on it. He motioned Thompson inside.
The reading room had one chair and one table. An unlit candle stood on the table. The old man applied flame from his candle.
“Severe,” he said, indicating the room, “but functional. All you really need to enjoy a good horror story.”
“Well, thanks,” Thompson stammered. The old man put the book down on the table. “Do … er … is it customary to pay, or tip?” Thompson said awkwardly.
“Ob no. Tlte Founders take care of that.”
“Um. Founders. Still alive, eh?”
“Oh, certainly.”
“Must like horror stories, to set up a place like this.”
“They do,” the old man assured him. “Well, I hope you like the book.”
He walked out and closed the door. Thompson said, “Well,” a couple of times, saw that no one was listening, laughed foolishly and sat down on the chair. He picked up the book, feeling the tingle on his spine once more. Ne opened the book. He began to read.
It was a very short story. He finished it almost immediately. And it certainly was horrible. Almost too horrible. He closed the book and got up. His face felt very pale. He went to the door. He tried to open it. It would not open.
“Old man,” he yelled. “Old man, old man.” He was so insistent in his yelling that he did not stop to think about the other screaming out in the hall. He expected the old man to come, and he did.
The old man’s voice said through the door, “Yes?”
“I don’t like this book,” Thompson said.
The old man said nothing.
“And the door’s locked. I want to leave.”
“You can’t.”
“What do you mean I can’t? What kind of a place is this anyway?” His tone was threatening, belligerent. And weak.
“You’re a member now.” It was very final.
Thompson felt that the old man was gone. He shouted, “Old man, old man.” There was no answer. He went back to the table. His stomach seemed to be gone. He opened the book. He read the story again. He couldn’t help reading it. It had a kind of fascination. He began to see the true horror in the tale.
When he had re-read it for the fifth time, he started to scream. Everybody else screamed, why shouldn’t he? After all, he was in the mood, his stomach felt icy. The candle kept on burning, but it stayed the same size.
He alternated between periods ot screaming and reading. And each time he read the book, it became more horrible. The infinity of horrible horror was something too vast to contemplate.
He felt no need for food or water or sleep, the story was so horrible. Thompson stopped screaming again and opened the book, perhaps for the thousandth time. He anticipated it now, anticipated the screaming it would cause.
The candle kept on burning. Thompson read the story from the book of skin with his name on it. He read it rapidly. It was a very short story:
You’re dead.


Always Home – David Ely

When would it stop? How long would that hideous tape go on broadcasting angry voices from within the wall?

The house in the suburbs was roomy and hail spacious grounds, but to Peter its major attraction was the fact that it was well equipped with security devices. As he explained to the real-estate agent, he had to make frequent business trips and was uneasy about leaving Teresa alone in their city apartment.
“You wouldn’t worry about your wife if you took this place.” the agent assured him. “It’s as safe as Fort Knox.”
He took Peter and Teresa around to look at the various systems of protection. There were triple locks on the doors and alarm buzzers in the window frames. The entire lawn could be illuminated by powerful floodlights. In addition, trip wires had been concealed in the shrubbery; if a prowler stumbled over one of them, it would set off a siren. The approach to the back door, moreover, was guarded by the invisible beam of an electric eye, which, when interrupted, activated the tape recording of a viciously barking dog.
The agent reserved the most sophisticated installation for last. “Nothing attracts criminals like an empty house,” he said, “and so if you folks go out for the evening, you just need to punch the Always Home button right here in the front hall. Step outside and you’ll see how it works.”
The Always Home mechanism, wired into the electrical system, created the illusion that the house was occupied. It switched lights on and off at random in different rooms, just as though people, were moving about inside, while a concealed projector beamed lifelike human shadows against the window shades in the living room. Most ingenious of all, a sound system produced the recorded babble of voices, easily heard from outside.
“Well, what do you think of the house, folks?” the agent asked, when Peter and Teresa returned inside.
“Oh, it’s simply beyond words,” ‘Teresa said enthusiastically. She was dark and slender and still seemed girlish, even though her hair was touched with gray. She turned eagerly to her husband. “Don’t you agree, Peter? Don’t you think it’s nice?”
Peter, a stout and florid man, was by nature more cautious. “You might be lonely out here,” he said.
Teresa laughed. “Lonely? Why, with all this to take care of, I wouldn’t have time to be lonely!”
So Peter agreed to buy the house (the price was quite reasonable, since the people who owned it were getting a divorce and wanted a quick sale). Within a month, all the paperwork had been completed, the city apartment had been disposed of and Peter and Teresa took possession of their new home.
Teresa knew she would be happy there. She and Peter had lived for 15 years in apartments, and although each had been larger than the one before, she had felt cramped in them. But now she had a house, a lawn, trees, everything. She could do whatever she wanted there in peace and privacy.
When Peter was home, she’d run down early every morning to make him a nice breakfast, and while he ate, she would tell him all the interesting things she could think of about the birds she’d seen and the television programs she’d watched and the new products she’d seen advertised. She would have liked to go out with him to the car to see him off, but he preferred that she remained in the house, so she would merely wave to him from the doorway. “Have a nice day,” she would call out, or (as was frequently the case, in view of the travel demands of his job). “Have a nice trip!”
They had no children. Teresa had never learned what the problem was, for Peter hadn’t found the time to arrange visits to a clinic. Whenever she had brought up the question of adopting a baby. Peter had made vague promises to look into the matter, but he had never managed to get around to it. Finally. Teresa decided that children were a burden and a responsibility and tied people down. “I’m really glad there are just the two of us,” she would remark, knowing that this pleased Peter. “Anyway. I’m too old for a baby now.”
To which Peter would gallantly respond: “Don’t be silly. You’re hardly more than a child yourself.”
Once they had a cat, but its fur made Peter sneeze, and so the cat had to be given away. The goldfish and canaries Teresa acquired didn’t live long. “Get a dog,” Peter said she didn’t see how that could be, with all the entertaining Teresa did. Entertaining? Teresa was about to explain that she hadn’t had a single guest, when she realized that Mrs. Myer must have heard the recorded party noises of the Always Home device. Was it really that loud?
“Oh, we sometimes have a few people in,” Teresa found herself saying casually, and then she remembered that she often left the system on all night. Good heavens, she thought, Mrs. Myer would suppose that they gave parties that lasted until dawn! What must the woman think of her?
“We lead a very simple existence out here. I’m afraid.” Mrs. Myer was saying, with a rather grim expression that confirmed Teresa’s misgivings. The whole neighltorhood would have written her off already as a frivolous madcap from the city! She tried to think how she could correct this impression. She might invite Mrs. Myer over to show her what the Always Home device was and to explain how it worked. But Mrs. Myer would still think her rather peculiar for using it night alter night. Teresa finally concluded that Mrs. Myer wouldn’t be very congenial under any circumstances: if she wanted a friend, she would have to look elsewhere. So she merely said goodbye as cordially as possible and made her departure.
As she neared her house, she heard voices inside. Had she pressed the button before she left? She didn’t think so. Then she remembered that she had let the thing run on front the night before, and she realized that she kept it going almost all the time now, except when Peter was home.
Teresa assumed that the Always Home voices were recorded on a single tape that was played over and over again. But what she heard never seemed to be completely familiar, even though the voices of the men and women were, as far as she could tell, the same. “It must be a very long tape,” she told herself, and she reasoned that this was a wise precaution, for if the tape were a short one. a burglar listening from the lawn might detect the repetition and realize that there was actually no one in the house.
The taped conversations were quite ordinary. The men spoke mostly of golf and politics, while the women gossiped and talked about fashions. Teresa often found it difficult to make out the words, for, as at a real party, three or four people would be talking at once against background noises of footsteps and laughter.
Frequently, however, there were only two voices, a man’s and a woman’s. They addressed each other rather frostily and said such things as “Do we have to have the Vogels over again?” and “We’re spending a damned fortune on booze,” which didn’t sound like party talk at all. By listening attentively, Teresa was able to pick out the names that were assigned to these two principal voices. The man was called Chris and the woman, Carla. Teresa assumed that they and the others were professional actors hired to make standard tapes used in the thousands of other homes throughout the country equipped with Always Home systems. But when Carla complained once about the color scheme of the master bathroom- -“that ghastly pink and those hideous green fish” — Teresa blinked in surprise, for her master-bathroom walls were pink and the bath tiles had a motif of greenish fish, too. And then the actor called Chris grumbled about the warped panels in the dining room and the bedroom window that rattled in the wind . . . and all these and other things he and Carla mentioned were also true about Teresa’s house, so that Teresa could only suppose that the script for the Always Home tape had been written specifically for that particular place.
One day she learned something that forced her to make a drastic alteration in her suppositions about what she was hearing. The tape produced the familiar ring of the doorbell. A man’s voice announced the delivery of a package and asked: “Is this the Woodling residence?”
To which Carla’s voice replied: ” That’s right. I’m Mrs. Woodling. . . .” Mrs. Woodling? Teresa was astonished. Why, the Woodlings were the previous owners of the house! It seemed incredible to her. That meant the tape wasn’t simulated. It was real. Chris and Carla weren’t actors at all. They were actually Mr. and Mrs. Woodling and the other voices were those of their friends. The Always Home device must have been set up to record its own tape automatically, activated by the sound of voices. But hadn’t the Woodlings realized that? Wouldn’t they have heard it playing, too? Well, no, Teresa reasoned. They might not have, for presumably they punched the button only when they were leaving the house and then turned it off again once they returned. They might not even have bothered using it at all.
But the recording part of it must have been on all the time, faithlully storing up each word uttered within its transcription range.
Teresa resolved not to listen any longer. It would be shameful to do so now that she knew what she was hearing. It would be like spying on someone else’s marriage. Still, it occurred to her that the conversations were in the past, perhaps even years ago, and as for the marriage, the Woodlings were divorced bv now. Beyond that, the tape was her property, strictly speaking, since it was part of the house . . . and, anyway, if she just listened and said nothing about it to anyone, not even to Peter, what harm could there be?
She went on listening in fascination. It was like a radio serial, this day-by-day story of the Woodlings’ marriage — but it was true! And it was disturbing, too. The voices became harder. They snapped at each other. They made sneering and sarcastic remarks. There were fewer parties, and finally none at all, just endless bickering exchanges. Teresa could hardly believe what she heard. How could they go on hour after hour that way? And then she remembered that the Always Home recorder would have registered only the voices, not the silences in between, so that it joined together in a single scene the domestic disputes that would have taken place over a period of weeks and months.
At first, Teresa was sorry for Carla. She built up a nasty picture in her mind of Chris, imagining him to be brutish in appearance, for he had a coarse voice that was often slurred, as if he drank a lot, and it seemed not unlikely that, as Carla charged, he was having affairs with other women. But then Teresa was confronted with evidence of Carla’s misbehavior too — a man named Joe came to the house frequently, and the cooing and giggling that went on left no doubt as to what he and Carla were up to — so Teresa had to admit that Carla was no better than Chris and it was a good thing that they had no children.
Thus, Teresa sat in her living room hour after hour, listening with rapt disapproval to Carla’s vicious tones and to Chris’s snarls and roars, occasionally accompanied by the slamming of doors or the shattering of glass, while all the time the rest of the Always Home apparatus continued to perform its duties, flicking a light on or off and calmly projecting shadows on the window shades.
Teresa was shocked by the terrible things she heard on the tape, but somehow she couldn’t prevent herself from listening. She fell as though the tape were poisoned and that the poison had to come out. After a particularly disgusting scene, she would fling open the windows to air the rooms. It was her house now. Carla and Chris had no business there any longer.
She became even more solicitous of Peter and was glad she had decided not to tell him about the tape back in the days when it had been nothing more than an amusing diversion. How he would disapprove of the Woodlings, if he knew about them! She appreciated him all the more now. His quietness was in such contrast to Chris’s loud vulgarity. And Peter worked so hard. He’d come back from his trips absolutely exhausted. She always had fresh flowers on the table, and a drink to put in his hand, and a nice supper, and then he’d go to bed while she took his dirty clothes out of his suitcase and packed clean things in their place for his next trip. Whenever she’d pass through the front hall, she’d glance at the Always Home button and give a little shudder of revulsion, thinking of the Woodlings, that hideous couple who dwelt, so to speak, in the walls, and whose spirits could be exorcised only by the completion of that monstrous tape. But when would it stop? How much longer would it go on?
“It must be terrible when married people fight?, she said once to Peter. He seemed surprised by that. “Oh, not that I know any who do.” she added quickly, “but you hear about these awful cases and — well, the main thing is, we don’t fight.”
Peter yawned, “We don’t have anything to fight about.” he remarked sleepily, and although Teresa had been about to suggest that they go out to a movie, she decided not to mention it. Sometimes he would rouse himself with an effort and ask if she’d care to go to a restaurant or just drive around, but she knew he really didn’t want to, so she’d say. “Oh. no. I’d rather stay home with you. I don’t want to go out.” Now, the bizarre thought crossed her mind that if they did go out and if, in leaving, they switched on the Always Home device. Chris and Carla, unchecked by her presence, might go out of control. Their shadows would spring loose from the window shades and they would, in their fury, tear the house apart.
But one day the Woodlings vanished from the tape so suddenly that Teresa didn’t realize it until she heard strange voices speaking in ordinary tones and deduced, from what was said, that the real-estate agent was showing prospective buyers through the house. So … it was over at last. Chris and Carla were gone forever.
“Well, what do you think of the house, folks-’’ she heard the real-estate agent’s recorded voice inquire, and immediately came a woman’s response:
“Oh, it’s simply beyond words. Don’t you agree, Peter? Don’t you think it’s nice?”
Teresa was startled. Why, that was her voice. And now there was Peter’s, replying to her. Of course — why hadn’t she thought of that before? The Always Home device was bound to have gone on recording. That meant she could listen to everything she and Peter had said months ago, when they first came to the house. At least that would be a pleasant change from the frightful quarrels of the Woodlings’.
She let the tape go on playing while she went about her household chores, dusting and straightening and putting things to rights. Even from upstairs, she could hear her voice and Peter’s conversing below, and although it was nice, in a way, it was a little strange, having her voice in one place and herself in another. It was as if she didn’t have control over what she was saying.
“Of course I’m not lonely,’’ she heard her voice remark as she came down the stairs. “Being by myself doesn’t mean I’m lonely. Why, there’s so much to do, I couldn’t be lonely if I tried!”
Peter was returning from a trip the following morning, so Teresa went out in back to choose the flowers she would cut for the dining room. She could hear the tape out there, too. “Have a nice day.” her voice said brightly, and Peter’s voice said: “No, don’t come out. Stay in the house. Be sure it’s locked.” To inspect the gladiolas, Teresa forgetfully stepped the wrong way, breaking the electric-eye beam. The unexpected burst of barks and snarls from the dog made her leap back as though stung. “Oh, Lord!” she exclaimed, momentarily frightened. From the house, her recorded voice cried out cheerfully: “Don’t worry about me. I’m safe. See? I’m inside. And I’ll be right here waiting when you come home again!”
Teresa went back into the kitchen, her heart still pounding. The invisible dog was snapping and grunting, as though straining against its chain. “Hello, darling,” she heard Peter say from the front hall. “I’m back early . . . where are you?”
Teresa was astonished. Why, he’d left only an hour ago. “Peter!” she cried out, hurrying to greet him. But the front hall was empty. She sloped short in alarm. Then, as she heard her own voice sing out gaily. “Oh, Peter, what a wonderful surprise,” she realized it was only the Always Home tape. She felt betrayed, as though she’d been the victim of a practical joke — and someone was laughing at her. But it was her own laughter that came pealing out . . . her recorded laughter from some forgotten moment in the past. It sounded mocking to her, as if it were the laughter of the tape itself.
“My plane leaves at four o’clock,” Peter’s voice was saying, and Teresa’s voice replied: “So soon? Oh, you poor dear. No, no — let me get your things together for you. . . .’’ The voices were fading out of recording range. But there were no silences on the tape. Teresa’s voice resumed immediately, fresh and clear: “Here we are — all packed and ready. I put a nice new tube of tooth paste in your shaving kit.”
Teresa, standing alone in the hallway, thought she heard footsteps around her and the dutiful smack of a hasty kiss. She stared at the front door. She heard it open — but it remained closed. “Have a nice trip!” her recorded voice called out.
Teresa turned, bewildered, and headed toward the kitchen. The dog was still barking out in back. Its tape usually ran for about five minutes before it went off. “Hello, Peter!” her voice exclaimed behind her. “Oh, just try to guess what I’ve got for supper!” Teresa resisted the impulse to turn around and look. There was no Peter back there. Oh, that barking was making her head throb. Why wouldn’t it stop? “I’m not afraid,” her voice said from the hall. “Why would I be afraid?”
Peter’s voice said: “Get a dog.” Teresa tried not to pay attention to them. She looked in the refrigerator, wondering what she would have for her lunch. “Hello, darling.” said Peter’s voice.
“Oh, my goodness,” Teresa muttered. It was too confusing, all those hellos and goodbyes. She went to the hall and punched the Always Home button, silencing the voices. She had to. Suppose Peter actually came back early? She might think it was just the tape again and not go to greet him. Besides, she was awfully tired. That idiotic barking had gotten on her nerves. But now it had stopped; the house was quiet at last. She didn’t bother eating lunch but went upstairs to lie down and rest.
She was awakened at dusk by a terrible racket. It was one of the sirens in the shrubbery, wailing like a banshee. Teresa leaped from bed in a fright and hurried downstairs to switch on the floodlights. But she saw nothing move outside. The lawn was empty. The bushes could hide nothing in the light that drenched them. It must have been a cat, Teresa thought. The trip wires were too delicately set. Once, a squirrel had touched one off. She’d watched it streak up the nearest tree and turn to chatter angrily at the howling siren. How funny that had been!
But it wasn’t funny now. Even after the siren stopped, its echo rang in her head and she noticed that her breath still came quick. “I’m really a bit nervous today,” she remarked aloud, although she hardly ever talked to herself — and then she broke off with a strained little laugh, realizing that the Always Home would have taped her words. “I’m not nervous,” she added, as if to correct the record. “Not nervous at all!”
Still, as she went back to the kitchen to make a sandwich and a cup of tea, she wondered about the siren. How long had it taken her to run downstairs and switch on the floodlights? If there had been a burglar, he would have had time to retreat out of range of the lights. And suppose he were hidden out there now, watching the house?
She hastened around the downstairs rooms to make sure that all the windows were closed and locked. Was someone whistling in the kitchen? Ah … it was only the kettle boiling. When she poured the water for her tea, her hand shook. “Don’t be such a silly goose,” she told herself sternly — and then she stopped to listen, as though unsure whether it had been her real voice that had spoken.
The house was silent. She thought of turning on the television. That would give her a little company.
But, instead, she returned to the front hall and pressed the Always Home button. That would project Peter’s voice, she knew. Anyone outside would realize that there was a man in the house; she would be safe.
“Glad I didn’t get a job,” she heard her taped voice say. “How could I commute to it from here? There isn’t a bus and I can’t drive.”
Peter’s voice said: “You don’t need a job. You don’t have to work.”
Teresa’s voice went on: “It’s a good thing I don’t have a job. If I did. I’d have to give it up. But I don’t want a job, anyway. I’m much better off the way things are. . . .’’
It was quite dark now. Having finished her tea and eaten her sandwich, Teresa went upstairs to her bedroom to read. But no sooner had she opened her book than the Always Home switched off her lamp. It had happened a few times before, of course, but it was particularly unsettling now. The trouble was that she couldn’t turn the lamp back on, since the Always Home, when in operation, controlled the whole electrical system. It usually took about 15 minutes for the cycle to be completed. She thought of going into Peter’s room, but that was the one where the panes rattled, so she remained where she was in the darkness, waiting for her lamp to light again, and she couldn’t help listening to the conversation of the recorded voices below.
“Glad I didn’t have a baby. Why would I need a baby? We have each other, don’t we? That’s quite enough for me, Peter!”
Teresa got to her feet and felt her way through the dark room. Had she heard a key turn in the lock down below? That alarmed her. And now the door clicked open. She heard that distinctly. “Hello, darling!’’ Oh, God, she thought, it was Peter. Peter’s voice. She stood trembling at the top of the stairs, peering down into the empty front hall. The opening of the door had been on the tape, of course, it was Peter’s ghost that had entered, to be greeted by her own.
“To Denver this time? For a week, really? Oh. you poor darling!”
Teresa came down the stairs, gripping the banister. She had to be careful. The Always Home might flick off the light at any moment, “Have a nice trip!” her voice cried out. and then, in an instant, the week in Denver had passed. “Hello, darling …”
The voices were loud at the bottom of the stairs and louder still in the living room, where the Always Home projector sent the lifelike shadows marching across the shades. “What? Bored? Am I bored? Why, I’m never bored!” Her taped voice seemed high and tense and its laughter was piercing. Teresa knew the sound had to be kept high, so that the voices could be heard outside. But why so loud? They were virtually shouting.
“Get a dog,” boomed Peter’s voice, and Teresa’s voice, replying, had a hysterical, keening edge to it:
“I don’t need a dog! I don’t need anything!”
Teresa edged through the living room as if there were people there she mustn’t bump into. “I really don’t care to meet anyone out here, Peter,” her voice screeched at her. “Why would I need friends when I’ve got you …?’’ Teresa pulled one shade aside to glance out at the lawn. It glittered like crystal in the glare of the floodlights. The projector sent a shadowy form across her arm. She jumped back to avoid its touch.
“Stay in the house,” commanded Peter’s voice. She shuddered. Why did he have to roar?
“Don’t worry,” her voice shrilled. “I’m right here inside — always home!”
Teresa hurried out of the living room. She wanted to turn the voices off. She didn’t want to hear them anymore. But when she reached the hall, the light there went off. She couldn’t find the Always Home button in the dark. Her hands were shaking. She was clawing at the wall. Oh, where was it? She heard the front door open. Now she couldn’t see whether it was really open or not. “Hello, darling!” shouted Peter’s voice,
and Teresa’s gasp of fright was drowned by her taped shriek of welcome:
“Oh, Peter … I”
Teresa ran unsteadily through the hall to the kitchen. She could still hear the voices. They were following her. “We don’t fight,” her voice cried out.
And Peter’s voice rumbled: “We don’t have anything to fight about.”
Teresa shut the kitchen door, but she could hear them anyway. “I don’t want a baby,” her voice said. “Why would I need a baby? I’m too old for a baby. . . .” Teresa shrank against the wall. She put her hands over her ears, but it didn’t do any good. “I’m glad I don’t have a job,” her voice said. “I don’t need a job … I don’t need friends. I’d rather stay home. I don’t want to go out. . . . Have a nice trip! Hello, darling!”
Teresa was weeping now. “Please don’t,” she whispered. The light in the kitchen went off. “I’m not lonely,” her voice declared cheerfully. “The very idea — lonely!”
Peter’s voice said: “Stay in the house.” Pulling the door open, Teresa stumbled out of the kitchen. The light in the hall was back on now, but she didn’t go to the Always Home to turn it off. She didn’t want to touch it ever again.
It was just after ten o’clock the next morning when Peter drove in from the airport. He was surprised and annoyed to find the front door open and was even more surprised and annoyed when he couldn’t find Teresa anywhere, although he could hear her voice. In her bedroom, he discovered evidence of her hasty departure — the closet door open, half her clothes gone from the rack and the yellow telephone directory left open at the taxicab listings. He was quite put out by her behavior, but he reasoned that there must have been some family emergency. She had a sister in St. Paul, he remembered, and he was about to look up the sister’s number when the fact that Teresa’s voice was still speaking below caused him to go back down.
It took him a few minutes to discover the reason for this strange phenomenon. “Don’t worry about me: I’m safe here at home,” Teresa’s voice was saying gaily, happily. “Have a nice day!”
Peter pressed the button. Teresa’s voice was stilled.

The Crooked Man – Charles Beaumont

“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools . . . who changed the truth of God into a lie . . . for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another: men with men working that which is unseemly . . .”
(Si. Paul: Romans, I)

He slipped into a corner booth away from the dancing men, where it was quietest, where the odors of musk and trangipani hung less heavy on the air. A slender lamp glowed softly in the booth. He turned it down; down to where only the club’s blue overheads filtered through the beaded curtain, diffusing, blurring the image thrown back by the mirrored walls of his light thin-boned handsomeness.
“Yes, sir?” The barboy stepped through the beads and stood smiling. Clad in gold-sequined trunks, his greased muscles seemed to toll in independent motion, like fat snakes beneath his naked skin.
“Whiskey,’’ Jesse said. He caught the insouciant grin, the broad white-tooth crescent that formed on the young man’s face. Jesse looked away, tried to control the flow of blood to his cheeks.
“Yes. sir.” the barboy said, running his thick tanned fingers over his solar plexus, tapping the fingers, making them hop in a sinuous dance. He hesitated, still smiling, this time questioningly, hopefully, a smile filled with admiration and desire. The Finger Dance, the accepted symbol since 2648, stopped: the pudgy brown digits curled into angry fists. “Right away, sir.”
Jesse watched him turn; before the beads had tinkled together, he watched the handsome athlete make his way imperiously through the crowd, shaking off the tentative hands of single men at the tables, ignoring the many desire symbols directed toward him.
That shouldn’t have happened, Jesse thought. Now the fellow’s feelings were hurt. If hurt enough, he would start thinking, wondering — and that would ruin everything. No. it must be put right.
He thought of Mina, of the beautiful Mina. It was such a rotten chance; it had to go well!
“Your whiskey, sir,” the young man said. His face was like a dog’s face, large, sad; his lips were a pouting bloat of line.
Jesse reached into his pocket for some change. He started to say something, something nice.
“It’s been paid for,” the barboy said. He scowled and laid a card on the table and left.
The card carried the name E. J. Hodart, embossed, in lavender ink. Jesse heard the curtains tinkle.
“Hello, there! I hope you don’t mind my barging in like this, but — well, you didn’t seem to be with anyone . . .”
The man was small, chubby, bald; his face had a dirty growth of beard and he looked out of tiny eyes encased in bulging contacts. He was bare to the waist. His white, hairless chest drooped and turned in folds at the stomach. Softly, more subtle than the barboy had done, he put his porky stubs of fingers into a suggestive rhythm.
Jesse smiled. “Thanks for the drink,” he said. “But I really am expecting someone.”
“Oh?” the man said. “Someone — special?”
“Pretty special,” Jesse said smoothly, now that the words had become automatic. “He’s my fiance.”
“I see.” The man frowned momentarily and then brightened. “Well, I thought to myself. I said, E. J., you don’t actually think a beauty like that would be unattached, do you?’ But, it was certainly worth the old college try. Sorry.”
‘’Perfectly all right,” Jesse said. The predatory little eyes were rolling, the fingers dancing in one last ditch attempt. “Good evening, Mr. Hobart.”
Jesse felt slightly amused this time: it was the other kind, the intent ones, the humorless ones like the barboy, who revolted him, turned him ill, made him want to take a knife and carve unspeakable ugliness into his own smooth, aesthetic face.
The man shrugged; “Good evening!” and waddled away, crabwise.
Now the club was becoming more crowded. It was getting later and heads full of liquor shook away the inhibitions of the earliest hours. Jesse tried not to watch, but he had long ago given up trying to rid himself of his fascination. So he watched the men together. The pair over in the far corner, pressed close together, dancing with their bodies, never moving their feet, swaying in slow, lissome movements to the music… The couple seated by the bar: one a Beast, the other a Hunter. The Beast old, his cheeks caked hard and cracking with powder and liniments, the perfume rising from his body like steam; the Hunter, young but unhandsome, the fury evident in his eyes, the hurt anger at having to make do with a paid companion, and such an ugly one. From time to time the Hunter would look around, wetting his lips in shame. . . . And those two just coming in, dressed in Mother’s uniforms, tanned, mustached, proud of their station . . .
Jesse held the beads apart. Mina must come soon! He wanted to run from this place, out into the air, into the darkness and silence.
No. He just wanted Mina. To see her, touch her, listen to the music of her voice . . .
Two women came in, arm in arm, Beast and Hunter, drunk. They were stopped at the door. The manager swept by Jesse’s booth, muttering about them, asking why they should want to come to the Phallus when they had their own sections, their own clubs . . .
Jesse pulled his head back inside. He’d become used to the light by now, so he closed his eyes against his multiplied image. The disorganized sounds of love got louder, the sing-song syrup of voices: high-pitched, throaty, baritone, falsetto. It was crowed now. The Orgies would begin before long and the couples would pair off for the cubicles. He hated the place. But close to Orgy-time you didn’t get noticed here; and where else was there to go? Outside, where every inch of pavement was patrolled electronically, every word of conversation, every movement recorded, catalogued, filed?
Damn Knudsen! Damn the little man! Thanks to him, to the Senator, Jesse was now a criminal. Before, it hadn’t been so bad: not this bad, anyway. You were laughed at and shunned and fired from your job, and sometimes kids threw stones at you, but at least you weren’t hunted. Now — it was a crime. It was a sickness.
He remembered when Knudsen had taken over. It had been one of the little man’s first telecasts; in fact, it was the platform that had got him the majority vote:
“. . . Vice is on the upswing in our great city. In the dark corners of every Unit perversion blossoms like an evil flower. Our children are exposed to its stink, and they wonder — our children wonder — why nothing is done to put a halt to this disgrace. We have ignored it long enough! The time has come for action, not mere words. The perverts who infest our land must be flushed out, eliminated completely, as a threat not only to public morals but to society at large. These sick people must be cured and made normal. The disease that throws men and women together in this dreadful abnormal relationship and leads to acts of retrogression — retrogression that will, unless it is stopped and stopped fast, lead us inevitably back to the status of animals — this is to be considered as any other disease. It must be conquered as heart trouble, cancer, polio, all other diseases have been conquered . . .”
The Women’s Senator had taken Knudsen’s lead and issued a similar pronunciamento and then the bill had become law and the law was carried out.
Jesse sipped at his whiskey, remembering the Hunts. How the frenzied mobs had gone through the city at first, chanting, yelling, bearing placards with slogans: “Wipe out the heteros!” “Kill the Queers!” “Make our city clean again!” And how they’d lost interest finally after the passion had worn down and the novelty had ended. But they had killed many and they had sent many more to the hospitals . . .
He remembered the nights of running and hiding, choked dry breath cutting his throat, heart rattling loose. He had been lucky. He didn’t look like a hetero. They said you could tell one just by watching him walk — but Jesse walked correctly. He fooled them. He was lucky.
And he was a criminal. He, Jesse Martin, no different from the rest, tube-born and machine-nursed, raised in the Character Schools like everyone else — was terribly different from the rest.
It had been on his first formal date that he became aware of this difference, that it crystallized. The man had been a Rocketeer, the best high quality, and frighteningly handsome. “Mother” had arranged it, the way he arranged everything. carefully, proving and re-proving that he was worthy of the Mother’s uniform. There was the dance. And then the ride in the space-sled. The big man had put an arm about Jesse and — Jesse knew. He knew for certain and it made him very angry and very sad.
He remembered the days that came after the knowledge: bad days, days fallen upon evil, black desires, deep-cored frustrations. He had tried to find a friend at the Crooked Clubs that flourished then, but it was no use. There was a sensationalism, a bravura to these people that he could not love. The sight of men and women together, too shocked the parts of him he could not change, and disgusted him. Then the vice-squads had come and closed up the clubs and the heteros were forced underground and he never sought them out again or saw them. He was alone.
The beads tinkled.
He looked up, quickly, afraid. Then his fear vanished.
A figure stood outlined against the curtains, quietly. A small, soft, clean figure, a softness there, and a cleanliness, cutting and dissipating the dark asylum of his memories like sudden sunlight, with all the good warmth of sunlight, and all the brightness. Mina.
She wore a loose man’s shirt, an old hat that hid her golden hair: her face was shadowed by the turned lip collar. Through the shirt the rise and fall of her breasts could be faintly detected. She smiled once, nervously.
Jesse looked out the curtain. Without speaking, he put his hands about her soft, thin shoulders and held her like this for a long minute.
“Mina—” She looked away. He pulled her chin forward and ran a finger along her lips. Then he pressed her body to his, tightly, touching her neck, her back, kissing her forehead, her eyes, kissing her mouth.
She pulled her head back and sat down, staring at the table. “Don’t do that, please don’t.” she said.
Jesse opened his mouth, closed it abruptly as the curtains parted.
“Order, sir?’’
“Beer,” Jesse said, winking at the bar boy, who tried to come closer, to see the one loved by this handsome stranger.
“Two beers. Yes, sir.”
The barboy looked at Mina very hard, but she had turned and he could see only the back. Jesse held his breath. The barboy smiled contemptuously then, a smile that said: You’re insane — I was hired for my beauty; I know that I am beautiful, hundreds would be proud to have me, and you turn me down for this bag of bones . . .
Jesse winked again, shrugged suggestively, and danced his fingers: Tomorrow, my friend. I’m stuck tonight. Can’t help it. Tomorrow.
The barboy paused a moment, grinned briefly with understanding, and left. In a few minutes he returned with the beer. “On the house,” he said, for Mina’s benefit. She turned only when Jesse said, softly:
“It’s all right. He’s gone now.”
He looked at her, at the pain in her face, and the fear; hard lines that lied about the love that was between them and had been for all these months. He reached over and took off the hat. Long tresses of blonde hair spilled out splashing over the rough shirt.
She grabbed for the hat. “We mustn’t,” she said. “Please. What if somebody came in?”
“No one will come in. I told you that.”
“But what if someone does? I don’t know. I don’t like it here. That man at the door, he almost recognized me.”
“But he didn’t.”
“Almost, though. And then what?”
“Forget it. Mina, for God’s sake. Let’s not quarrel.”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Jesse. It’s only that meeting you like this makes me feel . . .’’
“Dirty.” She spoke the word defiantly, and lifted her eyes to his.
“You don’t really believe that, do you?”
“No. I suppose not: I don’t know, any more.” She hesitated. “Maybe if we could be alone together, I—”
Jesse took out a cigarette and began to use the table lighter. Then he cursed and threw the phallic object under the chair and crushed the cigarette. “You know that’s impossible,” he said. The idea of separate Units for homes had disappeared, of course, to be replaced by giant dormitories. There were no more parks, no country lanes. There was no place to hide at all now, thanks to Senator Knudsen, to the little spearhead of these great new sociological reforms. “This is all we have.” Jesse threw a sardonic look around the booth, with its carved symbols and framed pictures of entertainment stars all naked and leering.
They were silent for a time, hands interlocked on the tabletop. Then the girl began to cry. “I—I can’t go on like this,” she said. “I can’t. Jesse, listen; I came here tonight to tell you—”
“I know. I know how awful it is for you. But what else can we do?” He tried to keep the hopelessness out of his voice.
“We could—’’ the girl started, and seemed to change her mind. “Maybe we should have gone underground with the rest, right at the first.”
“And hide there, like rats?’’ Jesse said.
“We’re hiding here, aren’t we,” Mina demanded, adding, “like rats!”
He sighed. He could not remember seeing her quite so unhappy. Things had never been exactly right, never perfect, because she had always seemed to fight her instincts. Even her affection for him since that first time when he made her admit it, pried it loose from her. But he had thought this could be conquered . . . No; don’t think about it. Think about now, and how beautiful she is, how warm and vibrant and soft.
“It’s necessary,” he said. “Parner is getting ready to crack down. I know, Mina: I work at Centraldome, after all.
In a little while there won’t be any underground. He has a list of names a mile long already.”
Then, suddenly, the girl said. “I love you,” and leaned forward, parting her lips for a kiss. “Jesse. I do.” She closed her eyes. “And I’ve tried to be strong, just like you told me to be. But they wouldn’t leave us alone. They wouldn’t stop. Just because we’re qu. ..”
“Mina! I’ve said it before — don’t ever use that word!” His voice was harsh; he pushed her away. “It isn’t true! We’re not the queers. You’ve got to believe that. Years ago it was normal for men and women to love each other: they married and had children together; that’s the way it was. Don’t you remember anything of what I’ve told you?”
The girl stared downward. “Of course I do. I do, really. But it was such a long time ago.”
“Not so long! Where I work — listen to me — they have books. You know, I told you about books? I’ve read them, Mina. I learned what the words meant from other books. It’s only been since the use of artificial insemination — not even five hundred years ago.”
“Yes,” the girl said, sighing. “I’m sure that’s true.”
“Mina, stop it! We are not the unnatural ones, no matter what they say. I don’t know exactly how it happened — maybe as women gradually became equal to men in every way — or maybe solely because of the way we’re born — I don’t know. But the point is darling, the whole world was like us, once. Even now,” he said, desperately, “look at the animals.”
“Jesse, don’t you dare talk as though we’re like those horrible little dogs and cats and things.”
Jesse took a deep swallow of his drink. He had tried so often to tell her, show her, make her see. But he knew what she thought, really. She thought she was exactly what, the authorities told her she was.
God, maybe that’s how they all think, all the Crooked People, all the “un-normal ones” . . .
The girl’s hands caressed his arms and the touch of them became strange to him. I love you, Mr. Martin, even though you do have two heads . . .
Forget it, he thought. Never mind. She’s a woman, a very satisfying, desirable woman, and she may think you’re both freaks, but you know different, indeed you do, you know she’s wrong, just as they’re all wrong . . .
Or, he wondered, are you the insane person of old days who was insane because he was so sure he wasn’t insane because —
It was the fat man, the smiling masher, E. J. Hobart. But he wasn’t smiling now. Jesse got up quickly and stepped in front of Mina. “What do you want?” he said. “I thought I told you—”
The man pulled a metal identification disk from his trunks. “Vice-squad, my friend,” he said. “Better sit down.”
The man’s arm went out through the curtain and two other men came in, equipped with weapons.
“I’ve been watching you quite a while. Mister,” the man said. “Quite a while.” “Look,” Jesse said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. 1 work at Centraldome and I’m seeing Miss Kirkpatrick here on some business.”
“We know all about that kind of business,” the man said.
“All right — I’ll tell you the truth. I forced her to come here. She didn’t want to, but I—”
“Mister, didn’t you hear me? I said I’ve been watching you. Let’s go.”
One man took Mina’s arm, roughly; the other two began to propel Jesse out through the club. Heads turned. Tangled bodies moved embarrassedly.
“It’s all right,” the fat man said, his white skin glistening with perspiration. “It’s all right, folks. Go on back to whatever you were doing.” He grinned and tightened his grip on Jesse’s wrist.
Mina, Jesse noticed, did not struggle. He looked at her and felt something suddenly freeze into him. She had been trying to tell him something all evening, but he hadn’t let her. Now he knew what he had feared. He knew what she had come to tell him: that even if they hadn’t been caught, she would have submitted to the Cure voluntarily. No more worries then, no more guilt. No more tender moments, either, but wasn’t that a small price to pay, when she could live the rest of her life without feeling shame and dirt? Yes. it was a small price, now that the midnight dives and brief meetings were all they had left.
She did not meet his look as they took her out into the street. He watched her and thought of the past when they had been close, and he wanted to scream.
“You’ll be okay,” the fat man was saying. He opened the wagon’s doors. “They’ve got it down pat now — couple days in the ward, one short session with the doctors; take out a few glands, make a few injections, attach a few wires to your head, turn on a machine: presto! You’ll be surprised.”
The fat officer leaned close. His sausage fingers danced wildly near Jesse’s face.
“It’ll make a new man of you,” he said.
Then they closed the doors and locked them.

War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells performed by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air



ON THE AIR SUNDAY, OCTOBER 30, 1938 8:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Cue: (columbia broadcasting system)

( … 30 seconds . . .    )

ANNOUNCER: The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.


ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen: the director of the Mercury Theatre and star of these broadcasts, Orson Welles. . . .


We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small spinning fragment of solar driftwood which by chance or design man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space. Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. In the thirty-ninth year of the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

It was near the end of October. Business was better. The war scare was over. More men were back at work. Sales were picking up. On this particular evening, October 30, the Crossley service estimated that thirty-two million people were listening in on radios.


…for the next twenty-four hours not much change in temperature. A slight atmospheric disturbance of undetermined origin is reported over Nova Scotia, causing a low pressure area to move down rather rapidly over the northeastern states, bringing a forecast of rain, accompanied by winds of light gale force. Maximum temperature 66; minimum 48. This weather report comes to you from the Government Weather Bureau.

…We now take you to the Meridian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza in downtown New York, where you will be entertained by the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.



Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. From the Meridian Room in the Park Plaza in New York City, we bring you the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra. With a touch of the Spanish, Ramon Raquello leads off with “La Cumparsita.”

(piece starts playing)


Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, central time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars.

The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the earth with enormous velocity. Professor Pierson of the observatory at Princeton confirms Farrell’s observation, and describes the phenomenon as (quote) like a jet of blue flame shot from a gun. (unquote.) We now return you to the music of Ramon Raquello, playing for you in the Meridian Room of the Park Plaza Hotel, situated in downtown New York. (music plays for a few moments until piece ends…


Now a tune that never loses favor, the ever-popular “Star Dust.” Ramon Raquello and his orchestra. . . . (music)


Ladies and gentlemen, following on the news given in our bulletin a moment ago, the Government Meteorological Bureau has requested the large observatories of the country to keep an astronomical watch on any further disturbances occurring on the planet Mars. Due to the unusual nature of this occurrence, we have arranged an interview with the noted astronomer, Professor Pierson, who will give us his views on this event. In a few moments we will take you to the Princeton Observatory at Princeton, New Jersey. We return you until then to the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.

(music . . .)


We are ready now to take you to the Princeton Observatory at Princeton where Carl Phillips, our commentator, will interview Professor Richard Pierson, famous astronomer. We take you now to Princeton, New Jersey.

(echo chamber)


Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is Carl Phillips, speaking to you from the observatory at Princeton. I am standing in a large semicircular room, pitch black except for an oblong split in the ceiling. Through this opening I can see a sprinkling of stars that cast a kind of frosty glow over the intricate mechanism of the huge telescope. The ticking sound you hear is the vibration of the clockwork. Professor Pierson stands directly above me on a small platform, peering through the giant lens. I ask you to be patient, ladies and gentlemen, during any delay that may arise during our interview. Beside his ceaseless watch of the heavens, Professor Pierson may be interrupted by telephone or other communications. During this period he is in constant touch with the astronomical centers of the world. . . . Professor, may I begin our questions?

PIERSON At any time, Mr. Phillips.PHILLIPS

Professor, would you please tell our radio audience exactly what you see as you observe the planet Mars through your telescope?


Nothing unusual at the moment, Mr. Phillips. A red disk swimming in a blue sea. Transverse stripes across the disk. Quite distinct now because Mars happens to be at the point nearest the earth … in opposition, as we call it.


In your opinion, what do these transverse stripes signify, Professor Pierson?


Not canals, I can assure you, Mr. Phillips, although that’s the popular conjecture of those who imagine Mars to be inhabited. From a scientific viewpoint the stripes are merely the result of atmospheric conditions peculiar to the planet.


Then you’re quite convinced as a scientist that living intelligence as we know it does not exist on Mars ?


I should say the chances against it are a thousand to one.


And yet how do you account for these gas eruptions occurring on the surface of the planet at regular intervals?


Mr. Phillips, I cannot account for it.


By the way, Professor, for the benefit of our listeners, how far is Mars from the earth ?


Approximately forty million miles.


Well, that seems a safe enough distance.


Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen, someone has just handed Professor Pierson a message. While he reads it, let me remind you that we are speaking to you from the observatory in Princeton, New Jersey, where we are interviewing the world-famous astronomer, Professor Pierson. . . . One moment, please. Professor Pierson has passed me a message which he has just received. . . . Professor, may I read the message to the listening audience ?


Certainly, Mr. Phillips.


Ladies and gentlemen. I shall read you a wire addressed to Professor Pierson from Dr. Gray of the National History Museum, New York. “9:15 p.m. ‘ eastern standard time. Seismograph registered shock of almost earthquake intensity occurring within a radius of twenty miles of Princeton. Please investigate. Signed, Lloyd Gray, Chief of Astronomical Division.” . . . Professor Pierson, could this occurrence possibly have something to do with the disturbances observed on the planet Mars?


Hardly, Mr. Phillips. This is probably a meteorite of unusual size and its arrival at this particular time is merely a coincidence. However, we shall conduct a search, as soon as daylight permits.


Thank you, Professor. Ladies and gentlemen, for the past ten minutes we’ve been speaking to you from the observatory at Princeton, bringing you a special interview with Professor Pierson, noted astronomer. This is Carl Phillips speaking. We now return you to our New York studio.

(fade in piano playing)


Ladies and gentlemen, here is the latest bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. Toronto, Canada: Professor Morse of Macmillan University reports observing a total of three explosions on the planet Mars, between the hours of 7:45 p.m. and 9:20 p.m., eastern standard time. This confirms earlier reports received from American observatories. Now, nearer home, comes a special announcement from Trenton, New Jersey. It is reported that at 8:50 p.m. a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey, twenty-two miles from Trenton. The flash in the sky was visible within a radius of several hundred miles and the noise of the impact was heard as far north as Elizabeth.

We have dispatched a special mobile unit to the scene, and will have our commentator, Mr. Phillips, give you a word description as soon as he can reach there from Princeton. In the meantime, we take you to the Hotel Martinet in Brooklyn, where Bobby Millette and his orchestra are offering a program of dance music.

(swing band for 20 seconds . . . then cut)


We take you now to Grovers Mill, New Jersey. (crowd noises . . . police sirens)


Ladies and gentlemen, this is Carl Phillips again, at the Wilmuth farm, Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Professor Pierson and myself made the eleven miles from Princeton in ten minutes. Well, I … I hardly know where to begin, to paint for you a word picture of the strange scene before my eyes, like something out of a modern Arabian Nights. Well, I just got here’. I haven’t had a chance to look around yet. I guess that’s it. Yes, I guess that’s the . . . thing, directly in front of me, half buried in a vast pit. Must have struck with terrific force. The ground is covered with splinters of a tree it must have struck on its way down. What I can see of the . . . object itself doesn’t look very much like a meteor, at least not the meteors I’ve seen. It looks more like a huge cylinder. It has a diameter of . . . what would you say, Professor Pierson?


About thirty yards.


About thirty yards. . . . The metal on the sheath is . . . well, I’ve never seen anything like it. The color is sort of yellowish-white. Curious spectators now are pressing close to the object in spite of the efforts of the police to keep them back. They’re getting in front of my line of vision. Would you mind standing on one side, please?


One side, there, one side.


While the policemen are pushing the crowd back, here’s Mr. Wilmuth, owner of the farm here. He may have some interesting facts to add. . . . Mr. Wilmuth, would you please tell the radio audience as much as you remember of this rather unusual visitor that dropped in your backyard? Step closer, please. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Mr. Wilmuth.


I was listenin’ to the radio.


Closer and louder, please.


Pardon me!


Louder, please, and closer.


Yes, sir—while I was listening to the radio and kinda drowsin’, that Professor fellow was talkin’ about Mars, so I was half dozin’ and half . . .


Yes, Mr. Wilmuth. Then what happened?


As I was sayin’, I was listenin’ to the radio kinda halfways . . .


Yes, Mr. Wilmuth, and then you saw something?


Not first off. I heard something.

PHILLIPS And what did you hear?


A hissing sound. Like this: ssssssssss . . . kinda like a fourt’ of July rocket.


Then what?


Turned my head out the window and would have swore I was to sleep and dreamin’.




I seen a kinda greenish streak and then zingo! Somethin’ smacked the ground. Knocked me clear out of my chair!


Well, were you frightened, Mr. Wilmuth?


– Well, I—I ain’t quite sure. I reckon I—I was kinda riled.    \


Thank you, Mr. Wilmuth. Thank you. ‘


Want me to tell you some more?


No. . . . That’s quite all right, that’s plenty.


Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve just heard Mr. Wilmuth, owner of the farm where this thing has fallen. I wish I could convey the atmosphere . . . the background of this . . . fantastic scene. Hundreds of cars are parked in a field in back of us. Police are trying to rope off the roadway leading into the farm. But it’s no use. They’re breaking right through. Their headlights throw an enormous spot on the pit where the object’s half-buried. Some of the more daring souls are venturing near the edge. Their silhouettes stand out against the metal sheen.

(faint humming sound)

One man wants to touch the thing . . . he’s having an argument with a policeman. The policeman wins.

. . . Now, ladies and gentlemen, there’s something I haven’t mentioned in all this excitement, but it’s becoming more distinct. Perhaps you’ve caught it already on your radio. Listen: (long pause) … Do you hear it? It’s a curious humming sound that seems to come from inside the object. I’ll move the microphone nearer. Here, (pause) Now we’re not more than twenty-five feet away. Can you hear it now? Oh, Professor Pierson!


Yes, Mr. Phillips?


Can you tell us the meaning of that scraping noise inside the thing?


Possibly the unequal cooling of its surface.


Do you still think it’s a meteor, Professor?’


I don’t know what to think. The metal casing is definitely extra-terrestrial . . . not found on this earth. Friction with the earth’s atmosphere usually tears holes in a meteorite. This thing is smooth and, as you can see, of cylindrical shape.


Just a minute! Something’s happening! Ladies and gentlemen, this is terrific! This end of the thing is beginning to flake off! The top is beginning to rotate like a screw! The thing must be hollow!


She’s a movin’!

Look, the darn thing’s unscrewing!

Keep back, there! Keep back, I tell you.

Maybe there’s men in it trying to escape!

It’s red hot, they’ll burn to a cinder!

Keep back there! Keep those idiots back!

(suddenly the clanking sound of a huge piece of (FALLING METAL)


She’s off! The top’s loose!

Look out there! Stand back!

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed…. Wait a minute! Someone’s crawling out of the hollow top. Some one or . . . something. I can see peering out of that black hole two luminous disks . . . are they eyes? It might be a face.

It might be. . . .


Good heavens, something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a grey snake. Now it’s another one, and another. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing’s body. It’s large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face. It . . . it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate. The monster or whatever it is can hardly move. It seems weighed down by . . . possibly gravity or something. The thing’s raising up. The crowd falls back. They’ve seen enough. This is the most extraordinary experience. I can’t find words. . . . I’m pulling this microphone with me as I talk. I’ll have to stop the description until I’ve taken a new position. Hold on, will you please, I’ll be back in a minute.



We are bringing you an eyewitness account of what’s happening on the Wilmuth farm, Grovers Mill, New Jersey.

(more piano)

We now return you to Carl Phillips at Grovers Mill.


Ladies and gentlemen (Am I on?). Ladies and gentlemen, here I am, back of a stone wall that adjoins Mr. Wilmuth’s garden. From here I get a sweep of the whole scene. I’ll give you every detail as long as I can talk. As long as I can see. More state police have arrived. They’re drawing up a cordon in front of the pit, about thirty of them. No need to push the crowd back now. They’re willing to keep their distance. The captain is conferring with someone. We can’t quite see who. Oh yes, I believe it’s Professor Pierson. Yes, it is. Now they’ve parted. The professor moves around one side, studying the object, while the captain and two policemen advance with something in their hands. I can see it now. It’s a white handkerchief tied to a pole … a flag of truce. If those creatures know what that means . . . what anything means! . . . Wait! Something’s happening!

(hissing sound followed by a humming that increases IN INTENSITY)

A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What’s that? There’s a jet of flame springing from that mirror, and it leaps right at the advancing men. It strikes them head on! Good Lord, they’re turning into flame!


Now the whole field’s caught fire, (explosion) The woods . . . the bams . . . the gas tanks of automobiles . . . it’s spreading everywhere. It’s coming this way. About twenty yards to my right. . . .



Ladies and gentlemen, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to continue the broadcast from Grovers Mill. Evidently there’s some difficulty…, with our field transmission. However, we will return to that point at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime, we have a late bulletin from San Diego, California. Professor Indellkoffer, speaking at a dinner of the California Astronomical Society, expressed the opinion that the explosions on Mars are undoubtedly nothing more than severe volcanic disturbances on the surface of the planet. We continue now with our piano interlude.


Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been handed a message that came in from Grovers Mill by telephone. Just a moment. At least forty people, including six State Troopers lie dead in a field east of the village of Grovers Mill, their bodies burned and distorted beyond all possible recognition. The next voice you hear will be that of Brigadier General Montgomery Smith, commander of the State Militia at Trenton, New Jersey.


I have been requested by the governor of New Jersey to place the counties of Mercer and Middlesex as far west as Princeton, and east to Jamesburg, under martial law. No one will be permitted to enter this area except by special pass issued by state or military authorities. Four companies of State Militia are proceeding from Trenton to Grovers Mill, and will aid in the evacuation of homes within the range of military operations.

Thank you.


You have just been listening to General Montgomery Smith commanding the State Militia at Trenton. In the meantime, further details of the catastrophe at Grovers Mill are coming in. The strange creatures after unleashing their deadly assault, crawled back in their pit and made no attempt to prevent the efforts of the firemen to recover the bodies and extinguish the fire. Combined fire departments of Mercer County are fighting the flames which menace the entire countryside.

We have been unable to establish any contact with our mobile unit at Grovers Mill, but we hope to be able to return you there at the earliest possible moment. In the meantime we take you—uh, just one moment please.

(long pause) (whisper)

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been informed ‘ that we have finally established communication with an eyewitness of the tragedy. Professor Pierson has been located at a farmhouse near Grovers Mill where he has established an emergency observation post. As a scientist, he will give you his explanation of the calamity. The next voice you hear will be that of Professor Pierson, brought to you by direct wire. Professor Pierson.


Of the creatures in the rocket cylinder at Grovers Mill, I can give you no authoritative information—either as to their nature, their origin, or their purposes here on earth. Of their destructive instrument I might venture some conjectural explanation. For want of a better term, I shall refer to the mysterious weapon as a heat-ray. It’s all too evident that these creatures have scientific knowledge far in advance of our own. It is my guess that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute nonconductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light. That is my conjecture of the origin of the heat-ray. . . .


Thank you, Professor Pierson. Ladies and gentlemen, here is a bulletin from Trenton. It is a brief statement informing us that the charred body of Carl Phillips has been identified in a Trenton Hospital. Now here’s another bulletin from Washington, D.C.

Office of the director of the National Red Cross reports ten units of Red Cross emergency workers have been assigned to the headquarters of the State Militia stationed outside of Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Here’s a bulletin from State Police, Princeton Junction: The fires at Grovers Mill and vicinity now under control. Scouts report all quiet in the pit, and no sign of life appearing from the mouth of the cylinder. . . . And now, ladies and gentlemen, we have a special statement from Mr. Harry McDonald, vice-president in charge of operations.


We have received a request from the militia at Trenton to place at their disposal our entire broadcasting facilities. In view of the gravity of the situation, and believing that radio has a definite responsibility to serve in the public interest at all times, we are turning over our facilities to the State Militia at Trenton.


We take you now to the field headquarters of the State Militia near Grovers Mill, New Jersey.


This is Captain Lansing of the Signal Corps, attached to the State Militia now engaged in military operations in the vicinity of Grovers Mill. Situation arising from the reported presence of certain individuals of unidentified nature, is now under complete control.

The cylindrical object which lies in a pit directly below our position is surrounded on all sides by eight battalions of infantry, without heavy fieldpieces, but adequately armed with rifles and machine guns. All cause for alarm, if such cause ever existed, is now entirely unjustified. The things, whatever they are, do not even venture to poke their heads above the pit. I can see their hiding place plainly in the glare of the searchlight here. With all their reported resources, these creatures can scarcely stand up against heavy machine-gun fire. Anyway, it’s an interesting outing for the troops. I can make out their khaki uniforms, crossing back and forth in front of the lights. It looks almost like a real war. There appears to be some slight smoke in the woods bordering the Millstone River. Probably fire started by campers. Well, we ought to see some action soon. One of the companies is deploying on the left flank. A quick thrust and it will all be over. Now wait a minute! I see something on top of the cylinder. No, it’s nothing but a shadow. Now the troops are on the edge of the Wilmuth farm. Seven thousand armed men closing in on an old metal tube. Wait, that wasn’t a shadow! It’s something moving . . . solid metal . . . kind of a shield-like affair rising up out of the cylinder. . . . It’s going higher and higher. Why, it’s standing on legs . . . actually rearing up on a sort of metal framework. Now it’s reaching above the trees and the searchlights are on it! Hold on!


Ladies and gentlemen, I have a grave announcement to make. Incredible as it may seem, both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings who landed in the Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars. The battle which took place tonight at Grovers Mill has ended in one of the most startling defeats ever suffered by an army in modern times; seven thousand men armed with rifles and machine guns pitted against a single fighting machine of the invaders from Mars. One hundred and twenty known survivors. The rest strewn over the battle area from Grovers Mill to Plainsboro crushed and trampled to death under the metal feet of the monster, or burned to cinders by its heat-ray. The monster is now in control of the middle section of New Jersey and has effectively cut the state through its center. Communication lines are down from Pennsylvania to the Atlantic Ocean. Railroad tracks are tom and service from New York to Philadelphia discontinued except routing some of the trains through Allentown and Phoenixville. Highways to the north, south, and west are clogged with frantic human traffic. Police and army reserves are unable to control the mad flight. By morning the fugitives will have swelled Philadelphia, Camden and Trenton, it is estimated, to twice their normal population.

At this time martial law prevails throughout New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. We take you now to Washington for a special broadcast on the National Emergency . . . the Secretary of the Interior. . . .


Citizens of the nation: I shall not try to conceal the gravity of the situation that confronts the country, nor the concern of your government in protecting the lives and property of its people. However, I wish to impress upon you—private citizens and public officials, all of you—the urgent need of calm and resourceful action. Fortunately, this formidable enemy is still confined to a comparatively small area, and we may place our faith in the military forces to keep them there. In the meantime placing our faith in God we must continue the performance of our duties each and everyone of us, so that we may confront this destructive adversary with a nation united, courageous, and consecrated to the preservation of human supremacy on this earth. I thank you.


You have just heard the Secretary of the Interior speaking from Washington. Bulletins too numerous to read are piling up in the studio here. We are informed that the central portion of New Jersey is blacked out from radio communication due to the effect of the heat-ray upon power lines and electrical equipment. Here is a special bulletin from New York. Cables received from English, French, German scientific bodies offering assistance. Astronomers report continued gas outbursts at regular intervals on planet Mars. Majority voice opinion that enemy will be reinforced by additional rocket machines. Attempts made to locate Professor Pierson of Princeton, who has observed Martians at close range. It is feared he was lost in recent battle. Langham Field, Virginia: Scouting planes report three Martian machines visible above tree tops, moving north towards Somerville with population fleeing ahead of them. Heat-ray not in use: although advancing at express-train speed, invaders pick their way carefully. They seem to be making conscious effort to avoid destruction of cities and countryside. However, they stop to uproot power lines, bridges, and railroad tracks. Their apparent objective is to crush resistance, paralyze communication, and disorganize human society.

Here is a bulletin from Basking Ridge, New Jersey: Coon hunters have stumbled on a second cylinder similar to the first embedded in the great swamp twenty miles south of Morristown. U.S. Army fieldpieces are proceeding from Newark to blow up second invading unit before cylinder can be opened and the fighting machine rigged. They are taking up position in the foothills of Watchung Mountains. Another bulletin from Langham Field, Virginia: Scouting planes report enemy machines, now three in number, increasing speed northward kicking over houses and trees in their evident haste to form a conjunction with their allies south of Morristown. Machines also sighted by telephone operator east of Middlesex within ten miles of Plainfield. Here’s a bulletin from Winston Field, Long Island : Fleet of army bombers carrying heavy explosives flying north in pursuit of enemy. Scouting planes act as guides. They keep speeding enemy in sight. Just a moment please. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve run special wires to the artillery line in adjacent villages to give you direct reports in the zone of the advancing enemy. First we take you to the battery of the 22nd Field Artillery, located in the Watchung Mountains.


Range 32 meters.


Thirty-two meters.


Projection, 39 degrees.


Thirty-nine degrees.


Fire! (boom of heavy gun . . . pause)


One hundred and forty yards to the right, sir.


Shift range . . . 31 meters.


Thirty-one meters.


Projection … 37 degrees.

GUNNER Thirty-seven degrees.


Fire! (boom of heavy gun . . . pause)


A hit, sir! We got the tripod of one of them. They’ve stopped. The others are trying to repair it.


Quick, get the range! Shift 50 30 meters.


Thirty meters.


Projection … 27 degrees.

GUNNER Twenty-seven degrees.


Fire! (boom of heavy gun . . . pause) OBSERVER

Can’t see the shell land, sir. They’re letting off a smoke.


What is it?


A black smoke, sir. Moving this way. Lying close to the ground. It’s moving fast.


Put on gas masks, (pause) Get ready to fire. Shift to 24 meters.


Twenty-four meters.


Projection, 24 degrees.


Twenty-four degrees.


Fire! (boom)


Still can’t see, sir. The smoke’s coming nearer.


Get the range, (coughs)


Twenty-three meters, (coughs)


Twenty-three meters, (coughs)


Twenty-three meters, (coughs)


Projection 22 degrees, (coughing)


Twenty-two degrees, (fade in coughing)

(fading in . . . sound of airplane motor)


Army bombing plane, V-8-43 off Bayonne, New Jersey, Lieutenant Voght, commanding eight bombers. Reporting to Commander Fairfax, Langham Field. . . . This is Voght, reporting to Commander Fairfax, Langham Field. . . . Enemy tripod machines now in sight. Reinforced by three machines from the Morristown’ cylinder. Six altogether. One machine partially crippled. Believed hit by shell from army gun in Watchung Mountains. Guns now appear silent. A heavy black fog hanging close to the earth … of extreme density, nature unknown. No sign of heat-ray. Enemy now turns east, crossing Passaic River into the Jersey marshes. Another straddles the Pulaski Skyway. Evident objective is New York City. They’re pushing down a high tension power station. The machines are dose together now, and we’re ready to attack. Planes circling, ready to strike. A thousand yards and we’ll be over the first— 800 yards … 600 … 400 .. . 200 There they go! The giant arm raised. . . . Green flash! They’re spraying us with flame! Two thousand feet. Engines are giving out. No chance to release bombs. Only one thing left . . . drop on them, plane and all. We’re diving on the first one. Now the engine’s gone! Eight….


This is Bayonne, New Jersey, calling Langham Field. . . .

This is Bayonne, New Jersey, calling Langham Field. . . .

Come in, please. . . . Come in, please. . . .


This is Langham Field … go ahead. . . .


Eight army bombers in engagement with enemy tripod machines over Jersey flats. Engines incapacitated by heat-ray! All crashed. One enemy machine destroyed. Enemy now discharging heavy black smoke in direction of—


This is Newark, New Jersey. . . .

This is Newark, New Jersey. . . .

Warning! Poisonous black smoke pouring in from Jersey marshes. Reaches South Street. Gas masks useless. Urge population to move into open spaces . . . automobiles use routes 7, 23, 24. . . . Avoid congested .. areas. Smoke now spreading over Raymond Boulevard. . . .


2X2L .    .    .    calling    CQ. . . .

2X2L .    .    .    calling    CQ. . . .

2X2L .    .    .    calling    8X3R. . .    .

Come in, please. . . .


This is 8X3R . . . coming back at 2X2L.


How’s reception? How’s reception? K, please. Where are you, 8X3R ?

What’s the matter? Where are you?

(bells ringing over city gradually diminishing)


I’m speaking from the roof of Broadcasting Building, New York City. The bells you hear are ringing to warn the people to evacuate the city as the Martians approach. Estimated in last two hours three million people have moved out along the roads to the north, Hutchison River Parkway still, kept open for motor traffic. Avoid bridges to Long Island . . . hopelessly jammed. All communication with Jersey shore closed ten minutes ago. No more defenses. Our army wiped out . . . artillery, air force, everything wiped out. This may be the last broadcast. We’ll stay here to the end. . . . People are holding service below us … in the cathedral.

(voices singing hymn)

Now I look down the harbor. All manner of boats, overloaded with fleeing population, pulling out from docks.

(sound of boat whistles)

Streets are all jammed. Noise in crowds like New Year’s Eve in city. Wait a minute. . . . Enemy now in sight above the Palisades. Five great machines. First one is crossing river. I can see it from here, wading the Hudson like a man wading through a brook. … A bulletin’s handed me. . . . Martian cylinders are falling all over the country. One outside Buffalo, one in Chicago, St. Louis . . . seem to be timed and spaced. . . . Now the first machine reaches the shore. He stands watching, looking over the city. His steel, cowlish head is even with the skyscrapers. He waits for the others. They rise like a line of new towers on the city’s west side. … Now they’re lifting their metal hands. This is the end now. Smoke comes out . . . black smoke, drifting over the city. People in the streets see it now. They’re running towards the East River… thousands of them, dropping in like rats. Now the smoke’s spreading faster. It’s reached Times Square. People trying to run away from it, but it’s no, use. They’re falling like flies. Now the smoke’s crossing Sixth Avenue . . . Fifth Avenue . . . 100 yards away . . . it’s 50 feet. …


2X2L calling CQ. . . .

2X2L calling CQ. . . .

2X2L calling CQ. . . . New York.

Isn’t there anyone on the air?

Isn’t there anyone. . . .


(middle break)

ANNOUNCER: You are listening to a CBS presentation of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in an original dramatization of War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. The performance will continue after a brief intermission.

This is the Columbia . . . Broadcasting System (fade theme 10 seconds) WABC—New York, (entire break 20 seconds)

ANNOUNCER: War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, starring Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air. …



As I set down these notes on paper, I’m obsessed by the thought that I may be the last living man on earth. I have been hiding in this empty house near Grovers Mill-—a small island of daylight cut off by the black smoke from the rest of the world. All that happened before the arrival of these monstrous creatures in the world now seems part of another life, a life that has no continuity with the present, furtive existence of the lonely derelict who pencils these words on the back of some astronomical notes bearing the signature of Richard Pierson. I look down at my blackened hands, my torn shoes, my tattered clothes, and I try to connect them with a professor who lives at Princeton, and who on the night of October 20, glimpsed through his telescope an orange splash of light on a distant planet. My wife, my colleagues, my students, my books, my observatory, my . . . my world . . . where are they? Did they ever exist? Am I Richard Pierson? What day is it? Do days exist without calendars? Does time pass when there are no human hands left to wind the clocks? . . . In writing down my daily life I tell myself I shall preserve human history between the dark covers of this little book that was meant to record the movements of the stars. . . . But to write I must live, and to live I must eat. … I find mouldy bread in the kitchen, and an orange not too spoiled to swallow. I keep watch at the window. From time to time I catch sight of a Martian above the black smoke.

The smoke still holds the house in its black coil. . . . But at length there is a hissing sound and suddenly I see a Martian mounted on his machine, spraying the air with a jet of steam, as if to dissipate the smoke. I watch in a corner as his huge metal legs nearly brush against the house. Exhausted by terror, I fall asleep. . . . It’s morning. Sun streams in the window. The black cloud of gas has lifted, and the scorched meadows to the north look as though, a black snow storm had passed over them. I venture from the house. I make my way to a road. No traffic. Here and there a wrecked car, baggage overturned, a blackened skeleton. I push on north. For some reason I feel safer trailing these monsters than running away from them. And I keep a careful watch. I have seen the Martians feed. Should one of their machines appear over the top of trees, I am ready to fling myself flat on the earth. I come to a chestnut tree. October, chestnuts are ripe. I fill my pockets. I must keep alive. Two days I wander in a vague northerly direction through a desolate world. Finally I notice a living creature … a small red squirrel in a beech tree. I stare at him, and wonder. He stares back at me. I believe at that moment the animal and I shared the same emotion . . . the joy of finding another living being. … I push on north. I find dead cows in a brackish field. Beyond, the charred ruins of a dairy. The silo remains standing guard over the waste land like a lighthouse deserted by the sea. Astride the silo perches a weathercock. The arrow points north.

Next day I came to a city vaguely familiar in its contours, yet its buildings strangely dwarfed and levelled off, as if a giant had sliced off its highest towers with a capricious sweep of his hand. I reached the outskirts. I found Newark, undemolished, but humbled by some whim of the advancing Martians. Presently, with an odd feeling of being watched, I caught sight of something crouching in a doorway. I made a step towards it, and it rose up and became a man—a man, armed with a large knife.


Stop. . . Where come from?


I come from . . . many places. A long time ago from Princeton.


Princeton, huh? That’s near Grovers Mill!




Grovers Mill. . . . (laughs as at a great joke) …. There’s no food here. This is my country . . . all this end of town down to the river. There’s only food for one. . . . Which way are you going?


I don’t know. I guess I’m looking for—for people.


(nervously) What was that? Did you hear something just then?


Only a bird (marvels). . . . A live bird I


You get to know that birds have shadows these days. Say, we’re in the open here. Let’s crawl into this doorway and talk.


Have you seen any Martians?


They’ve gone over to New York. At night the sky is…. alive with their lights. Just as if people were still living in it. By daylight you can’t see them. Five days ago a couple of them carried something big across the flats from the airport. I believe they’re learning how to fly.


Yeah, fly.


Then it’s all over with humanity. Stranger, there’s still you and I. Two of us left.


They got themselves in solid; they wrecked the greatest country in the world. Those green stars, they’re probably falling somewhere every night. They’ve only lost one machine. There isn’t anything to do. We’re done. We’re licked.


Where were you? You’re in a uniform.


What’s left of it. I was in the militia—national guard. . . . That’s good! Wasn’t any war any more than there’s war between men and ants.


And we’re eatable ants. I found that out. . . . What will they do to us ? ‘


I’ve thought it all out. Right now we’re caught as we’re wanted. The Martian only has to go a few miles to get a crowd on the run. But they won’t keep doing that. They’ll begin catching us systematic like—keeping the best and storing us in cages and things. They haven’t begun on us yet!


Not begun!


Not begun. All that’s happened so far is because we don’t have sense enough to keep quiet . . . bothering them with guns and such stuff and losing our heads and rushing off in crowds. Now instead of our rushing around blind we’ve got to fix ourselves up according to the way things are now. Cities, nations, civilization, progress. . . .


But if that’s so, what is there to live for?


There won’t be any more concerts for a million years or so, and no nice little dinners at restaurants. If it’s amusement you’re after, I guess the game’s up.


And what is there left?


Life . . . that’s what! I want to live. And so do you ! We’re not going to be exterminated. And I don’t mean to be caught, either, and tamed, and fattened, and bred like an ox.


What are you going to do?


I’m going on … right under their feet. I gotta plan. We men as men are finished. We don’t know enough. We gotta learn plenty before we’ve got a chance. And we’ve got to live and keep free while we learn. I’ve thought it all out, see.


Tell me the rest.


Well, it isn’t all of us that are made for wild beasts, and that’s what it’s got to be. That’s why I watched you. All these little office workers that used to live in these houses—they’d be no good. They haven’t any stuff to ’em. They just used to run off to work. I’ve seen hundreds of ’em, running wild to catch their commuters’ train in the morning for fear that they’d get canned if they didn’t; running back at night afraid they won’t be in time for dinner. Lives insured and a little invested in case of accidents. And on Sundays, worried about the hereafter. The Martians will be a godsend for those guys. Nice roomy cages, good food, careful breeding, no worries. After a week or so chasing about the fields on empty stomachs they’ll come and be glad to be caught.


You’ve thought it all out, haven’t you?


You bet I have! And that isn’t all. These Martians will make pets of some of them, train ’em to do tricks. Who knows? Get sentimental over the pet boy who grew up and had to be killed. And some, maybe, they’ll train to hunt us.


No, that’s impossible. No human being. …


Yes they will. There’s men who’ll do it gladly. If one of them ever comes after me. . . .


In the meantime, you and I and others like us . . . where are we to live when the Martians own the earth?


I’ve got it all figured out. We’ll live under ground. I’ve been thinking about the sewers. Under New York are miles and miles of ’em. The main ones are big enough for anybody. Then there’s cellars, vaults, underground storerooms, railway tunnels, subways. You begin to see, eh? And we’ll get a bunch of strong men together. No weak ones, that rubbish, out.


And you meant me to go?

STRANGER . Well, I gave you a chance didn’t I ?


We won’t quarrel about that.-Go on. —


And we’ve got to make safe places for us to stay in, see, and get all the books we can—science books. That’s where men like you come in, see? We’ll raid the museums, we’ll even spy on the Martians. It may not be so much we have to learn before—just imagine this: four or five of their own fighting machines suddenly start off—heat-rays right and left and not a Martian in ’em. Not a Martian in ’em! But men—men who have learned the way how. It may even be in our time. Gee! Imagine having one of them lovely things with its heat-ray wide and free! We’d turn it on Martians, we’d turn it on men. We’d bring everybody down to their knees.


That’s your plan?


You and me and a few more of us we’d own the world.


I see.


Say, what’s the matter? Where are you going?


Not to your world. . . . Good-bye, Stranger. . . .


After parting with the artilleryman, I came at Iast to the Holland Tunnel. I entered that silent tube anxious to know the fate of the great city on the other side of the Hudson. Cautiously I came out of the tunnel and made my way up Canal Street.

I reached Fourteenth Street, and there again were black powder and several bodies, and an evil ominous smell from the gratings of the cellars of some of the houses. I wandered up through the thirties and forties; I stood alone on Times Square. I caught sight of a lean dog running down Seventh Avenue with a piece of dark brown meat in his jaws, and a pack of starving mongrels at his heels. He made a wide circle around me, as though he feared I might prove a fresh competitor. I walked up Broadway in the direction of that strange powder—past silent shop windows, displaying their mute wares to empty sidewalks—past the Capitol Theatre, silent, dark—past a shooting gallery, where a row of empty guns faced an arrested line of wooden ducks. Near Columbus Circle I noticed models of 1939 motor cars in the show rooms facing empty streets. From over the top of the General Motors Building, I watched a flock of black birds circling in the sky. I hurried on. Suddenly I caught sight of the hood of a Martian machine, standing somewhere in Central Park, gleaming in the late afternoon sun. An insane idea! I rushed recklessly across Columbus Circle and into the Park. I climbed a small hill above the pond at Sixtieth Street. From there I could see, standing in a silent row along the Mall, nineteen of those great metal Titans, their cowls empty, their steel arms hanging listlessly by their sides. I looked in vain for the monsters that inhabit those machines.

Suddenly, my eyes were attracted to the immense flock of black birds that hovered directly below me. They circled to the ground, and there before my eyes, stark and silent, lay the Martians, with the hungry birds pecking and tearing brown shreds of flesh from their dead bodies. Later when their bodies were examined in laboratories, it was found that they were killed by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared . . . slain after all man’s defenses had failed, by the humblest thing that God in His wisdom put upon this earth.

Before the cylinder fell there was a general persuasion that through all the deep of space no life existed beyond the petty surface of our minute sphere. Now we see further. Dim and wonderful is the vision I have conjured up in my mind of life spreading slowly from this little seed-bed of the solar system throughout the inanimate vastness of sidereal space. But that is a remote dream. It may be, that the destruction of the Martians is only a reprieve. To them, and not to us, is the future ordained perhaps.

Strange it now seems to sit in my peaceful study at Princeton writing down this last chapter of the record begun at a deserted farm in Grovers Mill. Strange to see from my window the university spires dim and blue through an April haze. Strange to watch children playing in the streets. Strange to see young people strolling on the green, where the new spring grass heals the last black scars of a bruised earth. Strange to watch the sightseers enter the museum where the dissembled parts of a Martian machine are kept on public view. Strange when I recall the time when I first saw it, bright and dean-cut, hard and silent, under the dawn of that last great day.


This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that the War of the Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo! Starting now, we couldn’t soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates, by tomorrow night … so we did the next best thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the Columbia Broadcasting System. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn’t mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So good-bye everybody, and remember, please, for the next day or so, the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living-room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian . . . it’s Hallowe’en.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight the Columbia Broadcasting System, and its affiliated stations coast-to-coast, has brought you War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells . . . the seventeenth in its weekly series of dramatic broadcasts featuring Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air.


ANNOUNCER: Next week we present a dramatization of three famous short stories. This is the Columbia . . . Broadcasting System.

(fade theme 20 seconds). 9:00 p.m. B-U-L-O-V-A Bulova Watch Time. WABC—New York. –

Additional announcements. Altogether during ihe broadcast four announcements were made to the full network—one at the beginning, one before the station-break, one after the station-break, one at the end. The following announcement was made to the network on the same evening at 10:30,11:30 and 12:00 midnight: “For those listeners who tuned in to Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. eastern standard time tonight and did not realize that the program was merely a modernized adaptation of H. G. Wells’s famous novel War of the Worlds, we are repeating the fact which was made clear four times on the program, that, while the names of some American cities were used, as in all novels and dramatizations, the entire story and all of its incidents were fictitious.”

In addition, 60 per cent of all stations carrying the program interrupted the broadcast to make local announcements when it became apparent that a misunderstanding was abroad. Other local announcements followed the broadcast. It must be remembered, however, that the most terrifying part of the broadcast came before the station break. Hence listeners who failed to hear the original announcement had ample opportunity to become frightened.

This broadcast with these warnings created the panic.

Isaac Asimov: Azazel – The Two-Centimeter Demon

I met George at a literary convention a good many years ago, and was struck by the peculiar look of innocence and candor upon his round middle-aged face. He was the kind of person, I decided at once, to whom you would give your wallet to hold while you went swimming.

He recognized me from my photographs on the back of my books and greeted me gladly, telling me how much he liked my stories and novels which, of course, gave me a good opinion of his intelligence and taste.

We shook hands cordially and he said, “My name is George Bitternut.”

“Bitternut,” I repeated, in order to fix it in my mind. “An unusual name.”

“Danish,” he said, “and very aristocratic. I am descended from Cnut, better known as Canute, a Danish king who conquered England in the early eleventh century. An ancestor of mine was his son, born on the wrong side of the blanket, of course.”

“Of course,” I muttered, though I didn’t see why that was something that should be taken for granted.

“He was named Cnut for his father,” George went on, “and when he was presented to the king, the royal Dane said, ‘By my halidom, is this my heir?’ ”

“‘Not quite,’ said the courtier who was dandling little Cnut, ‘for he is illegitimate, the mother being the launderwoman whom you ‘

“‘Ah,’ said the king, ‘That’s better.’ And Bettercnut he was known from that moment on. Just that single name. I have inherited that name in the direct male line except that the vicissitudes of time have changed the name to Bitternut.And his blue eyes looked at me with a kind of hypnotic ingenuousness that forbade doubt.

I said, “Would you join me for lunch?” sweeping my hand in the direction of the ornate restaurant that was clearly intended only for the fat-walleted.

George said, “Don’t you think that that bistro is a bit garish and that the lunch counter on the other side might – ”

“As my guest,” I added.

And George pursed his lips and said, “Now that I look at the bistro in a better light, I see that it has a rather homelike atmosphere. Yes, it will do.”

Over the main course, George said, “My ancestor Bettercnut had a son, whom he named Sweyn. A good Danish name.”

“Yes, I know,” I said, “King Cnut’s father’s name was Sweyn Forkbeard. In modern times, the name is usually spelled Sven.”

George frowned slightly and said, “There is no need, old man, to parade your knowledge of these things. I accept the fact that you have the rudiments of an education.”

I felt abashed. “Sorry.”

He waved his hand in grand forgiveness, ordered another glass of wine and said, “Sweyn Bettercnut was fascinated by the young women, a characteristic all the Bitternuts have inherited, and he was very successful with them, I might add – as we have all been. There is a well-attested tale that many a woman after leaving him would shake her head admiringly and say, ‘Oh, what a Sweyn that is.’ He was an archimage, too.He paused, and said abruptly, ?o you know what an archimage is?

“No,” I lied, not wishing to parade my knowledge offensively yet again. “Tell me.”

“An archimage is a master magician,” said George, with what certainly sounded like a sigh of relief. “Sweyn studied the arcane and hidden arts. It was possible to do it then, for all that nasty modern skepticism had not yet arisen. He was intent on finding ways of persuading the young ladies to behave with that kind of gentle and compliant behavior that is the crown of womanhood and to eschew all that was froward and shrewish.”

“Ah,” I said, sympathetically.

“For this he needed demons, and he perfected means for calling them up by burning certain sweet shrubs and calling on certain half-forgotten names of power.”

“And did it work, Mr. Bitternut?”

“Please call me George. Of course it worked. He had demons in teams and shoals working for him for, as he often complained, the women of the time were mule-headed and obstinate who countered his claim to be the grandson of a king, with unkind remarks about the nature of the descent. Once a demon did his thing, however, they could see that a natural son was only natural.”

I said, “Are you sure this is so, George?”

“Certainly, for last summer I found his book of recipes for calling up demons. I found it in an old English castle that is in ruins now but that once belonged to my family. The exact shrubs were listed, the manner of burning, the pacing, the names of power, the intonations. Everything. It was written in Old English – Anglo-Saxon, you know – but I am by way of being a linguist and – ”

A certain mild skepticism made itself felt. “You’re joking,” I said.

His glance was haughty. “Why do you think so? Am I tittering? It was an authentic book. I tested the recipes myself.”

“And got a demon.”

“Yes, indeed,” he said, pointing significantly to the breast pocket of his suit coat.

“In there?”

George touched the pocket and seemed on the point of nodding, when his fingers seemed to feel something significant, or perhaps failed to feel something. He peered inside.

“He’s gone,” he said with dissatisfaction. “Dematerialized. – But you can’t blame him, perhaps. He was with me last night because he was curious about this convention, you know. I gave him some whiskey out of an eyedropper and he liked it. Perhaps he liked it a little too much, for he wanted to fight the caged cockatoo in the bar and began squeaking opprobrious names at it. Fortunately he fell asleep before the offended bird could retaliate. This morning he did not seem at his best and I suppose he has gone home, wherever that might be, to recover.”

I felt a touch rebellious. Did he expect me to believe all this? “Are you telling me you had a demon in your breast pocket?”

“Your quick grasp of the situation,” said George, “is gratifying.”

“How big was he?”

“Two centimeters.”

“But that’s less than an inch.”

“Perfectly correct. An inch is 2.54 centimeters.”

“I mean, what kind of a demon is two centimeters tall?”

“A small one,” said George, “but as the old saying goes, a small demon is better than no demon.”

“It depends on his mood.”

“Oh, Azazel – that’s his name – is a friendly demon. I suspect he is looked down upon in his native haunts, for he is extraordinarily anxious to impress me with his powers, except that he won’t use them to make me rich, as he should out of decent friendship. He says his powers must be used only to do good to others.”

“Come, come, George. Surely that’s not the philosophy of hell.”

George put a finger to his lips. “Don’t say things like that, old man. Azazel would be enormously offended. He says that his country is kindly, decent, and highly civilized, and he speaks with enormous respect of his ruler whom he won’t name but whom he calls merely the All-in-All”

“And does he indeed do kindnesses?”

“Whenever he can. Take the case of my goddaughter, Juniper Pen – ”

“Juniper Pen?”

“Yes. I can see by the look of intense curiosity in your eye that you wish to know the story and I will gladly tell it to you.”

Juniper Pen [said George] was a wide-eyed sophomore at college when the tale I tell you opened – an innocent, sweet girl fascinated by the basketball team, one and all of whom were tall, handsome young men.

The one of the team upon whom her girlish fancies seemed most fixed was Leander Thomson, tall, rangy, with large hands that wrapped themselves about a basketball, or anything else that was the size and shape of a basketball, which somehow brings Juniper to mind. He was the undoubted focus of her screaming when she sat in the audience at one of the games.

She would speak to me of her sweet little dreams, for like all young women, even those who were not my goddaughters, she had the impulse to confide in me. My warm but dignified demeanor invited confidence.

“Oh, Uncle George,” she would say, “surely it isn’t wrong of me to dream of a future with Leander. I see him now as the greatest basketball player in the world, as the pick and cream of the great professionals, as the owner of a long-term, large-sized contract. It’s not as if I ask for much. All I want out of life is a little vine-covered mansion, a small garden stretching out as far as the eye can see, a simple staff of servants organized into squads, all my clothing arranged alphabetically for each day of the week, and each month of the year, and – ”

It was forced to interrupt her charming prattle. “Little one,” I said, “there is a tiny flaw in your scheme. Leander is not a very good basketball player and it is unlikely that he will be signed up for enormous sums in salary.”

“That’s so unfair,” she said, pouting. “Why isn’t he a very good basketball player?”

“Because that is the way the universe works. Why do you not pin your young affections on someone who is a good basketball player? Or, for that matter, on some honest young Wall Street broker who happens to have access to inside information?”

“Actually, I’ve thought of that myself, Uncle George, but I like Leander all by himself. There are times when I think of him and say to myself, Is money really all that important?”

“Hush, little one,” I said, shocked. Women these days are incredibly outspoken.

“But why can’t I have the money too? Is that so much to ask?”

Actually, was it? After all, I had a demon all my own. It was a little demon, to be sure, but his heart was big. Surely he would want to help out the course of true love, in order to bring sweetness and light to two souls whose two hearts beat as one at the thought of mutual kisses and mutual funds.

Azazel did listen when I summoned him with the appropriate name of power. – No, I can’t tell you what it is. Have you no sense of elementary ethics? – As I say, he did listen but with what I felt to be a lack of that true sympathy one would expect. I admit I had dragged him into our own continuum from what was an indulgence in something like a Turkish bath, for he was wrapped in a tiny towel and he was shivering. His voice seemed higher and squeakier than ever. (Actually, I don’t think it was truly his voice. I think he communicated by telepathy of some sort, but the result was that I heard, or imagined I heard, a squeaky voice.)

“What is basket ball?” he said. “A ball shaped like a basket? Because if it is, what is a basket?”

I tried to explain but, for a demon, he can be very dense. He kept staring at me as though I were not explaining every bit of the game with luminous clarity.

He said, finally, “Is it possible for me to see a game of basketball?”

“Certainly,” I said. “There will be a game tonight. I have a ticket which Leander gave me and you can come in my pocket.”

“Fine,” said Azazel. “Call me back when you are ready to leave for the game. Right now I must finish my zymjig,” by which I suppose he meant his Turkish bath – and he disappeared.

I must admit that I find it most irritating to have someone place his puny and parochial affairs ahead of the matters of great moment in which I am engaged – which reminds me, old man, that the waiter seems to be trying to attract your attention. I think he has your check for you. Please take it from him and let me get ahead with my story.

I went to the basketball game that night and Azazel was with me in my pocket. He kept poking his head above the edge of the pocket in order to watch the game and he would have made a questionable sight if anyone had been watching. His skin is a bright red and on his forehead are two nubbins of horns. It is fortunate, of course, that he didn’t come out altogether, for his centimeter-long, muscular tail is both his most prominent and his most nauseating feature.

I am not a great basketball aficionado myself and I rather left it to Azazel to make sense out of what was happening. His intelligence, although demonic rather than human, is intense.

After the game he said to me, “It seems to me, as nearly as I could make out from the strenuous action of the bulky, clumsy and totally uninteresting individuals in the arena, that there was excitement every time that peculiar ball passed through a hoop.”

“That’s it,” I said. “You score a basket, you see.”

“Then this protege of yours would become a heroic player of this stupid game if he could throw the ball through the hoop every time?”


Azazel twirled his tail thoughtfully. “That should not be difficult. I need only adjust his reflexes in order to make him judge the angle, height, force – ” He fell into a ruminative silence for a moment, then said, “Let’s see, I noted and recorded his personal coordinate complex during the game … Yes, it can be done.

– In fact, it is done. Your Leander will have no trouble in getting the ball through the hoop.”

I felt a certain excitement as I waited for the next scheduled game. I did not say a word to little Juniper because I had never made use of Azazel’s demonic powers before and I wasn’t entirely sure that his deeds would match his words. Besides, I wanted her to be surprised. (As it turned out, she was very surprised, as was I.)

The day of the game came at last, and it was the game. Our local college, Nerdsville Tech, of whose basketball team Leander was so dim a luminary, was playing the lanky bruisers of the Al Capone College Reformatory and it was expected to be an epic combat.

How epic, no one expected. The Capone Five swept into an early lead, and I watched Leander keenly. He seemed to have trouble in deciding what to do and at first his hands seemed to miss the ball when he tried to dribble. His reflexes, I guessed, had been so altered that at first he could not control his muscles at all.

But then it was as though he grew accustomed to his new body. He seized the ball and it seemed to slip from his hands – but what a slip! It arced high into the air and through the center of the hoop.

A wild cheer shook the stands while Leander stared thoughtfully up at the hoop as though wondering what had happened.

Whatever had happened, happened again – and again. As soon as Leander touched the ball, it arced. As soon as it arced it curved into the basket. It would happen so suddenly that no one ever saw Leander aim, or make any effort at all. Interpreting this as sheer expertise, the crowd grew the more hysterical.

But then, of course, the inevitable happened and the game descended into total chaos. Catcalls erupted from the stands; the scarred and broken-nosed alumni who were rooting for Capone Reformatory made violent remarks of a derogatory nature and fistfights blossomed in every corner of the audience.

What I had failed to tell Azazel, you see, thinking it to be selfevident, and what Azazel had failed to realize was that the two baskets on the court were not identical: that one was the home basket and the other the visitors’ basket, and that each player aimed for the appropriate basket. The basketball, with all the lamentable ignorance of an inanimate object, arced for whichever basket was nearer once Leander seized it. The result was that time and again Leander would manage to put the ball into the wrong basket.

He persisted in doing so despite the kindly remonstrances of Nerdsville coach, Claws (“Pop”) McFang, which he shrieked through the foam that covered his lips. Pop McFang bared his teeth in a sigh of sadness at having to eject Leander from the game, and wept openly when they removed his fingers from Leander’s throat so that the ejection could be carried through.

My friend, Leander was never the same again. I had thought, naturally, that he would find escape in drink, and become a stern and thoughtful wino. I would have understood that. He sank lower than that, however. He turned to his studies.

Under the contemptuous, and even sometimes pitying, eyes of his schoolmates, he slunk from lecture to lecture, buried his head in books, and receded into the dank depths of scholarship.

Yet through it all, Juniper clung to him. “He needs me,” she said, her eyes misting with unshed tears. Sacrificing all, she married him after they graduated. She then clung to him even while he sank to the lowest depths of all, being stigmatized with a Ph.D. in physics.

He and Juniper live now in a small co-op on the upper west side somewhere. He teaches physics and does research in cosmogony, I understand. He earns $60,000 a year and is spoken of in shocked whispers, by those who knew him when he was a respectable jock, as a possible candidate for the Nobel Prize.

Juniper never complains, but remains faithful to her fallen idol. Neither by word nor deed does she ever express any sense of loss, but she cannot fool her old godfather. I know very well that, on occasion, she thinks wistfully of the vine-covered mansion she’ll never have, and of the rolling hills and distant horizons of her small dream estate.

“That’s the story,” said George, as he scooped up the change the waiter had brought, and copied down the total from the credit-card receipt (so that he might take it off as a tax-deduction, I assume). “If I were you,” he added. “I would leave a generous tip.”

I did so, rather in a daze, as George smiled and walked away. I didn’t really mind the loss of the change. It occurred to me that George got only a meal, whereas I had a story I could tell as my own and which would earn me many times the cost of the meal.

In fact, I decided to continue having dinner with him now and then.

H.P. Lovecraft – The tomb

In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement within this refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative. It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience. Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of supersight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empricism.

My name is Jervas Dudley, and from earliest childhood I have been a dreamer and a visionary. Wealthy beyond the necessity of a commercial life, and temperamentally unfitted for the formal studies and social recreation of my acquaintances, I have dwelt ever in realms apart from the visible world; spending my youth and adolescence in ancient and little known books, and in roaming the fields and groves of the region near my ancestral home. I do not think that what I read in these books or saw in these fields and groves was exactly what other boys read and saw there; but of this I must say little, since detailed speech would but confirm those cruel slanders upon my intellect which I sometimes overhear from the whispers of the stealthy attendants around me. It is sufficient for me to relate events without analyzing causes.

I have said that I dwelt apart from the visible world, but I have not said that I dwelt alone. This no human creature may do; for lacking the fellowship of the living, he inevitably draws upon the companionship of things that are not, or are no longer, living. Close by my home there lies a singular wooded hollow, in whose twilight deeps I spent most of my time; reading, thinking, and dreaming. Down its moss-covered slopes my first steps of infancy were taken, and around its grotesquely gnarled oak trees my first fancies of boyhood were woven. Well did I come to know the presiding dryads of those trees, and often have I watched their wild dances in the struggling beams of a waning moon but of these things I must not now speak. I will tell only of the lone tomb in the darkest of the hillside thickets; the deserted tomb of the Hydes, an old and exalted family whose last direct descendant had been laid within its black recesses many decades before my birth.

The vault to which I refer is of ancient granite, weathered and discolored by the mists and dampness of generations. Excavated back into the hillside, the structure is visible only at the entrance. The door, a ponderous and forbidding slab of stone, hangs upon rusted iron hinges, and is fastened ajar in a queerly sinister way by means of heavy iron chains and padlocks, according to a gruesome fashion of half a century ago. The abode of the race whose scions are here inurned had once crowned the declivity which holds the tomb, but had long since fallen victim to the flames which sprang up from a stroke of lightning. Of the midnight storm which destroyed this gloomy mansion, the older inhabitants of the region sometimes speak in hushed and uneasy voices; alluding to what they call ‘divine wrath’ in a manner that in later years vaguely increased the always strong fascination which I had felt for the forest-darkened sepulcher. One man only had perished in the fire. When the last of the Hydes was buried in this place of shade and stillness, the sad urnful of ashes had come from a distant land, to which the family had repaired when the mansion burned down. No one remains to lay flowers before the granite portal, and few care to brave the depressing shadows which seem to linger strangely about the water-worn stones.

I shall never forget the afternoon when first I stumbled upon the half-hidden house of death. It was in midsummer, when the alchemy of nature transmutes the sylvan landscape to one vivid and almost homogeneous mass of green; when the senses are well-nigh intoxicated with the surging seas of moist verdure and the subtly indefinable odors of the soil and the vegetation. In such surroundings the mind loses its perspective; time and space become trivial and unreal, and echoes of a forgotten prehistoric past beat insistently upon the enthralled consciousness.

All day I had been wandering through the mystic groves of the hollow; thinking thoughts I need not discuss, and conversing with things I need not name. In years a child of ten, I had seen and heard many wonders unknown to the throng; and was oddly aged in certain respects. When, upon forcing my way between two savage clumps of briars, I suddenly encountered the entrance of the vault, I had no knowledge of what I had discovered. The dark blocks of granite, the door so curiously ajar, and the funeral carvings above the arch, aroused in me no associations of mournful or terrible character. Of graves and tombs I knew and imagined much, but had on account of my peculiar temperament been kept from all personal contact with churchyards and cemeteries. The strange stone house on the woodland slope was to me only a source of interest and speculation; and its cold, damp interior, into which I vainly peered through the aperture so tantalizingly left, contained for me no hint of death or decay. But in that instant of curiosity was born the madly unreasoning desire which has brought me to this hell of confinement. Spurred on by a voice which must have come from the hideous soul of the forest, I resolved to enter the beckoning gloom in spite of the ponderous chains which barred my passage. In the waning light of day I alternately rattled the rusty impediments with a view to throwing wide the stone door, and essayed to squeeze my slight form through the space already provided; but neither plan met with success. At first curious, I was now frantic; and when in the thickening twilight I returned to my home, I had sworn to the hundred gods of the grove that at any cost I would some day force an entrance to the black, chilly depths that seemed calling out to me. The physician with the iron-grey beard who comes each day to my room, once told a visitor that this decision marked the beginning of a pitiful monomania; but I will leave final judgment to my readers when they shall have learnt all.

The months following my discovery were spent in futile attempts to force the complicated padlock of the slightly open vault, and in carefully guarded inquiries regarding the nature and history of the structure. With the traditionally receptive ears of the small boy, I learned much; though an habitual secretiveness caused me to tell no one of my information or my resolve. It is perhaps worth mentioning that I was not at all surprised or terrified on learning of the nature of the vault. My rather original ideas regarding life and death had caused me to associate the cold clay with the breathing body in a vague fashion; and I felt that the great and sinister family of the burned-down mansion was in some way represented within the stone space I sought to explore. Mumbled tales of the weird rites and godless revels of bygone years in the ancient hall gave to me a new and potent interest in the tomb, before whose door I would sit for hours at a time each day. Once I thrust a candie within the nearly closed entrance, but could see nothing save a flight of damp stone steps leading downward. The odor of the place repelled yet bewitched me. I felt I had known it before, in a past remote beyond all recollection; beyond even my tenancy of the body I now possess.

The year after I first beheld the tomb, I stumbled upon a worm-eaten translation of Plutarch’s Lives in the book-filled attic of my home. Reading the life of Theseus, I was much impressed by that passage telling of the great stone beneath which the boyish hero was to find his tokens of destiny whenever he should become old enough to lift its enormous weight. The legend had the effect of dispelling my keenest impatience to enter the vault, for it made me feel that the time was not yet ripe. Later, I told myself, I should grow to a strength and ingenuity which might enable me to unfasten the heavily chained door with ease; but until then I would do better by conforming to what seemed the will of Fate.

Accordingly my watches by the dank portal became less persistent, and much of my time was spent in other though equally strange pursuits. I would sometimes rise very quietly in the night, stealing out to walk in those church-yards and places of burial from which I had been kept by my parents. What I did there I may not say, for I am not now sure of the reality of certain things; but I know that on the day after such a nocturnal ramble I would often astonish those about me with my knowledge of topics almost forgotten for many generations. It was after a night like this that I shocked the community with a queer conceit about the burial of the rich and celebrated Squire Brewster, a maker of local history who was interred in 1711, and whose slate headstone, bearing a graven skull and crossbones, was slowly crumbling to powder. In a moment of childish imagination I vowed not only that the undertaker, Goodman Simpson, had stolen the silver-buckled shoes, silken hose, and satin small-clothes of the deceased before burial; but that the Squire himself, not fully inanimate, had turned twice in his mound-covered coffin on the day after interment.

But the idea of entering the tomb never left my thoughts; being indeed stimulated by the unexpected genealogical discovery that my own maternal ancestry possessed at least a slight link with the supposediy extinct family of the Hydes. Last of my paternal race, I was likewise the last of this older and more mysterious line. I began to feel that the tomb was mine, and to look forward with hot eagerness to the time when I might pass within that stone door and down those slimy stone steps in the dark. I now formed the habit of listening very intently at the slightly open portal, choosing my favorite hours of midnight stillness for the odd vigil. By the time I came of age, I had made a small clearing in the thicket before the mold-stained facade of the hillside, allowing the surrounding vegetation to encircle and overhang the space like the walls and roof of a sylvan bower. This bower was my temple, the fastened door my shrine, and here I would lie outstretched on the mossy ground, thinking strange thoughts and dreaming strange dreams.

The night of the first revelation was a sultry one. I must have fallen asleep from fatigue, for it was with a distinct sense of awakening that I heard the voices. Of these tones and accents I hesitate to speak; of their quality I will not speak; but I may say that they presented certain uncanny differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, and mode of utterance. Every shade of New England dialect, from the uncouth syllables of the Puritan colonists to the precise rhetoric of fifty years ago, seemed represented in that shadowy colloquy, though it was only later that I noticed the fact. At the time, indeed, my attention was distracted from this matter by another phenomenon; a phenomenon so fleeting that I could not take oath upon its reality. I barely fancied that as I awoke, a light had been hurriedly extinguished within the sunken sepulcher. I do not think I was either astounded or panic-stricken, but I know that I was greatly and permanently changed that night. Upon returning home I went with much directness to a rotting chest in the attic, wherein I found the key which next day unlocked with ease the barrier I had so long stormed in vain.

It was in the soft glow of late afternoon that I first entered the vault on the abandoned slope. A spell was upon me, and my heart leaped with an exultation I can but ill describe. As I closed the door behind me and descended the dripping steps by the light of my lone candle, I seemed to know the way; and though the candle sputtered with the stifling reek of the place, I felt singularly at home in the musty, charnel-house air. Looking about me, I beheld many marble slabs bearing coffins, or the remains of coffins. Some of these were sealed and intact, but others had nearly vanished, leaving the silver handles and plates isolated amidst certain curious heaps of whitish dust. Upon one plate I read the name of Sir Geoffrey Hyde, who had come from Sussex in 1640 and died here a few years later. In a conspicuous alcove was one fairly well preserved and untenanted casket, adorned with a single name which brought me both a smile and a shudder. An odd impulse caused me to climb upon the broad slab, extinguish my candle, and lie down within the vacant box.

In the gray light of dawn I staggered from the vault and locked the chain of the door behind me. I was no longer a young man, though but twenty-one winters had chilled my bodily frame. Early-rising villagers who observed my homeward progress looked at me strangely, and marveled at the signs of ribald revelry which they saw in one whose life was known to be sober and solitary. I did not appear before my parents till after a long and refreshing sleep.

Henceforward I haunted the tomb each night; seeing, hearing, and doing things I must never recall. My speech, always susceptible to environmental influences, was the first thing to succumb to the change; and my suddenly acquired archaism of diction was soon remarked upon. Later a queer boldness and recklessness came into my demeanor, till I unconsciously grew to possess the bearing of a man of the world despite my lifelong seclusion. My formerly silent tongue waxed voluble with the easy grace of a Chesterfield or the godless cynicism of a Rochester. I displayed a peculiar erudition utterly unlike the fantastic, monkish lore over which I had pored in youth; and covered the fly-leaves of my books with facile impromptu epigrams which brought up suggestions of Gay, Prior, and the sprightliest of the Augustan wits and rimesters. One morning at breakfast I came close to disaster by declaiming in palpably liquorish accents an effusion of Eighteenth Century bacchanalian mirth, a bit of Georgian playfulness never recorded in a book, which ran something like this:

Come hither, my lads, with your tankards of ale,

And drink to the present before it shall fail;

Pile each on your platter a mountain of beef,

For ’tis eating and drinking that bring us relief:

So fill up your glass,

For life will soon pass;

When you’re dead ye’ll ne’er drink to your king or your lass!

Anacreon had a red nose, so they say;

But what’s a red nose if ye’re happy and gay?

Gad split me! I’d rather be red whilst I’m here,

Than white as a lily and dead half a year!

So Betty, my miss,

Come give me kiss;

In hell there’s no innkeeper’s daughter like this!

Young Harry, propp’d up just as straight as he’s able,

Will soon lose his wig and slip under the table,

But fill up your goblets and pass ’em around

Better under the table than under the ground!

So revel and chaff

As ye thirstily quaff:

Under six feet of dirt ’tis less easy to laugh!

The fiend strike me blue! l’m scarce able to walk,

And damn me if I can stand upright or talk!

Here, landlord, bid Betty to summon a chair;

l’ll try home for a while, for my wife is not there!

So lend me a hand;

I’m not able to stand,

But I’m gay whilst I linger on top of the land!

About this time I conceived my present fear of fire and thunderstorms. Previously indifferent to such things, I had now an unspeakable horror of them; and would retire to the innermost recesses of the house whenever the heavens threatened an electrical display. A favorite haunt of mine during the day was the ruined cellar of the mansion that had burned down, and in fancy I would picture the structure as it had been in its prime. On one occasion I startled a villager by leading him confidently to a shallow subcellar, of whose existence I seemed to know in spite of the fact that it had been unseen and forgotten for many generations.

At last came that which I had long feared. My parents, alarmed at the altered manner and appearance of their only son, commenced to exert over my movements a kindly espionage which threatened to result in disaster. I had told no one of my visits to the tomb, having guarded my secret purpose with religious zeal since childhood; but now I was forced to exercise care in threading the mazes of the wooded hollow, that I might throw off a possible pursuer. My key to the vault I kept suspended from a cord about my neck, its presence known only to me. I never carried out of the sepulcher any of the things I came upon whilst within its walls.

One morning as I emerged from the damp tomb and fastened the chain of the portal with none too steady hand, I beheld in an adjacent thicket the dreaded face of a watcher. Surely the end was near; for my bower was discovered, and the objective of my nocturnal journeys revealed. The man did not accost me, so I hastened home in an effort to overhear what he might report to my careworn father. Were my sojourns beyond the chained door about to be proclaimed to the world? Imagine my delighted astonishment on hearing the spy inform my parent in a cautious whisper that I had spent the night in the bower outside the tomb; my sleep-filmed eyes fixed upon the crevice where the padlocked portal stood ajar! By what miracle had the watcher been thus deluded? I was now convinced that a supernatural agency protected me. Made bold by this heaven-sent circumstance, I began to resume perfect openness in going to the vault; confident that no one could witness my entrance. For a week I tasted to the full joys of that charnel conviviality which I must not describe, when the thing happened, and I was borne away to this accursed abode of sorrow and monotony.

I should not have ventured out that night; for the taint of thunder was in the clouds, and a hellish phosphoresence rose from the rank swamp at the bottom of the hollow. The call of the dead, too, was different. Instead of the hillside tomb, it was the charred cellar on the crest of the slope whose presiding demon beckoned to me with unseen fingers. As I emerged from an intervening grove upon the plain before the ruin. I beheld in the misty moonlight a thing I had always vaguely expected. The mansion, gone for a century, once more reared its stately height to the raptured vision; every window ablaze with the splendor of many candles. Up the long drive rolled the coaches of the Boston gentry, whilst on foot came a numerous assemblage of powdered exquisites from the neighboring mansions. With this throng I mingled, though I knew I belonged with the hosts rather than with the guests. Inside the hall were music, laughter, and wine on every hand. Several faces I recognized; though I should have known them better had they been shriveled or eaten away by death and decomposition. Amidst a wild and reckless throng I was the wildest and most abandoned. Gay blasphemy poured in torrents from my lips, and in shocking sallies I heeded no law of God, or nature.

Suddenly a peal of thunder, resonant even above the din of the swinish revelry, clave the very roof and laid a hush of fear upon the boisterous company. Red tongues of flame and searing gusts of heat engulfed the house; and the roysterers, struck with terror at the descent of a calamity which seemed to transcend the bounds of unguided nature, fled shrieking into the night. I alone remained, riveted to my seat by a groveling fear which I had never felt before. And then a second horror took possession of my soul. Burnt alive to ashes, my body dispersed by the four winds, I might never lie in the tomb of the Hydesi Was not my coffin prepared for me? Had I not a right to rest till eternity amongst the descendants of Sir Geoffrey Hyde? Aye! I would claim my heritage of death, even though my soul go seeking through the ages for another corporeal tenement to represent it on that vacant slab in the alcove of the vault. Jervas Hyde should never share the sad fate of Palinurus!

As the phantom of the burning house faded, I found myself screaming and struggling madly in the arms of two men, one of whom was the spy who had followed me to the tomb. Rain was pouring down in torrents, and upon the southern horizon were flashes of lightning that had so lately passed over our heads. My father, his face lined with sorrow, stood by as I shouted my demands to be laid within the tomb, frequently admonishing my captors to treat me as gently as they could. A blackened circle on the floor of the ruined cellar told of a violent stroke from the heavens; and from this spot a group of curious villagers with lanterns were prying a small box of antique workmanship, which the thunderbolt had brought to light.

Ceasing my futile and now objectless writhing, I watched the spectators as they viewed the treasure-trove, and was permitted to share in their discoveries. The box, whose fastenings were broken by the stroke which had unearthed it, contained many papers and objects of value, but I had eyes for one thing alone. It was the porcelain miniature of a young man in a smartly curled bag-wig, and bore the initials ‘J. H.’ The face was such that as I gazed, I might well have been studying my mirror.

On the following day I was brought to this room with the barred windows, but I have been kept informed of certain things through an aged and simple-minded servitor, for whom I bore a fondness in infancy, and who, like me, loves the churchyard. What I have dared relate of my experiences within the vault has brought me only pitying smiles. My father, who visits me frequently, declares that at no time did I pass the chained portal, and swears that the rusted padlock had not been touched for fifty years when he examined it. He even says that all the village knew of my journeys to the tomb, and that I was often watched as I slept in the bower outside the grim facade, my half-open eyes fixed on the crevice that leads to the interior. Against these assertions I have no tangible proof to offer, since my key to the padlock was lost in the struggle on that night of horrors. The strange things of the past which I have learned during those nocturnal meetings with the dead he dismisses as the fruits of my lifelong and omnivorous browsing amongst the ancient volumes of the family library. Had it not been for my old servant Hiram, I should have by this time become quite convinced of my madness.

But Hiram, loyal to the last, has held faith in me, and has done that which impels me to make public at least part of my story. A week ago he burst open the lock which chains the door of the tomb perpetually ajar, and descended with a lantern into the murky depths. On a slab in an alcove he found an old but empty coffin whose tarnished plate bears the single word: Jervas. In that coffin and in that vault they have promised me I shall be buried.

Dan Simmons – Metastasis

On the day Louis Steig received a call from his sister saying that their mother had collapsed and been admitted to a Denver hospital with a diagnosis of cancer, he promptly jumped into his Camaro, headed for Denver at high speed, hit a patch of black ice on the Boulder Turnpike, flipped his car seven times, and ended up in a coma from a fractured skull and a severe concussion. He was unconscious for nine days. When he awoke he was told that a minute sliver of bone had actually penetrated the left frontal lobe of his brain. He remained hospitalized for eighteen more days, not even in the same hospital as his mother, and when he left it was with a headache worse than anything he had ever imagined, blurred vision, word from the doctors that there was a serious chance that some brain damage had been suffered, and news from his sister that their mother’s cancer was terminal and in its final stages.

The worst had not yet begun.

It was three more days before Louis was able to visit his mother. His headaches remained and his vision retained a slightly blurred quality, as with a television channel poorly tuned, but the bouts of blinding pain and uncontrolled vomiting had passed. His sister Lee drove and his fiancée Debbie accompanied him on the twenty mile ride from Boulder to Denver General Hospital.

“She sleeps most of the time but it’s mostly the drugs,” said Lee. “They keep her heavily sedated. She probably won’t recognize you even if she is awake.” “I understand,” said Louis.

“The doctors say that she must have felt the lump … understood what the pain meant… for at least a year. If she had only … It would have meant losing her breast even then, probably both of them, but they might have been able to…” Lee took a deep breath. “I was with her all morning. I just can’t … can’t go back up there again today,

Louis. I hope you understand.”

“Yes,” said Louis.

“Do you want me to go in with you?” asked Debbie.

“No,” said Louis.

Louis sat holding his mother’s hand for almost an hour. It seemed to him that the sleeping woman on the bed was a stranger. Even through the slight blurring of his sight, he knew that she looked twenty years older than the person he had known; her skin was gray and sallow, her hands were heavily veined and bruised from IVs, her arms lacked any muscle tone, and her body under the hospital gown looked shrunken and concave. A bad smell surrounded her. Louis stayed thirty minutes beyond the end of visiting hours and left only when his headaches threatened to return in full force. His mother remained asleep. Louis squeezed the rough hand, kissed her on the forehead, and rose to go.

He was almost out of the room when he glanced at the mirror and saw movement.

His mother continued to sleep but someone was sitting in the chair Louis had just vacated. He wheeled around.

The chair was empty.

Louis’s headache flared like the thrust of a heated wire behind his left eye. He turned back to the mirror, moving his head slowly so as not to exacerbate the pain and vertigo. The image in the mirror was more clear than his vision had been for days. Something was sitting in the chair he had just vacated.

Louis blinked and moved closer to the wall mirror, squinting slightly to resolve the image. The figure on the chair was somewhat misty, slightly diffuse against a more focused background, but there was no denying the reality and solidity of it. At first

Louis thought it was a child, the form was small and frail, the size of an emaciated ten-year-old, but then he leaned closer to the mirror, squinted through the haze of his headache, and all thoughts of children fled.

The small figure leaning over his mother had a large, shaven head perched on a thin neck and even thinner body. Its skin was white, not flesh white but paper white, fish-belly white, and the arms were skin and tendon wrapped tightly around long bone. The hands were pale and enormous, fingers at least six inches long, and as Louis watched they unfolded and hovered over his mother’s bed-clothes. As Louis squinted he realized that the figure’s head was not shaven but simply hairless, he could see veins through the translucent flesh, and the skull was disturbingly broad, brachycephalic, and so out of proportion with the body that the sight of it made him think of photographs of embryos and fetuses. As if in response to this thought, the thing’s head began to oscillate slowly as if the long, thin neck could no longer support its weight. Louis thought of a snake closing on its prey.

Louis could do nothing but stare at the image of pale flesh, sharp bone and bruise-colored shadows. He thought fleetingly of concentration camp inmates shuffling to the wire, of week-dead corpses floating to the surface like inflatable things made of rotted white rubber. This was worse.

It had no ears. A rimmed, ragged hole with reddened flanges of flesh opened directly into the misshapen skull. The eyes were bruised holes, sunken blue-black sockets in which someone had set two yellowed marbles as a joke. There were no eyelids. The eyes were obviously blind, clouded with yellow cataracts so thick that Louis could see layers of striated mucus. Yet they darted to and fro purposefully, a predator’s darting, lurking glare, as the great head moved closer to his mother’s sleeping form.

In its own way, Louis realized, the thing could see.

Louis whirled around, opened his mouth to shout, took two steps toward the bed and the suddenly empty chair, stopped with fists clenched, mouth still straining with his silent scream, and turned back to the mirror.

The thing had no mouth as such, no lips, but under the long, thin nose the bones of cheeks and jaw seemed to flow forward under white flesh to form a funnel, a long tapered snout of muscle and cartilage which ended in a perfectly round opening that pulsed slightly as pale-pink sphincter muscles around the inner rim expanded and contracted with the creature’s breath or pulse. Louis staggered and grasped the back of an empty chair, closing his eyes, weak with waves of headache pain and sudden nausea. He was sure that nothing could be more obscene than what he had just seen.

Louis opened his eyes and realized that he was wrong.

The thing had slowly, almost lovingly, pulled down the thin blanket and top sheet which covered Louis’s mother. Now it lowered its misshapen head over his mother’s chest until the opening of that obscene proboscis was scant inches away from the faded blue-flower print of her hospital gown. Something appeared in the flesh-rimmed opening, something gray-green, segmented, and moist. Small, fleshy antennae tested the air. The great, white head bent lower, cartilage and muscle contracted, and a five-inch slug was slowly extruded, wiggling slightly as it hung above Louis’s mother.

Louis threw his head back in a scream that finally could be heard, tried to turn, tried to remove his hands from their death grip on the back of the empty chair, tried to look away from the mirror. And could not.

Under the slug’s polyps of antennae was a face that was all mouth, the feeding orifice of some deep-sea parasite. It pulsed as the moist slug fell softly onto his mother’s chest, coiled, writhed, and burrowed quickly away from the light. Into his mother.

The thing left no mark, no trail, not even a hole in the hospital gown. Louis could see the slightest ripple of flesh as the slug disappeared under the pale flesh of his mother’s chest.

The white head of the child-thing pulled back, the yellow eyes stared directly at Louis through the mirror, and then the face lowered to his mother’s flesh again. A second slug appeared, dropped, burrowed. A third.

Louis screamed again, found freedom from paralysis, turned, ran to the bed and the apparently empty chair, thrashed the air, kicked the chair into a distant corner, and ripped the sheet and blanket and gown away from his mother.

Two nurses and an attendant came running as they heard Louis’s screams. They burst into the room to find him crouched over his mother’s naked form, his nails clawing at her scarred and shrunken chest where the surgeons had recently removed both breasts. After a moment of shocked immobility, one nurse and the attendant seized and held Louis while the other nurse filled a syringe with a strong tranquilizer.

But before she could administer it, Louis looked in the mirror, pointed to a space near the opposite side of the bed, screamed a final time, and fainted.

“It’s perfectly natural,” said Lee the next day after their second trip to the Boulder Clinic. “A perfectly understandable reaction.”

“Yes,” said Louis. He stood in his pajamas and watched her fold back the top sheet on his bed.

“Dr. Kirby says that injuries to that part of the brain can cause strange emotional reactions,” said Debbie from her place by the window. “Sort of like whatshisname … Reagan’s press secretary who was shot years ago, only temporary, of course.”

“Yeah,” said Louis, lying back, settling his head into the tall stack of pillows. There was a mirror on the wall opposite. His gaze never left it.

“Mom was awake for a while this morning,” said Lee. “Really awake. I told her you’d been in to see her. She doesn’t … doesn’t remember your visit, of course. She wants to see you.”

“Maybe tomorrow,” said Louis. The mirror showed the reversed images of the three of them. Just the three of them. Sunlight fell in a yellow band across Debbie’s red hair and Lee’s arm. The pillowcases behind Louis’s head were very white.

“Tomorrow,” agreed Lee. “Or maybe the day after. Right now you need to take some of the medication Dr. Kirby gave you and get some sleep. We can go visit Mom together when you feel better.”

“Tomorrow,” said Louis, and he closed his eyes.

He stayed in bed for six days, rising only to go to the bathroom or to change channels on his portable TV. The headaches were constant but manageable. He saw nothing unusual in the mirror. On the seventh day he rose about ten A.M., showered slowly, dressed in his camel slacks, white shirt, and blue blazer, and was prepared to tell Lee that he was ready to visit the hospital when his sister came into the room red-eyed.

“They just called,” she said. “Mother died about twenty minutes ago.”

The funeral home was about two blocks from where his mother had lived, where Louis had grown up after they had moved from Des Moines when he was ten, just east of the Capitol Hill area where old brick homes were becoming rundown rentals and where Hispanic street gangs had claimed the night.

According to his mother’s wishes there would be a “visitation” this night where Denver friends could pay their respects before the casket was flown back to Des Moines the next day for the funeral Mass at St. Mary’s and final interment at the small city cemetery where Louis’s father was buried. Louis thought that the open casket was an archaic act of barbarism. He stayed as far away from it as he could, greeting people at the door, catching glimpses only of his mother’s nose, folded hands, or rouged cheeks.

About sixty people showed up during the two-hour ordeal, most of them in their early seventies, his mother’s age, people from the block whom he hadn’t seen in fifteen years or new friends she had met through Bingo or the Senior Citizens Center. Several of Louis’s Boulder friends showed up, including two members of his Colorado Mountain Club hiking group and two colleagues from the physics labs at C.U. Debbie stayed by his side the entire time, watching his pale, sweaty face and occasionally squeezing his hand when she saw the pain from the headache wash across him.

The visitation period was almost over when suddenly he could no longer stand it.

“Do you have a compact?” he asked Debbie.

“A what?”

“A compact,” he said. “You know, one of those little make-up things with a mirror.”

Debbie shook her head. “Louis, have you ever seen me with something like that?” She rummaged in her purse. “Wait a minute. I have this little hand mirror that I use to check my…”

“Give it here,” said Louis. He raised the small plastic-backed rectangle, turning toward the doorway to get a better view behind him. About a dozen mourners remained, talking softly in the dim light and flower-scented stillness. Someone in the hallway beyond the doorway laughed and then lowered his voice. Lee stood near the casket, her black dress swallowing light, speaking quietly to old Mrs. Narmoth from across the alley.

There were twenty or thirty other small figures in the room, moving like pale shadows between rows of folding chairs and dark-suited mourners. They moved slowly, carefully, seeming to balance their oversized heads in a delicate dance. Each of the child-sized forms awaited its turn to approach the casket and then moved forward, its pale body and bald head emitting its own soft penumbra of greenish-grayish glow. Each thing paused by the casket briefly and then lowered its head slowly, almost reverently.

Gasping in air, his hand shaking so badly the mirror image blurred and vibrated, Louis was reminded of lines of celebrants at his First Communion … and of animals at a trough.

“Louis, what is it?” asked Debbie.

He shook off her hand, turned and ran toward the casket, shouldering past mourners, feeling cold churnings in his belly as he wondered if he was passing through the white things.

“What?” asked Lee, her face a mask of concern as she took his arm.

Louis shook her away and looked into the casket. Only the top half of the lid was raised. His mother lay there in her best blue dress, the make-up seeming to return some fullness to her ravaged face, her old rosary laced through her folded fingers. The cushioned lining under her was silk and beige and looked very soft. Louis raised the mirror. His only reaction then was slowly to lift his left hand and to grasp the rim of the casket very tightly, as if it were the railing of a ship in rough seas and he were in imminent danger of plunging overboard.

There were several hundred of the slug-things in the coffin, flowing over everything inside it, filling it to the brim. They were more white than green or gray now and much, much larger, some as thick through the body as Louis’s forearm. Many were more than a foot long. The antennae tendrils had contracted and widened into tiny yellow eyes and the lamprey mouths were recognizably tapered now.

As Louis watched, one of the pale, child-sized figures to his right approached the casket, laid long white fingers not six inches from Louis’s hands, and lowered its face as if to drink.

Louis watched as the thing ingested four of the long, pale slugs, the creature’s entire face contracting and expanding almost erotically to absorb the soft mass of its meal. The yellow eyes did not blink. Others approached the casket and joined in the communion. Louis lowered the angle of the mirror and watched two more slugs flow effortlessly out of his mother, sliding through blue material into the churning mass of their fellows. Louis moved the mirror, looked behind him, seeing the half-dozen pale forms standing there, waiting patiently for him to move. Their bodies were pale and sexless blurs. Their fingers were very long and very sharp. Their eyes were hungry.

Louis did not scream. He did not run. Very carefully he palmed the mirror, released his death grip on the edge of the casket, and walked slowly, carefully, away from there. Away from the casket. Away from Lee and Debbie’s distantly heard cries and questions. Away from the funeral home.

He was hours and miles away, in a strange section of dark warehouses and factories, when he stopped in the mercury-arc circle of a streetlight, held the mirror high, swiveled 360 degrees to ascertain that nothing and no one was in sight, and then huddled at the base of the streetlight to hug his knees, rock, and croon.

“I think they’re cancer vampires,” Louis told the psychiatrist. Between the wooden shutters on the doctor’s windows, Louis caught a glimpse of the rocky slabs that were the Flatirons. “They lay these tumor-slugs that hatch and change inside people. What we call tumors are really eggs. Then the cancer vampires take them back into themselves.”

The psychiatrist nodded, tamped down his pipe, and lighted another match. “Do you wish to tell me more … ah … details … about these images you have?” He puffed his pipe alight.

Louis started to shake his head and then stopped suddenly as headache pain rippled through him. “I’ve thought it all out in the last few weeks,” he said. “I mean, go back more than a hundred years and give me the name of one famous person who died of cancer. Go ahead.”

The doctor drew on his pipe. His desk was in front of the shuttered windows and his face was in shadow, only occasionally illuminated when he turned as he relit his pipe. “I can’t think of one right now,” the doctor said, “but there must be many.”

“Exactly,” said Louis in a more excited tone than he had meant to use. “I mean, today we expect people to die of cancer. One in six. Or maybe it’s one in four. I mean, I didn’t know anyone who died in Viet Nam, but every-body knows somebody, usually somebody in our family, who’s died of cancer. Just think of all the movie stars and politicians. I mean, it’s everywhere. It’s the plague of the Twentieth Century.”

The doctor nodded and kept any patronizing tones out of his voice. “I see your point,” he said. “But just because modern diagnostic methods did not exist before this does not mean people did not die of cancer in previous centuries. Besides, research has shown that modern technology, pollutants, food additives and so forth have increased the risk of encountering carcinogens which…”

“Yeah,” laughed Louis, “carcinogens. That’s what I used to believe in. But, Jesus, Doc, have you ever read over the AMA’s and American Cancer Society’s official lists of carcinogens? I mean it’s everything you eat, breathe, wear, touch, and do to have fun. I mean it’s everything. That’s the same as just saying that they don’t know.

Believe me, I’ve been reading all of that crap, they don’t even know what makes a tumor start growing.”

The doctor steepled his fingers. “But you believe that you do, Mr. Steig?”

Louis took one of his mirrors from his shirt pocket and moved his head in quick half-circles. The room seemed empty. “Cancer vampires,” he said. “I don’t know how long they’ve been around. Maybe something we did this century allowed them to come through some … some gate or something. I don’t know.”

“From another dimension?” the doctor asked in conversational tones. His pipe tobacco smelled vaguely of pine woods on a summer day.

“Maybe,” shrugged Louis. “I don’t know. But they’re here and they’re busy feeding

… and multiplying…”

“Why do you think that you are the only one who has been allowed to see them?” asked the doctor brightly.

Louis felt himself growing angry. “Goddammit, I don’t know that I’m the only one who can see them. I just know that something happened after my accident…”

“Would it not be … equally probable,” suggested the doctor, “that the injury to your skull has caused some very realistic hallucinations? You admit that your sight has been somewhat affected.” He removed his pipe, frowned at it, and fumbled for his matches.

Louis gripped the arms of his chair, feeling the anger in him rise and fall on the waves of his headache. “I’ve been back to the Clinic,” he said. “They can’t find any sign of permanent damage. My vision’s a little funny, but that’s just because I can see more now. I mean more colors and things. It’s like I can see radio waves almost.”

“Let us assume that you do have the power to see these … cancer vampires,” said the doctor. The tobacco glowed on his third inhalation. The room smelled of sun warmed pine needles. “Does this mean that you also have the power to control them?”

Louis ran his hand across his brow, trying to rub away the pain. “I don’t know.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Steig. I couldn’t hear…”

“I don’t know!” shouted Louis. “I haven’t tried to touch one. I mean, I don’t know if

… I’m afraid that it might … Look, so far the things … the cancer vampires, they’ve ignored me, but…”

“If you can see them,” said the doctor “doesn’t it follow that they can see you?”

Louis rose and went to the window, tugging open the shutters so the room was filled with late afternoon light. “I think they see what they want to see,” said Louis, staring at the foothills beyond the city, playing with his hand mirror. “Maybe we’re just blurs to them. They find us easily enough when it’s time to lay their eggs.”

The doctor squinted in the sudden brightness but removed his pipe and smiled.

“You talk about eggs,” he said, “but what you described sounded more like feeding behavior. Does this discrepancy and the fact that the … vision … first occurred when your mother was dying suggest any deeper meanings to you? We all search for ways to control things we have no power over, things we find too difficult to accept. Especially when one’s mother is involved.”

“Look,” sighed Louis, “I don’t need this Freudian crap. I agreed to come here today because Deb’s been on my case for weeks but…” Louis stopped and raised his mirror, and stared.

The doctor glanced up as he scraped at his pipe bowl. His mouth was slightly open, showing white teeth, healthy gums, and a hint of tongue slightly curled in concentration. From beneath that tongue came first the fleshy antennae and then the green-gray body of a tumor slug, this one no more than a few centimeters long. It moved higher along the psychiatrist’s jaw, sliding in and out of the muscles and skin of the man’s cheek as effortlessly as a maggot moving in a compost heap. Deeper in the shadows of the doctor’s mouth, something larger stirred.

“It can’t hurt to talk about it,” said the doctor. “After all, that’s what I’m here for.”

Louis nodded, pocketed his mirror, and walked straight to the door without looking back.

Louis found that it was easy to buy mirrors cheaply. They were available, framed and unframed, at used furniture outlets, junkshops, discount antique dealers, hardware stores, glass shops and even in people’s stacks of junk sitting on the curb awaiting pickup. It took Louis less than a week to fill his small apartment with mirrors.

His bedroom was the best protected. Besides the twenty-three mirrors of various sizes on the walls, the ceiling had been completely covered with mirrors. He had put them up himself, pressing them firmly into the glue, feeling slightly more secure with each reflective square he set in place.

Louis was lying on his bed on a Saturday afternoon in May, staring at the reflections of himself, thinking about a conversation he had just had with his sister Lee, when Debbie called. She wanted to come over. He suggested that they meet on the Pearl Street Mall instead.

There were three passengers and two of them on the bus. One had been in the rear seat when Louis boarded, another came through the closed doors when the bus stopped for a red light. The first time he had seen one of the cancer vampires pass through a solid object, Louis had been faintly relieved, as if something so insubstantial could not be a serious threat. He no longer felt that way. They did not float through walls in the delicate, effortless glide of a ghost; Louis watched while the hairless head and sharp shoulders of this thing struggled to penetrate the closed doors of the bus, wiggling like someone passing through a thick sheet of cellophane.

Or like some vicious newborn predator chewing its way through its own amniotic sac.

Louis pulled down another of the small mirrors attached by wires to the brim of his Panama hat and watched while the second cancer vampire joined the first and the two closed on the old lady sitting with her shopping bags two rows behind him. She sat stiffly upright, hands on her lap, staring straight ahead, not even blinking, as one of the cancer vampires raised its ridged funnel of a mouth to her throat, the motion as intimate and gentle as a lover’s opening kiss. For the first time Louis noticed that the rim of the thing’s proboscis was lined with a circle of blue cartilage which looked as sharp as razor blades. He caught a glimpse of gray-green flowing into the folds of the old lady’s neck. The second cancer vampire lowered its ponderous head to her belly like a tired child preparing to rest on its mother’s lap.

Louis stood, pulled the cord, and got off five blocks before his stop.

Few places in America, Louis thought, showed off health and wealth better than the three outdoor blocks of Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. A pine-scented breeze blew down from the foothills less than a quarter of a mile to the west as shoppers browsed, tourists strolled, and the locals lounged. The average person in sight was under thirty-five, tanned and fit, and wealthy enough to dress in the most casual pre-washed, pre-faded, pre-wrinkled clothes. Young men dressed only in brief trunks and sweat jogged down the mall, occasionally glancing down at their watches or their own bodies. The young women in sight were almost unanimously thin and braless, laughing with beautifully capped teeth, sitting on grassy knolls or benches with their legs spread manfully in poses out of Vogue. Healthy looking teenagers with spikes of hair dyed unhealthy colors licked at their two-dollar Dove bars and three-dollar Haagen-Dazs cones. The spring sunlight on the brick walkways and flower beds promised an endless summer.

“Look,” said Louis as he and Debbie sat near Freddy’s hot dog stand and watched the crowds flow past, “my view of things right now is just too goddamn ugly to accept. Maybe everybody could see this shit if they wanted to, but they just refuse to.” He lowered two of his mirrors and swiveled. He had tried mirrored sunglasses but that had not worked; only the full mirror-reversal allowed him to see. There were six mirrors clipped to his hat, more in his pockets.

“Oh, Louis,” said Debbie. “I just don’t understand…”

“I’m serious,” snapped Louis. “We’re like the people who lived in the villages of Dachau or Auschwitz. We see the fences, watch the trainloads of loaded cattle cars go by every day, smell the smoke of the ovens … and pretend it isn’t happening. We let these things take everybody, as long as it isn’t us. There! See that heavyset man near the bookstore?”

“Yes?” Debbie was near tears.

“Wait,” said Louis. He brought out his larger pocket mirror and turned at an angle. The man was wearing tan slacks and a loose Hawaiian shirt that did not hide his fat. He sipped at a drink in a red Styrofoam cup and stood reading a folded copy of the Boulder Daily Camera. Four child-sized blurs clustered around him. One closed long fingers around the man’s throat and pulled himself up across the man’s arm and belly.

“Wait,” repeated Louis and moved away from Debbie, scuttling sideways to keep the group framed in the mirror. The three cancer vampires did not look up as Louis came within arm’s length; the fourth slid its long cone of a mouth toward the man’s face.

“Wait!” screamed Louis and struck out, head averted, seeing his fist pass through the pale back of the clinging thing. There was the faintest of gelatinous givings and a chill numbed the bones of his fist and arm. Louis stared at his mirror.

All four of the cancer vampires’ heads snapped around, blind yellow eyes fixed on Louis. He sobbed and struck again, feeling his fist pass through the thing with no effect and bounce weakly off the fat man’s chest. Two of the white blurs swiveled slowly toward Louis.

“Hey, goddammit!” shouted the fat man and struck at Louis’s arm.

The mirror flew out of Louis’s left hand and shattered on the brick pavement. “Oh, Jesus,” whispered Louis, backing away. “Oh Jesus.” He turned and ran, snapping down a mirror on his hat as he did so, seeing nothing but the dancing, vibrating frame. He grabbed Debbie by the wrist and tugged her to her feet. “Run!” They ran.

Louis awoke sometime after two A.M., feeling disoriented and drugged. He felt for Debbie, remembered that he had gone back to his own apartment after they had made love. He lay in the dark, wondering what had awakened him.

His nightlight had burned out.

Louis felt a flush of cold fear, cursed, and rolled over to turn on the table lamp next to his bed. He blinked in the sudden glare, seeing blurred reflections of himself blink back from the ceiling, walls, and door.

Other things also moved in the room.

A pale face with yellow eyes pushed its way through the door and mirror. Fingers followed, finding a hold on the doorframe, pulling the body through like a climber mastering an overhang. Another face rose to the right of Louis’s bed with the violent suddenness of someone stepping out of one’s closet in the middle of the night, extracted its arm, and reached for the blanket bunched at the foot of Louis’s bed.

“Ah,” panted Louis and rolled off the bed. Except for the closet there was only the single door, closed and locked. He glanced up at the ceiling mirrors in time to see the first white shape release itself from the wood and glass and stand between the door and him. As he stared upward at his own reflection, at himself dressed in pajamas and lying on his back on the tan carpet, he watched wide-eyed as something white rippled and rose through the carpet not three feet from where he lay: a broad curve of dead grub flesh followed by a second white oval, the back and head of the thing floating up through the floor like a swimmer rising to his knees in three feet of water. The eye sockets were close enough for Louis to touch; all he had to do was extend his arm. The scent of old carrion came to him from the thing’s sharp circle of a mouth.

Louis rolled sideways and back, scrambled to his feet, used a heavy chair by his bed to smash the window glass and threw the chair behind him. The rope ladder tied to the base of his bed had been left behind by a paranoid ex-roommate of Louis’s who had refused to live on a third floor without a fire escape.

Louis looked up, saw white hands converging, threw the knotted rope out the window and followed it, bruising knuckles and knees against the brick wall as he clambered down.

He looked up repeatedly but there were no mirrors in the cold spring darkness and he had no idea if anything was following.

They used Debbie’s car to leave, driving west up the canyon into the mountains. Louis was wearing an old pair of jeans, green sweatshirt, and paint-spattered sneakers he had left at Debbie’s after helping to paint her new apartment in January.

She owned only a single portable mirror, an eighteen by twenty-four inch glass set into an antique frame above the fireplace, and Louis had ripped it off the wall and brought it along, checking every inch of the car before allowing her to enter it.

“Where are we going?” she asked as they turned south out of Nederland on the Peak to Peak Highway. The Continental Divide glowed in weak moonlight to their right. Their headlights picked out black walls of pine and stretches of snow as the narrow road wound up and around.

“Lee’s cabin,” said Louis. “West on the old Rollins Pass road.”

“I know the cabin,” said Debbie. “Will Lee be there?”

“She’s still in Des Moines,” he said. He blinked rapidly. “She called just before you did this afternoon. She found a … lump. She saw a doctor there but is going to fly back to get the biopsy.”

“Louis, I…” began Debbie.

“Turn here,” said Louis.

They drove the last two miles in silence.

The cabin had a small generator to power lights and the refrigerator but Louis preferred not to spend time filling it and priming it in the darkness out back. He asked Debbie to stay in the car while he took the mirror inside, lit two of the large candles Lee kept on the mantel, and walked through the three small rooms of the cabin with the mirror reflecting the flickering candle flame and his own pale face and staring eyes. By the time he waved Debbie inside, he had a fire going in the fireplace and the sleeper sofa in the main room was pulled out. In the dancing light from the fireplace and candles, Debbie’s hair looked impossibly red. Her eyes were tired.

“It’s only a few hours until morning,” said Louis. “I’ll go into Nederland when we wake up and get some supplies.”

Debbie touched his arm. “Louis, can you tell me what’s going on?”

“Wait, wait,” he said, staring into the dark corners. “There’s one more thing. Undress.”


“Undress!” Louis was already tugging off his shirt and pants. When they were both out of their clothes, Louis propped the mirror on a chair and had them stand in front of it, turning slowly. Finally satisfied, he dropped to his knees and looked up at Debbie. She stood very still, the firelight rising and falling on her white breasts and the soft V of red pubic hair. The freckles on her shoulders and upper chest seemed to glow.

“Oh, God,” said Louis and buried his face in his hands. “God, Deb, you must think I’m absolutely crazy.”

She crouched next to him and ran her fingers down his back. “I don’t know what’s going on, Louis,” she whispered, “but I know that I love you.”

“I’ll tell you…” began Louis, feeling the terrible pressure in his chest threaten to expand into sobs.

“In the morning,” whispered Debbie and kissed him softly.

They made love slowly, seriously, time and their senses slowed and oddly amplified by the late hour, strange place, and fading sense of danger. Just when both of them felt the urgency quickening, Louis whispered, “Wait a second,” and lay on one side, running his hand and then his mouth under the folds of her breasts, up, licking the nipples back into hardness, then kissing the curve of her belly and opening her thighs with his hand, sliding his face and body lower.

Louis closed his eyes and imagined a kitten lapping milk. He tasted the salt sweetness of the sea while Debbie softened and opened herself further to him. His palms stroked the tensed smoothness of her inner thighs while her breathing came more quickly, punctuated by soft, sharp gasps of pleasure.

There was a sudden hissing behind them. The light flared and wavered.

Louis turned, sliding off the foot of the bed onto one knee, aware of the pounding of his heart and the extra vulnerability his nakedness and excitement forced on him. He looked and gasped a laugh.

“What?” whispered Debbie, not moving.

“It’s just the candle I set on the floor,” he whispered back. “It’s drowning in its own melted wax. I’ll blow it out.”

He leaned over and did so, pausing as he moved back to the foot of the bed to take in a single, voyeuristic glance in the mirror propped on the chair.

Firelight played across the two lovers framed there, Louis’s flushed face and Debbie’s white thighs, both glistening slightly from perspiration and the moisture of their lovemaking. Seen from this angle the dancing light illuminated the copper tangle of her pubic hair and roseate ovals of moist labia with a soft clarity too purely sensuous to be pornographic. Louis felt the tides of love and sexual excitement swell in him.

He caught the movement in the mirror out of the corner of his eye a second before he would have lowered his head again. A glimmer of slick gray-green between pale pink lips. No more than a few centimeters long. Undeterred by the dim light, the twin polyps of antennae emerged slowly, twisting and turning slightly as if to taste the air.

“I didn’t know you had an interest in oncology,” said Dr. Phil Collins. He grinned at Louis across his cluttered desk. “I thought you rarely came out of the physics lab up at the University.”

Louis stared at his old classmate. He was much too tired for banter. He had not slept for 52 hours and his eyes felt like they were lined with sand and broken glass. “I need to see the radiation treatment part of chemotherapy,” he said.

Collins tapped manicured nails against the edge of his desk. “Louis, we can’t just give guided tours of our therapy sessions every time someone gets an interest in the process.”

Louis forced his voice to stay even. “Look, Phil, my mother died of cancer a few weeks ago. My sister just underwent a biopsy that showed malignancy. My fiancée checked into Boulder Community a few hours ago with a case of cervical cancer that they’re pretty sure also involves her uterus. Now will you let me watch the procedure or not?”

“Jesus,” said Collins. He glanced at his watch. “Come on, Louis, you can make the rounds with me. Mr. Taylor is scheduled to receive his treatment in about twenty minutes.”

The man was forty-seven but looked thirty years older. His eyes were sunken and bruised. His skin had a yellowish cast under the fluorescent lights. His hair had fallen out and Louis could make out small pools of blood under the skin.

They stood behind a lead-lined shield and watched through thick ports. “The medication is a very important part of it,” said Collins. “It both augments and complements the radiation treatment.”

“And the radiation kills the cancer?” asked Louis.

“Sometimes,” said Collins. “Unfortunately it kills healthy cells as well as the ones which have run amok.”

Louis nodded and raised his hand mirror. When the device was activated he made a small, involuntary sound. A brilliant burst of violet light filled the room, centering on the tip of the X-ray machine. Louis realized that the glow was similar to that of the bug-zapper devices he had seen in yards at night, the light sliding beyond visible frequencies in a maddening way. But this was a thousand times brighter.

The tumor slugs came out. They slid out of Mr. Taylor’s skull, antennae thrashing madly, attracted by the brilliant light. They leaped the ten inches to the lens of the device, sliding on slick metal, some falling to the floor and then moving back up onto the table and through the man’s body again to reemerge from the skull seconds later only to leap again.

Those that reached the source of the X-rays fell dead to the floor. The others retreated into the darkness of flesh when the X-ray light died.

“…hope that helps give you some idea of the therapy involved,” Collins was saying.

“It’s a frustrating field because we’re not quite sure of why everything works the way it does, but we’re making strides all of the time.”

Louis blinked. Mr. Taylor was gone. The violet glow of the X-rays was gone. “Yes,” he said. “I think that helps a lot.”

Two nights later, Louis sat next to his sleeping sister in the semi-darkness of her hospital room. The other bed was empty. Louis had sneaked in during the middle of the night and the only sound was the hiss of the ventilation system and the occasional squeak of a rubber-soled shoe in the corridor. Louis reached out a gloved hand and touched Lee’s wrist just below the green hospital identity bracelet.

“I thought it’d be easy, kiddo,” he whispered. “Remember the movies we watched when we were little? James Arness in The Thing? Figure out what kills it and rig it up.” Louis felt the nausea sweep over him again and he lowered his head, breathing in harsh gulps. A minute later he straightened again, moving to wipe the cold sweat off his brow but frowning when the leather of the thick glove contacted his skin. He held Lee’s wrist again. “Life ain’t so easy, kiddo. I worked nights in Mac’s high energy lab at the University. It was easy to irradiate things with that X-ray laser toy Mac cobbled together to show the sophomores the effects of ionizing radiation.”

Lee stirred, moaned slightly in her sleep. Somewhere a soft chime sounded three times and was silenced. Louis heard two of the floor nurses chatting softly as they walked to the staff lounge for their two A.M. break. Louis left his gloved hand just next to her wrist, not quite touching.

“Jesus, Lee,” he whispered. “I can see the whole damn spectrum below 100 angstroms. So can they. I banked on the cancer vampires being drawn to the stuff I’d irradiated just like the tumor slugs were. I came here last night, to the wards, to check on it. They do come, kiddo, but it doesn’t kill them. They flock around the irradiated stuff like moths to a flame, but it doesn’t kill them. Even the tumor slugs need high dosages if you’re going to get them all. I mean, I started in the millirem dosages, like the radiation therapy they use here, and found that it just didn’t get enough of them. To be sure, I had to get in the region of 300 to 400 roentgens. I mean, we’re talking Chernobyl here, kiddo.”

Louis quit talking and walked quickly to the bathroom, lowering his head to the toilet to vomit as quietly as possible. Afterward he washed his face as best he could with the thick gloves on and returned to Lee’s bedside. She was frowning slightly in her drugged sleep. Louis remembered the times he had crept into her bedroom as a child to frighten her awake with garter snakes or squirt guns or spiders. “Fuck it,” he said and removed his gloves.

His hands glowed like five-fingered, blue-white suns. As Louis watched in the mirrors snapped down on his hat brim, the light filled the room like cold fire. “It won’t hurt, kiddo,” he whispered as he unsnapped the first two buttons on Lee’s pajama tops. Her breasts were small, hardly larger than when he had peeked in on her emerging from the shower when she was fifteen. He smiled as he remembered the whipping he had received for that, and then he laid his right hand on her left breast.

For a second nothing happened. Then the tumor slugs came out, antennae rising like pulpy periscopes from Lee’s flesh, their gray-green color bleached by the brilliance of Louis’s glowing hand.

They slid into him through his palm, his wrist, the back of his hand. Louis gasped as he felt them slither through his flesh, the sensation faint but nauseating, like having a wire inserted in one’s veins while under a local anesthetic.

Louis counted six … eight of the things sliding from Lee’s breast into the blue-white flaring of his hand and arm. He held his palm flat for a full minute after the last slug entered, resisting the temptation to scream or pull his hand away as he saw the muscles of his forearm writhe as one of the things flowed upward, swimming through his flesh.

As an extra precaution, Louis moved his palm across Lee’s chest, throat, and belly, feeling her stir in her sleep, fighting the sedatives in an unsuccessful battle to awaken.

There was one more slug, hardly more than a centimeter long, which rose from the taut skin just below her sternum, but it flared and withered before coming in contact with his blue-white flesh, curling like a dried leaf too close to a hot fire.

Louis rose and removed his thick layers of clothes, watching in the wide mirror opposite Lee’s bed. His entire body fluoresced, the brilliance fading from white to blue-white to violet and then sliding away into frequencies even he could not see.

Again he thought of the bug lights one saw near patios and the blind-spot sense of frustration the eye conveyed as it strained at the fringes of perception. The mirrors hanging from the brim of his hat caught and scattered the light.

Louis folded his clothes neatly, laid them on the chair near Lee, kissed her softly on the cheek, and walked from room to room, the brilliance from his body leaping ahead of him, filling the corridors with blue-white shadows and pinwheels of impossible colors.

There was no one at the nurse’s station. The tile floor felt cool beneath Louis’s bare feet as he went from room to room, laying on his hands. Some of the patients slept on. Some watched him with wide eyes but neither moved nor cried out. Louis wondered at this but glanced down without his mirrors and realized that for the first time he could see the brilliance of his heavily irradiated flesh and bone with his own eyes. His body was a pulsing star in human form. Louis could easily hear the radio waves as a buzzing, crackling sound, like a great forest fire still some miles away.

The tumor slugs flowed from their victims and into Louis. Not everyone on this floor had cancer, but in most rooms he had only to enter to see the frenzied response of green-gray or grub-white worms straining to get at him. Louis took them all. He felt his body swallow the things, sensed the maddened turmoil within. Only once more did he have to stop to vomit. His bowels shifted and roiled, but there was so much motion in him now that Louis ignored it.

In Debbie’s room, Louis pulled the sheet off her sleeping form, pulled up the short gown, and laid his cheek to the soft bulge of her belly. The tumor slugs flowed into his face and throat; he drank them in willingly.

Louis rose, left his sleeping lover, and walked to the long, open ward where the majority of cancer patients lay waiting for death.

The cancer vampires followed him. They flowed through walls and floors to follow him. He led them to the main ward, a blazing blue-white pied piper leading a chorus of dead children.

There were at least a score of them by the time he stopped in the center of the ward, but he did not let them approach until he had gone from bed to bed, accepting the last of the tumor slugs into himself, seeing with his surreal vision as the eggs inside these victims hatched prematurely to give up their writhing treasure. Louis made sure the tumor slugs were with him before he moved to the center of the room, raised his arms, and let the cancer vampires come closer.

Louis felt heavy, twice his normal weight, pregnant with death. He glanced at his blazing limbs and belly and saw the very surface of himself alive with the motion of maggots feeding on his light.

Louis raised his arms wider, pulled his head far back, closed his eyes, and let the cancer vampires feed.

The things were voracious, drawn by the X-ray beacon of Louis’s flesh and the silent beckoning of their larval offspring. They shouldered and shoved each other aside in their eagerness to feed. Louis grimaced as he felt a dozen sharp piercings, felt himself almost lifted off the floor by nightmare energies suddenly made tangible. He looked once, saw the terrible curve of the top of a dead-child’s head as the thing buried its face to the temples in Louis’s chest, and then he closed his eyes until they were done.

Louis staggered, gripped the metal footboard of a bed to keep from falling. The score of cancer vampires in the room had finished feeding but Louis could feel his own body still weighted with slugs. He watched.

The child-thing nearest to him seemed bloated, its body as distended as a white spider bursting with eggs. Through its translucent flesh, Louis could see glowing tumor slugs shifting frantically like electric silverfish.

Even through his nausea and pain, Louis smiled. Whatever the reproductive-feeding cycle of these things had been, Louis now felt sure that he had disrupted it with the irradiated meal he had offered the tumor slugs.

The cancer vampire in front of him staggered, leaned far forward, and looked even more spiderish as its impossibly long fingers stretched to keep it from falling.

A blue-white gash appeared along the thing’s side and belly. Two bloated, thrashing slugs appeared in a rush of violent energy. The cancer vampire arched its back and raised its feeding mouth in a scream that was audible to Louis as someone scraping their teeth down ten feet of blackboard.

The slugs ripped free of the vampire’s shredded belly, dumping themselves on the floor and writhing in a bath of ultraviolet blood, steaming and shriveling there like true slugs Louis had once seen sprinkled with salt. The cancer vampire spasmed, clutched at its gaping, eviscerated belly, and then thrashed several times and died, its bony limbs and long fingers slowly closing up like the legs of a crushed spider.

There were screams, human and otherwise, but Louis paid no attention as he watched the death throes of the two dozen spectral forms in the room. His vision had altered permanently now and the beds and their human occupants were mere shadows in a great space blazing in ultraviolet and infrared but dominated by the blue-white corona which was his own body. He vomited once more, doubling over to retch up blood and two dying, glowing slugs, but this was a minor inconvenience as long as his strength held out and at that second he felt that it would last forever.

Louis looked down, through the floor, through five floors, seeing the hospital as levels of clear plastic interlaced with webs of energy from electrical wiring, lights, machines, and organisms. Many organisms. The healthy ones glowed a soft orange but he could see the pale yellow infections, the grayish corruptions, and the throbbing black pools of incipient death.

Rising, Louis stepped over the dying corpses of cancer vampires and the acid-pools  which had been thrashing slugs seconds before. Although he already could see beyond, he opened wide doors and stepped out onto the terrace. The night air was cool.

Drawn by the extraordinary light, they waited. Hundreds of yellow eyes turned upwards to stare from blue-black pits set in dead faces. Mouths pulsed. Hundreds more of the things converged as Louis watched.

Louis raised his own eyes, seeing more stars than anyone had ever seen as the night sky throbbed with uncountable X-ray sources and infinite tendrils of unnamed colors. He looked down to where they continued to gather, by the thousands now, their pale faces glowing like candles in a procession. Louis prayed for a single miracle. He prayed that he could feed them all. “Tonight, Death,” he whispered, the sound too soft for even him to hear, “you shall die.”

Louis stepped to the railing, raised his arms, and went down to join those who waited.