Welcome to Andre Norton's

 

Reading Corner

 

andre norton storyteller 1948

Andre the Librarian hosting "Story Time" at the Cleveland Public Library ~ 1948

 

"Come on In! . . .Take a Seat! . . . and Settle Down! . . ."

As we share with you a tale by one of the leading story tellers of the past century.

 

Twice a Month (on the 1st and the 16th) We are going to post an original story by Andre Norton

During the showcase period you will be able to read it here free of charge.

 

Many were only published once.

So it's a sure thing that there's going to be a few you have never heard of.

The order will be rather random in hopes you return often.

 

Happy Reading!




 

 

Desirable Lakeside Residence

by Andre Norton

 

all.cats.are.gray.1953 fantastic universe

 

1st PublishedSaving Worlds; A Collection of Original Science Fiction Stories (1973) Edited by Roger Elwood and Virginia Kidd, Published by Doubleday, HC, 0-385-05409-2, $6.95, 237pg (pg. 69) ~ cover by Grant Freeman

 

Available NowMoon Mirror (1988) Published by TOR, HC, 0-312-93098-4, $17.95, 250pg ~ cover by Yvonne Gilbert

 

Bibliography Page - http://andre-norton-books.com/worlds-of-andre/short-stories/425-desirable-lakeside-residence




 

I went to the river

to drown all my sorrow

But the river was more

to be pitied than I…

-- Scots ballad

 

 Her face felt queer and light without her respirator on—almost like being out here without any clothes. Jill thumbed the worn cords of her breather, crinkling them, smoothing them out again, without paying attention to what her hands were doing, her eyes were so busy surveying this new, strange and sometimes terrifying outer world.

 Back home had been the apartment, sealed, of course, and the school, with the sealed bus in between. Sometimes there had been a visit to the shopping center.  But she could hardly really remember now. Even the trip to this place was rather like a dream.

 Movement in the long ragged grass beyond the end of the concrete block on which Jill sat. She tensed—

 A black head, a small furred head with two startling blue eyes—

 Jill hardly dared to breathe even though there was no smog at all. Those eyes were watching her measuringly. Then a sinuous black body flowed into full view.  One minute it had not been there, the next—it just was!

 This was—she remembered the old books—a cat!

 Dogs and cats, people had had them once, living in their houses. Before the air quotient got so low no one was allowed to keep a pet in housing centers. But there was no air quotient here yet—a cat could live—

 Jill studied the cat, sitting up on its haunches, its tail laid straight out on the ground behind it, just the very tip of that twitching a little now and then.  Except for that one small movement it might have been a pretend cat, like the old pretend bear she had when she was little. Very suddenly it yawned wide, showing sharp white teeth, a curling pink tongue, bright in color, against the black which was all the rest of it.

 “Hello, cat—“ Jill said in that quiet voice which the bigness of Outside caused her to use.

 Black ears twitched as if her words had tickled them a little. The cat blinked.

“Do you live here—Outside?” she asked. Because here things did dare to live Outside. She had seen a bird that very morning, and in the grass were all kinds of hoppers and crawlers. “It’s nice”—Jill was gaining confidence—“to live Outside— but sometimes,” she ended truthfully, “scary, too. Like at night.”

“Ulysses, where are you, cat?”

 Jill jumped. The cat blinked again, turned its head to look back over one shoulder. Then it uttered a small sound.

 “I heard you, Ulysses. Now where are you?”

 There was a swishing in grass and bush. Jill gathered her feet under her for a quick takeoff. Yet she had no intention of retreat until that was entirely necessary.

 The bushes parted and Jill saw another girl no bigger than she was. She settled back on her chosen seat. The cat arose and went to rub back and forth against the newcomer’s scratched and sandy legs.

 “Hello,” Jill ventured.

 “You’re Colonel Baylor’s niece.” The other made that sound almost like an accusation. She stood with her hands bunched into fists resting on her hips. As Jill, she wore a one-piece shorts-tunic, but hers was a rusty green which seemed to melt into the coloring of the bushes. Jill had an odd feeling that if the other chose she could be unseen while still standing right there. Her skin was brown and her hair fluffed out around her face in an upstanding black puff.

 “He’s my uncle Shaw,” Jill offered. “Do—do you live Outside, too?”

 “Outside,” the other repeated as if the word were strange. “Sure, I live here.  Me—I’m Marcy Scholar. I live over there.” She pivoted to point to her left. “The other way’s the lake—or what used to be the lake. My dad—when I was just a little old baby—he used to go fishing there. You believe me?”

She eyed Jill challengingly as if expecting a denial.

 Jill nodded. She could believe anything of Outside. It had already shown her so many wonders which before had existed only in books, or on the screen of the school TV they used when Double Smog was so bad you couldn’t even use the sealed buses.

 “You come from up North, the bad country—“ Marcy took a step forward. “The colonel, he has a big pull with the government or you couldn’t get here at all.  We don’t allow people coming into a Clear. It might make it bad, too, if too many came. Bad enough with the lakes all dead, and the rest of it.”

Jill’s eyes suddenly smarted as badly as they did once when she was caught in a room where the breather failed. She did not want to remember why she was here.

“Uncle Shaw walked on the moon! The President of the whole United States gave him a medal for it. He’s in the history books—“ she countered. “I guess what Uncle Shaw wants, he gets.”

 Marcy did not protest as Jill half expected. Instead she nodded. “That’s right.  My father—he worked on the Project, too, that’s how come we live here. When they closed down the big base and said no more space flights, well, we moved here with the colonel, and Dr. Wilson, and the Pierces. Look here—“

She pushed past Jill and swept away some of the foliage. Behind those trailing, yellowish leaves, was a board planted on a firm stake in the ground; on it, very faint lettering.

 “You read that?” Marcy stabbed a finger at the words.

“Sure I can read!” Jill studied the almost lost lines. “It says, ‘Desirable Lakeside Residence.’”

 “And that’s what all this was!” Marcy answered. “Once— years and years ago—people paid lots of money for this land—land beside a lake. Of course, that was before all the fish, and turtles and alligators and things died off, and the water was all full of weeds. You can hardly tell where the lake was any more—come on—I’ll show you!”

 Jill eyed the mass of rusty green doubtfully. But Marcy hooked back an armful to show an opening beyond. And, at that moment, Ulysses came to life in flowing movement and disappeared through it. Fastening her respirator to her belt, Jill followed.

 It was like going through a tunnel, but the walls of this tunnel were alive, not concrete. She put out a hand timidly now and then to touch fingertips to leaves, springy branches, all the parts of Outside. Then they were out of the tunnel, before them what seemed to be a smooth green surface some distance below where they now stood. However, as she studied it, Jill could see there were brown patches which the green did not cover and which looked liquid.

This was very different from any lake in a picture, but then everything was different now from pictures. Old people kept talking about how it was when they were young, saying, yes, the pictures were right. But sometimes Jill wondered if they were not just trying to remember it and getting the pictures mixed up with what they wanted to believe. Perhaps the pictures were stories which were never true, even long ago.

 Marcy shaded her eyes with her hand, stared out across the green-brown surface.

 “That’s funny—“

 “What’s funny?”

 “Seems like there is more water showing today—like the weeds are gone. Maybe it’s so poisoned now even the old weeds can’t live in it.” She picked up a stick from the ground by her feet, and then lay full length to reach over and plunge the end of it into the thick mass below, dragging it back and forth.

Ulysses appeared again. Not up with them, but below. Jill could see him crouched on a slime-edged stone. His head was forward as he stared into the weeds, as if he could see something the girls could not.

 “Hey!” Marcy braced herself up on her elbows. “Did you see that?”

 “What?”

 “When I poked this old stick in right here”—she leaned forward to demonstrate—“something moved away—along there!” She used the stick as a pointer.  “Watch Ulysses, he must have seen it too!”

 The cat’s tail swept back and forth; he was clearly gazing in the direction Marcy indicated.

 “You said all the fish, the turtles and things are dead.” Jill edged back. Once there had been snakes, too. Were the snakes dead?

 “Sure are. My dad says nothing could live in this old lake! But something did move away. Let’s see—“ She wormed her way along, striking at the leaves below, cutting swaths through them, leaving the growth tattered. But, though they both watched intently, there were no more signs of anything which might or might not be fleeing the lashing branch.

 “Bug—a big bug?” suggested Jill as Marcy rolled back, dropping the stick. “Sure would be a big one.” Marcy sounded unconvinced. “You going to live here—all the time?”

 Jill began to twist at her respirator again. “I guess so.”

 “What’s it like up North, in the bad country?”

 Jill looked about her a little desperately. Outside was so different, how could she tell Marcy about Inside? She did not even want to remember those last black days.

 “They—they cut down on our block quota,” she said in a rush. “Two of the big breathers burned out. People were all jammed together in the part where the conditioners still worked. But there were too many. They—they took old Mr. Evans away and Mrs. Evans, too. Daddy—somehow he got a message to Uncle Shaw, and he sent for me. But Daddy couldn’t come. He is one of the maintainers, and they aren’t allowed even to leave their own sections for fear something will happen and the breathers break down.”

 Marcy was watching her narrowly.

 “I bet you’re glad to be here.”

 “I don’t know—it’s all so different, it’s Outside.” Now Jill looked around her wildly. That stone where she had sat, from it she could turn around and see the house. From here—now all she could see were bushes. Where was the house—?

She got to her feet, shaking with the cold inside her.

 “Please”—somehow she got out that plea—“where’s the house? Which way did we come to get here?” Inside was safe—

 “You frightened? Nothing to be frightened of. Just trees and things. And Ulysses, but he’s a friend. He’s a smart cat, understands a lot you say. If he could only talk now—“ Marcy leaned over and called:

 “Ulysses, you come on up. Nothing to catch down there, no use your pretending there is.”

 Jill was still shaking a little. But Marcy’s relaxation was soothing. And she wanted to see the cat close again. Perhaps he would let her pet him. Again that black head pushed through the brush and Ulysses, stopping once to lick at his shoulder, came to join them.

 “He’s half Siamese,” Marcy announced as if that made him even more special. “His mother is Min-Hoy. My mother had her since a little kitten. She’s old now and doesn’t go out much. Listen, you got a cat?”

 Jill shook her head. “They don’t allow them—nothing that uses up air, people have to have it all. I never saw one before, except in pictures.”

 “Well, suppose I let you have half of Ulysses—“

 “Half?”

 “Sure, like you take him some days, and me some. Ulysses” —she looked to the cat. “This is Jill Baylor, she never had a cat. You can be with her sometimes, can’t you?”

 Ulysses had been inspecting one paw intently. Now he looked first at Marcy as if he understood every word, and then turned his head to apply the same searching stare to Jill. She knelt and held out her hand.

 “Ulysses—“

 He came to her with the grave dignity of his species, sniffed at her fingers, then rubbed his head back and forth against her flesh, his silky soft fur like a caress.

 “He likes you.” Marcy nodded briskly. “He’ll give you half his time, just wait and see!”

 “Jill!” a voice called from nearby.

 Marcy stood up. “That’s your aunt, you’d better go. Miss Abby’s a great one for people being prompt.”

 “I know. How—how do I go?”

 Marcy guided her back through the green tunnel. Ulysses disappeared again. But Marcy stayed to where Aunt Abby stood under the roof overhang. Jill was already sure that her aunt liked that house a great deal better before Jill came to stay in it.

 “Where have you been—? Oh, hello, Marcy. You can tell your mother the colonel got the jeep fixed and I’m going in to town later this afternoon, if she wants a shopping lift.”

 “Yes, Mrs. Baylor.” Marcy was polite but she did not linger. There was no sign of Ulysses.

 Nobody asked Jill concerning her adventures of the morning and she did not volunteer. She was uneasy with Aunt Abby; as for Uncle Shaw, she thought most of the time he did not even know she was there. Sometimes he seemed to come back from some far distance and talk to her as if she were a baby. But most of the time he was shut up at the other end of the house in a room Aunt Abby had warned her not to enter. What it contained she had no idea.

 There were only four families now living by the lake, she was to discover.  Marcy’s, the Haddams, who were older and seemed to spend most of their time working in a garden trying to raise things. Though Marcy reported most of the stuff died off before it ever got big or ripe enough to eat, but they kept on trying. Then there were the Williamses and they—Marcy warned her to stay away from them, even though Jill had no desire to explore Outside alone. The Williamses, Marcy reported, were dirt-mean, dirt-dirty, and wrong in the head.  Which was enough to frighten Jill away from any contact.

 But it was the Williamses who caused all the rumpus the night of the full moon.

Jill awakened out of sleep and sat up in her bed, her heart thumping, her body beginning to shake as she heard that awful screaming. It came from Outside, awakening all the suspicions her days with Marcy had lulled. Then she heard sounds in the house, Uncle Shaw’s heavy tread, Aunt Abby’s voice.

The generator was off again and they had had only lamps for a week. But she saw through the window the broad beam of a flashlight cut the night. Then she heard Marcy’s father call from the road and saw a second flashlight.

There was another shriek and Jill cried out, too, in echo. The door opened on Aunt Abby, who went swiftly to the window, pulling it closed in spite of the heat.

 “It’s all right.” She sat down on the bed and took Jill’s hands in hers. “Just some animal—“

But Jill knew better. There weren’t many animals—Ulysses, Min-Hoy, the old mule the Haddams kept. Marcy had told her all the wild animals were gone.

There was no more screaming and Aunt Abby took her into bed with her so after a while Jill did sleep. When she went for breakfast, Uncle Shaw was in his usual place. Nobody said anything about what had happened in the night and she felt she must not ask. It was not until she met Marcy that she heard the story.

“Beeny Williams,” Marcy reported, “clean out of his head and running down the road yelling demons were going to get him. My father had to knock him out.  They’re taking him in town to a doctor.” She stopped and looked sidewise at Jill in an odd kind of way as if she were in two minds whether to say something or not. Then she asked abruptly:

 “Jill, do you ever dream about—well, some queer things?”

 “What kind of things?” Everyone had scary dreams.

 “Well, like being in a green place and moving around—not like walking, but sort of flying. Or being away from that green place and wanting a lot to get back.”

Jill shook her head. “You dream like that?”

 “Sometimes—only usually you never remember the dreams plain when you wake up, but these you do. It seems to be important. Oh, stuff!” She threw up her hands.  “Dad says to stay away from the lake. Seems Beeny went wading in a piece of it last night, might be he got some sort of poison. But all those Williamses are crazy. I don’t see how wading in the lake could do anything to him. Dad didn’t say we couldn’t walk around it, let’s go see—“

They took the familiar way through the tunnel. Jill blinked in the very bright sun. Then she blinked again.

 “Marcy, there’s a lot more water showing! See—there and there! Perhaps your dad is right, could be something killing off the weeds.”

 “Sure true. Ulysses,” she called to the cat crouched on the stone below, “you come away from there, could be you might catch something bad.”

However Ulysses did not so much as twitch an ear this time in response—nor did he come. Marcy threatened to climb down and get him, but Jill pointed out that the bank was crumbling and she might land in the forbidden lake.

They left the cat and worked their way along the shore, coming close to a derelict house well embowered in the skeletons of dead creepers and feebler shoots of new ones.

 “Spooky,” Marcy commented. “Looks like a place where things could hide and jump out—“

“Who used to live there, I wonder?”

 “Dr. Wilson. He was at the Cape, too. And he walked on the moon—“ “Dr. Morgan Wilson.” Jill nodded. “I remember.”

 “He was the worst upset when they closed down the Project ‘cause he was right in the middle of an experiment. Tried to bring his stuff along here and work on it, but he didn’t have any more money from the government and nobody would listen to him. He never got over feeling bad about it. One night he just up and walked out into the lake—just like that!” Marcy waved a hand. “They never found him until the next morning. And you know what—he took a treasure with him—and it was never found.”

 “A treasure—what?”

 “Well, he had these moon rocks he was using in his experiment. He’d picked them up himself. My dad said they used to keep them in cases where people could go and see them. But after New York and Chicago and Los Angeles all went dead in the Breakdown and there was no going to the moon any more—nor money to spend except for breathers and fighting the poison and all—nobody cared what became of a lot of old rocks. So these were lost in the lake.”

 “What did they look like?”

 “Oh, I guess like any old rock. They were just treasures because they came from another world.”

 They turned back then for they were faced with a palmetto thicket which they could not penetrate. It was a lot hotter and Jill began to think of indoors and the slight cool one could find by just getting out of the sun.

“Come on home with me,” she urged. “We can have some lemonade and Aunt Abby gave me a big old catalogue—we can pick out what we’d like to buy if they still had the store and we had any money.”

 Wish buying was usually a way to spend a rainy day, but it might also fill up a hot one.

 “Okay.”

 So they were installed on Jill’s bed shortly, turning the limp pages of the catalogue and rather listlessly making choices, when there was a scratching at the outside door just beyond the entrance to Jill’s bedroom.

“Hey”—Marcy sat up—“it’s Ulysses—and he’s carrying something—I’ll let him in.”

She was away before Jill could move and the black cat flashed into the room and under Jill’s bed as if he feared his find would be taken from him. They could hear him growling softly and both girls hung over the side trying to look, finally rolling off on the floor.

 “What you got, cat?” demanded Marcy. “Let’s see now—“

 But though Ulysses was crouched growling, and he had certainly had something in his mouth when Marcy let him in, there was nothing at all except his own black form now to be seen.

 “What did he do with it?”

 “I don’t know.” Marcy was as surprised as Jill. “What was it anyhow?”

But when they compared notes they discovered that neither of them had seen it clearly enough to guess. Jill went for the big flashlight always kept on the table in the hall. She flashed the beam back and forth under, where it shone on Ulysses’ sleek person, but showed nothing else at all.

 “Got away,” Marcy said.

 “But if it’s in the room somewhere, whatever it is—“ Jill did not like the thought of a released something here—especially a something which she could not identify.

 “We’ll keep Ulysses here. If it comes out, he’ll get it. He’s just waiting. You shut the door so it can’t get out in the hall, and he’ll catch it again.”

But it was not long before Ulysses apparently gave up all thoughts of hunting and jumped up to sprawl at sleepy ease on the bed. When it came time for Marcy to leave Jill had a plea.

 “Marcy, you said Ulysses is half mine, let him stay here tonight. If that—that thing is loose in here, I don’t want it on me. Maybe he can catch it again.”

“Okay, if he’ll stay. Will you, Ulysses?”

 He raised his head, yawned and settled back.

 “Looks like he chooses so. But if he makes a fuss in the night, you’ll have to let him out quick. He yells if you don’t—real loud.”

 Ulysses showed no desire to go out in the early evening. Jill brought in some of his food, which Marcy had delivered, and a tin pie plate full of water. He opened his eyes sleepily, looked at her offering and yawned again. Flashlight in hand, she once more made the rounds of the room, forcing herself to lie on her stomach and look under the bed. But she could see nothing at all. What had Ulysses brought in? Or had they been mistaken and only thought he had something?

A little reluctantly Jill crawled into bed, dropping the edge of the sheet over Ulysses. She did not know how Aunt Abby would accept this addition to the household, even if it were temporary, and she did not want to explain. Aunt Abby certainly would not accept with anything but alarm the fact that Ulysses had brought in something and loosed it in Jill’s room.

 Aunt Abby came and took away the lamp and Ulysses cooperated nicely by not announcing his presence by either voice or movement under the end of sheet. But Jill fought sleep. She had a fear which slowly became real horror, of waking to find something perhaps right on her pillow.

 Ulysses was stretched beside her. Now he laid one paw across her leg as if he knew exactly how she felt and wanted to reassure her, both of his presence and the fact he was on guard. She began to relax.

 She—she was not in bed at all! She was back in a sealed apartment but the breather had failed, she could not breathe— her respirator—the door—she must get out—away where she could breathe! She must! Jill threw herself at the wall.  There were no doors—no vents! If she pounded would some one hear?

Then it was dark and she was back in the room, sitting up in bed. A small throaty sound—that was Ulysses. He had moved to the edge of the bed, was crouched there—looking down at the floor. Jill was sweating, shaking with the fear of that dream, it must have been a dream—

 But she was awake and still she felt it—that she could hardly breathe, that she must get out—back—back to—

 It was as if she could see it right before her like a picture on the wall—the lake—the almost dead lake!

 But she did not want—she did—she must—

 Thoroughly frightened, Jill rocked back and forth. She did not want to go to the lake, not now. Of course, she didn’t! What was the matter with her?

But all she could see was the lake. And, fast conquering her resistance, was the knowledge that she must get up—yes, right now—and go to the lake.

She was crying, so afraid of this thing which had taken over her will, was making her do what she shrank from, that she was shivering uncontrollably as she slid from the bed.

 It was then that she saw the eyes!

 At first they seemed only pricks of yellow down at floor level, where she had put the pan of water for Ulysses. But when they moved—!

Jill grabbed for the flashlight. Her hands were so slippery with sweat that she almost dropped it. Somehow she got it focused on the pan, pushed the button.

There was something squatting in the pan, slopping the water out on the floor as it flopped back and forth, its movements growing wilder. But save for general outlines—she could hardly see it.

 “Breathe—I can’t breathe!” Jill’s hoarse whisper brought another small growl from Ulysses. But she could breathe, there was no smog here. This was a Clear Outside. What was the matter—?

 It was not her—some door in her own mind seemed to open—it was the thing over there flopping in the pan—it couldn’t breathe—had to have water—

 Jill scuttled for the door, giving the pan and the flopper a wide berth. She laid the flashlight on the floor, slipped around the door and padded towards the kitchen. The cupboard was on the right, that was where she had seen the big kettle when Aunt Abby had talked about canning.

 There was moonlight in the kitchen, enough to let her find the cupboard, bring out the kettle. Then—fill it—she worked as noiselessly as she could. Not too full or it would be too heavy for her to carry—

 As it was, she slopped water over the edge all the way back to the bedroom. Now—

 The floppings in the pan had almost stopped. Jill caught her breath at the feeling inside her—the thing was dying. Fighting her fear and repulsion, Jill somehow got across the room, snatched up the pan before she could let her horror of what it held affect her and tipped all its contents into the kettle. There was an alien touch against her fingers as it splashed in. But—she could hardly see it now!

 She knelt by the kettle, took the torch and shone it into the depths.

It—it was like something made of glass! She could see the bulbous eyes, they were solid, and some other parts, but the rest seemed to melt right into the water.

 Jill gave a small sound of relief. That compulsion which had held her to the creature’s need was lifted. She was free.

 She sat back on her heels by the kettle, still shining the torch at the thing.  It had flopped about some at first, but now it was settled quietly at the bottom.

 A sound out of the dark, Ulysses poked his head over the other side of the kettle to survey its inhabitant. He did not growl, and he stood so for only a moment or two before going to jump back on the bed with the air of one willing to return to sleep now that all the excitement was over.

For a time the thing was all right, Jill decided. She was more puzzled than alarmed now. Her acquaintance with things living Outside was so small, only through reading and what she had learned from Marcy and observation these past days. But how had the thing made her wake up, know what it had to have to live?  She could not remember ever having known that things which were not people could think you into doing what they wanted.

 When she was very little—the old fairy tale book which had been her mother’s—a story about a frog who was really a prince. But that was only a story. Certainly this almost transparent thing would never have been a person!

It came from the lake, she was sure of that from the first picture in her mind after she woke up. And it wanted to go back there.

 Tonight?

 Almost as if she had somehow involuntarily asked a question! A kind of urgency swept into her mind in answer. Yes—now— now! It was answering her as truly as if it had come to the surface of the water and shouted back at her.

To go out in the night? Jill cringed. She did not dare, she simply could not. Yet now the thing—it was doing as it had before—pushing her into taking it back.

Jill fought with all the strength of will she had. She could not go down to the lake now—

 But she was gasping—the thing—it was making her feel again something of what if felt—its earlier agony had been only a little relieved by the bringing of the kettle. It had to be returned to the lake and soon.

 Slowly Jill got up and began to dress. She was not even sure she could find the way by night. But the thing would give her no peace. At last, lugging the kettle with one hand, holding the flash in the other, she edged out into the night.

There were so many small sounds—different kinds of bugs maybe, and some birds.  Before the bad times there had been animals—before the Cleanup when most everything requiring air men could use had been killed. Maybe—here in the Outside there were animals left.

 Better not think of that! Water sloshing over the rim of the kettle at every step, Jill started on the straightest line possible for the lake. When she got behind the first screen of bushes she turned on the flash and found the now familiar way. But she could not run as she wished, she had to go slowly to avoid a fall on this rough ground.

 So she reached the bank of the lake. The moon shone so brightly she snapped off the flash. Then she was aware of movement—the edges of the thick banks of vegetation which had grown from the lake bottom to close over the water were in constant motion, a rippling. Portions of leaf and stem were torn away, floating out into the clear patches, where they went into violent agitation and were pulled completely under. But there was no sign of what was doing this.

In—in! The thought was like a shout in her mind. Jill set down the torch, took the kettle in both hands, dumped its contents down the bank.

Then, fully released from the task the thing had laid upon her, she grabbed for the flash and ran for the house, the empty kettle banging against her legs. Nor did her heart stop its pounding until she was back in bed, Ulysses once more warm and heavy along her leg, purring a little when she reached down to smooth his fur.

 Marcy had news in the morning.

 “Those Williamses are going to try to blow up the lake, they’re afraid something poisonous is out there. Beeny is clear out of his head and all the Williamses went into town to get a dynamite permit.”

 “They—they can’t do that!” Though Jill did not understand at first her reason for that swift denial.

 Marcy was eyeing her. “What do you know about it?”

 Jill told her of the night’s adventure.

 “Let’s go see—right now!” was Marcy’s answer.

 Then Jill discovered curiosity overran the traces of last night’s fear.

“Look at that, just look at that!” Marcy stared at the lake. The stretches of open water were well marked this morning. All that activity last night must have brought this about.

 “If those invisible things are cutting out all the weeds,” Marcy observed, “then they sure are doing good. It was those old weeds which started a lot of the trouble. Dad says they got in so thick they took out the oxygen and then the fish and things died but the weeds kept right on. Towards the last, some of the men who had big houses on the other side of the lake tried all sorts of things.  They even got new kinds of fish they thought would eat the weeds and dumped those in—brought them from Africa and South America and places like that. But it didn’t do any good. Most of the fish couldn’t live here and just died—and others—I guess there weren’t enough of them.”

 “Invisible fish?” If there was a rational explanation for last night, Jill was only too eager to have it.

 Marcy shook her head. “Never heard of any like those. But they’d better make the most of their time. When the Williamses bomb the lake—“

“Bomb it?”

 “Use the dynamite—like bombing.”

 “But they can’t!” Jill wanted to scream that loud enough so that the Williamses ‘way off in their mucky old house could hear every word. “I’m going to tell Uncle Shaw—right now!”

 Marcy trailed behind her to the house. It was going to take almost as much courage to go into Uncle Shaw’s forbidden quarters as it did to transport the kettle to the lake. But just as that had to be done, so did this.

She paused outside the kitchen. Aunt Abby was busy there, and if they went in, she would prevent Jill’s reaching Uncle Shaw. They had better go around the house to the big window.

 To think that was easier than to do so, the bushes were so thick. But Jill persisted with strength she did not know she had until she came to use it. Then she was looking into the long room. There were books, some crowded on shelves, but others in untidy piles on the floor, and a long table with all kinds of things on it.

 But in a big chair Uncle Shaw was sitting, just sitting— staring straight at the window. There was no change in his expression, it was as if he did not see Jill.

She leaned forward and rapped on the pane, and his head jerked as if she had awakened him. Then he frowned and motioned her to go away. But Jill did as she would not have dared to do a day earlier, stood her ground, and pointed to the window, made motions to open it.

 After a long moment Uncle Shaw got up, moving very slowly as if it were an effort. He came and opened the long window, which had once been a door onto the overgrown patio.

 “Go away,” he said flatly.

 Jill heard a rustle behind her as if Marcy were obeying. But she stood her ground, though her heart was beating fast again.

 “You’ve got to stop them,” she said in a rush.

 “Stop them—stop who—from doing what?” He talked slowly as he had moved.

“Stop them from bombing the lake. They’ll kill all the invisibles—“

Now his eyes really saw her, not just looked at something which was annoying him.

 “Jill—Marcy—“ he said their names. “What are you talking about?”

“The Williamses, they’re going to bomb the lake on account of what happened to Beeny,” Jill said as quickly as she could, determined to make him hear this while he seemed to be listening to her. “That’ll kill all the invisibles. And they’re eating off the weeds—or at least they break them off and pull them out and sink them or something. There’s a lot more clear water this morning.”

“Clear water?” He came out, breaking a way through the bush before the window. “Show me—and then tell me just what you are talking about.”

It was when Uncle Shaw stood on the lake bank and they pointed out the clear water that Jill told of Ulysses’ hunting and its results in detail. He stopped her from time to time to make her repeat parts, but she finally came to the end.

“You see—if they bomb the lake—then the invisibles— they’ll all be dead!” she ended.

 “You say it talked to you—in your mind—“ For the third time he returned to that part of her story. She was beginning to be impatient. The important thing was to stop the Williamses, not worry over what happened last night.

“Not talked exactly, it made me feel bad just like it was feeling, just as if I were caught where a breather broke down. It was horrible!”

“Needed water— Yet by your account it had been quite a long time out of it.”

She nodded. “Yes, it needed water awfully bad. It was flopping around in the pan I put down for Ulysses. Then I got the kettle for it, but that wasn’t enough either—it needed the lake. When I brought it down—there was all that tearing at the weeds—big patches pulled loose and sunk. But if the Williamses—“

He had been looking over her head at the water. Then he turned abruptly. “Come on!” was the curt order he threw at them and they had to trot fast to keep at his heels.

 It was Marcy’s house they went to, Marcy’s Dad she was told to retell her story to. When she had done, Uncle Shaw looked at Major Scholar.

“What do you think, Price?”

 “There were those imports Jacques Brazan bought—“

 “Something invisible in water, but something which can live out of it for fairly long stretches of time. Something that can ‘think’ a distress call. That sound like any of Brazan’s pets?”

 “Come to think of it, no. But what do you have then, Shaw? Nothing of the old native wildlife fits that description either.”

 “A wild, very wild guess.” Uncle Shaw rubbed his hands together. “So wild you might well drag me in with Beeny, so I won’t even say it yet. What did Brazan put in?”

 “Ought to be in the records.” Major Scholar got a notebook out of his desk.  “Here it is—“ He ran his finger down a list. “Nothing with any remote resemblance. But remember Arthur Pierce? He went berserk that day and dumped his collection in the lake.”

 “He had some strange things in that! No listing though—“

 “Dad,” Marcy spoke up. “I remember Dr. Pierce’s big aquarium. There was a fish that walked on its fins out of water, it could jump, too. He showed me once when I was little, just after we came here.”

 “Mudskipper!” Her father nodded. “Wait—“ He went to a big bookcase and started running his finger along under the titles of the books. “Here—now—“ He pulled out a book and slapped it open on the desk.

 “Mudskipper—but—wait a minute! Listen here, Shaw!” He began to read, skipping a lot. “ ‘Pigmy goby—colorless except for eyes—practically transparent in water’—No, this is only three-eighths of an inch long—“

“It was a lot bigger,” protested Jill. “Too big for the pie pan I had for Ulysses. It flopped all over in that trying to get under the water.”

“Mutant—just maybe,” Uncle Shaw said. “Which would fit in with that idea of mine.” But he did not continue to explain, saying instead:

 “Tonight, Price, we’re going fishing!”

 He was almost a different person, Jill decided. Just as if the Uncle Shaw she had known since she arrived had been asleep and was now fully awake.

“But the Williamses are going to bomb—“ she reminded him.

“Not now—at least not yet. This is important enough to pull a few strings, Price. Do you think we can still pull them?”

 Major Scholar laughed. “One can always try, Shaw. I’m laying the smart money all on you.”

 After dark they gathered at the lake edge. Uncle Shaw and Major Scholar had not said Jill and Marcy could not go too, so they were very much there, and also Aunt Abby and Mrs. Scholar.

 But along the beds of vegetation there was no whirling tonight. Had—had she dreamed it, Jill began to wonder apprehensively. And what would Uncle Shaw, Major Scholar, say when no invisibles came?

 Then—just as it had shot into her mind last night from the despairing captive in the pan—she knew!

 “They won’t come,” she said with conviction. “Because they know that you have that—that you want to catch them!” She pointed to the net, the big kettle of water they had waiting. “They are afraid to come!”

 “How do they know?” Uncle Shaw asked quietly. He did not say he didn’t believe her, as she expected him to.

 “They—somehow they know when there’s danger.”

 “All right.” He had been kneeling on the bank, now he stood up. But he stooped again and threw the net behind him, kicked out and sent the water cascading out of the kettle. “We’re not going to try to take them.”

 “But—“ Major Scholar began to protest and then said in another tone, “I see—see what you mean—we reacted in the old way—making the same old mistake.”

They were all standing now and the moon was beginning to silver the lake.  Suddenly there was movement along the edge of the beds, the water rippled, churned. The invisibles were back.

 Uncle Shaw held out his hands. One of them caught Jill’s in a warm grip, with the other he held Aunt Abby’s.

 “I think, Price, perhaps—just perhaps we have been given another chance. If we can step out of the old ways enough to take it—no more mistakes—“

“Perhaps so, Shaw.”

 “You won’t let the Williamses—“ began Jill.

 “No!” That word was as sharp and clear as a shout. It even seemed to echo over the moon-drenched water, where there was that abundant rippling life. “Not now, not ever—I promise you that!” But Jill thought he was not answering her but what was in the water.

 “The moon is very bright tonight—“ Aunt Abby spoke a little hesitatingly.

“Perhaps it calls to its own. Pierce’s creatures may have provided the seed, but remember,” Uncle Shaw said slowly, “there was something else down there—“

“Those moon rocks!” Marcy cried.

 “Shaw, surely you don’t think—!” Major Scholar sounded incredulous.

“Price, I’m not going to think right now, the time has come to accept. If Wilson’s suspicions were the truth and those bits of rock from the last pickup had some germ of life locked into them—a germ which reacted on this—then think, man, what the rest of the lunar harvest might mean to this world now!”

 “And we know just where—“

 Uncle Shaw laughed. “Yes, Price. Since they are now dusty and largely forgotten why shouldn’t we make a little intelligent use of them right here. Then watch what happens in a world we befouled! It could be our answer is right up there and we were too blind to see it!”

 On the lake the moonlight was shivered into a thousand fragments where the invisibles were at work.

 



 

 “Andre Norton's Reading Corner

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Formatted by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lots-a-watts ~ 2020

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