"Good. The sooner the better. And you just forget about this queen as soon as you are able. She's a peach, of course, but not for you. There's lots more back in little old New York." But Frank had no reply to this sally.
There came a knock at the door and Tommy called, "Come in."
"I see you have fully recovered," said the smiling Theronian who entered at the bidding, "and we are overjoyed to know this. You have the gratitude of the entire realm for your part in the saving of our empress from the bullets of the madman."
"Yes. You and your friend. And now, may I ask, are you ready to return to your own land?"
Tommy stared. "Sure thing," he said, "or rather, I will be in a few minutes."
"Thank you. We shall await you in the transmitting room." The Theronian bowed and was gone.
"Well, I like that," said Tommy. "He hands me an undeserved compliment and then asks how soon we can beat it. A 'here's your hat, what's your hurry' sort of thing."
"It's me they're anxious to be rid of," remarked Frank, shrugging his broad shoulders, "and perhaps it is just as well."
"You bet it is!" agreed Tommy enthusiastically, "and I'm in favor of making it good and snappy." He completed his toilet as rapidly as possible and then turned to face the down-hearted Frank.
"How do we go? The way we came?" he asked.
"No, Tommy. They have closed off the shaft that led from the cavern of the silver dome. They are taking no more chances. It seems that the shaft down which we floated was constructed by the Theronians; not by Leland. They had used it and the gravity disc to transport casual visitors to the surface, who occasionally mixed with our people in order to learn the languages of the upper world and to actually touch and handle the things they were otherwise able to see only through the medium of Silver Dome and the crystal spheres. Further visits to the surface are now forbidden, and we are to be returned by a remarkable process of beam transmission of our disintegrated bodies."
"Yes. It seems they have learned to dissociate the atoms of which the human body is composed and to transmit them to any desired point over a beam of etheric vibrations, then to reassemble them in the original living condition."
"What? You mean to say we are to be shot to the surface through the intervening rock and earth? Disintegrated and reintegrated? And we'll not even be bent, let alone busted?"
This time he was rewarded by a laugh. "That's right. And I have gone through the calculations with one of the Theronian engineers and can find no flaw in the scheme. We're safe in their hands."
"If you say so, Frank, it's okay with me. Let's go!"
Reluctantly his friend lifted his athletic bulk from the chair. In silence he led the way to the transmitting room of the Theronian scientists.
Here they were greeted by two savants with whom Frank was already acquainted, Clarux and Rhonus by name. A bewildering array of complex mechanisms was crowded into the high-ceilinged chamber and, prominent among them, was one of the crystal spheres, this one of somewhat smaller size than the one in the palace of Phaestra.
"Where do you wish to arrive?" asked Clarux.
"As near to my automobile as possible," replied Frank, taking sudden interest in the proceedings. "It is parked in the lane between Leland's house and the road."
Tommy looked quickly in his direction, encouraged by the apparent change in his attitude. The scientists proceeded to energize the crystal sphere. They were bent upon speeding the parting guests. Their beloved empress was to be saved from her own emotions.
Quick adjustments of the controls resulted in the locating of Frank's car, which was still buried to its axles in snow. The scene included Leland's house, or rather its site, for it appeared to have been utterly demolished by some explosion within.
Tommy raised questioning eyebrows.
"It was necessary," explained Rhonus, "to destroy the house in obliterating all traces of our former means of egress. It has been commanded that you two be returned safely, and we are authorized to trust implicitly in your future silence regarding the existence of Theros. This is satisfactory, I presume?"
Both Tommy and Frank nodded agreement.
"Are you ready, gentlemen?" asked Clarux, who was adjusting a mechanism that resembled a huge radio transmitter. Its twelve giant vacuum tubes glowed into life as he spoke.
"We are," chimed the two visitors.
They were requested to step to a small circular platform that was raised about a foot from the floor by means of insulating legs. Above the table there was an inverted bowl of silver in the shape of a large parabolic reflector.
"There will be no alarming sensations," averred Clarux. "When I close the switch the disintegrating energy from the reflector above will bathe your bodies for a moment in visible rays of a deep purple hue. You may possibly experience a slight momentary feeling of nausea. Then--presto!--you have arrived."
"Shoot!" growled Frank from his position on the stand.
Clarux pulled the switch and there was a murmur as of distant thunder. Tommy blinked involuntarily in the brilliant purple glow that surrounded him. Then all was confusion in the transmitting room. Somebody had rushed through the open door shouting, "Frank! Frank!" It was the empress Phaestra.
In a growing daze Tommy saw her dash to the platform, seize Frank in a clutch of desperation. There was a violent wrench as if some monster were twisting at his vitals. He closed his eyes against the blinding light, then realized that utter silence had followed the erstwhile confusion. He sat in Frank's car--alone.
The journey was over, and Frank was left behind. With awful finality it came to him that there was nothing he could do. It was clear that Phaestra had wanted his pal, needed him--come for him. From the fact that Frank remained behind it was evident that she had succeeded in retaining him. A sickening fear came to Tommy that she had been too late; that Frank's body was already partly disintegrated and that he might have paid the price of her love with his life. But a little reflection convinced him that if this were the case a portion of his friend's body would have reached the intended destination. Then, unexplainably, he received a mental message that all was well.
Considerably heartened, he pressed the starter button and the cold motor of Frank's coupe turned over slowly, protestingly. Finally it coughed a few times, and, after considerable coaxing by use of the choke, ran smoothly. He proceeded to back carefully through the drifts toward the road, casting an occasional regretful glance in the direction of the demolished mansion.
He would have some explaining to do when he returned to New York. Perhaps--yes, almost certainly, he would be questioned by the police regarding Frank's disappearance. But he would never betray the trust of Phaestra. Who indeed would believe him if he told the story? Instead, he would concoct a weird fabrication regarding an explosion in Leland's laboratory, of his own miraculous escape. They could not hold him, could not accuse him of murder without producing a body--the corpus delicti, or whatever they called it.
Anyway, Frank was content. So was Phaestra.
Tommy swung the heavy car into the road and turned toward New York, alone and lonely--but somehow happy; happy for his friend.
By Bryce Walton
Doctor Spechaug stopped running, breathing deeply and easily where he paused in the middle of the narrow winding road. He glanced at his watch. Nine a.m. He was vaguely perplexed because he did not react more emotionally to the blood staining his slender hands.
It was fresh blood, though just beginning to coagulate; it was dabbled over his brown serge suit, splotching the neatly starched white cuffs of his shirt. His wife always did them up so nicely with the peasant's love for trivial detail.
He had always hated the silent ignorance of the peasants who surrounded the little college where he taught psychology. He supposed that he had begun to hate his wife, too, when he realized, after taking her from a local barnyard and marrying her, that she could never be anything but a sloe-eyed, shuffling peasant.
He walked on with brisk health down the narrow dirt road that led toward Glen Oaks. Elm trees lined the road. The morning air was damp and cool. Dew kept the yellow dust settled where spots of sunlight came through leaves and speckled it. Birds darted freshly through thickly hung branches.
He had given perennial lectures on hysterical episodes. Now he realized that he was the victim of such an episode. He had lost a number of minutes from his own memory. He remembered the yellow staring eyes of the breakfast eggs gazing up at him from a sea of grease. He remembered his wife screaming--after that only blankness.
He stopped on a small bridge crossing Calvert's Creek, wiped the blood carefully from his hands with a green silk handkerchief. He dropped the stained silk into the clear water. Silver flashes darted up, nibbled the cloth as it floated down. He watched it for a moment, then went on along the shaded road.
This was his chance to escape from Glen Oaks. That was what he had wanted to do ever since he had come here five years ago to teach. He had a good excuse now to get away from the shambling peasants whom he hated and who returned the attitude wholeheartedly--the typical provincial's hatred of culture and learning.
Then he entered the damp, chilled shadows of the thick wood that separated his house from the college grounds. It was thick, dense, dark. One small corner of it seemed almost ordinary, the rest was superstition haunted, mysterious and brooding. This forest had provided Doctor Spechaug many hours of escape.
He had attempted to introspect, but had never found satisfactory causes for his having found himself running through these woods at night in his bare feet. Nor why he sometimes hated the sunlight.
He tensed in the dank shadows. Someone else was in this forest with him. It did not disturb him. Whatever was here was not alien to him or the forest. His eyes probed the mist that slithered through the ancient mossy trees and hanging vines. He listened, looked, but found nothing. Birds chittered, but that was all. He sat down, his back against a spongy tree trunk, fondled dark green moss.
As he sat there, he knew that he was waiting for someone. He shrugged. Mysticism was not even interesting to him, ordinarily. Still, though a behaviorist, he upheld certain instinctual motivation theories. And, though reluctantly, he granted Freud contributory significance. He could be an atavist, a victim of unconscious regression. Or a prey of some insidious influence, some phenomena a rather childish science had not yet become aware of. But it was of no importance. He was happier now than he had ever been. He felt free--young and new. Life seemed worth living.
Abruptly, with a lithe liquid ease, he was on his feet, body tense, alert. Her form was vaguely familiar as she ran toward him. She dodged from his sight, then re-appeared as the winding path cut behind screens of foliage.
She ran with long smooth grace, and he had never seen a woman run like that. A plain skirt was drawn high to allow long bronzed legs free movement. Her hair streamed out, a cloud of red-gold. She kept looking backwards and it was obvious someone was chasing her.
He began sprinting easily toward her, and as the distance shortened, he recognized her. Edith Bailey, a second-year psychology major who had been attending his classes two semesters. Very intelligent, reclusive, not a local-grown product. Her work had a grimness about it, as though psychology was a dire obsession, especially abnormal psychology. One of her theme papers had been an exhaustive, mature but somehow overly determined, treatise on self-induced hallucination and auto-suggestion. He had not been too impressed because of an unjustified emphasis on supernatural myth and legend, including werewolves, vampires, and the like.
She sprang to a stop like a cornered deer as she saw him suddenly blocking the path. She turned, then stopped and turned back slowly. Her eyes were wide, cheeks flushed. Taut breasts rose and fell deeply, and her hands were poised for flight.
But she wasn't looking at his face. Her gaze was on the blood splattering his clothes.
He was breathing deeply too. His heart was swelling with exhilaration. His blood flowed hotly. Something of the whirling ecstasy he had known back in his student days as a track champion returned to him--the mad bursting of the wind against him, the wild passion of the dash.
A burly figure came lurching after her down the path. A tramp, evidently, from his filthy, smoke-sodden clothes and thick stubble of beard. He recalled the trestle west of the forest where the bindlestiffs from the Pacific Fruit line jungled up at nights, or during long layovers. Sometimes they came into the forest.
He was big, fat and awkward. He was puffing and blowing, and he began to groan as Doctor Spechaug's fists thudded into his flesh. The degenerate fell to his knees, his broken face blowing out bloody air. Finally he rolled over onto his side with a long sighing moan, lay limply, very still. Doctor Spechaug's lips were thin, white, as he kicked savagely. He heard a popping. The bum flopped sidewise into a pile of dripping leaves.
He stepped back, looked at Edith Bailey. Her full red lips were moist and gleaming. Her oddly opaque eyes glowed strangely at him. Her voice was low, yet somehow, very intense.
"Wonderful laboratory demonstration, Doctor. But I don't think many of your student embryos would appreciate it."
Doctor Spechaug nodded, smiled gently. "No. An unorthodox case." He lit a cigarette, and she took one. Their smoke mingled with the dissipating morning mist. And he kept on staring at her. A pronounced sweater girl with an intellect. This--he could have loved. He wondered if it were too late.
Doctor Spechaug had never been in love. He wondered if he were now with this fundamental archetypal beauty. "By the way," he was saying, "what are you doing in this evil wood?"
Then she took his arm, very naturally, easily. They began walking slowly along the cool, dim path.
"Two principal reasons. One, I like it here; I come here often. Two, I knew you always walk along this path, always late for your eight o'clock class. I've often watched you walking here. You walk beautifully."
He did not comment. It seemed unnecessary now.
"The morning's almost gone," she observed. "The sun will be out very warm in a little while. I hate the sun."
On an impulse he said: "I'm going away. I've wanted to get out of this obscene nest of provincial stupidity from the day I first came here. And now I've decided to leave."
"What are you escaping from?"
He answered softly. "I don't know. Something Freudian, no doubt. Something buried, buried deep. Something too distasteful to recognize."
She laughed. "I knew you were human and not the cynical pseudo-intellectual you pretended to be. Disgusting, isn't it?"
"Being human, I mean."
"I suppose so. I'm afraid we're getting an extraordinarily prejudiced view. I can't help being a snob here. I despise and loathe peasants."
"And I," she admitted. "Which is merely to say, probably, that we loathe all humanity."
"Tell me about yourself," he said finally.
"Gladly. I like doing that--to one who will understand. I'm nineteen. My parents died in Hungary during the War. I came here to America to live with my uncle. But by the time I got here he was dead, too. And he left me no money, so there was no sense being grateful for his death. I got a part-time job and finished high school in Chicago. I got a scholarship to--this place." Her voice trailed off. She was staring at him.
"Hungary!" he said and repeated it. "Why--I came from Hungary!"
Her grip on his arm tightened. "I knew--somehow. I remember Hungary--its ancient horror. My father inherited an ancient castle. I remember long cold corridors and sticky dungeons, and cobwebbed rooms thick with dust. My real name is Burhmann. I changed it because I thought Bailey more American."
"Both from Hungary," mused Doctor Spechaug. "I remember very little of Hungary. I came here when I was three. All I remember are the ignorant peasants. Their dumb, blind superstition--their hatred for----"
"You're afraid of them, aren't you?" she said.
He started. "The peasants. I----" He shook his head. "Perhaps."
"You're afraid," she said. "Would you mind telling me, Doctor, how these fears of yours manifest themselves?"
He hesitated; they walked. Finally he answered. "I've never told anyone but you. There are hidden fears. And they reveal themselves consciously in the absurd fear of seeing my own reflection. Of not seeing my shadow. Of----"
She breathed sharply. She stopped walking, turned, stared at him. "Not--not seeing your--reflection!"