"Not seeing your--shadow--!"
"And the full moon. A fear of the full moon, too?"
"But how did you know?"
"And you're allergic to certain metals, too. For instance--silver?"
He could only nod.
"And you go out in the night sometimes--and do things--but you don't remember what?"
He nodded again.
Her eyes glowed brightly. "I know. I know. I've known those same obsessions ever since I can remember."
Doctor Spechaug felt strangely uneasy then, a kind of dreadful loneliness.
"Superstition," he said. "Our Old World background, where superstition is the rule, old, very old superstition. Frightened by them when we were young. Now those childhood fixations reveal themselves in crazy symptoms."
He took off his coat, threw it into the brush. He rolled up his shirt sleeves. No blood visible now. He should be able to catch the little local passenger train out of Glen Oaks without any trouble. But why should there be any trouble? The blood---- He thought too that he might have killed the tramp, that popping sound.
She seemed to sense his thoughts. She said quickly: "I'm going with you, Doctor."
He said nothing. It seemed part of the inevitable pattern.
They entered the town. Even for mid-morning the place was strangely silent, damply hot, and still. The 'town' consisted of five blocks of main street from which cow paths wound off aimlessly into fields, woods, meadows and hills. There was always a few shuffling, dull-eyed people lolling about in the dusty heat. Now there were no people at all.
As they crossed over toward the shady side, two freshly clothed kids ran out of Davis' Filling Station, stared at them like vacant-eyed lambs, then turned and spurted inside Ken Wanger's Shoe Hospital.
Doctor Spechaug turned his dark head. His companion apparently hadn't noticed anything ominous or peculiar. But to him, the whole scene was morose, fetid and brooding.
They walked down the cracked concrete walk, passed the big plate-glass windows of Murphy's General Store which were a kind of fetish in Glen Oaks. But Doctor Spechaug wasn't concerned with the cultural significance of the windows. He was concerned with not looking into it.
And oddly, he never did look at himself in the glass, neither did he look across the street. Though the glass did pull his gaze into it with an implacable somewhat terrible insistence. And he stared. He stared at that portion of the glass which was supposed to reflect Edith Bailey's material self--but didn't reflect anything. Not even a shadow.
They stopped. They turned slowly toward each other. He swallowed hard, trembled slightly. And then he knew deep and dismal horror. He studied that section of glass where her image was supposed to be. It still wasn't.
He turned. And she was still standing there. "Well?"
And then she said in a hoarse whisper: "Your reflection--where is it?"
And all he could say was: "And yours?"
Little bits of chuckling laughter echoed in the inchoate madness of his suddenly whirling brain. Echoing years of lecture on--cause and effect, logic. Little bits of chuckling laughter. He grabbed her arm.
"We--we can see our own reflections, but we can't see each other's!"
She shivered. Her face was terribly white. "What--what is the answer?"
No. He didn't have it figured out. Let the witches figure it out. Let some old forbidden books do it. Bring the problem to some warlock. But not to him. He was only a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology. But maybe-- "Hallucinations," he muttered faintly. "Negative hallucinations."
"Doctor. Did you ever hear the little joke about the two psychiatrists who met one morning and one said, 'You're feeling excellent today. How am I feeling?'"
He shrugged. "We have insight into each other's abnormality, but are unaware of the same in ourselves."
"That's the whole basis for psychiatry, isn't it?"
"In a way. But this is physical--functional--when psychiatry presents situation where--" His voice trailed off.
"I have it figured this way." How eager she was. Somehow, it didn't matter much now, to him. "We're conditioned to react to reality in certain accepted ways. For instance that we're supposed to see our shadows. So we see them. But in our case they were never really there to see. Our sanity or 'normalcy' is maintained that way. But the constant auto-illusion must always lead to neuroticism and pathology--the hidden fears. But these fears must express themselves. So they do so in more socially acceptable ways."
Her voice suddenly dropped as her odd eyes flickered across the street. "But we see each other as we really are," she whispered tensely. "Though we could never have recognized the truth in ourselves."
She pointed stiffly. Her mouth gaped, quivered slightly.
He turned slowly. His mouth twitched with a growing terrible hatred. They were coming for him now.
Four men with rifles were coming toward him. Stealthily creeping, they were, as though it were some pristine scene with caves in the background. They were bent slightly, stalking. Hunters and hunted, and the law of the wild and two of them stopping in the middle of the street. The other two branched, circled, came at him from either side, clumping down the walk. George recognized them all. The town marshal, Bill Conway, and Mike Lash, Harry Hutchinson, and Dwight Farrigon.
Edith Bailey was backed up against the window. Her eyes were strangely dilated. But the faces of the four men exuded cold animal hate, and blood-lust.
Edith Bailey's lips said faintly, "What--what are we going to do?"
He felt so calm. He felt his lips writhe back in a snarl. The wind tingled on his teeth. "I know now," he said. "I know about the minutes I lost. I know why they're after me. You'd better get away."
"But why the--the guns?"
"I murdered my wife. She served me greasy eggs. God--she was an animal--just a dumb beast!"
Conway called, his rifle crooked in easy promising grace. "All right, Doc. Come on along without any trouble. Though I'd just as soon you made a break. I'd like to shoot you dead, Doctor."
"And what have I done, exactly," said Doctor Spechaug.
"He's hog-wild," yelled Mike Lash. "Cuttin' her all up that way! Let's string 'em up!" Conway yelled something about a "fair trial," though not with much enthusiasm.
Edith screamed as they charged toward them. A wild, inhuman cry.
Doctor Spechaug's eyes flashed up the narrow street.
"Let's go!" he said to Edith Bailey. "They'll see running they've never seen before. They can't touch us."
They ran. They heard the sharp crack of rifles. They saw the dust spurting up. Doctor Spechaug heard himself howling as he became aware of peculiar stings in his body. Queer, painless, deeply penetrating sensations that made themselves felt all over his body--as though he was awakening from a long paralysis.
Then the mad yelling faded rapidly behind them. They were running, streaking out of the town with inhuman speed. They struck out in long easy strides across the meadow toward the dense woods that brooded beyond the college.
Her voice gasped exultingly. "They couldn't hurt us! They couldn't! They tried!"
He nodded, straining eagerly toward he knew not what, nosing into the fresh wind. How swiftly and gracefully they could run. Soon they lost themselves in the thick dark forest. Shadows hid them.
Days later the moon was full. It edged over the low hill flanking Glen Oaks on the east. June bugs buzzed ponderously like armor-plated dragons toward the lights glowing faintly from the town. Frogs croaked from the swampy meadows and the creek.
They came up slowly to stand silhouetted against the glowing moon, nosing hungrily into the steady, aromatic breeze blowing from the Conway farm below.
They glided effortlessly down, then across the sharp-bladed marsh grass, leaping high with each bound. As they came disdainfully close to the silent farm house, a column of pale light from a coal oil lamp came through the living room window and haloed a neglected flower bed. Sorrow and fear clung to the house.
The shivering shadow of a gaunt woman was etched against the half drawn shade. The two standing outside the window called. The woman's shadow trembled.
Then a long rigid finger of steel projected itself beneath the partially raised window. The rifle cracked almost against the faces of the two. He screamed hideously as his companion dropped without a sound, twitching, twitching--he screamed again and began dragging himself away toward the sheltering forest. Intently and desperately the rifle cracked again.
He gave up then.
He sprawled out flatly on the cool, damp, moon-bathed path. His hot tongue lapped feverishly at the wet grass. He felt the persistent impact of the rifle's breath against him, and now there was a wave of pain. The full moon was fading into black mental clouds as he feebly attempted to lift his bleeding head.
He thought with agonized irony: "Provincial fools. Stupid, superstitious idiots ... and that damned Mrs. Conway--the most stupid of all. Only she would have thought to load her dead husband's rifle with silver bullets! Damned peasants----"
Total darkness blotted out futile revery.
By Stanley G. Weinbaum
"This," said the Franciscan, "is my Automaton, who at the proper time will speak, answer whatsoever question I may ask, and reveal all secret knowledge to me." He smiled as he laid his hand affectionately on the iron skull that topped the pedestal.
The youth gazed open-mouthed, first at the head and then at the Friar. "But it's iron!" he whispered. "The head is iron, good father."
"Iron without, skill within, my son," said Roger Bacon. "It will speak, at the proper time and in its own manner, for so have I made it. A clever man can twist the devil's arts to God's ends, thereby cheating the fiend--Sst! There sounds vespers! Plena gratia, ave Virgo--"
But it did not speak. Long hours, long weeks, the doctor mirabilis watched his creation, but iron lips were silent and the iron eyes dull, and no voice but the great man's own sounded in his monkish cell, nor was there ever an answer to all the questions that he asked--until one day when he sat surveying his work, composing a letter to Duns Scotus in distant Cologne--one day-- "Time is!" said the image, and smiled benignly.
The Friar looked up. "Time is, indeed," he echoed. "Time it is that you give utterance, and to some assertion less obvious than that time is. For of course time is, else there were nothing at all. Without time--"
"Time was!" rumbled the image, still smiling, but sternly at the statue of Draco.
"Indeed time was," said the Monk. "Time was, is, and will be, for time is that medium in which events occur. Matter exists in space, but events--"
The image smiled no longer. "Time is past!" it roared in tones deep as the cathedral bell outside, and burst into ten thousand pieces.
"There," said old Haskel van Manderpootz, shutting the book, "is my classical authority in this experiment. This story, overlaid as it is with mediaeval myth and legend, proves that Roger Bacon himself attempted the experiment--and failed." He shook a long finger at me. "Yet do not get the impression, Dixon, that Friar Bacon was not a great man. He was--extremely great, in fact; he lighted the torch that his namesake Francis Bacon took up four centuries later, and that now van Manderpootz rekindles."
I stared in silence.
"Indeed," resumed the Professor, "Roger Bacon might almost be called a thirteenth century van Manderpootz, or van Manderpootz a twenty-first century Roger Bacon. His Opus Majus, Opus Minus, and Opus Tertium--"
"What," I interrupted impatiently, "has all this to do with--that?" I indicated the clumsy metal robot standing in the corner of the laboratory.
"Don't interrupt!" snapped van Manderpootz. "I'll--"
At this point I fell out of my chair. The mass of metal had ejaculated something like "A-a-gh-rasp" and had lunged a single pace toward the window, arms upraised. "What the devil!" I sputtered as the thing dropped its arms and returned stolidly to its place.
"A car must have passed in the alley," said van Manderpootz indifferently. "Now as I was saying, Roger Bacon--"
I ceased to listen. When van Manderpootz is determined to finish a statement, interruptions are worse than futile. As an ex-student of his, I know. So I permitted my thoughts to drift to certain personal problems of my own, particularly Tips Alva, who was the most pressing problem of the moment. Yes, I mean Tips Alva the 'vision dancer, the little blonde imp who entertains on the Yerba Mate hour for that Brazilian company. Chorus girls, dancers, and television stars are a weakness of mine; maybe it indicates that there's a latent artistic soul in me. Maybe.
I'm Dixon Wells, you know, scion of the N. J. Wells Corporation, Engineers Extraordinary. I'm supposed to be an engineer myself; I say supposed, because in the seven years since my graduation, my father hasn't given me much opportunity to prove it. He has a strong sense of value of time, and I'm cursed with the unenviable quality of being late to anything and for everything. He even asserts that the occasional designs I submit are late Jacobean, but that isn't fair. They're Post-Romanesque.
Old N. J. also objects to my penchant for ladies of the stage and 'vision screen, and periodically threatens to cut my allowance, though that's supposed to be a salary. It's inconvenient to be so dependent, and sometimes I regret that unfortunate market crash of 2009 that wiped out my own money, although it did keep me from marrying Whimsy White, and van Manderpootz, through his subjunctivisor, succeeded in proving that that would have been a catastrophe. But it turned out nearly as much of a disaster anyway, as far as my feelings were concerned. It took me months to forget Joanna Caldwell and her silvery eyes. Just another instance when I was a little late.
Van Manderpootz himself is my old Physics Professor, head of the Department of Newer Physics at N. Y. U., and a genius, but a bit eccentric. Judge for yourself.
"And that's the thesis," he said suddenly, interrupting my thoughts.
"Eh? Oh, of course. But what's that grinning robot got to do with it?"
He purpled. "I've just told you!" he roared. "Idiot! Imbecile! To dream while van Manderpootz talks! Get out! Get out!"
I got. It was late anyway, so late that I overslept more than usual in the morning, and suffered more than the usual lecture on promptness from my father at the office.
Van Manderpootz had forgotten his anger by the next time I dropped in for an evening. The robot still stood in the corner near the window, and I lost no time asking its purpose.
"It's just a toy I had some of the students construct," he explained. "There's a screen of photoelectric cells behind the right eye, so connected that when a certain pattern is thrown on them, it activates the mechanism. The thing's plugged into the light-circuit, but it really ought to run on gasoline."