"Yes," George said. "Yes."
"You are happy with me this way, aren't you, George?"
"But you're so beautiful."
The golden-haired girl nodded her head, and the shining blue eyes watched him carefully.
"You see then," Gistla said. "It does make a difference. You love me more this way."
"No," George said, touching her hair again. "I don't love you more, but if you can do this, why then, we'll have no more worries. Don't you see?"
"I think so," Gistla said, looking away.
George's voice was excited, and his eyes darted over her face and body. "Would other people see you as I do?"
"If I wished, yes."
"Then you see? It's all changed! You are what I see. Golden-haired and pale-skinned--"
"I am still Gistla. You would always know that. Would you love something that is not real, just because you see it with your eyes?"
"But I can feel that you're real," George said, putting his hands on her shoulders. He pulled her closer and kissed her hair. "You're Gistla," he said, "and you're beautiful." He tipped her face up to his and bent to kiss her mouth.
His lips touched smooth green skin and he looked into Gistla's large round lidless eyes. He recoiled as though he had been touched by fire.
She watched him as he wiped a trembling hand across his chest, and her globular head glistened in the reflection of the late sun.
She nodded. "When you see what I really am, the difference is important." She gathered her cloak around her and stood up.
George felt the flush of his face, and he could not meet her eyes. He heard her walk a few steps away.
"Good-by, George," she said.
He jumped up quickly. "That wasn't fair."
"No," she said slowly, "but it proved the value of things."
"It wasn't fair," George repeated. "And it didn't prove anything."
"I think it did," she said, moving away.
"No, listen, Gistla," he said. "You can't judge anything by what I did or said. We are different, in a physical sense, but that doesn't really matter. If a golden-haired girl materializes in front of my eyes, you can't blame me for what my emotions did. It's still you I love. Not the color of your skin or the shape of your mouth. But you and what you or I or anybody else looks like isn't important!"
He followed her and caught her arm. She turned to face him. "You can say that," she said. "Your words tell me that and your eyes, but I know it isn't true."
The embarrassment was still inside him, but the way she denied him made him want her more than ever. He held to her arm and then he said, "Gistla, could you change me? I mean, so that other people, even I, would see me as they see you--as a Venusian?"
She stood very still, staring at him.
"Could you?" he asked.
"Then do it, Gistla. I'll prove to you that nothing is important but you and me. I'll be a Venusian, like you are. I'll go back to my family as a Venusian and I'll take you with me. I'll prove that neither they nor anybody else makes any difference in how I love you!"
Gistla watched him solemnly. Finally she said, "Would you really do that?"
"Yes," he said quickly, "Yes."
"I love you, George," she said in her deep round voice.
He lifted his hands to touch her face and he found that his skin had turned to pale green. He touched his own face, and he knew that if he looked into a mirror he would see a round smooth head with large lidless eyes.
"Is that what you wanted?" she asked.
"Yes," he said stubbornly. "That's what I wanted." He stood there for a long time, trying to become used to it, fighting the fear that ran through him every time he looked at his hands or touched his head. Finally he said, quietly, "Let's go meet my family."
As they drew near the house, he knew his family was still in the patio. He could hear the voices of his mother and father and the high, piercing laughter of his sister.
"And, my God," he heard his sister say, "did you see the way those horrible eyes looked at you? What ever gets into George?"
"Dear, dear, dear," he heard his mother say.
Gistla was looking at him. "You do not have to do this."
"Yes," he said, feeling his heart jump. "I do."
He took her hand and they walked to the gate of the patio. He stood there, feeling Gistla's hand tighten about his own. And as he said, "Hello, everybody," he felt his breath shorten as though he had suddenly gotten stage fright.
He saw his father turn around. "What's this?" Mr. Kenington said, frowning.
"Hello, Father," George said.
"Father," Mr. Kenington repeated. "What are you doing in this patio?"
"I brought Gistla back."
"So I see," said Mr. Kenington, his eyes narrow as he looked at Gistla. "Where's George?"
"I'm not in the mood for joking with Venusians," his father snapped. "What made you think you could come in here like this?"
Gistla's hand tightened again. "Try to understand," George said. "Gistla--"
"What's going on?" his sister interrupted.
"Gistla, or whatever her name is," Mr. Kenington said, "has brought a friend of hers, another Venusian." He said the word, Venusian, as though it were a curse or a filthy word.
"My God," said his sister, squinting at them.
Mrs. Kenington leaned over in her chair, peering. "Tell them not to come into the patio, Harry," she said to her husband.
"Listen, Father," George said, feeling the panic begin. "Gistla changed my appearance, so that I seem to look like a Venusian. I came here to tell you that it doesn't make any difference what I look like, whether I look like a Venusian or a leaf on a vine or anything else. I still love her, and it doesn't make any difference." He heard his voice rising and becoming louder.
"My God," said his sister, giggling. "More black magic. Can you make music?" she asked George.
"Harry," his mother said. "They frighten me. Can't you make them keep off the patio?"
"Mother--" George began.
"Now see here," Mr. Kenington growled. "You know we don't allow Venusians around here. I'd advise you to get out of here. Quick!"
"Why does he keep calling you father and mother?" his sister asked. "Isn't that queer, how he keeps doing that? Make some music," she said to George.
George could see the hatred in his father's eyes and in his mother's. And behind his sister's sarcastic smile, he could see the hatred there, too. He felt himself getting more tense, and the panic raced through him.
"Listen," he shouted. "I'm George, don't you understand? George!"
"I don't want to tell you again," his father said, his face very red. "I don't know what your little game is, but it isn't coming off, and so I'll tell you just this one time. You get the hell off this property, or I'll ..."
"Listen," George yelled. "I'm GEORGE! Don't you understand?"
His father's lips thinned to a white line, and he began shouting for Joe Finch, the gardener.
George knew what he should have done then, he should have taken Gistla and gone. He should have walked with her, hand in hand, down the road and away from there. But instead, the panic made his heart pound and he saw the hatred all around him. He couldn't help it when he shouted to her, "Gistla! For God's sake, change me back! Right now! Gistla!"
He stood there, breathing hard, his muscles knotted like steel, while she stared at him, looking into his eyes.
Suddenly, he heard his father gasp and say, "George!"
He looked at his hands and they were white and he felt of his face and it was his own. He saw his sister's hand against her mouth, and his father stared at him with unbelieving eyes. His mother had gotten up and was coming over to him, her eyes blinking. "George," she said, "what did they do to you?" She patted his shoulder, her hands fluttering like bird wings.
He turned back to Gistla and she was gone. Beyond the gate now, he knew, and walking slowly, alone, down the road. Only this time he would not go after her. He couldn't. And as he stood there, feeling his mother's hand patting his shoulder, hearing his sister say, "My God," seeing his father shake his head slowly, he felt very young and at the same time, very old, and he wanted to cry.
By William F. Nolan
He was running, running down the long tunnels, the shadows hunting him, claws clutching at him, nearer ...
In the waiting windless dark, Lewis Stillman pressed into the building-front shadows along Wilshire Boulevard. Breathing softly, the automatic poised and ready in his hand, he advanced with animal stealth toward Western, gliding over the night-cool concrete, past ravaged clothing shops, drug and ten-cent stores, their windows shattered, their doors ajar and swinging. The city of Los Angeles, painted in cold moonlight, was an immense graveyard; the tall white tombstone buildings thrust up from the silent pavement, shadow-carved and lonely. Overturned metal corpses of trucks, busses and automobiles littered the streets.
He paused under the wide marquee of the FOX WILTERN. Above his head, rows of splintered display bulbs gaped--sharp glass teeth in wooden jaws. Lewis Stillman felt as though they might drop at any moment to pierce his body.
Four more blocks to cover. His destination: a small corner delicatessen four blocks south of Wilshire, on Western. Tonight he intended bypassing the larger stores like Safeway or Thriftimart, with their available supplies of exotic foods; a smaller grocery was far more likely to have what he needed. He was finding it more and more difficult to locate basic food stuffs. In the big supermarkets only the more exotic and highly spiced canned and bottled goods remained--and he was sick of caviar and oysters!
Crossing Western, he had almost reached the far curb when he saw some of them. He dropped immediately to his knees behind the rusting bulk of an Olds 88. The rear door on his side was open, and he cautiously eased himself into the back seat of the deserted car. Releasing the safety catch on the automatic, he peered through the cracked window at six or seven of them, as they moved toward him along the street. God! Had he been seen? He couldn't be sure. Perhaps they were aware of his position! He should have remained on the open street where he'd have a running chance. Perhaps, if his aim were true, he could kill most of them; but, even with its silencer, the gun would be heard and more of them would come. He dared not fire until he was certain they discovered him.
They came closer, their small dark bodies crowding the walk, six of them, chattering, leaping, cruel mouths open, eyes glittering under the moon. Closer. The shrill pipings increased, rose in volume. Closer. Now he could make out their sharp teeth and matted hair. Only a few feet from the car ... His hand was moist on the handle of the automatic; his heart thundered against his chest. Seconds away ...
Lewis Stillman fell heavily back against the dusty seat-cushion, the gun loose in his trembling hand. They had passed by; they had missed him. Their thin pipings diminished, grew faint with distance.
The tomb silence of late night settled around him.
The delicatessen proved a real windfall. The shelves were relatively untouched and he had a wide choice of tinned goods. He found an empty cardboard box and hastily began to transfer the cans from the shelf nearest him.
A noise from behind--a padding, scraping sound.
Lewis Stillman whirled around, the automatic ready.
A huge mongrel dog faced him, growling deep in its throat, four legs braced for assault. The blunt ears were laid flat along the short-haired skull and a thin trickle of saliva seeped from the killing jaws. The beast's powerful chest-muscles were bunched for the spring when Stillman acted.
The gun, he knew, was useless; the shots would be heard. Therefore, with the full strength of his left arm, he hurled a heavy can at the dog's head. The stunned animal staggered under the blow, legs buckling. Hurriedly, Stillman gathered his supplies and made his way back to the street.
How much longer can my luck hold? Lewis Stillman wondered, as he bolted the door. He placed the box of tinned goods on a wooden table and lit the tall lamp nearby. Its flickering orange glow illumined the narrow, low-ceilinged room as Stillman seated himself on one of three chairs facing the table.
Twice tonight, his mind told him, twice you've escaped them--and they could have seen you easily on both occasions if they had been watching for you. They don't know you're alive. But when they find out ...
He forced his thoughts away from the scene in his mind away from the horror; quickly he stood up and began to unload the box, placing the cans on a long shelf along the far side of the room.
He began to think of women, of a girl named Joan, and of how much he had loved her ...
The world of Lewis Stillman was damp and lightless; it was narrow and its cold stone walls pressed in upon him as he moved. He had been walking for several hours; sometimes he would run, because he knew his leg muscles must be kept strong, but he was walking now, following the thin yellow beam of his hooded lantern. He was searching.