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Title: The Rotifers
Author: Abernathy, Robert, 1924-1990
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Rotifers" ***


    THE ROTIFERS

    BY Robert Abernathy

    _Beneath the stagnant water shadowed by water lilies Harry found
    the fascinating world of the rotifers—but it was their world,
    and they resented intrusion._

    _Illustrated by Virgil Finlay_

Henry Chatham knelt by the brink of his garden pond, a glass fish bowl
cupped in his thin, nervous hands. Carefully he dipped the bowl into the
green-scummed water and, moving it gently, let trailing streamers of
submerged water weeds drift into it. Then he picked up the old scissors
he had laid on the bank, and clipped the stems of the floating plants,
getting as much of them as he could in the container.

When he righted the bowl and got stiffly to his feet, it contained, he
thought hopefully, a fair cross-section of fresh-water plankton. He was
pleased with himself for remembering that term from the book he had
studied assiduously for the last few nights in order to be able to cope
with Harry’s inevitable questions.

There was even a shiny black water beetle doing insane circles on the
surface of the water in the fish bowl. At sight of the insect, the eyes
of the twelve-year-old boy, who had been standing by in silent
expectation, widened with interest.

"What’s that thing, Dad?" he asked excitedly. "What’s that crazy bug?"

"I don’t know its scientific name, I’m afraid," said Henry Chatham. "But
when I was a boy we used to call them whirligig beetles."

"He doesn’t seem to think he has enough room in the bowl," said Harry
thoughtfully. "Maybe we better put him back in the pond, Dad."

"I thought you might want to look at him through the microscope," the
father said in some surprise.

"I think we ought to put him back," insisted Harry. Mr. Chatham held the
dripping bowl obligingly. Harry’s hand, a thin boy’s hand with narrow
sensitive fingers, hovered over the water, and when the beetle paused
for a moment in its gyrations, made a dive for it.

But the whirligig beetle saw the hand coming, and, quicker than a wink,
plunged under the water and scooted rapidly to the very bottom of the
bowl.

Harry’s young face was rueful; he wiped his wet hand on his trousers. "I
guess he wants to stay," he supposed.

The two went up the garden path together and into the house, Mr. Chatham
bearing the fish bowl before him like a votive offering. Harry’s mother
met them at the door, brandishing an old towel.

"Here," she said firmly, "you wipe that thing off before you bring it in
the house. And don’t drip any of that dirty pond water on my good
carpet."

"It’s not dirty," said Henry Chatham. "It’s just full of life, plants
and animals too small for the eye to see. But Harry’s going to see them
with his microscope." He accepted the towel and wiped the water and
slime from the outside of the bowl; then, in the living-room, he set it
beside an open window, where the life-giving summer sun slanted in and
fell on the green plants.

                                  ————

The brand-new microscope stood nearby, in a good light. It was an
expensive microscope, no toy for a child, and it magnified four hundred
diameters. Henry Chatham had bought it because he believed that his only
son showed a desire to peer into the mysteries of smallness, and so far
Harry had not disappointed him; he had been ecstatic over the
instrument. Together they had compared hairs from their two heads, had
seen the point of a fine sewing needle made to look like the tip of a
crowbar by the lowest power of the microscope, had made grains of salt
look like discarded chunks of glass brick, had captured a house-fly and
marvelled at its clawed hairy feet, its great red faceted eyes, and the
delicate veining and fringing of its wings.

Harry was staring at the bowl of pond water in a sort of fascination.
"Are there germs in the water, Dad? Mother says pond water is full of
germs."

"I suppose so," answered Mr. Chatham, somewhat embarrassed. The book on
microscopic fresh-water fauna had been explicit about _Paramecium_ and
_Euglena_, diatomes and rhizopods, but it had failed to mention anything
so vulgar as germs. But he supposed that which the book called Protozoa,
the one-celled animalcules, were the same as germs.

He said, "To look at things in water like this, you want to use a
well-slide. It tells how to fix one in the instruction book."

He let Harry find the glass slide with a cup ground into it, and another
smooth slip of glass to cover it. Then he half-showed, half-told him how
to scrape gently along the bottom sides of the drifting leaves, to
capture the teeming life that dwelt there in the slime. When the boy
understood, his young hands were quickly more skillful than his
father’s; they filled the well with a few drops of water that was
promisingly green and murky.

Already Harry knew how to adjust the lighting mirror under the stage of
the microscope and turn the focusing screws. He did so, bent intently
over the eyepiece, squinting down the polished barrel in the happy
expectation of wonders.

Henry Chatham’s eyes wandered to the fish bowl, where the whirligig
beetle had come to the top again and was describing intricate patterns
among the water plants. He looked back to his son, and saw that Harry
had ceased to turn the screws and instead was just looking—looking with
a rapt, delicious fixity. His hands lay loosely clenched on the table
top, and he hardly seemed to breathe. Only once or twice his lips moved
as if to shape an exclamation that was snatched away by some new vision.

"Have you got it, Harry?" asked his father after two or three minutes
during which the boy did not move.

Harry took a last long look, then glanced up, blinking slightly.

"You look, Dad!" he exclaimed warmly. "It’s—it’s like a garden in the
water, full of funny little people!"

Mr. Chatham, not reluctantly, bent to gaze into the eyepiece. This was
new to him too, and instantly he saw the aptness of Harry’s simile.
There was a garden there, of weird, green, transparent stalks composed
of plainly visible cells fastened end to end, with globules and bladders
like fruits or seed-pods attached to them, floating among them; and in
the garden the strange little people swam to and fro, or clung with odd
appendages to the stalks and branches. Their bodies were transparent
like the plants, and in them were pulsing hearts and other organs
plainly visible. They looked a little like sea horses with pointed
tails, but their heads were different, small and rounded, with big,
dark, glistening eyes.

All at once Mr. Chatham realized that Harry was speaking to him, still
in high excitement.

"What are they, Dad?" he begged to know.

His father straightened up and shook his head puzzledly. "I don’t know,
Harry," he answered slowly, casting about in his memory. He seemed to
remember a microphotograph of a creature like those in the book he had
studied, but the name that had gone with it eluded him. He had worked as
an accountant for so many years that his memory was all for figures now.

He bent over once more to immerse his eyes and mind in the green
water-garden on the slide. The little creatures swam to and fro as
before, growing hazy and dwindling or swelling as they swam out of the
narrow focus of the lens; he gazed at those who paused in sharp
definition, and saw that, although he had at first seen no visible means
of propulsion, each creature bore about its head a halo of thread-like,
flickering cilia that lashed the water and drew it forward, for all the
world like an airplane propeller or a rapidly turning wheel.

"I know what they are!" exclaimed Henry Chatham, turning to his son with
an almost boyish excitement. "They’re rotifers! That means
’wheel-bearers’, and they were called that because to the first
scientists who saw them it looked like they swam with wheels."

Harry had got down the book and was leafing through the pages. He looked
up seriously. "Here they are," he said. "Here’s a picture that looks
almost like the ones in our pond water."

"Let’s see," said his father. They looked at the pictures and
descriptions of the Rotifera; there was a good deal of concrete
information on the habits and physiology of these odd and complex little
animals who live their swarming lives in the shallow, stagnant waters of
the Earth. It said that they were much more highly organized than
Protozoa, having a discernible heart, brain, digestive system, and
nervous system, and that their reproduction was by means of two sexes
like that of the higher orders. Beyond that, they were a mystery; their
relationship to other life-forms remained shrouded in doubt.

"You’ve got something interesting there," said Henry Chatham with
satisfaction. "Maybe you’ll find out something about them that nobody
knows yet."

He was pleased when Harry spent all the rest of that Sunday afternoon
peering into the microscope, watching the rotifers, and even more
pleased when the boy found a pencil and paper and tried, in an
amateurish way, to draw and describe what he saw in the green
water-garden.

Beyond a doubt, Henry thought, here was a hobby that had captured Harry
as nothing else ever had.

                                  ————

Mrs. Chatham was not so pleased. When her husband laid down his evening
paper and went into the kitchen for a drink of water, she cornered him
and hissed at him: "I told you you had no business buying Harry a thing
like that! If he keeps on at this rate, he’ll wear his eyes out in no
time."

Henry Chatham set down his water glass and looked straight at his wife.
"Sally, Harry’s eyes are young and he’s using them to learn with. You’ve
never been much worried over me, using my eyes up eight hours a day,
five days a week, over a blind-alley bookkeeping job."

He left her angrily silent and went back to his paper. He would lower
the paper every now and then to watch Harry, in his corner of the
living-room, bowed obliviously over the microscope and the secret life
of the rotifers.

Once the boy glanced up from his periodic drawing and asked, with the
air of one who proposes a pondered question: "Dad, if you look through a
microscope the wrong way is it a telescope?"

Mr. Chatham lowered his paper and bit his underlip. "I don’t think
so—no, I don’t know. When you look through a microscope, it makes things
seem closer—one way, that is; if you looked the other way, it would
probably make them seem farther off. What did you want to know for?"

"Oh—nothing," Harry turned back to his work. As if on after-thought, he
explained, "I was wondering if the rotifers could see me when I’m
looking at them."

Mr. Chatham laughed, a little nervously, because the strange fancies
which his son sometimes voiced upset his ordered mind. Remembering the
dark glistening eyes of the rotifers he had seen, however, he could
recognize whence this question had stemmed.

At dusk, Harry insisted on setting up the substage lamp which had been
bought with the microscope, and by whose light he could go on looking
until his bedtime, when his father helped him arrange a wick to feed the
little glass-covered well in the slide so it would not dry up before
morning. It was unwillingly, and only after his mother’s strenuous
complaints, that the boy went to bed at ten o’clock.

In the following days his interest became more and more intense. He
spent long hours, almost without moving, watching the rotifers. For the
little animals had become the sole object which he desired to study
under the microscope, and even his father found it difficult to
understand such an enthusiasm.

During the long hours at the office to which he commuted, Henry Chatham
often found the vision of his son, absorbed with the invisible world
that the microscope had opened to him, coming between him and the
columns in the ledgers. And sometimes, too, he envisioned the dim green
water-garden where the little things swam to and fro, and a strangeness
filled his thoughts.

On Wednesday evening, he glanced at the fish bowl and noticed that the
water beetle, the whirligig beetle, was missing. Casually, he asked his
son about it.

"I had to get rid of him," said the boy with a trace of uneasiness in
his manner. "I took him out and squashed him."

"Why did you have to do that?"

"He was eating the rotifers and their eggs," said Harry, with what
seemed to be a touch of remembered anger at the beetle. He glanced
toward his work-table, where three or four well-slides with small green
pools under their glass covers now rested in addition to the one that
was under the microscope.

"How did you find out he was eating them?" inquired Mr. Chatham, feeling
a warmth of pride at the thought that Harry had discovered such a
scientific fact for himself.

The boy hesitated oddly. "I—I looked it up in the book," he answered.

His father masked his faint disappointment. "That’s fine," he said. "I
guess you find out more about them all the time."

"Uh-huh," admitted Harry, turning back to his table.

There was undoubtedly something a little strange about Harry’s manner;
and now Mr. Chatham realized that it had been two days since Harry had
asked him to "Quick, take a look!" at the newest wonder he had
discovered. With this thought teasing at his mind, the father walked
casually over to the table where his son sat hunched and, looking down
at the litter of slides and papers—some of which were covered with
figures and scribblings of which he could make nothing. He said
diffidently, "How about a look?"

Harry glanced up as if startled. He was silent a moment; then he slid
reluctantly from his chair and said, "All right."

Mr. Chatham sat down and bent over the microscope. Puzzled and a little
hurt, he twirled the focusing vernier and peered into the eyepiece,
looking down once more into the green water world of the rotifers.

                                  ————

There was a swarm of them under the lens, and they swam lazily to and
fro, their cilia beating like miniature propellers. Their dark eyes
stared, wet and glistening; they drifted in the motionless water, and
clung with sucker-like pseudo-feet to the tangled plant stems.

Then, as he almost looked away, one of them detached itself from the
group and swam upward, toward him, growing larger and blurring as it
rose out of the focus of the microscope. The last thing that remained
defined, before it became a shapeless gray blob and vanished, was the
dark blotches of the great cold eyes, seeming to stare full at him—cold,
motionless, but alive.

It was a curious experience. Henry Chatham drew suddenly back from the
eyepiece, with an involuntary shudder that he could not explain to
himself. He said haltingly, "They look interesting."

"Sure, Dad," said Harry. He moved to occupy the chair again, and his
dark young head bowed once more over the microscope. His father walked
back across the room and sank gratefully into his arm-chair—after all,
it had been a hard day at the office. He watched Harry work the focusing
screws as if trying to find something, then take his pencil and begin to
write quickly and impatiently.

It was with a guilty feeling of prying that, after Harry had been sent
reluctantly to bed, Henry Chatham took a tentative look at those papers
which lay in apparent disorder on his son’s work table. He frowned
uncomprehendingly at the things that were written there; it was neither
mathematics nor language, but many of the scribblings were jumbles of
letters and figures. It looked like code, and he remembered that less
than a year ago, Harry had been passionately interested in cryptography,
and had shown what his father, at least, believed to be a considerable
aptitude for such things.... But what did cryptography have to do with
microscopy, or codes with—rotifers?

Nowhere did there seem to be a key, but there were occasional words and
phrases jotted into the margins of some of the sheets. Mr. Chatham read
these, and learned nothing. "Can’t dry up, but they can," said one.
"Beds of germs," said another. And in the corner of one sheet, "1—Yes.
2—No." The only thing that looked like a translation was the note:
"rty34pr is the pond."

Mr. Chatham shook his head bewilderedly, replacing the sheets carefully
as they had been. Why should Harry want to keep notes on his scientific
hobby in code? he wondered, rationalizing even as he wondered. He went
to bed still puzzling, but it did not keep him from sleeping, for he was
tired.

Then, only the next evening, his wife maneuvered to get him alone with
her and burst out passionately:

"Henry, I told you that microscope was going to ruin Harry’s eyesight! I
was watching him today when he didn’t know I was watching him, and I saw
him winking and blinking right while he kept on looking into the thing.
I was minded to stop him then and there, but I want you to assert _your_
authority with him and tell him he can’t go on."

Henry Chatham passed one nervous hand over his own aching eyes. He asked
mildly, "Are you sure it wasn’t just your imagination, Sally? After all,
a person blinks quite normally, you know."

"It was not my imagination!" snapped Mrs. Chatham. "I know the symptoms
of eyestrain when I see them, I guess. You’ll have to stop Harry using
that thing so much, or else be prepared to buy him glasses."

"All right, Sally," said Mr. Chatham wearily. "I’ll see if I can’t
persuade him to be a little more moderate."

He went slowly into the living-room. At the moment, Harry was not using
the microscope; instead, he seemed to be studying one of his cryptic
pages of notes. As his father entered, he looked up sharply and swiftly
laid the sheet down—face down.

Perhaps it wasn’t all Sally’s imagination; the boy did look nervous, and
there was a drawn, white look to his thin young face. His father said
gently, "Harry, Mother tells me she saw you blinking, as if your eyes
were tired, when you were looking into the microscope today. You know if
you look too much, it can be a strain on your sight."

Harry nodded quickly, too quickly, perhaps. "Yes, Dad," he said. "I read
that in the book. It says there that if you close the eye you’re looking
with for a little while, it rests you and your eyes don’t get tired. So
I was practising that this afternoon. Mother must have been watching me
then, and got the wrong idea."

"Oh," said Henry Chatham. "Well, it’s good that you’re trying to be
careful. But you’ve got your mother worried, and that’s not so good. I
wish, myself, that you wouldn’t spend all your time with the microscope.
Don’t you ever play baseball with the fellows any more?"

"I haven’t got time," said the boy, with a curious stubborn twist to his
mouth. "I can’t right now, Dad." He glanced toward the microscope.

"Your rotifers won’t die if you leave them alone for a while. And if
they do, there’ll always be a new crop."

"But I’d lose track of them," said Harry strangely. "Their lives are so
short—they live so awfully fast. You don’t know how fast they live."

"I’ve seen them," answered his father. "I guess they’re fast, all
right." He did not know quite what to make of it all, so he settled
himself in his chair with his paper.

But that night, after Harry had gone later than usual to bed, he stirred
himself to take down the book that dealt with life in pond-water. There
was a memory pricking at his mind; the memory of the water beetle, which
Harry had killed because, he said, he was eating the rotifers and their
eggs. And the boy had said he had found that fact in the book.

Mr. Chatham turned through the book; he read, with aching eyes, all that
it said about rotifers. He searched for information on the beetle, and
found there was a whole family of whirligig beetles. There was some
material here on the characteristics and habits of the Gyrinidae, but
nowhere did it mention the devouring of rotifers or their eggs among
their customs.

He tried the topical index, but there was no help there.

Harry must have lied, thought his father with a whirling head. But why,
why in God’s name should he say he’d looked a thing up in the book when
he must have found it out for himself, the hard way? There was no sense
in it. He went back to the book, convinced that, sleepy as he was, he
must have missed a point. The information simply wasn’t there.

He got to his feet and crossed the room to Harry’s work table; he
switched on the light over it and stood looking down at the pages of
mystic notations. There were more pages now, quite a few. But none of
them seemed to mean anything. The earlier pictures of rotifers which
Harry had drawn had given way entirely to mysterious figures.

Then the simple explanation occurred to him, and he switched off the
light with a deep feeling of relief. Harry hadn’t really _known_ that
the water beetle ate rotifers; he had just suspected it. And, with his
boy’s respect for fair play, he had hesitated to admit that he had
executed the beetle merely on suspicion.

That didn’t take the lie away, but it removed the mystery at least.

                                  ————

Henry Chatham slept badly that night and dreamed distorted dreams. But
when the alarm clock shrilled in the gray of morning, jarring him awake,
the dream in which he had been immersed skittered away to the back of
his mind, out of knowing, and sat there leering at him with strange,
dark, glistening eyes.

He dressed, washed the flat morning taste out of his mouth with coffee,
and took his way to his train and the ten-minute ride into the city. On
the way there, instead of snatching a look at the morning paper, he sat
still in his seat, head bowed, trying to recapture the dream whose
vanishing made him uneasy. He was superstitious about dreams in an
up-to-date way, believing them not warnings from some Beyond outside
himself, but from a subsconscious more knowing than the waking conscious
mind.

During the morning his work went slowly, for he kept pausing, sometimes
in the midst of totalling a column of figures, to grasp at some mocking
half-memory of that dream. At last, elbows on his desk, staring
unseeingly at the clock on the wall, in the midst of the subdued murmur
of the office, his mind went back to Harry, dark head bowed motionless
over the barrel of his microscope, looking, always looking into the pale
green water-gardens and the unseen lives of the beings that....

All at once it came to him, the dream he had dreamed. _He_ had been
bending over the microscope, _he_ had been looking into the unseen
world, and the horror of what he had seen gripped him now and brought
out the chill sweat on his body.

For he had seen his son there in the clouded water, among the twisted
glassy plants, his face turned upward and eyes wide in the agonized
appeal of the drowning; and bubbles rising, fading. But around him had
been a swarm of the weird creatures, and they had been dragging him
down, down, blurring out of focus, and their great dark eyes glistening
wetly, coldly....

He was sitting rigid at his desk, his work forgotten; all at once he saw
the clock and noticed with a start that it was already eleven a.m. A
fear he could not define seized on him, and his hand reached
spasmodically for the telephone on his desk.

But before he touched it, it began ringing.

After a moment’s paralysis, he picked up the receiver. It was his wife’s
voice that came shrilly over the wires.

"Henry!" she cried. "Is that you?"

"Hello, Sally," he said with stiff lips. Her voice as she answered
seemed to come nearer and go farther away, and he realized that his hand
holding the instrument was shaking.

"Henry, you’ve got to come home right now. Harry’s sick. He’s got a high
fever, and he’s been asking for you."

He moistened his lips and said, "I’ll be right home. I’ll take a taxi."

"Hurry!" she exclaimed. "He’s been saying queer things. I think he’s
delirious." She paused, and added, "And it’s all the fault of that
microscope _you_ bought him!"

"I’ll be right home," he repeated dully.

                                  ————

His wife was not at the door to meet him; she must be upstairs, in
Harry’s bedroom. He paused in the living room and glanced toward the
table that bore the microscope; the black, gleaming thing still stood
there, but he did not see any of the slides, and the papers were piled
neatly together to one side. His eyes fell on the fish bowl; it was
empty, clean and shining. He knew Harry hadn’t done those things; that
was Sally’s neatness.

Abruptly, instead of going straight up the stairs, he moved to the table
and looked down at the pile of papers. The one on top was almost blank;
on it was written several times: rty34pr ... rty34pr.... His memory for
figure combinations served him; he remembered what had been written on
another page: "rty34pr is the pond."

That made him think of the pond, lying quiescent under its green scum
and trailing plants at the end of the garden. A step on the stair jerked
him around.

It was his wife, of course. She said in a voice sharp-edged with
apprehension: "What are you doing down here? Harry wants you. The doctor
hasn’t come; I phoned him just before I called you, but he hasn’t come."

He did not answer. Instead he gestured at the pile of papers, the empty
fish bowl, an imperative question in his face.

"I threw that dirty water back in the pond. It’s probably what he caught
something from. And he was breaking himself down, humping over that
thing. It’s _your_ fault, for getting it for him. Are you coming?" She
glared coldly at him, turning back to the stairway.

"I’m coming," he said heavily, and followed her upstairs.

Harry lay back in his bed, a low mound under the covers. His head was
propped against a single pillow, and his eyes were half-closed, the lids
swollen-looking, his face hotly flushed. He was breathing slowly as if
asleep.

But as his father entered the room, he opened his eyes as if with an
effort, fixed them on him, said, "Dad ... I’ve got to tell you."

Mr. Chatham took the chair by the bedside, quietly, leaving his wife to
stand. He asked, "About what, Harry?"

"About—things." The boy’s eyes shifted to his mother, at the foot of his
bed. "I don’t want to talk to her. _She_ thinks it’s just fever. But
you’ll understand."

Henry Chatham lifted his gaze to meet his wife’s. "Maybe you’d better go
downstairs and wait for the doctor, Sally."

She looked hard at him, then turned abruptly to go out. "All right," she
said in a thin voice, and closed the door softly behind her.

"Now what did you want to tell me, Harry?"

"About _them_ ... the rotifers," the boy said. His eyes had drifted
half-shut again but his voice was clear. "They did it to me ... on
purpose."

"Did _what_?"

"I don’t know.... They used one of their cultures. They’ve got all
kinds: beds of germs, under the leaves in the water. They’ve been
growing new kinds, that will be worse than anything that ever was
before.... They live so fast, they work so fast."

Henry Chatham was silent, leaning forward beside the bed.

"It was only a little while, before I found out they knew about me. I
could see them through my microscope, but they could see me too.... And
they kept signaling, swimming and turning.... I won’t tell you how to
talk to them, because nobody ought to talk to them ever again. Because
they find out more than they tell.... They know about us, now, and they
hate us. They never knew before—that there was anybody but them.... So
they want to kill us all."

"But why should they want to do that?" asked the father, as gently as he
could. He kept telling himself, "He’s delirious. It’s like Sally says,
he’s been wearing himself out, thinking too much about—the rotifers. But
the doctor will be here pretty soon, the doctor will know what to do."

"They don’t like knowing that they aren’t the only ones on Earth that
can think. I expect people would be the same way."

"But they’re such little things, Harry. They can’t hurt us at all."

The boy’s eyes opened wide, shadowed with terror and fever. "I told you,
Dad—They’re growing germs, millions and billions of them, _new_ ones....
And they kept telling me to take them back to the pond, so they could
tell all the rest, and they could all start getting ready—for war."

He remembered the shapes that swam and crept in the green water gardens,
with whirling cilia and great, cold, glistening eyes. And he remembered
the clean, empty fish bowl in the window downstairs.

"Don’t let them, Dad," said Harry convulsively. "You’ve got to kill them
all. The ones here and the ones in the pond. You’ve got to kill them
good—because they don’t mind being killed, and they lay lots of eggs,
and their eggs can stand almost anything, even drying up. _And the eggs
remember what the old ones knew._"

"Don’t worry," said Henry Chatham quickly. He grasped his son’s hand, a
hot limp hand that had slipped from under the coverlet. "We’ll stop
them. We’ll drain the pond."

"That’s swell," whispered the boy, his energy fading again. "I ought to
have told you before, Dad—but first I was afraid you’d laugh, and then—I
was just ... afraid...."

His voice drifted away. And his father, looking down at the flushed
face, saw that he seemed asleep. Well, that was better than the sick
delirium—saying such strange, wild things—

Downstairs the doctor was saying harshly, "All right. All right. But
let’s have a look at the patient."

Henry Chatham came quietly downstairs; he greeted the doctor briefly,
and did not follow him to Harry’s bedroom.

When he was left alone in the room, he went to the window and stood
looking down at the microscope. He could not rid his head of
strangeness: A window between two worlds, our world and that of the
infinitely small, a window that looks both ways.

After a time, he went through the kitchen and let himself out the back
door, into the noonday sunlight.

He followed the garden path, between the weed-grown beds of vegetables,
until he came to the edge of the little pond. It lay there quiet in the
sunlight, green-scummed and walled with stiff rank grass, a lone
dragonfly swooping and wheeling above it. The image of all the stagnant
waters, the fertile breeding-places of strange life, with which it was
joined in the end by the tortuous hidden channels, the oozing pores of
the Earth.

And it seemed to him then that he glimpsed something, a hitherto unseen
miasma, rising above the pool and darkening the sunlight ever so little.
A dream, a shadow—the shadow of the alien dream of things hidden in
smallness, the dark dream of the rotifers.

The dragonfly, having seized a bright-winged fly that was sporting over
the pond, descended heavily through the sunlit air and came to rest on a
broad lily pad. Henry Chatham was suddenly afraid. He turned and walked
slowly, wearily, up the path toward the house.


                                 *END*



 _Transcribers note_: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science
Fiction March 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
          the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.





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