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´╗┐Title: Rats in the Belfry
Author: Cabot, John York
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 "Rats in the Belfry" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                            Rats in the Belfry

                            By JOHN YORK CABOT

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories January
1943. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: This house was built to specifications that were strange
indeed; and the rats that inhabited it were stranger still!]


This little guy Stoddard was one of the toughest customers I'd ever done
business with. To look at him you'd think he was typical of the mild
pleasant little sort of suburban home owner who caught the eight-oh-two
six days a week and watered the lawn on the seventh. Physically, his
appearance was completely that of the inconspicuous average citizen.
Baldish, fortiesh, bespectacled, with the usual behind-the-desk bay
window that most office workers get at his age, he looked like nothing
more than the amiable citizen you see in comic cartoons on suburban
life.

Yet, what I'm getting at is that this Stoddard's appearance was
distinctly deceptive. He was the sort of customer that we in the
contracting business would label as a combination grouser and eccentric.

When he and his wife came to me with plans for the home they wanted
built in Mayfair's second subdivision, they were already full of ideas
on exactly what they wanted.

This Stoddard--his name was George B. Stoddard in full--had
painstakingly outlined about two dozen sheets of drafting paper with
some of the craziest ideas you have ever seen.

"These specifications aren't quite down to the exact inchage, Mr.
Kermit," Stoddard had admitted, "for I don't pretend to be a first class
architectural draftsman. But my wife and I have had ideas on what sort
of a house we want for years, and these plans are the result of our
years of decision."

I'd looked at the "plans" a little sickly. The house they'd decided on
was a combination of every architectural nightmare known to man. It was
the sort of thing a respectable contractor would envision if he ever
happened to be dying of malaria fever.

I could feel them watching me as I went over their dream charts.
Watching me for the first faint sign of disapproval or amusement or
disgust on my face. Watching to snatch the "plans" away from me and walk
out of my office if I showed any of those symptoms.

"Ummmhumm," I muttered noncommittally.

"What do you think of them, Kermit?" Stoddard demanded.

I had a hunch that they'd been to contractors other than me. Contractors
who'd been tactless enough to offend them into taking their business
elsewhere.

"You have something distinctly different in mind here, Mr. Stoddard," I
answered evasively.

George B. Stoddard beamed at his wife, then back to me.

"Exactly, sir," he said. "It is our dream castle."

I shuddered at the expression. If you'd mix ice cream with pickles and
beer and herring and lie down for a nap, it might result in a dream
castle.

"It will be a difficult job, Mr. Stoddard," I said. "This is no ordinary
job you've outlined here."

"I know that," said Stoddard proudly. "And I am prepared to pay for the
extra special work it will probably require."

That was different. I perked up a little.

"I'll have to turn over these plans to my own draftsman," I told him,
"before I can give you an estimate on the construction."

George B. Stoddard turned to his wife.

"I told you, Laura," he said, "that sooner or later we'd find a
contractor with brains and imagination."

       *       *       *       *       *

It took fully two months haggling over the plans with Stoddard and my
own draftsmen before we were able to start work on the nightmare my
clients called their dream castle. Two months haggling in an effort to
make Stoddard relinquish some of his more outlandish ideas on his
proposed dwelling. But he didn't budge an inch, and by the time we'd
laid the foundation for the dream shack, every last building quirk he'd
had originally on those "plans" still held.

I took a lot of ribbing from contractors in that vicinity once the word
got round that I was building Stoddard's house for him. It seems that
he'd been to them all before he got around to me.

But I didn't mind the ribbing much at first. Even though Stoddard was a
barrel full of trouble hanging around the building lot with an eagle eye
to see that nothing was omitted, I had already cashed his first few
payment checks on the construction.

He'd meant what he said about his willingness to pay more for the extra
trouble entailed in the mad construction pattern we had to follow, and I
couldn't call him stingy with his extra compensation by a long shot.

Financially, I was doing nicely, thank you. Mentally, I was having the
devil's own time with Stoddard.

He didn't know a damned thing about architecture or construction, of
course. But he did know what he wanted. Good Lord, how he knew what he
wanted!

"The basement boiler layout isn't what I had on my plans!" he'd call me
up to squawk indignantly.

"But it isn't greatly different the way we have it," I'd plead.
"Besides, it's far safer than what you originally planned."

"Is it humanly possible to put it where I planned it?" my troublesome
client would demand.

"Yes," I'd admit. "But saf--"

"Then put it where I planned it!" he would snap, hanging up. And, of
course, I'd have to put it where he'd planned it.

The workmen on the job also presented a problem. They were getting fed
up with Stoddard's snooping, and going crazy laying out patterns which
were in absolute contradiction to sanity and good taste.

But in spite of all this, the monstrosity progressed.

If you can picture a gigantic igloo fronted by southern mansion pillars
and dotted with eighteenth century gables, and having each wing done in
a combination early Mexican and eastern Mosque style, you'll have just
the roughest idea of what it was beginning to look like. For miles
around, people were driving out to see that house in the evenings after
construction men had left.

But the Stoddards were pleased. They were as happy about the whole mess
as a pair of kids erecting a Tarzan dwelling in a tree. And the extra
compensations I was getting for the additional trouble wasn't hurting me
any.

       *       *       *       *       *

I'll never forget the day when we completed the tiny belfry which topped
off the monstrosity. Yes, a belfry. Just the kind you still see on
little country churches and schoolhouses, only, of course a trifle
different.

The Stoddards had come out to the lot to witness this momentous event;
the completion, practically, of their dream child.

I was almost as happy as they were, for it stood as the symbol of the
ending of almost all the grief for me.

My foreman came over to where I was standing with the Stoddards.

"You gonna put a bell in that belfry?" he asked.

George Stoddard looked at him as if he'd gone mad.

"What for?" he demanded.

"So you can _use_ the belfry," the foreman said.

"Don't be so ridiculous, my good man," Stoddard snorted. "It will be of
pleasurable use enough to us, just _looking_ at it."

When the foreman had marched off, scratching his head, I turned to the
Stoddards.

"Well, it's almost done," I said. "Pleased with it?"

Stoddard beamed. "You have no idea, Mr. Kermit," he said solemnly, "what
a tremendous moment this is for my wife and me."

I looked at the plain, drab, smiling Laura Stoddard. From the shine in
her eyes, I guess Stoddard meant what he said. Then I looked up at the
belfry, and shuddered.

As I remarked before, even the belfry wasn't quite like any belfry human
eyes had ever seen before. It angled in all the way around in as
confusing a maze of geometrical madness you have ever seen. It was a
patterned craziness, of course, having some rhyme to it, but no reason.

Looking at it, serenely topping that crazy-quilt house, I had the
impression of its being an outrageously squashed cherry topping, the
whipped cream of as madly a concocted sundae that a soda jerk ever made.
A pleasant impression.

Stoddard's voice broke in on my somewhat sickish contemplation.

"When will we be able to start moving in?" he asked eagerly.

"The latter part of next week," I told him. "We should have it set by
then."

"Good," said Stoddard. "Splendid." He put his arm around his wife, and
the two of them stared starry eyed at their home. It made a lump come to
your throat, seeing the bliss in their eyes as they stood there
together. It made a lump come into your throat, until you realized what
they were staring at.

"Incidentally," I said casually, figuring now was as good a time as any
to get them used to the idea. "The startlingly different construction
pattern you've had us follow will result in, ah, minor repairs in the
house being necessary from time to time. Remember my telling you that at
the start?"

Stoddard nodded, brushing the information away casually.

"Yes, certainly I remember your saying something about that. But don't
worry. I won't hold you responsible for any minor repairs which the
unique construction causes."

"Thanks," I told him dryly. "I just wanted to make certain we had that
point clear."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Stoddards moved in just as soon as the last inch of work on their
dream monster was finished. I paid off my men, banked a nice profit on
the job, and went back to building actual houses again. I thought my
troubles with the Stoddards at an end.

But of course I was wrong.

It was fully a month after the Stoddards had been in their madhouse that
I got my first indignant telephone call from George B. Stoddard himself.

"Mr. Kermit," said the angry voice on the phone, "this is George B.
Stoddard."

I winced at the name and the all too familiar voice, but managed to
sound cheerfully friendly.

"Yes, indeed, Mr. Stoddard," I oozed. "How are you and the Missus
getting along in your dream castle?"

"That," said George B. Stoddard, "is what I called about. We have been
having considerable difficulty for which I consider your construction
men to be responsible."

"Now just a minute," I began. "I thought we agreed--"

"We agreed that I was to expect certain occasional minor repairs to be
necessary due to the construction of the house," Stoddard broke in. "I
know that."

"Then what's the trouble?" I demanded.

"This house is plagued with rats," said Stoddard angrily.

"Rats?" I echoed.

"Exactly!" my client snapped.

"But how could that be possible?" I demanded. "It's a brand new house,
and rats don't--"

Stoddard broke in again. "The devil they don't. We have them, and it
can't be due to any fault but those construction men of yours."

"How could it be their fault?" I was getting a little sore.

"Because it isn't my fault, nor my wife's. And the building, as you
observed a minute ago, is practically new."

"Now listen," I began.

"I wish you'd come out here and see for yourself," Stoddard demanded.

"Have you caught any?"

"No," he answered.

"Have you seen any?" I demanded.

"No," Stoddard admitted, "but--"

This time I did the cutting in.

"Then how do you know you have rats?" I demanded triumphantly.

"Because," Stoddard almost shouted, "as I was going to tell you, I can
hear them, and my wife can hear them."

I hadn't thought of that. "Oh," I said. Then: "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I am very sure. Now, will you please come out here and see what
this is all about?" he demanded.

"Okay," I said. "Okay." And then I hung up and looked around for my hat.
My visit wasn't going to be any fun, I knew. But what the hell. I had to
admit that if Stoddard and his wife were hearing noises that sounded
like rats, they had a legitimate squawk. For I built the house, and no
amount of crazy ideas in its design by Stoddard could explain the
presence of vermin.

       *       *       *       *       *

Both the Stoddards met me at the door when I arrived out in the Mayfair
subdivision where I'd built their monstrosity. As they led me into the
living room, I caught a pretty good idea of their new home furnishings.
They hadn't changed ideas, even to the mixing of a wild mess of various
nations and periods in the junk they'd placed all around the house.

They led me past an early American library table to a deep Moroccan
style couch, and both pulled up chairs of French and Dutch design before
me.

Feeling thus surrounded by a small little circle of indignation, I began
turning my hat around in my hands, staring uncomfortably at my
surroundings.

"Nice place you've got here," I said.

"We know that," Stoddard declared, dismissing banalities. "But we'd best
get immediately to the point."

"About the rats?" I asked.

"About the rats," said Stoddard. His wife nodded emphatically.

There was a silence. Maybe a minute passed. I cleared my throat.

"I thought you--" I began.

"Shhhh!" Stoddard hissed. "I want you to sit here and hear the noises,
just as we have. Then you can draw your own conclusions. Silence,
please."

So I didn't say a word, and neither did mine hosts. We sat there like
delegates to a convention of mutes who were too tired to use their
hands. This time the silence seemed even more ominous.

Several minutes must have passed before I began to hear the sounds. That
was because I'd been listening for rat scrapings, and not prepared for
the noises I actually began to hear.

Mr. and Mrs. Stoddard had their heads cocked to one side, and were
staring hard at me, waiting for a sign that I was catching the sounds.

At first the noises seemed faint, blurred perhaps, like an almost
inaudible spattering of radio static. Then, as I adjusted my ear to
them, I began to get faint squeaks, and small, sharp noises that were
like far distant poppings of small firecrackers.

I looked up at the Stoddards.

"Okay," I admitted. "I hear the noises. They seem to be coming from
behind the walls, if anywhere."

Stoddard looked smugly triumphant.

"I told you so," he smirked.

"But they aren't rat scrapings," I said. "I know the sounds rats make,
and those aren't rat sounds."

Stoddard sat bolt upright. "What?" he demanded indignantly. "Do you mean
to sit there and tell me--"

"I do," I cut in. "Ever heard rat noises?"

Stoddard looked at his wife. Both of them frowned. He looked back at me.

"No-o," he admitted slowly. "That is, not until we got these rats. Never
had rats before."

"So you jumped to conclusions and thought they were rat noises," I said,
"even though you wouldn't recognize a rat noise if you heard one."

Stoddard suddenly stood up. "But dagnabit, man!" he exploded. "If those
aren't rat noises, what are they?"

I shrugged. "I don't know," I admitted. "They sound as if they might be
coming through the pipes. Perhaps we ought to take a look around the
house, beginning with the basement, eh?"

Stoddard considered this a minute. Then he nodded.

"That seems reasonable enough," he admitted.

       *       *       *       *       *

I followed the amateur designer-owner of this madhouse down into the
basement. There we began our prowl for the source of the noise. He
snapped on the light switch, and I had a look around. The boiler and
everything else in the basement was exactly as I remembered it--in the
wrong place.

There was an array of sealed tin cans, each holding about five gallons,
banked around the boiler. I tapped on the sides of these and asked
Stoddard what they were.

"Naphtha," he explained, "for my wife's cleaning."

"Hell of a place to put them," I commented.

A familiar light came into Stoddard's stubborn eyes.

"That's where I want to put them," he said.

I shrugged. "Okay," I told him. "But don't let the insurance people find
out about it."

We poked around the basement some more, and finally, on finding nothing
that seemed to indicate a source of the sound, we went back up to the
first floor.

Our investigation of pipes and other possible sound carriers on the
first floor was also fruitless, although the sounds grew slightly
stronger than they'd been in the basement.

I looked at Stoddard, shrugging. "We'd better try the second floor," I
said.

I followed him upstairs to the second floor. Aside from the crazy belfry
just above the attic, it was the top floor of the wildly constructed
domicile.

The sounds were distinctly more audible up there, especially in the
center bedroom. We covered the second floor twice and ended back up in
that center bedroom again before I realized that we were directly
beneath the attic.

I mentioned this to Stoddard.

"We might as well look through the attic, then," Stoddard said.

I led the way this time as we clambered up into the attic.

"Ever looked for your so-called rats up here?" I called over my
shoulder.

Stoddard joined me, snapping on a flashlight, spraying the beam around
the attic rafters. "No," he said. "Of course not."

I was opening my mouth to answer, when I suddenly became aware that the
noises were now definitely louder. Noises faint, but not blurred any
longer. Noises which weren't really noises, but were actually voices!

I grabbed Stoddard by the arm.

"Listen!" I ordered.

We stood there silently for perhaps half a minute. Yes, there wasn't any
question about it now. I knew that the faint sounds were those of human
voices.

"Good heavens!" Stoddard exclaimed.

"Rats, eh?" I said sarcastically.

"But, but--" Stoddard began. He was obviously bewildered.

"There's a sort of central pipe and wiring maze up here," I told him,
"due to the plans we were forced to follow in building this house of
yours. Those faint voices are carried through the pipes and wires for
some reason of sound vibration, and hurled up here. Just tell me where
you keep your radio, and we'll solve your problem."

Stoddard looked at me a minute.

"But we don't own a radio," he said quietly.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was suddenly very much deflated.

"Are you sure?" I demanded.

"Don't be silly," Stoddard told me.

I stood there scratching my head and feeling foolish. Then I got another
idea.

"Have you been up in that, ah, ornamental belfry since you moved in?" I
asked.

"Of course not," Stoddard said. "It's to look at. Not to peek out of."

"I have a hunch the sounds might be even more audible up there," I said.

"Why?"

I scratched my head. "Just a hunch."

"Well it's a dammed fool one," Stoddard said. He turned around and
started out of the attic. I followed behind him.

"You have to admit you haven't rats," I said.

Stoddard muttered something I couldn't catch. When we got down to the
first floor again, Mrs. Stoddard was waiting expectantly for our
arrival.

"Did you discover where the rats are?" she demanded.

Stoddard shot me a glance. "They aren't rats," he said with some
reluctance. "The noises, we'd swear, are faint voices and sounds of
human beings moving around. Were you talking to yourself while we were
upstairs, Laura?"

Mrs. Stoddard gave her husband a surprised look. "Who was there to talk
with, George?" she asked.

I had had about enough of this. I was damned tired of trotting around
the weirdly laid out floors of the Stoddard home trying to track down
rats which weren't rats but voices.

"If there are inexplicable echoes in this building," I said, "it is due
to the construction. And don't forget, you wanted it this way. Now that
I have proved to your satisfaction that you don't have rats, I might as
well go. Good day."

I got my hat, and neither Stoddard nor his wife had much to say as they
saw me to the door. Their accusing attitudes had vanished, however, and
they both seemed even a trifle sheepish.

It was two o'clock when I left them. I'd killed better than an hour and
a half prowling around the place, and another half hour driving out. I
was damned disgusted by the time I got back to my office.

You can imagine my state of mind, consequently, some twenty-five minutes
after I'd been back in my office, when I answered the telephone to hear
Stoddard's voice coming over it.

"Mr. Kermit," he babbled excitedly, "this is George B. Stoddard again,
Mr. Kermit!"

"What've you got now?" I demanded. "And don't tell me termites!"

"Mr. Kermit," Stoddard gasped, "you have to come back right away, Mr.
Kermit!"

"I will like hell," I told him flatly, hanging up.

The telephone rang again in another half minute. It was Stoddard again.

"Mr. Kermit, pleeeease listen to me! I beg of you, come out here at
once. It's terribly important!"

I didn't say a word this time. I just hung right up.

In another half minute the telephone was jangling again. I was purple
when I picked it up this time.

"Listen," I bellowed. "I don't care what noises you're hearing now--"

Stoddard cut in desperately, shouting at the top of his lungs to do so.

"I'm not only hearing the noises, Kermit," he yelled, "I'm _seeing_ the
people who cause them!"

       *       *       *       *       *

This caught me off balance.

"Huh?" I gulped.

"The belfry," he yelled, "I went up in the belfry, and you can see the
people who's voices we heard!" There was a pause, while he found breath,
then he shouted, "You have to come over. You're the only one I can think
of to show this to!"

Stoddard was an eccentric, but only so far as his tastes in architecture
were concerned. I realized this, as I sat there gaping foolishly at the
still vibrating telephone in my hand.

"Okay," I said, for no earthly reason that I could think of, "okay, hang
on. I'll be there in twenty minutes."

Mrs. Stoddard met me at the door this time. She was worried, almost
frightened, and very bewildered.

"George is upstairs, Mr. Kermit. He won't let me come up there. He told
me to send you up the minute you arrived. He's up in the attic."

"What on earth," I began.

"I don't know," his wife said. "I was down in the basement drying some
clothes, when I heard this terrible yelling from George. Then he was
calling you on the telephone. I don't know what it's all about."

I raced up to the attic in nothing flat, almost knocking my teeth out on
the bottom step of the attic stairs.

Then I stumbled into the darkness of the attic, and saw Stoddard's
flashlight bobbing around in a corner.

"Kermit?"

It was Stoddard's voice.

"Yes," I answered. "What in the hell is up? It had better be goo--."

"Hurry," Stoddard said. "Over here, quickly!"

I stumbled across the board spacings until I was standing beside
Stoddard and peering up at what the beam of his flashlight revealed on
the ceiling--a ragged, open hole, which he'd made by tearing several
coatings of insulation from the spot.

For a minute, I couldn't make out anything in that flash beam glare.
Stoddard had hold of my arm, and was saying one word over and over,
urgently.

"Look. Look. Look!"

Then my eyes got adjusted to the light change, and I was aware that I
was gazing up into the interior of the crazy belfry atop the monstrous
house. Gazing up into the interior, while voices, quite loud and clearly
distinguishable, were talking in a language which I didn't recognize
immediately. As far as my vision was concerned, I might as well have
been looking at a sort of grayish vaporish screen of some sort, that was
all I saw.

"Shhhh!" Stoddard hissed now. "Don't say a word. Just listen to them!"

I held my breath, although it wasn't necessary. As I said, the voices
coming down from that belfry were audible enough to have been a scant
ten or twelve feet away. But I held my breath anyway, meanwhile
straining my eyes to pierce that gray screen of vapor on which the light
was focused.

And then I got it. The voices were talking in German, two of them, both
harsh, masculine.

"What in the hell," I began. "Is there a short wave set up there or--"

Stoddard cut me off. "Can't you see it yet?" he hissed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The voices went on talking, while I strained my eyes even more in an
effort to pierce that gray fog covering the rent in the ceiling. And
then I saw. Saw at first, as if through a thin gray screen of gauze.

I was looking up into a room of some sort. A big room. An incredibly big
room. A room so big that two dozen belfry rooms would have fit into it!

And then it got even clearer. There was a desk at the end of the room. A
tremendously ornate desk. A desk behind which was sitting a small, gray
uniformed, moustached man.

There was another uniformed person of porcine girth standing beside that
desk and pointing to a map on the wall in front of him. He was jabbering
excitedly to the little man at the desk, and he wore a uniform that was
so plushily gaudy it was almost ridiculous.

The two kept chattering back and forth to each other in German,
obviously talking about the map at which the fat, plush-clad one was
pointing.

I turned incredulously to Stoddard.

"Wh-wh-what in the hell goes?" I demanded.

Stoddard seemed suddenly vastly relieved. "So you see it and hear it,
too!" he exclaimed. "Thank God for that! I thought I'd lost my mind!"

I grabbed hard on his arm. "But listen," I began.

"Listen, nothing," he hissed. "We _both_ can't be crazy. Those are the
voices we kept hearing before. And those two people are the talkers.
Those two German (five words censored) louses. Hitler and Goering!"

There, he'd said it. I hadn't dared to. It sounded too mad, too wildly,
babblingly insane to utter. But now I looked back through that thin gray
cheesecloth of fog, back into the room.

The two occupants couldn't be anyone other than Hitler and Goering. And
I was suddenly aware that the map Goering pointed to so frequently was a
map of Austria.

"But what," I started again.

Stoddard looked me in the eye. "I can understand a little German," he
said. "They're talking about an invasion of Austria, and if you will
look hard at the corner of that map, you'll see a date marked--1938!"

I did look hard, and of course I saw that date. I turned back to
Stoddard.

"We're both crazy," I said a little wildly, "we're both stark, raving
nuts. Let's get out of here."

"We are looking back almost five years into the past," Stoddard hissed.
"We are looking back five years into Germany, into a room in which
Hitler and Goering are talking over an approaching invasion of a country
called Austria. I might have believed I was crazy when I first found
this alone, but not now!"

Maybe we were both crazy. Maybe he was wrong. But then and there I
believed him, and I knew that somehow, in some wild, impossible fashion,
that belfry on Stoddard's asinine house had become a door leading
through space and time, back five years into Germany, into the same room
where Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering planned the conquest of Austria!

Stoddard was taking something out of his pocket.

"Now that you're here I can try it," he said. "I didn't dare do so
before, since I felt I couldn't trust my own mind alone in the thing."

I looked at what he held in his hands. A stone, tied to a long piece of
string.

"What's that for?" I demanded.

"I want to see if that veil, that gray fog door, can be penetrated," he
hissed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Stoddard was swinging the stone on a string in a sharp arc now. And
suddenly he released it, sending it sailing through the grayish aperture
in the ceiling, straight into the belfry, or rather, the big room.

I saw and heard the stone on the string hit the marble floor of that
room. Then, just as sharply, Stoddard jerked it back, yanking it into
the attic again.

The result in the room beyond the fog sheet was instantaneous. Goering
wheeled from the map on the wall, glaring wildly around the room. A
pistol was in his hand.

Hitler had half risen behind that ornate desk, and was searching the
vast, otherwise unoccupied room wildly with his eyes.

Of course neither saw anything. Stoddard, breathing excitedly at my
side, had pulled the stone back into our section of time and space. But
his eyes were gleaming.

"It can be done," he whispered fiercely. "It can be crossed!"

"But what on--" I started. He cut me off with a wave of his hand,
pointing back to the gray screen covering the hole in the ceiling.

Goering had put the pistol back in the holster at his side, and was
grinning sheepishly at der Fuehrer, who was resuming his seat behind the
desk in confused and angry embarrassment.

The voices picked up again.

"They're saying how silly, to be startled by a sound," Stoddard hissed
in my ear.

Then he grabbed my arm. "But come, we can't wait any longer. Something
has to be done immediately."

He was pulling me away from the rent in the ceiling, away from the door
that had joined our time and space to the time and space of a world and
scene five years ago.

As we emerged from the attic and started blinkingly down the steps,
Stoddard almost ran ahead of me.

"We must hurry," he said again and again.

"To where?" I demanded bewilderedly. "Hadn't we better do something
about th--"

"Exactly," Stoddard panted. "We're really going to do something about
that phenomenon in the belfry. We're going to the first place in two
where we can buy two rifles, quick!"

"Rifles?" I gasped, still not getting it.

"For that little moustached swine up there," Stoddard said, pointing
toward the attic. "If a stone can cross that gray barrier, so can
bullets. We are both going to draw bead on Adolf Hitler in the year of
1938, and thus avert this hell he's spread since then. With two of us
firing, we can't miss."

And then, of course, I got it. It was incredible, impossible. But that
gray screen covering the rent in the attic ceiling upstairs wasn't
impossible. I'd seen it. Neither was the room behind it, the room where
the belfry was supposed to be, but where Adolf Hitler's inner sanctum
was instead. I'd seen that, too. So was it impossible that we'd be able
to eliminate the chief cause of the world's trouble by shooting
accurately back across time and space?

At that moment I didn't think so!

Our mad clattering dash down the attic steps, and then down to the first
floor brought Mrs. Stoddard up from the basement. She looked
frightenedly from her husband to me, then back to him again.

"What's wrong?" she quavered.

"Nothing," Stoddard said, pushing her gently but quickly aside as we
dashed for the door.

"But, George!" Mrs. Stoddard shrilled behind us. We heard her footsteps
hurrying toward the door, even as we were out of it.

"My car," I yelled. "It's right in front. I know the closest place where
we can get the guns!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Stoddard and I piled into the car like a pair of high school kids when
the last bell rings. Then I was gunning the motor, while out of the
corner of my eye I could see Stoddard's wife running down the front
steps shouting shrilly after us.

We jumped from the curb like a plane from a catapult, doing fifty by my
quick shift to second gear. Then we were tearing the quiet streets of
Mayfair's second subdivision apart with the noise of a blasting horn and
a snarling motor.

It was ten minutes later when I screeched to a stop in front of the
sports and gun store I'd remembered existed in Mayfair's first
subdivision. The clerk was amazed at the wild speed with which we raced
in, grabbed the guns, threw the money on the counter, and dashed out.

We must have looked like something out of a gangster movie as we raced
back to Stoddard's place.

I was doing the driving, and Stoddard had clambered in beside me, both
rifles, and several cartridge packages in his hands. He was rocking back
and forth in mad impatience, as if by rocking he could increase our
speed. The expression on his face was positively bloodthirsty.

And then we heard the sirens behind us. Shrill, coming up like comet
wails in spite of our own speed.

"Oh, God!" Stoddard groaned. "Police!"

I squinted up into my rear vision mirror. We were less than two blocks
from the Stoddard house, now, and the thought of being overhauled by
police at the juncture was sickening, unbearable even to contemplate.

And then I saw the reason for the sirens. Saw them in the rear vision
mirror. Two fire engines, one a hook and ladder outfit, the other a hose
truck!

"It's all right," I yelped. "It's only two fire trucks!"

"Thank God!" Stoddard gasped.

We were a block from his place now, with only one corner left to turn
before we'd see the mad architectural monstrosity he called him home;
before we'd see the crazy belfry which held the salvation of the world
in its screwballish, queer-angled lines.

And then the fire trucks and the sirens were nearer and louder, less
than a block behind us. At that instant we turned the corner and came
into full view of the Stoddard place.

It was a mass of flames, utterly, roaringly ablaze!

[Illustration: It was tragedy! The house was in flames; the rats would
escape....]

I almost drove us off the street and into a tree. And by the time I'd
gotten a grip on myself, we were just a few houses away from the blazing
inferno of Stoddard's crazy quilt dwelling.

I stopped by the curb, and clambered out of the car onto knees which
would scarcely support me. My stomach was turning over and over in an
apparently endless series of nauseating somersaults.

Stoddard, white-faced, frozen, stood there beside me, clutching the guns
and the cartridge boxes foolishly in his hands.

Then someone was running up to us. Running and crying sobbingly,
breathlessly. It was Stoddard's wife.

The fire trucks screeched to a stop before the blazing building at that
instant, and her first words were drowned in the noise they made.

"... just drying out some clothes, George," she sobbed. "Just drying
them out and turned on the furnace to help dry them. You left like that,
and I got frightened. I ran to a neighbor's. The explosion and fire
started not five minutes later."

Sickly, I thought of the naphtha Stoddard had piled near his boiler. I
didn't say anything, though, for I knew he was thinking of it also.

He dropped the guns and cartridge boxes, and in a tight, strained voice,
while putting his arms comfortingly around his wife, said: "That's all
right, Laura. It wasn't your fault. We'll have another house like this.
So help me God, _just like this_!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It has been six months now since Stoddard's architectural eyesight
burned to the ground. He started rebuilding immediately after that. I
turned over all the drafts my company made from his first crude "plans,"
and he handed them to the supervisor of the construction company he
bought out. You see, he took every dime he owned, sold out his insurance
business, and has gone into the building game in dead earnest.

He explained it to me this way.

"I couldn't go on having house after house built and torn down on the
same spot, Kermit. It would break me in no time. This way, with my own
company to construct the house every time, I'll save about half each
time."

"Then you're going to build precisely the same house?" I demanded.

His jaw went hard, and he peered from behind his spectacles with the
intense glare of a fanatic. For once he didn't look like Mr.
Suburbanite.

"You know damned well I am," he said. "And until it is _precisely_ the
same as the first, I'll keep tearing 'em down and putting 'em up again.
I don't care if I have to build a thousand to do it, right on this
spot!"

Of course I knew what he meant by precisely the same. And I wondered
what on earth the odds were he was bucking. Through chance and a mad
combination of angles, that time and space door had appeared the first
time. But it might have been hanging on the tiniest atom of a fractional
difference.

Stoddard has already finished his second house, and although it _looks_
exactly like the monstrosity I first built for him, it can't be
_precisely_ like it. For he didn't get the gray shrouded door when he
poked a hole in the attic ceiling and looked up into the second crazy
belfry. All he saw was the belfry.

Tomorrow he starts tearing down to build another, and pretty soon people
are going to be certain he's crazy.

As a matter of fact, they'll soon be pretty sure I'm loony also. For of
course I can't help going over there now and then to sort of lend a
hand....





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