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´╗┐Title: Small World
Author: Nolan, William F., 1928-
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 "Small World" ***

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    _What will happen when the alien ships strike Earth? And later? Who
    will survive? What will life be like in that latter-day jungle?
    William F. Nolan, well known in SF circles on the West Coast,
    returns with this grim story of the days and the nights of Lewis
    Stillman--survivor ..._


 small
 world

 _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 ...

Now!

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.

Tonight, he thought, I might find another like myself. Surely, _someone_
is down here; I'll find someone if I keep searching. I _must_ find
someone!

But he knew he would not. He knew he would find only chill emptiness
ahead of him in the tunnels.

For three long years he had been searching for another man or woman down
here in this world under the city. For three years he had prowled the
seven hundred miles of storm drains which threaded their way under the
skin of Los Angeles like the veins in a giant's body--and he had found
nothing. _Nothing._

Even now, after all the days and nights of search, he could not really
accept the fact that he was alone, that he was the last man alive in a
city of seven million, that all the others were dead.

He paused, resting his back against the cold stone. Some of them were
moving over the street above his head. He listened to the sharp
scuffling sounds on the pavement and swore bitterly.

"Damn you," said Lewis Stillman levelly. "Damn all of you!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Lewis Stillman was running down the long tunnels. Behind him a tide of
midget shadows washed from wall to wall; high keening cries, doubled and
tripled by echoes, rang in his ears. Claws reached for him; he felt
panting breath, like hot smoke, on the back of his neck; his lungs were
bursting, his entire body aflame.

He looked down at his fast-pumping legs, doing their job with pistoned
precision. He listened to the sharp slap of his heels against the floor
of the tunnel--and he thought: I might die at any moment, but my _legs_
will escape! They will run on down the endless drains and never be
caught. They move so fast while my heavy awkward upper-body rocks and
sways above them, slowing them down, tiring them--making them angry. How
my legs must hate me! I must be clever and humor them, beg them to take
me along to safety. How well they run, how sleek and fine!

Then he felt himself coming apart. His legs were detaching themselves
from his upper-body. He cried out in horror, flailing the air with his
arms, beseeching them not to leave him behind. But the legs cruelly
continued to unfasten themselves. In a cold surge of terror, Lewis
Stillman felt himself tipping, falling toward the damp floor--while his
legs raced on with a wild animal life of their own. He opened his mouth,
high above the insane legs, and screamed.

Ending the nightmare.

He sat up stiffly in his cot, gasping, drenched in sweat. He drew in a
long shuddering breath and reached for a cigarette. He lit it with a
trembling hand.

The nightmares were getting worse. He realized that his mind was
rebelling as he slept, spilling forth the bottled-up fears of the day
during the night hours.

He thought once more about the beginning six years ago, about why he was
still alive, the last of his kind. The alien ships had struck Earth
suddenly, without warning. Their attack had been thorough and deadly. In
a matter of hours the aliens had accomplished their clever mission--and
the men and women of Earth were destroyed. A few survived, he was
certain. He had never met any of them, but he was convinced they
existed. Los Angeles was not the world, after all, and if _he_ escaped
so must have others around the globe. He'd been working alone in the
drains when the alien ships appeared, finishing a special job for the
construction company on B tunnel. He could still hear the weird sound of
the mammoth ships and feel the intense heat of their passage.

Hunger had forced him out and overnight he became a curiosity. The last
man alive. For three years he was not harmed. He worked with them,
taught them many things, and tried to win their confidence. But,
eventually, certain ones came to hate him, to be jealous of his
relationship with the others. Luckily he had been able to escape to the
drains. That was three years ago and now they had forgotten him.

His later excursions to the upper level of the city had been made under
cover of darkness--and he never ventured out unless his food supply
dwindled. Water was provided by rain during the wet-months--and by
bottled liquids during the dry.

He had built his one-room structure directly to the side of an overhead
grating--not close enough to risk their seeing it, but close enough for
light to seep in during the sunlight hours. He missed the warm feel of
open sun on his body almost as much as he missed the companionship of
others, but he could not think of risking himself above the drains by
day.

Sometimes he got insane thoughts. Sometimes, when the loneliness closed
in like an immense fist and he could no longer stand the sound of his
own voice, he would think of bringing one of them down with him, into
the drains. One at a time, they could be handled. Then he'd remember
their sharp savage eyes, their animal ferocity, and he would realize
that the idea was impossible. If one of their kind disappeared, suddenly
and without trace, others would certainly become suspicious, begin to
search for him--and it would all be over.

Lewis Stillman settled back into his pillow, pulling the blankets tight
about his body. He closed his eyes and tried not to listen to the
distant screams, pipings and reedy cries filtering down from the street
above his head.

Finally he slept.

       *       *       *       *       *

He spent the afternoon with paper women. He lingered over the pages of
some yellowed fashion magazines, looking at all the beautifully
photographed models in their fine clothes. All slim and enchanting,
these page-women, with their cool enticing eyes and perfect smiles, all
grace and softness and glitter and swirled cloth. He touched their
images with gentle fingers, stroking the tawny paper hair, as though, by
some magic formula, he might imbue them with life. It was easy to
imagine that these women had never really lived at all--that they were
simply painted, in microscopic detail, by sly artists to give the
illusion of photos. He didn't like to think about these women and how
they died.

That evening Lewis Stillman watched the moon, round and high and yellow
in the night sky, and he thought of his father, and of the long hikes
through the moonlit Maine countryside, of hunting trips and warm
campfires, of the Maine woods, rich and green in summer. He thought of
his father's hopes for his future and the words of that tall,
gray-haired figure came back to him.

"_You'll be a fine doctor, Lewis. Study and work hard and you'll
succeed. I know you will._"

He remembered the long winter evenings of study at his father's great
mahogany desk, pouring over medical books and journals, taking notes,
sifting and re-sifting facts. He remembered one set of books in
particular--Erickson's monumental three-volume text on surgery, richly
bound and stamped in gold. He had always loved these books, above all
others.

What had gone wrong along the way? Somehow, the dream had faded, the
bright goal vanished and was lost. After a year of pre-med at the
University of Southern Cal, he had given up medicine; he had become
discouraged and quit college to take a laborer's job with a construction
company. How ironic that this move should have saved his life! He'd
wanted to work with his hands, to sweat and labor with the muscles of
his body. He'd wanted to earn enough to marry Joan and then, later
perhaps, he would have returned to finish his courses. It all seemed so
far away now, his reason for quitting, for letting his father down.

Now, at this moment, an overwhelming desire gripped him, a desire to
pour over Erickson's pages once again, to re-create, even for a brief
moment, the comfort and happiness of his childhood.

He'd seen a duplicate set on the second floor of Pickwick's book store
in Hollywood, in their used book department, and now he knew he must go
after them, bring the books back with him to the drains. It was a
dangerous and foolish desire, but he knew he would obey it. Despite the
risk of death, he would go after the books tonight. _Tonight._

       *       *       *       *       *

One corner of Lewis Stillman's room was reserved for weapons. His prize,
a Thompson submachine, had been procured from the Los Angeles police
arsenal. Supplementing the Thompson were two semi-automatic rifles, a
Luger, a Colt .45 and a .22-caliber Hornet pistol, equipped with a
silencer. He always kept the smallest gun in a spring-clip holster
beneath his armpit, but it was not his habit to carry any of the larger
weapons with him into the city. On this night, however, things were
different.

The drains ended two miles short of Hollywood--which means he would be
forced to cover a long and particularly hazardous stretch of ground in
order to reach the book store. He therefore decided to take along
the .30-caliber Savage rifle in addition to the small hand weapon.

You're a fool, Lewis, he told himself, as he slid the oiled Savage from
its leather case. Are the books important enough to risk your life? Yes,
another part of him replied, they _are_ that important. If you want a
thing badly enough and the thing is worthwhile, then you must go after
it. If fear holds you like a rat in the dark, then you are worse than a
coward; you betray yourself and the civilization you represent. Go out
and bring the books back.

Running in the chill night wind. Grass, now pavement, now grass, beneath
his feet. Ducking into shadows, moving stealthily past shops and
theatres, rushing under the cold moon. Santa Monica Boulevard, then
Highland, the Hollywood Boulevard, and finally--after an eternity of
heartbeats--the book store.

Pickwick's.

Lewis Stillman, his rifle over one shoulder, the small automatic
gleaming in his hand, edged silently into the store.

A paper battleground met his eyes.

In the filtered moonlight, a white blanket of broken-backed volumes
spilled across the entire lower floor. Stillman shuddered; he could
envision them, shrieking, scrabbling at the shelves, throwing books
wildly across the room at one another. Screaming, ripping, destroying.

What of the other floors? _What of the medical section?_

He crossed to the stairs, spilled pages crackling like a fall of dry
leaves under his step, and sprinted up the first short flight to the
mezzanine. Similar chaos!

He hurried up to the second floor, stumbling, terribly afraid of what he
might find. Reaching the top, his heart thudding, he squinted into the
dimness.

The books were undisturbed. Apparently they had tired of their game
before reaching these.

He slipped the rifle from his shoulder and placed it near the stairs.
Dust lay thick all around him, powdering up and swirling, as he moved
down the narrow aisles; a damp, leathery mustiness lived in the air, an
odor of mold and neglect.

Lewis Stillman paused before a dim hand-lettered sign: MEDICAL SECTION.
It was just as he had remembered it. Holstering the small automatic, he
struck a match, shading the flame with a cupped hand as he moved it
along the rows of faded titles. Carter ... Davidson ... Enright ...
_Erickson_. He drew in his breath sharply. All three volumes, their gold
stamping dust-dulled but readable, stood in tall and perfect order on
the shelf.

In the darkness, Lewis Stillman carefully removed each volume, blowing
it free of dust. At last all three books were clean and solid in his
hands.

Well, you've done it. You've reached the books and now they belong to
you.

He smiled, thinking of the moment when he would be able to sit down at
the table with his treasure, and linger again and again over the
wonderous pages.

He found an empty carton at the rear of the store and placed the books
inside. Returning to the stairs, he shouldered the rifle and began his
descent to the lower floor.

So far, he told himself, my luck is still holding.

But as Lewis Stillman's foot touched the final stair, his luck ran out.

The entire lower floor was alive with them!

Rustling like a mass of great insects, gliding toward him, eyes gleaming
in the half-light, they converged upon the stairs. They had been waiting
for him.

Now, suddenly, the books no longer mattered. Now only his life mattered
and nothing else. He moved back against the hard wood of the stair-rail,
the carton of books sliding from his hands. They had stopped at the foot
of the stair; they were silent, looking up at him, the hate in their
eyes.

If you can reach the street, Stillman told himself, then you've still
got half a chance. That means you've got to get through them to the
door. All right then, _move_.

Lewis Stillman squeezed the trigger of the automatic and three shots
echoed through the silent store. Two of them fell under the bullets as
Stillman rushed into their midst.

He felt sharp nails claw at his shirt and trousers, heard the cloth
ripping away in their grasp. He kept firing the small automatic into
them, and three more dropped under the hail of bullets, shrieking in
pain and surprise. The others spilled back, screaming, from the door.

The gun was empty. He tossed it away, swinging the heavy Savage rifle
free from his shoulder as he reached the street. The night air, crisp
and cool in his lungs, gave him instant hope.

I can still make it, thought Stillman, as he leaped the curb and plunged
across the pavement. If those shots weren't heard, then I've still got
the edge. My legs are strong; I can outdistance them.

Luck, however, had failed him completely on this night. Near the
intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland, a fresh pack of them
swarmed toward him over the street.

He dropped to one knee and fired into their ranks, the Savage jerking in
his hands. They scattered to either side.

He began to run steadily down the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, using
the butt of the heavy rifle like a battering ram as they came at him. As
he neared Highland, three of them darted directly into his path.
Stillman fired. One doubled over, lurching crazily into a jagged
plate-glass store front. Another clawed at him as he swept around the
corner to Highland. He managed to shake free.

The street ahead of him was clear. Now his superior leg-power would
count heavily in his favor. Two miles. Could he make it back before
others cut him off?

Running, re-loading, firing. Sweat soaking his shirt, rivering down his
face, stinging his eyes. A mile covered. Half way to the drains. They
had fallen back.

But more of them were coming, drawn by the rifle shots, pouring in from
side streets, stores and houses.

His heart jarred in his body, his breath was ragged. How many of them
around him? A hundred? Two hundred? More coming. God!

He bit down on his lower lip until the salt taste of blood was on his
tongue. You can't make it, a voice inside him shouted, they'll have you
in another block and you know it!

He fitted the rifle to his shoulder, adjusted his aim, and fired. The
long rolling crack of the big weapon filled the night. Again and again
he fired, the butt jerking into the flesh of his shoulder, the smell of
powder in his nostrils.

It was no use. Too many of them.

Lewis Stillman knew that he was going to die.

The rifle was empty at last, the final bullet had been fired. He had no
place to run because they were all around him, in a slowly closing
circle.

He looked at the ring of small cruel faces and he thought: The aliens
did their job perfectly; they stopped Earth before she could reach the
age of the rocket, before she could threaten planets beyond her own
moon. What an immensely clever plan it had been! To destroy every human
being on Earth above the age of six--and then to leave as quickly as
they had come, allowing our civilization to continue on a primitive
level, knowing that Earth's back had been broken, that her survivors
would revert to savagery as they grew into adulthood.

Lewis Stillman dropped the empty rifle at his feet and threw out his
hands. "Listen," he pleaded, "I'm really one of you. You'll _all_ be
like me soon. Please, _listen_ to me."

But the circle tightened relentlessly around Lewis Stillman. He was
screaming when the children closed in.



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Fantastic Universe_ August 1957.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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