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´╗┐Title: Moment of Truth
Author: Wells, Basil, 1912-2003
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 "Moment of Truth" ***

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



    _Basil Wells, who lives in Pennsylvania, has been doing research
    concerning life in the area during the period prior to and following
    the War of 1812. Here he turns to a different problem--the
    adjustment demanded of a pioneer woman, not in those days but
    Tomorrow--on Mars._


 moment
     of
  truth

 _by BASIL WELLS_


 Beyond the false windows she could see the reddish
 wasteland where dust clouds spun and shifted so slowly.


She had been asleep. Now she stretched luxuriously beneath the crisp
white sheet that the vapid August heat decreed. From memory to memory
her dream-fogged mind drifted, and to the yet-to-be. It was good to
remember, and to imagine, and to see and feel and hear....

She smiled. She was Ruth Halsey, fourteen, brunette, and pretty. Earl,
and Harry, and Buhl had told her she was pretty. Especially Buhl. Buhl
was her favorite date now.

The room closed around her with its familiar colors and furnishings.
Sometimes she would dream that she was elsewhere, unfamiliar, ugly
places, but then she would awaken to the four long windows with their
coarse beige drapes of monk's cloth and the fantasies were forever
dispelled.

Her eyes loved the two paintings, the dark curls of the pink-and-white
doll sitting prissily atop the dresser, and the full-length mirror on
the open closet door.

The pictured design of the wallpaper, its background merging with the
pastel blue of the slanted ceiling.... Almost as they had blended
together that first day when she was twelve. Yet not the same, she
corrected her thoughts, frowning. Sometimes, as today, the design seemed
faded and changed. The gay little bridges and the flowered, impossibly
blue trees seemed to change and threaten to vanish.

She laughed over at the demurely sitting doll. Essie had been her
favorite doll when she was younger. Of course now that she was fourteen
she did not play with dolls any more. But it was permissible that she
keep her old friend neatly dressed and ever at hand as a confidant. She
smiled at the thought. Essie never tattled.

"It must be from that polio," she told Essie, knowing all the time that
she was almost well now and needed plenty of rest and careful doses of
exercise. "It makes my eyes--funny."

Essie smiled back glassily and Ruth laughed. It was good to awaken and
see the thick black arms of the maple tree outside the windows. It was
good to have the cool green leaves waving at her, and see the filtered
dapplings of sunshine cross and recross them.

She loved that old tree. She had played among its long horizontal
branches from childhood. Her brother, Alex, who had been killed in the
Normandy Landing during World War Three, had loved the tree too. He had
built the railed, shingled-roofed little nest high up in the tree's
crotched heart where Ruth kept some of her extra-special notes and
jewelry and a book of poems.

One of the two paintings on the bedroom walls was of the old tree. The
tree dominated the old story-and-a-half white house with the green
shutters that was the Halseys' home. Her home. Alex had painted that
picture as well as the other showing the graceful loop of the river and
the roofs of the village of Thayer in the distance. Ruth had been with
him as he painted that second picture from the jutting rock ledge five
hundred feet above the river.

"I was just ten then, Essie," she chirped gaily. "I remember how afraid
I was of the height and how Alex scolded."

But Alex was dead now and all she had to remember of him was the
paintings and the photographs that Mother kept in a battered brown
leather folder. For a moment the bright sunlight in her beloved maple
tree's leaves seemed to dim and the room wavered about her. She wondered
about that. She must tell her father or her mother.

Perhaps the polio, light touch of it or not, had hurt her eyesight.
Glasses! She shuddered at the thought.

The room shimmered and blurred--and suddenly broke apart to reform into
something.... She squinched her eyes shut to the hideous vision. And
then opened them the merest slit.

Nothing had changed....

"MOTHER!" she cried. "Daddy!" she cried. "What has happened?"

She heard the door to--to this hideous travesty of a room opening. Her
eyes darted around the shrunken metal-walled shell, even the ceiling
curved overhead, and she saw two grotesque daubs taped to the walls that
parodied the paintings of her dead brother Alex. The coloring was ugly
and the proportions out of line. And it was not canvas but curling
sheets of paper taped and painted to resemble frames!

A big man, sandy-haired and with vertical wrinkles deep between piercing
blue eyes, came into the room. She shrank into the bed, seeing that the
sheet she tugged taut across her breast was ragged and blue.

"Ruth," he said, a slow smile making his face almost handsome, "you're
better. You haven't spoken in weeks."

Ruth wanted to giggle. As though they could keep her quiet. Daddy was
always shushing her.... But who was this big man in his dusty drab
coveralls and dropped dust mask dangling upon his chest?

"Don't you know me, Dear? It's Buhl, your husband."

Buhl was fifteen and only a couple of inches taller than Ruth. Of course
he had sandy hair like this man. But this man was old enough to be
Buhl's father. This was crazy--like one of the dreams that always made
her unhappy.

So? So it was a dream. She felt warmth and release. Why not see what
this dream had to offer that might be amusing to remember and tell Buhl
sometime soon. Wouldn't he laugh when he heard she had dreamed about
him? And been married to him.

She saw the strip of shiny metal that masqueraded as her mirror, and
where her four long windows, with their thick, loose-woven drapes, had
been there were only four taped strips of paper with crude pictures of
draped windows daubed on them. There were even green dabs of paint and
black splashes to stimulate her beloved maple tree.

"Ruth! Do you feel better now? Please don't smile at me like that. I
know you loved the baby, but this Martian atmosphere is tough even for
men. It wasn't your fault."

"Go ahead and talk," Ruth laughed gaily. "This is just another bad dream
and I know it. I'll wake up in a little while and be back in my cool old
room."

"Blast your room and your dreams!"

The man went across the room in a swift rush and tore down one of the
false windows, the painted strip of paper. And beyond, through a dusty
oval glass window, Ruth could see a reddish brown wasteland, where dust
clouds spun and shifted slowly, and a dusty huddle of what looked like
quonset huts or storage sheds of metal.

"That is reality, Ruth. You must face it. This pretense, this sleazy
imitation of your old room is wrong. You're strong enough, and I love
you--you can accept truth."

His face changed, all expression sponged from it in an instant as he
looked into her eyes, and then it seemed to dissolve into something ugly
and yet childish. She saw tears burst through and furrow the dust on his
cheeks.

"Dear Lord," he cried, almost reverently, "must this go on forever? Will
she ever come back to me?"

His voice choked off and he stumbled across the room and out the door.
She heard it shut behind him, and she was hunting for Essie, already
having forgotten the ill-mannered intruder.

There was no Essie, only a mannikin of cloth-stuffed white nylon and
lipstick, with black nylon for hair.

And then the room shimmered and broke apart and reformed and she was
back in her bed with the sun on the slowly dancing green leaves outside
the four long windows. Essie was smiling down at her from the dresser,
and the paintings were as always, soft colors and perfectly drafted.

Had she thought there were four windows? How silly of her. The second
from the right was a small oval of glass, or rather, a glass-covered
picture of desert scene. Odd that she had forgotten about that picture.
Oh well, what did it matter.

In a few days she would be well enough again to climb out on the giant
limbs and into the tree nest that her brother, Alex, had built. And the
boys would come to see her and take her to the drugstore for sodas and
sundaes.

Yes, she was sure now. She _did_ like Buhl Austin best....


[Illustration]



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Fantastic Universe_ December 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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