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Title: Sweet Tooth
Author: Young, Robert F.
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 "Sweet Tooth" ***

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                              SWEET TOOTH

                          By ROBERT F. YOUNG

                         Illustrated by Nodel

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                     Galaxy Magazine October 1963.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

/


         The aliens were quite impressed by Earth's technical
               marvels--they found them just delicious!


Sugardale three miles, the state highway sign said. Dexter Foote turned
into the side road that the arrow indicated.

He had no way of knowing it at the time, but by his action he condemned
his new convertible to a fate worse than death.

The side road meandered down a long slope into a wooded hollow where a
breeze born of cool bowers and shaded brooks made the July afternoon
heat less oppressive. A quantity of the pique that had been with him
ever since setting forth from the city departed. There were worse
assignments, after all, than writing up a fallen star.

Abruptly he applied the brakes and brought the convertible to a
screeching halt. His blue eyes started from his boyish face.

Well they might. The two Humpty Dumptyish creatures squatting in the
middle of the road were as big as heavy tanks and, judging from their
"skin tone," were constructed of similar material. They had arms like
jointed cranes and legs like articulated girders. Their scissors-like
mouths were slightly open, exposing maws the hue of an open hearth at
tapping time. Either they were all body and no head, or all head and no
body. Whichever was the case, they had both eyes and ears. The former
had something of the aspect of peek holes in a furnace door, while the
latter brought to mind lopsided Tv antennae.

As Dexter watched, the foremost of the two metallic monsters advanced
upon the convertible and began licking the chrome off the grill with a
long, tong-like tongue. Meanwhile, its companion circled to the rear
and took a big bite out of the trunk. There was an awesome CRUNCH! and
the convertible gave a convulsive shudder.

At this point, Dexter got out and ran. More accurately, he jumped
out and ran. A hundred feet down the road, he stopped and turned. He
was just in time to see monster No. 1 bite off the right headlight.
CRUNCH! Not to be outdone, monster No. 2 bit off the right taillight.
CRUNCH-CRUNCH! An acrid odor affronted Dexter's nostrils, and he
discerned a faint yellow haze hovering about the convertible. The
rear wheels went in two bites. The 250 H.P. motor required three.
CRUNCH-CRUNCH-CRUNCH! The upholstery caught fire and began to burn. A
gout of flame shot up as the gas tank exploded. Far from discouraging
the two monsters, the resultant inferno merely served to whet their
appetites. CRUNCH-CRUNCH-CRUNCH-CRUNCH!

Dexter's shoulders sagged, and the spot next to his heart that the
convertible had shared with his best girl gave a spasmodic twinge.
Removing his suitcoat and slinging it over his shoulder, he turned his
back on the grisly repast and set out sadly for Sugardale.

He had not gone far before his stalled thought-processes got into gear
again.

       *       *       *       *       *

The falling star he had been assigned by his editor to write up had
been an unusually brilliant one according to the report the paper
had received. Maybe its unusualness did not stop there. Maybe it was
something more than a mere meteorite. Certainly the two monsters could
not be classified as local woodland creatures.

All of which was fine as far as copy was concerned. But it didn't bring
his convertible back.

Presently he saw two sizable deposits of slag at the side of the road,
and approaching them more closely, he discovered that they were still
warm. Could they be the remains of a previously devoured automobile? he
wondered. What an ignominious fate indeed to overtake a car! He looked
at the two deposits once more before moving on. All he could think of
were two piles of elephant dung.

A mile and half later, he emerged in a small valley that sported a
handful of houses, a scattering of business places, a church or two
and a goodly number of trees. A roadside sign informed him that he
had reached his destination, that its population was 350, and that
its speed limit was 20 mph. The population, however, was nowhere in
evidence, and the speed limit seemed silly in view of the absence of
cars.

A scared-looking housewife, upon whose door he knocked, told him
he'd probably find the local minion of the law at the Sugardale Inn,
"sucking up beer the way he always is when he should be out earning
his money." The Inn turned out to be a sagging three-story structure
in desperate need of a paint-job. There was a model A sedan parked
in front of it, the first automobile Dexter had seen. Formerly the
establishment had provided a haven for weary travelers. Now it provided
a haven for contented cockroaches. Its _fin de siècle_ bar was a
collector's item, and standing at it, one foot propped on the brass
bar-rail, was a lone customer. He was tall and thin, and somewhere in
his sixties, and he was wearing blue denim trousers and a blue chambray
shirt. There was a lackluster badge pinned on the fading shirtfront,
and a beat-up sombrero sat atop the graying head.

"Sheriff Jeremiah Smith at your service," he said calmly when Dexter
dashed up to him. He took a sip from the schooner of beer that sat on
the bar before him. "Got troubles, have you, young man?"

"My car," Dexter said. "I was driving along the road and--"

"Got ate up, did it? Well, it's not the first one to get ate up around
here." Jeremiah Smith faced the doorway that led to the lobby. "Mrs.
Creasy, get this young man a beer," he called.

A plump middle-aged woman whose dark hair fell down over her eyes like
a thicket came into sight behind the bar. She flicked a cockroach off
the drain-board with an expert forefinger, drew Dexter a schooner and
set it before him. Jeremiah Smith paid for it. "Drink her down, young
man," he said. "I know how _I'd_ feel if _my_ car got ate up."

Manfully, Dexter dispatched half the contents of the schooner, after
which he introduced himself and explained the nature of his mission
to Sugardale. "I never figured on anything like this, though," he
concluded.

"You must have made it through just before the road-block was set up,"
Jeremiah said. "You were lucky."

Dexter started at him. "Lucky! I lost my _car_."

"Pshaw. What's a car to a newspaper man when a Big Story's in the air?
Take this newspaper fellow I saw on TV Saturday night. He--"

"Big Stories went out long ago," Dexter said. "Newspapermen work for a
living the same as anybody else. Get back to my car. Aren't you going
to do anything about it?"

Jeremiah looked hurt. "I've already done everything I can do. The
minute I saw those tanks I knew it was a job for the army, and the
state police agreed with me. So we notified them, after which we
advised everybody to stay indoors and to keep their cars under lock and
key. All we can do now is wait." Jeremiah sighed. "Crazy, if you ask
me. Tanks eating automobiles!"

"I imagine," Dexter said thoughtfully, "that our diet would give them
pause too. Where did this star of yours fall?"

"In Ed Hallam's north timber lot. Take you there, if you like. There's
not much to see, though--just a big hole in the ground."

Dexter finished his beer. "Come on," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Model A parked in front of the Inn turned out to be Jeremiah's.
They took off down the road at a brisk pace, wound through woods,
dales, pastures and fields. Dexter hadn't the remotest idea where he
was when at last Jeremiah pulled up beside a grove larger and darker
than the others.

The old man squinted into the lengthening shadows. "Seems to me them
auto-eating tanks ought to make better reading than a common ordinary
falling star."

Halfway out of the car, Dexter stared at him. "You mean to tell me you
don't see the connection?"

"What connection?"

Dexter got the rest of the way out. "Between the automobile-eaters and
the spaceship, of course."

Jeremiah stared at _him_. "What spaceship?"

"Oh, never mind," Dexter said. "Show me the fallen star."

It was in a clearing deep in the woods. Or rather, the crater-like
hole it had made was. Peering down into the hole, Dexter saw the dark,
pitted surface of what could very well have been an ordinary, if
unusually large, meteorite. There was nothing that suggested an opening
of any kind, but the opposite wall of the crater did look as though
some heavy object had been dragged--or had dragged itself--up to the
level of the clearing. The underbrush showed signs of having been
badly trampled in the recent past.

He pointed out the signs to Jeremiah. "See how those saplings are
flattened? No human being did that. I'll bet if we followed that trail,
we'd come to the remains of the first car they consumed. Whose car was
it, by the way?"

"Mrs. Hopkins's new Buick. She'd just started out for the city on one
of her shopping trips. She was so scared when she came running back
into town her hair was standing straight out behind her head. Maybe,
though, it was because she was running so fast." Abruptly Jeremiah
leaned forward and squinted at the ground. "Looks almost like a big
footprint right there, don't it." He straightened. "But if the darn
thing is a spaceship like you say, how come it buried itself?"

"Because whoever or whatever was piloting it didn't--or
couldn't--decelerate enough for an orthodox landing," Dexter explained.
"Lucky it hit the clearing. If it had hit the trees, you'd have had a
forest fire on your hands."

Jeremiah looked worried. "Maybe we'd better be getting back to the
road. I feel kind of guilty leaving my model A sitting there all alone."

Dexter followed him back through the woods and climbed into the front
seat beside him. The road took them to the main highway, and not
long thereafter Jeremiah turned off the highway into another road--a
familiar road heralded by a familiar sign that said, SUGARDALE THREE
MILES. Two slag deposits marked the spot where once Dexter's proud
convertible had stood. He gazed at them sadly as they passed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suddenly Jeremiah brought the model A to a screeching halt. The two
desecrators of the American Dream Incarnate were in the midst of
another repast. The victim this time, judging from the still-visible
star and the O.D. color scheme, was an army staff car. The grill and
the motor were already gone, and half of the roof was missing. Yellow
haze enshrouded the sorry scene, and the countryside was resounding to
a series of horrendous CRUNCHES.

"Do you think if I sort of zoomed by, we could make it?" Jeremiah
asked. "I hate to go all the way around the other way."

"I'm game if you are," Dexter said.

ZOOOOOOMMMMMMM!

The two monsters didn't even look up.

"You'd think my model A wasn't good enough for them," Jeremiah said
peevishly.

"Count your blessings. Look, there's someone up ahead."

The "someone" turned out to be a two-star general, a chicken colonel
and an enlisted man. Jeremiah stopped, and the trio climbed into the
back seat. "Ate your staff car, did they, General?" he chuckled, taking
off again. "Well, that's the way it goes."

"The name," said the general, whose middle-aged face had a greenish
cast, "is General Longcombe, and I was on my way to Sugardale to
reconnoiter the situation before committing any troops to the area.
This is my aide, Colonel Mortby, and my driver, Sergeant Wilkins."

"Sheriff Smith at your service," said Jeremiah. "This here's Dexter
Foote, who came to Sugardale to do a Big Story on our falling star."

"Tell me about these VEMs of yours, sheriff," General Longcombe said.

Jeremiah twisted around. "VEMs?"

"'Vehicle-Eating Monsters'," Colonel Mortby interposed. He was a small
man with a pleasant youthful face. "It's standard army operating
procedure to give an object a name before investigating it."

"Oh." Jeremiah twisted back again, saved the model A from going into
the ditch with a Herculean yank on the wheel. "Well, Dexter here seems
to think that our falling star is a spaceship and that they landed in
it, and I'm inclined to believe he's right."

"After seeing the VEMs in person, I'm inclined to believe he's right
myself," Colonel Mortby said. "I think that what we have to do with
here," he went on presently, when the general made no comment, "is a
form of metal-based life capable of generating an internal temperature
of at least three thousand degrees Fahrenheit. The acrid odor they give
off while 'feasting' probably arises from a substance analogous to our
gastric juices which their heat-resistant stomachs supply to accomplish
'digestion,' only in this case 'digestion' consists primarily in
melting down the metal they consume and in isolating its waste matter,
after which the pure metal is reprocessed into 'body tissue' and the
waste matter is thrown off in the form of slag. I think we might go so
far as to call them a couple of animate open hearths."

Dexter had turned around in the front seat and was looking at the
colonel admiringly. "I think you've hit the nail right on the head,
sir," he said.

General Longcombe was scowling. "We're here to survey the situation,
Colonel, not to jump to conclusions." He addressed the back of
Jeremiah's weather-beaten neck. "I trust we'll have no trouble finding
suitable accommodations in Sugardale, sheriff."

"Mrs. Creasy'll be glad to put you up at the Inn, if that's what you
mean," Jeremiah said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Creasy was more than glad. Indeed, from the way she looked at the
two officers and the NCO through her thicket of hair, you would have
thought they were the first roomers she'd had in months, discounting
the cockroaches, of course.

The general said petulantly, "Let's get down to business, Colonel.
I want an armored company brought up immediately, and I want the
fallen-star area put off limits at once. Have the sheriff show you
where it is." He turned to Sergeant Wilkins. "Sergeant, get on the
phone as soon as the colonel gets off it, and arrange for my personal
Cadillac to be delivered here first thing."

After phoning his paper, Dexter headed for the dining room and sat down
beside General Longcombe. "Anything new on the VEMs, General?" he asked.

General Longcombe sighed. There were shadows under his eyes, and his
cheeks showed signs of sagging. "They're still in circulation. Scared
the wits out of a couple of teenagers and ate their hot-rod. We've
got them under constant surveillance, of course, and what with all the
underbrush they trample it's easy enough to track them. But we can't
stop them. They eat our gas grenades and our fragmentation grenades,
and they're impervious to our tank killers and our antitank mines. A
small A-bomb would take care of them nicely, but even assuming there's
an area around here large enough and isolated enough to permit us to
use an A-bomb, there's no way of herding them into it."

"It just so happens that there is such an area," Jeremiah Smith said.
"Tillson Valley--about ten miles south of here. You'd have to vacate
Old Man Tillson, of course, but he'd be glad to go if you made it worth
his while. He hasn't grown a thing but weeds anyway since he got his
pension. Just sits around all day and sucks up beer."

"But there's still no way of getting the VEMs out there," General
Longcombe objected.

"Tell me, general," Dexter said, "have they eaten any of your jeeps or
trucks or personnel carriers?"

General Longcombe shook his head. "They've had plenty of opportunity
to, too."

"I have a theory," Dexter said.

The look that promptly settled on General Longcombe's face made no
bones about what he thought of presumptuous young reporters with
theories. Colonel Mortby, however, was considerably less biased. "It
won't do any harm to listen to what he's got to say, sir," he pointed
out, "and it may even do some good. It'll be at least a day before the
ship is excavated and even then we may not know any more about the sort
of life forms we're dealing with than we do now."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dexter needed no further invitation. "I think it's pretty clear by
now," he began, "that our two visitors from Planet X aren't attracted
by metal in just any old form at all, but by metal in the form of new,
or nearly new, automobiles. This strongly suggests that their landing
was unpremeditated, because if it had been premeditated they would have
come down in a section of the country where such metallic concoctions
are in plentiful supply--near a city or a large town, or close to a
heavily traveled throughway.

"But what is it about these new cars of ours that they find so
irresistible? Let's try an analogy. Suppose that one of us has gone
into a bakery to buy a birthday cake and that money is no object.
Which cake is he most likely to buy? The answer is obvious: the one
with the most visual appeal. To return to our visitors from Planet X.
Suppose that all their lives they've been eating metal in various but
uninspired ingot forms--the metallic equivalents, let's say, of beans
and bread and hominy grits. Now suppose they find their way to another
planet where visual appeal in metallic creation is a major occupation,
and suppose that shortly after disembarking from their spaceship they
come upon a new convertible. Wouldn't they react in the same way we
would react if all our lives our diet had been confined to beans and
bread and hominy grits and _we_ traveled to another planet, disembarked
and came upon a delicious birthday cake just begging to be eaten?
Wouldn't they make pigs of themselves and start looking for more cakes?"

"But if it's the ornate nature of our late-model cars that attracts
them, why did they eat the staff car?" Colonel Mortby asked. "And why
did they eat the teenager's hot rod, and our gas and fragmentation
grenades?"

"I suggest," Dexter said, "that they ate the staff car because at the
moment there weren't any other cars immediately available. As for the
teenager's hot rod, I imagine it was loaded down with enough chrome
accessories to sink a battleship. And as for the grenades--your men
threw them at them first, did they not?"

Colonel Mortby nodded. "I see what you mean. Sort of like throwing
candy to a baby. I'll buy your theory, Mr. Foote."

"And now, if I may," Dexter continued, "I'd like to propose a means of
getting rid of our unwanted visitors from Planet X."

General Longcombe sighed. "Very well, Mr. Foote. Go on."

"You mentioned earlier, sir, that there was no way of herding the VEMs
into an isolated area. However, I think there is a way. Suppose we were
to remove all of the automobiles from the vicinity with the exception
of one, and suppose we were to park that one in the middle of Tillson
Valley as bait, with a remote-controlled A-bomb underneath it?"

"But how would they know that the bait was there?"

"Through association," Dexter said. "All of the automobiles they've
consumed thus far were in operation shortly before they began to eat
them, so by now they must have established an unconscious relationship
between the sound of the motors and the taste of the metal. Therefore,
if we keep the bait idling and set up a P.A. system to amplify the
sound, eventually they'll hear it, their mouths will salivate and
they'll come running."

General Longcombe offered no comment He appeared to be deep in thought.

"My car is in West Virginia," Colonel Mortby said.

"My car was eaten," Dexter said.

General Longcombe opened his mouth. "My car--" he began.

Sergeant Wilkins entered the room and saluted smartly. "The general's
Cadillac has just arrived, sir," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Old man Tillson co-operated readily enough, once he was assured that
he would be indemnified not only for his ramshackle house but for the
young mountain of beer bottles that stood in his back yard, and the
command post was moved forthwith to the lip of the valley. Jeremiah
Smith was allowed to go along as an observer, and Dexter was accorded
a similar favor. By evening, everything was in place. The colonel's
Cadillac, parked in the valley's center, had something of the aspect of
a chrome-bedizened lamb resting on an altar of crab grass, buttercups
and mustard weeds. Surrounding it were half a dozen floodlights,
suspended over it was a microphone, standing next to it was a pole
supporting three P.A. speakers, and located several hundred feet away
was a TV camera. Beyond this impressive  display, Old Man Tillson's
homestead could be discerned, and beyond the homestead rose his
mountainous collection of beer bottles.

Colonel Mortby came out of the command-post tent and walked over to
where Dexter and Jeremiah were standing, looking down into the valley.
He handed each of them a pair of cobalt-blue glasses. "If you watch the
blast, make sure you wear these," he said, raising his voice above the
amplified purring of the Cadillac's motor. "You'll be glad to hear that
the two VEMs are already on their way, Mr. Foote--our walkie-talkie
squad just called in. However, the creatures move so slowly that they
probably won't be here before dawn."

Dexter came out of a brown study. "One thing still bugs me," he said.
"Why should two members of a race of extraterrestrials technically
intelligent enough to build spaceships behave like a pair of gluttonous
savages the minute they land on another planet?"

"But you explained that," Jeremiah pointed out. "They just can't resist
eating American automobiles."

"I'm afraid I got carried away by my analogy. Civilized beings simply
don't go running across the countryside the minute they land, and start
grabbing up everything that strikes their eye. They make contact
with the authorities first, and _then_ they go running across the
countryside and start grabbing up everything that strikes their eye."

Colonel Mortby grinned. "You've got a good point there, Mr. Foote.
Well, I'm going to see if I can't grab forty winks or so--it's been a
trying day."

"Me too," Jeremiah said, heading for his model A.

Left alone, Dexter wedged a flashlight in the fork of a little tree,
sat down in its dim radiance, got out pen and notebook, and began his
article. _The Solid Cheese Cadillac_, he wrote, _by Dexter Foote_....

Dawn found him dozing over page 16. "There they are!" someone shouted,
jerking him awake. "The filthy fiends!"

The "someone" was General Longcombe. Joining him, Dexter saw the two
VEMs. They were moving relentlessly across the valley floor toward the
helpless Cadillac. Jeremiah came up, rubbing his eyes. Colonel Mortby
could be discerned through the entrance of the command-post tent,
leaning over a technician's shoulder.

The two VEMs reached the Cadillac and began licking off the chrome with
their long, tong-like tongues. General Longcombe went wild. He waved
his arms. "Monsters!" he screamed, "I'll blow you to Kingdom Come
personally!" and stomped into the tent.

Dexter and Jeremiah started to put on their cobalt-blue glasses.
Abruptly thunder sounded, and a shadow darkened the land. Looking
skyward, Dexter saw it--

The ship. The saucer. Whichever word you cared to apply to it. But
whichever noun you chose, you had to prefix it with the adjective
"gigantic," for the ventral hatch alone, which had just yawned open,
was large enough to accommodate the Sugardale Methodist Church.

In the command-post tent, the general, as yet unaware of the UFO's
presence, was giving the countdown in an anguished voice. "Two--"

In the valley, the two VEMs were trying vainly to extricate themselves
from a huge metallic net that had dropped over them.

"One--"

On the lip of the valley, Dexter Foote was grappling with an insight.

"Zero--"

Pfft!...

       *       *       *       *       *

"It wasn't a dud after all," General Longcombe said. "They cancelled
out the chain-reaction with some kind of a ray. I wonder...." He shook
his head wistfully. "What a weapon, though."

He and Colonel Mortby and the tech were standing by the chrome-stripped
carcass of the Cadillac. Dexter and Jeremiah had just come up. "My
theory turned out to be a little bit off-center," Dexter said. "You
see, I overlooked the possibility that our children aren't necessarily
the only galactic small fry who run away from home and get themselves
in Dutch. My birthday-cake analogy still holds true, but I would have
done better to have compared our late-model automobiles to appetizing
candy bars, or Easter baskets filled with jelly beans and chocolate
chickens."

The general regarded him blankly. "I'm afraid I don't follow you at
all, Mr. Foote."

"Did you ever turn a pair of hungry kids loose in a candy store, sir?"

Understanding came into General Longcombe's eyes then, and he turned
and gazed sadly at his chromeless Cadillac. "I wonder if they have
castor oil on Planet X," he said.

"I bet they have its equivalent," grinned Dexter Foote.





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