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´╗┐Title: Not a Creature Was Stirring
Author: Evans, Dean
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 "Not a Creature Was Stirring" ***

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                      Not a Creature Was Stirring

                             By DEAN EVANS

                      Illustrated by DAVID STONE

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                 Galaxy Science Fiction December 1951.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



             This could be a Christmas story. If it is, it
             shows one way peace on Earth can be attained!


He was a tall, hard man with skin the color of very old iodine. When he
climbed up out of the vertical shaft of his small gold mine, _The Lousy
Disappointment_, he could have been taken for an Indian, he was that
dark. Except, of course, that Indians didn't exist any more in 1982.
His name was Tom Gannett and he was about forty years old and he didn't
realize his own uniqueness.

When he made it to his feet, the first thing he did was to squint up
at the sun. The second was to sneeze, and the third to blow his nose.

"Hey, you old sun!" he growled. "You old crummy sun, you look sicker'n
a dog."

Which was literally true, for the sun seemed to be pretty queer. The
whole sky seemed to be pretty queer, for that matter. Skies should
be blue and the sun should be a bloated golden bauble drifting
serenely across them. But the skies were not blue; they were a dirty
purplish-gray. And the sun wasn't a bloated golden bauble; somebody
had it by the scruff of the neck and was dragging it.

Gannett planted his big feet wide apart and frowned sourly around and
sniffed the air like a dog at a gopher hole. "The damn world smells
sick," he grunted.

Which was also true. The world did smell sick. The world smelled
something like that peculiar odor that comes from an old graveyard
carefully tended by an old man with dank moss sticking to the soles of
his old shoes. That kind of smell.

Gannett didn't know why the sun looked sick, and he didn't know why the
world smelled sick. Indeed, there were many things Gannett didn't know,
among which would be these in particular:

    (a) He did not know (since, for the last six months, he had been
    living and working all alone at his little mine, which was in the
    remotest of the most remote desert regions of Nevada) that a little
    less than three weeks earlier, mankind had finally achieved the
    inevitable: man's own annihilation.

    (b) He did not know that he was going to be the loneliest man on
    Earth--he who was used to, and perfectly content with, the
    hermitlike existence of a desert rat.

    (c) He furthermore did not know that there were four of the Ten
    Commandments which he wasn't going to be able to break any
    more--not even if he stayed up nights trying and lived for
    centuries.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gannett snorted the smell from his nostrils and shrugged. Hell with it.
He thought about Reno and how he hadn't been there for nearly a year.
He thought of the dimly lighted, soft-carpeted cocktail lounges in Reno
where drinks come in long stemmed glasses and blondes in long-stemmed
legs. Reno at Christmastime, he thought. There was a town, Reno!

He grinned, showing big gold teeth that blazed out of his mouth like
the glittering grille on a Buick. He dug his feet into the hard ground
and walked the hundred feet or so to his cabin where he sometimes
slept when he didn't happen to sleep in the mine. He stripped off his
grime-sodden clothes. He stepped out of them, in fact, and stretched
luxuriously as though he hadn't felt the good joy of being unclothed
for a long time.

He got up and went to a corner of the cabin, rummaged out a pair of
dusty clogs and pushed his feet into them. Then--and they don't come
any nakeder than he was--he went outside and around the shack to the
rear where he kept his jeep and where the shower was.

He stepped into it, for it was nothing more ornate than a large oil
drum suspended on long four by sixes. He yanked on a rope that hung
down from the drum. The result of doing that made him leap out again
dripping wet and colder than a buried mother-in-law.

He shivered, eyes blinking fast. He took a deep breath. His gold
teeth went together tightly and the big muscles in his neck corded
defensively. He deliberately went under the shower again. Pawing a
sliver of laundry soap from a ledge on one of the four by sixes, he
went to work with it, and when he finally tripped the hanging rope once
more, he was a clean man.

He went into the cabin. It wasn't any warmer than the great outdoors,
but that was where his clothes were. He shaved from an old granite
basin full of cold water. After that he went to a hook on the wall and
got down a suit of clothes which looked as though it had shriveled up
waiting for somebody to wear it. The last thing he did before leaving
was to pry up one of the boards behind the door and lift out of this
hiding place a small leather bag.

The bag was filled with gold.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sun was gone now. Leg-like rays of light still sprawled,
dirty-looking, in the sky over toward the California line, but aside
from these extremities, most of it was somewhere out in the Pacific.
The purplish sky was darker now. Drab. Dead, somehow.

The old jeep started nicely. It always started nicely; that was one
of the good things about a jeep. The only funny thing was that out of
its exhaust pipe in the rear came angry purplish flames. Queer flames.
Gannett stared at them, surprised.

"Even the damn jeep is sick," he muttered. He was wrong, of course, but
he had no way of knowing that. He backed around, finally, and went down
what he called his driveway, which was little more than rock-strewn
ground, until he came to a small dirt road. This led him to another,
larger dirt road, which in turn led him to route #395, which was a U.S.
Highway.

A hundred miles farther on, he came to the outskirts of Carson City. It
wasn't until he pulled into a gas station that he realized something
was wrong. Nobody jumped out to wipe his windshield. The attendant who
still leaned in the doorway of the station had a rag in his hand, but
he didn't budge. He couldn't. His face looked like weathered leather
and he was dead.

"Holy...!" whispered Gannett incredulously. He forgot about needing
gas. He jumped in the jeep and drove down the main stem and found
Police Headquarters in an old gray stone building. He knew it was
Police Headquarters for the green neon over the revolving door had
_CPD_ on it and it was still burning.

He went up the steps two at a time, banged through the swinging doors
and stamped straight to where the Sergeant sat at a desk over in the
corner by the switchboard.

"Hey, by God!" yelled Gannett to the Desk Sergeant. "There's a guy down
the street in a gas station and he's standing up in the doorway and
he's dead as a mackerel!"

Dramatic words. But the Desk Sergeant was no longer among the living
and didn't appreciate them. It took Gannett a long while to get over
that. He slowly backed away. He made the big oak doors, still backing.
He went down the stairs on legs as stiff as icicles.

He got back in his jeep and started up again. He knew there was
something terribly wrong, but before he thought about it, he knew he
had to have a drink. He pulled up in front of a saloon that had nice,
cheery, glowing lights showing through the big front window. He got out
of the jeep. He went through the swinging glass doors and straight to
the bar.

"Scotch!"

Nobody answered. The barman behind the mahogany, facing him, didn't
make a move. The barman had a dead cigarette between his cold colorless
lips. The cigarette had a half inch of ash on it. The ash looked as
though it was sculptured out of purple marble.

Gannett put both hands flat on the bar and swallowed hard. He
twisted his head and looked over the shoulder of a customer on his
left, who was leaning negligently on the bar with one elbow. There
was a half-full bottle in front of the leaning man and it had an
alert-looking horse's head stuck in the neck of it for a pouring spout.

"Excuse me, Mac," Gannett whispered.

The leaning man didn't twitch a muscle.

Gannett sucked in a deep breath. He reached. He got the bottle. He
blinked stupidly at the bottle and then he put it down very carefully
and took another breath and looked at a highball glass in front of the
leaning man. The highball glass was empty and clean, but the leaning
man's fingers were curled lightly and gracefully around it. They were
nice fingers. White fingers. Fingers that looked as if they hadn't had
to do any hard work lately. Slender, tapering, carefully manicured
fingers.

Gannett swore softly. He yanked the horse's head out and then poked
the bottle into his mouth and tilted it up. He held it until there
wasn't anything left but the very glass it was made of plus the bright
little paper label. His throat burned. He coughed. He banged the empty
bottle down on the bartop and coughed again--hard.

The leaning man stirred, seemed to turn slowly, stiffly, in a half arc
that put him face to face with Gannett. Then he went down backward and
all in one piece, like a tall tree on top of a hill on a very still
night.

He went down with the glass in his hand and, when he hit, swirls of
thick dust rose lazily from the floor and then settled back over his
rigid form like freshly falling snow blanketing something left out on
the front lawn.

       *       *       *       *       *

The night was black. There wasn't a star and there wasn't a sound
except for Earth sounds, which are never very loud. Gannett sat in his
jeep with the motor running and the purple flames coming out of the
tailpipe. His hands were tight around the wheel, but the Jeep wasn't
moving. Gannett was staring off into space and his eyes looked as
though somebody had peeled them back.

He said it to himself mentally, for the first few times. Then, as if
he couldn't contain them any longer, the words tumbled out of his mouth
into the night air:

"Everybody's dead, by God!"

He drove through deserted streets until he found an all-night
drugstore. It didn't seem funny to him just yet that the streets were
deserted; that was something he would think of later. He walked into
the drugstore and went to the newsstand and picked up a copy of the
_Carson Daily Bugle_. The date struck him first. It was the wrong date;
it was three weeks ago. He dropped it and picked up another, a Reno
paper this time. Same trouble with the date. He read the headline then:

                        REDS STRIKE AT TURKEY!
                           Unveil New Weapon

He blinked at it. There was a little more--pitifully little--to the
effect that Congress had been asked for a declaration of war in order
to defend the assaulted member of the Atlantic Pact nations.

Gannett swallowed hard. He dropped the paper and turned to the clerk
who was leaning over the glass counter watching him.

"Jeez!" Gannett said. "When did all this happen? I didn't even know
about it."

He didn't get any answer from the clerk. He knew he wouldn't from the
way the clerk's eyes looked. They looked as if they should have been
under refrigeration.

"People around dead," he muttered. "By God, the Governor oughta know
about this!"

He left the drugstore and drove straight for the State Capitol
Building, which wasn't far away, for Carson City isn't very large. He
walked up the long concrete ribbon to the big stone steps. He mounted
them. He stood before the bronze doors for an instant, a feeling of awe
coming over him despite what he knew he was going to tell the Governor.
He pulled on the handle of the nearest of the bronze doors.

Nothing happened.

It was locked, of course. The Capitol is never open at three A.M.
(which was the exact time when it had happened three weeks ago--but he
didn't know that).

A feeling of rage came over Gannett slowly, like heat radiating through
soft wood. He stood on the stone steps and faced the broad expanse of
lawn, which, in the summertime, at least, was very lovely. He slowly
pulled his leather bag of gold from his coat pocket and raised it up
so he could see it. Then he turned once more to the bronze doors and
smashed the bag of gold through one of the glass panes.

"Gannett done it!" he roared. "If anybody wants to know, tell them
Gannett, by God!"

He went back to his jeep. The big, darkly hulking form of the red
brick Post Office Building went by and faded into the night. He passed
a jewelry store. He looked in. An electric mantel clock in the store
window indicated the time as nine-ten. He passed a supermarket. The
big illuminated clock on the facade said nine-seven. The clock in the
service station, where he finally pulled in for gas, pointed at nine
exactly. Cycles have to be controlled if electric clocks are to keep
correct time, but that was something else he did not know.

After he put back the gasoline hose, he left one more observation on
the silence of the night before driving to Reno. He said it loudly, and
there was angry frustration in every word of it:

"Hell with Carson City. To _hell_ with it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Approaching downtown Reno at night is a pleasant, cheerful experience.
There are lights all around, like a store selling electric fixtures. On
the right hand side of Virginia Street they glow brightly, each one a
little gaudier than the last. Big lights. Neon lights in all the colors
neon lights can come in. Signs on the fronts of the big gaming houses
that stay open until lights aren't needed any more; and the one flash
of light across Virginia Street at the intersection of Commercial Row
which had been photographed more times than the mind of man could have
conjectured:

                                 RENO
                 The Biggest Little City in the World

He drove slowly by the Happy Times Club. He could see quite a few
people inside. You wouldn't think there was anything wrong when you
looked at something like that.

At the corner of First Street, he stopped for the signal. He pulled
around a military vehicle that seemed to be waiting for the signal,
too. It was an open vehicle, painted the olive drab of the Army, and
sitting stiffly erect behind the wheel was a natty-looking first
lieutenant with his cap at just the right angle over one eye.

The signal bell up on the corner poles clanged loudly and the lights
turned green. Gannett crossed the intersection, but the lieutenant and
his military vehicle stayed behind.

He went by the Golden Bubble, which was perhaps the largest and
gaudiest of all the gaming places in Reno. Its big front, done in
glass bricks with multicolored lights behind them, looked like some
monstrous kaleidoscope built for the use of the Man in the Moon. Seen
from his jeep, through the plate glass of the wide door, the interior
of the Golden Bubble seemed to be a happy, carousing place full of the
joyous laughter of folks having a fine time. Only that wasn't so, of
course, for the only sounds to be heard were the jeep's motor and the
signal bells on the corner poles.

Gannett parked. He walked back, went slowly through the doors of the
Golden Bubble. The first thing that met his eyes was the flashing
welcome grin of the head waiter, who was dressed in a tuxedo just
inside the doors. The head waiter had his hand half out, as if to shake
the hand of Gannett as he came in. Gannett almost stuck out his own
hand in return--but not quite.

He went to the bar. He didn't look at the barman lying on the floor
with his ear in the spittoon. He shambled around the end of the bar,
took a full bottle of scotch off the backbar shelf, broke the seal and
took a long swallow. The bartender didn't notice.

After that he took the bottle with him out on the floor. He went around
a man in an overcoat who looked to be uncomfortably warm but wasn't.
He went over to a roulette table and stared the croupier straight in
the eyes. He reached for a pile of chips under the croupier's right
hand and slid them over.

"Double zero," he said.

The croupier looked bored, which was the way a croupier should look.
Gannett reached down and gave the wheel a spin and then stood back
and waited. The croupier waited. Two women and one man, on Gannett's
right, also waited. The ball clicked merrily, came to a stop. The wheel
slowed, finally rested.

It wasn't double zero. Gannett reached for the croupier's rake and
shoved his pile of chips back under the croupier's protecting right
hand.

"Lousy wheel is fixed," Gannett said.

Nobody argued with him on that.

He uncorked his scotch bottle and took a long pull. Nobody objected to
that, either, the croupier still looked bored; and the two women and
the one man waited patiently for the Day of Judgment.

Gannett went over to a cashier window and reached in and got a handful
of silver dollars. He took them to the machines over against the far
wall and stuck in a couple and pulled the two handles simultaneously.
For his investment he got back five dollars, which one of the machines
disgorged with a loud clatter. He put more dollars in. He put them
in fast and pulled the levers fast. He went down the entire row of
machines and pulled the levers as he went. He didn't linger to see what
happened at any of them.

He began to feel cold. He took out his scotch bottle again and
half emptied it. A woman who looked as if she were someone's
great-grandmother, except that her hair was bleached and fingernails
were sharp talons, and who sat in a chrome and leather chair not six
feet away from him, stared a little disapprovingly. Gannett caught the
look.

"Lady," he said defensively, "I earned me a holiday, see? It's none of
your business if I do some celebrating, is it?"

The lady didn't change her mind. She looked as though she might prefer
gin herself.

Gannett belched. He wasn't so cold now. He threw back his head and
laughed and listened to the sound of it bounce off walls. He did it
again. He was feeling fine.

He went back to the roulette wheel, got around behind it and nudged the
croupier gently. The croupier went over like a broom sliding down the
side of a wall.

Gannett picked up the little plastic rake and looked at the two women
and one man.

"Place your bets, folks," he said, in a low tone that was a pretty good
imitation of the drone of a professional man.

He separated the chips into four neat piles. He pushed a pile each at
the two women, one to the man. The last he kept for himself.

"Place your bets, folks," he repeated.

Nobody did, but that was okay anyhow. Grinning happily, he made bets
for them. One of the women--the one that was redheaded--looked to him
as if she might be a plunger. He shoved her pile of chips over onto
zero and then he gave her a friendly little wink. The other woman was
the careful type, he thought. Her chips--not all of them, of course--he
shoved for red. He disposed of the man perfunctorily: ten dollars on
plain number nine. His own bet was due a little more deliberation. He
carefully spread around five hundred dollars until the strip looked as
if eighteen people were playing it all at once.

The effort made him sweat. He reached for his bottle, emptied it, then
dropped it on the fallen croupier.

"Folks," Gannett said in an apologetic tone, "you'll have to pardon me
a minute. It seems I'm out of fuel. Don't go away; I'll be right back."

Everybody was agreeable. Gannett went back to the bar, went around
behind it.

He said to the barman: "I got a party out there, Doc. A big party, see?
The house might stand to make a mint. How's about drinks?"

The barman considered it. The barman was still considering it when
Gannett went back to the wheel with a fifth of scotch and four glasses
and a dish of olives. He made drinks. In each one he put an olive. By
this time, of course, he was getting a little loud, but nobody could
blame him for that. When the drinks were made and placed before the two
women and the man, he was ready. He grinned around, rubbed his hands
together and winked a sly little leering wink at the redhead.

The wheel spun, stopped. Zero. The redhead had brought down the house.

"By God!" whispered Gannett in frank admiration. "Lady, you sure got
luck. 'Nother little snifter just to nail it tight?"

Gannett liked the idea. He drank her drink for her and made a face
over the olive. He poured another. He made more bets for everybody and
then thought of something. Excusing himself once more, he got a roll
of quarters from the cashier cage and, breaking it open, fed them into
a big glittering juke box over in the corner. That done, he pushed
down a row of tabs and went back to the table.

Everybody seemed to be having a time. The redhead just couldn't lose.
Three separate times Gannett was forced to collect chips from other
tables in order to keep the game going, but he didn't mind. He even
said to the redhead once:

"Lady, ten more minutes and we sign the joint over to you. But have
fun; you're doing swell."

Once more he consulted the thoughtful barman, and more than once he had
to go back to the juke box and punch tabs, but that was all right. He
liked music.

At ten minutes past three in the morning, with all the chips in the
place before the lucky redhead he finished his last bottle.

He lifted his eyes and considered a crystal chandelier which hung from
the exact center of the broad ceiling. It was a beautiful chandelier.
It looked as though it might have graced the banquet hall of some
castle over in England, back in the days when England was a tight
little isle. He grinned appreciatively at it. He pitched the empty
bottle upward.

There was a crash. Half the lights in the place went out.

Bowing solemnly to the scattered immobile figures, Gannett lurched to
the big door up front. He tried a bow to the friendly floorman, but
it didn't quite go over. He banged through the doors and out into the
street.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gannett groaned his aching body out of bed and padded heavily to the
window. He put his big hands on the sill and looked out. Purple snow
was falling on a quiet world. The flakes came down softly, big wet,
colored things like fluffy bits of cotton candy escaping from a circus
in the sky. There was his jeep down on the street where he had left it.
He could recognize it, for it was the only jeep on the block.

"Then it wasn't no lousy dream," he said miserably.

He went back to the bed and sat down on the edge of it. He recalled the
headlines in the paper.

"Them lousy Reds," he whispered. "They done this, sure as hell."

That made him think a little. Everybody was dead, even the redhead in
the Golden Bubble who couldn't lose.

"What the hell am I doin' alive, then?" he asked himself.

There was no answer to that. He thought of his mine, _The Lousy
Disappointment_, and wondered if, living most of the time below the
surface as he did, he had been protected from some sort of purple gas
or something that seemed to have killed off everybody else. It could
be. Some very light gas, maybe, that wouldn't seep below the surface.

"Aw, for cripe sakes!" he grunted disgustedly.

He dressed and left the room. He went downstairs. There was the lobby,
all soft, quiet carpeting and soft, quiet furniture and soft, quiet
drapes. A sheet of paper on a writing desk said _Grand Pachappa_. He
was in a hotel, then. He must have wandered into it after he left the
Golden Bubble.

He carefully avoided looking at two well-dressed women who sat in
lobby chairs, staring off into nothing, but he felt their presence
chillingly. He shivered. He made his way outside, the purple snow
coming down and giving his cheeks wet, cold caresses. He angrily
brushed them off, but they came down anyway. Above the snow, the sky
was a sodden mass of purplish gray.

He found a restaurant that was open. A few customers sat on the stools
like statues in a museum. All the coffeemakers were on the electric
stove, but they were dry and clean except one that had no bottom in it
any more and was quite discolored. Beneath it, the round electric coil
still glowed faithfully.

He grabbed up one of the clean pots and took it to the metal rinse
sink and reached for the faucet. And then his hand froze. What if the
water was tainted? He had no way of finding out if it didn't carry that
identifying purplish tint. He tried the faucet. It did.

The milk in the refrigerator was three weeks old, of course. Gannett
ended by opening a bottle of Pepsi Cola for breakfast.

The sky stayed leaden, but even so there were many things apparent
now that he hadn't seen the night before. A lack of heavy traffic on
the streets would seem to indicate that what had happened--purple gas
or whatever--had been very late at night; even so, traffic accidents
were everywhere. There was one big sedan with its front end crushed
against the First Olympic Bank. There was one cop who had died trying
to tie his right shoe--his fingers still clutched the laces. There was
a doctor (his car had a caduceus emblem on the windshield) who had just
stepped down to the street, his bag in his left hand and his right hand
on the door, ready to slam it shut. He had a serious, purposeful look
on his face that even the falling purple snow couldn't quite eradicate.

Despite the cold, sweat frosted Gannett's forehead. He made his way
to a radio and television store and kicked in a glass panel of the
front door. Stepping through to the clamor of the suddenly aroused
night-warning bell, he went directly to a TV set and turned it on.

The big screen tube flickered after a while and a scratching hum came
out of the speaker, but nothing happened. He tried all the channels.
Nothing.

He tuned in a big radio console next, going carefully and slowly across
the dial with a hand that shook. Even though the night-warning bell was
kicking up quite a racket, he could tell after a moment or two.

Nothing....

       *       *       *       *       *

The sky was getting dark as Gannett left the store. The purple snow
still fell. It was then that he noticed for the first time the gay
street decorations in preparation for Christmas. Big paper bells with
plenty of glittering tinsel and electric lamps inside them.

On the corner of First and Virginia, he saw a big iron kettle of some
Salvation Army Santa. Hanging from its metal tripod, it looked quite
natural, except that it was filled with purple snow; and the Santa who
was supposed to ring his little bell was holding it stiffly over his
head. He and the bell were frozen silent.

There was a large department store. Inside, in the show window, was
a Christmas display that would delight the kiddies. There was a big
Christmas tree trimmed with every imaginable ornament.

Beneath the tree, electrically activated toy soldiers jerked robotlike
through their precise military designations, their lithographed faces
looking stern and very brave. There was a clown who did uncounted
somersaults; a lifelike doll who clapped her hands in glee. There was
an aluminum bomber with a wing-spread of three feet--it was held in the
air by almost invisible wires--and its six propellers droned in perfect
unison, making a brisk little wash that rustled the silk of the little
doll's dress. And around the base of the tree, through valley and over
mountain, into tunnel and over spiderweb trestle, was a railroad track.
It should have had busy little trains on it, except that it didn't--the
trains had been derailed at a whistle stop called North Pole.

Gannett's eyes twitched.

The sky grew darker; the purple snow continued to fall silently.
Gannett went by the Masonic Lodge, the YMCA, and crossed the little
stone bridge over the frozen Truckee River. He came to the heavy gray
stone building of First Community Church.

He stopped in front of the church and stared at it. It was a solid,
respectable-looking building. It was a very nice thing, indeed, to have
here in Reno.

"Christmas Eve," Gannett whispered through cold lips. "This is
Christmas Eve!"

He went up six purple-snow covered stone steps. He reached the top
where the stone steps ended and where the big square stone slab was,
that slab where the minister stands when the weather is fair, and
shakes hands with the congregation after the service.

Somewhere above, in the steeple, bells struck off the hour of eight. A
timing device did that. Many churches had such timing devices to save
labor. And as though that were a signal, a loudspeaker, attached way up
on the spire especially for this festive season, began to growl out
preparatory scratching noises, like a big metal monster clearing its
throat.

Gannett pulled on the wrought brass handles of the closed oaken door.
The door didn't budge. He grabbed the handles in both hands and braced
his feet. He pulled hard. The door was locked.

"God," he whispered hoarsely. "God, this is me. I gotta get in, God.
God, listen, _I gotta get in_!"

High above, in the steeple, the loudspeaker was finally ready with a
cheerful little carol.

"_God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen!_" the voices of a dead choir roared out
upon the silent city.





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