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´╗┐Title: Summer Guests
Author: Schmitz, James H.
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 "Summer Guests" ***

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



                             Summer Guests

                          By JAMES H. SCHMITZ

                _No birds were these, and surely not of
               a feather, and there was no need to tell
               Mel by the company he kept--it told him!_

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
             Worlds of If Science Fiction, September 1959.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


All through that Saturday night, rain drummed down mercilessly and
unseasonably on Sweetwater Beach. Thunder pealed and lightning flared.
In between, Mel Armstrong heard the steady boom of the Pacific surf not
a block from his snug little duplex apartment. Mel didn't mind any of
it. He was in bed, slightly swacked and wholly comfortable. He dozed,
and now and then woke up far enough to listen admiringly to the racket.

At nine A. M., when he opened his eyes once more, he discovered
the room was full of summer sunshine. Beyond his window gleamed a
cloudless sky, and only the occasional gusts of wind indicated there
had been anything like a storm during the night.

An exceptionally beautiful Sunday morning--made more beautiful,
perhaps, by the fact that it marked the beginning of Mel Armstrong's
annual two-week paid vacation. Mel was a salesman for Marty's Fine
Liquors, a wholesale house. He was twenty-eight and in fairly good
shape, but his job bored him. This morning, for the first time in
months, he was fully aware of that. Perhaps it was the weather. At any
rate, he had a sense, almost a premonition, of new and exciting events
approaching him rapidly. Events that would break down the boundaries of
his present humdrum existence and pitch him into the life of romantic
adventure that, somehow, he seemed to have missed so far....

Recognizing this as a day-dream, but unwilling to give it up
completely, Mel breakfasted unhurriedly in his pajamas. Then, struck by
a sudden, down-to-earth suspicion, he stuck his head out of his living
room window.

As he'd guessed, there were other reminders of the storm in the narrow
courtyard before the window. Branches and assorted litter had blown
in, including at least one soggily dismembered Sunday paper. The low
rent he paid for his ground-floor apartment in the Oceanview Courts
was based on an understanding with the proprietor that he and the
upstairs occupant of the duplex would keep the court clean. The other
five duplexes that fronted on the court were bulging with vacationing
visitors from the city, which made it a real chore in summer.

Unfortunately, he couldn't count on his upstairs neighbor, a weird
though rather amiable young character who called herself Maria de
Guesgne. Maria went in for painting abstractions, constructing mobiles,
and discussing the works of Madame Blavatsky. She avoided the indignity
of manual toil.

Mel made himself decent by exchanging his pajamas for swimming trunks.
Then he got a couple of brooms and a hose out of a garage back of the
court and went to work.

       *       *       *       *       *

He'd cleared the courtyard by the time the first of the seasonal guests
began to show up in their doorways, and went on to inspect another,
narrower court behind his duplex, which was also his responsibility.
There he discovered Maria de Guesgne propped on her elbows on her
bedroom window sill, talking reproachfully to a large gray tomcat that
was sitting in the court. Both turned to look at Mel.

"Good morning, Mel!" Maria said, with unusual animation. She had long
black bangs which emphasized her sallow and undernourished appearance.

"Morning," Mel replied. "Scat!" he added to the cat, which belonged to
somebody else in the neighborhood but was usually to be found stalking
about the Oceanview Courts.

"You shouldn't frighten poor Cat," said Maria. "Mel, would you look
into the bird box?"

"Bird box?"

"The one in the climbing rose," said Maria, leaning precariously from
the window to point. "To your left. Cat was trying to get at it."

The bird box was a white-painted, weather-beaten little house set into
a straggly rose bush that grew out of a square patch of earth beside
Mel's bedroom window. The box was about ten feet above the ground.

Mel looked up at it.

"I'm sure I heard little birds peeping in it this morning!" Maria
explained sentimentally.

"No bird in its senses would go into a thing like that," Mel assured
her. "I don't hear anything. And besides--"

"Please, Mel! We don't want Cat to get them!"

Mel groaned, got a wobbly step-ladder out of the garage and climbed
up. The gray cat walked over and sat down next to the ladder to watch
him.

He poked at the box and listened. No sound.

"Can't you open the top and look in?" Maria inquired.

Holding the box in one hand, Mel tentatively inserted his thumbnail
into a crack under its top and pushed. The weathered wood splintered
away easily.

"Don't break it!" Maria cried.

Mel put his eye to the crack he'd made. Then he gasped, jerked back,
letting go of the box, teetered wildly a moment and fell over with the
step-ladder. The cat fled, spitting.

"Oh, my!" said Maria, apparently with some enjoyment. "Poor Mel! Are
you hurt?"

Mel stood up slowly. The bright morning world seemed to be spinning
gently around him, but it wasn't because of his fall. "Of course not,"
he said. His voice quavered somewhat.

"Oh?" said Maria. "Well, then--_are_ there any little birds in the
nest?"

Mel swallowed hard. "No," he said. He bent over and carefully picked
up the ladder and placed it against the wall. The action made it
unnecessary to look at her.

"Eggs?" she asked in a hopeful tone.

"No eggs either! No nothing!" His voice was steady again, but he had
to get rid of Maria. "Well, I'll clean up this court now, I guess.
Uh--maybe you'd like to come down and lend a hand?"

Maria replied promptly that she certainly would like to, but she hadn't
had breakfast yet; and with that she vanished from the window.

Mel looked round stealthily. The cat was watching from the door of the
garage, but no one else was in sight.

Hurriedly, he replaced the step-ladder under the bird nest and climbed
up again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Setting the box carefully down on the table in his living room, he
locked the apartment door and closed the Venetian blinds. All this had
been done in a sort of quiet rush, as if every second counted, which it
did in a way. Mel wasn't going to believe, even for a moment, that what
he thought he'd seen in that box could be really there; and he couldn't
disprove it fast enough to suit him. But something warned him that he
wouldn't want to have any witnesses around when he did take his second
look.

Then, as he turned from the window, he heard a thin piping cry, a voice
as tiny as the peeping of a mouse, coming from the table, from the box.

An instant fright reaction froze him where he stood. The sounds
stopped again. There was a brief, faint rustle, like the stirring of
dry parchment, and then quiet.

The rustling, he thought, must have been the wings--he'd been _sure_
they had wings. Otherwise--

It could all have been an illusion, he told himself. An illusion that
transformed a pair of featherless nestlings into something he still
didn't want to give a name to. Color patterns of jade and pink flashed
into his memory next, however, which made the bird theory shaky. Say a
rather small green-and-pink snake then, or a lizard--

Except, of course, for the glassy glitter of the wings. So make
it instead, Mel thought desperately, a pair of big insects, like
dragonflies, only bigger....

He shook his head and moistened his lips. That wouldn't explain that
tiny voice--and the more he tried to rationalize it all, the more
scared he was getting. Assume, he took the mental jump, he really
had seen the figures of two tiny, naked, green-and-pink people in
there--with wings! One didn't have to drag in the supernatural to
explain it. There were things like flying saucers, presumably, and
probably such beings might exist on other worlds.

The thought was oddly reassuring. He still felt as if he'd locked
himself in the room with things potentially in the class of
tarantulas, but there was excitement and wonder coming up now. With a
surge of jealous proprietorship, he realized that he didn't want to
share this discovery with anybody else. Later, perhaps. Right now, it
was _his_ big adventure.

The room was too dim to let him distinguish anything inside the box as
he had outdoors, and he was still reluctant to get his face too close
to it. He gave it a gingerly rap with his knuckle and waited. No sound.

He cleared his throat. "Hello?" he said. Immediately, that seemed like
an idiotic approach. Worse than that, it also brought no reaction.

For the first time, Mel had a sense of worry for the occupants of the
box. There was no way of guessing how they'd got in there, but they
might be sick or dying. Hurriedly he brought a lamp over to the table
and tried to direct light inside, both through the round hole in its
side and through the opening he'd made in the top. It wasn't very
effective and produced no stir within.

With sudden decision, he shoved one hand into the opening, held the box
with the other and broke off the entire top. And there they were.

Mel stared at them a long time, his fears fading slowly. They were
certainly alive! One was green, a tiny body of luminous jade, and the
other was silkily human-colored, which was why he had been confused on
that point. The wings could hardly be anything else, though they were
very odd-looking, almost like thin, flexible glass.

He couldn't force himself to touch them. Instead, he laid a folded
clean towel on the table and tilted the box very slowly over it. A
series of careful tappings and shakings brought the two beings sliding
gently out onto the towel.

Two delicately formed female figurines, they lay there a moment,
unmoving. Then the green one passed a tiny hand over her forehead in
a slow, completely human gesture, opened slanted golden eyes with
startled suddenness and looked up at Mel.

He might still have thought he was dreaming, if his attention hadn't
been caught just then by a detail of undream-like realism. The other,
the human-colored one, seemed to be definitely in a family way.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were sitting on the folded bath towel in a square of afternoon
sunlight which came in through the kitchenette window. The window was
high enough up so nobody could look in from outside, and they seemed to
want the warmth of the sun more than anything else. They did not appear
to be sick, but they were still rather languid. It wasn't starvation,
apparently. Mel had put bits of a variety of foods on a napkin before
them, and he changed the samples as soon as his guests indicated they
weren't interested. So far, canned sardine was the only item that had
attracted them at all, and they hadn't done much more than test that.

Between moments of just marveling at them, assuring himself they were
there and not an illusion, and wondering _what_ they were then and
where they'd come from, Mel was beginning to get worried again. For all
he knew, they might suddenly die on the bath towel.

"Miss Green," he said in a very low voice--he didn't want to give Maria
de Guesgne any indication he was in the house--"I wish you could tell
me what you like to eat!"

Miss Green looked up at him and smiled. She was much more alert and
vivacious than the other one who, perhaps because of her condition,
merely sat or lay there gracefully and let Miss Green wait on her.
The relationship seemed to be about that of an elf princess and her
personal attendant, but they were much too real-seeming creatures to
have popped out of a fairy tale, though their appearance did arouse
recurrent bursts of a feeling of fairy tale unreality, which Mel hadn't
known since he was ten. But, tiny as they were, Miss Green and the
princess primarily gave him the impression of being quite as functional
as human beings or, perhaps, as field mice.

He would have liked to inspect the brittle-seeming wings more closely.
They seemed to be made up of numerous laminated, very thin sections,
and he wondered whether they could fly with them or whether their race
had given up or lost that ability.

But touching them might have affected their present matter-of-fact
acceptance of him, and he didn't want to risk that....

A door banged suddenly in the apartment overhead. A moment later, he
heard Maria coming down the hall stairs.

Mel stood up in sudden alarm. He'd known for some time that his
neighbor had supplied herself with a key to his apartment, not to pry
but with the practical purpose of borrowing from the little bar in
Mel's living room when she was out of both money and liquor. She rarely
took much, and until now he'd been more amused than annoyed.

       *       *       *       *       *

He went hurriedly into the living room, closing the door to the
kitchenette behind him. If Maria knocked, he wouldn't answer. If she
decided he was out and came in to steal his liquor, he would pretend to
have been asleep in the chair and scare the hell out of her!

She paused before the apartment door a moment, but then went out into
the court.

Mel waited until her footsteps died away, going toward the street. As
he opened the door to the kitchenette, something buzzed noisily out of
the living room past his shoulder--a big, unlovely looking horsefly.
The apartment screens didn't fit too well, and the fly probably had
been attracted by the smell of food.

Startled, he stopped to consider the new problem. There was a
flyswatter hanging beside the door, but he didn't want to alarm his
guests--and then, for the first time, he saw Miss Green's wings unfold!

She was up on her feet beside the princess, who remained sitting on the
towel. Both of them were following the swift, erratic course of the big
fly with more animation than they'd shown about anything so far.

Miss Green gave a sudden piping cry, and the glassy appendages on her
back opened out suddenly like twin transparently gleaming fans, and
blurred into motion too swift for Mel to follow.

Miss Green rose into the air like a tiny human helicopter, hands up
before her as if she were praying.

It wasn't till the horsefly swerved from the kitchenette window and
came buzzing back that Mel guessed her purpose.

There was a sharper, fiercer drone like a hornet's song as she darted
sideways into the insect's path. Mel didn't see her catch it. Its
buzzing simply stopped, and then she was dropping gently back to the
towel, with the ugly black thing between her hands. It looked nearly as
big as her head.

There was an exchange of cheerful piping cries between the two. Miss
Green laughed up at Mel's stupefied face, lifted the motionless fly to
her mouth and neatly bit off its head.

Mel turned hurriedly and went into the living room. It wasn't, he told
himself, really so _very_ different from human beings eating a chicken.
But he didn't feel up to watching what he knew was going to be a
dismemberment and a feast.

At any rate, the horsefly had settled the feeding problem. His guests
could take care of themselves.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night, Miss Green hunted down a few moths. Mel woke up twice with
the sudden sharp drone in his ears that told him she had just made her
catch. Both times, it was a surge of unthinking physical fright that
actually roused him. Awake, and remembering the disproportion in size
between himself and the huntress, his reaction seemed ridiculous; but
the second time he found he was reluctant to go back to sleep until it
would appear that Miss Green was done with her foraging.

So he lay awake, listening to the occasional faint indications of her
continuing activity within his apartment, and to more familiar sounds
without. A train rattled over a crossing; a police siren gave a sudden
view halloo and faded into silence again. For a long time, there was
only the whispering passage of distant cars over wet pavements, and the
slow roll and thump of the surf. A haze of fog beyond the window turned
the apartment into a shut-off little world of its own.

Miss Green moved about with no more than a whisper of air and the muted
pipe of voices from the top of the kitchenette cupboard to show where
she was. Mel had put a small carton up there, upholstered with the
towel and handkerchiefs and roofed over with his best woolen sweater,
to make a temporary home for his guests. The princess hadn't stirred
from it since, but Miss Green remained busy.

He started suddenly to find her hovering directly over his bed,
vaguely silhouetted against the pale blur of the window. As he stared,
she settled down and came to rest on the blanket over his chest,
effortlessly as a spider gliding down along its thread. Her wings
closed with a faint snap.

Mel raised his head carefully to squint down along the blanket at her.
It was the first time either of them had made anything resembling
a friendly advance in his direction; he didn't want to commit any
blunders.

"Hello," he said quietly.

Miss Green didn't reply. She seemed to be looking up at the window,
disregarding him, and he was content to watch her. These strange
creatures seemed to have some of the aloofness of cats in their manner,
and they might be as easily offended.

She turned presently, walked up over the blanket and perched herself on
Mel's pillow, above his head and somewhat to his right. And there she
stayed silently. Which seemed catlike, too: the granting of a reserved
and temporary companionship. He would not have been too surprised to
hear a tiny purring from above his ear. Instead, drowsily and lulled in
an odd way by Miss Green's presence, he found himself sinking back into
sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

It wasn't surprising either that his mind should be filled for a time
with vague pictures of her, but when the room about him seemed to have
expanded into something like a faintly luminous fish-bowl, he knew he
was dreaming. There were others present. They were going somewhere,
and he had a sense of concern, which had to do either with their
destination or with difficulties in getting there. Then a realization
of swift, irrevocable disaster--

There were violent lurchings as the luminosity about him faded swiftly
into blackness. He felt a terrible, energy-draining cold, the wet
clutch of death itself, then something like a soundless explosion about
him and anguished cryings. The motion stopped.

Blackness faded back to gray, but the cold remained. Icy water was
pounding down on him now, as if he were fighting his way through
a vertical current carrying somebody else. A desperate hunt for
refuge--and finding it suddenly, and slipping inside and relaxing into
unconsciousness, to wait for the return of warmth and life....

Mel's eyes opened. The room was beginning to lighten with morning. He
turned his head slowly to look for Miss Green. She was still there, on
the pillow beside his head, watching him; and there was something in
her position, in the unwinking golden eyes, even in her curious fluff
of blue-white hair, that reminded him now less of a cat than a small
lizard.

He didn't doubt that she had somehow enabled him to share the
experience that in part explained their presence here. Without thinking
he asked aloud "What happened to the others?"

She didn't move, but he was aware of a surge of horrified revulsion.
Then before his open eyes for a moment swam a picture of a bleak,
rain-beaten beach ... and, just above the waterline, in a cluster of
harsh voices, jabbing beaks and beating wings, great gulls were tearing
apart a strange jetsam of tiny bodies too weakened to escape--

A small, plaintive crying came from the kitchenette. The picture faded
as Miss Green soared into the air to attend to her princess.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mel breakfasted in the living room, thoughtfully. He couldn't quite
understand that luminous vehicle of theirs, or why it should have
succumbed to the rain storm of Saturday night, which appeared to be
what had happened. But his guests obviously were confronted with the
problem of getting back to wherever they'd come from--and he didn't
think Miss Green would have confided in him if he wasn't somehow
expected to be helpful in solving the problem.

There was a thump on the sill outside his bedroom window, followed by
an annoyed meowing. The gray cat that had been spying on the bird box
seemed to suspect he was harboring the refugees. Mel went out into the
little courtyard through the back door of the duplex and chased the
animal away. The fog, he saw, was thinning out quickly; in an hour or
so it would be another clear day.

When he came in, Miss Green fluted a few soft notes, which Mel chose to
interpret as gratitude, from the top of the cupboard and withdrew from
sight again.

One couldn't think of them, he decided, as being exactly like any
creatures of Earth. The cold rain had been very nearly deadly to them,
if the memory Miss Green had transmitted to him was accurate--as
destructive as it had been to their curious craft. Almost as if it
could wash right through them, to drain vital energies from their
bodies, while in the merely foggy air of last night she had seemed
comfortable enough. It indicated different tolerance spans with more
sharply defined limits.

The thought came into his mind:

Venus?

It seemed possible, even if it left a lot to explain. Mel got up in
sudden excitement and began to walk about the room. He knew not much
was known about the second planet, but he had a conviction of being
right. It struck him he might be involved in an event of enormous
historical significance.

Then, stopping for a moment before the window, he saw it--

Apparently high in the gray sky overhead, a pale yellow circle moved,
much smaller than the sun, but like the disk of the sun seen ghostlike
through clouds. Instantly, another part of his dream became clear to
him.

       *       *       *       *       *

He lost his head. "Miss Green! Come here, quick!"

A buzz, the swift drone of wings, and she was beside him, perching on
his shoulder. Mel pointed.

She gave a lamenting little cry of recognition. As if it had been a
signal, the yellow circle darted sideways in a long streaking slant,
and vanished. Miss Green fled to report to the princess, while Mel
stayed at the window, and quickly returned to him again. Evidently she
was both excited and distressed, and he wondered what was wrong. If
that apparition of pale light had been one of their vessels, as her
behavior indicated, it seemed probable that its mission was to hunt for
survivors of the lost globe.

Miss Green seemed either less sure of that, or less confident that the
rescue would be easily effected. Some minutes later, she pointed to
a different section of the sky, where the yellow circle--or another
very like it--was now moving slowly about. Presently it vanished again,
and when it reappeared for the second time, it was accompanied by two
others.

Meanwhile, Miss Green might have been transmitting some understanding
of the nature of her doubts to Mel, because the ghostly vagrants
now gave him an immediate impression of insubstantiality: not
space-spanning luminous globes but pictured shapes projected on the
air. His theory of interplanetary travelers became suddenly much less
probable.

In the next few moments, the concept he was struggling with abruptly
completed itself in his mind, so abruptly, in fact, that there was no
longer any question that it had originated with Miss Green. The rescue
craft Mel thought he was seeing actually were just that.

But the pictures in the sky were only signals to possible survivors
that help was approaching. The globes themselves were elsewhere,
groping their way blindly and dangerously through strange dimensions
that had nothing to do with the ones Mel knew.

And they were still, in some manner his imagination did not even
attempt to clarify, very, very "far away."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I was wondering what you'd done with the bird box," Maria de Guesgne
explained. "It's not there in the bush any more!"

Mel told her annoyedly that the bird box had been damaged by the storm,
and so he'd thrown it into the incinerator.

"Well," Maria said vaguely, "that's too bad." Her handsome dark eyes
were shifting about his living room meanwhile, not at all vaguely. Mel
had left the apartment door partly open, and she had walked right in on
her way to the market. When she wasn't drinking or working herself up
to a bout of creative painting, which seemed to put her into a tranced
sort of condition, Maria was a highly observant young woman. The
question was now how to get her out of the apartment again before she
observed more than he wanted her to.

"How does it happen you're not at work on Monday afternoon?" she
inquired, and set her shopping bag down on the armchair.

Keeping one eye on the kitchenette door, Mel explained about his
vacation. Miss Green hadn't been in sight for almost an hour; but he
wasn't at all sure she mightn't come out to inspect the visitor, and
the thought of Maria's probable reactions was unnerving.

"Two weeks?" Maria repeated chattily. "It'll be fun having you around
for two weeks--unless you're going off to spend your vacation
somewhere else. Are you?"

"No," Mel said. "I'm staying here--"

And at that moment, Miss Green came in through the kitchenette door.

At least, Mel assumed it was Miss Green. All he actually saw was a
faint blur of motion. It went through the living room, accompanied by a
high-pitched hum, and vanished behind Maria.

"Good Lord!" she cried, whirling. "What's that? _Oh!_" The last was a
shrill yelp. "It stung me!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Mel hadn't imagined Miss Green could move so fast. Rising and falling
with furious menace, the sound seemed to come from all points of the
room at once, as Maria darted out of the apartment. Clutching her
shopping bag, Mel followed her out hastily and slammed the door behind
them. He caught up with Maria in the court.

She was rubbing herself angrily.

"I'm not coming into that apartment again, Mel Armstrong," she
announced, "until you've had it fumigated! That thing kept stinging me!
What was it, anyway?"

"A wasp, I guess." Mel felt weak with relief. She hadn't really seen
anything. "Here's your bag. I'll chase it out."

Maria stalked off, complaining about screens that didn't even protect
people against giant wasps.

Mel found the apartment quiet again and went into the kitchenette. Miss
Green was poised on the top edge of the cupboard, a gold-eyed statuette
of Victory, laughing down at him, the laminated wings spread and raised
behind her like iridescent glass fans. Mel looked at her with a trace
of uneasiness. She had some kind of small white bundle in her arms,
and he wondered whether it concealed the weapon with which she'd stung
Maria.

"I don't think you should have done that," he told her. "But she's gone
now."

Looking rather pleased with herself, Miss Green glanced back over her
shoulder and piped a few questioning notes to the princess. There was
a soft reply, and she soared down to the table, folded her wings and
knelt to lay the bundle gently down on it. She beckoned to Mel.

Mel's eyes popped as she unfolded the bundle. Perhaps he really
shouldn't have been surprised.

He was harboring four guests now--the princess had been safely
delivered of twins.

       *       *       *       *       *

At dusk, Miss Green widened the biggest slit in the bedroom screen a
little more and slipped out to do her own kind of shopping, with a
section of one of Mel's handkerchiefs to serve as a bag.

Mel left the lights out and stayed at the window. He felt depressed,
but didn't quite know why--unless it was that so many odd things had
happened since Sunday morning that his mind had given up trying to
understand them.

He wasn't really sure now, for example, whether he was getting
occasional flash-glimpses of those circular luminous vessels plowing
through another dimension somewhere, or whether he was half asleep and
imagining it. Usually it was a momentary glow printed on the dark air
at the edge of his vision, vanishing before he could really look at it.

He had a feeling they had managed to come a good deal closer during
the day. Then he wondered briefly whether other people had been seeing
strange light-shapes, too, and what they might have thought the
glimpses were.

Spots before their eyes, probably.

Miss Green was back with a soft hum of wings, on the outer window sill,
six feet from where he sat. She pushed the knotted scrap of cloth
through the screen. There was something inside it now; it caught for
a moment on the wires. Mel started up to help, then checked himself,
afraid of feeling some bug squirming desperately inside; and while he
hesitated, she had shoved it through. She followed it, picked it up
again and flew off to the living room. After a moment she returned with
the empty cloth and went out again.

She made eight such trips in the next hour, while night deepened
outside and then began to lighten as a half-moon shoved over the
horizon. Mel must have dozed off several times; at least, he suddenly
found himself coming awake, with the awareness that something had just
landed with a soft thump on the window sill outside.

It wasn't Miss Green. He saw a chunky shadow at one corner of the
window, and caught the faintest glint of green eyes peering into the
room. It was the cat from the courtyard.

In the same moment, he heard the familiar faint hum, and Miss Green
appeared at the opposite end of the sill.

       *       *       *       *       *

Afterward, Mel realized he'd simply sat there, stiffening in groggy,
sleep-dazed horror, as the cat-shadow lengthened and flowed swiftly
toward the tiny humanoid figure. Miss Green seemed to raise both arms
over her head. A spark of brilliant blue glowed from her cupped hands
and extended itself in an almost invisible thread of fire that stabbed
against the cat's forehead. The cat yowled, swung aside and leaped
down into the court.

Mel was on his feet, shaking violently, as Miss Green slipped in
through the screen. He heard Maria open her window upstairs to peer
down into the court, where the cat was making low, angry sounds.
Apparently it hadn't been hurt, but no wonder Maria had suspected that
afternoon she'd been stung by a wasp! Or that Miss Green's insect
victims never struggled, once she had caught them!

He pulled down the shade and stood undecided in the dark, until he
heard her piping call from the living room. It was followed by an
impatient buzzing about the standing lamp in there, and Mel concluded
correctly that he was supposed to turn on the light.

He discovered her on the living room table, sorting out the plunder she
had brought back.

It wasn't a pile of electrocuted insects, as he had expected, but a
puzzlingly commonplace collection--little heaps of dry sand from the
beach, some small white pebbles, and a sizable bundle of thin twigs
about two inches in length. Since she was disregarding him, he shifted
the lamp over to the table to see what this human-shaped lightning bug
from another dimension was going to do next.

That was the way he felt about Miss Green at the moment....

What she did was to transport the twigs in two bundles to the top of
the cupboard, where she left them with the princess. Then she came back
and began to lay out a thin thread of white sand on the dark, polished
surface of the table.

Mel pulled up his armchair, poured himself a glass of brandy, lit a
cigarette, and settled down to watch her.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the time Miss Green indicated to him that she wanted the light
turned out again, he had finished his second drink and was feeling
rather benevolent. She had used up all her sand, and about a square
foot of the table's surface was covered now with a confusingly
intricate maze of lines, into which she had placed white pebbles here
and there. Some of the lines, Mel noticed, blended into each other,
while others stopped abruptly or curved back on themselves. As a
decorative scheme, it hardly seemed worthwhile.

"Miss Green," he told her thoughtfully, "I hope it makes sense to you.
It doesn't to me."

She piped imperiously, pointing: the light! Mel had a moment of
annoyance at the way she was ordering him around in his own apartment.

"Well," he said, "I'll humor you this time."

For a moment after he had pulled the switch, he stood beside the table
to let his eyes adjust to the dark. However, they weren't adjusting
properly--a patch of unquiet phosphorescent glimmering floated
disturbingly within his field of vision, and as the seconds passed, it
seemed to be growing stronger.

Suddenly, Mel swore in amazement and bent down to examine the table.

"Now what have you done--?" he began.

Miss Green fluted soothingly at him from the dark and fluttered up to
his shoulder. He felt a cool touch against his ear and cheek, and a
burst of oddly pleasant tinglings ran over his scalp.

"Stop that!" he said, startled.

Miss Green fluted again, urgently. She was trying to tell him something
now, and suddenly he thought he understood.

"All right," he said. "I'll look at it. That's what you want me to do,
isn't it?"

Miss Green flew down to the table again, which indicated agreement.
Mel groped himself back into the chair and leaned forward to study the
curiously glowing design she had created of sand and pebbles.

He discovered immediately that any attempt to see it clearly merely
strained his vision. Details turned into vaguely distorted, luminous
flickerings when he stared at them, and the whole pale, spidery pattern
made no more sense than it had with the light on. She must have some
purpose in mind with it, but Mel couldn't imagine what.

Meanwhile, Miss Green was making minor adjustments in his position
which Mel accepted without argument, since she seemed to know what she
was doing. Small tugs and pushes told him she wanted his hands placed
on the table to either side of the design. Mel put them there. His
head was to be tilted forward just so. He obliged her again. Then she
was back on the table, and the top two-thirds of the pattern vanished
suddenly behind a blur.

After a moment, he realized she had opened her wings and blotted that
part from his sight.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the darkness, he fastened his puzzled gaze on the remaining section:
a quivering, thinly drawn pattern of blue-white light that faded
periodically almost to the limits of visibility and slowly grew up
again to what was, by comparison, real brilliance. His head was aching
slightly. The pattern seemed to tilt sideways and move upward, as if it
were creeping in a slow circle about some pivot-point. Presently, it
turned down again to complete the circle and start on another round.
By that time, the motion seemed normal.

When a tiny shape of light suddenly ran across the design and vanished
again as it reached the other side, Mel was only moderately surprised.
The figure had reminded him immediately of Miss Green. After a while,
it crossed his field of vision in another direction, and then there
were two more....

He seemed to be swimming forward, through the pattern, into an area
of similar tiny figures like living silhouettes of light, and of
entrancingly delicate architectural designs. It was like a marionette
setting of incredible craftsmanship, not quite real in the everyday
sense, but as convincing as a motion picture which was spreading out,
second by second, and beginning to flow about him--

"Hey!" Mel sat up with a start. "You're trying to hypnotize me!"

Miss Green piped pleadingly. Clearly, she had only been trying to show
him something. And wasn't it beautiful? Didn't he want to see more?

Mel hesitated. He was suspicious now, but he was also curious. After
all, what could she do to him with her tricks?

Besides, he admitted to himself, the picture had vanished as soon as he
shifted his eyes, and it _was_ beautiful, like moving about through a
living illustration of a book of fairy tales.

He yielded. "All right, I do want to see more."

This time, the picture grew up out of the design within seconds. Only
it wasn't the same picture. It was as if he had turned around and was
looking in another direction, a darker one.

There were fewer of the little light-shapes; instead, he discovered in
the distance a line of yellow dots that moved jerkily but steadily,
like glowing corks bobbing on dark water. He watched them for a moment
without recognition; then he realized with a thrill of pleasure
that he was getting another view of the luminous globes he had seen
before--this time an other-dimensional view, so to speak.

Suddenly, one of them was right before him! Not a dot or a yellow
circle, but a three-foot ball of fire that rushed toward him through
the blackness with hissing, sputtering sounds!

Mel surged up out of the chair with a yelp of fright, and the fireball
vanished.

As he groped about for the light, Miss Green was piping furiously at
him from the table.

Then the light came on.

       *       *       *       *       *

She was in a rage. Dancing about on the table, beating the air with her
wings, she waved her arms over her head and shook her tiny fists at
him. Mel backed off warily.

"Take it easy!" he warned. He could reach the flyswatter in the
kitchenette with a jump if she started shooting off miniature electric
bolts again.

She might have had the same idea, because she calmed down suddenly,
shook her wings together and closed them with a snap. It was like a cat
smoothing down its bristling back fur. There was a whistling query from
the princess now, followed by an excited elfin conversation.

Mel poured himself a drink with a hand that shook slightly, and
pretended to ignore the disturbance of his guests, while he tried to
figure out what had happened.

Supposing, he thought a trifle guiltily, settling down on the couch
at a safe distance from the table--supposing they simply had to
have his help at this point. The manner in which one of the rescue
globes suddenly had seemed to shift close to him suggested it. Was
he justified in refusing to go on with it? In the directionless dark
through which the globes were driving, they might have been reacting to
his concentrated awareness of them as if it were a radio signal from
the human dimensions. And it would explain Miss Green's rage at the
sudden interruption of the contact.

But another thought came to him then, and his guilty feelings vanished
in a surge of alarmed indignation.

Well, and just supposing, he thought, that he _hadn't_ broken the
contact. And that a three-foot sputtering fireball materialized right
inside his living room!

He caught sight of Miss Green eying him speculatively and rather slyly
from the table. She seemed composed enough now; there was even the
faintest of smiles on that tiny face. The smile seemed to confirm his
suspicions.

Mel downed his drink and stood up.

"Miss Green," he told her evenly, choosing his words with care, "I'm
sorry to disappoint you, but I don't intend to be the subject of any
more of your experiments. At least not until I've had time to think
about it."

Her head nodded slightly, as if she were acknowledging his decision.
But the smile remained; in fact, Miss Green had begun to look rather
smug. Mel studied her uneasily. She might be planning to put something
else over on him, but he knew how to stop that!

Before he turned out the light and went to bed, Mel methodically and
somewhat grimly swallowed four more shots of brandy. With that much
inside him, it wouldn't matter what Miss Green tried, because he
wouldn't be able to react to her suggestions till he woke up again in
the morning.

       *       *       *       *       *

Actually it was noon before he awoke--and he might have gone on
sleeping then if somebody hadn't been banging on his apartment door.

"Wake up, Mel!" he heard Maria de Guesgne shouting hoarsely. "I can
hear you snoring in there!"

He sat up a little groggily and looked at the clock. His guests weren't
in sight.

"You awake, Mel?" she demanded.

"Wait a minute!" he yelled back. "Just woke up and I'm not decent."

When he opened the door, she had vanished. He was about to close it
quietly and gratefully again, when she called down the stairway. "That
you, Mel? Come on up! I want to show you something."

He locked the door behind him and went upstairs. Maria received him
beamingly in her living room. She was on one of her rare creative
painting sprees, and this spree, to judge by the spattered appearance
of the room and the artist, was more riotous than usual. A half dozen
fair-sized canvases were propped on newspapers against the wall to dry.
They were turned around, to increase the shock effect on Mel when he
would get his first look at them.

"Ever see a salamander?" Maria inquired with anticipation, spreading a
few more papers on the table.

Mel admitted he hadn't. He wished she'd given him time to have coffee
first. His comments at these private showings were usually regarded as
inadequate anyway.

"Well," Maria invited triumphantly, selecting one of the canvases and
setting it abruptly up on the table before him, "take a look at one!"

Mel gasped and jerked back. "Holy Judas!" he said in a weak voice.

"Pretty good, eh?" For once, Maria appeared satisfied with his
reaction. She held it away from her and regarded it. "One of my best!"
she cried judiciously.

About three times life-size, it was a quite recognizable portrait of
Miss Green.

       *       *       *       *       *

It didn't occur to Maria to offer Mel coffee but he got a cigarette
from her. Fortunately, he wasn't called upon to make any more comments;
she chattered away while she showed him the rest of the series. Mel
looked and listened, still rather shaken. Presently he began to ask
questions.

A salamander, he learned, was a fire elemental. Maria glanced at her
fireplace as she explained this, and Mel noticed she seemed to have
had a fire burning there overnight, which wasn't too unusual for her
even in the middle of summer. Listening to the bang-haired, bright-eyed
oddball rattling off metaphysical details about salamanders, he
became aware of a sort of dread growing up in him. For Miss Green was
pictured, wings and arms spread, against and within furling veils of
yellow-white flame...

"Drawn from life?" he inquired, grinning to make it a joke. He pointed
at the picture.

Without looking directly at her, he saw Maria start at the question.
She stared at him intensely for a moment, and after that she became
more reticent.

It didn't matter because it was all on the canvases. She had seen as
much as he had and more, and put it down with shocking realism. Seen
through somebody else's eyes, Miss Green's world was still beautiful;
but now it was also frightening. And there was what Maria had said
about salamanders.

"Maria," he said, "what actually happened last night?"

She looked at him sullenly. "I don't know what you're talking about,
Mel."

"I imagine," he suggested casually, "you were just sitting there in
front of the fire. And then--"

"Gosh, Mel, she was beautiful! It's _all_ so beautiful, you know ..."
She recovered quickly. "I fell asleep and I had a dream, that's all.
Why? What makes you ask?"

She was beginning to look rather wild-eyed, but he had to find out. "I
was just wondering," he said, "whether they'd left."

"Why should they leave--Look, you oaf! I called you in to give you the
privilege of looking at my paintings. Now get out. I've got to make a
phone call."

He stopped at the door, struck by a sudden suspicion. "You're not going
to try to sell them, are you?"

"_Try_ to sell them!" She laughed hoarsely. "There are circles, Mel
Armstrong, in which a de Guesgne original is _understood_, shall we
say? Circles not exactly open to the common herd ... This series," she
concluded, rather prosaically, "will get me two thousand bucks as soon
as I let one or two of the right people have a look at them!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Brewing himself a pot of coffee at last, Mel decided that part of
it, if true, wasn't any of his business. He had always assumed Maria
was living on a monthly check she got from an unidentified source
in Chicago, but her occasional creations might have a well-heeled
following, at that. As for the way Miss Green had got in to sit for her
portrait--the upstairs screens weren't in any better shape than the
downstairs ones. The fiery background, of course, might have been only
in Maria's mind.

There was a scratching on top of the cupboard and whispery voices.
Mel ignored the slight chill that drifted down his spine. Up to that
moment, he'd been hoping secretly that Maria had provided a beacon for
the rescue team to home in on while he slept, and that his guests had
been picked up and taken home.

But Miss Green was peering down at him over the edge of the cupboard.

"Hi, salamander!" he greeted her politely. "Had a busy night? Too bad
it didn't work."

Her head withdrew. In the living room Mel stopped to look at the design
of sand and pebbles, which was still on the table. Touching one of the
threadlike lines, he discovered it was as hard and slick as lacquer.
Otherwise the pattern seemed unremarkable in daylight, but Mel dropped
a cloth across it to keep it out of sight.

Miss Green fluttered past him to the sill of the bedroom window. He
watched her standing on tiptoe against the screen, apparently peering
about at the sky. After a while, it began to seem ridiculous to let
himself become obsessed by superstitious fears about this tiny and
beautiful, almost jewellike creature. Whatever abilities she might
have, she and the princess were only trying to get home--and, having
seen their home, he couldn't blame them for that.

He had a return of the fairy-tale nostalgia his glimpse of those eerily
beautiful places had aroused in him the night before, a pleasantly
yearning sensation like an awareness of elfin horns blowing far away
to send faint, exciting echoes swirling about the commonplace sky
of Sweetwater Bay. The feeling might have been resurrected from his
childhood, but it was a strong and effective one.

He recalled how bored he'd been with everything before they appeared ...

He walked softly through the bedroom and stopped behind Miss Green. She
was making an elaborate pretense of not having noticed his approach,
but the pointed ears that could follow the passage of a moth in the
dark were tilted stiffly backward. Mel actually was opening his
mouth to say, "Miss Green, I'll help you if I can," when it struck
him sharply, like a brand-new thought, that it was an extremely rash
promise to make, considering everything that had happened so far.

He wondered how the odd impulse ever had come to him.

In sudden suspicion, he began to trace the last few minutes through
again. He had started with a firm decision not to let his guests
involve him in their plans any more than was healthy for him, if at
all--and the decision had been transformed, step by step, and mental
twist by mental twist, into a foolish willingness to have them make use
of him exactly as they pleased!

Miss Green, still maliciously pretending to watch the sky, let him
think it all out until it became quite clear what she had done and how
she had done it. And then, as Mel spluttered angrily at this latest
interference with his freedom of thought and action, she turned around
and laughed at him.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a way, it cleared the air. The pressure was off. Maria had proved a
much more pliable subject than Mel; the rescuers had their bearings and
would arrive presently. Meanwhile, everybody could relax.

Mel couldn't help feeling relieved as he grew sure of that. At the same
time, now that the departure was settled, he became aware of a certain
amount of belated regret. Miss Green didn't seem to know the exact
hour; she was simply watching for them well ahead of their arrival.

Where would they show up? She waved her arms around in an appealingly
helpless gesture at the court outside and the sky. Here,
there--somewhere in the area.

It would be a fire globe. At his question, she pointed at the opposite
wall of the court where a picture of one formed itself obligingly,
slid along the wall a few feet, and vanished. Mel was beginning to
enjoy all this easy last-minute communication, when he heard Maria
come downstairs and open the door to the other court. There was
conversation, and several sets of footsteps went up to her apartment
and down again.

Cautioning Miss Green, he took a look around the shutters of the
living room window. A small panel truck stood in the court; Maria was
supervising the careful transfer of her paintings into its interior.
Apparently she didn't even intend to let them dry before offering them
for sale!

The truck drove off with Maria inside with her paintings, and Mel
discovered Miss Green doing a little spying of her own from the upper
edge of the shutters. Good friends now, they smiled at each other and
resumed their guard at the bedroom window.

The princess joined them around five in the afternoon. Whether she had
been injured in the accident or weakened by the birth of her babies,
Mel couldn't tell, but Miss Green carried her friend down from the
cupboard without visible effort, and then went back for a globular
basket of tightly woven tiny twigs, which contained the twins.

It was a masterfully designed little structure with a single opening
about the thickness of a pencil, and heavily lined. Mel had a notion
to ask for it as a souvenir, but decided against it. He lifted it
carefully to his ear, to listen to an almost inaudible squeaking
inside, and his expression seemed to cause Miss Green considerable
silent amusement.

All in all, it was much like waiting patiently in pleasant company for
the arrival of an overdue train. Then, around seven o'clock, when the
room was already dark, the telephone rang abruptly and returned Mel
with a start to the world of human beings.

He lifted the receiver.

"Hello, oaf!" said Maria de Guesgne in what seemed for the moment to be
an enormous, booming voice.

Mel inquired agreeably whether she'd succeeded in selling her
paintings. It was the first thing that occurred to him.

"Certainly I sold them!" Maria said. He could tell by now that she was
thoroughly plastered again. "Got a message to give you," she added.

"From whom?"

"Maybe from me, ha-ha!" said Maria. She paused a moment, seemed to be
muttering something to herself, and resumed suddenly, "Oaf, are you
listening?"

Mel said bluntly that he was. If he hung up on her, she would probably
ring back.

"All right," Maria said clearly. "This is the message: 'The fiery
ones do not tolerate the endangering of their secrets.' Warning, see?
Goo'-bye."

She hung up before he could say anything.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hers had been a chilling sort of intrusion. Mel stood a while in the
darkening room, trying to gather up the mood Maria had shattered, and
discovering he couldn't quite do it. He realized that all along, like
a minor theme, there had been a trace of fear underlying everything he
did, ever since he had first looked into that bird box and glimpsed
something impossible inside it. He had been covering the fear up; even
now he didn't want to admit it, but it was there.

He could quite simply, of course, walk out of the room and out of the
apartment, and stay away for a week. He didn't even ever have to come
back. And, strictly speaking, this was the sort of thing that should
have happened to somebody like Maria de Guesgne, not to him. For him,
the sensible move right now would be to go quietly back into the normal
world of reality he had stepped out of a few mornings ago. It was a
simple physical act. The door was over there...

Then Mel looked back at his guests and promptly reversed his decision.
They were certainly as real as any living creatures he'd ever seen, and
he felt there weren't many human beings who would show up as well as
Miss Green had done in any comparable emergency. His own unconscious
fears meant only that he had run into a new and unpredictable factor in
a world that had been becoming increasingly commonplace for a number of
years now. He could see that once you'd got settled into the idea of a
commonplace world, you might be startled by discoveries that didn't fit
that notion--and he felt now, rather hazily, that it wasn't such a bad
thing to be startled like that. It might wake you up enough to let you
start living again yourself.

He took the receiver off the phone and laid it on the floor, so there
wouldn't be any more interruptions. If he ran off now before seeing how
the adventure ended, he knew he would never quit regretting it.

He went into the bedroom and pulled his chair back up to the window.
The shadowy silhouette that was Miss Green turned and sounded a few
fluting notes at him. He had the immediate impression that she was
worried.

What was the matter?

She pointed.

Clouds!

       *       *       *       *       *

The sky was still full of the pastel glowings of the sunset. Here and
there were patches of black cloud, insignificant-looking, like ragged
crows swimming through the pale light.

"_Rain_," the thought came. "_The cold rain--the killing rain! Another
storm!_"

Mel studied the sky uneasily. They might be right. "Your friends are
bound to get here first," he assured them, looking confident about it.

They smiled gratefully at him. He couldn't think of anything he might
do to help. The princess looked comfortable on the towel he had laid
along the screen, and Miss Green, as usual, looked alert, prepared to
handle anything that had to be handled. He wondered about asking her to
let him see how the globes were doing, and, instantly, a thought showed
clear in his mind: "_Try it yourself!_"

That hadn't occurred to Mel before. He settled back comfortably in the
chair and looked through the screen for them.

Four or five fiery visualizations quivered here and there in the air,
vanished, reappeared, vanished ...

Mel stopped looking for them, and there was only the sky.

"Closer?" he said aloud, rather pleased with himself. It had been easy!

Miss Green nodded, human fashion, and piped something in reply. Closer,
but--

He gathered she couldn't tell from here how close, and that there was
trouble--a not quite translatable kind of trouble, but almost as if, in
_their_ dimension, they were struggling through the radiant distortions
of a storm that hadn't gathered yet here on Earth.

He glanced up at the sky again, more anxiously now. The black clouds
didn't seem to have grown any larger.

       *       *       *       *       *

By and by, because he had not had any awareness of going to sleep,
Mel was surprised to find himself waking up. He knew immediately that
he had been asleep a long time, a period of hours. There was grayness
around him, the vague near-light of very early morning, and he had a
sense of having been aroused by a swirling confusion of angry sounds.
But all was silent at the moment.

Her answer was instantly in his mind. The storm had caused a delay--but
a great globe was almost here now!

A curious pause followed. Mel had a sense of hesitation. And then, very
swiftly and faintly, a wisp of thought, which he would have missed if
that pause had not made him alert, showed and vanished on the fringe
of his consciousness:

"_Be careful! Be very careful._"

Miss Green turned back to the window. Beside her now, Mel saw the
princess sitting as if asleep, with one arm across the twig basket and
her head resting on her arm. Before he could frame the puzzled question
that was struggling up in his mind, there was a series of ear-splitting
yowls from the court outside. It startled Mel only for a moment,
since it was a familiar sort of racket. The gray cat didn't tolerate
intruding felines in its area, and about once a month it discovered and
evicted one with the same lack of inhibition it was evidencing right
now. It must have been the threatening squalls which usually preceded
the actual battle that had awakened him.

The encounter itself was over almost instantly. There were sounds of a
scampering retreat which ended beyond the garage, and, standing up at
the window, Mel saw the gray shape of the winner come gliding back down
the court. The cat stopped below him and seemed to turn up its head.
For a moment, he felt it was staring both at him and at Miss Green,
very much like a competent little tiger in the gusty, gray night; then
it made a low, menacing sound and moved on out of sight. Apparently it
hadn't yet forgotten its previous meeting with Miss Green.

Mel looked down at her. "Why should I be careful?"

There was a pause again, and what came then hardly seemed an answer
to his question. The princess was very weak, Miss Green indicated; he
might have to help.

He was still wondering about that--and wondering, too, whether he'd
really had something like a warning from her--when a sudden wavering
glare lit up the room behind them!

For a moment, he thought the fireball was inside the building. But the
light was pouring in through the living room window; its source was in
the opposite court, out of his line of sight. There was a crackling,
hissing sound, and the light faded.

Miss Green came darting at him. Mel put his hand up instinctively and
felt her thrust the basket into it. Almost instantly, she had picked up
the princess and was outside the screen--

Then the cat attacked from below in a silent, terrible leap, a long,
twisting shadow in the air, and they seemed to drop out of sight
together.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mel was out in the court, staring wildly around. In the swimming
grayness nothing stirred or made sound. A cool, moist wind thrust at
his face and faded. Except for the toy basket of twigs in his hand, he
might have been awakening from a meaningless dream.

Then a lurid round of light like a big, wavering moon came out over the
top of the building, and a sharp humming sound drove down through the
air at him. Instinctively again, he held out the basket and felt it
plucked away. He thought it was Miss Green, but the shape had come and
gone much too swiftly to be sure of that.

The light grew brilliant, a solid white--intolerable--and he backed
hurriedly into the shelter of the garage, his heart hammering in
excitement and alarm. He heard voices from the other court; a window
slammed somewhere. He couldn't guess what was happening, but he didn't
need Miss Green's warning now. He had an overwhelming urge to keep out
of sight until the unearthly visitor would be gone--

And then, running like a rabbit, the gray cat appeared from behind
a box halfway down the court and came streaking for the garage. Mel
watched its approach with a sort of silent horror, partly because it
might be attracting undesirable attention to him--and partly because he
seemed to know in that instant exactly what was going to be done to it.

It wasn't more than twenty feet away when something like a twisting
string of fiery white reached down from above. The animal leaped
sideways, blazed and died. There was a sound very like a gunshot, and
the court was instantly dark.

Mel stayed where he was. For half a minute or so, he was shaking much
too violently to have left his retreat. By the end of that time, he
knew better. It wasn't over yet!

Pictures forming in the moist, dark air ... delicate, unstable outlines
sliding through the court, changing as they moved. Elfin castles swayed
up out of grayness and vanished again. Near the edge of his vision
other shapes showed, more beautiful than human...

Muttering to himself, between terror and delight, Mel closed his
eyes as tightly as he could, which helped for a moment. But then the
impressions began drifting through his mind. The visitors were still
nearby, hanging somewhere outside the limits of human sight in their
monstrous fireball, in the windy sky. They were talking to him in their
way.

Mel asked in his mind what they wanted, and the answer showed
immediately. The table in his living room with the pattern of glassy
sand and pebbles Miss Green had constructed. The pattern was glowing
again now under the cloth he had thrown over it. He was to go in and
look at the pattern ...

"No!" he said aloud. It was all terror now.

"_Go look at the pattern ... Go look at the pattern ..._"

The pictures burst round him in a soundless wild flowering of beauty,
flickering rains of color, a fountain of melting, shifting forms. His
mind drowned in happiness. He was sinking through a warmth of kindness,
gratitude and love...

       *       *       *       *       *

A drift of rain touched his cheek coldly--and Mel found himself outside
the garage, moving drunkenly toward the apartment door. Then, just for
a moment, a picture of Miss Green printed itself on his mind.

She seemed to be standing before him, as tall now as he was,
motionless, the strange wings half spread. The golden unhuman eyes were
looking past him, watching something with cold malice and contempt--and
with a concentration of purpose that made a death's mask of the
perfectly chiseled green face!

In that second, Mel understood the purpose as clearly as if she had
told him. In the next, the image disappeared with a jerky, complete
abruptness--

As if somebody were belatedly trying to wipe it out of his memory as
well! But he knew he had seen her somehow--somewhere--as she actually
was at that moment. And he knew what she had been watching. Himself,
Mel Armstrong, staggering blindly about in his other-dimension, down in
the court!

He hadn't stayed in the court. He was back in the garage, backed
trembling against a wall. She--_they_--weren't trying to show him
gratitude, or reward him somehow; before they left, they simply wanted
to destroy the human being who had found out about them, and whom
they had used. The table and the pattern were some sort of trap! What
he couldn't understand was why they didn't simply come down in their
fireball and kill him as they had the cat.

They were still pouring their pictures at him, but he knew now how
to counteract that. He stared out through the garage window at the
lightening sky--looked at, listened to, what was there, filling his
mind with Earth shapes and sounds!

And he promptly discovered an ally he hadn't been counting on. He
hadn't really been aware of the thumping wind before, and the sketchy
pattering of raindrops, like a sweeping fall of leaves here and there.
He hadn't even heard, beyond the continuous dim roar of surf from the
beach, the gathering mutter of thunder!

They couldn't stay here long. The storm was ready to break. They
weren't willing to risk coming out fully into the Earth dimension to
hunt him down. And he didn't have to go to their trap ...

Rain spattered louder and closer. The sweat chilled on Mel's body as
his breathing grew quieter. They hadn't left him yet. If he relaxed
his eyes and his mind, there was an instant faint recurrence of the
swirling unearthly patterns. But he could keep them out by looking at
what was really here. He only had to wait--

Then the rain came down in a great, rushing tide, and he knew they were
gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a few seconds, he remained where he was, weak with relief. Over
the noise of the storm, he heard human voices faintly from the other
court and from neighboring houses. That final crash must have awakened
everybody--and someone had seen the great globe of fire when it first
appeared.

There should be some interesting gossip in the morning!

Which concerned Mel not at all. After drinking in the sweet certainty
of being still alive and safe, he had become aware of an entirely
unexpected emotion, which was, curiously, a brief but sharp pang of
grief at Miss Green's betrayal. Why, he must have been practically in
love with that other-dimensional, human-shaped rattlesnake! Mulling it
over in moody amazement at himself, it struck Mel suddenly then that
one could interpret her final action somewhat differently, too.

Because she could have planted that apparently revealing picture of
herself deliberately in his mind, to stop him from stumbling into the
trap the others had set for him! She might have been planning to save
him from the beginning, or merely relented at the last moment. There
was no way of ever really knowing now, but Mel found he preferred to
believe that Miss Green's intention was good.

In the driving rain, he hesitated a moment beside the blackened lump
that had been the cat, but he couldn't force himself to pick it up and
remove it. If someone else found it, it might add to the gossip, but
that wasn't any business of his any more. Everyone knew that lightning
did funny, selective things. So far as he was concerned, the matter was
all over.

He opened the duplex door and stood staring.

His apartment door was open and the room beyond was dark, as he had
left it. But down the little stairway and out of Maria's upstairs
apartment, light poured in a quiet flood.

       *       *       *       *       *

She must have returned during the night while he was sleeping, probably
drunk as a hoot-owl. The commotion downstairs hadn't been enough to
arouse her. But something else had--she'd come down following swirling,
beautiful, unearthly pictures, hunting the pattern that would guide her
straight into a promised delight!

Mel didn't have to reach into the apartment to switch on the light.
Lightning did funny, selective things, all right, and from where he
stood, he could smell what had happened. They hadn't wasted that final
bolt, after all!

Oddly enough, what was uppermost in his mind in those seconds, while he
continued to put off seeing what he was going to have to look at very
soon, was the final awareness of how he must have appeared in their
eyes:

A stupid native, barely capable of receiving training and instruction
enough to be a useful servant. Beyond that, they had simply had no
interest in him.

It was Maria they had worried about. The mental impressions he'd picked
up in the court had been directed at her. Miss Green had been obliged
to stop him finally from springing a trap which was set for another.

For Maria, who might have endangered their leaving.





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