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Chapter 2

Inside the trailer, nothing happened. Lane went grimly through it, making sure there was no opening to the outer air. The ventilator above the small cook-stove was open. He closed it. The result of these precautions was stifling heat, but Lane felt cold chills down his spine simply by thinking of invisible stranglers trying to worm their way in to where the three humans were. There were times, too, when a deep and bitter rage took possession of him.

Be still! said Professor Warren irritably, as she paced up and down the confined space of the trailers living section. You make me hot to look at you! I have to think things out. Either we are all quite insane, or the people who used to own the Monster were much more sensible than weve been!

Carol sat quietly, looking from one to the otherher buxom aunt in khaki riding breeches, and Lane seething in citified tweeds. Outside the trailer there was a rocky shelf which loomed over a valley to the east.

They said that things sat on their chests and stopped their breaths, Professor Warren went on, so they ducked under the covers and the hants went away. I was scornful! But now I think that they may have been right!

Lane forced himself to sit down. He lighted a cigarette. There was something that tried to strangle me, he said savagely, and it whined while it did so. I heard the same sound just outside, and the dog saw something. But whatever attacked me and the Monster was invisible! And thats impossible! Real things cant be invisible!

Not quite invisible, the professor said calmly. What do you think I was trying to do with screen wire set up on the two sides of a bit of buzzard bait? I was trying to see what kept it from reeking to high heaven! Didnt you ever hold a match six inches from your nose, and look at the world through the hot gases above the flame? Things wobble and waver when you do. How do you think I made up my mind there were gaseous dynamic systems around here? When you look through one of them, things waver and wobble! The things youre talking about are just as invisible as the column of hot air above a match, which means theyre not easy to seeyou have to know what to look forbut they can be seen! Then what tried to kill me?

Certainly a dynamic system, the professor insisted. It had to be. A dynamic system is a parcel of matter using energy in a patterned way. A whirlwinds a dynamic system. Sos a gasoline engine. Or a rabbit, or a man. Whatever attacked you and the Monster had to be a dynamic system because it used energy in a patterned fashion. Look here! Blow a smoke ring.

Lane blinked. The professor gestured impatiently. He blew a smoke ring. It went slowly across the stifling hot interior of the trailer, expanding as it went.

That, said the professor, is a very simple dynamic system. Its a quantity of air which happens to have a toroidal motion. It isnt alive. Its only a vortex ring. You can see it because the air of which its composed happens to contain smoke. But a vortex ring can exist in plain air just as

Aunt Ann! Look at the smoke ring! It was Carol, her voice strained.

The professor blinked. Then she looked at the thin, drifting ring of smoke. It was deformed. It was bent on one side exactly as if it had struck something solid.

The professor said, Thats it! Theres one now! You can see the ceiling waver through it.

There was a sudden motion of the air. The unseeable something which had deflected the smoke ring moved. The tendrils of smoke wavered and curled through the space from which they had previously been barred.

Its one of them! exulted the professor. Right in here! But why doesnt the Monster react? Fetch him out.

Lane dragged the dog, cowering, from underneath a stool. He held the dog up. The brute panted and wriggled. He gave no sign of fright. His tongue lolled.

If there is something here, said Lane, he doesnt smell it. And it cant be seen or hed see it. It

There were now flat layers of tobacco smoke in the air, made visible by sunlight striking into the room through closed glass windows. There was no air movement except the extremely slow general turnover of air in a closed room, but something passed swiftly through those tranquil layers of vapor, disturbing them. It was startling. It was appalling. Lane did not see any wavering of the background behind it.

Item! said the professor with satisfaction. We have a good observation indicating that there are sometimes dynamic systems in air which can move through smoke layers and disturb them. Perhaps we should provide ourselves with sheets to pull over our heads.

She beamed at Lane, who looked warily at Carol.

It got in, probably when the dog did, he said grimly.

The professor rubbed her hands. Of course! she said zestfully. But we know how to keep it from harming any of us! Im going to catch this specimen and find out a few things about it!

Lanes eyes went back to Carol. She was watching all the interior of the trailer with steady, intent eyesbeautiful eyes, Lane thought, but troubled now.

If its what we think, its dangerous, Lane pointed out. The first thing should be to get her away from this place. I feel responsible. I let the thing in here.

Pooh! said the professor.

She went to a cupboard built into the wall of the trailer, and took out some folded sheets. She shook one open, lengthwise, and tossed it to her niece. It spread out in the air.

The Monster snarled. He cried out at the sheet, barking and snarling and yelping all at once, his voice rising in pitch. The professors mouth dropped open. The sheet fell almost upon Carol, but it didnt reach the floor everywhere. One edge was caught up upon a stool. Besides, there was a spot where something writhed and squirmed and whined shrilly beneath it. That something was roughly rounded and somewhat more than a foot in diameter. It was caught under the cloth, and apparently could not lift it.

The Monster went mad with terror. He made a tumult of fear and ferocity together. He screamed at the somehow horrible shapelessness beneath the white cloth. Yet he cringed away from it as he made his high-pitched din.

But one edge of the sheet was caught on a stool. The throbbing thing seemed to fight its way toward that upraised edge. Suddenly the sheet sagged. Whatever had been trapped was trapped no longer. It seemed to Lane that its whining became a sound of maniacal fury. The Monster dived out of sight and moaned in terror.

Carol made a convulsive movement. Lane jerked his eyes to her. Her eyes were wide and terrified. Her mouth was open. She tried to gasp. She choked, suffocating, beating the air before her with her hands.

Lane plunged toward her, snatching up the cloth, which ripped because one of his feet was on it. He did not notice the resistance. He flung it over Carols head in instinctive use of the professors dictum that a sheet over ones head would be sound sense at such a moment.

Then horror filled him. The sheet did not fall naturally about her. It draped over her head, but it enclosed something else. Something huge and invisible clung to her, whining and throbbing.

It was so completely revolting that at any other time Lane would have felt sick. But now he thrust out his hands. Something pulsating stirred his fingers through the cloth. He found Carols face while she struggled and put his hands together, scooping away the thing that clung to her. It filled a great part of the remains of the sheet. He clenched it tightly until hed made the cloth into a bag whose neck he held fast. It was like a rubber balloon imprisoned in the sack, but no balloon ever fought against a cloth that held it, nor emitted a shrill bloodcurdling sound.

Lanes hair felt as if it were standing straight on end, and horror flowed up his wrists from his hands and fingers. But he twisted the cloth, and twisted it again, compressing the captured tiling into a smaller and smaller space.

And suddenly there was nothing imprisoned in the cloth. It collapsed, and there was a reek of carrion in the air.

Professor Warren was pounding on his shoulders.

Stop it! Stop it! she cried furiously. Then she swore briefly. Too late! Youve killed it!

Lane said thickly, Ill burn it

Oh, Carols all right, said the professor. And its dead. But we learned some interesting items.

Im going to make sure its dead!

Professor Warren shrugged her shoulders. The Monster moaned and whimpered in his hiding place.

Hush! said Professor Warren angrily. She listened, with her head cocked on one side. There was a sound outside the trailer, now. It was a thin, high-pitched whine, save that it was made of many voices and was loud. It gave the impression of a frenzied anger shared by many things.

Hm, said the professor after a moment. After all, it was a brilliant idea to insist that we close all the windows. It sounds as if our guest had friends, and theyve come to help him or her or it to murder Carol.

How can I make sure this thing is dead? demanded Lane. He still held the limp sack of cloth in his grip. But he was looking at Carol, who had buried her face in her hands.

If, said Professor Warren, with a fine air of competence, if you took a jellyfish and put it in a cloth bag and twisted until youd wrung the jellyfish out through the cloth, I dont think youd be worried about whether it was dead or not. Thats what you did with this thing. She added exuberantly: It was alive. It had a certain degree of intelligence. Perhaps a considerable degree. Its amazing! And if you sniff you cant help knowing something about its metabolism! No wonder the buzzards were temperamental! There were no smells for them to see!

She stood still a moment, gloating over her discoveries. Then she moved to the other end of the living space and struck a match. She put water on the small, bottled-gas stove.

For coffee, she said beaming. To celebrate. Im going to make some notes while the water boils. Wildly imaginative, am I? Ill show them some wild imagination! A dynamic system of gases, unquestionably living because it has undetermined but demonstrable intelligence, emotional reactions, and at least some degree of communication with its fellows! We irritated it and it called the others while it attacked! Let em try to classify a Gizmo like that!

She sat down and pulled out a notebook. She began to write, absorbedly and swiftly. The Monster moaned. There remained a raging, whining noise in the air outside. Lane listened. Hed been trying for a long time to find an unknown killer of game and men. Hed found a something which not only tried to kill him, but the girl. It had been filled with fury toward a human being. Now others of its kind shrilled the same insane anger.

Dont worry! said the professor, without looking up from where she scribbled. The thing inside here couldnt lift a sheet. They cant turn over the trailer.

Lane glared out a window. He saw the strained shapes of trees as they grew on the rocky ground. He saw blue sky, very bright as compared to the shadowed mountainside. He moved to the other side of the trailer and looked away, down into the valley. He saw the blurred edge of the mountains shadow cast on some of the isolated small fields below. Far out he saw a buzzard in leisurely and effortless flight. The tree branches were still, their leaves motionless. It was a moment of late hot afternoon in which the air should have been filled with the triumphant stridulations of insects and the cries of birds. But there was no sound except the venomous shrill whining of things no man had yet seen, yet which were murderers.

Carol stirred, and he turned to her. She was white and shaken.

Youre all right? asked Lane awkwardly. She nodded. But her hands trembled. Drink of water? She shook her head.

He sat down beside her. Weve got to find a better way of killing them, he said grimly, and then well take you somewhere where youll be safe.

She tried to smile. He felt a certain lifting of the spirit. She was exactly what a girl should be. He found himself marveling at the fact that her cheek curved so exactly as it ought, and her lips were exactly as they should be, and that the line of her throat was absolutely the only perfect way that a throat should curve. He had the sensation of discovery which is pure satisfaction. He was delighted to look; he did not wonder where this delight might lead. She, being a woman, probably did. Well have to try fire, he said sagely. And therell be odors they cant take. And therell be weapons we can make, especially to destroy the organization of the gas theyre made of. Well beat them.

Ofof course, she agreed. She hesitated a moment. Fire might do. I know what Aunt Ann thought about them. Shes said that theyre probably ghostsor the origin of ghost stories. She says theyre almost certain kin to will-o-the-wisps and corpselights and such things that float over swamps, shining faintly in the dark. They exist, but nobodys ever caught one. They must use energy to keep themselves in existence. Aunt Ann has been guessing that the things shes discovered may use the gases of decay as will-o-the-wisps use marsh-gas, to supply the energy that maintains them. As we use food. If shes right, fire might bother them.

Lane listened with a sort of urgent respectfulness. But he also listened to the whining noise outside.

Savages, added Carol, cover their faces when they sleep. And its rare theyll sleep without a fire going, Aunt Ann says. They believe that ghosts and devils are afraid of fire, and they cover their faces lest evil spirits bother them. If thethings like those that tried to kill us are the things that savages really fear, their superstitions protect them by what they make them do. And the things, if they learned that humans were always protected, would tend to ignore men and attack only lower animals.

Except, growled Lane, that now theyve found we arent savages and so arent protected. But theres more than that. They must be much more numerous than theyve ever been before. Or a new and deadly kind may have appeared He listened to the whining outside. These things could have started the tales of fiends and devils; the old stories told of devils tearing people to bits. These dont even wound animals, but their victims have been found in the middle of destruction. The effect is of violent murder, but the cause could be the violent death struggles of the victims.

Professor Warren slapped her notebook shut. Hah! she said triumphantly. Ill pin their ears back! Imaginative, am I? Wait till I march into the Biological Department with some of these things trapped in jars. A gaseous organism with a gas metabolism! Ive got to get bigger jars!

Im trying, said Lane, to figure out a way to kill them. Theyre waiting outside by the dozens now. Maybe hundreds. It did not occur to himnot yetthat there might be thousands. Or more.

We can protect ourselves, said Professor Warren zestfully, with sheets over our heads. If they cant stop our breathing, they cant do any damage.

Lane was unconvinced. Angry as he was, he could not but remember that there had been a thinga gas entitya Gizmo in the trailer. It had made no whining sound. It acted as if guided by cunning, calling no attention to itself until discovered by accident. Perhaps it had meant to wait until the occupants of the trailer were asleep. An attack in darkness and during slumber could be irresistible. In short, the Gizmos might be cleverer than Professor Warren credited. The attempt to kill him had been shrewd, after he escaped the first assault by tumbling into deep dried leaves.

If you want to try sheets as a protection, he said shortly, Ill try it. Im responsible for their being here.

Professor Warren snorted. Nonsense! Before you got here the buzzards stopped coming to bait because the Gizmos were consuming the gases they looked for. They were here then. And what happened to the gnats and flies and mosquitoes? And the rabbits and the hen quail on their nests? Dont be absurd! They were here before you came. They didnt attack us; the one you killed attacked only after it was trapped. But they were around before you got here.

Lane said grimly: Thats part of my point. If these things are the foundation for legends of devils, they have the necessities of devils, the first of which is that nobody shall believe he exists. Now that these things know that we know of their existence, they need to kill all of us.

Professor Warren raised her eyebrows. I know theyre impossible, she protested, even if theyre true. But are you suggesting theyre intelligent?

Im afraid so, said Lane. If they were the devils of old legend, they contrived deals by which they were worshiped and supplied with the smells of burned flesh and spilled, rotting blood. The pagan deities

Professor Warren grimaced. Dont tell me Ive discovered a pantheon! If theyre intelligent, wheres the evidence?

Ive got an idea how to get it, said Lane, if they havent the information to keep them from revealing themselves.

He gathered up the sheet which had been the means of capture and execution of one of the creatures the professor called Gizmos, among other things. He spread the sheet over one of the closed trailer windows. Carol saw what he was about, and came to help. They draped the window so that it was completely covered by the closely woven cloth. Lane knotted it at the corners so that it was tight, yet there was a fullness in the center of the window opening. He made use of that fullness to slide aside the window and open it slightly.

Nothing happened. The distinctly audible whining sound died as soon as he began to fumble at the window. There was no sound at allno birdcall or chirrup of insects. There was not even the whisper of wind among the trees of the mountainside. In bright sunshine, the unnatural stillness was horrible.

They waited, staring at the curiously draped window. Nothing happened at all. Lane shrugged.

I thought Id provoke a mass attack by opening the window. If they were stupid, I thought one might try to poke inside. But if they were intelligent, I thought theyd try to storm the trailer in a rush we couldnt possibly handle. I was wrong.

Then the Monster yelped in terror. His hackles rising, he backed into the farthest corner of the trailer, snarling at the open window.

You were right, said the professor.

Things hit the draped cloth, which billowed out tautly. It almost seemed to stretch with the violence of massed Gizmos pushing against it. They tore and tugged at it, their whining filling the interior of the vehicle. It was unspeakably horrible that they should rave so terribly at so flimsy a barrier, and not be able to rend it.

Lane leaped toward the window. The sheet could not be torn. But the tuggings and throbbings of the individually weak murderers were loosening the cloth from the corners of the window frame. One edge billowed momentarily, and a vicious whine of triumph flashed past Lane. He heard Carol cry out.

He thrust back the barrier. He beat at the cloth with his fists, as if to destroy the yielding things by blows. Carol cried out again: Aunt Ann! Here! Come here!

There were strugglings. The Monster screamed and snapped. It fought madly against unseeable nothingness. Another part of the cloth barrier bulged to its very edge.

Chapter 1 | War with the Gizmos | Chapter 3