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Thirteen Phantasms

Books mail-ordered from the distant past. A holographic eye dispatched from the future by parcel post. Will they ever meet?

by James P. Blaylock

There was a small window in the attic, six panes facing the street, the wood frame unpainted and without moldings. Leafy wisteria vines grew over the glass outside, filtering the sunlight and tinting it green. The attic was dim despite the window, and the vines outside shook in the autumn wind, rustling against the clapboards of the old house and casting leafy shadows on the age-darkened beams and rafters. Landers set his portable telephone next to the crawl-space hatch and shined a flashlight across the underside of the shingles, illuminating dusty cobwebs and the skeleton frame of the roof. The air smelled of dust and wood, and the attic was lonesome with silence and moving shadows, a place sheltered from time and change.

A car rolled past out on the street, and Landers heard a train whistle in the distance.

Somewhere across town, church bells tolled the hour, and there was the faint sound of freeway noise off to the east like the drone of a perpetual-motion engine. It was easy to imagine that the wisteria vines had tangled themselves around the window frame for some secretive purpose of their own, obscuring the glass with leaves, muffling the sounds of the world.

He reached down and switched the portable phone off, regretting that he’d brought it with him at all. It struck him suddenly as something incongruous, an artifact from an alien planet. For a passing moment he considered dropping it through the open hatch just to watch it slam to the floor of the kitchen hallway below.

Years ago old Mr. Cummings had set pine planks across the two-by-six ceiling joists to make a boardwalk beneath the roof beam, apparently with the idea of using the attic for storage, although it must have been a struggle to haul things up through the shoulder-width attic hatch. At the end of this boardwalk, against the north wall, lay four dust-covered cardboard cartons — full of “junk magazines,” or so Mrs. Cummings herself had told Landers this morning. The cartons were tied with twine, pulled tight and knotted, all the cartons the same. The word Astounding was written on the side with a felt marker in neat, draftsmanlike letters. Landers wryly wondered what sort of things Mr. Cummings might have considered astounding, and after a moment he decided that the man had been fortunate to find enough of it in one lifetime to fill four good-sized boxes.

Landers himself had come up empty in that regard, at least lately. For years he’d had a picture in his mind of himself whistling a cheerful out-of-key tune, walking along a country road, his hands in his pockets and with no particular destination, sunlight streaming through the trees and the limitless afternoon stretching toward the horizon. Somehow that picture had lost its focus in the past year or so, and, as with an old friend separated by time and distance, he had nearly given up on seeing it again.

It had occurred to him this morning that he hadn’t brewed real coffee for nearly a year now. The coffee pot sat under the counter instead of on top of it, and was something he hauled out for guests. There was a frozen brick of ground coffee in the freezer, but he never bothered with it anymore. Janet had been opposed to freezing coffee at all. Freezing it, she said, killed the aromatic oils. It was better to buy it a half pound at a time, so that it was always fresh. Lately, though, most of the magic had gone out of the morning coffee; it didn’t matter how fresh it was.

The Cummingses had owned the house since it was built in 1924, and Mrs. Cummings, ninety years old now, had held on for twenty years after her husband’s death, letting the place run down, and then had rented it to Landers and moved into the Palmyra Apartments beyond the Plaza. Occasionally he still got mail intended for her, and it was easier simply to take it to her than to give it back to the post office. This morning she had told him about the boxes in the attic: “Just leave them there,” she’d said. Then she had shown him her husband’s old slide rule, slipping it out of its leather case and working the slide. She wasn’t sure why she kept it, but she had kept a couple of old smoking pipes, too, and a ring-shaped cut-crystal decanter with some whiskey still in it. Mrs. Cummings didn’t have any use for the pipes or the decanter any more than she had a use for the slide rule, but Landers, who had himself kept almost nothing to remind himself of the past, understood that there was something about these souvenirs, sitting alongside a couple of old photographs on a small table, that recalled better days, easier living.

The arched window of the house on Rexroth Street in Glendale looked out onto a sloping front lawn with an overgrown carob tree at the curb, shading a dusty Land Rover with what looked like prospecting tools strapped to the rear bumper. There was a Hudson Wasp in the driveway, parked behind an Austin Healey. Across the street a man in shirtsleeves rubbed paste polish onto the fender of a Studebaker, and a woman in a sundress dug in a flower bed with a trowel, setting out pansies. A little boy rode a sort of sled on wheels up and down the sidewalk, and the sound of the solid rubber wheels bumping over cracks sounded oddly loud in the still afternoon.

Russell Latzarel turned away from the window and took a cold bottle of beer from Roycroft Squires. In a few minutes the Newtonian Society would come to order, more or less, for the second time that day. Not that it made a lot of difference. For Latzarel’s money they could recess until midnight if they wanted to, and the world would spin along through space for better or worse. He and Squires were both bachelors, and so unlike married men they had until hell froze over to come to order.

“India Pale Ale,” Latzarel said approvingly, looking at the label on the squat green bottle. He gulped down an inch of beer. “Elixir of the gods, eh?” He set the bottle on a coaster. Then he filled his pipe with Balkan Sobranie tobacco and tamped it down, settling into an armchair in front of the chessboard, where there was a game laid out, half played. “Who’s listed as guest of honor at West Coast Con? Edward tells me they’re going to get Clifford Simak and van Vogt both.”

“That’s not what it says here in the newsletter,” Squires told him, scrutinizing a printed pamphlet. “According to this it’s TBA.”

“To be announced,” Latzarel said, then lit his pipe and puffed hard on it for a moment, his lips making little popping sounds. “Same son-of-a-bitch as they advertised last time.” He laughed out loud and then bent over to scan the titles of the chess books in the bookcase. He wasn’t sure whether Squires read the damned things or whether he kept them there to gain some sort of psychological advantage, which he generally didn’t need.

It was warm for November, and the casement windows along the west wall were wide open, the muslin curtains blowing inward on the breeze. Dust motes moved in the sunshine. The Newtonian Society had been meeting here every Saturday night since the war ended, and in that couple of years it had seldom broken up before two or three in the morning. Sometimes when there was a full house, all twelve of them would talk straight through until dawn and then go out after eggs and bacon, the thirty-nine cent breakfast special down at Velma’s Copper Pot on Western, although it wasn’t often that the married men could get away with that kind of nonsense. Tonight they had scheduled a critical discussion of E.E. Smith’s Children of the Lens, but it turned out that none of them liked the story much except Hastings, whose opinion was unreliable anyway, and so the meeting had lost all its substance after the first hour, and members had drifted away, into the kitchen and the library and out to the printing shed in the backyard, leaving Latzarel and Squires alone in the living room. Later on tonight, if the weather held up, they would be driving out to the observatory in Griffith Park.

There was a shuffling on the front walk, and Latzarel looked out in time to see the postman shut the mailbox and turn away, heading up the sidewalk. Squires went out through the front door and emptied the box, then came back in sorting letters. He took a puzzled second look at an envelope. “You’re a stamp man,” he said to Latzarel, handing it to him. “What do you make of that?”

Landers found that he could stand upright on the catwalk, although the roof sloped at such an angle that if he moved a couple of feet to either side, he had to duck to clear the roof rafters. He walked toward the boxes, but turned after a few steps to shine the light behind him, picking out his footprints in the otherwise undisturbed dust. Beneath that dust, if a person could only brush away the successive years, lay Mr. Cummings’s own footprints, coming and going along the wooden boards.

There was something almost wrong about opening the boxes at all, whatever they contained, like prying open a man’s coffin. And somehow the neatly tied string suggested that their packing hadn’t been temporary, that old Mr. Cummings had put them away forever, perhaps when he knew he was at the end of things.

Astounding . . .? Well, Landers would be the judge of that.

Taking out his pocket knife, he started to cut the string on one of the top boxes, then decided against it and untied it instead, afterward pulling back the flaps. Inside were neatly stacked magazines, dozens of issues of a magazine called Astounding Science Fiction, apparently organized according to date. He picked one up off the top, December of 1947, and opened it carefully. It was well-preserved, the pulp paper yellowed around the outside of the pages, but not brittle. The cover painting depicted a robot with a head like an egg, holding a bent stick in his hand and looking mournfully at a wolf with a rabbit beside it, the world behind them apparently in flames. There were book ads at the back of the magazine, including one from something called the Squires Press: an edition of Clark Ashton Smith’s Thirteen Phantasms, printed with hand-set type in three volumes on Winnebago Eggshell paper and limited to a hundred copies. “Remit one dollar in seven days,” the ad said, “and one dollar monthly until six dollars is paid.”

A dollar a month! This struck him as fantastic — stranger in its way, and even more wonderful, than the egg-headed robot on the front cover of the magazine. He sat down beside the boxes and leaned back against the wall so that the pages caught the sunlight through the window. He wished that he had brought along something to eat and drink instead of the worthless telephone. Settling in, he browsed through the contents page before starting in on the editorial, and then from there to the first of the several stories.

When the sunlight failed, Landers ran an extension cord into the attic and hooked up an old lamp in the rafters over the catwalk. Then he brought up a folding chair and a little smoking table to set a plate on. He would have liked something more comfortable, but there was no fitting an overstuffed chair up through the hatch. Near midnight he finished a story called “Rain Check” by Lewis Padgett, which featured a character named Tubby (apparently there had been a time when the world was happy with men named Tubby) and another character who drank highballs. . . .

He laid the book down and sat for a moment, listening to the rustling of leaves against the side of the house.

Highballs. What did people drink nowadays? Beer with all the color and flavor filtered out of it. Maybe that made a sad and frightening kind of sense. He looked at the back cover of the magazine, where, perhaps coincidentally, there was an ad for Calvert Whiskey: “Just be sure your highball is made with Calvert,” the ad counseled. He wondered if there was any such thing anymore, whether anywhere within a twenty-mile radius someone was mixing up a highball out of Calvert Whiskey. Hell, a hundred miles . . .

Rod’s Liquor Store down on the Plaza was open late, and he was suddenly possessed with the idea of mixing himself a highball. He took the magazine with him when he climbed down out of the attic, and, before he left the house, he filled out the order blank for the Thirteen Phantasms, and slipped it into an envelope along with a dollar bill. It seemed right to him, like the highball, or like old Mrs. Cummings keeping the slide rule.

He wrote out Squires’s Glendale address, put one of the new interim “G” stamps on the envelope, and slid it into the mail slot for the postman to pick up tomorrow morning.

The canceled stamp depicted an American flag with the words “Old Glory” over the top. “A G stamp?” Latzarel said out loud. “What is that, exactly?”

Squires shook his head. “Something new?”

“Very damned new, I’d say. Look here.” He pointed at the flag on the stamp. “I can’t quite . . .” He looked over the top of his glasses, squinting hard. “I count too many stars on this flag. Take a look.”

He handed the envelope back to Squires, who peered at the stamp, then dug a magnifying glass out of the drawer of the little desk in front of the window. He peered at the stamp through the glass. “Fifty,” he said. “It must be a fake.”

“Post office canceled it, too.” Latzarel frowned and shook his head. “What kind of sense does that make? Counterfeiting stamps and getting the flag obviously wrong? A man wouldn’t give himself away like that, unless he was playing some kind of game.”

“Here’s something else,” Squires said. “Look at the edge. There’s no perforations. This is apparently cut out of a solid sheet.” He slit the envelope open and unfolded the letter inside. It was an order for the Smith collection, from an address in the city of Orange.

There was a dollar bill included with the order.

Landers flipped through the first volume of the Thirteen Phantasms, which had arrived postage-due from Glendale. There were four stories in each volume. Somehow he had expected thirteen altogether, and the first thing that came into his mind was that there was a phantasm missing. He nearly laughed out loud. But then he was sobered by the obvious impossibility of the arrival of any phantasms at all. They had come enclosed in a cardboard carton that was wrapped in brown paper and sealed with tape. He looked closely at the tape, half surprised that it wasn’t yellowed with age, that the package hadn’t been in transit through the ether for half a century.

He sipped from his highball and reread a note that had come with the books, written out by a man named Russell Latzarel, president of a group calling itself the Newtonian Society — apparently Squires’s crowd. In the note, Latzarel wondered if Landers was perpetrating a hoax.

A hoax . . . The note was dated 1947. “Who are you really?” it asked. “What is the meaning of the G stamp?” For a time he stared out of the window, watching the vines shift against the glass, listening to the wind under the eaves. The house settled, creaking in its joints. He looked at Latzarel’s message again. “The dollar bill was a work of art,” it read. On the back there was a hand-drawn map and an invitation to the next meeting of the Newtonians. He folded the map and tucked it into his coat pocket. Then he finished his highball and laughed out loud. Maybe it was the whiskey that made this seem monumentally funny. A hoax! He’d show them a hoax.

Almost at once he found something that would do. It was a plastic lapel pin the size of a fifty-cent piece, a hologram of an eyeball. It was only an eighth of an inch thick, but when he turned it in the light it seemed deep as a well. It was a good clear hologram, too, the eyeball hovering in the void, utterly three-dimensional. The pin on the back had been glued on sloppily and at a screwball angle, and excess glue had run down the back of the plastic and dried. It was a technological marvel of the late twentieth century, and it was an absolute, and evident, piece of junk. He addressed an envelope, dropped the hologram inside, and slid it into the mail slot.

The trip out to Glendale took over an hour because of a traffic jam at the 605 junction and bumper to bumper cars on the Golden State. There was nothing apparently wrong — no accident, no freeway construction, just a million toiling automobiles stretching all the way to heaven-knew-where, to the moon. He had forgotten Latzarel’s map, and he fought off a feeling of superstitious dread as the cars in front of him inched along. At Los Feliz he pulled off the freeway, cutting down the off-ramp at the last possible moment. There was a hamburger joint called Tommy’s Little Oasis on Los Feliz, just east of San Fernando Road, that he and Janet used to hit when they were on their way north. That had been a few years back; he had nearly forgotten, but the freeway sign at Los Feliz had jogged his memory. It was a tiny Airstream trailer in the parking lot of a motel shaded by big elm trees. You went there if you wanted a hamburger. That was it. There was no menu except a sign on the wall, and even the sign was nearly pointless, since the only question was did you want cheese or not. Landers wanted cheese.

He slowed down as he passed San Fernando, looking for the motel, for the big overarching elms, recalling a rainy Saturday afternoon when they’d eaten their burgers in the car because it was raining too hard to sit under the steel umbrella at the picnic table out front. Now there was no picnic table, no Airstream trailer, no motel — nothing but a run-down industrial park. Somehow the industrial park had sprung up and fallen into disrepair in — what? — less than twenty years!

He u-turned and headed the opposite direction up San Fernando, turning right on Western. It was better not to think about it, about the pace of things, about the cheeseburgers of days gone by . . .

He pulled into a convenience store parking lot in order to ask directions. There were bars on the windows of the place, and the yellow stucco had holes kicked into it. The newspaper racks outside were full of singles newspapers and giveaway auto ads, and except for a desolate-looking laundromat the rest of the stores in the center were empty, their windows broken or boarded up. Inside the store there was an old Asian woman, very small, standing behind the counter, which was caged with a wrought iron grill. He smiled broadly at her, but she looked at him unhappily, and so out of guilt he grabbed a Nestle’s Crunch bar and put it on the counter. Nothing is free, he reminded himself.

“I’m looking for Rexroth Street,” he said slowly, then smiled at her again.

“Dirty dick!” she said to him.

He blinked at her, paralyzed with shock.

“Dirty dick!” She slapped her hand on the counter and grimaced, and abruptly he gave up on the candy bar and on any idea of asking directions. His heart pounding, he turned around slowly and stepped toward the open door, one foot after another, willing himself not to run and waiting for her to shout something else at him, some unnecessary obscenity. He climbed into his car, fired up the engine, and backed out fast, then turned up Western again, heading into the hills. To hell with directions; he would take a chance on his memory. He was three blocks north and deep into a residential neighborhood before it dawned on him: thirty-six! The woman had merely wanted money for the candy bar! Thirty-six cents. He laughed out loud, but the sound of his own laughter was unnerving, and he stopped abruptly. Dirty dick! He was still shaking. The incident had cast a pall of uncertainty and darkness over the adventure, and he half wished he hadn’t come at all. Why the hell had he forgotten the map? The houses along the street were run-down, probably rentals. There was trash in the street, broken bottles, newspapers soaked in gutter water. Suddenly he was a foreigner. He had wandered into a part of the country that was alien to him. And, unless his instincts had betrayed him, it was clearly alien to Squires Press and the Newtonian Society and men named Tubby. At one time the mix of Spanish-style and Tudor houses had been elegant. Now they needed paint and the lawns were up in weeds, and there was graffiti on fences and garage walls. Windows and doors were barred. He drove slowly, calculating addresses and thinking about turning around, getting back onto the freeway and heading south again, just fleeing home, ordering something else out of the magazines — personally autographed books by long-dead authors, “jar-proof” watches that could take a licking and go on ticking. He pictured the quiet shelter of his attic — his magazines, the makings of another highball. If ever a man needed a highball . . .

And just then he came upon the sign for Rexroth Street, so suddenly that he nearly drove righ through the intersection. He braked abruptly, swinging around toward the west, and a car behind him honked its horn hard. He heard the driver shout something as the car flew past.

“Dirty dick,” Landers said under his breath, and started searching out addresses. The general tenor of the neighborhood hadn’t improved at all, and he considered locking his doors. But then the idea struck him as superfluous, since he was about to park the car and get out anyway. He spotted the address on the curb, the paint faded and nearly unreadable. The house had a turreted entry hall in front, with an arched window in the wall that faced the street. A couple of the window panes were broken and filled with aluminum foil, and what looked like an old bed sheet was strung across as a curtain. Weeds grew up through the cracked concrete of the front walk, and there was black iron debris, apparently car parts, scattered on the lawn.

He drifted to the curb, reaching for the ignition key, but then saw, crouched next to a motorcycle up at the top of the driveway, an immense man, tattooed and bearded and dressed in black jeans and a greasy t-shirt, holding a wrench and looking down the driveway at him. Landers instantly stepped on the gas, angling away from the curb and gunning toward the corner.

He knew what he needed to know. He could go home now. Whoever this man was, living in what must have been Squires’s old house, he didn’t have anything to do with the Thirteen Phantasms. He wasn’t a Newtonian. There was no conceivable chance that Squires himself was somewhere inside, working the crank of his mechanical printing press, stamping out fantastic stories on Winnebago Eggshell paper. Squires was gone; that was the truth of it. The Newtonians were gone. The world they’d inhabited, with its twenty-five cent pulp magazines and egg-headed robots and Martian canals, its highballs and hand-set type and slide rules, was gone, too. Probably it was all at the bottom of the tar pits, turning into puzzling fossils.

Out beyond the front window, Rexroth Street was dark and empty of anything but the wind. To the south, the Hollywood Hills were a black wall of shadow, as if there were nothing there at all, just a vacancy. The sky above the dark line of the hills was so closely scattered with bright stars in the wind-scoured night that Latzarel might have been dreaming, and the broad wash of the Milky Way spanned the heavens like a lamp-lit road. From up the hall, he could hear Cummings talking on the telephone. Cummings would be talking to his wife about now, asking permission to stay out late. Squires had phoned Rhineholdt at the observatory, and they were due up on the hill in an hour, with just time enough to stop for a late-night burger at the Copper Kettle on the way.

Latzarel took the three-dimensional picture of the eyeball out of his coat pocket and turned it under the lamp in the window, marveling again at the eyeball that hung impossibly in the miniature void, in its little nonexistent cube of frozen space.

There was a sudden glow in the Western sky now — a meteor shower, hundreds of shooting stars, flaming up for a moment before vanishing beyond the darkness of the hills.

Latzarel shouted for Squires and the others, and when they all ran into the room the stars were still falling, and the southern sky was like a veil of fireflies.

The totality of Landers’ savings account hadn’t been worth much at the coin shop. Gold standard bills weren’t cheap. Probably he’d have been better off simply buying gold, but somehow the idea wasn’t appealing. He wanted folding money in his wallet, just like any other pedestrian — something he could pay for lunch with, a burger and a Coke or a BLT and a slice of apple pie.

He glued the last of the foam rubber blocks onto the inside top of the wooden crate on his living room floor, then stood back and looked at the pile of stuff that was ready to go into the box. He’d had a thousand choices, an impossible number of choices. Everywhere he had turned in the house there was something else, some fabulous relic of the late twentieth century: throwaway wristwatches and dimmer switches, cassette tapes and portable telephones, pictorial histories and horse-race results, wallet-size calculators and pop-top cans, zip-lock baggies and Velcro fasteners, power screw guns and bubble paper, a laptop computer, software, a styrofoam cup . . .

And then it had occurred to him that there was something about the tiniest articles that appealed to him even more than the obvious marvels. Just three trifling little wonders shifted backward in time, barely discernible in his coat pocket, might imply huge, baffling changes in the world: a single green-tinted contact lens, perhaps, and the battery out of a watch, and a hologram bird clipped out of a credit card. He wandered from room to room again, looking around. A felt-tipped pen? A nylon zipper? Something more subtle . . .

But of course if it were too subtle, it would be useless, wouldn’t it? What was he really planning to do with these things? Try to convince a nearsighted man to shove the contact lens into his eye? Would the Newtonians pry the battery apart? To what end? What was inside? Probably black paste of some kind or a lump of dull metal — hardly worth the bother. And the hologram bird — it was like something out of a box of Cracker Jacks. Besides, the Newtonians had already gotten the eyeball, hadn’t they? He couldn’t do better than the eyeball.

Abruptly he abandoned his search, changing his thinking entirely. Hurrying into the study he pulled books out of the case, selecting and rejecting titles, waiting for something to appeal to him, something . . . He couldn’t quite define it. He might as well take nearly any of them, or simply rip out a random copyright page. The daily papers? Better to take along a sack of rotten fruit.

He went out of the study and into the kitchen hallway where he climbed the attic ladder. Untying the last of the boxes, he sorted through the Astoundings, settling on March of 1956 — ten years in the future, more or less, for the Newtonians. Unlike the rest of the issues, this one was beat up, as if it had been read to pieces, or carried around in someone’s coat pocket. He scanned the contents page, noting happily that there was a Heinlein novel serialized in the volume, and he dug through the box again to find April of the same year in order to have all of the story — something called Double Star. The torn cover of the April issue showed an ermine-robed king of some kind inspecting a toy locomotive, his forehead furrowed with thought and wonder.

Satisfied at last, Landers hurried back down the ladder and into the living room again. To hell with the trash on the floor, the bubble paper and the screw gun. He would leave all the Buck Rogers litter right here in a pile. Packing that kind of thing into the box was like loading up the Trojan Horse, wasn’t it? It was a betrayal. And for what? Show-off value? Wealth? Fame? It was all beside the point; he saw that clearly now. It was very nearly the antithesis of the point.

He slid the Astoundings into a niche inside the box along with the Thirteen Phantasms, an army-surplus flashlight, a wooden-handled screwdriver, and his sandwiches and bottled water. Then he picked up the portable telephone and made two calls, one to his next door neighbor and one to Federal Express. His neighbor would unlock the door for the post office, who would haul the crate away on a hand cart and truck it to Glendale.

The thought clobbered him suddenly. By what route? he wondered. Along what arcane boulevards would he travel?

He imagined the crate being opened by the man he had seen working on the motorcycle in the neglected driveway. What would Landers do? Threaten the man with the screwdriver? Offer him the antique money? Scramble out of the crate and simply walk away down the street without a backward glance, forever changing the man’s understanding of human behavior?

He stopped his mind from running and climbed into the crate, pulling the lid on after him. Carefully and deliberately, he started to set the screws — his last task before lunch. It was silent in the box, and he sat listening for one last moment in the darkness, the attic sitting empty above him, still sheltered by its vines and wooden shingles. He imagined the world revolving, out beyond the walls of the old house, imagined the noise and movement, and he thought briefly of Mrs. Cummings across town, arranging and rearranging a leather-encased slide rule and a couple of old smoking pipes and photographs.

The Saturday meeting of the Newtonian society had come to order right on time. Phillip Mays, the lepidopterist, was home from the Amazon with a collection of insects that included an immense dragon commonly thought to have died out in the Carboniferous period. Squires’s living room floor was covered with display boxes and jars, and the room smelled of camphor and pipe smoke. There was the patter of soft rain through the open casements, but the weather was warm and easy despite the rain, and in the dim distance, out over the hills, there was the low rumble of thunder.

The doorbell rang, and Squires, expecting another Newtonian, opened the heavy front door in the turreted entry hall. A large wooden crate sat on the porch, sheltered by the awning, and a post office truck motored away north toward Kenneth Road, disappearing beyond a mist of rain. Latzarel looked over Squires’s shoulder at the heavy crate, trying to figure out what was wrong with it, what was odd about it. Something . . .

“I’ll be damned,” he said. “The top’s screwed on from the inside.”

“I’ll get a pry bar,” Hastings said from behind him.

Latzarel heard a sound then, and he put his ear to the side of the box. There was the click of a screwdriver on metal, the squeak of the screw turning. “Don’t bother with the pry bar,” Latzarel said, winking at Squires, and he lit a match and held it to his pipe, cupping his hand over the bowl to keep the raindrops from putting it out.

Illustration by Robert K. J. Killheffer

©1996 by James P. Blaylock. First published in OMNI online October 1996.

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