Une lumière argentée
et comme indépendante de sa source
semble descendre les coteaux,
fluvialement, immensément, paternellement
vers la rivière et les pêcheurs.
Le rivière, elle-même féminine,
adoucit les hommes
et les soustrait à eux-mêmes.
Enfin, vers une heure du matin,
une vraie obscurité s'établit.
En quelques minutes, il n'y a plus personne.
Chacun est rentré chez soi.
Sans motifs apparents, tout à coup
un Emanglon se met à pleurer,
soit qu'il voie trembler une feuille ou
tomber une poussière,
ou une feuille en sa mémoire tomber,
frôlant d'autres souvenirs divers, lointains,
soit encore que son destin d'homme,
en lui apparaissant, le fasse souffrir.
Personne ne demande d'explications.
On comprend et par sympathie
on se détourne
de lui pour qu'il soit à son aise.
dimarts, 26 de gener de 2016
WORDS IN PURE ICE MELTING SOMEWHERE SOMEHOW IN ICE CUBES IN SQUARE ROOTS OF WATER IN CRYSTAL NIGHTS ,,,,THE ICEBERG AGE IS UPON US OF A ....Icebergs, sans garde-fou, sans ceinture, où de vieux cormorans abattus et les âmes des matelots morts Récemment viennent s'accouder aux nuits enchanteresses de l'hyperboréal. Icebergs, Icebergs, cathédrales sans religion de l'hiver éternel, enrobés dans la calotte glaciaire de la planète Terre. Combien hauts, combien purs sont tes bords enfantés par le froid. Icebergs, Icebergs, dos du Nord-Atlantique, augustes Bouddhas gelés sur des mers in contemplées, Phares scintillantes de la Mort sans issue, le cri éperdu du silence dure des siècles. Icebergs, Icebergs, Solitaires sans besoin, des pays bouchés, distants, et libres de vermine. Parentes des îles, parents des sources, comme je vous vois, comme vous m'êtes familiers.Ce jour-là, ils noyèrent le chef de cabinet et trois ministres. La populace était déchaînée. La famine de tout un hiver les avait poussés à bout. Je craignis un moment qu’ils n’en vinssent à piller notre quartier qui est le plus riche. « Non, non, me dit-on. N’ayez aucune peur à ce sujet. C’est visiblement le spectacle numéro 90 avec ses annexes naturelles le 82 et le 84, et les spectacles généraux. Mais pour être plus sûr, on va demander. » L’un consulte son père, l’autre sa grand’mère ou un fonctionnaire de première classe. C’était bien ça. « Cependant mieux valait ne pas sortir, me dit-on, sauf avec quelques solides molosses, à cause des lâchers d’ours et de loups, vers les quatre heures, qui font partie du numéro 76. » La semaine suivante, comme la situation empirait et qu’on ne faisait toujours rien contre la famine, je jugeai qu’on risquait de voir prochainement quelques spectacles dans les 80. Mes amis ne firent qu’en rire. Mais mon malaise fut le plus fort, et je quittai, peut-être pour toujours, le pays des Hacs. LES MASTADARS C’est la grande race, la Race : les Mastadars. Ils combattent le tigre et le buffle à l’épieu et l’ours à la massue. Et même s’ils se trouvent sans massue, ils font face au grand velu. LES NANS A cause d’une maladie qui sévit chez eux, leur pays est craint de tous. Sitôt arrivé, je ne songeai plus qu’à repartir. Il leur vient des boudins durs sous la peau. D’abord aux jambes (peu d’entre eux y font attention ; c’est peut-être un muscle dévié…), puis au ventre, où tout de même c’est plus étrange, puis les boudins s’accumulent, distendant la peau qui durcit et ne semble pas vouloir céder. Il faut exciser le boudin quand il est mûr, alors rien à craindre, l’infection est très rare. Nettoyer la plaie avec de l’eau d’Avers, qui passe pour miraculeuse. Quoi qu’il en soit, elle possède cette qualité qu’elle arrête l’hémorragie, tonifie toute la région, allant jusqu’à faire rapetisser les petits boudins. Premier stade. Au deuxième stade, deux ou trois ans après, viennent les abcès. ...LES PALANS Les Palans fournissent les avaleurs de sabre et les suceurs de poussière. On en voit parfois qui traînent derrière eux, dans la boue, comme un torchon, une panthère inerte. Par quelle opération l’abrutissent-ils ainsi, je ne sais. Cette panthère magique chasse pour eux la nuit ; chasse, mais ne rapporte pas. Il faut aller très tôt le matin, s’il en est temps encore, pour ramasser le gibier (la panthère en reçoit une part). N’envoyer la panthère dans la forêt qu’aux dernières heures de la nuit. MURNES ET ÉGLANBES Les Murnes : prétentieux, goborets, gobasses, ocrabottes, renommés pour leur bêtise repue et parfaitement étanche, comme les Agres et les Cordobes pour leur jalousie, les Orbus pour leur lenteur, les Ridieuses et les Ribobelles pour leur peu de vertu, les Arpèdres pour leur dureté, les Tacodions pour leur économie, les Églanbes pour leur talent musical. Devant un Églanbe pris au hasard, vous pouvez siffler n’importe quel air, il vous le répétera très exactement quand vous voudrez, en ajoutant (croyant du reste sincèrement que toute musique est venue d’eux) que c’est une de leurs vieilles mélodies, quand même vous siffleriez un thème de « l’Or du Rhin ». Mais il le sifflera à contre-cœur, comme un air de basse époque, dont les Églanbes se sont détachés depuis longtemps.LES ARPÈDRES Les Arpèdres sont les hommes les plus durs et les plus intransigeants qui soient, obsédés de droiture, de droits et plus encore de devoirs. De traditions respectables, naturellement. Le tout sans horizon. Têtes têtues de bien pensants, poussant en maniaques les autres à s’amender, à avoir le cœur haut. Quelle inondation de joie chez tous leurs voisins quand une guerre générale leur fut déclarée, guerre injuste entre toutes! Ce fut une nouvelle et grande croisade, la belle, l’heureuse, l’injustifiable, la criminelle, criante d’iniquité, contre un peuple sûr de son droit, prouvant qu’il a le droit pour lui et qui en crèvera. A peine s’il en reste quelques centaines actuellement dans l’île de Phobos. Tous les peuples se soulagèrent grandement. Le carnage dura plus d’un an. En pleine torture, quand on leur coupait un bras, le nez, les oreilles, les Arpèdres prisonniers parlaient encore « de leur droit qu’on viole ». Cette chanson est finie maintenant. Ils furent donnés aux chiens, qui ne les trouvèrent pas coriaces du tout, et en redemandèren En Grande Garabagne et surtout dans la Péninsule assouline, les rapports entre hommes et femmes diffèrent à l'infini, d'un endroit à l'autre. Et c'est fait exprès, car rien, disent-ils, n'est absorbant comme ces choses, jusqu'à couvrir l'existence entière, une fois qu'elles ne sont pas réussies, alors que, simples, elles doivent glisser dans l'ensemble de la vie. Et ce qui convient à l'un ne convient pas à l'autre.PODDEMA-AMA "C'est combien, les lèvres ?" Mais ma question demeura sans réponse, je faisais erreur, n'étant pas à Nioua, mais à Krioua, où le baiser est gratuit, expressément gratuit, si long soit-il. Je n'y en ai d'ailleurs jamais vu que de court, simple et bien partagé. Les étrangers se réjouissent de cet usage. Les personnes en deuil sont exemptes du service du baiser. "Voyez, fit-il, un homme tué par ses paroles." C'est une de leurs plus remarquables inventions. Aussi ne faut-il parler qu'à bon escient dans la chambre aux mensonges. J'y vis, introduit par surprise et interrogé, un de mes anciens guides de fâcheuse réputation. Je voulus intervenir. "Malheureux, tais-toi donc." Mais, orgueilleux, il parla, et ses paroles, revenant à lui dûment chargées, le firent tomber à la renverse. Il était mort. Dès lors, plus besoin de jugement. L'enfant, l'enfant du chef, l'enfant du malade, l'enfant du laboureur, l'enfant du sot, l'enfant du Mage, l'enfant naît avec vingt-deux plis. Il s'agit de les déplier. La vie de l'homme alors est complète. Sous cette forme il meurt. Il ne lui reste aucun pli à défaire. Rarement un homme meurt sans avoir encore quelques plis à défaire. Mais c'est arrivé. Parallèlement à cette opération l'homme forme un noyau. Les races inférieures, comme la race blanche, voient plus le noyau que le dépli. Le Mage voit plutôt le dépli. Le dépli seul est important. Le reste n'est qu'épiphénomène. LES CORDOBES Aucun n’est exempt de bile. Les hommes les plus vite froissés qui soient, les plus minés par les affronts (qu’ils sentent partout), hésitant non entre colère et calme, mais entre plusieurs colères. La figure chargée, constamment recuite et retrempée dans la jalousie, les défaites de l’honneur, les ressentiments, le soir surtout, envahie de sucs empoisonnés, culottée, tendue, surimprimée, se tachant, blêmissant, s’ombrant aux vagues successives de l’amertume. Colère aux cent expressions : chez les uns cela passe en frissons, jusqu’à les obliger à se mettre au lit ; chez d’autres en fièvre, en hoquets, en spasme, en petites crêtes verbales, en moulinets des bras, plus dangereuse en celui où elle vient rarement, n’y ayant pas son chemin fait et coutumier, plus dévastatrice, donnant en lui au hasard, sans issue, comme si elle allait le dépoitrailler. Colère sans cruauté, atrocités ni meurtre, car ils préfèrent à la libération, l’orgueil d’en être le maître, le siège, la victime. (Colère : force. Meurtre : onanisme.) Il faut savoir se retenir. Les femmes ont toutes leurs qualités de vivacité, moins le démon bilieux ; pleines d’allant, élancées, le visage dispos et purgé. Voilà qui déconcerte les hommes, ces coqs, jamais fatigués, mais que l’aisance ridiculise, d’où nouveaux accès, et elles toujours étonnées de ces crises furieuses comme des oiseaux insultés par des rats. Hommes et femmes au bord de l’abîme de l’amour, ne se rencontrant jamais. Les chants d’amour en Cordobie, beaux d’élan, arrachés, partis du fond, allant loin, mais un peu en épingle de cravate. Pays plus habité de tristesse que réellement triste. Maisons bâties en des endroits incommodes, désespérantes, mais ayant furieusement de l’allure. L’air glacial ou flambant vous brûle les muqueuses. Soif. Ils gardent leur soif. La soif est plus aiguë que l’étanchement. Ils adorent un seul Dieu, vindicatif, dur, absolu, porté à voir le mal partout et qui les attend tous à la mort. Son règne n’aura jamais de fin. (Aux Cordobes se rattachent aussi les Ébelleux, les Écreux, les Ficres et les Pajaris.) LES VIBRES Les Vibres aiment l’eau, plongent aux éponges, ont raison des requins et des pieuvres. Ils reviennent le soir, sans s’être essuyés, le corps bleuté de phosphorescences. Leurs femmes accouchent dans une barque, trouvant dans les mouvements de. la mer les forces nécessaires pour expulser l’enfant qui désire naître. Je dirai ailleurs comment ils augmentèrent, par expériences et traitements, ma connaissance des fatigues. Vraiment, je n’aurais jamais cru qu’il y en eût autant de différentes. Je craignis même d’y passer toute ma vie. On me « situa » aussi une vingtaine d’étouffements, à vrai dire à la limite du supportable, différents humides, et quantité de froid. Leur gamme de frissons aussi est extraordinaire, base d’une vie psychique plus évolué et presque de la mystique .... Ils se font enlever en l’air par un attelage de grands oiseaux de mer, quand ils tiennent à accomplir ou terminer un long voyage maritime, et n’ont pas la force magique de se transporter eux-mêmes « par voie de reconstitution ». Ces oiseaux, le grand ennui avec eux est qu’ils ne peuvent longtemps se passer de poisson et cherchent à se poser sur l’eau, ce qui n’est point l’affaire du voyageur qui, le derrière trempé, regrette de s’être mis en route.leurs chefs ne siègent et ne discourent que derrière la statue (en bois léger, et transportable) d'un de leurs grands hommes du passé, aux principes desquels ils prétendent adhérer. Si j'ai bien compris leur éloquence, le principal, c'est de savoir placer sa statue au bon moment, de façon inattendue, dramatique, ou de la pousser petit à petit en la dissimulant, jusqu'au moment où on la découvre. Il faut s'entendre à la planter, violemment face à autrui, de façon choquante, à la faire pivoter brillamment et se dandiner insolemment devant un autre grand homme jugé méprisable...Nuits interminables! Une lumière argentée et comme indépendante de sa source semble descendre les coteaux, fluvialement, immensément, paternellement vers la rivière et les pêcheurs Sur une grande route, il n’est pas rare de voir une vague, une vague toute seule, une vague à part de l’océan. Elle n’a aucune utilité, ne constitue pas un jeu. C’est un cas de spontanéité magique En Emangle, il y a aussi beaucoup de lacs. Sans les lacs, on ne pourrait comprendre les Emanglons. Ils se collent à l'eau, des lanières passées sous le ventre, attachées à deux planches, et ils restent ainsi sans bouger, pendant des heures. Si une tempête s'élève et que des vagues successives et déferlantes les bousculent et les empêchent de respirer, ils cèdent sans cris, sans appels, lâchent leurs appuis et se laissent couler au fond. Ils ne luttent pas, quand même ils le pourraient. Un Emanglon qui rentrerait, ruisselant, agité par l'effort et la fièvre, aurait peur du ridicule.La vieille haine venue de l'enfance remontait en eux petit-à-petit, tandis qu'ils passaient l'un sur l'autre la lèpre gluante de la terre et le danger montait au nez, aux yeux, aux oreilles, sombre avertissement. Et tout d'un coup ce furent deux démons. Mais il n'y eut qu'une prise. Emporté par l'élan, l'aîné tomba avec l'autre dans la boue. Quelle frénésie en-dessous! Immenses secondes! Ni l'un ni l'autre ne se releva. Le dos de l'aîné apparut un instant, mais sa tête ne put se détourner du marécage et s'y renfonça irrésistiblement.VOYAGE EN GRANDE GARABAGNE CHEZ LES HACS C’est dans la nuit, par un léger clair de lune, que le combat est réputé le plus intéressant. La pâle lumière de la lune lui donne une prodigieuse allure, et l’expression et la fureur des combattants devient tout autre ; l’obscurité les décuple, surtout si ce sont des femmes qui combattent, la contrainte et le respect humain disparaissant pour elles avec la lumière. Alors que dans la journée, la fureur elle-même ruse et se dissimule, jamais démoniaque, la nuit au contraire, elle congestionne ou blêmit le visage aussitôt, s’y colle en une expression infernale. Il est dommage qu’on ne puisse saisir cette expression que dans une demi-obscurité. Néanmoins, ce moment d’envahissement du visage est un spectacle inoubliable. Si furieux que soit le combat, il ne fait que développer cette première expression. (La nuit aussi est bonne pour cette raison qu’on y est plus recueilli, livré à sa seule passion.) Ces grimaces hideuses vous mordent, expressions qui peuvent ne pas apparaître en toute une vie, et qui apparaissent ici à coup sûr, attirées par la nuit et les circonstances ignobles. Les spectateurs de la haute société Hac ne manquent jamais de vous expliquer que ce n’est pas le combat qui les attire, mais les révélations qui sortent du visage. Il faut, bien entendu, que ce soit des proches parents qui luttent, ou au moins des ennemis invétérés.EN LANGEDINE A KIVNI … Ce fut Ajvinia qui m’introduisit à la Cour et m’enseigna les usages. Hélas, quel mauvais élève elle eut en moi ! Par une faveur exceptionnelle, je fus invité chez Ajvinia, au grand dîner qu’elle donne à la fin de l’hiver, à trente ou trente-cinq personnes. C’était la première fois que j’étais invité par une dame de la Cour, ayant le premier rang après les princesses. Comme tout y était différent des réceptions du palais, et d’une intimité imitée à merveille, à laquelle, malgré ma méfiance, je me laissais prendre ! Ce n’était partout que chuchotements, grands secrets enfin dévoilés, aveux tout nus, gens qui se donnent tout entiers ! Dans cette atmosphère pour moi nouvelle et presque étrange, le visage de Cliveline, reposé et parfait, lumineux comme une perle, régnait seul pour moi. Le repas ne fut pas long. Ils se levèrent de table à l’improviste et pas tous en même temps ; on se dispersa et je n’osai même pas la saluer. J’ignorais quelle était la règle pour saluer une jeune fille de rang inconnu, dont la mère est déjà sortie de table. Comment, comment allais-je jamais retrouver Cliveline ? L’époque venait où les soudards devaient revenir de l’expédition victorieuse contre les Clavas et aucune jeune fille ne sortirait plus. L’époque vint. Je ne la rencontrerais donc plus ! J’allai rendre visite à Ajvinia. « Jeune étranger, me dit-elle, il faut mieux appliquer nos règles », et j’appris que j’avais gravement manqué à Cliveline. « Elle vous pardonnera peut-être, comme vous êtes étranger, mais la règle est que quand un chevalier voit une jeune fille de son rang pour la première fois, il lui offre deux noix ; elle remercie, les tient quelque temps dans sa main et les laisse sur la table en sortant. Mais elle les regarde avec attention si elle veut marquer au jeune homme de l’intérêt. Exceptionnellement, elle peut garder une noix. La signification n’en est pas absolument précise : c’est un mouvement du cœur. Je puis bien vous le dire en confidence, Cliveline m’avoua : « Si ce jeune étranger m’avait fait le cadeau d’usage, je crois bien que j’aurais gardé une noix. »…Les Hivinizikis sont toujours dehors. Ils ne peuvent rester à la maison. Si vous voyez quelqu'un à l'intérieur, il n'est pas chez lui. Nul doute, il est chez un ami. Toutes les portes sont ouvertes, tout le monde est ailleurs. L'Hiviniziki vit dans la rue. L'Hiviniziki vit à cheval. Il en crèvera trois en une journée. Toujours monté, toujours galopant, voilà I'Hivi- niziki. Ce cavalier, lancé à toute allure, tout à coup s'arrête net. La beauté d'une jeune fille qui passe vient de le frapper. Aussitôt il lui jure un amour éternel, sollicite les parents, qui n'y font nulle attention, prend la rue entière à témoin de son amour, parle immédiatement de se trancher la gorge si elle ne lui est accordée et bâtonne son domestique pour donner plus de poids à son affirmation. Cependant passe sa femme dans la rue, et le souvenir en lui qu'il est déjà marié. Le voilà qui, déçu, mais non rafraîchi, se détourne, reprend sa course ventre à terre, file chez un ami, dont il trouve seule- ment la femme. «Oh ! la vie ! » dit-il, il éclate en sanglots ; elle le connaît à peine, néanmoins elle le console, ils se consolent, il l'embrasse. « Oh, ne refuse pas, supplie-t-il, j'en suis autant dire à mon dernier soupir. » Il la jette le lit comme seau dans le puits, et lui, tout à sa soif d'amour oubli ! oubli ! mais tout à coup il se regalvanise, ne fait qu'un bond jusqu'à la porte, son habit encore déboutonné, ou c'est elle qui s'écrie en pleurs : « Tu n'as pas dit que tu aimais mes yeux, tu ne m'as rien dit ! » Le vide qui suit l'amour les projette dans son éloigne- ment ; elle fait atteler les chevaux, et apprêter la voiture. « Oh ! Qu'ai-je fait ! Qu'ai-je fait ! Mes yeux qui étaient si beaux autrefois, si beaux, il ne m'en a même pas dit un mot ! Il faut que j'aille vite voir à la ferme si le loup n'a pas mangé un mouton ; j'ai comme un pres- sentiment. » Et dare-dare sa voiture l'emporte, mais non vers ses moutons, car ils ont tous été joués et perdus par son mari ce matin, la maison de campagne, les champs, et tout, sauf le loup qui n'a pas été joué aux dés. Elle-même a été jouée... et perdue, et la voilà qui arrive brisée chez son nouveau maître.» LES ORBUS Plus visqueux et spectaculaires que les Émanglons. Lents de nature et par calcul, d’une lenteur cérémonieuse et à la vaseline, au pas sûr, médité, retenu, conscient, se retournant malaisément comme s’ils étaient la proue d’un navire qu’ils traîneraient derrière eux, milieu et poupe ; s’il faut absolument se retourner, pivotant prudemment, ou plus volontiers parcourant un spacieux arc de cercle ; aux idées longues à mûrir, et la nuit de préférence (leur faire prendre soudain une décision, c’est les obliger à trancher dans la chair vive. Ils ne vous le pardonneront jamais) ; petits mangeurs, mais grands mâcheurs, interminables à des repas de rien, végétariens, sauf à prendre avec leur manioc, leurs patates et leur pâte de banane, une langue ou une cuillerée de cervelle. Jeunes avec ces grands yeux de rêve, trop humains, comme en possèdent les bébés orangs-outangs prisonniers dans une cage. Adultes, l’œil-globe imbécile, ou, chez les plus méditatifs, des yeux de vase. Un regard feutré, sans cohésion, qu’on ne peut prendre, qui se défend par ubiquité, dont une branche, pourrait-on dire, va à votre front, dont une autre reste en lui, dont une troisième rampe vers votre passé, une quatrième est commune à vous et à lui, tandis qu’une cinquième, en îlot, reste en lui, à se demander ce que tout cela signifie. S’ils viennent à faire votre connaissance, prenant et soupesant votre main, la jaugeant, l’interrogeant, la palpant interminablement, l’engluant dans on ne sait quoi dont on ne rêve plus que de se sauver au plus tôt, quoiqu’ils soient peut-être en ce moment distraits et occupés à ressasser en eux-mêmes quelque vieux propos qui leur a été tenu il y a quinze jours.…Comme j’entrais dans ce village, je fus conduit par un bruit étrange vers une place pleine de monde au milieu de laquelle, sur une estrade, deux hommes presque nus, chaussés de lourds sabots de bois, solidement fixés, se battaient à mort. Quoique loin d’assister pour la première fois à un spectacle sauvage, un malaise me prenait à entendre certains coups de sabots au corps, si sourds, souterrains. Le public ne parlait pas, ne criait pas, mais uhuhait. Râles de passions complexes, ces plaintes inhumaines s’élevaient comme d’immenses tentures autour de ce combat bien « vache », où un homme allait mourir sans aucune grandeur. Et ce qui arrive toujours arriva : un sabot dur et bête frappant une tête. Les nobles traits, comme sont même les plus ignobles, les traits de cette face étaient piétinés comme betterave sans importance. La langue à paroles tombe, tandis que le cerveau à l’intérieur ne mijote plus une pensée, et le cœur, faible marteau, à son tour reçoit des coups, mais quels coups ! Allons, il est bien mort à présent ! A l’autre donc la bourse et le contentement. « Alors, me demanda mon voisin, que pensez-vous de cela ? — Et vous ? dis-je, car il faut être prudent en ces pays. — Eh bien ! reprit-il, c’est un spectacle, un spectacle parmi d’autres. Dans la tradition, il porte le numéro 24. » Et sur ces paroles, il me salua cordialement.... Voyage en Grande Garabagne présente des peuples inventés avec des mœurs et des coutumes fantastiques. Henri Michaux ressort de ce voyage à la fois apprivoisé et effrayé. Mais ce sont le malaise et l’inadaptation qui priment malgré la fascination rencontrée auprès de ces peuples. De même, la grande sobriété de l’écriture contraste avec l’imagination et l’invention débridées de l’auteur. De ces entre-deux naît un sentiment d’étrangeté qui n’exclut pas un certain humour froid. Ce qui frappe tout d’abord dans ce Voyage en Grande Garabagne, c’est la division du peuple en tribus nombreuses qui se distinguent par des pratiques singulières, rites et comportements particuliers traduisant des différences de tempérament : - les Hacs se reconnaissent par leur pratique de la violence comme spectacle, distraction et même valeur. Ils sont spécialisés dans les combats fratricides et spectaculaires. Il y a un paradoxe et un oxymore entre l’idée de spectacle et celle de violence et une ironie dans l’attribution de numéros à ces " spectacles ". On accorde de la noblesse à la bassesse dans ces pays. Henri Michaux lui même raconte les combats comme des distractions. Il se laisse prendre au jeu de la narration. - Les Emanglons ont d’étranges comportements et sont pleins de superstitions comme leur méfiance envers le soleil. - Les Orbus sont de sages philosophes. - Les Orgouilles s’empiffrent, sont insouciants et fainéants. - Les Gaurs sont férus de religion mais c’est une religion à outrance, sans aucune morale. - Les Nanais sont les esclaves des Oliabaires qui font preuve d’une cruauté extrême puisqu’ils donnent un semblant de liberté aux Nanais afin de satisfaire leur plaisir de les chasser et de profiter d’eux au maximum, d’en tirer toutes les richesses possibles. L'histoire des Nanais et des Oliabaires peut être rapprochée des événements à venir de la Seconde Guerre mondiale à cause des meurtres et tortures épouvantables infligés aux Nanais. - Les Hivinizikis sont des êtres mouvants, jamais satisfaits et ne connaissent pas la modération (plutôt impétueux) . Chez tous ces peuples, on retrouve du moins le même excès, un caractère assez compulsif. C’est l’écriture de la parodie : du voyage, de l’Histoire, du discours ethnographique et même l’autoparodie. Les habitants de ce pays ne font-ils pas preuve d’ailleurs de déraison ? " On rencontre parfois, à l’heure du midi, dans une des rues de la capitale, un homme enchaîné, suivi d’une escouade de Gardiens du Roi, et qui paraît satisfait. Cet homme est conduit à la mort. Il vient d’attenter à la vie du Roi. Non qu’il en fût le moins du monde mécontent ! Il voulait simplement conquérir le droit d’être exécuté solennellement, dans une cour du palais, en présence de la garde royale. " Henri Michaux aborde ainsi le thème de la folie et il instaure une faible limite entre le fantastique et la folie dans son récit. Il faut aussi rappeler l’absence de morale et de justice qui est peut-être liée à cette étrange folie. Du coup, les comportements normaux prennent une drôle d’allure et inversement. Henri Michaux exprime ainsi un certain mal être. " Comme je portais plainte pour un vol commis chez moi, je ne sais comment, en plein jour, à côté du bureau de travail où je me trouvais (toute l’argenterie emportée, sauf un plat), le commissaire me dit : je ferai le nécessaire. Mais, s’il reste un plat, ce n’est sûrement pas un vol, c’est le spectacle n°65. Sur l’amende vous toucherez, comme victime, cinquante baches. Et quelques instants après, un jeune fat, comme il y en a dans toutes les nations, entra et dit : " La voilà votre argenterie ", comme si c’était à lui d’être vexé. " - Pas bien malin tout ça, fis-je avec mépris, qu’est-ce que ça vous a rapporté ? " - Deux cent quatre-vingts baches, répondit-il triomphant, tous les balcons des voisins étaient loués. Et il faut encore que je rapporte chez moi, à mes frais, mon argenterie. " Au final, Henri Michaux fuit ce pays imaginaire qui n’est pas fait pour lui. Mais malgré la cruauté de ces peuples, Henri Michaux fait preuve de beaucoup d’humour noir, de fantaisie, notamment à l’aide d’une écriture très imagée. Et le sérieux du propos est allégé à la fois par l’onirisme des ces poèmes-contes et par l’invention de mots, à commencer par les noms des tribus et du pays ou encore les noms des dieux chez les Gaurs : Banu, Xhan, Sanou, Zirnini, etc. Ce sont les éléments merveilleux et étranges qui font penser à des contes mais comme cet étrange est ridicule et absurde, on ne peut pas considérer ces récits comme tels. Ces poèmes se prêtent à l’oralité par les jeux de construction des mots et les phrases courtes. Dans ces allégories hésitantes, ces fables sans morales se lit à la fois le comique et l’oppression de toute nomination et code social. L’onirisme traduit aussi l’insatisfaction du voyageur : le voyage imaginaire est comme un voyage sans retour, d’où une écriture fiévreuse et ludique. Au Pays de la magie Henri Michaux a quitté la violence de ces peuples excessifs et trouve du réconfort, de la douceur grâce à la magie d’un pays qui en porte le nom. On est pleinement dans l’onirisme cette fois comme le titre l’indique. L’impossible est rendu possible sans choquer le regard du lecteur et du narrateur, de manière naturelle comme chez Lewis Caroll et son Alice au pays des merveilles ou De l’autre côté du miroir. C’est aussi l’invention des mots qui peut être à la source de la poésie et de la magie : " Parmi les personnes exerçant de petits métiers, entre le poseur de torches, le charmeur de goitres, l’effaceur de bruits, se distingue par son charme personnel et celui de son occupation, le Berger d’eau. Le berger d’eau siffle une source et la voilà qui, se dégageant de son lit, s’avance en le suivant. Elle le suit, grossissant au passage d’autres eaux. Parfois, il préfère garder le ruisselet tel quel, de petites dimensions, ne collectant par ci par là que ce qu’il faut pour ne pas qu’il s’éteigne, prenant garde surtout lorsqu’il passe par un terrain sablonneux. J’ai vu un de ces bergers - je collais à lui fasciné - qui, avec un petit ruisseau de rien, ave un filet d’eau large comme une botte, se donna la satisfaction de franchir un grand fleuve sombre. Les eaux ne se mélangeant pas, il rattrapa son petit ruisseau intact sur l’autre rive. Tour de force que ne réussit pas le premier ruisseleur venu. En un instant, les eaux se mêleraient et il pourrait aller chercher ailleurs une nouvelle source. De toute façons, une queue de ruisseau forcément disparaît, mais il en reste assez pour baigner un verger ou emplir un fossé vide. Qu ‘il ne tarde point, car fort affaiblie elle est prête à s’ébattre. C’est une eau 'passée' ". On retrouve dans ce passage la personnification de l’eau déjà pratiquée par Francis Ponge dans un de ses poèmes. On peut aussi penser à Yves Bonnefoy à travers l’écriture imagée, la personnification et le récit délicat, tout en sensibilité. L’eau est un élément assez récurrent chez Henri Michaux comme chez ces poètes comme si elle symbolisait l’idée de voyage intérieur, de quête. " Marcher sur les deux rives d’une rivière est un exercice pénible. Assez souvent l’on voit ainsi un homme (étudiant en magie) remonter un fleuve, marchant sur l’une et l’autre rive à la fois : fort préoccupé, il ne nous voit pas. Car ce qu’il réalise est délicat et ne souffre aucune distraction. Il se retrouverait bien vite, seul, sur une rive, et quelle honte alors ! " Le recueil Au pays de la magie est empreint de fantaisie et de légèreté mais en même temps, il traite de sujets profonds, de la vraie vie. On peut par exemple citer le poème en prose sur le deuil. " Le poseur de deuil vient à l’annonce de la mort, assombrit et attriste tout, comme le veut son métier, de taches et de cendres magiques. Tout prend un aspect vermineux, pouilleux, d’une désolation infinie, si bien qu’au spectacle laissé après son départ, les parents et les amis ne peuvent que pleurer, envahis d’une tristesse et d’un désespoir sans nom… " Ou encore la parabole du bossu qui parle de chacun d’entre nous avec les soucis qui l’accompagnent. Nous avons tous notre bosse, notre fardeau. Ce recueil laisse beaucoup plus de place à la contemplation et à l’imagination que Voyage en Grande Garabagne. Il est moins terre à terre et on ressent la libération du narrateur. L’idéalisme contenu dans ce recueil donne lieu à une écriture et des récits proches de l’enfance. Le lecteur et le narrateur sont comme des enfants, pleins de naïveté et sans idées préconçues. La magie est source de bien. Mais au fur et à mesure que l’on avance dans la lecture du recueil, le récit s’assombrit. C’est aussi par la magie que les vérités les plus insupportables à entendre, à accepter (comme la mort ou la culpabilité) nous sont révélées.LES ÉPALUS Les Épalus sont timides et sentencieux, excellents à la pêche, où ils sont d'une patience qui n'a pas de fin. Bons laboureurs aussi. Même les hommes cousent et brodent et de façon très appliquée. Leurs femmes passent pour fort paresseuses. « Nous sommes seulement réfléchies », répliquent-elles. Je ne puis décider, n'en ayant vu qu'une et endormie. Il était onze heures du matin. Mais ces choses arrivent. Elle portait une natte, une large et solide natte, riche en reflets. Cette natte, couchée près d'elle, comme un petit être apprivoisé et discret, avait, je la verrai toujours, une lumière étrange et comme pensante. L'Épalu, son mari, se méprenant sur mon air rêveur, m'adressa un regard de connivence, un air découragé comme pour dire : « Vous voyez. » Je ne voyais que la natte ; la femme à côté, non moins quiète, semblait ne pas respirer. LA GABÈDRE Les Bures arrivés à l'âge adulte n'ont plus que peu de dents bonnes. La gabèdre en est cause. Cette larve active se loge volontiers dans la racine d'une dent, l'insensibilise, la creuse, et d'une dent saine en deux mois fait une morte. L'homme ne s'inquiète pas, confiant dans l'aspect habituel de sa bouche. Cependant ses dents sont mortes. Et une fois le printemps arrivé, sur le premier os venu, elles cassent comme noisettes, mais déjà les larves en sont sorties, y ayant passé l'hiver à souhait, et sont descendues dans l'intestin, où elles comptent passer le printemps. Au début de l'été, la chaleur étant devenue suffisante, elles désertent le corps de l'homme, qui leur est devenu inutile, et dès leur sortie de l'anus déploient les petites ailes qui leur sont venues et s'enlèvent dans l'espace, où l'homme, qui les a eues dans ses dents et ses excréments, les envie de pouvoir s'agiter librement et capricieusement. LES GOULARES On a toujours remarqué que ce qu'il y avait de plus merveilleux dans l'homme était l'enthousiasme, mais que, hélas, on s'y cassait promptement les os, ou bien l'on cassait les os des autres. Les Goulares ont essayé de dissocier les deux. L'enthousiasme et son objet. Donc, pas d'objet. Ils s'excitent à s'exciter. On en voit, solitaires sur un roc, ou en troupes sur les places, dans la transe. Envahis par des fièvres de loup. LES ÉTREDIS Leurs tribus, autrefois nombreuses, ne comptent plus que quelques individus, et très délicats. Une maladie qui épargne à peu près toutes les races a raison d'eux. Il s'agit d'une maladie intestinale : l'Estracellose. Les intestins deviennent à ce point fragiles qu'ils sont troués même par des carottes cuites, par une purée un tant soit peu lourde, mais non par des bouillons, du lait, des jus de fruits sauf les plus acides. Mais c'est le moral alors qui devient fragile. AU PAYS D'HEBBORE Au pays d'Hebbore, la chaleur est bonne, le climat est bon et le peuple satisfait. Ils aiment facilement sans trop méditer. Leur nombre, toutefois, n'augmente guère, n'étant pas prolifiques. Une femme qui a mis au monde trois enfants en a donné plus que la plupart de ses amies. Mais les enfants sont beaux et sains comme leurs parents et heureux de venir passer une vie sur terre. LA DIARRHÉE DES OURGOUILLES Mais dans un climat aussi abominable que le leur, ils ne peuvent échapper à toutes les maladies. La diarrhée des Ourgouilles est célèbre dans tout l'Ouest. C'est une diarrhée avec autophagie. L'homme est digéré et évacué au fur et à mesure par son propre intestin. Le phénomène ne s'arrête pas à la mort apparente, le cadavre continuant à déféquer sans arrêt. On trouve de tout dans ses déjections, du sang, des débris de pancréas, de luette, de plèvre même, et jusqu'à des esquilles d'os, prétend-on, et le mort perd aussi sa langue. En moins de trois heures, la cataracte ignoble a tout emporté, vidant l'homme comme on fait d'un poulet. Et si le malade a un instant de répit, c'est pour vomir, pour se vomir lui-même. L’OUGLAB Employé comme bête de trait chez les Émanglons, l’ouglab a encore plus mauvaise mine que le gnou d’Afrique. Hors ses cornes et ses dents, tout est pouilleux en lui (de petites dents de bébé, dérision de la force) Mais sa sale tête haute est résistante assurément. On remonte du regard sa surface rêche de paillasson, et, au moment où on allait désespérer d’y rencontrer une trace de vie, on rencontre l’œil à l’ombre d’une oreille de polichinelle. C’est un œil d’abruti qui ne donne rien, qui ne reçoit rien. Et, si vous regardez l’autre œil, inutile confrontation, c’est bien le numéro 2 de la même paire. Qu’a-t-il besoin de nous ? C’est un herbivore, et, penchant sur le sol des terrains en jachère son être mal brossé, il se réjouit tranquillement, lymphatiquement, de bien appartenir à cette terre, où il envoie, et non en vain, sa langue en quête d’herbes, et de n’être pas comme tant de vivants, étrangers partout et ne sachant ce qu’ils veulent.
Etiquetes de comentaris: Sur une grande route il n’est pas rare de voir une vague une vague toute seule une vague à part de l’océan
dissabte, 23 de gener de 2016
IT WAS quite by accident I discovered this incredible invasion of Earth by lifeforms from another planet. As yet, I haven’t done anything about it; I can’t think of anything to do. I wrote to the Government, and they sent back a pamphlet on the repair and maintenance of frame houses. Anyhow, the whole thing is known; I’m not the first to discover it. Maybe it’s even under control. I was sitting in my easy-chair, idly turning the pages of a paperbacked book someone had left on the bus, when I came across the reference that first put me on the trail. For a moment I didn’t respond. It took some time for the full import to sink in. After I’d comprehended, it seemed odd I hadn’t noticed it right away. The reference was clearly to a nonhuman species of incredible properties, not indigenous to Earth. A species, I hasten to point out, customarily masquerading as ordinary human beings. Their disguise, however, became transparent in the face of the following observations by the author. It was at once obvious the author knew everything. Knew everything — and was taking it in his stride. The line (and I tremble remembering it even now) read: … his eyes slowly roved about the room. Vague chills assailed me. I tried to picture the eyes. Did they roll like dimes? The passage indicated not; they seemed to move through the air, not over the surface. Rather rapidly, apparently. No one in the story was surprised. That’s what tipped me off. No sign of amazement at such an outrageous thing. Later the matter was amplified. … his eyes moved from person to person. There it was in a nutshell. The eyes had clearly come apart from the rest of him and were on their own. My heart pounded and my breath choked in my windpipe. I had stumbled on an accidental mention of a totally unfamiliar race. Obviously non-Terrestrial. Yet, to the characters in the book, it was perfectly natural — which suggested they belonged to the same species. And the author? A slow suspicion burned in my mind. The author was taking it rather too easily in his stride. Evidently, he felt this was quite a usual thing. He made absolutely no attempt to conceal this knowledge. The story continued: … presently his eyes fastened on Julia. Julia, being a lady, had at least the breeding to feel indignant. She is described as blushing and knitting her brows angrily. At this, I sighed with relief. They weren’t all non-Terrestrials. The narrative continues: … slowly, calmly, his eyes examined every inch of her. Great Scott! But here the girl turned and stomped off and the matter ended. I lay back in my chair gasping with horror. My wife and family regarded me in wonder. “What’s wrong, dear?” my wife asked. I couldn’t tell her. Knowledge like this was too much for the ordinary run-of-the-mill person. I had to keep it to myself. “Nothing,” I gasped. I leaped up, snatched the book, and hurried out of the room. IN THE garage, I continued reading. There was more. Trembling, I read the next revealing passage: … he put his arm around Julia. Presently she asked him if he would remove his arm. He immediately did so, with a smile. It’s not said what was done with the arm after the fellow had removed it. Maybe it was left standing upright in the corner. Maybe it was thrown away. I don’t care. In any case, the full meaning was there, staring me right in the face. Here was a race of creatures capable of removing portions of their anatomy at will. Eyes, arms — and maybe more. Without batting an eyelash. My knowledge of biology came in handy, at this point. Obviously they were simple beings, uni-cellular, some sort of primitive single-celled things. Beings no more developed than starfish. Starfish can do the same thing, you know. I read on. And came to this incredible revelation, tossed off coolly by the author without the faintest tremor: … outside the movie theater we split up. Part of us went inside, part over to the cafe for dinner. Binary fission, obviously. Splitting in half and forming two entities. Probably each lower half went to the cafe, it being farther, and the upper halves to the movies. I read on, hands shaking. I had really stumbled onto something here. My mind reeled as I made out this passage: … I’m afraid there’s no doubt about it. Poor Bibney has lost his head again. Which was followed by: … and Bob says he has utterly no guts. Yet Bibney got around as well as the next person. The next person, however, was just as strange. He was soon described as: … totally lacking in brains. THERE was no doubt of the thing in the next passage. Julia, whom I had thought to be the one normal person, reveals herself as also being an alien life form, similar to the rest: … quite deliberately, Julia had given her heart to the young man. It didn’t relate what the final disposition of the organ was, but I didn’t really care. It was evident Julia had gone right on living in her usual manner, like all the others in the book. Without heart, arms, eyes, brains, viscera, dividing up in two when the occasion demanded. Without a qualm. … thereupon she gave him her hand. I sickened. The rascal now had her hand, as well as her heart. I shudder to think what he’s done with them, by this time. … he took her arm. Not content to wait, he had to start dismantling her on his own. Flushing crimson, I slammed the book shut and leaped to my feet. But not in time to escape one last reference to those carefree bits of anatomy whose travels had originally thrown me on the track: … her eyes followed him all the way down the road and across the meadow. I rushed from the garage and back inside the warm house, as if the accursed things were following me. My wife and children were playing Monopoly in the kitchen. I joined them and played with frantic fervor, brow feverish, teeth chattering. I had had enough of the thing. I want to hear no more about it. Let them come on. Let them invade Earth. I don’t want to get mixed up in it. I have absolutely no stomach for it.
THE HANGING STRANGER
BY PHILIP K. DICK
Five o'clock Ed Loyce washed up, tossed on his hat and coat, got his car out and headed across town toward his TV sales store. He was tired. His back and shoulders ached from digging dirt out of the basement and wheeling it into the back yard. But for a forty-year-old man he had done okay. Janet could get a new vase with the money he had saved; and he liked the idea of repairing the foundations himself!
It was getting dark. The setting sun cast long rays over the scurrying commuters, tired and grim-faced, women loaded down with bundles and packages, students swarming home from the university, mixing with clerks and businessmen and drab secretaries. He stopped his Packard for a red light and then started it up again. The store had been open without him; he'd arrive just in time to spell the help for dinner, go over the records of the day, maybe even close a couple of sales himself. He drove slowly past the small square of green in the center of the street, the town park. There were no parking places in front of LOYCE TV SALES AND SERVICE. He cursed under his breath and swung the car in a U-turn. Again he passed the little square of green with its lonely drinking fountain and bench and single lamppost.
From the lamppost something was hanging. A shapeless dark bundle, swinging a little with the wind. Like a dummy of some sort. Loyce rolled down his window and peered out. What the hell was it? A display of some kind? Sometimes the Chamber of Commerce put up displays in the square.
Again he made a U-turn and brought his car around. He passed the park and concentrated on the dark bundle. It wasn't a dummy. And if it was a display it was a strange kind. The hackles on his neck rose and he swallowed uneasily. Sweat slid out on his face and hands.
It was a body. A human body.
"Look at it!" Loyce snapped. "Come on out here!"
Don Fergusson came slowly out of the store, buttoning his pin-stripe coat with dignity. "This is a big deal, Ed. I can't just leave the guy standing there."
"See it?" Ed pointed into the gathering gloom. The lamppost jutted up against the sky—the post and the bundle swinging from it. "There it is. How the hell long has it been there?" His voice rose excitedly. "What's wrong with everybody? They just walk on past!"
Don Fergusson lit a cigarette slowly. "Take it easy, old man. There must be a good reason, or it wouldn't be there."
"A reason! What kind of a reason?"
Fergusson shrugged. "Like the time the Traffic Safety Council put that wrecked Buick there. Some sort of civic thing. How would I know?"
Jack Potter from the shoe shop joined them. "What's up, boys?"
"There's a body hanging from the lamppost," Loyce said. "I'm going to call the cops."
"They must know about it," Potter said. "Or otherwise it wouldn't be there."
"I got to get back in." Fergusson headed back into the store. "Business before pleasure."
Loyce began to get hysterical. "You see it? You see it hanging there? A man's body! A dead man!"
"Sure, Ed. I saw it this afternoon when I went out for coffee."
"You mean it's been there all afternoon?"
"Sure. What's the matter?" Potter glanced at his watch. "Have to run. See you later, Ed."
Potter hurried off, joining the flow of people moving along the sidewalk. Men and women, passing by the park. A few glanced up curiously at the dark bundle—and then went on. Nobody stopped. Nobody paid any attention.
"I'm going nuts," Loyce whispered. He made his way to the curb and crossed out into traffic, among the cars. Horns honked angrily at him. He gained the curb and stepped up onto the little square of green.
The man had been middle-aged. His clothing was ripped and torn, a gray suit, splashed and caked with dried mud. A stranger. Loyce had never seen him before. Not a local man. His face was partly turned, away, and in the evening wind he spun a little, turning gently, silently. His skin was gouged and cut. Red gashes, deep scratches of congealed blood. A pair of steel-rimmed glasses hung from one ear, dangling foolishly. His eyes bulged. His mouth was open, tongue thick and ugly blue.
"For Heaven's sake," Loyce muttered, sickened. He pushed down his nausea and made his way back to the sidewalk. He was shaking all over, with revulsion—and fear.
Why? Who was the man? Why was he hanging there? What did it mean?
And—why didn't anybody notice?
He bumped into a small man hurrying along the sidewalk. "Watch it!" the man grated, "Oh, it's you, Ed."
Ed nodded dazedly. "Hello, Jenkins."
"What's the matter?" The stationery clerk caught Ed's arm. "You look sick."
"The body. There in the park."
"Sure, Ed." Jenkins led him into the alcove of LOYCE TV SALES AND SERVICE. "Take it easy."
Margaret Henderson from the jewelry store joined them. "Something wrong?"
"Ed's not feeling well."
Loyce yanked himself free. "How can you stand here? Don't you see it? For God's sake—"
"What's he talking about?" Margaret asked nervously.
"The body!" Ed shouted. "The body hanging there!"
More people collected. "Is he sick? It's Ed Loyce. You okay, Ed?"
"The body!" Loyce screamed, struggling to get past them. Hands caught at him. He tore loose. "Let me go! The police! Get the police!"
"Better get a doctor!"
"He must be sick."
Loyce fought his way through the people. He stumbled and half fell. Through a blur he saw rows of faces, curious, concerned, anxious. Men and women halting to see what the disturbance was. He fought past them toward his store. He could see Fergusson inside talking to a man, showing him an Emerson TV set. Pete Foley in the back at the service counter, setting up a new Philco. Loyce shouted at them frantically. His voice was lost in the roar of traffic and the murmur around him.
"Do something!" he screamed. "Don't stand there! Do something! Something's wrong! Something's happened! Things are going on!"
The crowd melted respectfully for the two heavy-set cops moving efficiently toward Loyce.
"Name?" the cop with the notebook murmured.
"Loyce." He mopped his forehead wearily. "Edward C. Loyce. Listen to me. Back there—"
"Address?" the cop demanded. The police car moved swiftly through traffic, shooting among the cars and buses. Loyce sagged against the seat, exhausted and confused. He took a deep shuddering breath.
"1368 Hurst Road."
"That's here in Pikeville?"
"That's right." Loyce pulled himself up with a violent effort. "Listen to me. Back there. In the square. Hanging from the lamppost—"
"Where were you today?" the cop behind the wheel demanded.
"Where?" Loyce echoed.
"You weren't in your shop, were you?"
"No." He shook his head. "No, I was home. Down in the basement."
"In the basement?"
"Digging. A new foundation. Getting out the dirt to pour a cement frame. Why? What has that to do with—"
"Was anybody else down there with you?"
"No. My wife was downtown. My kids were at school." Loyce looked from one heavy-set cop to the other. Hope flicked across his face, wild hope. "You mean because I was down there I missed—the explanation? I didn't get in on it? Like everybody else?"
After a pause the cop with the notebook said: "That's right. You missed the explanation."
"Then it's official? The body—it's supposed to be hanging there?"
"It's supposed to be hanging there. For everybody to see."
Ed Loyce grinned weakly. "Good Lord. I guess I sort of went off the deep end. I thought maybe something had happened. You know, something like the Ku Klux Klan. Some kind of violence. Communists or Fascists taking over." He wiped his face with his breast-pocket handkerchief, his hands shaking. "I'm glad to know it's on the level."
"It's on the level." The police car was getting near the Hall of Justice. The sun had set. The streets were gloomy and dark. The lights had not yet come on.
"I feel better," Loyce said. "I was pretty excited there, for a minute. I guess I got all stirred up. Now that I understand, there's no need to take me in, is there?"
The two cops said nothing.
"I should be back at my store. The boys haven't had dinner. I'm all right, now. No more trouble. Is there any need of—"
"This won't take long," the cop behind the wheel interrupted. "A short process. Only a few minutes."
"I hope it's short," Loyce muttered. The car slowed down for a stoplight. "I guess I sort of disturbed the peace. Funny, getting excited like that and—"
Loyce yanked the door open. He sprawled out into the street and rolled to his feet. Cars were moving all around him, gaining speed as the light changed. Loyce leaped onto the curb and raced among the people, burrowing into the swarming crowds. Behind him he heard sounds, shouts, people running.
They weren't cops. He had realized that right away. He knew every cop in Pikeville. A man couldn't own a store, operate a business in a small town for twenty-five years without getting to know all the cops.
They weren't cops—and there hadn't been any explanation. Potter, Fergusson, Jenkins, none of them knew why it was there. They didn't know—and they didn't care.That was the strange part.
Loyce ducked into a hardware store. He raced toward the back, past the startled clerks and customers, into the shipping room and through the back door. He tripped over a garbage can and ran up a flight of concrete steps. He climbed over a fence and jumped down on the other side, gasping and panting.
There was no sound behind him. He had got away.
He was at the entrance of an alley, dark and strewn with boards and ruined boxes and tires. He could see the street at the far end. A street light wavered and came on. Men and women. Stores. Neon signs. Cars.
And to his right—the police station.
He was close, terribly close. Past the loading platform of a grocery store rose the white concrete side of the Hall of Justice. Barred windows. The police antenna. A great concrete wall rising up in the darkness. A bad place for him to be near. He was too close. He had to keep moving, get farther away from them.
Loyce moved cautiously down the alley. Beyond the police station was the City Hall, the old-fashioned yellow structure of wood and gilded brass and broad cement steps. He could see the endless rows of offices, dark windows, the cedars and beds of flowers on each side of the entrance.
Above the City Hall was a patch of darkness, a cone of gloom denser than the surrounding night. A prism of black that spread out and was lost into the sky.
He listened. Good God, he could hear something. Something that made him struggle frantically to close his ears, his mind, to shut out the sound. A buzzing. A distant, muted hum like a great swarm of bees.
Loyce gazed up, rigid with horror. The splotch of darkness, hanging over the City Hall. Darkness so thick it seemed almost solid. In the vortex something moved.Flickering shapes. Things, descending from the sky, pausing momentarily above the City Hall, fluttering over it in a dense swarm and then dropping silently onto the roof.
Shapes. Fluttering shapes from the sky. From the crack of darkness that hung above him.
He was seeing—them.
For a long time Loyce watched, crouched behind a sagging fence in a pool of scummy water.
They were landing. Coming down in groups, landing on the roof of the City Hall and disappearing inside. They had wings. Like giant insects of some kind. They flew and fluttered and came to rest—and then crawled crab-fashion, sideways, across the roof and into the building.
He was sickened. And fascinated. Cold night wind blew around him and he shuddered. He was tired, dazed with shock. On the front steps of the City Hall were men, standing here and there. Groups of men coming out of the building and halting for a moment before going on.
Were there more of them?
It didn't seem possible. What he saw descending from the black chasm weren't men. They were alien—from some other world, some other dimension. Sliding through this slit, this break in the shell of the universe. Entering through this gap, winged insects from another realm of being.
On the steps of the City Hall a group of men broke up. A few moved toward a waiting car. One of the remaining shapes started to re-enter the City Hall. It changed its mind and turned to follow the others.
Loyce closed his eyes in horror. His senses reeled. He hung on tight, clutching at the sagging fence. The shape, the man-shape, had abruptly fluttered up and flapped after the others. It flew to the sidewalk and came to rest among them.
Pseudo-men. Imitation men. Insects with ability to disguise themselves as men. Like other insects familiar to Earth. Protective coloration. Mimicry.
Loyce pulled himself away. He got slowly to his feet. It was night. The alley was totally dark. But maybe they could see in the dark. Maybe darkness made no difference to them.
He left the alley cautiously and moved out onto the street. Men and women flowed past, but not so many, now. At the bus-stops stood waiting groups. A huge bus lumbered along the street, its lights flashing in the evening gloom.
Loyce moved forward. He pushed his way among those waiting and when the bus halted he boarded it and took a seat in the rear, by the door. A moment later the bus moved into life and rumbled down the street.
Loyce relaxed a little. He studied the people around him. Dulled, tired faces. People going home from work. Quite ordinary faces. None of them paid any attention to him. All sat quietly, sunk down in their seats, jiggling with the motion of the bus.
The man sitting next to him unfolded a newspaper. He began to read the sports section, his lips moving. An ordinary man. Blue suit. Tie. A businessman, or a salesman. On his way home to his wife and family.
Across the aisle a young woman, perhaps twenty. Dark eyes and hair, a package on her lap. Nylons and heels. Red coat and white angora sweater. Gazing absently ahead of her.
A high school boy in jeans and black jacket.
A great triple-chinned woman with an immense shopping bag loaded with packages and parcels. Her thick face dim with weariness.
Ordinary people. The kind that rode the bus every evening. Going home to their families. To dinner.
Going home—with their minds dead. Controlled, filmed over with the mask of an alien being that had appeared and taken possession of them, their town, their lives. Himself, too. Except that he happened to be deep in his cellar instead of in the store. Somehow, he had been overlooked. They had missed him. Their control wasn't perfect, foolproof.
Maybe there were others.
Hope flickered in Loyce. They weren't omnipotent. They had made a mistake, not got control of him. Their net, their field of control, had passed over him. He had emerged from his cellar as he had gone down. Apparently their power-zone was limited.
A few seats down the aisle a man was watching him. Loyce broke off his chain of thought. A slender man, with dark hair and a small mustache. Well-dressed, brown suit and shiny shoes. A book between his small hands. He was watching Loyce, studying him intently. He turned quickly away.
Loyce tensed. One of them? Or—another they had missed?
The man was watching him again. Small dark eyes, alive and clever. Shrewd. A man too shrewd for them—or one of the things itself, an alien insect from beyond.
The bus halted. An elderly man got on slowly and dropped his token into the box. He moved down the aisle and took a seat opposite Loyce.
The elderly man caught the sharp-eyed man's gaze. For a split second something passed between them.
A look rich with meaning.
Loyce got to his feet. The bus was moving. He ran to the door. One step down into the well. He yanked the emergency door release. The rubber door swung open.
"Hey!" the driver shouted, jamming on the brakes. "What the hell—"
Loyce squirmed through. The bus was slowing down. Houses on all sides. A residential district, lawns and tall apartment buildings. Behind him, the bright-eyed man had leaped up. The elderly man was also on his feet. They were coming after him.
Loyce leaped. He hit the pavement with terrific force and rolled against the curb. Pain lapped over him. Pain and a vast tide of blackness. Desperately, he fought it off. He struggled to his knees and then slid down again. The bus had stopped. People were getting off.
Loyce groped around. His fingers closed over something. A rock, lying in the gutter. He crawled to his feet, grunting with pain. A shape loomed before him. A man, the bright-eyed man with the book.
Loyce kicked. The man gasped and fell. Loyce brought the rock down. The man screamed and tried to roll away. "Stop! For God's sake listen—"
He struck again. A hideous crunching sound. The man's voice cut off and dissolved in a bubbling wail. Loyce scrambled up and back. The others were there, now. All around him. He ran, awkwardly, down the sidewalk, up a driveway. None of them followed him. They had stopped and were bending over the inert body of the man with the book, the bright-eyed man who had come after him.
Had he made a mistake?
But it was too late to worry about that. He had to get out—away from them. Out of Pikeville, beyond the crack of darkness, the rent between their world and his.
"Ed!" Janet Loyce backed away nervously. "What is it? What—"
Ed Loyce slammed the door behind him and came into the living room. "Pull down the shades. Quick."
Janet moved toward the window. "But—"
"Do as I say. Who else is here besides you?"
"Nobody. Just the twins. They're upstairs in their room. What's happened? You look so strange. Why are you home?"
Ed locked the front door. He prowled around the house, into the kitchen. From the drawer under the sink he slid out the big butcher knife and ran his finger along it. Sharp. Plenty sharp. He returned to the living room.
"Listen to me," he said. "I don't have much time. They know I escaped and they'll be looking for me."
"Escaped?" Janet's face twisted with bewilderment and fear. "Who?"
"The town has been taken over. They're in control. I've got it pretty well figured out. They started at the top, at the City Hall and police department. What they did with the real humans they—"
"What are you talking about?"
"We've been invaded. From some other universe, some other dimension. They're insects. Mimicry. And more. Power to control minds. Your mind."
"Their entrance is here, in Pikeville. They've taken over all of you. The whole town—except me. We're up against an incredibly powerful enemy, but they have their limitations. That's our hope. They're limited! They can make mistakes!"
Janet shook her head. "I don't understand, Ed. You must be insane."
"Insane? No. Just lucky. If I hadn't been down in the basement I'd be like all the rest of you." Loyce peered out the window. "But I can't stand here talking. Get your coat."
"We're getting out of here. Out of Pikeville. We've got to get help. Fight this thing. They can be beaten. They're not infallible. It's going to be close—but we may make it if we hurry. Come on!" He grabbed her arm roughly. "Get your coat and call the twins. We're all leaving. Don't stop to pack. There's no time for that."
White-faced, his wife moved toward the closet and got down her coat. "Where are we going?"
Ed pulled open the desk drawer and spilled the contents out onto the floor. He grabbed up a road map and spread it open. "They'll have the highway covered, of course. But there's a back road. To Oak Grove. I got onto it once. It's practically abandoned. Maybe they'll forget about it."
"The old Ranch Road? Good Lord—it's completely closed. Nobody's supposed to drive over it."
"I know." Ed thrust the map grimly into his coat. "That's our best chance. Now call down the twins and let's get going. Your car is full of gas, isn't it?"
Janet was dazed.
"The Chevy? I had it filled up yesterday afternoon." Janet moved toward the stairs. "Ed, I—"
"Call the twins!" Ed unlocked the front door and peered out. Nothing stirred. No sign of life. All right so far.
"Come on downstairs," Janet called in a wavering voice. "We're—going out for awhile."
"Now?" Tommy's voice came.
"Hurry up," Ed barked. "Get down here, both of you."
Tommy appeared at the top of the stairs. "I was doing my home work. We're starting fractions. Miss Parker says if we don't get this done—"
"You can forget about fractions." Ed grabbed his son as he came down the stairs and propelled him toward the door. "Where's Jim?"
Jim started slowly down the stairs. "What's up, Dad?"
"We're going for a ride."
"A ride? Where?"
Ed turned to Janet. "We'll leave the lights on. And the TV set. Go turn it on." He pushed her toward the set. "So they'll think we're still—"
He heard the buzz. And dropped instantly, the long butcher knife out. Sickened, he saw it coming down the stairs at him, wings a blur of motion as it aimed itself. It still bore a vague resemblance to Jimmy. It was small, a baby one. A brief glimpse—the thing hurtling at him, cold, multi-lensed inhuman eyes. Wings, body still clothed in yellow T-shirt and jeans, the mimic outline still stamped on it. A strange half-turn of its body as it reached him. What was it doing?
Loyce stabbed wildly at it. It retreated, buzzing frantically. Loyce rolled and crawled toward the door. Tommy and Janet stood still as statues, faces blank. Watching without expression. Loyce stabbed again. This time the knife connected. The thing shrieked and faltered. It bounced against the wall and fluttered down.
Something lapped through his mind. A wall of force, energy, an alien mind probing into him. He was suddenly paralyzed. The mind entered his own, touched against him briefly, shockingly. An utterly alien presence, settling over him—and then it flickered out as the thing collapsed in a broken heap on the rug.
It was dead. He turned it over with his foot. It was an insect, a fly of some kind. Yellow T-shirt, jeans. His son Jimmy.... He closed his mind tight. It was too late to think about that. Savagely he scooped up his knife and headed toward the door. Janet and Tommy stood stone-still, neither of them moving.
The car was out. He'd never get through. They'd be waiting for him. It was ten miles on foot. Ten long miles over rough ground, gulleys and open fields and hills of uncut forest. He'd have to go alone.
Loyce opened the door. For a brief second he looked back at his wife and son. Then he slammed the door behind him and raced down the porch steps.
A moment later he was on his way, hurrying swiftly through the darkness toward the edge of town.
The early morning sunlight was blinding. Loyce halted, gasping for breath, swaying back and forth. Sweat ran down in his eyes. His clothing was torn, shredded by the brush and thorns through which he had crawled. Ten miles—on his hands and knees. Crawling, creeping through the night. His shoes were mud-caked. He was scratched and limping, utterly exhausted.
But ahead of him lay Oak Grove.
He took a deep breath and started down the hill. Twice he stumbled and fell, picking himself up and trudging on. His ears rang. Everything receded and wavered. But he was there. He had got out, away from Pikeville.
A farmer in a field gaped at him. From a house a young woman watched in wonder. Loyce reached the road and turned onto it. Ahead of him was a gasoline station and a drive-in. A couple of trucks, some chickens pecking in the dirt, a dog tied with a string.
The white-clad attendant watched suspiciously as he dragged himself up to the station. "Thank God." He caught hold of the wall. "I didn't think I was going to make it. They followed me most of the way. I could hear them buzzing. Buzzing and flitting around behind me."
"What happened?" the attendant demanded. "You in a wreck? A hold-up?"
Loyce shook his head wearily. "They have the whole town. The City Hall and the police station. They hung a man from the lamppost. That was the first thing I saw. They've got all the roads blocked. I saw them hovering over the cars coming in. About four this morning I got beyond them. I knew it right away. I could feel them leave. And then the sun came up."
The attendant licked his lip nervously. "You're out of your head. I better get a doctor."
"Get me into Oak Grove," Loyce gasped. He sank down on the gravel. "We've got to get started—cleaning them out. Got to get started right away."
They kept a tape recorder going all the time he talked. When he had finished the Commissioner snapped off the recorder and got to his feet. He stood for a moment, deep in thought. Finally he got out his cigarettes and lit up slowly, a frown on his beefy face.
"You don't believe me," Loyce said.
The Commissioner offered him a cigarette. Loyce pushed it impatiently away. "Suit yourself." The Commissioner moved over to the window and stood for a time looking out at the town of Oak Grove. "I believe you," he said abruptly.
Loyce sagged. "Thank God."
"So you got away." The Commissioner shook his head. "You were down in your cellar instead of at work. A freak chance. One in a million."
Loyce sipped some of the black coffee they had brought him. "I have a theory," he murmured.
"What is it?"
"About them. Who they are. They take over one area at a time. Starting at the top—the highest level of authority. Working down from there in a widening circle. When they're firmly in control they go on to the next town. They spread, slowly, very gradually. I think it's been going on for a long time."
"A long time?"
"Thousands of years. I don't think it's new."
"Why do you say that?"
"When I was a kid.... A picture they showed us in Bible League. A religious picture—an old print. The enemy gods, defeated by Jehovah. Moloch, Beelzebub, Moab, Baalin, Ashtaroth—"
"They were all represented by figures." Loyce looked up at the Commissioner. "Beelzebub was represented as—a giant fly."
The Commissioner grunted. "An old struggle."
"They've been defeated. The Bible is an account of their defeats. They make gains—but finally they're defeated."
"They can't get everyone. They didn't get me. And they never got the Hebrews. The Hebrews carried the message to the whole world. The realization of the danger. The two men on the bus. I think they understood. Had escaped, like I did." He clenched his fists. "I killed one of them. I made a mistake. I was afraid to take a chance."
The Commissioner nodded. "Yes, they undoubtedly had escaped, as you did. Freak accidents. But the rest of the town was firmly in control." He turned from the window. "Well, Mr. Loyce. You seem to have figured everything out."
"Not everything. The hanging man. The dead man hanging from the lamppost. I don't understand that. Why? Why did they deliberately hang him there?"
"That would seem simple." The Commissioner smiled faintly. "Bait."
Loyce stiffened. His heart stopped beating. "Bait? What do you mean?"
"To draw you out. Make you declare yourself. So they'd know who was under control—and who had escaped."
Loyce recoiled with horror. "Then they expected failures! They anticipated—" He broke off. "They were ready with a trap."
"And you showed yourself. You reacted. You made yourself known." The Commissioner abruptly moved toward the door. "Come along, Loyce. There's a lot to do. We must get moving. There's no time to waste."
Loyce started slowly to his feet, numbed. "And the man. Who was the man? I never saw him before. He wasn't a local man. He was a stranger. All muddy and dirty, his face cut, slashed—"
There was a strange look on the Commissioner's face as he answered. "Maybe," he said softly, "you'll understand that, too. Come along with me, Mr. Loyce." He held the door open, his eyes gleaming. Loyce caught a glimpse of the street in front of the police station. Policemen, a platform of some sort. A telephone pole—and a rope! "Right this way," the Commissioner said, smiling coldly.
As the sun set, the vice-president of the Oak Grove Merchants' Bank came up out of the vault, threw the heavy time locks, put on his hat and coat, and hurried outside onto the sidewalk. Only a few people were there, hurrying home to dinner.
"Good night," the guard said, locking the door after him.
"Good night," Clarence Mason murmured. He started along the street toward his car. He was tired. He had been working all day down in the vault, examining the lay-out of the safety deposit boxes to see if there was room for another tier. He was glad to be finished.
At the corner he halted. The street lights had not yet come on. The street was dim. Everything was vague. He looked around—and froze.
From the telephone pole in front of the police station, something large and shapeless hung. It moved a little with the wind.
What the hell was it?
Mason approached it warily. He wanted to get home. He was tired and hungry. He thought of his wife, his kids, a hot meal on the dinner table. But there was something about the dark bundle, something ominous and ugly. The light was bad; he couldn't tell what it was. Yet it drew him on, made him move closer for a better look. The shapeless thing made him uneasy. He was frightened by it. Frightened—and fascinated.
And the strange part was that nobody else seemed to notice it.
THE amber brown of the liquor disguised the poison it held, and I watched with a smile on my lips as he drank it. There was no pity in my heart for him. He was a jackal in the jungle of life, and I ... I was one of the carnivores. It is the lot of the jackals of life to be devoured by the carnivore. Suddenly the contented look on his face froze into a startled stillness. I knew he was feeling the first savage twinge of the agony that was to come. He turned his head and looked at me, and I saw suddenly that he knew what I had done. "You murderer!" he cursed me, and then his body arched in the middle and his voice choked off deep in his throat. For a short minute he sat, tense, his body stiffened by the agony that rode it—unable to move a muscle. I watched the torment in his eyes build up to a crescendo of pain, until the suffering became so great that it filmed his eyes, and I knew that, though he still stared directly at me, he no longer saw me. Then, as suddenly as the spasm had come, the starch went out of his body and his back slid slowly down the chair edge. He landed heavily with his head resting limply against the seat of the chair. His right leg doubled up in a kind of jerk, before he was still. I knew the time had come. "Where are you?" I asked. This moment had cost me sixty thousand dollars. Three weeks ago the best doctors in the state had given me a month to live. And with seven million dollars in the bank I couldn't buy a minute more. I accepted the doctors' decision philosophically, like the gambler that I am. But I had a plan: One which necessity had never forced me to use until now. Several years before I had read an article about the medicine men of a certain tribe of aborigines living in the jungles at the source of the Amazon River. They had discovered a process in which the juice of a certain bush—known only to them—could be used to poison a man. Anyone subjected to this poison died, but for a few minutes after the life left his body the medicine men could still converse with him. The subject, though ostensibly and actually dead, answered the medicine men's every question. This was their primitive, though reportedly effective method of catching glimpses of what lay in the world of death. I had conceived my idea at the time I read the article, but I had never had the need to use it—until the doctors gave me a month to live. Then I spent my sixty thousand dollars, and three weeks later I held in my hands a small bottle of the witch doctors' fluid. The next step was to secure my victim—my collaborator, I preferred to call him. The man I chose was a nobody. A homeless, friendless non-entity, picked up off the street. He had once been an educated man. But now he was only a bum, and when he died he'd never be missed. A perfect man for my experiment. I'm a rich man because I have a system. The system is simple: I never make a move until I know exactly where that move will lead me. My field of operations is the stock market. I spend money unstintingly to secure the information I need before I take each step. I hire the best investigators, bribe employees and persons in position to give me the information I want, and only when I am as certain as humanly possible that I cannot be wrong do I move. And the system never fails. Seven million dollars in the bank is proof of that. Now, knowing that I could not live, I intended to make the system work for me one last time before I died. I'm a firm believer in the adage that any situation can be whipped, given prior knowledge of its coming—and, of course, its attendant circumstances. FOR a moment he did not answer and I began to fear that my experiment had failed. "Where are you?" I repeated, louder and sharper this time. The small muscles about his eyes puckered with an unnormal tension while the rest of his face held its death frost. Slowly, slowly, unnaturally—as though energized by some hyper-rational power—his lips and tongue moved. The words he spoke were clear. "I am in a ... a ... tunnel," he said. "It is lighted, dimly, but there is nothing for me to see." Blue veins showed through the flesh of his cheeks like watermarks on translucent paper. He paused and I urged, "Go on." "I am alone," he said. "The realities I knew no longer exist, and I am damp and cold. All about me is a sense of gloom and dejection. It is an apprehension—an emanation—so deep and real as to be almost a tangible thing. The walls to either side of me seem to be formed, not of substance, but rather of the soundless cries of melancholy of spirits I cannot see. "I am waiting, waiting in the gloom for something which will come to me. That need to wait is an innate part of my being and I have no thought of questioning it." His voice died again. "What are you waiting for?" I asked. "I do not know," he said, his voice dreary with the despair of centuries of hopelessness. "I only know that I must wait—that compulsion is greater than my strength to combat." The tone of his voice changed slightly. "The tunnel about me is widening and now the walls have receded into invisibility. The tunnel has become a plain, but the plain is as desolate, as forlorn and dreary as was the tunnel, and still I stand and wait. How long must this go on?" He fell silent again, and I was about to prompt him with another question—I could not afford to let the time run out in long silences—but abruptly the muscles about his eyes tightened and subtly a new aspect replaced their hopeless dejection. Now they expressed a black, bottomless terror. For a moment I marveled that so small a portion of a facial anatomy could express such horror. "There is something coming toward me," he said. "A—beast—of brutish foulness! Beast is too inadequate a term to describe it, but I know no words to tell its form. It is an intangible and evasive—thing—but very real. And it is coming closer! It has no organs of sight as I know them, but I feel that it can see me. Or rather that it is aware of me with a sense sharper than vision itself. It is very near now. Oh God, the malevolence, the hate—the potentiality of awful, fearsome destructiveness that is its very essence! And still I cannot move!" The expression of terrified anticipation, centered in his eyes, lessened slightly, and was replaced, instantly, by its former deep, deep despair. "I am no longer afraid," he said. "Why?" I interjected. "Why?" I was impatient to learn all that I could before the end came. "Because ..." He paused. "Because it holds no threat for me. Somehow, someday, I understand—I know—that it too is seeking that for which I wait." "What is it doing now?" I asked. "It has stopped beside me and we stand together, gazing across the stark, empty plain. Now a second awful entity, with the same leashed virulence about it, moves up and stands at my other side. We all three wait, myself with a dark fear of this dismal universe, my unnatural companions with patient, malicious menace. "Bits of ..." He faltered. "Of ... I can name it only aura, go out from the beasts like an acid stream, and touch me, and the hate, and the venom chill my body like a wave of intense cold. "Now there are others of the awful breed behind me. We stand, waiting, waiting for that which will come. What it is I do not know." I could see the pallor of death creeping steadily into the last corners of his lips, and I knew that the end was not far away. Suddenly a black frustration built up within me. "What are you waiting for?" I screamed, the tenseness, and the importance of this moment forcing me to lose the iron self-control upon which I have always prided myself. I knew that the answer held the secret of what I must know. If I could learn that, my experiment would not be in vain, and I could make whatever preparations were necessary for my own death. I had to know that answer. "Think! Think!" I pleaded. "What are you waiting for?" "I do not know!" The dreary despair in his eyes, sightless as they met mine, chilled me with a coldness that I felt in the marrow of my being. "I do not know," he repeated. "I ... Yes, I do know!" Abruptly the plasmatic film cleared from his eyes and I knew that for the first time, since the poison struck, he was seeing me, clearly. I sensed that this was the last moment before he left—for good. It had to be now! "Tell me. I command you," I cried. "What are you waiting for?" His voice was quiet as he murmured, softly, implacably, before he was gone. "We are waiting," he said, "for you."
Bruckner was a man deeply imbued with a sense of his own worth. Now as he rested his broad beam on the joined arms of Sweets and Majesky, he winked to include them in a "this is necessary, but you and I see the humor of the thing" understanding. Like most thoroughly disliked men, he considered himself quite popular with "the boys."
The conceited ham's enjoying this, Sweets thought, as he staggered down the aisle under the big man's weight. At the ship's entrance, he glanced out across the red-sand plain to where the natives waited.
They wore little clothing, Sweets noted, except the chief. He sat on his dais—carried on the shoulders of eight of his followers—dressed in long streamers of multi-colored ribbons. Other ribbons, rolled into a rope, formed a diadem on his head.
The only man more impressively dressed was Bruckner. He wore all the ceremonial trappings of a second century Gallic king, complete with jewel-studded gold crown.
As Sweets and Majesky grunted with their burden across the ten yards separating the ship from the thronelike chair that had been brought out earlier, their feet kicked up a cloud of red dust that coated their clothing and clogged their nostrils.
The dust had originally been red ferric sand. But the action of winds and storms had milled it together, grain against grain, through the ages, until it had become a fine red powder that hung in the hot still air after they had passed.
Most of Waterfield's Planet, they had discovered on their inspection flight the day before, had been a desert for more centuries than they could accurately estimate. Its oases, however, were large and plentiful and, as observed from the air, followed a clear-cut, regular pattern. The obvious conclusion was that they were fed by underground rivers.
The crewmen deposited their burden in the chair and stood waiting.
"Nice work, men," Bruckner muttered in an undertone. "Now keep up the act. Bow from the waist and retire discreetly to the background."
Majesky said something under his breath as they complied.
The greeting ceremony got off to a good start after that, Sweets had to admit. Whatever else might be said of Bruckner, he knew his job as a psychologist.
Bruckner rose to his feet, raised his right hand, palm forward, and intoned gravely, "Earthmen greet you." He spoke in the language of the natives.
The tribal chieftain raised his hand negligently in reply, but neither rose nor spoke.
With a great display of magnanimity, Bruckner sent over a bolt of bright red cloth.
The chieftain accepted the gift and sent back a large wooden box carried by two of his men. They lowered the box at Bruckner's feet and one of them opened a door in its side.
The large animal—or bird; the Earthmen couldn't be certain which—that stepped out stood about seven feet tall, with a body shaped like a bowling pin. It walked on webbed feet that angled outward, had short flippers, set low on a body covered with coarse hair that might have been feathers, and was armed with long, vicious claws. There was something so ludicrous about its appearance that Sweets had difficulty stifling the chuckle that rose in his throat.
The animal, however, took itself very seriously. When it saw its audience—the spaceship's crew—watching, it took two spraddling steps forward, pulled the bulk of its pot-bellied stomach up into its chest and paused dramatically.
It gave three very loud, hoarse burps, somewhere between the squawk of a duck and the braying of an ass. It was a hilariously funny caricature of a pompous orator.
Someone snickered. Immediately Sweets and the other crew members joined in the laughter. It was the kind of belly-laughing that could not be restrained.
While he roared, Sweets took time to observe Bruckner. At the first outbreak of laughter, the psychologist scowled and glanced nervously across at the natives. But when he saw that they, too, had joined in the laughter, he allowed himself to smile condescendingly.
The meeting ended with much apparent good will on both sides Well, I guess we knew what we were doing, didn't we?" Bruckner said after they were back in the ship.
He made a point of emphasizing the we.
"At the time Waterfield's Planet was first discovered," he explained, "the official report was that the natives were friendly. However, when the survey team landed a year later, they ran into trouble. At the beginning, they were courteous and considerate in their dealings with the natives, but the tribesmen took that as a sign of weakness and gave the team very little cooperation. Then they tried being a bit tough and found themselves with a small war on their hands. They were lucky to get away with their lives. So you can see why I'm pleased with the way things went off today."
"If the natives are that touchy, we'll still have to be careful," Sweets said. "What are we supposed to be doing here, anyway?"
Bruckner looked carefully around the circle at each of his listeners. "There's no reason now why I shouldn't tell you," he said confidingly. "The survey team found enough traces of rare elements here to suspect that there might be large deposits on the planet. That's what we're after."
"And you think there might be trouble?" Majesky asked. Bruckner had his full attention now, Sweets noted. There was always a kind of leashed vitality about Majesky that made him poor company during a space trip, but he was the type of man you'd want on your side in a rough-and-tumble.
"I certainly do not," Bruckner answered, frowning in annoyance. "It's my job to see that we don't have trouble. I went very carefully over the records of the two previous landings, even before we began this trip, and I believe I understand the psychological compulsions of these tribesmen quite well."
"You mean you know what makes 'em tick?" Majesky asked.
"Yes, I think I can safely say I do," Bruckner said modestly. "Their culture pattern is based on a long history of tribal conflict. And, for a tribe to prosper, they must have a strong as well as resourceful leader. Thus the splendid dress of their chieftain this morning, in contrast to the drabness of the ordinary tribal dress. He must be, very apparently, a man above the common tribesmen to hold their respect.
"And that," Bruckner added, "was the reason for our little act this morning. The best way to impress them with our power is to display the magnificence of our leader. The better we can keep them convinced of my greatness, the less risk there will be of trouble."
Big Stupe—someone gave their pet the name the first five minutes and it stuck—had the run of the ship. Individually and in groups, the crew took turns amusing themselves with him. And Big Stupe accepted everything they did very seriously and loved the attention. He was definitely a gregarious animal.
And his name fitted perfectly. His gullibility and invariable stupidity seemed to have no limits. He fell for the same practical jokes over and over again. He was clumsy and stumbled over furniture, loose objects and even his own feet.
He would eat anything. If what he swallowed proved indigestible, he would stand for a minute with an astounded expression on his hairy face and then whatever he had eaten would come rolling up. He eagerly gulped down the same rubber ball a dozen times in the space of ten minutes. Whenever spoken to, he replied promptly, in his incredible squawking bray. A "hello," by one of the crew, with an answering bray from Big Stupe, was always good for a laugh.
Big Stupe had a fear of loud noises and pulled a variation of the ostrich-head-in-hole routine, at every unexpected loud sound, of turning his back to whatever had frightened him and peering cautiously back under a flipper. If a tail feather was pulled, he'd make a determined and prolonged effort to run straight through the ship's wall, flapping and treadmilling and skidding and pushing his beak against it.
Another of his tricks was the dispensing of pebbles—which he seemed to consider very valuable gifts—from his marsupial pouch to the crew members who took his fancy.
Sweets often wondered how an animal with so little common intelligence had survived the evolutionary process. He could spot no counterbalancing ability or survival characteristic. But somehow the species had escaped extinction.
On the second day, Bruckner sent Sweets and Teller, the head engineer, to the chief with a present and samples of rare ores. Sweets' duties, on the trip out, had included the learning of the native language.
The sun was hot and Sweets wore only his shoes, trousers and a T shirt. It seemed absurd that a sun that appeared no larger than an egg should be so hot. But he knew it generated all that heat because it was a blue sun and not one of the ordinary yellow-white type, as it appeared. The deceptive appearance was caused by the heavy atmosphere that held out the ultraviolet and the heat and light came in on the yellow band. Last night, the darkness had had a dim violet haze.
The interview with Chief Faffin went quite smoothly. He received the Earthmen with great cordiality and Sweets was certain that he detected in the chieftain's manner more than mere courtesy. He seemed to have a genuine liking for them. He accepted gravely the gyroscope top which Bruckner had sent and agreed, without argument or reservations, to send his men in search of the ores that matched the samples Sweets showed him.
He would be happy to assist his friends, the Lacigule, the chief said. Lacigule was the natives' name for the Earthmen, used in both the singular and the plural.
The same afternoon, a dozen natives brought samples of ores to the ship. At Bruckner's orders, Sweets gave each native a comb from the ship's supply of trading goods.
During the evening, Teller and his men set up a portable mass spectograph separator at the mine site and, three days later, they had the hold of the ship two-thirds full.
During all this time, the crew members had been restricted to the vicinity of the spaceship and by the third day were showing signs of unrest. They sent Sweets to talk with Bruckner and the captain.
"We'll be leaving here in a few days," Sweets told them. "It's been a long trip out and it'll be another long trip back. The men feel they're entitled to some fun before they go."
"That seems like a reasonable request," the captain said. "What do you think, Mr. Bruckner?"
"It would be risky to let them mingle too freely with the natives," Bruckner advised. "We aren't familiar enough with the local customs. One wrong move might spoil all the good will I've been able to build up so far."
"Unless you let them have a little fun, you're going to be awfully unpopular," Sweets said. Without knowing it, he was something of a psychologist himself.
"Hmmm." Bruckner was thoughtful. "I'm for the men," he said finally. "One hundred per cent. Let's say we wait until tomorrow evening, though. We'll have the hold just about filled by that time. Then it won't matter too much if the natives change their minds about letting us take the ores. How does that sound to you?"
"Fair enough," Sweets agreed.
The next evening, a full-fledged party was held. Permission had been obtained from Chief Faffin for the crew to visit the village and the tribesmen were waiting for them when they arrived.
Sweets stayed close to Majesky. For the past couple days, the big crewman had been drinking—not heavily, but steadily. The irritation of being restricted to the ship and vicinity, added to the long trip out from Earth, had gradually built up in him an ugly resentment.
Now as the crew members sat in a circle watching the dancing of a half-dozen native men, Sweets noted that Majesky was drunk. He sat with his arms wrapped around his legs, his head resting on his knees, and glared at the dancers. Outside the circle, a pile of brush burned with much crackling of wood-pitch.
After the dance was over, the natives sat solemnly watching the Earthmen. It was soon apparent that they expected their visitors to furnish the next portion of the entertainment program.
Evidently Bruckner had come prepared for this. He rose impressively from his throne—on which he had been carried the quarter-mile from the ship—and said, "We'll have your song now, Billy."
Billy Watts, astrogator of the crew, pulled himself to his feet and, in a high boyish tenor, sang I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.
Sweets felt his throat quicken as a wave of homesickness went through him like a chill. At the song's end, it needed the yip, yip, yip of the tribesmen's applause to bring him out of his memories of Earth.
The tribesmen continued their applause until Watts rose again. Sweets wondered if they had any music of their own. The men had danced earlier without accompaniment and they had made no sound themselves.
Billy Watts sang two more songs and it was the tribesmen's turn again.
Suddenly a native woman ran out from behind one of the round, mud-packed village huts and into the circle of spectators. She paused on tiptoe, crouched and sprang upward, twisting and screaming as she rose. She landed with her legs in driving motion and went through a racing, energetic series of gyrations. She was almost completely unclothed.
For a stunned moment, the men sat motionless in pleased surprise. Then Sweets caught a movement from the corner of his eye and shifted his head to look at Majesky. For the first time in many days, Majesky appeared happy. He had straightened up and his eyes shone with a glow of approval. He raised his arms in a gesture of encouragement and yelled, "Swing it, baby!"
The dancer's stride broke and her head turned sharply in Majesky's direction. Then she ignored the interruption and went on with her dance.
But Majesky was not to be ignored. He climbed to his feet and stood with his head hunched between his shoulders, watching her. Then he lurched forward, caught the girl up in his arms and swung her around in a staggering circle.
It had happened too suddenly for any of the Earthmen to stop him, and now they were unable to decide just what they should do. Most of them turned to Bruckner.
To Sweets, it seemed that Bruckner had gone pale, but it was difficult to be certain in the uneven light cast by the fire. His mouth opened twice before he could speak. And when he did, Sweets almost laughed at the staginess and absurdity of what he said.
"Unhand that woman!" Bruckner commanded.
Bruckner's voice was loud and it penetrated through the haze of Majesky's drunken elation. He stopped his spinning and set the girl on her feet, but he kept his right arm around her waist and glared back at Bruckner.
"Go to hell," he said.
The natives apparently had been as surprised as the crew, for they had not moved. Now, however, one of them rose and lunged at Majesky.
Majesky's face twisted into an expectant grin and he tossed the girl aside and stood with wide-spread legs, waiting. As the native dived in with his head lowered, Majesky brought his right fist up in a powerful uppercut and smashed it into the tribesman's mouth.
The native continued his dive and landed face down. Natives and Earthmen were on their feet now and moving toward Majesky. Sweets reached him first.
The grin of pleasure was still on Majesky's face as he hit Sweets on the left cheek and spun him half-around. He butted his head into the chest of the next man to reach him, but they pulled him down then and held him helpless.
The natives had paused when they saw the Earthmen grab Majesky.
Now Bruckner made his voice heard above the noise. "Bring him over here!" he yelled.
Two men pinned Majesky's arms while a third held one kicking leg. They dragged him over to Bruckner.
"You damn, dumb fool!" Bruckner cursed fervently. He raised his voice. "All of you," he ordered, "back to the ship!"
The natives made no attempt to stop them.
Sweets glanced back over his shoulder at Chief Faffin as they went. He was standing and intoning sadly, "Lacigule, lacigule, lacigule."
The following day, Bruckner called Sweets to his quarters.
"That was a rotten piece of business last night," Bruckner said. "But I'm proud of the way you acted. You did some mighty quick thinking there."
Sweets grunted. He knew the flattery was leading to something.
"I've been giving the matter some deep thought since," Bruckner continued, "and I don't think it's too late yet to patch things up. But I need a man with guts." He laughed. "How brave do you feel this morning?"
Sweets shrugged and regarded the other levelly.
"You can speak their language," Bruckner said. "And I don't believe they're sure enough of themselves to risk bloodshed. How would you like to bring another present to the chief? I'll see that you're—"
"I don't feel like being a hero this morning," Sweets interrupted. "Why don't you go yourself?"
Bruckner's eyebrows raised. "My job is vital to the success of this expedition to risk my life unnecessarily. I'd go myself except—"
"Except that it's too dangerous," Sweets finished for him.
Bruckner straightened and his lips grew narrower. "That will be enough of that. We'll find some way to get along without your help."
The party Bruckner organized to visit the native village pointedly did not include Sweets.
Each man carried a rifle and sidearms. Bruckner walked this time—at their head. But Sweets made a small bet with himself that Bruckner would stay close to the protection of his men. He was willing enough to send another man out alone, but when he had to go himself, he made sure that he was well protected.
Bruckner and his men had been gone almost an hour when Sweets heard the sound of Big Stupe's hoarse squawking from outside the ship. There seemed to be anger in the tones. Before Sweets reached the open portal of the ship, he heard more excited squawks. They were similar to Big Stupe's, but they weren't being made by him.
Outside, Sweets found Big Stupe facing three others of his breed, exchanging loud angry squawks. Soon they began to walk rapidly in their pseudo-dignified spraddles, each in a small circle.
Abruptly they were locked together and it was soon apparent that this was no game. Big Stupe pulled with both flippers at the head of one of his visitors, while another systematically raked his long claws down the sides of Big Stupe's neck. Before Sweets could reach him, the neck was streaming with blood.
Sweets remembered how Big Stupe had always been afraid of loud noises and he raised his voice in a shout. The other stupes turned their backs, but Big Stupe brought one flipper around and hit Sweets squarely between the eyes.
As Sweets stood stunned, he felt Big Stupe's body crash against his shoulders and this time, when he yelled, it was in alarm and fear.
Then he was free and his eyes swam back into focus. He saw Big Stupe standing with his back turned. The three visitors were shambling off awkwardly.
Sweets left Big Stupe and stumbled back to the ship.
Bruckner returned well pleased with his trip.
"I'd say we handled that exactly right," he said. "I don't know if the other expeditions contacted this particular tribe or not, but at least stories must have reached them of the potency of the Earthmen's weapons. When we showed them that we preferred peace, but were ready to fight if necessary, that was the end of the affair. And the presents we had for Faffin, and for the native that Majesky hit, didn't hurt any. The one thing to keep in mind is that we've got to make them respect us. And those lads have plenty of respect for Lacigule right now."
It seemed that Bruckner was right. There was no further difficulty with the tribesmen as the engineers completed their mining and separating operations and finished filling the hold of the ship.
Two days later, they were ready to leave.
"Can we take Big Stupe along with us when we go?" one of the crewmen asked Bruckner. Most of them were standing outside the ship, taking a last look around at Waterfields Planet. The ship had been made space-ready and all preparations for departure had been completed.
"I see no reason why not," Bruckner answered. "He certainly helps keep our morale up. I wonder," he went on in an expansive mood, "if you men realize why you get such a kick out of Big Stupe. You ought to read Hobbs' essay on the basis of humor sometime.
"Hobbs does a fine job of showing that we enjoy humor because it caters to our need for self-approval. When a monkey falls out of a tree, all the other monkeys laugh, because it makes them feel so clever and wise for not having fallen out of their tree. Whenever Big Stupe pulls one of his outlandish stunts, we are all reminded of how much smarter we are. It makes us feel good and so we like Big Stupe. We like anybody or anything that makes us feel superior."
A few of the natives who had been watching the preparations for departure from a distance walked closer.
Bruckner turned and waved cheerfully to them. "Farewell, friends. Perhaps we'll see you again in a few years." He paused. "I've been wondering," he said, pointing at Big Stupe, "what's your name for this bird here?"
"Lacigule," the native answered.
They left Big Stupe behind.