Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

Donald A. Wollheim: Mimic

Donald A. Wollheim, Mimic, Tales of mystery, Relatos de terror, Horror stories, Short stories, Science fiction stories, Anthology of horror, Antología de terror, Anthology of mystery, Antología de misterio, Scary stories, Scary Tales, Science Fiction Short Stories, Historias de ciencia ficcion, Salomé Guadalupe Ingelmo


. It is less than two hundred years since the discovery of the last continent. The sciences of chemistry and physics go back scarce one century. The science of aviation goes baclc forty years. The science of atomics is being born. And yet we think we know a lot. We know little or nothing. Some of the ,most startling things are unknown to us. When they are discovered they may shock us to the bone. We search for secrets In the far Islands of the Pacific and among the ice fields of the frozen North while under our very noses, rubbing shoulders with us every day, there may walk the undiscovered.It Is a curious fact of nature that that which is In plain view Is oft best hidden. 1 have always known of the man in the black cloak. Since I was a child he has always lived on my street, and his eccentricities are so familiar that they go unmentioned except among casual visitors. Here, in the heart of the largest city in the world, in swarming New York, the eccentric and the odd may flourish unhindered. As children we had hilarious fun jeering at the man in black when he displayed his fear of women. We watched, in our evil, childish way, for those moments; we tried to get him to show anger. But he ignored us completely, and soon we paid him no further heed, even as our parents did. We saw him only twice a day. Once in the early morning, when we would see his six-foot figure come out of the grimy dark hallway of the tenement at the end of the street and stride down towards the elevated to work again when he came back at night. He was always dressed in a long black cloak that came to his ankles, and he wore a wide-brimmed black hat down far over his face. He was a sight from some weird story out of the old lands. But he harmed nobody, and paid attention to nobody. . Nobody except perhaps women. When a woman crossed his path, he would stop in his stride and come to a dead halt. We could see that he closed his eyes until she had passed. Then he would snap those wide watery blue eyes open and march on as if nothing had happened. He was never known to speak ,to a woman.

He had then. he never spoke to anyone. unless you look very carefully. people like that inhabit big cities and nobody knows the story of their lives until they're all over. But that had stopped and that was all there was to that story. It is colored to appear shiny and armored. Even to having phony vein markings that look just like the real leaf's. but he never had any trouble with him either.He would buy some groceries maybe once a week. We grew up on the street. and they had heard a lot of hammering and banging in his room for several days. There are twig insects that look exactly like a leaf or a branch of a tree. Exactly. we saw him occasionally when he came home and went back into the dark hallway of the house he lived in. I went to college. Or until something strange happens. though there were one or two funny stories. He. I learned. Antonio did not like him. We got used to him. which it twists and curls just like a wasp's stinger. Now that I think of it. I studied. years ago. It even has a fake stinger made of hair. and hundreds and hundreds of insects from all over. Finally I got a job assisting a museum curator. I spent my days mounting beetles and classifying exhibits of stuffed animals and preserved plants. One of the kids on the block lived in that house too. Nature is a strange thing. Antonio said once that he never talked. even though its body is soft and not armored like a wasp's. A lot of families did. You realize how nature uses the art of camouflage. I grew up. You learn that very clearly when you work in a museum. Nature is strange and perfect that way. It has the same colorings and. for he was reputed to pay his rent regularly when the janitor asked for it. You can't tell them apart. He had money. never had visitors. . And he had once built something in his room out of metal. hauled up some long flat metal sheets. There is a moth in. Central America that looks like a wasp. at Antonio's but only when there were no other patrons there. Well. Where he worked I don't know and never found out. he just pointed at things he wanted and paid for them in bills that he pulled out of a pocket somewhere under his cloak. Antonio said they knew nothing much about him either. nobody ever did have any trouble with him. sheets of tin or iron.


But in the midst of the army ants there also travel many other creatures creatures that aren't ants at all. It knows somehow that it is helpless and that it can survive only by pretending to be as deadly to other insects as wasps are. Army ants travel in huge colums of thousands and hundreds of thousands. He had gone out in the . The army ants and the wasps. other ants. They have false markings like ant-thoraxes and they run along in imitation of ant speed. i" WAS. It moves so fast that the real ants never give it a second glance. There is even one that is so long it is marked like three ants in single file. the cunning of his trap. the hawk and the feliries. It moves like a wasp. and their strange iinitators.It even flies in the daytime when wasps do. snakes. stranger of the black cloak. The whole world of nature knows man for the irresistible master. Some of them are beetles that look like ants. all the other moths. There are all sorts of things that look like dangerous animals. sheer luck that I happened to be on the street at that dawning hour when the janitor came running out of the tenement on my street shouting for help. the greatest hunter of them all. But they don't know of them because these other creatures are disguised. Animals that are the killers and superior fighters of their groups have no enemies. And man is the greatest killer. and not at riight like. the sharks. There are weak caterpillars that look like big armored beetles. or get eaten. The policeman on the beat and I were the only people besides the janitor to see the things that we found in the two dingy rooms occupied by the. the strength and agility of his arm place all else beneath him. They move along in a flowing stream several yards across and they eat everything in their path. beetles even men run away. So there are a host of weak things that try to hide among them to mimic them. Everything in the jungle is afraid of them. The roar of his gun. bees. I learned about army ants. Wasps. as often happens to be the case. The janitor explained as the officer and I dashed up the narrow rickety stairs that he-had been awakened by the sound of heavy thuds and shrill screams in the stranger's rooms. I had been working all night mounting new exhibits. and that the army ants would kill if they Icnew of them. lizards. birds.

We heard a' faint rustling a continuous slow rustling as of a breeze blowing paper. The big slouch' hat was lying on the floor some distance away. When we got there the place was silent. His eyes were open and staring.' For several instants we saw nothing amiss At first we saw a man. From the inside of the box the faint rustling was coming. He had a coat and skin-tight pants. the floor covered with scraps of torn paper. in a painting. I noticed first that he had no eyebrows. took the cloak off. Two hard blows and the rotten old lock gave way. The cop knocked again but there was still no response. if you only just glanced at him. A faint light shone from under the doorway. featureless black suit. dressed in a somber. His mouth was as it should be. His hair was short and curly brown. there was nqanswer. He put his ear to the door and so did. The janitor had listened. But no one had ever noticed that. then run for help. The stranger of the black cloak lay in the middle of the floor dead. His skin was oddly mottled. The suit was not a suit. held together with screws and ropes. His head perched upon a thin neck. It stood straight up in its inch-long length. I. before. which i thought was odd.hallway to listen. He was still wearing the cloak. we threw our weight at the door. Lilte the. The policeman knocked. aind slightly open but he had no teeth. What we thought was a coat was a huge black wing sheath. only a curious dal'k line in the flesh over each eye. In one corner there stood a metal box. like a beetle has. A tight box. We turned over the stranger. Where the nose should have been there were dark shadowings that made the appearance of a nose. He . It was his body. It was then that I realized that he had "no nose. It had a lid. work of a skillful artist. Then. It was part of him. about four feet square. The room was filthy. The room was unfurnished. Severe groaning as of someone in terrible pain the noise of someone thrashing around in agony ^was coming from behind the closed door of the stranger's apartment.-together.. which was down and fastened with a sort of wax seal. We burst in. bits of detritus and garbage. opening at the top.

be others that disguise themselves to fool. Afterwards I /. The body' bulged out below. I heard him muttering under his breath an endless stream of Hail Marys. I onotioned the white-faced cop and we went over and stood before it. There was a sharp round hole newly pierced in his chest just above these. He took his nightstick and knocked a\^y the waxen seal.never occurred to us that we too were army ants of a sort: We knew of stick insectsand it never-occurred to us that there might.. with expressionless faces and their dots of watery blue eyes.arms still oozing a watery liquid. he wore the cloak. Tile lower thorax the "abdomen" was very long arid insectlike. and straight out into the first glow of dawn they flew. 'The rustling was still coming from the box. only the wing sheath covered it and you couldn't notice It when. We knew of army ants and their imitators. The sight was a shock such "as leaves one in full control. strangely terrifying as they flew^-clad in their black suits. . thin hind legs. looked like little men. The window was open. Arid they. have had spasins of numbing terror as my mind tries to put the things together. not other animals. We staggered back as suddenly a stream of flying things shot out of the huge iron container. . and it is only in afterthought that one can feel the dim shuiJder of horror. They were about two or three inches long and they flew on'wide gauzy beetle wings. yet it. almost hypnotized. The whole business was so utterly unexpected." He had a tiny secondary pair of arms folded tightly ' across his^chest. The officer was pale but standing by his duty. tapering off into the two long. It was crumpled up now like the wreck of an airplane fuselage: I recalled the appearance of a female wasp that had just laid. They. The mind rejects it. -Then we heaved and pulled the lid open. The horror of it had not reached my mind at once. thorax like an insect. His arms came out from under the top of the ''coat. but the supreme animal himself man.had a.flew out ori transparent wings that came from under their black beetle coats. The janitor fled gibbering. eggs-r-her thorax had had that empty appearance.' There must have been dozens of them. fascinated. A wave of noxious vapor assailed us. I ran to the window.

I saw two big eyes staring up into the sky. I looked away from that fourth floor tenement room over the roofs of the lower buildings. Evolution will create a being for . . but its sex was surely female. I saw the small cloud of flying things rising up' into the sky and. )UT it is the other thing I saw when I I ran to the 'window that.. And its red brick surface seem to peel away.them. And then there might perhaps have been some touch of instinctive feminine jealousy. The policeman did not see It. A great. oddly.. Women might become suspicious sooner of the inhumanity.sailing away into the purple distance.. perhaps. no matter how unlikely.has shaken me most. . And then I saw a chimney. The dawn was breaking and the first rays of the sun were just striking over the housetops.They niight have been human I suppose the stranger of the: black cloak did not fear women so much as it distrusted . .We found some bones in the bottom of that iron case afterwards. Nobody else isaw it but me. . Shaken.. But we couldn't ideritify them. Women notice men. not thirty feet away on the next roof. and I only for an instant. When I went to the window. It was squat arid red brick and had two black pipe ends flush with its top. more closely then other men do. Perhaps we did not try hard. I saw it suddenly vibrate. The things in the iron box were its young. I watched until all had lost themselves in the sky. any niche. flat-v/inged thing detached itself silently from the surface of the real chimney and darted hungrily after the cloud of flying things. the deception. Nature practises deceptions in every angle. and the black pipe openings turn suddenly white. Chimneys and walls and empty clotheslines made the scenery over which the tiny mass of horror passed. The stranger was disguised as a man.

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Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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