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).

Ray Bradbury: The Third Expedition

Ray Bradbury, The Third Expedition, Tales of mystery, Relatos de terror, Horror stories, Short stories, Science fiction stories, Italo Calvino, Leggenda di Carlomagno, Anthology of horror, Antología de terror, Anthology of mystery, Antología de misterio, Scary stories, Scary Tales, Science Fiction Short Stories, Historias de ciencia ficcion


The ship came down from space. It came from the stars and the black velocities, and the shining movements, and the silent gulfs of space. It was a new ship; it had fire in its body and men in its metal cells, and it moved with a clean silence, fiery and warm. In it were seventeen men, including a captain. The crowd at the Ohio field had shouted and waved their hands up into the sunlight, and the rocket bad bloomed out great flowers of beat and cobs and run away into space on the third voyage to Mars!
Now it was decelerating with metal efficiency in the upper Martian atmospheres. It was still a thing of beauty and strength. It had moved in the midnight waters of space like a pale sea leviathan; it had passed the ancient moon and thrown itself onward into one nothingness following another. The men within it had been battered,, thrown about, sickened, made well again, each in his turn. One man had died, but now the remainii~g sixteen, with their eyes clear in their heads and their faces pressed to the thick glass ports, watched Mars swing up under them.
“Mars! Mars! Good old Mars, here we are!” cried Navigator Lustig.
“Good old Mars!” said Samuel Hinkston, archaeologist.
“Well,” said Captain John Black.
The ship landed softly. on a lawn of green grass. Outside, upon the lawn, stood an iron deer. Further up the lawn, a tall brown Victorian house sat in the quiet sunlight, all covered with scrolls and rococo, its windows
made of blue and pink and yellow and green colored glass. Upon the porch were hairy geraniums and an old swing which was hooked into the porch ceiling and which now swung back and forth, back and forth, in a little breeze. At the top of the house was a cupola with diamond, leaded-glass windows, and a dunce-cap roof! Through the front window you could see an ancient piano with yellow keys and a piece of music titled Beautiful Ohio sitting on the music rest.
Around the rocket in four directions spread the little town, green and motionless in the Martian spring, There were white houses and red brick ones, and tall elm trees blowing in the wind, and tall maples and horse chestnuts. And church steeples with golden bells silent in them.
The men in the rocket looked out and saw this. Then they looked at one another and then they looked out again. They held on~ to each other’s elbows, suddenly unable to breathe, it seemed. Their faces grew pale and they blinked constantly, running from glass port to glass port of the ship.
“I’ll be damned,” whispered Lustig, rubbing his face with his numb fingers, his eyes wet. “Ill be thinned, damned, damned.’~
“It can~t be, it just can’t be,” said Samuel Hinkston.
“Lord,” said Captain John Black.
There was a call from the chemist. “Sir, the atmosphere is fine for breathing, sir.” -
Black turned slowly. “Are you sure?’
“No doubt of it, sir.”
“Then we’ll go. out,” said Lustig.
“Lord, yes,” said Samuel Hinkston.
“Hold on,” said Captain John Black. “Just a moment, Nobody gave any orders.”
“But, sir-.-”
“Sir, nothing. How do we know what this is?”
“We know what it is, sir,” said the chemist. “It’s a small town withgood air in it, sir.”
“And it’s a small town the like of Earth towns,” said Samuel Hinkston, the archaeologist. “Incredible. j~ can’t be, but it is.”
Captain John Black looked at him, idly. “Do you think
that the civilizations of two planets can progress at the same rate and evolve in the same way, Hinkston?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so, sir.”
Captain Black stood by the port. “Look out there. The
geraniums. A specialized plant. That specific variety has only been known on Earth for fifty years. Think of the thousands of years of time it takes to evolve plants. Then tell me if it is logical that the Martians should have:

one, leaded glass windows; two, cupolas; three, porch swings; four, an instrument that looks like, a . piano and probably is a piano; and, five, if you look closely, . if a Martian composer would have published a piece of music titled, strangely enough, Beautiful Ohio. All of which means that we have an Ohio River here on Marst”
“It is quite strange, sir.”
“Strange, hell, it’s absolutely impossible, and I suspect the whole bloody shooting setup. Something’s wrong here, and I’m not leaving the ship until I know what it is.”
“Oh, sir,” said Lustig.
“Dam it,” said Samuel Hinkston. “Sir, I want to investigate this at first hand. It may be that there are similar patterns of thought, movement, civilization on every planet in our system. We may be on the threshold of the great psychological and metaphysical discovery In our time, sir, don’t you think?”
“I’m willing to wait a moment,” said Captain. John
Black. -
“It may be, sir, that we are looking upon a phenomenon that, for the first time, would absolutely prOve the existence of a God, sir.”
“There are many people who are of good faith without such proof, Mr. Hinkston.”
“I’m one myself, sir. But certainly a thing like this, out there,” said Hinkston, “could not occur without divine intervention, sir. It fills me with such terror and elation I’ don’t know whether to laugh or cry, sir.”
“Do neither,. then, until we know what we’re up against.”
“Up against, sir?” inquired Lustig. “I see that we’re up against nothing. It’s a good quiet, green town, much like the one I was born in, and I like the looks of It.”
“When were you born, Lustig?” -
- “In- 1910, sfr.”
“That makes you fifty years old, now, doesn’t it?”
“This being 1960, yes, sir.”
- “And you, Hinkston?”
“1920, sir. In Illinois. And this looks swell to me, sir.”
“This couldn’t be Heaven,” said the captain, ironically. “Though, I must admit, it looks peaceful and cool, and pretty much like Green Bluff, where I was born, in 1915.”
lie looked at the chemist. “The air’s all right, is it?”
“Yes, sir.”
‘Well, then, tell you what we’ll do. Lustig, you and Ilinkston and I will fetch ourselves out to look this town
over. The other 14 men will stay aboard ship. If’ anything untoward happens, lift ‘the Ship ‘and get the hell out, do you bear what I say, Craner?”
“Yes, sir. The hell out we’ll go, sir. Leaving you?”,
“A loss of three men’s better than a whole ship. If
something bad happens get back to Earth and warn the next Rocket, that’s Lingle’s Rocket, I think, which will be completed and ready to take off some time around next Christmas, what he has to meet up with. If there’s something hostile about Mars we certainly want the next expedition to be well armed.”
“So are we, sir. We’ve got a regular arsenal with us.”
“Tell the ‘men to stand by the guns, then, as. Lustig and Hinkston and I go out,”
“Right, sir.”
“Come along, Lustig, Hinkston.”
The three men walked together, down through the levels of the ship.

It was a beautiful spring day. A robin sat on a blossoming apple tree and sang continuously. Showers of petal snow sifted down when the wind touched the apple tree, and the blossom smell drifted upon the air. Somewhere in the town, somebody was playing the piano and the music came and went, came and went, softly, drowsily. The song was Beautiful Dreamer. Somewhere else, a phonograph, scratchy and faded, was hissing out a record of Roamin’ In The Gloamin,’ sung by Harry Lapder.
The three men stood outside the ship. The port closed
behind them. At every window, a face pressed, looking out. The large metal guns pointed this way and that, ready.
Now the phonograph record being played was: -

“Oh give me a June night
The moonlight and you—”

Lustig began to tremble. Samuel Hinkston did likewise.
Hinkston’s voice was so feeble and uneven that the captain had to ask him to repeat what he had said. “I said, sir, that I think I have solved this, all of this, sir!”
“And what is the solution, Hinkston?”
The soft wind blew. The sky was serene and quiet and somewhere a stream of water ran through the cool caverns and tree-shadings of a ravine. Somewhere a horse and wagon trotted and rolled by, bumping.
“Sir, it must be, it has to be, this is the only solution!
Rocket travel began to Mars in the years before the first’
World War, sir!” S
The captain stared at his archaeologist. “No!”
“But, yes, sir! You must admit, look at all of this! How else explain it, the houses, the lawns, the iron deer, the flowers, the pianos, the music!”
“Hinkston, Hinkston, oh,” and the captain put his hand to his face, shaking his head, his hand shaking no~v, his lips blue.
“Sir, listen to me.” Hinkston took his elbow persuasively and looked up into the captain’s face, pleading. “Say that there -were some people in the year 1905, perhaps, who hated wars and wanted to get away from Earth and they got together, some scientists, in secret, and built a rocket and came out here to Mars.”
“No, no, Hinkston.”
“Why not? The world was a different place in 1905, they could have kept -it a secret much more easily.”
“But the work, Hinkston, the work of building a corn.’ plex thing like a rocket, oh, no, no.” The captain looked at his shoes, looked -at his hands, looked at the houses, and then at Hinkston.
“And they caine up here, and haturally the houses they built were similar to Earth houses because they
brought the cultural -~architecture with them, and here it is!”
“And they’ve lived here all these years?” said the captain.
“In peace and quiet, sir, yes. Maybe they made a few trips, to bring enough people here for one small town, and then stopped, for fear of being discovered. That’s why the town seems so old-fashioned. I don’t see a thing, myself, that is older than the year 1927, do you?”
“No, frankly, I don’t, Hinkston.”
“These are our people, sir. This is an American city; it’s definitely not European!”
“That—that’s right, too, Hinkston.”
“Or maybe, just maybe, sir, rocket travel is older than we think. Perhaps it started in some part of the world hundreds of years ago, was discovered and kept secret by a small number of men, and they came to Mars, with only occasional visits to Earth over the centuries.”
“You make it sound almost reasonable.”
“it is, sir. It has to be. We have the proof here before us, all we have ‘to do now, is find some people and verify it!”
“You’re right- there, of course. We can’t just stand here and talk. Did’ you bring your gun?”
“Yes, but we won’t need it.”
“We’ll see about it. Come along, we’ll ring that doorbell and see if anyone is home.”
Their boots were deadened of all sound in the thick green grass. it smelled from a fresh mowing. In spite of himself, Captain John Black felt a great peace come over him. It had been thirty years since he had been in a small’ town, and the buzzing of spring bees on the air lulled and quieted him, and the fresh look of things was a balm to the soul.

Hollow echoes sounded from under the boards as they walked across the porch and stood before the screen door. Inside, they could see a bead curtain hung across the hall entry, and a crystal chandelier and a Maxfleld Parrish painting framed on one wall over a comfortable Morris, Chair. The house smelled old, and of the attic, and infinitely comfortable. You could hear the tinkle of
ice rattling in a lemonade pitcher~ In a distant kitchen, because of the day, someone was preparing a soft, lemon
drieL - -
Captain’ John Black rang the bell.
Footsteps, dainty and thin, came along the hail and a kind-faced lady of some forty years, dressed in the sort of dress you might expect in the year 1909, peered out at them.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Beg your pardon,” said Captain Black, uncertainly.
“But we’re looking for, that is, could you help us, I mean.” He stopped. She looked out at him with dark wondering eyes.
“If you’re selling something,” she said, “I’m much too
busy and I haven’t time.” She turned to go.
“No, wail,” he cried bewilderedly. “What town is this?”
She looked him up and down as if he were crazy.
“What do you mean, what town is it? How could you be in a town and not know what town it was?”
The captain looked as if he wanted to go sit under a shady apple tree. “I beg your pardon,” he said, “But we’re strangers here. We’re from Earth, and we want to know how this town got here and you’ got here.”
“Are you census takers?” she asked.
“No,” be said. -
“What do you want then?” she demanded.
“Well,” said the captain.
“Well?” she asked. -‘
“How long has this town been here?” he wondered.
“It was built in 1868,” she snapped at them. “Is this a game?”
“No, not a game,” cried the captain. “Oh, God,” - be said. “Look here. We’re from Earthi”
“From where?” she said.
‘Prom Earth!” he said. -
“Where’s that?” she said.
“From Earth,” he cried. ‘ -
“Out of the ground, do you mean?”
“No, from the planet Earth!” he almost shouted.
“Here,” J~e insisted, “come out on the porôh and I’ll
show you.” , -
“No,” she said, “I won’t come out there, you are all evidently quite mad from the sun.”
Lustig and Hinkston stood behind the captain. Hinkston now spoke up. “Mrs.,” he said. ‘We came in a flying ship across space, among the stars. We came from the third planet from the sun, Earth, to tb-is planet, which is Mars. Now do you understand, Mrs.?”
“Mad from the sun,” she said, taking hold of the door. “Go away now, before I call my husband who’s upstairs taking a nap, and he’ll beat you all with his fists.”
“But—” said Hinkston. “This is Mars, is it not?”
“This,” explained the woman, as if she were addressing a child, “is Green Lake, Wisconsin, on the continent of America, surrounded by the Pacific and ~Atlantic Oceans, on a place called the world, or sometimes, the Earth. Go away now. Good-bye!”
She slammed the door. -
-The three men stood before the door with their hands up in the air toward it, as if pleading with her to open it once more.
They looked at one another.
- “Let’s knock the door down,” said Lustig.
“We can’t,” sighed the captain.
“Why not?”
“She didn’t do anything bad, did she? We’re the strangers here. This is private property. Good God, Hinkstonl” He went and sat down on the porchstep.
“What, sir?”
Did it ever strike you, that maybe we got ourselves, somehow, some way, fouled up. And, by accident, came back and landed on Earth!”
“Oh, sir, oh, sir, oh oh, sir.” And Hinkston sat down numbly and thought about it.
Lustig stood up in the sunlight. “How could we have done that?”
“I don’t know, just let me think.”
}Iinkston said, “But we checked every mile of the way, and we saw Mars and our chronometers said so many miles ‘gone, and we went past the moon and out into space and here we are, on Mars. I’m sure we’re on Mars, ‘ sir.”
Lustig said, “But, suppose that, by accident, in space,
in time, or something, we landed on a planet in space, in another time. Suppose this is Earth, thirty or fifty yeara ago? Maybe we got lost in the dimensions, do you think?”
“Oh, go away, Lustig.” -‘
“Are the men in the ship keeping an eye on us, Hink..
ston?” , -
“At their guns, sir.”
Lustig went to the door, rang the bell. When the door opened again, he asked, ‘What year is this?’ -
“1926, of, course!” cried the woman, furiously, and slammed the door again.
“Did you bear that?” Lustig ran back to them, wildly, “She said 1926! We - have gone back in time. This iv Earth!”
Lu~tig sat down and the three men let the wonder and terror of the thought afflict them. Their hands stirred fitfully on their knees. The wind blew, nodding the locks of hair on their heads.
The captain stood up, brushing off his pants. “I never thought it would be like this. It scares the hell out of me. How ‘can a thing like this happen?”
“Will anybody in the whole town believe us?” won~. dered Hinkston. “Are we playing around with something dangerous? Time, I mean. Shouldn’t we just take off and go home?”
“No. We’ll try another house.”
They walked three houses down to a little white cot.. tage under an oak tree. “I like to be as logical as I can’ get,” said the captain, He nodded at the town. “How does this sound to you, Hinkston? Suppose, as you- said originally, that rocket travel occurred years ago. And when the Earth people had lived here a numbet of years they began to get homesick for Earth. First a mild neuro.. sis about it, then a full-fledged psychosis. Then, threatened insanity. What would you do, as a psychiatrist, if fated with such a problem?” - -
Hinkston thought. “Well, I think I’d re-arrange the civilization on Mars so it resembled Earth more and more each day. If there was any way of reproducing every plant, every road and every lake, and even an ocean, I would do so. Then I would, by some vast crowd hyp
nosis, theoretically anyway, convince everyone in a town this size that this really was Earth, not Mars at all.”
“Good enough, Hinkston. I think we’re on the right track now. That woman in that house back there, just’ minks she’s living on Earth. It protects ‘her sanity. She
and all the others in this town are the patients of the greatest experiment in migration and hypnosis you will ever lay your eyes on in your life.” -
“That’s it, sir!” cried Lustig.
“Well,” the captain sighed. “Now we’re getting some-
- where. I feel better. It all sounds a bit more logical now. This talk about time and going back and forth and traveling in time turns my stomach upside down. But, this way—”- He actually smiled for the first time in a month. “Well. It looks as if we’ll be fairly welcome here.”
“Or, will we, sir?” said Lustig. “After all, like the Pilgrims, these people came here to escape Earth. Maybe they won’t be too happy to see us, sir Maybe they’ll try to drive us ~out or kill us?”
‘We have superior weapons if that should happen. Anyway, all we can do is try. This next house now. Up we go.”
But they had hardly crossed the lawn when Lustig stopped and looked off across the town, down the quiet, dreaming afternoon street. “Sir,” he said.
“What is it, Lustig?” asked the captain.
“Oh, sir, sir, what I see, what I do see now before me, oh, oh—” said Lustig, and he began to cry. His fingers came up, twisting and trembling, and his face was all wonder and joy and incredulity. He sounded as if any moment he might go quite insane with happiness. He looked down the street and he began to run, stumblin& awkwardly, falling, picking himself up, and running on. “Oh, God, God, thank you, God! Thank you!”
- “Don’t let him get away!” The captain broke into a run.
Now Lustig was running at full speed, shouting. He turned into a yard half way down the little shady side street and leaped up upon the porch of a large green house with an iron rooster on the rooL
Re was beating upon the door, shouting and hollering and crying whàn Hinkston and the captain ran up and stood in the yard,
The door opened. Lustig yanked the screen wide and in a high wail of discovery and happiness, cried out, “Grandma! Grandpa!” -
Two old people stood in the dooEway, their faces light. lug up.
“Albert!” Their voices piped and they rushed out to embrace and pat him on the back and move around him, “Albert, oh, Albert, it’s been so many years! How you’ve grown, boy, how big you ate, boy, oh, Albert boy, how are you!”
“Grandma, Grandpa!” sobbed Albert Lustig. “Good to see you! You look fine, fine! Oh, fine.” He held them, turned them, kissed them, hugged them, cried on them, held them out again, blinked at the little old people.- The, sun was in the sky, the wind blew, the grass was green, the screen door stood open.
“Come in, lad, come in, there’s lemonade for you,fresh, lots of- it!”
“Grandma, Grandpa, good to see you! I’ve got- friends down here! Here!” Lustig turned and waved wildly at the captain and Hinkston, who, all during the adventure on the porch, had stood in’ the shade of a tree, holding onto each other. “Captain, captain, come up, come up, I want you to meet my grandfolks!”
“Howdy,” said the folks. “Any- friend of Albert’s is ours, too! Don’t stand there with your mouths openi Come on!”

In the living room of the old house it was cool and a grandfather clock ticked high and long and bronzed in one corner. There were soft pillows on large couches and walls filled with books and a rug cut in a thick rose pattern and antimacassars pinned to furniture, and lemonade in the hand, sweating, and cool on the thirsty tonguo. “Here’s to our health.” Grandma tipped her glass to her porcelain teeth. - -
“How long you been here, Grandma?” said Lustig.
“A good many years,” she said, tartly. “Ever since we died.”
“Ever since you what?” asked Captain John Black, putting his drink down. - -
“Oh, yes,” Lustig looked at his captain. “They’ve been dead thirty years.”
“And you sit there, calmly!” cried the captain.
“Tush,” said the old woman, and winked glitteringly
- at John Black. “Who are we to question what happens?
Here we are. What’s life, anyways? Who does what for why and where? All we know is here we are, alive again, and no questions -asked. A second chance.” She toddled over and held out her -thin wrist to Captain John Black.
“FeeL” He felt.~ “Solid, ain’t I?” she ask~ed. He nodded.
“You hear my voice, don’t you?” she inquired. Yes, he did. “Well, then,” she said in triumph, “why go around questioning?”
“Well,” said the captain, “it’s simply that we never thought we’d find a thing like this on Mars.”
“And now you’ve found it. I dare say there’s lots on every planet that’ll show you God’s infinite ways.”
9s this Heaven?” asked Hinkston.
“Nonsense, no. It’s a world and we get a second chance. Nobody told us why. But then nobody told us why we were on Earth, either. That other Earth, I mean. The one you came from. How do we know there wasn’t another before that one?”
“A good question,” said the captain.
The captain stood up and slapped his hand on his leg in an off-hand fashion. “We’ve got to be going. It’s been nice. Thank you for the drinks.”
He stopped. He turned and looked toward the door, startled. ‘ -
Par away, in the sunlight, there was a sound of voices, a crowd, a shouting and a great hello.
“What’s that?” asked Hinkston.
“We’ll soon find out!” And Captain John Black was out the front door abruptly, jolting across the green lawn and into the street of the Martian town.
He stood looking at the ship. The ports were open and his crew were streaming out, waving their hands. A crowd of people had gathered and in and through and among these people the members of the crew were running, talking, laughing, shaking hands. People did little dances. People swarmed. The rocket lay - empty and abandoned.
A brass band exploded in the sunlight, flinging off a gay tune from upraised tubas and trumpets. There was a bang of drums and a shrill of fifes. Little girls with golden hair jumped up and down. Little boys shouted, “Hoorayl” And fat men passed around ten-cent cigars. The mayor of the town made a speech. Then, each member of the crew with a mother on one -arm, a father or sister on the other, was spirited off down the street, into little cottages or big mansions and doors slammed shut.
The wind rose in the clear spring sky and all was silent. The brass band had banged off around a corner leaving the rocket to shine and dazzle alone in the sunlight.
“Abandoned!” cried the captain. “Abandoned the ship, they did! I’ll have their skins; by God! They had orders!”
“Sir,” said Lustig. “Don’t be too -hard on them. Those were all old relatives and friends.”
“That’s no excuse!” - -
“Think how they felt, captain, seeing familiar faces outside the ship!” -
“I would have obeyed orders! I would havo~!’ The captain’s mouth remained open.
Striding along the sidewalk - under the Martian sun, tall, smiling, eyes blue, face tan, came a young man of
some twenty-six years. -
“John!” the man cried, and broke into a run.
“What?” said Captain .John Black. He swayed. -
“John, you old beggar, you!”
The man ran up and gripped his hand and slapped him
on the back. -
“It’s you,” said John Black.
“Of course, who’d you think it was!” -
“Edward!” The captain appealed now to Lustig and
Hinkston, holding the stranger’s hand. “This is my brothet -
Edward. Ed, meet my men, Lustig, Hinkstont My
brother!” - - -
They tugged at each other’s hands and arms and then finally embraced. “Ed!” “John, you old bum, you!” “You!re locking fine, Ed, but, Ed, what .is this? You haven’t ,changed over the years. You died, I remember, when you were twenty-six, and 1 was nineteen, oh God,
so many years ago, and here you are, and, Lord, what goes on, what goes on?”
Edward Black gave him a brotherly knock on the chin.
“Mom’s waiting,” he said.
“Mom?”
“And Dad, too.”
- “And Dad?” The- captain ;lmost fell to earth as if hit upon the chest with a mighty weapon. He walked stiffly and awkwardly, out of coordination. He stuttered and whispered and talked only one or two words at a time.
“Mom alive? Dad? Where?”
“At the old house on Oak Knoll Avenue.” -
“The old house.” The captain stared in delighted amazement. “Did you hear that, Lustig, Hinkstou?”
~‘I know it’s hard for you to belióve.”
“But alive. Real.”
“Don’t I feel real?” The strong arm, the firm grip, the white smile. The light, curling hair.
Hinkaton was gone. He had seen his own house down the street and was running for it. Lustig was grinning.
“Now you understand, sir, what happened to everybody on the ship. They couldn’t help themselves.”
“Yes. Yes,” said the captain, eyes shut. “Yes.” He put out his hand. “When I open my eyes, you’ll be gone.” He opened his eyes. “You’re still here. God, Edward, you look fine!” - - -
“Come along, lunch is waiting for you. I told Mom.” Lustig said, “Sir, Ui be with my grandfolks if you want me.” -
“What? Oh, fine, Lustig. Later, then.”
Edward grabbed his arm and marched him. “You need support.” -
“I do. My knees, all funny. My stomach, loose. God.”
“There’s the house. Remember it?” -
“Remember it? Hell! I bet I can beat you to the front porch!” -
They ran. The wind roared over Captain John Black’s ears. The earth roared -under his feet. He saw the golden figure of Edward Black pull ahead of him in the amazing dream of reality. He saw the house rush- forward, the door open, the screen swing back. “Beat you!” cried Edward,
- bounding up the steps. “I’m an old man,” panted the cap-
tam, “and you’re still young. But, then, you always beat me, I remember!”
In the doorway, Mom, pink, and plump and bright. And behind her, pepper grey, Dad, with his pipe in his hand.
“Mom, Dad!”
He ran up -the steps like a child, to meet them.
It was a fine long afternoon. They finished lunch and they sat in the living room and he told them all about his rocket and his being captain and they nodded and smiled upon him and Mother was just the same, and Dad bit the end off a cigar and lighted it in his old fashion. Mom brought in some iced tea in the middle of the afternoon. Then, there was a big turkey dinner at night and time flowing oil. When the drumsticks were sucked clean and lay brittle upon the plates, the captain leaned back in his chair and exhaled his deep contentment. Dad poured him a small glass of dry sherry. It was. seven-thirty in the evening. Night was in all the trees and coloring the sky, and the lamps were halos of dim light in the gentle house. From all the other houses down the streets came sounds of music; pianos playing, laughter.
Mom put a record on the victrola and she and Captain John Black bad a - dance. She was wearing the same perfume he remembered from the summer when she and Dad had been killed in the train accident. She was very real in his arms as they danced lightly to the music. -
“I’ll wake in the morning,” said the captain. “And I’ll
be in my rocket in space, and this will be gone.”
“No, no, don’t think that,” she cried, softly, pleadingly~ “We’re here. Don’t question. God is good to- us. Let’s be happy.”
The record ended with a - hissing.
“You’re tired, son,” said Dad. He waved his pipe. “You and Ed go on upstairs. Your old bedroom is waiting for you.” . - -
“The old one?”
“The brass bed and all,” laughed Edward.
“But I should report mymen in.”
“Why?” Mother was logicaL
“Why? Well, I don’t know. No reason, I guess. No,.
none at all. What’s the difference?” He shook his head.
“I’m not being very logical these days,” -
“Good night, son.” She kissed his cheek. “‘Night, Mom.”
“Sleep tight, son.” Dad shook his hand.
“Same to you, Pop.” - “It’s good to have you home.”
“It’s good to be home.”
He left the land of cigar smoke and perfume and books
and gentle light and ascended the stairs, talking, talking with Edward. Edward pushed a door open and there was the yellow brass bed and the old semaphore banners from college days and a -very musty raccoon coat which he petted with strange, muted affection. “It’s too much,” he said faintly. “Like -being in a thunder- shower without an umbrella. Fm soaked to the skin with emotion. I’m numb. I’m tired.” -
“A night’s sleep between cool clean sheets for you, my bucko.” Edward slapped wide the snowy linens and flounced the pillows. Then he put up a window and let the night blooming jasmine float in. There was moonlight and the sound of distant dancing and whispering.
“So this is Mars,” said the captain undressing.
“So this is Mars.” Edward undressed in idle, leisurely moves, drawing his shirt off over his head, revealing golden shoulders and the good muscular neck. -
- The lights were out, they were into bed, side by side, as in the days, how many decades ago? The captain lolled and was nourished by the night wind pushing the lace curtains out upon the dark room air. Among the trees, upon a lawn, someone had cranked up a portable phonograph and now it was playing softly, “I’ll be loving you, always,- with a love that’s true, always.”
The thought of Anna came to his mind. “Is Anna here?”
His brother, lying straight out in the moonlight from the window, waited and then said, “Yes. She’s out of town. But she’ll be here in the morning.” -
The captain shut his eyes. “I want to see Anna very
much?’ -
The room was square and quiet except for their breathing. “Good night, Ed.”
A pause. “Good night, John.”
He lay peacefully, letting his thoughts float. For the —
first time the stress of the day was -moved aside, all of the excitement was calmed. He could think logically now. It had all been emotion. The bands playing, the sight - of familiar faces, the sick pounding of your heart. But— now... -
How? He thought. How was all this made? And why? For what purpose? Out of the goodness of some kind God? Was God, then, really that fine and thoughtful of his children? -How and why and what for? -
He thought of the various theories advanced in the first heat of the afternoon by Hinkston and Lustig. He let all kinds of new theories drop in lazy pebbles down through his mind, as through a dark water, nOw, turning, throwing out dull flashes of white light. Mars. Earth. Mom.
Dad Edward. Mars. Martians.
Who had - lived here a thousand years ago on Mars? Martians? Or had this always been like this? Martians. He repeated the word quietly, inwardly. -
He laughed out loud, - almost. He had the ridiculous theory, all of a sudden. It gave him a kind of àhilled feeling. It was really nothing to think of, of course. Highly. improbable. Silly. Forget it. Ridiculous.

But, he thought, Just suppose. Just suppose now, that there were Martians living on Mars and they saw our ship coming and -saw us inside our ship and hated - us. Suppose, now, just for the hell of it, that they wanted to destroy us, as invaders, as unwanted ones, and - they wanted to do it in a very clever way, so that we would be taken- off guard. Well, what would the best weapon be that a Martian could use against Earthmen with atom
weapons? -
The answer was interesting. Telepathy, hypnosis, mem. ory and imagination. -
Suppose all these houses weren’t real at all, - this bed not real, but only figments of my own imagination, given substance by telepathy and hypnosis by the Martians.
Suppose these houses are really some other shape, a Martian shape, but, -by playing on my desires and wants, these Martians have made this seem like my old home town, my old house, to lull me out of my suspicions?
What better way to fool a man, by his own emotions.
And suppose those two people in the next room, asleep, are not my mother and- father at all. But two Martians, incredibly brilliant, with -the ability to keep me under this dreaming hypnosis all of the time?
And that brass band, today? What a clever plan it would be. First, fool Lustig, then fool Hinkston, then gather a crowd around -the rocket ship and wave. And
- all the men in the ship, seeing mothers, aunts, uncles, sweethearts dead ten, twenty years ago, naturally, disregardi~g orders, would rush- out and abandon the ship. What more ~~atural?- What more unsuspecting? What more simple? A man doesn’t ask too many questions when his mother is suddenly brought back to life; he’s much too happy. And - the brass band played and everybody was taken off to private homes. And here we all are, tonight, in various houses, in various beds, with no weapons to protect us, and the rocket lies in the moonlight, empty. And wouldn’t it be horrible and terrifying to discover that all of this was part of some -great clever plan by the Martians to divide and conquer us, and kill us. Some time during the night, perhaps, my brother here on this bed, wifi change form, melt, shift, and become a oneeyed, green and yellow-toothed Martian. It would be very simple for hIm just - to -turn over in bed and put a
- knife into my heart. And in all those other houses down the street a dozen other brothers or fathers suddenly melting away and taking out knives and doing things to the unsuspecting, sleeping men of Earth. -
His hands were shaking under the covers. His body was cold, -Suddenly it was not a theory. Suddenly he was very afraid. He lifted- himself in bed an4 listened. The night was very quiet. The music had stopped. The wind had died. His brother (?) lay sleeping beside him.
Very carefully he lifted the sheets, rolled them back. He slipped from - -bed and was walking softly across the room when his brother’s voice said, “Where are you going?”
“What?” -
His brother’s voice was quite cold. “I said, where do you think you’re going?”
“For a drink of water.”
“But you’re not thirsty.”
“Yes, yes, I ani.” -
“No, you’re not.” -
Captain John Black broke and ran across the room.
He screamed. He screamed twice. - He never reached- the door.

In the morning, the brass band played a mournful dirge. From every house in the street came little solemn processions bearing long boxes and along the sun-filled street, weeping and changing, caine the grandmas and grandfathers and mothers and sisters and brothers, walking -to the churchyard, where there were open holes - dug freshly and new- tombstones installed. Seventeen - holes in all, and seventeen tombstones. Three of the tombstones said, CAPTAIN JOHN BLACK, ALBERT LUSTIG, and SAMUEL IflNKSTON. - - -
The mayor made a little sad speech, his face sometimes looking like the mayor, sometimes looking like some
thing else. -- - - -
Mother and Father Black were there, with Brother Edward, and they ‘cried, their faces melting now - from a familiar face into something else. - -
Grandpa and Grandma Lustig were there, weeping~ their faces. also shifting- like wax, - shivering as a- thing does in waves of heat on a summer day. - -
The coffins were lowered. Somebody murmured -about
“the unexpected and sudden deaths of seventeen fine men during the night—”. - - - -
Earth was shoveled in on the coffIn tops. -
After the funeral the brass band slammed and banged into town and the crowd stood around and waved and shouted as the rocket was torn to pieces and strewn about and blown up. - -

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Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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