- Author: Irving E. Cox
Read book online «Adolescents Only by Irving E. Cox (e book reader online .TXT) 📕». Author - Irving E. Cox
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy January 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
He tried to convince himself he had no right to gripe. It was a pleasant place to live; he had privacy and a bath of his own. And the Schermerhorns were reasonably broadminded people. They never objected to his smoking or an occasional glass of beer. Last year at the Neuhavens'—Gary Elvin cringed inwardly at the recollection.
Just the same, this was going too far. It was enough to endure their kids all day long, five days of the week, without the addition of these juvenile parties. This one had started an hour after dinner and it was still going strong when Elvin returned from the late show at the Fox.
Naturally the Schermerhorn twins were popular tenth graders—husky, blond Greek Gods who had everything, including a red Convertible and a swimming pool Pop Schermerhorn had built for them at the ranch. Gary Elvin had expected a certain number of parties when he decided to board and room with the Schermerhorns, but hardly one every weekend.
He fled through the cluttered hall where a buxom lass was organizing something called a bubble gum contest and took refuge on the damp and deserted patio. He flung himself on a wet, canvas lounge, and looked up at the bright night sky.
Bitterly he counted off the weeks. It was still early in November. He had eight more months to endure before June came with its temporary illusion of escape. As he always did, Elvin resolved to find a better job next year. He had been teaching for five years now. He knew all the tricks of classroom control and smooth community relations. Surely if he started looking early enough, he ought to be able to get something at a small college....
Suddenly he was jerked back to reality by a curious spot of red that appeared in the sky. It moved closer and he saw that it was a falling object followed by a long plume of red flame. It flashed momentarily overhead and Elvin heard a dull thud as it fell into a field beyond the ranch house.
He sprang up from the couch and moved off in the darkness. It had been a meteorite, of course; if it had survived the friction of the atmosphere it would make an interesting exhibit for the science classroom. Miss Gerken would be glassy-eyed with pleasure.
There was no moon. As soon as he crossed the driveway, Elvin stumbled over the damp furrows of a newly ploughed field. He was sweating when he reached the row of palms that lined the irrigation ditch. He paused to wipe his face.
And he heard a weird, shrill, rhythmic sound. It might have been called music, but there was no definable melody or beat. It was faint at first, but as he moved to the right, paralleling the ditch, the sound came louder.
Then, beyond the trees, in a glow of blue light emanating from the thing itself, he saw the rocket. It was not quite five feet long, a slim projectile of glowing metal nosed deeply into the soft earth. The four fins were rotating slowly.
Gary Elvin might, quite properly, have been frightened, but he was totally unacquainted with modern fiction dealing with the probable potentials of science and the universes beyond the earth. Such material he classified, along with comic books and television, as the pap of mediocre minds.
Now, when he first saw the rocket, he came to the somewhat prosaic conclusion that it had strayed from the government experimental site at Muroc. He walked closer. The glow of the metal brightened; the slow rotation of the fins and the weird music became hypnotic. For a moment Elvin felt a surge of fear. He tried to turn away, but he could not.
Instead, moving against his will, he took two of the fins in his hands and pulled on them. The rotation and the music stopped as the tailpiece of the rocket fell open. Elvin's mind cleared as he looked into a tiny chamber capped by a small rectangular sheet of metal which was dotted with tiny globes of a translucent material. Gingerly he picked up the seal.
As he touched the metal, a strange sensation, like a flood of jumbled words, tumbled through his mind. The feeling was neither unpleasant nor frightening. He was tempted to relax and enjoy it; and he would have, if he had not been distracted by a second object in the chamber. He thrust the strip of metal into the pocket of his coat.
Elvin's second find was a small, transparent cylinder, filled with tiny, multi-colored spheres, exactly like a jar of hard candy. There was nothing else in the rocket, except for the motor built into the tailpiece. The blue glow of the rocket began to fade.
Vaguely Elvin became aware that something was amiss. He began to suspect that he had stumbled upon something more than a stray rocket from Muroc. He wanted to tell somebody about it. Clutching the cylinder of colored balls he ran back to the house.
The party had reached one of its numerous climaxes. The hall was jammed with chattering high school students. They swirled in a flood around Mrs. Schermerhorn, who seemed to be enjoying herself as much as they were.
Gary Elvin grabbed her arm. "I've found a rocket!" he cried.
"Rocket?" she frowned for a moment, and then smiled brightly. "Oh, the racket. Yes, but they do have so much energy, don't they?"
He held up the cylinder. "This was in it!"
"Oh, you found it, Mr. Elvin. We looked high and low; now we—"
"It was in the rocket."
"... now we can have our contest."
Desperately a new idea occurred to him. "Can you get these kids quiet? I want to 'phone."
"But it's so early, Mr. Elvin. We can't expect them to go home yet."
"No, Mrs. Schermerhorn. 'Phone. I want to telephone!"
"Oh. Yes; of course. We'll have our contest in the living room."
Gary Elvin wormed his way toward the closet under the stairway. It was a very small telephone alcove, not designed for utility. Yet he found he could shut out some of the din if he jackknifed himself against the slanting wall and held the door partly shut.
But it required the use of both his hands. He set the cylinder on a bookcase in the hall and squeezed into the closet. With the telephone in his hand, he hesitated. It had seemed a good idea a moment ago—to call in the Authorities. But, to bring the generalization down to specifics, just who would that be?
In a big city he would have telephoned the police. But San Benedicto was a California valley town, small, sleepy, and contented. The four-man police force was more or less capable of handling minor traffic violations, but certainly nothing else. The State Police? Elvin doubted they would have jurisdiction. His last, feeble resort seemed to be the San Benedicto News, a daily, four-page advertising circular that passed, locally, for a newspaper. Elvin called the editor-reporter at his home.
After he had told his story, Elvin had to suffer a certain standardized banter concerning the advisability of changing his brand of bourbon. It was entirely meaningless, a form of humor enjoyed by the valley people. Matt Henderson eventually agreed that the strange rocket might bear investigation.
"I'll be out first thing in the morning," he promised.
"In the morning! Listen, Matt, this thing may be—it might—" He was unable to crystalize his reasons for urgency. He finished lamely, "It's important, I think."
"It ain't going to run away, is it?"
"Then we can both get a good night's sleep."
Gary Elvin turned away from the telephone, vaguely dissatisfied. He felt that something ought to be done immediately. What, he didn't know, or why. He went to get his cylinder of colored spheres from the bookcase where he had left it. The jar was gone.
He heard a burst of talk in the living room and he was suddenly frightened. From the archway he looked in on the guests, some thirty youngsters, all of the tenth grade of San Benedicto High School. They sprawled over chairs and couches, or they sat, Indian fashion, on the floor. Mrs. Schermerhorn stood in the center of the room, like a judge, smiling patiently. All thirty of the guests were chewing industriously. On the floor stood Elvin's jar of colored spheres, open and more than half-empty.
"Oh, dear," Mrs. Schermerhorn protested, turning to Elvin. "Something seems wrong with their gum. They've tried and tried, but I haven't seen a single bubble. And it did seem such a clever game! I suppose if the gum were stale—" Her voice trailed off when she saw the horror on Elvin's face.
Wordlessly he pointed at the open jar. The room fell silent. All thirty of the youngsters looked at him. Their chomping jaws became motionless.
"Is—is that mine?" he whispered hoarsely.
"The jar you brought in?" Mrs. Schermerhorn asked. "I don't know, Mr. Elvin, I'm sure. Mabel Travis was supposed to bring the gum for the contest, and she forgot where—"
"But mine wasn't gum." He licked his lips, uncomfortable in the focus of so many staring eyes. "A—a rocket of some sort fell in the field, just beyond the irrigation ditch. I found the cylinder inside. It might be—it could be—anything."
Elvin had the strange sensation, for almost ten seconds, of looking at a motion picture film that had stopped at a single frame. Then, as if the projector had started to run again, all thirty of the youngsters broke into activity. For another second the analogy of the film persisted; Elvin had the elusive impression that each of the youngsters was carefully playing a part.
They clamored to go out and see the rocket. Mrs. Schermerhorn protested that they would ruin their clothes trailing over the fields after dark. The guests allowed themselves to be talked into putting off their curiosity until morning. As their excited talk faded, Mabel Travis looked up at Elvin.
"Was your jar the one on the bookcase, Mr. Elvin?" she asked, eyeing him with her enormous, blue eyes.
"Yes. Is that where you got—"
"No." The room was still again, and all the youngsters were looking at her with a peculiar anxiety. "I thought that was one of the prizes. You know, when we played forfeits earlier in the—"
"Of course," Mrs. Schermerhorn put in. "Bill Blake did win a jar of candy, didn't he?"
"And that's what I thought the jar was when I saw it on the bookcase," Mary Travis continued. "So I took it upstairs and put it with our coats in the bedroom. I'll get it for you, Mr. Elvin." Slowly she picked up the nearly empty jar on the floor and recapped it. "I'm going to take this back to the drugstore tomorrow morning and demand my money back. I certainly don't like being cheated!"
When she returned to the living room, she handed Elvin his cylinder of colored balls and slowly his fear dissipated. Until a competent authority analyzed the contents, the jar represented unknown danger. It might be harmless; but it could also be an explosive, a form of fuel for the rocket, perhaps even germ colonies used in biological warfare. If Bill Blake had taken it home with him as an innocent jar of candy—Elvin shuddered.
The party broke up and Elvin went to his room. He hung his suit carefully at the back of his closet to preserve the creases and thereby cut down on his cleaning bill. After five years of living on a teacher's salary, such economies had become second nature with him. He brought out his blue serge and hung it on the door; it was the suit he would wear next week to school.
Saturday dawned crisply sunny. Elvin shaved and dressed leisurely. Through the dormer windows of his room he saw the rich, black fields that surrounded the ranch house and the distant ridge of misty mountains beyond the desert, one or two of them crested with snow.
The Schermerhorns, of course, were already awake and busy. Elvin heard the clatter of dishes in the kitchen. He saw the twins, David and Donald, tall and muscular in their tight jeans and brilliant plaid shirts, working