The Anything Box

Zenna Henderson

Part 18

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"I don't like to play this game," wailed Blond. "I think it stinks!"

"Who's playing!" Red's face crumpled. "O Loving Father, who's playing?"

Brown and Blond put their arms around him and helped him, his face movingblindly, towards the school building.

I looked down at the mess I had made. The last car was poised precariouslyon the rim of the ruin. All the rest around the s.p.a.cecraft looked like littlechicks gathering around a mother hen for warmth and shelter against the night.I snorted at the conceit, and flicking the dust off my shoe with a tissue,went into school.

That was Friday. a wave of uneasiness swept across the Base. Therewere restless knots of people gathered in the PX and the Commissary and theClub, chattering the same chatter as usual but with absent, worried looks.Sunday it was evident that many of the key personnel were not around. They haddispersed without a farewell. At two o'clock Monday morning, I found myselfgroping awake to the alert signal. This time was different. It felt different.It sounded different. I staggered out of bed, groping blindly for my clothes.I struggled with wrong-side-out hooks for interminable minutes before I awokeenough to turn the light on. I scrambled into my raineralls (our evac uniform)and went to the closet for my evac bag which, in the face of ridicule, I hadpacked when I first arrived-as we were supposed to do. By the time fists werehammering on our doors and loud feet were shaking our corridor and loud voicescrying, "This is it! Out! Out! All Civvies out!" I was dressed and ready.

We were two days from Base before I caught on. I hadn't even beenclued-except in a vague deja vu way -by the shivering wait in the weird pre-dawn darkness as we were a.s.signed to our cars.

"That's everyone except the teachers."

"There's only a small car left." Mrs. Lewis face leaned, pale and anxiousout of the window. "It'll be crowded. Maybe we could make room for one."

"No," the lieutenant in charge of us said decisively. "You'll need thatroom, especially if the baby decides to come."

Tears came to Mrs. Lewis' eyes. 'Thanks,' she said. "Has there been anynews?"

"Only that the first skirmish is over. Ninety per cent casualties."

"O Loving Father!" Mrs. Lewis whispered to her cupped hands. "All thestrong young men."

We were pointed down a road and told to "git," our only tie with themilitary the reluctant young lieutenant "Not on this knollful road!" I heardMiss Leaven wail. Then she laughed. Her laughter tightened into a sob.

Reluctantly that first day, I shared what few eatables I had in my evackit. We had no lunch stop scheduled. None of the others had a complete kit asthey should have had. They would have had their own food if they had compliedwith the regulations.

Early morning of the second day, we were startled out of our weary stuporby a sudden grinding crash and an abrupt b.u.mper-to-b.u.mper stop. We all got outof the cars and walked stiffly forward along the column. I took one look atthe car lying crushed under the huge boulder that had fallen from the wall ofthe ravine, leaned heavily against the slope of the hill and hid my eyes. Irocked myself achingly in a sudden flood of apprehension. My whole beingrebelled against the situation. It was impossible. There could be nothing butwildest coincidence to tie this event to three boys hunched in a corner of aplayground. It was all my sick imagination that started to draw parallels.Imagination! That curse!

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But we didn't make The Knoll that night. Darkness shut down unexpectedlyearly after we had edged around the boulder and it left us to creep slowly inthe darkness across the splintery obsidian plain, never quite sure we werestill on the fragmentary road.

a thing of horror which, if defeated, restores love...


created by a child out of his fevered imagination, gobbles up anything-or anyone- that makes a sound...


residents of an alien world poisoned by the intrusion of the stranger from Earth...


an ordinary mound of earth, except that its gra.s.s resembles fur, and- doesn't it move?

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