Unnatural Creatures - Page 1

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    GAHAN WILSON is a cartoonist. He draws things that scare me. Sometimes he writes stories too. In this story, with a somewhat unpronounceable title (you’ll see why), he combines writing and drawing with terrifying results, to show us a most unnatural creature indeed.

    One morning, beside the eggs and toast, there’s a dark spot on the tablecloth, and where it came from, no one knows. The only certainty is that the moment one stops looking at it, it moves. And as it moves, it grows….

    THE FIRST TIME REGINALD ARCHER saw the thing, it was, in its simplicity, absolute. It owned not the slightest complication or involvement. It lacked the tiniest, the remotest, the most insignificant trace of embellishment. It looked like this:

    A spot. Nothing more. Black, as you see, somewhat lopsided, as you see—an unprepossessing, unpretentious spot.

    It was located on Reginald Archer’s dazzlingly white linen tablecloth, on his breakfast table, three and one half inches from the side of his eggcup. Reginald Archer was in the act of opening the egg in the eggcup when he saw the spot.

    He paused and frowned. Reginald Archer was a bachelor, had been one for his full forty-three years, and he was fond of a smoothly running household. Things like black spots on table linens displeased him, perhaps beyond reason. He rang the bell to summon his butler, Faulks.

    That worthy entered and, seeing the dark expression upon his master’s face, approached his side with caution. He cleared his throat, bowed ever so slightly, just exactly the right amount of bow, and, following the direction of his master’s thin, pale, pointing finger, observed, in his turn, the spot.

    “What,” asked Archer, “is this doing here?”

    Faulks, after a moment’s solemn consideration, owned he had no idea how the spot had come to be there, apologized profusely for its presence, and promised its imminent and permanent removal. Archer stood, the egg left untasted in its cup, his appetite quite gone, and left the room.

    It was Archer’s habit to retire every morning to his study and there tend to any little chores of correspondence and finance which had accumulated. His approach to this, as to everything else, was precise to the point of being ritualistic; he liked to arrange his days in reliable, predictable patterns. He had seated himself at his desk, a lovely affair of lustrous mahogany, and was reaching for the mail which had been tidily stacked for his perusal, when, on the green blotter which entirely covered the desk’s working surface, he saw:

    He paled, I do not exaggerate, and rang once more for his butler. There was a pause, a longer pause than would usually have occurred, before the trustworthy Faulks responded to his master’s summons. The butler’s face bore a recognizable confusion.

    “The spot, sir—” Faulks began, but Archer cut him short.

    “Bother the spot,” he snapped, indicating the offense on the blotter. “What is this?”

    Faulks peered at the in bafflement.

    “I do not know, sir,” he said. “I have never seen anything quite like it.”

    “Nor have I,” said Archer. “Nor do I wish to see its likes again. Have it removed.”

    Faulks began to carefully take away the blotter, sliding it out from the leather corner grips which held it to the desk, as Archer watched him icily. Then, for the first time, Archer noticed his elderly servant’s very odd expression. He recalled Faulks’s discontinued comment.

    “What is it you were trying to tell me, then?” he asked.

    The butler glanced up at him, hesitated, and then spoke.

    “It’s about the spot, sir,” he said. “The one on the tablecloth. I went to look at it, after you had left, sir, and I cannot understand it, sir—it was gone!”

    “Gone?” asked Archer.

    “Gone,” said Faulks.

    The butler glanced down at the blotter, which he now held before him, and started.

    “And so is this, sir!” he gasped, and, turning round the blotter, revealed it to be innocent of the slightest trace of a

    Conscious, now, that something very much out of the ordinary was afoot, Archer gazed thoughtfully into space. Faulks, watching, observed the gaze suddenly harden into focus.

    “Look over there, Faulks,” said Archer, in a quiet tone. “Over yonder, at the wall.”

    Faulks did as he was told, wondering at his master’s instructions. Then comprehension dawned, for there, on the wallpaper, directly under an indifferent seascape, was:

    Archer stood, and the two men crossed the room.

    “What can it be, sir?” asked Faulks.

    “I can’t imagine,” said Archer.

    He turned to speak, but when he saw his butler’s eyes move to his, he looked quickly back at the wall. Too late—the was gone.

    “It needs constant observation,” Archer murmured, then, aloud: “Look for it, Faulks. Look for it. And when you see it, don’t take your eyes from it for a second!”

    They walked about the room in an intensive search. They had not been at it for more than a moment when Faulks gave an exclamation.

    “Here, sir!” he cried. “On the windowsill!”

    Archer hurried to his side and saw:

    “Don’t let it out of your sight!” he hissed.

    As the butler stood, transfixed and gaping, his master chewed furiously at the knuckles of his left hand. Whatever the thing was, it must be taken care of, and promptly. He would not allow such continued disruption in his house.

    But how to get rid of it? He shifted to the knuckles of his other hand and thought. The thing had—he hated to admit it, but there it was—supernatural overtones. Perhaps it was some beastly sort of ghost.

    He shoved both hands, together with their attendant knuckles, into his pants pockets. It showed the extreme state of his agitation, for he loathed nothing more than unsightly bulges in a well-cut suit. Who would know about this sort of thing? Who could possibly handle it?

    It came to him in a flash: Sir Harry Mandifer! Of course! He’d known Sir Harry back at school, only plain Harry, then, of course, and now they shared several clubs. Harry had taken to writing, made a good thing of it, and now, with piles of money to play with, he’d taken to spiritualism, become, perhaps, the top authority in the field. Sir Harry was just the man! If only he could persuade him.

    His face set in grimly determined lines, Archer marched to his telephone and dialed Sir Harry’s number. It was not so easy to get through to him as it had been in the old days. Now there were secretaries, suspicious and secretive. But he was known, that made all the difference, and soon he and Sir Harry were together on the line. After the customary greetings and small talk, Archer brought the conversation around to the business at hand. Crisply, economically, he described the morning’s events. Could Sir Harry find it possible to come? He fancied that time might be an important factor. Sir Harry would! Archer thanked him with all the warmth his somewhat constricted personality would allow, and, with a heartfelt sigh of relief, put back the receiver.