The Project Gutenberg eBook of Fuzzy head

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Title: Fuzzy head

Author: Frank Belknap Long

Illustrator: Vincent Napoli

Release date: February 2, 2023 [eBook #69931]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: Standard Magazines, Inc, 1948

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at




[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Thrilling Wonder Stories December 1948.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

We arrived in the golden autumn. We drove up through the russet leaves to the great house and descended lightly to the dew-drenched earth.

Celia darted on ahead of me, her pale body a diaphanous flowing. I moved more slowly, my thoughts like muted chimes as I pondered the meaning of what had happened within the high, dark walls of the house.

For the first time on Earth a human child had been born who could summon us! He was eight years old now, but wise beyond his years and he had summoned us deliberately across space. He had sat, hunched and shivering, in his own small room, staring up at the far-flung constellations. Then, abruptly, he had thrown out his arms and called to us.

Celia could scarcely believe it even now. She had always wanted a child of her own, but we had despaired of ever finding one.

Then this call, this unbelievable summons! A sudden warmth and beauty, a child's laughter rippling through space. Spanning aeons, crossing dark barriers, as miraculous as the birth of a sun in utter blackness.

Celia had turned, and was staring back at me. She was shivering. Swiftly I darted to her side and took her burning hands in mine.

"Do not be afraid," I said. "He needs us as much as we need him. Like calls to like, you know!"

"Are you sure?"

"I'm positive. He used the Illth formula!

"But how did he get out of his space? How did he know we would come if he called?" Celia's body was burning brightly now. Her eyes were veiled and her lips had opened like the petals of a flower.

"The very different ones would know," I said. "Johnny was never quite human and now—"

"Now he's ready?"


The little boy turned and looked at his mother. He had a strangely peaked face, the forehead inclined to broadness, the eyes wide and piercing and very blue.

"Johnny, what are you doing up here all alone in the dark? We've been looking everywhere for you! You didn't touch your supper. What's the matter, darling? What's wrong?"

"I wasn't hungry!" he said.

"And last night you didn't sleep! You tossed and twisted—Oh, Johnny!"

The woman fell to her knees beside her son and drew him into her arms. She ran her fingers through his hair.

"You're not well, Johnny!"

"Go away!"

Johnny wriggled out of his mother's embrace and ran to the window. He stood looking up at the pale stars, his lips quivering.

"Why don't they come?" he said in choked tones. Tears welled in his eyes, ran down his cheeks. "I can't stand living here any longer! They must come! They must!"

Downstairs in the library Johnny's father knocked the dottle from his pipe and walked to the window. It was a clear, star speckled night, and the dew-drenched grass seemed to breathe an air of freshness into the room.

Stephen Ambler's mind went back across the years.

He saw again the terrible, mushrooming shape of flame, so bright that, when he shut his eyes, it stabbed through his eyelids into his brain.

Shutting his eyes high above Bikini Atoll, hearing only the drone of his own plane, he had truly believed that the little primitive minds of men had wrought a miracle.

But no miracle could compare with the one that he had wrought one year later—the bright, incredible miracle of Johnny!

His memory grew sharper. In his mind's gaze he was walking with Johnny along a shining beach, the curving pink shells of the sea at his feet.

Johnny was staring at the white surf curving back. Johnny was in the autumn of his sixth year, his clear, childish eyes bright with excitement. Johnny stood staring at the surf and the wheeling gulls, and a horse-shoe crab half buried in the sand. Johnny kept tugging and pointing.

"The waves are tired, Daddy! The waves are falling back and dying! They don't want to come in!"

"Johnny, whatever gave you such an idea? The sea is restless and full of energy. It's big—so big that it covers four-fifths of the globe. Or is it two-thirds? Anyhow, it goes on and on. You needn't believe me. Ask any oceanographer!"

"No, Daddy! It's dying. So are you and Mommy, and Uncle Henry and Aunt Katie! And everybody! But I'm not! I'm new—and I'll never die!"

Yes, Johnny was new. But so were all children. It seemed incredible that Johnny could be so aware of the strong, bright flood of life in himself. The strength of childhood could make even the sea seem old and tired, perhaps. But what other little boy of six could express the inexpressible with the self-conscious artistry of a Dali?

A child's imagination could be winged and white and fearful. You could no more curb it than you could clamp a bit on Pegasus. But behind Johnny's unwashed ears were murmurs stranger than any heard in a sea shell.

The miracle of Johnny!

The door opened and Johnny's mother came into the library.

"Stephen, I've got to talk to you! It's about Johnny."

Johnny's father turned slowly, the wonder of Johnny in retrospect bowing to a slightly older Johnny in the flesh. Memory fell away, and reality took its place, so that Stephen was no longer smiling when he met his wife's troubled gaze.

"Well, what is it? Is Johnny still sulking?"

Helen Ambler nodded. Stephen noticed that she stood very still and that her hands were tightly clenched.

"Stephen, I'm worried! He says the strangest things!"

"Does he now? What, for instance?"

"That people are coming for him. Total strangers. Coming to take him away from us."

"He's living in a world of fantasy," Stephen said, scowling. "All children do, more or less."

"Stephen, it isn't only that. He keeps talking to Fuzzy Head, making a confidant of Fuzzy Head. When I go to him he pushes me away. But nothing's too good for that ridiculous doll. It's horrible, but I've got to say it, Stephen. Johnny's developing a fixation!"

"You mean a psychiatrist would call it a fixation," Stephen said, a trifle impatiently. "They put everything in neat, dustless packages, lock the closet door and throw away the key. But we're not putting Johnny in a dark closet."

Stephen stuffed tobacco in his pipe and searched in his pocket for a match. He couldn't find one.

"Johnny's a member of a family group, sure," he went on. "But he's also a very eager little boy starting out on a great adventure. It's natural for a child to stop at odd crossways and ask advice. Fuzzy Head just happens to be standing at an important crossroad in Johnny's life."

"But he's had that doll for seven years now, Stephen! You said yourself it was sissified for a boy of eight to play with dolls. You never did. Have you changed your mind?"

"No ... I'm not too happy about that," Stephen admitted. "Every father wants his son to be a real he-guy. But you've got to remember that Fuzzy Head isn't a baby doll. He's a little old man doll, more of a character toy than a doll."

"I see. And do you approve of the way Fuzzy Head's developing Johnny's character?"

"Johnny has character!" Stephen retorted. "That's the important thing. Do you want our son to be a rubber stamp?"

"Naturally not. But a two-headed calf would have character too. A great deal of character!"

Stephen was shocked. That the mother of his son should be capable of drawing such a parallel—and deriving emotional satisfaction from it—seemed incredible, almost monstrous, to him. What he failed to realize was the depth of his wife's capacity for self-torment and the strength of her desire to jolt him out of his complacency.

As he stared at her, aghast, she said an even more shocking thing: "Sometimes I think Johnny's not even human. He can be as cold and distant as one of those little clay figures made by African witch doctors!"

Her face grew suddenly anguished. "Stephen, if I didn't love him so—"

Stephen's features softened. He put his arm about his wife and gave her an affectionate squeeze. To clear the air he said jestingly: "Well, now, maybe you've hit on something. He was born a year after Bikini and—I was there!"

Helen Ambler stared at her husband, her eyes widening. "Stephen, what do you mean?"

He had not thought that she would take him seriously. In his anxiety to reassure her he made the mistake of taking too much for granted. He knew that she despised the imaginative stories of interplanetary travel, atomic power and future science that he liked to read and ponder.

So he made the mistake of assuming that, if he gave those stories their due, and a little more than their due, her antagonism would become a shield, insulating and protecting her.

"You have a psychological block, but you can overcome it," he said. "Next time you dust my books look inside the ones you're always putting back upside down. They contain a master plan for changing the genes of human inheritance."

"A master plan?"

Stephen nodded. "The brightest crop of post-Wellsian imaginative science writers are convinced that if you bombard one, or both parents of a child, with atomic radiations well in advance of the event you're likely to get a little stranger in the house. A mutant child who isn't quite human. And, if you want to be morbid about it—a gnome, of a sort. A small weird guest!"


"Oh, so far it's never happened, except to fruit flies. But I was pretty close to Bikini Atoll. I was flying high in a plane the Navy supplied without realizing what they might be letting me in for. I was a bachelor then, of course."

He smiled. "Some of my favorite authors believe that kids like our Johnny belong to another race entirely. They're born human or almost human, but they grow out of it. Super-kids who grow up to become multi-dimensional, all shining cubes and bright impossible angles. They're only human in the caterpillar stage of their development."

Johnny's mother gasped wildly. "How can you even think such things! Horrible!"

At this, Stephen made one last heroic attempt to convince his wife that he had spoken with his tongue in his cheek. "The Hindus believe that man was made by Prajapati, after many efforts in which the experimental beings did not harmonize with their environment. Maybe somebody like Prajapati is trying to make a race of super-beings, and our Johnny's just an experiment."

Helen Ambler did not smile.

Stephen's lips tightened and all the levity ebbed from his stare. "You asked me how I can think such things. I don't think them. But you do, subconsciously. Helen, listen to me. All kids become little strangers at times. If their parents love them, it doesn't matter. Just being a child is a frightful nervous strain on the child itself. Think back to your own childhood. When you first read the story of the Gorgons, with their snaky hair and brazen claws, how did you feel?"

Helen looked at him. "Like screaming!" she said.

"You see? A child identifies itself with its fantasy life with a terrible inward intensity. And it grows cold and distant when an adult tries to break in on that life. A child puts a part of itself into everything—its play-things, its toys; in fact, there's almost a physical transference, as though ectoplasm flowed out of the child and into its books and toys!"

"So you believe in ectoplasm now!"

"You know better than that!"

"Do I?"

"Please, dear! Let's not quarrel...."

Upstairs in his own small room Johnny picked up Fuzzy Head. Fuzzy Head was older than Johnny. Fuzzy Head was ten years young, a medium-sized walking and talking doll with a wooden trunk, metal limbs and a plaster-of-Paris face. Modern, functional dolls are fearfully and wonderfully made, but old-fashioned dolls speak the language of childhood, of dark, unexplored attics, hidden jam pots, and calico-draped dressmaking dummies as slim as mother used to be.

Some children prefer them.

Fuzzy Head was a hybrid—a Second World War priority doll, a product of scarcity and dread, made in that fluttering heartbeat of time between Oak Ridge and Bikini.

Put the bright side outward. There are still children in the world. Paint his cheeks and give him a chubby look. Make his eyes glitter like agates won by a clever little boy in a game of marbles.

Fuzzy Head wasn't beautiful, though. He was far too peculiar to seem attractive to anyone except Johnny. He had survived thumpings and poundings, the infinite unrest of the very young, the petulance and dark rancours of Johnny's early infancy.

His head was still covered with fuzzy locks. Hence his nickname, given to him by Johnny in the privacy of night, by a light that never was on sea or land.

Every effort had been put forth to make Fuzzy Head look rosy-cheeked, and wholesome, but actually he looked like a little old man, a malign frop out of Lilliput.

What's a frop? Johnny knew—but he wasn't telling.

Johnny picked up Fuzzy Head and set him down in a dark corner. Johnny knelt on the floor in front of Fuzzy Head.

"Glow, Fuzzy Head!" Johnny whispered.

It seemed to Johnny that Fuzzy Head lighted up. Johnny was quite calm about it.

"When will they come for me, Fuzzy Head?"

It seemed to Johnny that the doll screwed up its face and refused to answer.

"If you don't tell me I'll make you Illth the Illth!" Johnny warned.

Fuzzy Head remained silent.

The ritual was not a difficult one. Johnny had performed it before, though it was hard on Fuzzy Head. The ritual tore and wrenched at Fuzzy Head, shaking the doll to its vitals.

"Illth!" Johnny commanded.

It seemed to Johnny that Fuzzy Head turned a complete somersault in the air, very slowly, glowing brightly, and with a look of anguish on his face.

"Illth the Illth!" Johnny whispered.

Fuzzy Head seemed to shrivel a little. Johnny opened his mouth and shut it again. Fuzzy Head was turning inside out as he shriveled.

Metal parts came into view and glowed with a dull, eerie radiance. Fuzzy Head's insides. Wires and a voice box—but all outside of Fuzzy Head now. There were no broken surfaces.

Fuzzy Head had turned inside out without seeming to do so!

Johnny had turned rubber balls inside out in the same way. He had made rubber balls, and clocks illth the illth, just to prove to himself how easy it was. Never a cat—because Johnny wasn't cruel.

Fuzzy Head couldn't feel any flesh-and-blood pain, or really understand what was happening to him.

Fuzzy Head was now—reversed.

"Tell me!" Johnny intoned. "Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!"

Out of the doll came speech. High and shrill, like a whistle being squeezed.

"They are here now! They are crossing the lawn!"

With a little sob of pure rapture, Johnny scrambled to his feet. Almost, in his wild excitement, he forgot to unscramble Fuzzy Head. The doll screeched piteously. There was a wrongness about it that would have sickened an adult, a wrongness as hideous as misapplied surgery, or an unbroken egg, turned bad and spilling its yolk in some unguessable fashion. A look of tender compassion, odd in a child, came into Johnny's face.

"Poor Fuzzy Head! I forgot!"

Turning swiftly, Johnny waved his hand over the doll, intoning a few curious words. "Sil Unsilith Undroth!"

Slowly, still glowing dully, Fuzzy Head returned to his normal state.

A moment later Johnny was standing with his face pressed to the window, his heart thumping wildly.

He could see them clearly now—a man and a woman, radiant in flowing garments, sweeping straight across the lawn toward the house. Their faces were strange, like petalled flowers but much brighter than the flowers which Johnny could make glow in the dark.

Through the window he saw a radiant man and woman sweeping across the lawn.

Their feet, Johnny noticed, were tipped with little fluttering wings of flame. He'd always known they would come for him, as far back as he could remember, and he could remember the first fluttering of his heart. He could remember himself red and angry, flushed with resentment because he was so very small and helpless and everyone ignored his wailing protests.

The man and the woman were rising now. Straight up toward the window, their faces shining in the moonlight.

Johnny exhaled a deep breath and stepped back from the window. At almost the same instant they were in the room with him!

Johnny tried to be calm, pretending he'd known all along that they were his true parents. But suddenly fierce emotion overcame him. He choked, flushed and threw his arm across his face to conceal the way he felt.

"Hello, Johnny!" a bell-like voice said.

"We've come to take you home, Johnny!" a second voice chimed.

It seemed to Johnny that he could be happy dying at once, but he knew that he would be even happier when they took him away to live with them forever.

Slowly Johnny uncovered his eyes and looked at his new parents.

It would not have been easy for an ordinary little boy to stare steadily into the blazing face of the sun, and Johnny was staring at two suns, equally bright.

But Johnny was not an ordinary little boy. Although he did not know it, his own face was, briefly, a sun.

For a moment it seemed to Johnny that the room was filled with—the others. A wheel of fire that kept spinning as he stared, with a great gray face in the middle of the glowing spokes. A big Easter egg on stilts, with its dry mouth hanging open, and its little beady eyes twinkling with merriment.

An animal that wasn't quite a rabbit. It was furry and bob-tailed, but its head kept swimming out of focus. When Johnny stared very hard the rabbit's head became a glowing prism, mirroring all the colors of the rainbow.

There were gilths, too—thin and dark and hairy, with burning glass eyes, and dull fire balls, pulsing.

Suddenly Johnny remembered Fuzzy Head.

He turned and walked back into the room. He knew that his new parents were watching him but he didn't want to talk about Fuzzy Head. He just wanted to keep Fuzzy Head, and he was suddenly trembling in every limb.

Between suns there are no secrets. Thoughts are open, and blaze from mind to mind.

Johnny knew, and the thought was pure torment, that his new parents didn't want him to keep Fuzzy Head. No, that wasn't quite true. They wanted him to keep Fuzzy Head, but they were telling him that he couldn't.

Johnny stooped and picked Fuzzy Head up. He tucked the doll under his arm, and returned to where his parents were standing.

"No, Johnny!" The words came chimingly. "You can't take that doll with you. He's grooved too deeply into human space. Human hands made him, Johnny. He's just an ugly thought-pattern made of drift material. He's solid, Johnny. You're not!"

Sweat came out on Johnny's face and froze to his face. A silent cold seemed to bite through him.

"We know how you feel, Johnny! You're still a little human boy in some respects, but you can break out now if you try. You're old enough and wise enough. If you take our hands and walk with us, you'll cease to be human."

"And Fuzzy Head?"

"Johnny, a doll can't walk with the more-than-human. No, Johnny! Sorry!"

A look of stricken horror had come into Johnny's face. He had never before realized how much Fuzzy Head meant to him.

"No, I—I w-won't!" he stammered.

"You won't what Johnny?"

"Go away and leave him! Everybody says he's ugly! But he's mine, just like I was his father. Good father's don't desert their sons."

It was an adult statement, but Johnny sometimes surprised himself by the things he could say.

The radiant man seemed surprised too. "But Johnny, he's just a wooden doll. Johnny, think! You can play with the lililis! The stars are not so bright. When you stretch out your arms and repeat the Illth formula you're not even Johnny. Not Johnny at all!"

"I don't want to be not Johnny—without Fuzzy Head!"

"But we are your parents now, Johnny!"

"Not without Fuzzy Head. I'm Fuzzy Head's father!"

Suddenly Johnny burst into tears. The radiant man and woman exchanged lightning-swift glances. Then, in utter silence, they darted into shadows. They whispered together.

"I never expected this, Celia. He isn't mature yet. A doll means more to him than we do."

"But he doesn't belong here. He belongs with us. We're his real parents now."

"Not yet, Celia. He's still too much of a child, not quite human, but immature. In fact, except at rare moments, he still looks human. Have you noticed?"

"Yes, naturally. But when he looks at us he changes. If we took him away now, he'd alter still more."

"Celia, think back. When you were very young and played with dolls."

"They were never human toys."

"No. But you were never human, Celia. Fuzzy Head isn't a human doll now. Johnny changed him by playing with him!"

"What do you mean?"

"Once Fuzzy Head was just a wooden doll in a toy shop on earth. But Johnny poured a part of himself into Fuzzy Head. A child always does that. Even when a human child puts itself into its fantasy life there's almost a physical transference. And Johnny could do it better than a human child!"

"You mean?"

"We can't take Johnny now. When he learns to put aside childish things, he'll be ready to go with us, but not before. He'll have to detach himself from Fuzzy Head first. If we did the detaching, something rather dreadful might happen to Johnny. There would be—a tearing!"

"Oh, don't! That's horrible!"

"Yes. You see, Celia, Fuzzy Head is still too much a part of Johnny. You might almost say flesh of Johnny's flesh and bone of Johnny's bone!"

"But some day we'll have Johnny?"

"Of course. But he'll have to stay here with Fuzzy Head and his human parents until he grows more mature. In ten—twelve years perhaps. Human years. They pass swiftly."

There was a sudden, pulsing brightness in the shadows.

As Johnny stared, a tight, hard lump in his throat, it swirled around the radiant man and woman and lifted them into the air. It touched Johnny too for an instant, almost caressingly. Then it dimmed and vanished.

As the shadows came rushing back Johnny gripped Fuzzy Head fiercely and held him close.

"I'll never leave you!" he sobbed. "You're mine, forever and ever. When I have to punish you, it hurts me, too! Awfully, Fuzzy Head!"

Hot tears stung the corners of Johnny's eyes.

"I'm going to stay here with you, Fuzzy Head! I love you most—but Pops is all right, too, I guess!"

Mom wasn't so bad either, he conceded after a moment of calm thought. The calmness had come slowly, brightening all about him like sunlight after rain. Johnny felt happy and relieved. Also, he was as sleepy as a bewhiskered tomcat that had overstayed its leave on the back fence.

Johnny's father opened the door of Johnny's room and stared in at his son.

Johnny was sleeping with one small arm thrown across Fuzzy Head and a peaceful look on his face. There was a curious wetness on Johnny's eyelashes, as though he'd just returned from a walk in the garden, through the dewy darkness, with moist clover and elfin cobwebs under his feet.

Had Johnny been crying?

Stephen smiled tenderly and a little incredulously. Then, slowly, his lips tightened and he shook his head.

It had to be done! He wasn't going to have Johnny grow up with a doll complex. It had gone on too long already.

Cautiously Stephen bent and disentangled the doll from his son's embrace. His hands shook a little. He hoped that Johnny wouldn't wake up. But even if Johnny awoke and sat up straight, his eyes bright and accusing in the pulsing gloom, Fuzzy Head's fate would remain grimly sealed.

Fuzzy Head was about to go on a trip through the dark, silent house. Along the hall and downstairs into the cellar, helpless in the clutches of a very determined father.

Johnny did not even stir in his sleep.

There was nothing but pitch blackness in the hall outside Johnny's room. Stephen hurried along the hall, and down two flights of stairs with Fuzzy Head securely cradled in the crook of his right arm.

"This is the pay-off, little man!" he whispered fiercely.

The instant Stephen reached the cellar he shifted Fuzzy Head to his left arm, holding him upside down. He had to have his right arm free to get the furnace door open.

The furnace was raging brightly on a strong updraft—Stephen had seen to that well in advance.

Through the grated door a red inferno was visible.

The raging redness was not confined to the furnace, however. It filled the entire cellar with its flickering, as though a little corner of Hades had been moved into the house for the sole purpose of getting rid of Fuzzy Head.

Stephen did not waste a single heartbeat regretting his decision. He moved swiftly and decisively, tightening his grip on the doll and wrenching at the furnace door with his free hand.

As the fiery portal swung open a blast of heated air smote him full in the face, almost suffocating him. But he did not recoil. Instead, he drew closer to the fiery pit, despite the blistering heat, and raised Fuzzy Head up until the doll was poised above the flames at just the right angle, like a coffin in a crematorium.

"Burn and wither, little man!"

Stephen knew that he spoke to the doll but he had no clear recollection of moving his arm. Yet he must have done so, for suddenly as he stared the doll seemed to slip from his clasp and shoot forward—straight forward into the high-leaping flames.

From somewhere upstairs there came a piercing shriek.

Sweat broke out on Stephen's palms when he saw that he was still holding the doll.

Sometimes the urge to perform an act can be so strong, the need so urgent, that the imagination becomes like a pair of white-hot tongs, overheated, and capable of flattening reality to a thin edge of blackness on an anvil without substance. The mind leaps ahead of the act, and it seems to happen—with a terrible clarity.

Stephen hadn't thrown Fuzzy Head into the flames.

Thank heavens! What a fool a man was to think that destiny was a single strand that could be twisted around the finger. In the immense complexity of a child's inner life were multitudinous cross-currents. A parent had no right to be ruthless and make hasty decisions.

Fuzzy Head was almost a part of Johnny.

Perhaps Johnny needed a doll to play with, just as other little boys needed toy locomotives and white mice. Perhaps there was a streak of hard cruelty in Johnny that needed the humananizing influence of a doll. In that case, it would not be unmanly for Johnny to play with a doll, right up to the age of ten.

Perhaps the bell-rope of Johnny's inner life needed to be rung by an ugly and ridiculous doll, to make clear, crystal notes that would sound out into eternity.

Stephen went slowly back up the stairs to Johnny's room, his feet dragging a little. He opened the door and peered in.

Johnny was still asleep.

Stephen crossed to Johnny's cot on tiptoe and put Fuzzy Head back, very carefully and gently.

Johnny opened his eyes.

"Uh! Hello Pops?"

Stephen grinned and gave his son's shoulder a pat.

"Hello, Johnny! Pleasant dreams!"