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Title: The Mating of the Moons

Author: Kenneth O'Hara

Release Date: October 7, 2012 [EBook #40969]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

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The Mating of the Moons

by Kenneth O'Hara

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Orbit volume 1 number 2, 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



SHE CAME TO MARS IN SEARCH OF SOMETHING, SHE KNEW NOT WHAT, TO GIVE HER LIFE MEANING. SHE FOUND IT ... IN A WAY....

The sun glared, fiercely detached. The thin air suddenly seemed friendless, empty, a vast lake of poison and glassy water. All at once, the stretching plains of sand began to waver with a terrible insubstantiality before Madeleine's eyes.

Even the Ruins of Taovahr were false. And for Madeleine, even if they were not false, there was no sign of the outer garments of dream with which, on a thousand lonely nights back home on the Earth, she had clothed those dusty scattered skeletons of crumbled stone.

Don, one of the brightest and most handsomely uniformed of all the bright young guide-hosts at Martian Haven, droned on to the finish of his machine-tooled lecture about the Ruins of Taovahr. He, of course, was the biggest chunk of falseness on Mars.

"And so folks, this is all that's left of a once great civilization. A few columns and worn pieces of stone. And we can never know now how they lived and loved and died—for no trace whatsoever of an ancient people remain. The dim, dark seas of time have swept their age-old secrets into the backwash of eternity—"

"Oh God," whispered Madeleine.

"Shhhh!" said her father. And her mother blinked at her with a resigned tolerance.

"But he's a living cliche," she said, trying to control the faintness, the dizziness, the dullness coming back as the last illusion drained away. "Even if the ruins were real, he'd make them seem trite."

"Madeleine!" her mother gasped, but in a subdued way.

"But there ought to be something special about a Martian ruin, Mother."

Don had heard her. His smile was uneasy, though politely tolerant, as all good hosts were to rich tourists. "You're hard to please, Miss Ericson. Maybe too hard." His lingering glance stopped just short of crudity. But the look made it clear that if she wanted the romance all women were assumed to expect at Martian Haven, he could provide it, as he did everything else—discreetly, efficiently and most memorably.

Mrs. Ericson giggled. She had long since abandoned any hope of Madeleine being, even by stretching the norm, a well-adjusted girl. But much faith had been placed in a Martian vacation, and hope that it would provide Madeleine with some sort of emotional preoccupation, even an affair, if need be—something, anything, that would at least make her seem faintly capable of a normal relationship with a male. Even this fellow Don. For Madeleine was past thirty-five—how far past no one discussed any more—and was becoming more tightly withdrawn every day.

Don shouted. "All right, folks! Now we wend our way back to Martian Haven, over a trail that's the oldest in the Solar System, a trail that was once a mighty highway stretching from the inland city to the great ocean that once rolled where now there is only thousands of miles of wind-blown sands!"

The long line of exclaiming and sickeningly gullible tourists, either too young and wide-eyed to know better, or too old and desperate to admit the phoniness, ooohhhed and ahhhhed, and the rickshaws and camels, plus a few hardy adventurers on foot, turned with him as Don twisted his own beast toward Martian Haven.

Even the Ruins, she thought—they were like imported props lying in the sand, like old abandoned bits of a set for a TV production.

"Madeleine," her father said, still trying to be a big brother after years of failure. "I really don't understand this at all. Coming all the way to Mars, and you act like—well—like we'd just stepped around the corner in Chicago to some ridiculous carnival!"

"I am cursed," she whispered. "I'm tortured."

"What?" her mother said, and stared, with that child-like curiosity with which she had greeted Madeleine's advent into the world, and which she had never lost.

"Tortured by the insight that both enables and compels me to see through the sham and pretense."

Her father grunted and blinked twice. He almost always blinked twice when she began sounding pedantic like that. He suspected that she did it deliberately to show off his ignorance.

"Funny," she said, mostly to herself, "that I allowed myself to be sold this—Mars—the biggest piece of ersatz junk of all!"

"Madeleine!" her mother exclaimed.

"The advertisers got here first," Madeleine said, glancing at Don. "The hucksters." She stopped talking. Mars offered none of itself, but the others didn't understand. Mars was only what the hucksters wanted it to be.

She wondered how she could hang on to the end of the season—even though it was only three more days. They had committed themselves to a rigidly-planned schedule, a clockwork program that had them and the other "vacationing" tourists jumping and squeaking like automatons: Exotic Martian sports. Martian tennis played on a hundred-yard court with the players hopping through the rarified air and lower gravity with an almost obscene abandon. Swimming in a strangely buoyant water, called, of course, Martian water. Sandsled racing. Air-hopping with the de-gravity balloons. Spectator sports, including gladiators who leaped into the phony canals and fought to the death against the hideous-looking Martian rat-fish. There were many other "activities", in none of which Madeleine had been able to interest herself.

This last three days promised something called the "Martian Love Ritual under the Double Moons." And a climactic treasure hunt among the subterranean Martian labyrinths. They too, Madeleine was sure, were artificial.

Mrs. Ericson adjusted her polaroid glasses and waved her rickshaw boy into his harness, where his thighs tensed for the long haul. He was an incredibly huge man, taller even than those specially-bred movie stars, who averaged eight feet tall. Madeleine felt faint and clung to her camel. The Martian camels were coughing and wheezing and the sun glared horribly in the early afternoon.

Mr. Ericson looked with guarded apprehension at the six-legged camel. Don pulled him aboard. "What a helluva beast!" laughed Ericson. Earth camels specially bred by the big travel agencies to have a so-called "unearthly" appearance. Sad creatures with two extra, dangling limbs and a single, half-blind, blood-shot eye, watery and humbly resentful.

Pathetic mutation, Madeleine thought. Like those horrid rat-fish, like the canals and the games and the ruins and those silly rituals. All ersatz.

The caravan moved along the high ridge, a narrow trail that wound back toward Martian Haven along the edge of the eroded cliffs.

"Maybe the only thing that would satisfy Madeleine," her father said, "would be a real Martian."

"But that's not in the brochure," Don said.

"What's Mars without a Martian?" giggled Mrs. Ericson.

In her own insular little world, which had been the only one Madeleine had ever been able to tolerate at all, she swayed and bumped to the camel's movements. "One thing sure, Don," she said softly. "There were real Martians once. So why all the phony props? You can't tell me this nonsense is better than the facts about the real Martians."

"Ask the boys who built this place. They hired me, they make the rules," Don said. He did not look at her.

"How did you ever end up with a job like this, Don?"

"The outfit that built the Haven hired all the old Martian colonists and their descendants, any who wanted to work for them. So I took a job. Pay's good. It's seasonal. Anyway, I like Mars."

"Sure," she said. "You must love it—to corrupt it like this."

"Mars was here, it'll still be here after the last tourist goes."

She laughed thinly. Don, with her, was trying to play another role, one he hoped she might find interesting. "You're a symbol of the phoniness, Don. Trained in the special host schools. Selected for your beautiful resemblance to a statue of Adonis. Artificially created to be an ever-smiling host of good-will, just like these pathetic camels have been bred for an exotic touch. No real intelligence, Don, nor originality. And everything you do or say is right out of the text book on how to make friends and influence tourists."

Don didn't look at her. His fingers trembled on the camel's reins.

"What is this fascinating-sounding 'Ritual of Love' going to be like?" giggled Mrs. Ericson.

"It's an authentic exploitation of actual rituals once held by the Martians," Don said. "It has a pagan religious significance. The moons were male and female, and when they—ah—united their light, the Martians held feasts, fertility rituals—highly symbolic rites."

"Only symbolic?" said Mrs. Ericson, pretending blasť disappointment.

"Well," grinned Don, "the Martians were only human. Just as—ah—well—I must say that a number of tourists have a tendency to chuck their inhibitions during the rituals. But if not on Mars, then where?"

"I still say," yelled Mr. Ericson from his camel, "that you should spring a live Martian on us."

"We get plenty of calls for them," Don said. "But so far we haven't been able to scare up any."

"What did they look like?" asked Mrs. Ericson.

"Nobody knows. The only Martians around now are—ghosts," Don said, with a strange softness. "A few old prospectors, fakirs, beggars live in these hills—hermits. They claim they see Martians, know they're here. They believe in ghosts. The Martian sun drives them crazy."

"Like that old man we saw coming out here," said Mr. Ericson.

Don nodded. "They're dangerous. You must stay away from them, you understand. Or you'll get the contamination."

For the first time, Madeleine felt that Don was touching something real. She straightened. "Contamination?"

"Those crazy old guys are like lepers. They stay apart from everybody else. But if you go to them, you pay for it. And if you're contaminated, it'll cost. If you really get it, you can't be cured at all. You die."

No one said anything. Odd, Madeleine thought, his coming out with scare talk. Didn't seem to be good propaganda. Then she got it, and laughed a little. "Sensationalism," she said. "Pure bunk."

"What is this contamination?" Mr. Ericson said.

"An alien virus. Martian. Nobody's been able to isolate it. If a case isn't too bad we cure it in the antiseptic wards, but otherwise—well, you just wither away and die in a few hours. You're all shriveled up and look like a mummy."

"That's horrible!" whispered Mrs. Ericson.

"They're diseased fakirs who say they can read the sands, predict your future, bring you paradise, for five credits. But stay away from them!"

And just at that moment, as though on cue, Madeleine thought, the old man stepped out about fifty feet in front of Don's camel, and blocked the narrow trail.

"Caravan halt!" Don yelled and raised his hand.

Not knowing why, laughing and exclaiming, the long line of the caravan halted. And Madeleine stared ahead into the old man's face. The old man was dirty, bent and very ancient and hairless, with only a soiled robe of crude but heavy cloth hanging on his frame. There was nothing that seemed very much alive about him except his eyes.

Even he was a stereotype, she thought. The classic old hermit character. The yogi, the magi, the wise old man, the Hindu Rope Trick, look into my crystal ball, I am the teller of the sands—

But her heart was pounding extraordinarily loud. His eyes—

Don jumped from his camel. His hands were shaking as he raised his quirt. "Out of the way!" he shouted, then turned slightly. "Don't come any nearer, folks! It'll be all right. I'll have him out of the way in a minute."

"We'll all be contaminated," whispered Mrs. Ericson.

"Just stay clear. You have to contact them directly to be contaminated," Don said.

He stopped five feet from the old man and raised his quirt. The old man looked only at Madeleine, then shook his head slowly up and down as though reaffirming some special secret. As though he shared some secret with her.

"Five credits," the old man said, in a loud whisper. "And I'll read the sands for you. The Martian sands know all your secrets and the timelessness of your dreams. Let them speak to you, through me, for five credits."

Don swung the quirt savagely. It was heavy, and it thudded and smacked across the old man's face and chest. He fell in the middle of the trail.

The sun wheeled crazily. Madeleine could hear her mother screaming and her father yelling as she moved, as though in a trance, toward the old man. Her feet slipped, stumbled in the shale. The old man crawled a little, got up, fell again.

She was screaming at Don to stop.

The old man had fallen to one side and the trail was clear now.

"Let him alone! Let him alone!" Madeleine screamed. "He's out of the way!"

"Madeleine!" Mr. Ericson shouted. "Come back! Get away from that beggar, right now, or we return to Earth in the morning!"

For the first time in her life, that she could remember, her father's threats meant nothing. But the old fear was there as she moved toward the Martian hermit, on a painful tightwire of impulse between threat and desire. She had learned that for any real feeling—fear, joy, pain or even the dimmest-remembered pleasure, you paid a dear price. But she moved on.

The old man's face was bleeding. She saw the long welts of red on the flesh, and the blood-flecks and tortured little broken channels of blood crossing it. Sound roared around her as she eluded Don's hands and knelt down, took the old man's head in her arms. She tilted her canteen to his lips.

There was a kind of strange triumph in the old man's eyes as he peered past her for only a moment and looked at Don. And from somewhere—Madeleine couldn't even tell whether it was real—came a thought.

"Madeleine—come back. Come back when you can. And you will find joy."

Later she knew how she kicked and screamed at them as they dragged her away. How Mrs. Ericson was embarrassed by the display, and how her father refused to touch her because of the fear of contamination. And her mother weeping, later, because of the disgrace and because of what the other guests would think.

In the shiny antiseptic ward at Martian Haven, the virus was burned out by a certain number of roentgens of carefully proportioned X-rays, gamma rays and neutron bombardment. She kept thinking of the old man's eyes, of the stray thought that promised joy.

She kept seeing the old man lying off the trail among the rocks, how he had raised himself on his elbow, and how he waggled the blood-clot of his head in the glaring sun as they dragged Madeleine away.

Occasionally she thought of the whole project—in Mars, Mecca of Earth tourists, Martian Haven, Dream City of the Solar System—that was so colorful and impressive and exotic to others, and she wondered if it was all really as ridiculous as it seemed to her.

She lay there in the dark of the room as evening reached over the dead sea bottom toward the edifice that was Martian Haven. Out there in the big amphitheatre, resurrected supposedly from old Martian ruins, Martian Haven, with all of its rich, efficient facilities and staff, was preparing the stage, props and guests for the Love Ritual of the Double Moons.

The core and centerpiece of Martian Haven was a great cubistic hotel, with the two Martian canals on two sides, renovated, of course, and a five-mile-long artificial lake on a third side. It was somehow designed, in the middle of all that vast emptiness of dead sea, sand and eroded rock, to have a not-ungraceful look of insubstantiality, as though at any moment it might open great wings of some sort and take off into the Martian nowhere by which it was so overwhelmingly surrounded. The side that faced the lake curved in a half-moon, so that it commanded a wide prospect to the eroded hills that had once been mountains to the west and to the east thousands of unbroken miles of desert, that had once, they said, been an ocean.

When Madeleine opened her eyes, it was night. On many a starry night she had lain inside walls not so different from these, and felt much the same, she thought, surrounded by a desert of her own. Away off there in the blackness, Earth shone palely—and she might as well never have left it at all.

And then again she saw the old hermit's eyes out there in the dark, his burning eyes where there should be only sterile emptiness in the night. And his voice calling where there would otherwise have been only the dusty echoes of an arid past.

Outside now the tourists were gathering in the double moonlight. The weird extrapolation of Earth music that was supposed to be the strains of Martian rhythms drifted to her, and lights flickered from burning tapers where dancers undulated and writhed fitfully. A libidinous expectancy was as heavy as a thick scent in the night.

Then, only for a moment, she despised herself for not being with the others, for never having been able to participate in the futile make-believe. She felt like a child who had never grown beyond the stage of the most old-fashioned fairy tales. Someone who had gone beyond the looking-glass and had never been able to get back, but who had never quite been able to forget the world from which she had come.

She could hear her parents and Don talking in the next room.

"It's a shame for her to miss the ritual of the double moons," Don said.

"She's always been that way," Mr. Ericson said. "Staying by herself."

"We've tried everything," said Mrs. Ericson.

"She's spent half her life on an analyst's couch," said Mr. Ericson.

"She wouldn't even," Mrs. Ericson said, "fall in love with her analyst!"

"She was only in love once," said Mr. Ericson, "and that had to be with an idiot who was always writing sonnets."

"A poet," said Don. "There used to be a lot of poets."

"But not in my life," said Mr. Ericson.

"Maybe," Don said, "your daughter expected a little bit too much from Mars."

"Don," Mrs. Ericson pleaded, "maybe you can do something."

"I'll be glad to try," Don said.

So Madeleine lay there and waited for Don, the perfect host, who could supply everyone at Martian Haven with whatever was necessary to insure a pleasant day.

Later, though she did not turn or make any sign of noticing, she knew he had entered the room and was standing over her. She could see the periphery of his giant shadow projected by moonlight over the colored glass.

"Madeleine—we've got a date for the ritual tonight."

"That's odd, Don. I don't remember it."

"But you didn't say you wouldn't attend it with me, when I suggested it this morning."

"Well, Don, this is an official rejection of your proposal."

She saw his shadow bend, his body drop down beside the couch. She felt his hands on her arm. The peculiar fright went through her.

"You won't listen, Madeleine, but whatever you're looking for here—please forget it! The rituals will help you forget. Try it, Madeleine! Please—"

Why did he, all at once, sound so desperate?

"With you?"

"Why not?"

"You're just an artificial dream, Don, that comes true seasonally for people so sick that they can convince themselves you're real—for a price."

"Well, Madeleine—are you so different?"

"I guess I am."

"You just want the impossible. The others—they want little dreams we can give them easily."

There was a strain, a tension in him, in his hands, in his voice. Suddenly, his hands held her, and his face was close above her lips. "You're still young and beautiful to me," he whispered.

She turned her face away, and gazed at the tattered and splendid veils of moonlight as Deimos and Phobos neared one another, with undying eagerness to consummate the timeless ritual.

Dimly, she could hear the communal voices rising to desire.

"Twin Moons, Love Moons, whirling bright,
Bring me Martian love tonight!"

If you could expect too much from Mars, then where could one find the answer to the intangible wish? Sirius. Far Centauris. And at the end of it, the hucksters, the phony props, would be there first.

Some people should stay on Earth, she thought, those who are so hard to please. There the veils of space and time might keep the last illusions living. Once you find that even the farthest star is illusory, there's no place left to go.

His lips were near her lips. His voice was low. "You are different!" His throat trembled. "You really are. But—I wonder if you're different enough."

She was aware of the awful gnawing emptiness within her that was only intense desire too frightened to be free. And then his lips were crushing to hers and she allowed it, for she knew what was to be her only way out, and the promise of union was a haze in the room like the veils of light from the moons of Mars that joined against the starlight of heaven.

There was more than the ardent in his intensity. A kind of desperation, his desire to please going beyond the line of duty. The old consuming terror returned.

She pushed him away. His hands reached, his body crushed. Panic. She felt unable to breathe, and she started to scream. His hand was over her mouth.

"Don't look any deeper, don't probe any farther!" he said, like a suddenly terrible threat. "I beg you, don't do it! You're different—beautifully different, Madeleine. But not different enough! None of them ever are!"

She squirmed away, onto the floor between the glass and the couch, and scurried toward the door. She could hear the gasping, the sobbing desperation in his voice, and his shadow lengthened across the walls.

Then, as she hesitated in the doorway, he was gone.

She put on a nylon hiking suit and left the room. The silence of the hall was not real, and the emptiness was not really emptiness. It was like waking and being exasperatingly aware of only the fleeting end of a dream. And as she slipped out a side entrance, even the wailing of exotic musical instruments seemed in a sense not real. Even the silence, the feeling of being followed, watched, even that seemed artificial—it was impossible to substantiate the suspicion.

Her palms were wet as she slipped along the wall toward the garage where the sandsleds were kept. From the amphitheatre she could hear the rituals, the intercessions, comminations, hymns, libations, incense-burning, and who knew what else. She saw the reflection of chrome and artificial glitter disguised as Martian authenticity, the lights hanging like a grove of pastel moons, and the shrill empty laughter of girls uncoiling as bright as tinsel through the sluggish Martian evening. And in spite of the sound and elaborate pretension, it all had the undying feel of lugubrious solitude.

It had, for a doomed generation driven into inescapable conformity, the necessary quality of a dream in which a stubborn unconsciousness seeks ever for truth. And later, back on Earth, in the rut and groove, it would remain only a dream no one ever talked about to anyone else. After all, it would simply be something that happened on another world.

She gave one brief, bitter laugh. And even on another world the last desperate dream was false.

There might be something to be said for release through a pagan orgy under the double moons; she had no moral scruples about it. But the paganism would have to be real, that was the thing. Besides, it was too late. For a moment she pressed her flattened hands against her face and felt tears squeezing through the tightly-locked fingers. She felt as though she might explode somewhere inside and realized how the invisible edges of living had cut her soul to pieces.

It wasn't even self-pity any more. It had grown above self-pity to a realism beyond tragedy.

She felt icy and empty and alone as she lit a cigarette. Through the taper smoke, the glowing amphitheatre seemed like a golden porpoise lapped in dawn, and coupled with the expanse of the Haven it nestled in the night to resemble a sleeping question mark, an entity gay and sad and full of what was called life.

There was no turning back now. There was no turning back, even to Earth, for that would be the most humiliating defeat of all.

Then she was inside the first sandsled. The sled moved noiselessly out of the garage and whispered away over the sands.

After only a few minutes the radio frightened her with an abrupt voice like that of a disembodied spirit.

"Madeleine!"

She looked back through the trailing skeins of moonlight. A dark spot was overtaking her. She couldn't go any faster. Evidently Don had one of those racing sleds that hardly seemed to touch the sand at all.

"Madeleine! Please—for God's sake, don't see that old hermit!"

"For the sake of which God, Don? I understand the Martians had more than one."

"Madeleine! I'm begging you to come back!"

"Why?"

"You know why."

"The contamination!" She laughed. "Your melodramatic devices don't frighten me."

"It's true. You'll die—! Come back!"

"To what?"

"We'll talk about it! Just come back!"

"What's so dangerous, Don, about my not accepting things here as they're supposed to be?"

His voice tightened. "Just stop, stop and come back!"

She didn't stop, didn't bother to answer. She circled the sandsled among the hills, skirting the rocky clefts with a reckless abandon she had never felt before, and her face was flushed as she leaned her head back and laughed.

"Madeleine!"

It was the last time he called to her. After that, the silence conveyed an intensity of purpose far stronger than verbal entreaties.

She swerved the sandsled dangerously among the erosions, and felt the grinding strain at the base of her skull as the sled bounded from one spire and careened toward another, which she barely avoided smashing into head-on.

She recognized the area. She leaped out of the car and ran, hearing the pursuing sandsled stop somewhere below her as she climbed.

For an instant dizziness threatened, and the surroundings and the motions of Don and herself and the love moons in the sky seemed wildly, almost dangerously abstracted, as if viewed through drug-glazed eyes. A panicky wash of blood came to her face and she struggled for breath, wanting to cry out. It passed. Her mind groped for reason and the terror receded.

She went on up to the ridge and found the old man waiting. From that high ridge where the night wind cut coldly toward the Martian south, the lights of the rituals in the amphitheatre of Martian Haven flickered in a misty halo far away, like phosphorescent globes of spooky glowing, and frenetic dancings and shiftings of crazed flames.

The old man had a vague, insubstantial look, only his eyes seemed real, almost too real, in their intensity as he looked at her. He was propped against a block of eroded rock and the wind rustled the fringes of his ragged robe.

She sat beside him, their shoulders touched. And then, as though slowly dissolving through some chemical reaction, the old man began to fade. Vaguely Don was there, too, in a nebulous transparency like the old man. And Madeleine lay there, her face pressed into the sand. On Mars one should expect, without shock, a different kind of reality.

Their voices weren't really voices. Just thoughts, thoughts in the head, feelings, but nothing solid. The thoughts of Don and the old man seemed to be in some kind of time-worn conflict.

"You encouraged her," Don was thinking.

"Those who can see a little should be urged to try to see more. Maybe, sometime, we'll find one who is different enough to come through to us."

"No! It never works that way! They just—die."

"Maybe they won't—always," the old man thought.

Madeleine felt strangely disoriented, as though dreaming with delirious fever. All time and space seemed for a moment to be enclosed within that rocky space, itself unmoored and unhelmed upon a dark and compassless ocean.

Martians, Martians all around, but not a one to see. Like disembodied spirits, they had long ago evolved beyond confinement to fleshly bodies. But Earth people suspected there was something, so the younger ones, like Don, allowed suspicion to take any stereotyped, acceptable form. But the oldsters believed in being honest. Let those who can see—see.

"Madeleine!" Don was thinking, desperately, as desperate as only pure feeling can be. "Go back—back to the Haven. You can still go back!"

"But she cannot," the old man said. "For those who come this far, there's never anything to go back to."

"No—I cannot," Madeleine thought. "I don't want to go back."

"All right," Don thought after a while. "All right, Madeleine."

Then she was on her feet and moving over sand and stone that seemed alive toward the Ruins of Taovahr—but they were no longer ruins. She heard the murmur of sea-tides and warmer winds sighing over a younger land.

The sterile sand blossomed. Aridity drifted away. "Don! Is that you, Don?"

Don seemed to be somewhere, felt rather than heard, sensed, not seen. And instead of ruins, the high white walls and rising towers surrounded by gardens, fountains, and through the gardens a stream of clear water, soft with the pads of giant water lilies, trailing like glass under the moonlight and sympathetic shadows of leaves.

"Don! You knew what real living was in your youth. It was way, way back in time. Didn't you? And only if you're really living do you know where you're going, and you knew, didn't you? You gave up the machines, and went on to freedom. You escaped the confining flesh that can be caught up in war, and in hopeless peonage to the radios and teevee and radar and thundering jets that drown out the song of real life, and a horde of cunningly made, treacherous machines—"

"Madeleine. Join us—the way we are now. You can do it—"

"I—I can't see you, Don."

"You don't have to. You just think about it and join us, all of us—"

"Just—just a spirit of some kind, Don—is that it?"

"Yes, yes—something like that! You can't explain it! Just do it!"

It was too late, she knew that now. "We're old, too old, where I come from, Don. When I was very young, I might have done it." Only the wonder-filled child can go through the looking glass and—stay.

And he knew she was right, that she was too old. But the old man had promised her a moment of joy. She suddenly saw him—Don—the bright, strong man waiting across the stream. "It's what you brought to me," he said softly. "When we were young we looked this way—and we were real."

She moved toward the water and her arms lifted to him. At first she couldn't recognize the woman who bathed there. From the water's surface a slight vapor drifted, and she saw the wet gleam of naked arms as they lowered and raised and the water shone on the pale loveliness of unashamed nakedness. And then she knew that the woman there, her hair floating over the water, was Madeleine. She whispered her own name.

He took her in his arms, and she could hear her breath joining his as the mist drifted up among the buttressed writhings of the trees. She was laughing, her breasts pressed to the damp richness of the loam, and in the water she could see her face, white, with sharp shadows under the eyes and a high look of joy.

"I love you, Madeleine."

His face was above her and his lips crushed to hers, and she could hear the stream flowing all around her like blood in her ears.

"I love you, Madeleine."

A whisper went through the gray starlight that Mars was turning toward morning. And the waters of the mind drained away, leaving high and clear the common desire that stands like a drowned tower.

"I love you, Madeleine."

She could hear it all fading away—her own joy, the fires—as if everything were melting, a wax candle dying, a wine glass draining, a soft light dimming....


They had found her by following the pathway left by bits of abandoned clothing. There was nothing but the rescue party and thousands of miles of waste around Madeleine where she lay in the ancient, dried-up creek bed. And she was shriveled and dried out and resembled, as Don had predicted, a mummy. But there was a kind of softness of repose on her face that hadn't been there before. Don stood back and looked down at her and thought about the waste.

Mr. Ericson ran forward in his purple shirt and fell to his knees whispering, "Madeleine, we've found you! Madeleine—Madeleine—can't you hear your Daddy?"

"We give you anything you want," Don whispered, but no one heard him.

And while Mr. Ericson wept, Mrs. Ericson slumped into Don's arms as though it was the end of the world.






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