Authors: John Bellairs
Fergie rubbed his chin. "I think we oughta go up to the house in the mountains, just like we were gonna do before we had our flat tire. Maybe they won't be there, but it's as good a place as any to try."
The professor nodded. "I think you're rightâit's the only thing we can do. But before we do anything, we are going to have to go back and change that rotten flat tire. I feel tired, but I think I can do it with your help. How does it look outside?"
Fergie opened the door and poked his head out. The rain was letting up, and overhead he could see a ghostly moon behind racing clouds.
"I think the rain's gonna stop, prof," he said. "It won't be so bad out there nowâjust kinda muddy. I bet we can get the tire changed."
The professor heaved a deep sigh and wiped rain off his poncho with his hand. "It'll have to be done, I suppose," he said wearily. "If I had stuck with the job and finished it, we wouldn't be in this messâbut there's no use crying over spilled milk. Come on, my stouthearted friend. Off we go!"
While Fergie and the professor struggled to change the tire, Johnny lay on the back seat of a car that bounced and jounced over a rugged mountain road. He kept waking up and blacking out, over and over again, and whenever he tried to move his arms and legs, he found that he couldn't. Finally the car jolted to a stop. Johnny heard a car door slam, and then the door near his head opened, and he was roughly dragged out onto the ground. Standing over him was the tall, stooped old man, the gas station owner.
"So nice to meet you!" said the man as he grabbed Johnny by the collar and started dragging him across the wet grass. "You're Henry Dixon's grandson, aren't you? I thought I would have to go down to Duston Heights to get you, but you came up here to me! How very convenient! You know, your grandfather did me wrong many years ago, and now Fm going to get even. And you're going to help me. Don't you feel honored? Of
you do! I
you'd be pleased! Wait till you see what I've made. It's almost done, but it needs a few finishing touches, if you know what I mean. Years ago, I made a mechanical man that worked because its eyes were really the eyes of a living human beingâa human who had been living at one time, that is. I used an ancient magic formula to do this, and I added a little extra twist of my own. For a long time I had been fascinated by the legend that says that a dead man's eyes reflect the last thing he ever saw on earth. But what if the last thing he sees is
When I killed that poor man to make my robot, I held a mirror up to his face, and then, later, when I put his eyes in the robot, it took on the shape of a
real human being!
That is, it took on the shape of the man I had killed. Imagine how pleased I felt when I knew that I had improved on the old formula!" The old man paused and sighed. "Unfortunately," he went on, "the robot didn't work out, but you are going to help me remedy that. You are going to contribute to a great scientific experiment. Doesn't that make you feel proud?"
Johnny only heard about half of what the old man was saying. His body felt numb, and his mind kept drifting off into a dreamy world where nothing mattered at all. He was terribly frightened, but when he tried to speak, his lips wouldn't move. Meanwhile, the old man tugged at his collar, and Johnny's limp body bumped over the rough ground. The old man was whistling softly, but just as Johnny was wondering what tune it was, he blacked out again.
Later, Johnny awoke. He was lying on a hard surface, and everything around him looked blurry. Where were his glasses? The old man must have taken them off, or maybe they had fallen off when he was being dragged across the ground. Where was he now? Vague shapes swam before his eyes. Then he heard someone cough, and he saw shadowy hands moving near him. The old man was slipping Johnny's glasses onto his head, and now he was propping him up so he could see. Warily, Johnny looked around: he was in a room with rough stone walls, and he was lying on a table. Near him, on a marble-topped washstand, glittering instrumentsâa scalpel, a probeâlay in a row. Next to the instruments lay a small hand mirror, and nearby stood a large glass jar that was half full of dark green moss. Against one wall of the room an old oak sideboard loomed, and three oil lamps burned on top of it. Near the lamps stood a bronze incense burner, and bluish smoke curled up from the holes in its lid. At the far end of the room stood something largeâa statue, maybeâthat was draped with a painter's drop cloth. The old man started to speak.
"So here we are. Isn't this a nice place?" he crooned in a threatening voice. "I hope you're comfortable, but if you aren't, I'm afraid there's not much you can do about it. The drug that I put in your coffee will keep you paralyzed for quite some time. Unfortunately, it doesn't keep you from feeling pain, but then, we can't have everything, can we? Now before we begin, I wonder if you'd care to see my new creation. I'll have to wait forty days before it can be used, but I'm a patient man. Alas, this will be your only chance to see it, so make the most of your opportunity. Are you ready?"
Johnny's head was lowered back onto the hard table, and he heard footsteps moving down to the other end of the room. There was a swishing sound, and then the footsteps returned. The old man propped Johnny's head up again, and he saw the thing that had been hidden by the drop cloth. His heart began to hammer hard, and a soundless scream burst inside his head. There on a stone pedestal stood a gaunt figure made of shining metal. It was shaped to look like a shriveled corpse with spindly arms and legs. The head was like a skull covered with glittering skin, and the large hollow eye sockets were empty.
Once again, the maroon Pontiac was bumping along the rutty road that led up the side of Mount Creed. The professor gripped the steering wheel hard, and he cursed every time the car hit a bump. Fergie sat beside him, and the look on his face showed that he was frightened but determined. They were going much too fast on this winding road, and sometimes the car skidded very close to the edge when the professor rounded a curve. But Fergie didn't complainâhe knew they were in a desperate hurry, and he only hoped that they were going in the right direction. After they had careened round a tight hairpin turn, the professor began to slow down. Up ahead of them a car was parked in the middle of the road.
"Hah!" said the professor as he put on the brakes and turned off the engine. "I'll bet you that's old Sloane's car. Who else would be up on this godforsaken mountain at this time of night? Well, that proves that we've come to the right place. And in case there was any doubt in your mind, it also proves that Sloane is no ghostâghosts don't need cars to take them from one place to the next. All right! Everybody out! We're going the rest of the way on foot!"
Fergie and the professor got out, and they edged past the old rusty Chevrolet, moving quickly. The clouds had cleared and the moon was out, and this helped them see where they were going. The road had stopped winding, and climbed straight up the side of the mountain. Dark masses of bushes and trees loomed on both sides.
"I... I wish I had brought a weapon of... some kind," the professor gasped as he paused to catch his breath. "The jack handleâwe might have been able to use it."
"It's a heck of a time to be thinkin' about that," grumbled Fergie as he wiped his forehead with his sleeve. "By the way, do you think we're gettin' close? It's hard to tell in the dark."
The professor squinted into the gloom. "I can't be positively sure, but I think the house is around that curve up thereâyou see it, way up ahead?"
Fergie nodded. "I guess so. Okay, I've got my wind back, so let's get movin'. You all right?"
The professor grinned. "Except for nervous prostration, exhaustion, and a fierce ache in my side, I'm in great shape!" he said. "Forward, at the gallop!"
Fergie and the professor started to run. They both had the feeling that something awful was going to happen to Johnny, and they wanted to get to the house as fast as they possibly could. As they drew closer to the curve in the road, they saw that the professor had been right: there was the grassy field glimmering in the moonlight, and in the distance the shadowy house waited. But there was something standing in the field, near the edge of the road. A post? No. It was someone with a rifle in his hands.
Fergie and the professor stopped running. Cold fear swept over them, and they glanced quickly at each other. With crunching sounds, the figure moved closer, and now they could see that it was a teenager, a boy who was maybe fifteen years old. He had a pimply face and a crew cut, and he looked mean.
"Okay, you two!" he yelled. "That's as far as you go! Back off!"
The professor clenched his fists. He could feel anger welling up inside him. With an effort, he managed to keep calm. "Young man," he said in a strained voice, "you must have a lot of spare time on your hands. I mean, here you are, with a gun in your hands, guarding a deserted empty house. May I ask why?"
"House isn't deserted," snapped the boy, and he waved the rifle around to show that he meant business. "It belongs to Mr. Oglesby, an' he pays me t'look after the place. He called me up from his gas station, an' he said fer me t'come up here 'bout ten o'clock an' keep people away. An' I do what he tells me to do. So get movin', er you'll be sorry."
Fergie turned to the professor. "Who's Oglesby?" he whispered.
"That must be the name Sloane is using," the professor muttered. And he added nastily, "I'd like to wring that kid's neck! He thinks he's the king of the hill with that wretched piece of artillery in his hands!"
"Huh? What'd you say?" asked the boy in a threatening voice.
"None o' your business," snapped Fergie.
There was silence for about a minute. The boy stood tensely gripping the rifle in his hands, while Fergie and the professor stood several paces away, watching him. Finally Fergie stepped forward. He looked the boy up and down contemptuously, and folded his arms.
"Okay, you!" he said loudly. "Are you
gonna shoot us if we try to get past you? Are you that dumb? You shoot us, an' you'll get tossed in jail fer the rest o' your life! How'd you like fer
to happen? Huh?"
The boy stiffened. "Who're you callin' dumb, you long-nosed goop? You say that to me again, an' I'll push your face in!"
"You an' who else?" said Fergie in a taunting voice. "I bet you couldn't fight yer way out of a paper bag!"
As the professor watched in amazement, the boy threw down his rifle and rushed at Fergie. Swearing, he lunged at Fergie's throat, but Fergie ducked to one side and landed a punch in the boy's stomach. They started rolling around in the grass, kicking and snarling. Quickly the professor sprang forward. He picked up the rifle, slid the bolt back, and dumped the bullet out. Then he threw the rifle down and tried to break up the fight. The pimply-faced kid had a cut lip and some red marks on his face.
"Had enough?" snarled Fergie. He raised his right fist in the air threateningly.
"All right, you two!" barked the professor. "The fight's over. There are more important things to be attended to! Break it up!" He bent over and grabbed Fergie by the shoulders, but at that moment something happened. From the underbrush across the road came a loud crackling and crunching. Boughs swayed and bent, and suddenly a large, man-sized shape lurched out into the middle of the road.
In an instant, the professor guessed. "Oh, my God!" he gasped. "It's the robot!"
Swaying uncertainly, the thing looked around. In the moonlight it was hard to tell, but it looked like a big husky man with a shock of blond hair on his head. The robot had taken on the shape that it had when it struck out Clutch Klemm in the summer of 1900.
yelled the professor in a panicky voice. "That thing isn't human, and if it catches you, it'll kill you! For God's sake, let's
Come on, while we have the chance!"
Nobody needed to be warned a second time. Before the professor had finished speaking, the pimply-faced boy took off on the dead run across the field. Fergie and the professor galloped toward the house, and the crunching sounds they heard behind them made them run even harder. They didn't stop until they were standing on the shadowy front porch of the house.
"Is... is it... coming... after us?" gasped the professor. He was holding his side and wincing with pain.
Fergie looked. The hulking moonlit figure was plodding along at a steady pace through the tall grass. Apparently the robot did not believe in hurrying.
As soon as he had caught his breath, the professor dashed into the house, with Fergie right behind him. The rooms were empty and dark, and there was no sound. Sudden despair filled the professor's heartâhad they come to the wrong place? Then, as he was struggling to fight back tears, he heard it. A small sound, a distant clinking and clattering. It seemed to be coming from down below, in the basement.
yelled the professor as he grabbed Fergie's arm. "We've got to find the kitchen! I mean, the cellar door! Follow me!"
They stumbled down a dark hallway, bumping into doors on the way. In the distance, moonlight was shining on a worn linoleum floor, and that guided them. Once they had reached the kitchen, Fergie and the professor began looking wildly around. One door opened into a closet, and another led to the pantry. Where was the door that led to the basement? Then, as he paused in the middle of the room, the professor looked down. A linoleum-covered door lay at his feet. With a yell he dropped to his knees and grabbed the little ring that served as a doorknob. Pulling the heavy door back, the professor peered down into the blackness. He could just barely make out a rickety flight of steps. Carefully he began to pick his way down, and Fergie followed.
The basement smelled musty and damp, and it was absolutely pitch darkâexcept for one thing. A tiny, pencil-thin line of light could be seen over in one corner. Groping his way forward, the professor found that he was standing in front of a set of wooden shelves that was full of Mason jars. The light was coming from a crack in a wooden door that stood behind the shelves. Furiously the professor hurled jars this way and that, and the basement was filled with the sound of breaking glass. With Fergie's help, he heaved the shelves sideways and kicked open the door.