Authors: John Bellairs
"Nice try, Higgy!" said the professor with a sour grimace. He gripped the handle of his cane tightly and leaned forward. Was this it, then? Were they going to have to stand by and watch while that hunk of junk struck Cliff Bullard out? Would they have to sit tight and hope that Sloane and his creepy wife would let Johnny go unharmed? The professor felt helpless anger rising inside him. What could he possibly do?
The robot raised its hands to belt levelâapparently it was going to pitch from the stretch and not use a windup. Back went the arm, and around it came. A loud
sounded as the ball hit the catcher's mitt, and Bullard stood staring in disbelief with the bat on his shoulder.
"STEEEErike ONE!" boomed Father Higgins, and his right hand shot up.
An excited buzzing began in the crowd, and then it died away as the catcher flipped the ball back to the robot. Bullard pounded the plate and looked grim. He took little practice swings and yelled something out to the tall menacing figure on the mound. Once again, the robot began its pitching motion. The arm was a blur as it swept around, and this time Bullard swung mightily. But the ball was in the mitt before he had finished his swing.
"STEEEErike TWO!" bellowed the priest, and the crowd roared. This was great! It was really going to happen! A local boy was going to strike out the great Cliff Bullard of the New York Yankees! The cheering, stomping, and whistling went on for a long time, and Father Higgins had to raise his arms to get the people to quiet down. Finally the crowd hushed, and the robot toed the pitching rubber. Bullard looked pale and shaken, but he stepped into the batter's box again and raised his bat... .
"YOU DIRTY ROTTEN FRAUD!" screeched the professor, and he sprang to his feet. As the people around him watched in horror, the old man unsheathed the springy glittering sword, flourished it over his head, and vaulted up onto the brick wall in front of his seat. Then he leaped onto the field and went galloping madly toward the pitcher's mound. With heavy, lumbering steps the robot moved forward to meet him, and the baseball dropped from its hand. The professor advanced slowly. With the sword held out in front of him, he went into a dueler's stance. One whack of the robot's arm could crush his skullâthe professor knew that.
"Now then, come on, sir!"
yelled the professor tauntingly.
"We must have a drop or two of this malapert blood from you!"
The robot swung, and the professor ducked. He felt the rush of the powerful arm as it passed over his head. The professor dashed around behind the robot. Frantically he searched for the shadowy hole in the back of its neck... was it there? Ah, yes, it was! Before the creature could turn round to face him, the professor raised the sword and plunged the tip of it into the slit. A shudder ran through the robot's body. It staggered drunkenly forward. With loud curses and yells, the professor plunged the sword's tip into the hole again and again and again. But the robot did not collapse. It was turning round to face him, and the professor felt sick with fear. Had he merely angered the creature? Was that all he had done? The professor heard angry yelling, and he realized that people were running toward him. At first everyone had been too shocked to move, but now at last two policemen had leaped onto the field, pistols drawn. They pounded toward him shouting
"You're under arrest!"
And then something happened... .
As everyone watched, the air around the robot shimmered. It did not look like a tall, blue-eyed man anymoreâit was a grotesque, shiny metal statue with eerie glass eyes. Awkwardly the thing flung its right arm up. With a loud snapping sound, the arm fell off and hit the ground with a thud. The robot opened its jaw wide to let out a hideous, unearthly screech. The professor dropped his sword and covered his earsâthe noise was unbearable. He closed his eyes tight, and when he opened them a second later, the robot was lying motionless on the grass.
More and more people poured onto the field, and soon there was a ring of astonished faces around the professor and the dead robot. The professor felt extremely tired. Sweat was pouring down his face and he was gasping for breath. He stared silently at the two policemen, and they looked back in utter dumbfounded amazement. Then there was a loud commotion as somebody came shoving through the crowd. It was Sloane's wife, and she was hopping mad. Her face was twisted into a red mask of rage, and she lunged at the professor with her pocketbook raised high over her head.
"You meddling old fool!"
"You filthy old man! What have you done? He's dead! You killed him!"
Two men grabbed Mrs. Sloane, and they held her while she struggled. Wearily the professor turned to her. He was about to say that there was no law against killing robots, but then a thought occurred to him. "Where... where's Sloane?" he asked, in a dazed, dreamy voice.
"I told you!"
"He's dead! His heart couldn't stand it! I'd like to break your filthy neck!"
The professor scowled at the woman contemptuously. He turned to the policemen. "Gentlemen," he said quietly, "you had better take this harpy away and lock her up. She and her late husband kidnaped Johnny Dixon a few days ago, and they have been holding him prisoner God knows where. I will come down to the police station and make formal charges against her, and hopefully we can find out where Johnny is and rescue him. If you don't mind, I believe I left my binoculars under my seat, and I'd better go fetch them. I'll see you in a few minutes."
Stooping, the professor picked up the sword. Fergie was at his side nowâhe had come running out with everyone else. The professor smiled at Fergie and patted his arm, and then the two of them started back across the field. The crowd parted to let them pass, and everyone started to cheer. The professor raised his hand to wave, but then he dropped it. He felt triumphant, but he also felt unbelievably tired, and he began to think about how nice it would be to be home in bed, sound asleep.
Needless to say, there was a lot of talk about the strange thing that had happened at the Duston Heights athletic field on the night of the big strikeout contest. Everybody in the city had an opinion of some kind, and you couldn't find two people who had the same version of what had happened. Some said that it was a supernatural event, that it couldn't be explained any other way; others claimed that it was a cheap sleight-of-hand trick, an illusion that had been performed with mirrors. Many people raved that they had known all along that the tall blond pitcher was really a robot and that the poor lighting at the stadium had helped to fool people; and a few claimed that the robot really
been human, and that the professor had murdered Mr. Talus for some obscure reason. Cliff Bullard was interviewed the day after the contest, and he was hopping mad. He said the whole thing was a rotten swindle arranged by somebodyâhe didn't want to say who. He added that he would sue the dirty so-and-so who had embarrassed him as soon as he saw his lawyer back in New York City.
As for the robot, it was carted away to the city dumpâafter the professor had pulled out its eyes and smashed them into powder with the jack handle that he kept in his car. A hearse was called to the stadium to carry away the body of an elderly man who had died of a heart attack in his seat, and Dr. Amalia Pimlico was taken to the police station for questioning. Kidnaping is a federal offense, so two F.B.I, agents were called in, and they grilled Dr. Pimlico for some time. At first she was stubborn, but finally she broke down and told the police everything they wanted to know. A helicopter was sent to the abandoned switchman's house in the White Mountains, and Johnny was flown immediately to a local hospital. He was dehydrated because he hadn't had any water for a long time, but he recovered quickly. After two days he was allowed to go home.
While Johnny was recovering, the professor did some snooping. He drove up to Emmett Oglesby's gas station in Stark Corners and poked around and pried up floorboards until he found what he wanted: a journal that Sloane had kept. In itâamong other thingsâwas a day-by-day account of the life the old man had led since he came back to Stark Corners. Some letters were stuffed into the journal, and these were helpful tooâat least, the professor thought they were.
Finally, when Johnny was feeling better, Professor Coote invited everybody up to a party at his cottage on Lake Winnepesaukee. Gramma and Grampa, Fergie, the professor, and Johnny all went, and the party was a lot of fun: there was plenty to eat and drink, and Professor Coote took everyone for a moonlight cruise on the
a large old-fashioned excursion boat. Later, everyone was sitting around stuffed and happy on the porch of the cottage, and the two professors started to talk about Evaristus Sloane and his magic robot.
"So, Roderick," said Professor Coote as he sipped his brandy, "you really didn't know there was writing on the blade of that silly sword! I think that's extremely funnyâI mean, you
a scholar and everything!"
"Har de har har!" said the professor grumpily. "It's a big fat joke, isn't it? All right, I'll admit itâI was fooled. I know several languages, but Arabic isn't one of them. I thought all those squirls and squiggles were just a decorative pattern. Humph! And so it seems that the ghost of the man whose eyes were stolen wanted vengeance, and he gave us a weapon to use. But why on earth didn't he just
what he wanted us to do with the sword?"
Professor Coote smiled smugly. "Roderick, I'm ashamed of you!" he said. "You know as much about folklore as I do, and you should be aware that ghosts are very often tongue-tied. They appear and mumble something and frighten the dickens out of us. Then they leave us to try and figure out what it is they want us to do. In the end, of course, you didn't figure out what the sword was forâyou just survived by pure dumb luck!"
The professor shrugged. "Well, luck or not, it was a darned good thing I brought the cane with me to the stadium the other night!"
"It certainly is!" put in Professor Coote emphatically. "If you had sprayed that robot with machine gun fire, he would just have brushed the bullets away like flies. If you had tried to jam an ordinary sword's point into that keyhole, you would just have wound up with a broken sword. It takes magic to fight magic! By the way, Roderick, would you care to read the inscription to our friends here? It might interest them."
Professor Childermass reached into the pocket of his suit coat and took out a white card. On it was written Professor Coote's translation of the writing on the blade of the magic sword:
This is the Sword of Righteousness, dipped thrice in the waters of the River Jordan at midnight, during the moon's eclipse. Wield it against the servant of the Evil One and God will prevail.
The professor read these words aloud in a solemn voice, and then he flipped the card out onto the middle of the porch rug. "How about that?" he sighed. "I wonder who owned that sword originallyâsome Muslim wizard, maybe? Ah, well, it worked for us in our time of need, and that is what counts!"
There was silence for a while. In the distance, a motor-boat's sleepy drone could be heard. Then Johnny spoke up.
"Why did old Sloane want to use my eyes in his robot?" he asked plaintively. "I know he wanted to get even with Grampa, but... well, wouldn't a robot with nearsighted eyes be kind of useless?"
The professor looked pained. The whole business of Sloane and his evil plans really disgusted him, and he didn't like to talk about it. However, he felt that Johnny had a right to an answer. "In the first place," he began as he lit a cigarette, "I think we will all agree that Sloane was as nutty as a fruitcake. According to his journal, he had gotten it into his head that his robot really
to have nearsighted eyes! And why, you will ask? Well, as far as I can figure out from the letters and newspaper clippings that I found in Sloane's journal, his original robot was not a huge successâit got loose and ran around killing people. Sloane decided that a robot with nearsighted eyes would be easier to control: he would equip it with glasses, but the glasses could be taken away if the robot started acting rambunctious. Or, if worse came to worst, Sloane could knock the glasses off with a pole or shatter them with a BB from an air rifle. Then the silly robot would stagger around and crash into trees until it collapsed, or until Sloane caught up with it and used the magic key to shut it off. Butâ"
"What happened to the key, anyway?" asked Fergie, interrupting. "Does old Mrs. Uglypuss still have it?"
The professor smiled smugly. "No, she most certainly does not! When she was put into her jail cell, her purse was taken away from her, and I managed to get my fat fist into it when no one was looking. I swiped the key and pitched it into the middle of Round Pond."
After a brief pause, Professor Coote spoke up. "You know, Roderick," he said, "the strangest part of this whole weird business is how that spectacle case with the glass eyes in it came to be left in a bush for you to find. Sloane must have hidden it away somewhere in or near the house, and maybe you're right in thinking that a robber found the case and then threw it away. But still, I keep wondering if some evil power meant for you to find those eyes. Doesn't it seem possible to you?"
The professor puffed on his cigarette and looked thoughtful. "Ye-es," he said slowly, "it does seem possible. And if I ever meet the evil power in a back alley, I will give it a fat lip and a couple of black eyes. Think of all the trouble those wretched glass eyes caused! It's incredible, isn't it?"
Silence again. Rockers creaked, and Grampa Dixon puffed quietly on his pipe. In a corner of the screened porch, a card table stood. On it was a bowl of pinkish punch, some paper cups, and a candle in a fancy china holder. As Johnny watched, the candle's flame flickered in the chilly night breeze. His life had been like that, a flickering flame in the dark, and if it hadn't been for the courage of his friends ...