Authors: John Bellairs
The professor walked off across the field humming quietly.
"Well, we found the famous gizmo," said Fergie as soon as the professor was out of sight. "I hope the prof is happy. But I still don't see how he's gonna pass this hunk of junk off as a real human being."
"I don't either," said Johnny glumly. He looked down at the pieces of the robot that lay shining in the sunlight. "But he said there was this energy source that made the robot go, and maybe that's the answer. Maybe the mysterious energy source made the robot look like a real person. Could that be possible?"
Fergie shrugged. "Search me! All I know is, this 'energy source' stuff sounds like a lot of garbage. Does he think that old whosis came up with atomic power back in the horse and buggy days? That's kinda hard to believe!"
Johnny said nothing. The robot was a riddle, but he knew one thing: He would be very glad to get away from this place. The house was grim and forbidding, even in the daytime. Idly, Johnny watched a bird fly by. Then he stretched and yawned and walked around picking pieweed stalks. Fergie sat down on a rotting stump and took a harmonica out of his shirt pocket. He began to play an old sad folk tune. Johnny knew the words:
Come all you young fellows so young and so fine
And seek not your fortune in a dark dreary mine
For 'twill form as a habit and seep in your soul
Till the stream of your blood is as black as the coal
For it's dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew
And the sorrows are many and the pleasures but few ...
Fergie played on, and Johnny walked away with his bunch of flowery purple plants. He was looking for a jar or a bucket to stick them in, and he had a vague idea that there might be one out behind the house. As he walked, he began to feel very odd. It seemed to him that the air had suddenly gotten chilly. And the sound of the harmonica grew fainter, as if Fergie were playing off in some distant place. Dreamily Johnny turned and stared at an old rusty drainpipe that ran down the back side of the house. Sure enough, there was a coffee can full of water under the drainpipe. He started to walk toward it, but he hadn't taken two steps when something made him turn.
Not far from the back door of the house stood a bench covered with peeling white paint. It was a garden seat, the kind people used to make so they could sit outdoors on hot summer nights. The bench stood in a patch of wild rosebushes not far from the rugged wall of the mountain, which towered overhead. A man was sitting on the benchâa man Johnny had never seen before. He wore baggy, dusty overalls and a faded plaid shirt, and he had a big mop of straw-colored hair. The man sat hunched over with his face in his hands, and he seemed to be crying. Johnny stood dead still. The bunch of pieweed stalks fell from his numb fingers, and he took a couple of shuffling steps forward. And then, as Johnny watched, the man stood up. He took his hands away from his face and he stumbled. Johnny gasped in terrorâthe man had no eyes. Streaks of blood ran down from empty black sockets.
"They took my eyes," the man moaned. "They took my eyes."
Johnny opened and closed his mouth, and made little whimpering noises. He shut his eyes tight to block out this horrible vision, and when he opened them again a second later, the man was gone.
Johnny was so frightened that he couldn't even scream. He stood staring, eyes wide, at the empty bench and the patch of grass where the man had been standing. He hadn't had time to run awayâJohnny's eyes hadn't been closed that long. Who or what had he seen? Was it the ghost whose voice he had heard at the old baseball stadium? And was this the same creature that had appeared to him as a scrawny shadow crouching outside his bedroom window? Johnny raised his hand and found that it was trembling violently. In the distance, Fergie's mournful harmonica music went on endlessly. After swallowing several times and licking his dry lips, Johnny found his voice.
"Fergie? F-Fergie?" he said weakly. Then he pulled air into his lungs and bellowed:
"Fergie! Fergie! Help! Quick!"
The harmonica-playing stopped, and soon Fergie was galloping across the grass to the place where Johnny stood. "Yeah? What... what is it, John baby?" gasped Fergie breathlessly.
Johnny was still so shaken that he had trouble putting words together. "I... oh, my gosh, Fergie, I saw... oh, you'll never believe what I saw," Johnny stammered, and he pointed a trembling ringer at the bench. "He... a guy... he was right there... a man with no eyes... it was awful!"
Fergie was astonishedâhe really didn't know what to say. "You mean it was a ghost?" he asked, frowning skeptically. "Is that what you think you saw?"
Johnny glared. "It's not what I
I saw, it's what I
I'm not crazy, Fergie, and I'm tellin' you that right there, five minutes ago, there was thisâ"
"Yes? Yes? What is it? What in heaven's name is going on here?"
Fergie and Johnny turned. There stood the professor, red-faced and out of breath. He had been walking up the road with his tool kit when he heard Johnny yell, and he had come pounding pell-mell across the field to see what was the matter. Patiently Johnny told the story of what he had seen. Now that he was calmer, he could give more details and make more sense. The professor listened with a grave expression on his face. Johnny couldn't tell if he believed him or not.
"That is a very strange tale," said the professor in a hushed voice. "I have no doubt that it's the ghost that gave you the snuffbox, the one that has visited you twice before. But why he should have come to you now, in this place, I can't imagine. However, speaking of mysterious occurrences, let me tell you what happened to me a few minutes ago: I was on my way back to the car, when I happened to turn my head, and I saw a blue jay pecking at something that was caught in a bush. I was curious, so I went over and chased the bird away, and guess what I found? An old-fashioned case that was meant to hold a pair of spectacles. But there were no spectacles inside. Instead, well... here, let me show you what I found."
The professor knelt down and opened the toolbox. From it he took the case he had been talking about, and he popped it open. Inside were two glass eyes.
Johnny turned pale. Once again, he seemed to hear the moaning words of the ghostly figure:
They took my eyes... they took my eyes.
"Now, what do you make of all this?" said the professor, giving each of the boys a searching look. "I will bet you fifty dollars that these are the eyes that belong in the robot we found. Somebody must have stolen the case from the house, and when the robber found out what was inside, he threw it away. I suppose that if we had any brains we would throw these disgusting objects and the robot away too.
I have never been known for being sensible, so I am going ahead with my plan. Do I hear any strong objections from anybody?"
Johnny and Fergie looked at each other. They both could see that something uncanny was going on here, butâlike the professorâthey were not going to be scared away. Silently the three of them went back to the place where the pieces of the robot were lying. The professor got some screws and a screwdriver out of the toolbox and bolted the head onto the body of the robot. With the help of the boys, the professor lugged the armless and legless figure down to the car. They put it in the trunk, and then went back for the other parts. When all the pieces of the robot were in the trunk, the professor revved up the engine and made a screeching, lurching U-turn. As the car bumped away down the road, Fergie threw an anxious glance at Johnny, who was sitting in the backseat. He looked very pale and frightened.
"Prof?" Fergie asked. "How come you didn't put the eyes back in the robot?"
The professor grimaced. "Because I did not want to stir up any evil forces that may be lurking near the old house," he said. "When we're back in Duston Heights, there will be time for putting all the parts of the robot back together, and I hope that we will also be able to figure out what makes it run. But I'll let you in on a little secret, Byron: If it turns out that there is no secret energy source, and this is just a tin man full of gears and rods, I will not be too unhappy. We can donate the machine to a museum and forget about striking out Cliff Bullard. It was a pretty silly idea, anyway. Now that I've seen the robot, I realize that it couldn't possibly have been used in that contest. There's no way it could have been mistaken for a living, breathing human being."
"You better hope there's no way," muttered Fergie as he thought about the heap of metal parts that clunked and clattered in the trunk of the professor's car.
When they got back to the General Stark Inn, the professor went inside and explained to Mrs. Barnstable that he and the boys were going to have to cut their vacation trip short. He claimed that Johnny had come down with a bad cold and would need to be put to bed at home as soon as possible. Mrs. Barnstable was very sympathetic, and she even refused the extra money the professor offered her. So while Johnny stayed in the car and pretended to be ill, Fergie and the professor went upstairs, packed all the bags, and brought them down. Mrs. Barnstable came out onto the porch of the inn and waved good-bye as they drove off. When they got back to Duston Heights, the boys helped the professor carry the pieces of the robot down to his basement workshop.
Days passed. Johnny and Fergie went back to their normal everyday routine of school, homework, and hanging around Peter's Sweet Shop. In the evenings, they usually dropped by the professor's house to see how he was doing with the robot. It was funny to watch him pretending to be a handyman: he would dress in old jeans and a red flannel shirt, and he would take measurements and talk about screw eyes and wing bolts, but it was pretty obvious that he didn't have the faintest idea of what he was doing. Slowly the robot got put together, and the professor's fingers got covered with Band-Aids. One day, about a week after the trip to New Hampshire, he called up Johnny and Fergie and told them that the robot was all assembled, except for the glass eyes. He wanted them to come down and see the eyes put in, and they would have a modest little celebration, with chocolate cake and champagne. Grampa and Gramma Dixon were invited too, and they said that they would come. Grampa was very interested in seeing the robot, and also a little bit scaredâhe remembered the way he had reacted when he first saw the robot, fifty years before.
At nine o'clock that evening, everybody was down in the basement workshop, munching homemade fudge cake and sipping cheap New York State champagne. In the middle of the room stood the robot. It was mounted on its metal platform, and it looked very odd indeed: the outside was sculpted to look like a baseball player in uniform, and the pinstripes of the player's shirt and pants were painted red. On the head was a metal baseball cap with a large S (for Spiders) stamped on the front, and under the creature's nose was a curling metal mustache. One arm hung limp, but the otherâthe throwing armâwas cocked back, ready to fire. The empty eyes seemed to stare unpleasantly at the people who milled about, sizing the robot up.
"It's certainly an amazing gizmo," said the professor, waving his fork at the robot. "And what is most amazing is this: I can't for the life of me figure out how old Sloane made it work! All the gears and things inside it are in their proper place, but the motor's missing. There isn't even any placeâas far as I can seeâwhere the silly motor was mounted! And yet,
made it run. Didn't he demonstrate the thing for your team, Henry?"
"That's right, Rod," said Grampa, nodding. "The darned whatchamajigger threw like Cy Young. It was like shootin' a baseball out of a cannon! But when we asked Sloane what made the thing go, he laughed an' said that the power source was a secret."
The professor made a puckery face. "It's certainly a well-kept secret," he said dryly. "I suppose there must have been an electric motor inside the thing, and then later he managed to wipe out all traces of it. Weird, eh?" With a loud harrumph, the professor put his champagne glass down and went over to his workbench. There lay the spectacle case that held the two glass eyes. Silence fell, and everyone who was standing near the robot stepped back a pace or two.
"Now, then," said the professor with a nervous cough. He moved toward the robot, stood up on tiptoe, and took a tube of rubber cement from his shirt pocket. After putting just a little dab of cement in each socket, he took the eyes out of their holder and pressed them into place. Then he stepped back, and the people who were watching applauded. It was faint, polite applause, because everybody was nervous. They all expected something strange to happen when the eyes were put in. The robot stared blankly ahead, but that was all. He did not even look terribly real, the way wax figurines sometimes do.
"So there!" said the professor as he wiped his gluey fingers on a cloth. "I'm disappointed in a wayâI almost thought old Ziggy there would step down off his pedestal and have a drink with us."
Everybody laughed, and immediately the party got a great deal more relaxed. Johnny and Fergie went over into a corner and started playing a pinball machine, and the three older people went upstairs to the living room, so they could sit and talk. After a half-dozen games, the two boys got bored with pinball and decided to go upstairs. Fergie turned and took one more look at the robot. He looked thoughtful and a bit disappointed.
"Y'know, John baby," he said, "that tin pitcher isn't nearly as scary as I thought it'd be. I had kinda made up my mind that there'd be some energy source in those eyes, an' they'd make the thing start wavin' its arms or some-thin'."
Johnny was surprised. Fergie was usually the calm, logical type, and when he had weird ideas, he tried to hide them. "Why the heck did you think
would happen?" asked Johnny with a little giggle. "I think you've been readin' too many science-fiction comic books."
Fergie made no answer. He just shrugged and started up the stairs, and Johnny followed. They went to the living room, where the professor was just beginning to play "The Star-Spangled Banner" on his upright piano. This was the way he always let his guests know that the party was over. Fergie went home, and Johnny trotted back across the street with Gramma and Grampa. The two old people went upstairs to bed, but Johnny wasn't sleepy yet, so he wandered into the living room and turned on the TV set. Then he went out to the kitchen and made himself a pimiento-cheese sandwich and poured a glass of ginger ale. He had just gotten back to the living room when he was startled by a terrific loud pounding. Putting his glass and plate down on the coffee table, Johnny rushed to the door. There stood the professor in his bathrobe and pajamas. His glasses were stuck onto his face crookedly, and his hair was wild. He looked absolutely frightful.