Authors: John Bellairs
"John! John!" gasped the old man as he staggered into the front hall. "It's gone! The robot's gone! Oh, my lord, what are we going to do? What on
are we going to do?"
Johnny was thunderstruck. All sorts of wild ideas came rushing into his head. "You... you mean somebody stole it?"
The professor shook his head miserably. "No, no! That's
what I mean! No one could possibly have... but wait! If you'll come across the street with me, you'll see what I mean. Come on!"
With a dazed look on his face, Johnny followed the professor across the street and into his house. The door to the cellar was in the kitchen, and before he opened it the professor paused and tapped the dead-bolt lock with his finger. "This door is the only way into the basement, except the windows," he said. "And there's no sign that any of the basement windows has been forced open. After you folks left, I spent about an hour here in the kitchen, doing dishes. Once or twice I went to the living room to poke the fire in the fireplace, but I would certainly have heard anyone who tried to drag the robot up the cellar stairs. But the blasted thing is gone! Have you ever heard of anything like that in your life?"
Opening the cellar door, the professor stepped aside and waved Johnny ahead. Down the creaky steps he went, and at the bottom he paused. All the lights were on, and he could see the professor's workbench and the bare place on the cement floor where the robot had stood. Johnny began to feel faintly sick inside. This was the kind of eerie unexplainable thing that he had feared.
"Hard to believe, isn't it?" muttered the professor as he began turning the lights out. "Something very uncanny is going on, and I'm afraid this may be just the beginning of our troubles.
do you suppose that miserable hunk of tin has gone to?"
Johnny didn't have any answers. He went upstairs and sat around in the kitchen talking to the professor for a while, and then he went home. When he finally went to bed, he did not get much sleep, and when he came stumbling down to breakfast the next morning, he found Grampa sitting at the kitchen table with a newspaper in his hand. He looked shocked.
"Oh... hullo, Johnny," said Grampa in a distracted way. "I was just readin' in the paperâsomethin' awful happened here in town last night! I never heard of anythin' like it, not ever!"
Johnny grew tense. Vague, shapeless fears began to form in his mind. "What... what is it, Grampa?" he asked.
The old man handed Johnny the newspaper. It was the Duston Heights
and on the front page was a headline: SENSELESS BEATING SHOCKS CITY. Underneath was an article, and Johnny began to read it:
At a little after midnight last night, Officer Paul Willard was passing the home of Mrs. Anna Tremblay, of 306 South Cedar Street. He noticed that the front door of the Tremblay home was open, swinging in the wind, and the screen door had been ripped from its hingesâit lay halfway down the front walk. Stopping to investigate, Officer Willard entered the house, called out, and when he received no reply, began to search. On the floor of the living room he found Mrs. Tremblay lying unconscious. Her face and body were badly bruised, and under her fingernails were bits of red paint. Mrs. Tremblay is an elderly widow, and according to neighbors, she seldom receives visitors. She has not yet regained consciousness, so the identity of her assailant remains a mystery. Nothing of any value had been taken from the Tremblay house, and this has led observers to say that the intruder must have been an escaped lunatic ...
Johnny looked up. All the color had drained from his face. He was thinking of the painted red pinstripes on the robot's body.
"Ain't that the most awful thing you ever heard of?" asked Grampa. "This is s'posed t'be a safe town where nobody ever locks their doors. Well, I'll betcha they start lockin' 'em now!"
Johnny nodded. Suddenly he felt alarmedâhe didn't see Gramma anywhere. At this hour of the morning, she was usually puttering around in the kitchen.
"Where's Gramma?" he asked nervously.
Grampa smiled. "Oh, she's down the street talkin' to Mrs. Kovacs 'bout the break-in. Wants t'find out all the gory details. You oughta go over an' talk to the professor 'bout thisâhe's always playin' Sherlock Holmes an' tryin' t'outguess the police. I'll betcha he's got some theories already!"
I'll bet he does,
thought Johnny grimly. He wanted to tell Grampa about the robot's disappearance, but last night the professor had made him promise not to tell anyone what had happened. Johnny felt helpless, and he felt frightened. If the robot could pass through locked doors and walls and beat up old Mrs. Tremblay, he could come back to Fillmore Street and hurt Gramma and Grampa. Johnny wanted very much to go across the street and talk to the professor, but he was a bit scared to: when the professor got bad news, he flew into a rageâhe broke crockery and punched holes in plaster walls. Johnny did not want to be around when the professor started raging. While he was trying to make up his mind what to do, he heard a loud
Johnny rushed to the front door, and he was just in time to see the professor's car come peeling out into the street at an incredible speed. Then, with a grinding of gears and a squealing of tires, the car shot off down Fillmore Street. The professor had probably gone to see his old friend, Professor Charles Coote of the University of New Hampshire. Johnny didn't know for sure that this was what he was doing, but he felt fairly certainâProfessor Coote was an expert on black magic and ghosts, and it was possible that he would be able to help them do something about the robot. Johnny was a bit hurt that the professor hadn't wanted to take him along, but he knew that there were some things that the old man wanted to do alone. Oh, wellâ there was always Fergie. Johnny wanted to have a long talk with him about this whole strange business. Of course, he would have to break his promise to the professor, but Johnny was not always perfect when it came to keeping promises.
The professor was away all day. Meanwhile, Johnny and Fergie walked the streets of Duston Heights and talked about the mysterious robot with the glass eyes. Both of them were convinced that the robot had attacked old Mrs. Tremblay, but that was about the only thing they agreed on.
"How about that! The darned thing is
muttered Fergie thoughtfully. "Magic is what makes it run, and not some super-duper energy source. But nothin' happened till after the prof stuck the eyes back in the robot's head. So I was right about those glass eyes after all! The prof shoulda been more carefulâhe should never of stuck those eyes back in the darned thing's head."
"How did he know anything was gonna happen?" asked Johnny, irritably. "I mean, he's not a wizard or anything. He just thoughtâ"
"Well, he should've thought some more!" snapped Fergie. "Now that darned pile o' tin is out there runnin' around, clobberin' people! Where do you think it is now? Any idea?"
Johnny shrugged and kicked a stone down the street. "Fergie, how would
know? Maybe it hitched a ride to Kansas City! It's out there on the loose, an' we have to stop it. That's why the professor went up to see Mr. Coote, so he couldâ"
"Are you sure that's where he went?" asked Fergie in a taunting voice. "Maybe, he's tryin' to get out of the country so the cops won't arrest him for what happened to Mrs. Whatsis."
Johnny turned on Fergie angrily. "Look, Fergie, the professor's not a coward! He didn't know he was gonna start that robot goin', but I know he's sure gonna try to stop it. I bet you he'll be home tonight. Come on over after dinner an' we can go see him. Okay?"
Fergie's mouth curled into a sarcastic smile. "All right, I'll be over," he said. "But I'll bet you fifty cents the prof doesn't have any answers when he comes back. That old geezer up in New Hampshire doesn't know everything. An' he sure won't know how to handle that crummy robot!"
"He won't, huh? Okay, I'll take your betâyou pay me fifty cents if Professor Coote doesn't know what to do about the robot."
That evening, when the professor's old maroon Pontiac pulled up in front of his house, Fergie and Johnny were sitting on the front porch. The car door slammed, and the old man got out. Under his arm he carried a thick book bound in peeling blue leather. He seemed very tired, and he trudged slowly up the walk with his head down. But when he saw the boys, he managed a weary smile.
"Well, gentlemen!" he said sighing. "It seems I have a welcoming committee. Greetings! I've just gotten back from visiting my old pal Charley Coote, andâas you may have guessedâwe talked about the robot. Weâ"
"Did you find out what to do?" asked Johnny eagerly. "To stop the thing, I mean?"
The professor sighed and patted the book under his arm. "Did I find out what to do? Yes, and no. There are some answers in here, but they don't seem terribly helpful. Come on inside and I'll show you what I mean."
A few minutes later, the two boys were sitting at the professor's kitchen table. They were drinking Coke and staring at the huge old book that was spread out before them. It was written in Latin, but the professor was standing behind the boys, and as they listened he began to read the book aloud, in English:
"How you may make a statue that will work for you:
Take the eyes from a living human and pack them in myrrh, cassia bark, and aloes, and then say over the eyes the prayer of Cagliostro and offer incense to Asmodai. After forty days the eyes will become like glass and may be used to make a statue come to life. Be warned!
place the eyes in the head of the statue until you have made the Key of Arbaces. The key will allow you to control the living statue. Without it, the creature will become wild and uncontrollable, and in the end it will murder you, its creator, if it can find you. By using the key properly, you can make the statue do tasks for you, pass through walls of stone and steel, and even kill those whom you hate. I will add thatâ"
The professor stopped reading. "Well, there you are, boys!" he said, sourly. "Isn't that a lovely set of instructions for would-be wizards to follow? Charley Coote says that this book is a fairly common oneâEvaristus Sloane must have had a copy. So now we know how he brought the robot to life.
What an awful thing to do! He must have killed the man whose eyes he stole, and that was the man's ghost that you saw, John. Evil, evil manâEvaristus Sloane, I mean. No wonder the lady at the inn didn't want to talk about him!"
Fergie turned in his seat and looked up at the professor. "Prof?" he asked. "Do you know what this Key of Whosis is? The one that controls the robot?"
The professor scowled. "No. There are no instructions in the book about how to make such a key. Charley says that the Key of Arbaces must have been one of those things that wizards learned about when they took lessons from other wizards. The instructions were probably never written down."
"Oh, great!" exclaimed Fergie. "Just great! So how are we gonna stop the robot if we can't make one of those keys?"
"How indeed?" sighed the professor. "Charley and I discussed this problem for a long time. We even talked about the sword cane that the ghost sent us, but neither of us can figure out how it can be of any use to us. I mean, a sword is a sword and a key is a key. Sooo... we think that we'll just have to find the key that Sloane used. There are two places where it might be hidden: one is in his grave."
said Johnny, and he made an awful face.
The professor nodded solemnly. "Yes. As far as I know, Sloane is dead, soâas disgusting as it is to think aboutâwe may have to dig the old codger up to find that magic key. Of course, it's always possible that he hid the wretched thing somewhere up at his house on Mount Creed. Isn't that a charming thought? We may have to go up to that dreary house and pry up floorboards and poke holes in walls! Oh, Lord above! I wish I had never heard of Evaristus Sloane or his filthy robot! And to think that I started the thing going when I stuck those eyes into its head. Oh, Roderick Childermass; you ought to send your brain out to the dry cleaner's!"
Tears came to Johnny's eyes. He hated to hear the professor blaming himself for something that wasn't his fault. "You didn't know, professor!" he said, shaking his head sadly. "How could you have known?"
"I should have been more cautious," said the professor bitterly. "But all this is neither here nor there: we'd better get ourselves in gear, or that metal monster is going to cut a bloody swath through half of New England. Charley Coote is trying to find out where old Sloane is buried. In the meantime, I think we're going to have to grit our teeth and go up to Stark Corners once again. Are you ready to go up with me? You don't have to if you don't want to."
Fergie and Johnny looked at each other quickly.
"You can count me in, prof!" said Fergie, and he thumped his fist on the table.
"Me, too!" said Johnny loudly.
"Good for you!" said the professor, beaming. He patted the two boys on the shoulder. "I'll make up some reason why you two need another weekend vacation in the mountains, and with some luck we ought to be able to leave by tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, we'd all better lock our doors and hope that that thing out there doesn't want to come back."
Johnny shuddered as he thought about Mrs. Tremblay. If the robot came to get them, what could they do to stop it? What could they possibly do?
On the following evening, Fergie, Johnny, and the professor were up in the mountains. It was dark and again it was pouring rain, and the three of them were standing around and staring at the maroon Pontiac, which was pulled off onto a muddy piece of ground near the road. The car had a flat tire that sagged like a collapsed pudding. With a jack handle clenched in his fist, the professor stood staring down at the tire in disbelief. He was wearing an old rubber rain poncho, and he was almost speechless with rage.