Welcome to Andre Norton's

 

Reading Corner

 

andre norton storyteller 1948

Andre the Librarian hosting "Story Time" at the Cleveland Public Library ~ 1948

 

"Come on In! . . .Take a Seat! . . . and Settle Down! . . ."

As we share with you a tale by one of the leading story tellers of the past century.

 

Twice a Month (on the 1st and the 16th) We are going to post an original story by Andre Norton

During the showcase period you will be able to read it here free of charge.

 

Many were only published once.

So it's a sure thing that there's going to be a few you have never heard of.

The order will be rather random in hopes you return often.

 

Happy Reading!




 

 

How Many Miles to Babylon?

by Andre Norton

 

all.cats.are.gray.1953 fantastic universe

 (1988) Published by TOR, HC, 0-312-93098-4, LCCN 88020136, $17.95, 250pg ~ cover by Yvonne Gilbert

 

1st PublishedMoon Mirror (1988) Published by TOR, HC, 0-312-93098-4, LCCN 88020136, $17.95, 250pg ~ cover by Yvonne Gilbert

 

Available Now ~Moon Mirror (2014) Published by Open Road Media, eISBN 978-1-497656-51-2, DM, $3.99, 173pg ~ cover by Kib Prestridge

 

Bibliography PageHow Many Miles to Babylon? (andre-norton-books.com)




Note: This is a vary rare short story as it has only ever been published in three printed editions and two digital media editions of "Moon Mirror".

 

 

“How many miles to Babylon?

Three score and ten.

Can I get there by candle light?

Yes, and back again.”

 

Sue Patterson shut her eyes and wished she could close her ears as well. The throb in her head which had been only a warning ache this morning, was building into one of the bad times. But if she begged off from this promised hour at the nursery school that would mean explanations. And at the very thought of explanations her fear came, keener and worse than the pain. She could not tell—not unless she had a chance to see J.J. first—and she had not seen or talked to him all week.

She rested her head against the post of the tall playground fence, that sing-song coursing through her as if the words were blows. Who ever thought it would be clever to teach the kids those stupid songs? Well, she need only look in the mirror. But the Sue Patterson of a week ago was a different person.  Looking back now she was dully surprised that she had ever been that person.  Then all that mattered was getting through the day so she could see J.J. in the evening.

Well, she still wanted to see J.J. But for a different reason— Her head, it was much worse this morning. And if Bobby Kinney did not stop that screaming—! Her hand clenched at her mouth and she bit hard on her knuckles to choke down a cry of her own. This was the worst time yet. What if— if she could not stand it any longer, let out a scream louder than Bobby’s, maybe fell over out here on the playground? What if there was something wrong in her skull ever since—

No! She would not let herself think that! If she let any one know, any one at all, they would start asking questions. And they would get it all out of her, she knew they would—about J.J. and the bike, and—the rest of it!

But where was J.J.? She had called his house twice, and the last time she had to hang up fast when his mother answered.

If her head would only stop hurting so!

There was the bell, Miss Manning was calling in the kids for their milk and crackers and morning rest. Rest—if she could only bundle up somewhere herself.

Sue stumbled away from the fence, began feebly to help Eva round up the children, start them back to the house.

“Say, Sue, you don’t look so good.” Eva was staring at her. “You feel sick—virus maybe?”

Why had she not thought of that? Of course, they would not want her around with the virus. And she could even use that excuse with Mom. She was sure stupid today.

“I—I guess so. I better tell Miss Manning and go home.”

“Right. You know how she is about being sick around the kids.”

Leaving Eva to struggle with the round-up, Sue managed to reach the door and Miss Manning. There was no need to put on an act, she must already look half dead, because Miss Manning was staring at her intently.

“Sue, what’s the matter? Are you ill?” She spoke sharply but Sue could not blame her. Spread virus here and Miss Manning would find herself with an empty school.

“I’m going home. Guess I have the virus—“

“You had better see Miss Luce at once!”

Not the visiting nurse! Sue swallowed, she felt so sick at her stomach now. And she was stupid again, she had forgotten all about it being Miss Luce’s day here.

“I can manage, Miss Manning. Really I can—“ She summoned all that was left of her strength and tried to look as if this was no worse than the sniffles.

Miss Manning regarded her doubtfully. But Sue knew she really only wanted to get her away before she spread any germs—or whatever made virus.

“Are you sure you can get home all right, Sue?”

Home? Home was the last place she wanted to go—with Mom there ready to start fussing.

“Sure—I can get home all right.” She held on with determination, fighting the sickness which spread from that throb right behind her eyes downward, to dry her mouth, bringing waves of nausea. Maybe she did have the virus. It must be that—it had to!

Sue could not remember much of how she got away from the school. She must have looked and talked all right because Miss Manning let her go, and Miss Manning was nosey.

But she was free, walking down the street. Only in her head that silly rhyme kept repeating over and over:

“How many miles to Babylon?

Three score and ten.”

 

What was Babylon? She had a faint idea it was a city—somewhere. Three score and ten—how many did that make? Oh, her head! Twice she leaned against a tree to wait out the waves of pain which blotted out everything but the agony they brought.

She was in the park without knowing how she got there. Sitting on the grass at the foot of a big tree. And she had been sick, there was a nasty mess on the ground. But her head did not hurt so much and she was weakly thankful for that.

If she only knew where J.J. was! She could not remember much of the accident now. It was a violent ending to the peaceful life of a while ago. They had been down at Benny’s, playing the juke box and drinking Cokes.

Cokes! Sue shuddered and her stomach heaved. She never wanted to see a Coke, smell one, even be near one. Never, never, never!

Even though she closed her eyes and tried to close out memory she could see a clear picture, a picture of J.J. dropping that pill into his Coke, one into hers, too. Only she had managed to spill it. And that had made him so mad he said he was taking her right home. Sue was afraid of him then but she hated to make a big fuss—

The picture in her mind changed, they were on their way back to town. She could see J.J., his hair sticking out below the edge of his helmet in a rough fringe, feel the wind whipping her own face. And then—

There had been the dog in the road and—and J.J. did not swerve to avoid it at all. He had deliberately run straight at it—laughing! She had screamed. And he had— She could not remember. When she did, she had been lying with her head against the fence post. And when she sat up, feeling so queer, J.J., the Honda, they were gone. Everything was gone but that black thing in the road. She could not make herself crawl over to it, she had gotten away as fast as she could.

Then—there was more she could not remember. Mom and Dad, they had been at the Cape for the weekend, Aunt Martha staying at the house. She had gone to the movie with Mrs. Marland. That was one piece of luck. Sue had been able to get home and into bed. It was like something sort of took over inside her, telling her what to do.

The next morning—J.J. never called. She waited and waited. Why did he act like this? If she could see him, talk to him—

Sue’s head sank forward on her knees. She felt so weak, so tired, and it was hard to think. J.J.—he had always been so quiet, and kind, not wild like some of the boys. That’s why she liked him, she’d always felt safe—up until Saturday night. If she talked, they might arrest J.J.—with the new laws about drugs and all—they could shut him up for years and years. Maybe J.J. had only been trying out those pills—somebody dared him—something like that. She just couldn’t think very straight anymore.

At least her head did not hurt as bad as it had. First she was only dimly aware of that. But she had no desire to get up, go home, go anywhere. Just sit here and—

No pain at all now, only a kind of tingling—not in her head but at the base of her spine. Now that was climbing up along her back. She did not care—the pain was gone. Now it had settled at the nape of her neck. She wanted to raise her hands to the source of that feeling, but did not seem to have enough energy left.

It was in her head now, seeming to push away the memory of the pain. She had no desire to move, instead Sue was aware of an odd feeling that what was she, herself, Sue Patterson, was not really a body at all, but something which lived inside a frame of flesh and bones, made that operate by her orders

The tingling was now behind her eyes where the pain had been the worst of all. But she was not hurting now, she was—

She was afraid! But in spite of that fear there was something else, a need to know, to understand what was happening—that was growing stronger than the fear.  She—

No!

Sue could have cried out in sheer terror, yet this other self who lived in the body would not let her. For a terrifying moment or two out of time she—she had not been in that body at all! She had been—above it! She had looked down at Sue Patterson slumped on the ground. Dying—was she dying? No!

Then—she was back. She was safe in her body again. But the pain in her head was still gone, as was the tingling now. All she felt was very weak and tired as if she had been sick with the virus.

Had she imagined what had happened? But it was so vivid that she shivered, chilled. Somehow she got to her feet, started home. If Mom asked what was the matter—she was sick. Just to get home—safely home!

Mom’s car was gone. Sue wavered around the side of the house and fumbled under the loose brick for the back door key. The house was cool, dark after the bright blaze of the sun. She stood in the kitchen, steadying herself with a hand against the fridge. Then she lurched to the sink, let the water run cold before she rilled a glass and gulped thirstily. This was real. She was drinking water, was in the kitchen at home. This was real—that other—it had not happened! Of course not! She would go to bed, maybe take a couple of aspirin—

No! The flash of memory of J.J.’s hand poised above the glass about to drop that pill into the Coke was a picture which no amount of time might erase. She filled the glass again and drank feverishly, looking over its rim about the kitchen, to impress the real upon her mind.

There was the sound of a car pulling into the drive— voices— Mom was coming back and someone with her. Sue wanted to escape, but she was too late. Mom and Mrs.  Chambers came in carrying overflowing cartons of what looked like a lot of junk—the stuff for the P.T.A. rummage sale.

“Sue! What are you doing home!” Mom dropped her carton on the floor.

There was nothing to do but tell the part of the truth that she dared.

“I got sick—something I ate, I guess. I feel a lot better now—“ And that was the truth. All the pain which had been with her since the accident and which had swelled at times to that agony such as she had experienced earlier this morning was gone. She just felt tired and weak, but not sick anymore.

“Well.” Mom looked at her closely. “You don’t look good. You get yourself to bed, young lady. I’ll take your temperature. If you hadn’t had all those flu shots, I’d think you had the virus.”

Mom would fuss, and ordinarily that would have driven Sue wild. But now she did not care. It was good to go to her room, undress and crawl between the covers.  But she did not take the aspirin Mom brought. And somehow she was not in the least suprised to learn that her temperature was normal.

Sue slept after Mom left, and it must have been noon when she awoke, with a queer feeling that she had been somewhere else and had done something important, if she could only remember. As she lay there, trying hard to recall her dream, the tingling began again.

She shut her eyes on the familiar walls with their posters, on real life, and felt that sensation once more creep up her body, into her head. But she would not—look!

NO! She was not going to see that again. Determinedly Sue fought. And, after what seemed a long time, the tingling was gone, she dared to look about. She was safely in bed, in her body—and this was her room. Also she felt better— hungry—

It must be long after lunch. Sue pulled out of bed, reached for her robe. No headache anymore. She padded along the hall to the kitchen.

The cartons were still beside the table. Mom was gone— maybe for another load.  Sue poured a glass of milk, spread a piece of bread liberally with Mom’s special raspberry jam and sat down to eat.

She was on her second slice when Jerry banged in, heading for the fridge. His team cap stuck to the back of his head and he had the beginning flush of a sunburn across his nose. He shed his catcher’s mitt on the chair beside her as he passed, kicked at the cartons.

“Thought you were sick,” he commented. “Hey, where’s that piece of pie we had left over? Did you know Mrs. Mason called—she wanted to talk to you. Mom said you were sick—sleeping—she went in to look.”

Sue stopped chewing. J.J.’s mother calling her— She knew again that cold fear she had lived with during the past few days. They would ask questions—

Jerry, with a Coke bottle in one hand, the missing pie in the other, nudged the fridge door shut with his shoulder as he turned.

“Mom’s crowd is sure getting in the junk for the sale,” he commented as he rounded the cartons to sit down opposite to her. “Say, you don’t look too good—“

For a pesty brother, Jerry was not too bad. Sue wished she was as young as Jerry, even as she had been before last Saturday. She put down the rest of the bread and jam slice. Right now she did not feel any better than Jerry thought she looked.

“That Ken, he’s a dope. He’s got this idea he’s a pitcher!” Jerry snorted in disgust, cramming in an out-sized bite of pie and chewing with a vigor totally unrelated to any acceptable table manners. “He can’t send one over the plate in ten tries—at least ten tries! The guy’s a disaster, a plain disaster, and we’ve got to live with him.” He scowled.

This was real, the kitchen, Jerry, all of it real. Sue had to hold on to that reality. If they asked her about J.J., she drew a long breath—she might have to tell them, except about the pill. But why had not J.J. called?

“What a lot of junk,” Jerry repeated, staring down at the carton by his knee. “Who’d want to buy any of this stuff?”

He reached down to pull at the jumble of contents, coming up with a small, brad-studded harness, red in color. Something only a very small dog could wear.  It still had a leash attached.

Jerry dangled it up and down by the leash. “Here, Spot!” He trailed it along as if there was a dog in tow.

A dog in tow— Sue blinked. Had she for a moment, a single frightening moment, seen a cream and brown body within that harness? Of course not! Unsteadily she put her hands to her head, closed her eyes, and then looked again. Jerry still held the leash, and the empty harness was lying on the floor. Suddenly she grabbed at it, she had to know there was nothing else there.

Her hands closed upon the strips of metal-studded leather, crumpling them together.

But—

It was like the time in the park. Only this time there was no warning tingle, no slow rise of sensation to her head. Instead she saw a picture in her mind.

Sue gave a gasp, dropped the harness.

“Su-Ki! The car hit her—Su-Ki!”

There was no kitchen, but a street, and in the gutter a Siamese cat kicked spasmodically.

“Sue!” Jerry pulling at her arm. “Sue—what’s the matter? Who’s Suky? Sue!”

She threw the harness from her and the picture was gone. But it remained so vividly in her memory that she could not rid herself of it so easily.

“Su-Ki—she was a cat. She wore that—a car hit her—“ she repeated as if she must keep in mind what she had seen, that it was important.

Dimly she was aware of Jerry staring at her as she pushed back from the table, heading for her room. Once in that refuge Sue slammed the door behind her.  Shaking, cold with fear, she fell rather than sat on the edge of the bed.

Was this the way people went crazy? She—she had been hit on the head when she fell off the Honda. Then all those headaches— And in the park when she thought she was outside her body— Just now seeing Su-Ki… NO! She did not know any Su-Ki—she had never seen a cat die. She could not be remembering—it was— She must be going crazy!

 Sue bit down hard on the edge of the hand she had raised to her mouth. She could feel the pain of that. This was her own room, she was here—

“Sue!” Jerry pounded on the door, called through it.

“Just let me alone! Let me alone!” her voice was close to a scream.

She had to think, to know— How did a person go crazy? They saw things that were not there— They— She wanted to dive into bed and pull up the covers, bury herself so and never come out. A doctor—suppose she went to Dr. Wilson and told him, and then they took her away to be shut up somewhere— And—

Sue wanted to scream, but she would not let herself. Mom, Dad, Jerry—if she was going crazy—she could— could hurt them maybe. Get away—away from here before she did something to someone. Get away where nobody knew her—

She began to dress. Now that she had made her decision it seemed to steady her.  She could think, plan a little. She had her allowance for next week. Dad had given it to her this morning. And she had the money she had been saving up to go to the Cape with the Service Club. There was her piggy bank, too—she put dimes in that all year long for Christmas. As she buckled her sandals she counted up her resources.

Then she got out her big purse and put it all in, the wallet with her allowance, the envelope of the club money, last of all the weight of dimes from the piggy bank, not stopping to count. Jerry had gone away. But he would tell Mom—

Sue went to the south window. She could get out here, cut across the yard into the Fentons’ drive. She did not know the bus schedule. But if there was not one leaving soon maybe she could hitch a ride. Dad said no hitching ever, but house rules did not count now.

The need to move fast made her stronger. Sue pushed out the window screen, scrambled through, and was down the Fentons’ drive and into the back street in no time at all. The bus station was on Vandosia, she could cut over by the library, avoid going down De Sota.

Holding her heavy purse against her Sue stumbled on. She had hurried so fast she was getting a pain in her side and she felt a little dizzy. Better slow up, she did not want to faint or something and fall down right on the street. Maybe she should sit down awhile. The library was closed today, she could sit on the steps at the side where the bushes were.

“Sue! Sue Patterson!”

The name was called so demandingly that it reached even through the fog of fear. She looked up dazedly.

Miss Carmichael stood on the steps, she must have been working alone today. She did sometimes when she got behind. Sue, ready to cry with frustration and fear, found she could not run as she longed to.

“Sue, this is luck, running into you today. There has to be a change in our plans for the Cape. We can’t get the bus until—Sue! What is the matter, dear?”

There she stood, wearing one of her book-colored dresses which always seemed to fit in with the shelves and the volumes which were her usual background, her gray hair cut short in ragged little points about her face, looking at Sue like Mom did just before she began to fuss. Sue felt as if she were backed against a wall with no hope of escape. For the first time she thought she could easily hate Miss Carmichael.

“Leave me alone! Just—leave me alone!” Sue flailed out with one arm as if to beat off an expected attack.

“Sue, there must be something very wrong. You need help.”

“Just—leave me alone.” But Sue could not fight any longer, she felt so weak, so full of fear.

“Sue, come on in the library. You—you are ill.”

 Sue was hardly aware of the words. In spite of herself she responded to the grasp on her arm which took her away from the walk into the dusky quiet of the big building closed for the weekend.

“Sit here. I will get you some water—“

Sue sat. She was in Miss Carmichael’s office. It was stuffy with the smell she always associated with books. The library had always been an important part of her life since she had been old enough for Mom to bring her to pre-school story hour.

It was so quiet and then came the soft whirr of a fan. Miss Carmichael must have turned that on. Sue tried to think. She had to get away, only she was so sick she felt as if she could not stand up.

“Drink this, dear.” Miss Carmichael was back with a paper cup of water. Sue drank. She must get up, go— There was the bus—only now the walk to the station loomed in her mind as an endless journey.

Miss Carmichael sat down in her own chair behind the desk which was so covered with piles of papers, books and magazines that these formed a wall between them.  Only Miss Carmichael’s direct gaze, her obvious concern breached that wall.

“Can you talk about it, Sue?” She was not demanding an explanation, she was offering to listen. Sue understood that. But if Sue told her the truth—how quickly would Miss Carmichael change?

Words choked her, she felt so under pressure she had to talk. Well, why not say the truth? Learn right now what would happen to her when she told?

“I’m—I’m going crazy!” She blurted it out.

However there was no change in Miss Carmichael’s expression. She did not look afraid, or lose that concern which reached Sue.

“Why do you think so, Sue?” Her composure had a calming effect. Sue straightened a little.

“Because—“ Then, as if she could no longer contain her fear and misery, it all spilled out. The accident, the headaches, that terrible time in the park, and what she had seen when she picked up the harness.

“It’s all wrong,” she almost wailed. “I never saw a cat die that way, I don’t even know anyone who has a Siamese! So you see—I must be going crazy. And I’ve got to get away. Crazy people do terrible things. I might even—even try to hurt Jerry, or Mom, or Dad—“

“Sue,” Miss Carmichael’s saying her name in that tone was like a quieting hand laid upon her lips. “Listen to me. You are not in the least insane.”

“But the cat—and being out of my body—and—“

“Listen to me carefully, Sue. Have you ever heard of psychometry?”

“You mean—like sending me to a psychologist? See, you do think I am crazy!”

“Not at all, my dear. Now try to use that good brain you do have and listen to me instead of your own fears. Over the past years men have begun to realize that there are indeed talents which can not be measured by the usual standards— paranormal gifts. Psychometry is one of these. Sometimes people are born with such talents. At other times these suddenly develop as the result of illness or injury. It is very true that we use only a small portion of our brains, as if sections are closed off from our control. Illness or injury apparently can break down the barriers between these closed sections. Can you understand me?”

Sue stared at her. “You mean—because I was hit on the head and then had all those headaches—that opened some part of my mind which didn’t work before? But why me?”

For the first time Miss Carmichael smiled. “I imagine that particular question has been asked a good many times, Sue. And there is no answer one can give. But now I want you to know this—neither experience you have had (and that those were very frightening for you I can well understand) is unknown. The sensation of being out of the body, able to look down on one’s self has been reported many times. And psychometry—the ‘reading’ of the past history of an object —is relatively common. What you must do is understand fully what has happened to you and learn how to use and control your talent.”

“But—how can I be sure—?”

“There are ways of making sure. For the moment you can take refuge in this thought—you are not alone, there are others with the same abilities. Now,” she opened the desk drawer, took out a booklet, and flipped over its pages. “There are tests for such talents. You must remember, Sue, that those who develop these gifts are not to use them foolishly, and, if they are not taught how to control them, they face many dangers. There are now foundations set up to study sensitives.”

“But—but people think that mind reading and all that stuff is just faking,” Sue protested. “They will still say I’m crazy.”

“If you talk about it with those wrongly educated, or ignorant, you may have that response, yes. But the first thing you must accept, Sue, is silence on your part, until you have the type of help you need to accustom you to this. Can you keep quiet?”

Sue licked her lips. “What about Mom, Dad, and Jerry? I could keep quiet with other people, but I don’t know about them. Jerry knows already there is something wrong by the way I acted in the kitchen.”

“Yes,” Miss Carmichael had been running a finger tip down the page of the booklet, now she paused. “I can see your problem, Sue. I don’t know how much your parents may be ready to accept this. That is why we may bring in an expert in the field—Dr. Muriel Evans.”

“A psychologist?” Sue flinched.

“A parapsychologist, Sue. She is the head of a research department at Stafford.  I have met her once; she gave a lecture here at the library three months ago. I shall get in touch with her.”

“But—until then?”

“I can not say more, Sue, than to keep as quiet as you can. Do not experiment nor discuss the matter—just be assured that you are not losing your sanity.” Miss Carmichael paused. “There is something else, Sue. Now you are frightened, disturbed, as is only natural. But that feeling of strangeness will go. And—this is very important, my dear— do not allow yourself to misuse what has been given you.”

“Misuse?” Sue wanted nothing but to be rid of what Miss Carmichael seemed to think was a gift, but what she hated and feared.

“Misuse, yes. You—“ Again Miss Carmichael hesitated. “Perhaps the simplest way I can warn you, Sue, is to say that such talents lay a heavy burden on those who possess them. Any advantage which comes from their use must be for the good of others, not for the selfish gain of one who has the gift. Think of that if you are tempted to put your ‘seeing’ to any test. Say to yourself, Sue, is this for real benefit?”

“I won’t use it at all!” Sue returned quickly.

“You think that now. But conditions have a way of changing. Just think before you do, that is important.”

Sue gave a sigh. Perhaps it made sense to Miss Carmichael but—

Miss Carmichael stood up. “There have been books written about this, Sue. You haven’t been a very steady patron of ours of late but your card is still in force. Suppose you read a little about other people who have had to learn to live with paranormal gifts.”

Books—Sue caught at that. “Oh, yes—“ she was eager.

But as she neared home, the money-heavy purse against her hip and the two volumes Miss Carmichael had chosen for her under her arm, she began to feel apprehensive again. If Jerry had told Mom about what had happened— Well, she could say she was sick again. If Mom had not yet gone to her room, found that screen out— She had better hurry!

The screen was still loose. Maybe that meant her absence had not been discovered. Sue jerked it farther out, scrambled in and pulled it back into place. The books—she’d put them here in the case. And—

She had just dropped her purse on the tumbled bed when there came a knock at the door.

“Sue! Sue—are you ill? Sue!”

Mom! Sue straightened, to face her reflection in the mirror. She did not look any different. Was Miss Carmichael right about what had happened to her? But there was no reason for the librarian to lie, and she had even called Dr. Evans, made an appointment for Sue to meet with her in Miss Carmichael’s house next Saturday. She would not have done that if she had just made up a story to keep Sue quiet.

“Sue!”

“Coming!” This would be the first test, seeing Mom, keeping quiet.

She opened the door. Mom was worried all right. Jerry hovered behind her, his face unusually sober.

“Sue, Jerry said you were—“

“Acting queerly?” Somehow Sue found the words. “I— well, Mom, I was awfully sick. I had to get to the bathroom.”

“But this about a cat being killed—“

“It was the harness, Mom. It made me remember something I saw, made me sick.”

“Miss Williams gave us that,” Mom said slowly. “Her cat that was killed last year wore it. But that was before she moved here. You could not have seen that happen, Sue.”

“No—I saw another cat.” Sue shivered, and she did not have to act that, remembering only too well what she had seen in that flash of what Miss Carmichael called psychome-try.

“I see.” But was Mom satisfied? “Sue, if you are ill I want you to get back into bed. And I am going to phone Dr. Wilson.”

“What about Mrs. Mason, Mom?” Jerry interrupted. “She said she was coming right over.”

“Mrs. Mason?” Sue faltered. Almost during the past hour she had been able to push J.J. to the far back of her mind. Why did his mother want to see her?

“She is quite upset. She seems to think you know something important about James.”

Mom was watching her closely. Something about J.J.? Did his mother know about the pill and want her to be a witness or something? Where was J.J.? All her early worries flooded back. Sue sat down on the edge of her bed.

“I haven’t seen J.J. since Saturday. I don’t know anything—“

“Sue,” Mom was standing right over her now, but she looked over her shoulder at Jerry. “You run along, young man, this is none of your concern.”

Sue cringed. Could she face Mom’s questions? Could you tell just bits and pieces of the truth and make it sound as if it were the whole story?

Jerry closed the door unwillingly, Mom waiting until he had.

“Now, Sue,” she swung back, “just what is going on?”

“I don’t know, honest, Mom. I haven’t seen J.J. since Saturday.”

“Saturday,” Mom repeated slowly. “And what happened on Saturday, Sue? You’ve not been yourself all week. Did you think we didn’t notice?”

“I was—sick—“

“Perhaps. And perhaps that sickness has a cause. What happened Saturday night? I want the truth, Sue.”

“I—J.J. and I had a fight—then we started home on the Honda. J.J.—he hit a dog in the road. I fell off the bike and, Mom, honestly I don’t know what happened then for a while. J,J.—he was just—gone—“

“Sue!” Mom’s hands were on her shoulders. “You were thrown off that machine! You were hurt and never said anything? Child, how could you be so dangerously foolish? I’ll run you right over to the clinic now—phone Dr. Wilson to meet us there—“

“No! Please, Mom—I’m not hurt—you can see—“

“I can see nothing. But Dr. Wilson is going to see and you are going to have a complete checkup, X-rays if necessary. Oh, Sue, how could you not tell us about this? The consequences may be serious!”

Sue subsided numbly. There was no arguing with Mom now, she knew that. But if she did not tell the rest—the paranormal thing—they surely could not learn about it with X-rays and stuff. The tests Miss Carmichael had talked about were a lot different. She just had to keep quiet about that.

“No wonder Mrs. Mason wants to see you!” Mom came back from the telephone, indignation in her voice. “If you were hurt because of that machine of James’s, it’s partly his responsibility. Now come on, Sue, we’ll go to the clinic. Dr.  Wilson is going to meet us there, luckily I was able to catch him.”

“You’re a very lucky young lady,” she heard some time later. “Bruises, a slight concussion, nothing worse. But you’d better stay off Hondas for a while.”

Sue drew a breath of relief. Dr. Wilson had poked and prodded and asked a lot of questions, ordered two X-rays. But he certainly did not ask the questions she could not answer. And Mom was relieved. So relieved that when they started back home she was sharp, talking about new rules about dates, which Sue only half listened to.

There was the Mason car in front of the house. It could be that Mom’s guess was right, that J.J. had told about the spill and Mrs. Mason wanted to know if she were hurt.

Still there was something— Sue stirred restlessly, plucking at the clasp of her seat belt as they drove into the driveway. She was uneasy, as if she were sure trouble lay ahead.

Jerry lay in wait at the back door. “Mom—Mrs. Mason —she’s—she’s awfully queer. She’s been crying and she said she just had to see Sue.”

“She’ll see her all right,” Mom snapped. “She’ll understand how lucky they are that Sue is not in a hospital because of that son of theirs! Come on, Sue.”

Mrs. Mason stood by the big front window looking out, but when they entered she turned quickly.

“Susan,” her eyes were all puffed and red, “Susan, where is James?”

Startled, Sue blurted out the only answer she knew. “I don’t know—“

“When he left Sunday, it was very early, we thought he had gone up to the lake with Ralph Pinner, he’d talked about that. But Ralph came home last night and said James was never there. I—I went through his room—he took his camp money, and I found this lying on his desk!”

 She thrust a twisted piece of paper at Sue, who smoothed it out to read:

 “No use looking for me, I’m no good. I killed Sue. First the dog, then Sue. You’ll find her on the woods road near Benny’s.”

“What,” Mrs. Mason’s voice scaled up as if she were so scared she was about to scream, “what does he mean? He talks about killing you. Is he—is he out of his mind? And where is he?”

“He—there was an accident when we were coming home,” Sue answered slowly. “J.J.  hit a dog in the road— and I got thrown off the bike. He must have thought I got killed. When I knew where I was—he was gone—“

“But—but this is totally unlike J.J.” Mrs. Mason stared about her as if she could not understand anything any more. “J.J. is an excellent rider, he’s never had an accident. And if you fell off—why in the world didn’t he stay and help you? I don’t understand this—any of it, Susan. Are you sure that is what happened? It doesn’t sound like James at all!”

J.J., the pill in the Coke. Sue bit her lip. No, it was not like the usual J.J.

“And where is he now? Do you have any idea where he might have gone, Susan?”

She was all ready to deny that—but—it was happening again, the tingling, the awareness. She wanted to run from their eyes. Mrs. Mason was staring at her so oddly, did she guess? But surely no one could unless she told. Was—this— could this psychometry thing tell them anything about J.J.? And if it did, did she have any right to keep quiet, to deny it?

What had Miss Carmichael said? That it must be used to help others, not herself.  This was a test—of the helping part. But if she told what she saw and they asked her how she knew—? And she had no time to think about it either. Mrs. Mason was watching her as if she guessed Sue knew something. She would never believe it now if Sue said no.

“Let me think.” Maybe she could fake it, tell whatever she learned by holding this letter so Mrs. Mason would think she was remembering what J,J. might have told her. She closed her eyes—there was a picture forming.

J.J.—yes—though he was blurred and she could not see him too clearly. Trees, and some rocks—and water—like the shore of the lake. But Mrs. Mason said he had not been with Ralph. But that did not mean he could not be at the lake—hiding— Because that was what she felt—fear—the need to hide—

“There’s—“ Sue opened her eyes, ran tongue tip across her lips, gathering her courage, “there’s a place up at the lake where there are two big rocks, and some pines, right down by the water—“

“The cove!” Mrs. Mason broke in. “Yes, I know it. And James liked to go there. But how do you know he’s there? It’s as if you saw him—“

Sue flinched from that guess, hoping that no one would believe that. “He talked about it once—that he liked to go there,” she improvised. “That’s the only place I know of where he might be—“

“When Ralph came home alone I never thought of James being up there by himself.  But it is a place to start looking. Oh, Susan—thank you!”

Before Mom could get a word out Mrs. Mason was on her way.

“Well!” Mom exploded. “When she gets that young man back to town your father and I will have something to say to him. Now, Sue, you go and lie down. Dr. Wilson said no undue strain until he’s entirely sure about that concussion. And I am not at all satisfied about this accident story either, young lady—why James went running off that way. There is something very queer about it all.”

Sue relaxed, she had gained time, time to think things out. Mom got her into bed and then, mercifully, left her alone. She lay looking at the ceiling, not in the least inclined to sleep as Mom had practically ordered her to. There was such a lot to think about.

How many miles to Babylon? That silly little rhyme flashed into her mind again.

How many miles to Babylon?

Three score and ten.

Can I get there by candlelight?

Yes, and back again.

 

Babylon was a city, she remembered that now—a long way off. But she had traveled a lot of miles this afternoon when she had seen the lake and J.J. by it. If Mrs. Mason did find him there—then— It was still frightening, but exciting, too. Things to do, places she could travel to—all hers if she could learn how to do this. Sue smiled slowly; it was the learning which mattered now and that she was going to do, surely and certainly.



 

 “Andre Norton's Reading Corner

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Formatted by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lots-a-watts ~ 2021

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