“The Telling of Tales” # 12
By Andre Norton
The date for this story is unknown ~ the original is in Andre’s hand and very hard to read, every attempt to type exactly what was on the page has been made. --- ?___? Denotes a word that was not decipherable.
Unfortunately for Explorer IV of the Tricurion Empire on its galaxy rim run space was not a vacuum. The other and more deadly drifters moved in erratic patterning. A huge mass of what might either have been the debris of another explorer or an asteroid of limited size met the Explorer IV head on with not enough warning because of an undetected computer error.
The result for the Explorer IV was complete disaster, one which gave even the well trained space crew no chance. Death came instantly to those who were lucky – lingering for some to whom only moments were centuries of torment. Walls bulged – trapping and crushing cabin occupants.
The hissing of exploding circuitry lasted hardly longer than the lives who had once depended upon their power. Screams were swallowed; defending explosions began to die away. There was left only desolation, crushed machinery and disruption of all life.
Inside walls of the ship grew a thick coat of white frost under the ?___? of ?___? space as the inert mass now crushed heavily against that which had destroyed it subsided into the frost.
Only – in the protected corner of one of the once numerous cargo bays, something stirred with a life rooted purpose.
His tall frame casting a long shadow before him in the dusk, Eric Lain landed a well aimed kick to clear the path of rotten log.
“Why me, why is it always ‘Eric, get some wood and get the lead out of your boots while you do. You’ve been here at camp long enough to know to do that work’” he grumbled.
Then, looking down he startled even himself by a strong shout.
Up his left leg crawled squirming white grubes. Frantically he beat them off, having to use his bare hands, which was disgusting. By the time he was through his checkered flannel shirt was half out, the front of his jeans skewed around to the side, he had one Nike partially off when he tried to shake off the crawlers.
Now he only hoped none of those back at camp, especially Steph, had heard the strayed screech.
Though, his frustration after circling the ground camp site twice and seeing nothing on the ground worth harvesting grew the hotter and this time not against himself.
The dusk was getting thicker when he finally spotted through a small hole what seemed a pile of split and broken wood down by the lake shore. However as he headed quickly in that direction he suddenly shivered for no real reason. He tried a rather strained laugh as he said “Just like one of Mom’s premonitions.”
A harsh snap brought him to a standstill, to glance swiftly from side to side. Surely that had been a real noise but there was nothing moving he could spot.
“Just the wind,” he croaked. Still he shivered again.
It seemed awfully quiet around here just now. He could even pick up the sound of the distant voices of his family setting up camp. They had had to take just what the rangers directed. Seemed that even this eastern part of Montana must be full of nature seekers over a weekend and the Lains were certainly not pleased. Now he picked up the tail end of some sharp comments as he moved on toward that promising shadow pile among the trees.
It was rather crowded this year – that camp. Dad and Mom, Eric’s sister Erica with her pompous listen-to-me now husband, Dwayne. He himself had only agreed to all this togetherness because he had been allowed to bring Stephanie along on this early March outing in 2000. Supposed to be some sort of a date to remember he thought.
The growing dusk thickened and he tried to watch his footing over the rough ground. That strange and silly idea he was being somehow invisibly escorted continued to hold. Perhaps it was just as well, Steph had not wanted to come along. She had been so emphatic he had even forgotten his flash light, an omission he was beginning more and more to regret. But he did manage to spot a small tree which had apparently been struck by lightning not too far away. It looked, as he peered through what was left of the fast fading light as if it were already broken into usable pieces as it hit the ground.
As he readied himself to start for the nearest - a beam of eye blinding light caught him dead center. He was frozen, as bedazzled as a deer in headlights of a speeding car.
“Hay,” his voice wavered a bit as he tried to make it reach the camp, “look – I”
Shielding his eyes he squinted between his fingers upward at what must be the source of that brilliant burst. It was moving – a dark shape – certainly nothing he had ever heard of – no plane would come so low and hover like that.
“What is –” Eric never finished that question as he was brutally slammed down to his knees, gasping for the very air that was being sucked from his lungs. Now he was being lifted into the air.
Trying as hard as he could to gather a voice again he screamed but not for long.
At the camp they had finished the task of settling in and for the first time Eric’s continued absence was noted first by Dwayne with a voiced sneer over how long did it take to pick up a couple of sticks anyway. The older members began to call – to no purpose. And finally they used a distress signal to summon a ranger.
Suddenly it seemed to all of them that the dark this night was different – that it might hold the unexplainable. There was a search however well planned according to all regulations. Even with the coming of day it continued.
They found tracks, yes, but those ended abruptly at the lightning shattered trees. Dogs were brought in only to sniff and smell although plainly unable to pick up any further scent.
It all became one of those mysteries one read about in tabloids and finally started something of a legend. Eric remained an unsolvable mystery except that he remained a sad one to those who had so blithely gone carrying. It was noted there after that, that section of this park had few visitors for the remainder of the season.
Digitized and edited by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lotsawatts ~ May, 2015
Never before seen short story by Andre Norton
Released here for the first time
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Estate of Andre Norton
Duplication of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.