And He Built A Crooked House - novelonlinefree.info
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"Now, now, Mrs. Bailey," Teal soothed, "don't get upset. There can't be anyone else in the house, but I'll explore and make sure. Homer, you stay here with Mrs. Bailey and keep an eye on the rooms on this floor." He pa.s.sed from the lounge into the ground floor room and from there to the kitchen and on into the bedroom. This led him back to the lounge by a straight-line route, that is to say, by going straight ahead on the entire trip he returned to the place from which he started.
"n.o.body around," he reported. "I opened all of the doors and windows as I went-all except this one." He stepped to the window opposite the one through which he had recently fallen and thrust back the drapes.
He saw a man with his back toward him, four rooms away. Teal s.n.a.t.c.hed open the French window and dived through it, shouting, "There he goes now! Stop thief!"
The figure evidently heard him; it fled precipitately. Teal pursued, his gangling limbs stirred to unanimous activity, through drawing room, kitchen, dining room, lounge-room after room, yet in spite of Teal's best efforts he could not seem to cut down the four-room lead that the interloper had started with.
He saw the pursued jump awkwardly but actively over the low sill of a French window and in so doing knock off his hat. When he came up to the point where his quarry had lost his headgear, he stopped and picked it up, glad of an excuse to stop and catch his breath. He was back in the lounge.
"I guess he got away from me," he admitted. "Anyhow, here's his hat. Maybe we can identify him."
Bailey took the hat, looked at it, then snorted, and slapped it on Teal's head. It fitted perfectly. Teal looked puzzled, took the hat off, and examined it. On the sweat band were the initials "Q.T." It was.h.i.+s own .
Slowly comprehension filtered through Teal's features. He went back to the French window and gazed down the series of rooms through which he had pursued the mysterious stranger. They saw him wave his arms semaph.o.r.e fas.h.i.+on. "What are you doing?" asked Bailey.
"Come see." The two joined him and followed his stare with their own. Four rooms away they saw the backs of three figures, two male and one female. The taller, thinner of the men was waving his arms in a silly fas.h.i.+on.
Mrs. Bailey screamed and fainted again.
Some minutes later, when Mrs. Bailey had been resuscitated and somewhat composed, Bailey and Teal took stock. "Teal," said Bailey, "I won't waste any time blaming you; recriminations are useless and I'm sure you didn't plan for this to happen, but I suppose you realize we are in a pretty serious predicament.
How are we going to get out of here? It looks now as if we would stay until we starve; every room leads into another room."
"Oh, it's not that bad. I got out once, you know."
"Yes, but you can't repeat it-you tried."
"Anyhow we haven't tried all the rooms. There's still the study."
"Oh, yes, the study.We went through there when we first came in, and didn't stop. Is it your idea that we might get out through its windows?"
"Don't get your hopes up. Mathematically, it ought to look into the four side rooms on this floor. Still we never opened the blinds; maybe we ought to look."
"'Twon'tdoany harm anyhow. Dear, I think you had best just stay here and rest-- "
"Be left alone in this horrible place? I should say not!" Mrs. Bailey was up off the couch where she had been recuperating even as she spoke.
They went upstairs. "This is the inside room, isn't it, Teal?" Bailey inquired as they pa.s.sed through the master bedroom and climbed on up toward the study. "I mean it was the little cube in your diagram that was in the middle of the big cube, and completely surrounded."
"That's right," agreed Teal. "Well, let's have a look. I figure this window ought to give into the kitchen." He grasped the cords of Venetian blinds and pulled them.
It did not. Waves of vertigo shook them. Involuntarily they fell to the floor and grasped helplessly at the pattern on the rug to keep from falling. "Close it! Close it!" moaned Bailey.
Mastering in part a primitive atavistic fear, Teal worked his way back to the window and managed to release the screen. The window had looked down instead of out, down from a terrifying height.
Mrs. Bailey had fainted again.
Teal went back after more brandy while Bailey chafed her wrists. When she had recovered, Teal went cautiously to the window and raised the screen a crack. Bracing his knees, he studied the scene. He turned to Bailey. "Come look at this, Homer. See if you recognize it."
"You stay away from there, Homer Bailey!"
"Now, Matilda, I'll be careful." Bailey joined him and peered out.
"See up there? That's theChryslerBuilding , sure as shooting. And there's theEast River , andBrooklyn ." They gazed straight down the sheer face of an enormously tall building. More than a thousand feet away a toy city, very much alive, was spread out before them. "As near as I can figure it out, we are looking down the side of theEmpireStateBuilding from a point just above its tower.
"What is it?A mirage?"
"I don't think so-it's too perfect. I think s.p.a.ce is folded over through the fourth dimension here and we are looking past the fold."
"You mean we aren't really seeing it?"
"No, we're seeing it all right. I don't know what would happen if we climbed out this window, but I for one don't want to try. But what a view! Oh, boy, what a view! Let's try the other windows."
They approached the next window more cautiously, and it was well that they did, for it was even more disconcerting, more reason-shaking, than the one looking down the gasping height of the skysc.r.a.per. It was a simple seascape, open ocean and blue sky-but the ocean was where the sky should have been, and contrariwise. This time they were somewhat braced for it, but they both felt seasickness about to overcome them at the sight of waves rolling overhead; they lowered the blind quickly without giving Mrs. Bailey a chance to be disturbed by it.
Teal looked at the third window."Game to try it, Homer?"
"Hrrumph-well, we won't be satisfied if we don't. Take it easy." Teal lifted the blind a few inches. He saw nothing, and raised it a little more-still nothing. Slowly he raised it until the window was fully exposed. They gazed out at-nothing.
Nothing, nothing at all.What color is nothing? Don't be silly! What shape is it? Shape is an attribute of something. It had neither depth nor form. It had not even blackness. It was nothing.
Bailey chewed at his cigar. "Teal, what do you make of that?"
Teal's insouciance was shaken for the first time. "I don't know, Homer, I don't rightly know-but I think that window ought to be walled up." He stared at the lowered blind for a moment. "I think maybe we looked at a place where s.p.a.ce isn't. We looked around a fourth-dimensional corner and there wasn't anything there." He rubbed his eyes. "I've got a headache."
They waited for a while before tackling the fourth window. Like an unopened letter, it might not contain bad news. The doubt left hope. Finally the suspense stretched too thin and Bailey pulled the cord himself, in the face of his wife's protests.
It was not so bad. A landscape stretched away from them, right side up, and on such a level that the study appeared to be a ground floor room. But it was distinctly unfriendly.
A hot, hot sun beat down from a lemon-colored sky. The flat ground seemed burned a sterile, bleached brown and incapable of supporting life. Life therewas, strange stunted trees that lifted knotted, twisted arms to the sky. Little clumps of spiky leaves grew on the outer extremities of these misshapen growths.
"Heavenly day," breathed Bailey, "where is that?"
Teal shook his head, his eyes troubled. "It beats me."
"It doesn't look like anything on Earth. It looks more like another planet-Mars, maybe."
"I wouldn't know. But, do you know, Homer, it might be worse than that, worse than another planet, I mean."
"Huh? What's that you say?"
"It might be clear out of our s.p.a.ce entirely. I'm not sure that that is our sun at all. It seems too bright."
Mrs. Bailey had somewhat timidly joined them and now gazed out at theoutre scene. "Homer," she said in a subdued voice, "those hideous trees-they frighten me."
He patted her hand.
Teal fumbled with the window catch.
"What are you doing?" Bailey demanded.
"I thought if I stuck my head out the window I might be able to look around and tell a bit more."
"Well-all right," Bailey grudged, "but be careful."
"I will." He opened the window a crack and sniffed. "The air is all right, at least." He threw it open wide.
His attention was diverted before he could carry out his plan. An uneasy tremor, like the first intimation of nausea, s.h.i.+vered the entire building for a long second, and was gone.
"Earthquake!"They all said it at once. Mrs. Bailey flung her arms around her husband's neck.
Teal gulped and recovered himself, saying: "It's all right, Mrs. Bailey. This house is perfectly safe. You know you can expect settling tremors after a shock like last night." He had just settled his features into an expression of rea.s.surance when the second shock came. This one was no mild s.h.i.+mmy but the real seasick roll.
In every Californian, native born or grafted, there is a deep-rooted primitive reflex. An earthquake fills him with soul-shaking claustrophobia which impels him blindly to get outdoors! Model Boy Scouts will push aged grandmothers aside to obey it. It is a matter of record that Teal and Bailey landed on top of Mrs. Bailey. Therefore, she must have jumped through the window first. The order of precedence cannot be attributed to chivalry; it must be a.s.sumed that she was in readier position to spring.
They pulled themselves together, collected their wits a little, and rubbed sand from their eyes. Their first sensations were relief at feeling the solid sand of the desert land under them. Then Bailey noticed something that brought them to their feet and checked Mrs. Bailey from bursting into the speech that she had ready.
"Where's the house?"
It was gone. There was no sign of it at all. They stood in the center of flat desolation, the landscape they had seen from the window. But, aside from the tortured, twisted trees, there was nothing to be seen but the yellow sky and the luminary overhead, whosefurnacelike glare was already almost insufferable.
Bailey looked slowly around,then turned to the architect. "Well, Teal?" His voice was ominous.
Teal shrugged helplessly. "I wish I knew. I wish I could even be sure that we were on Earth."
"Well, we can't stand here. It's sure death if we do.Which direction?"
"Any, I guess. Let's keep a bearing on the sun."
They had trudged on for an undetermined distance when Mrs. Bailey demanded a rest. They stopped.
Teal said in an aside to Bailey, "Any ideas?"
"No...no, none. Say, do you hear anything?"
Teal listened."Maybe-unless it's my imagination."
"Sounds like an automobile. Say, it is an automobile!"
They came to the highway in less than another hundred yards. The automobile, when it arrived, proved to be an elderly, puffing light truck, driven by a rancher. He crunched to a stop at their hail.
"We're stranded. Can you help us out?"
"Sure. Pile in."
"Where are you headed?"
"Los Angeles? Say, where is this place?"
"Well, you're right in the middle of theJoshua-TreeNational Forest ."
The return was as dispiriting as the Retreat fromMoscow . Mr. and Mrs. Bailey sat up in front with the driver while Teal b.u.mped along in the body of the truck, and tried to protect his head from the sun.
Bailey subsidized the friendly rancher to detour to thetesseract house, not because they wanted to see it again, but in order to pick up their car.
At last the rancher turned the corner that brought them back to where they had started. But the house was no longer there.
There was not even the ground floor room. It had vanished. The Baileys, interested in spite of themselves , poked around the foundations with Teal.
"Got any answers for this one, Teal?" asked Bailey.
"It must be that on that last shock it simply fell through into another section of s.p.a.ce. I can see now that I should have anch.o.r.ed it at the foundations."
"That's not all you should have done."
"Well, I don't see that there is anything to get downhearted about. The house was insured, and we've learned an amazing lot. There are possibilities, man, possibilities! Why, right now I've got a great new revolutionary idea for a house-- "
Teal ducked in time. He was always a man of action.