The Complete Stories (Page 28)

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"To answer your thoughts, rather than your words: You are not sleeping; you are not mad; and I am not supernatural."

"I was just making sure. I take it, then, you can read my mind."

"Of course. It is a rather dirty and unrewarding sort of labor, but I can do it when I must. Your name is Prentiss and you write imaginative fiction. You have one larva who is at a place of instruction. I know a great deal about you."

Prentiss winced. "And just where is Avalon?"

"You won’t find it." The elf clacked his mandibles together two or three times. "Don’t speculate on the possibility of warning the authorities. You’ll find yourself in a madhouse. Avalon, in case you think the knowledge will

help you, is in the middle of the Atlantic and quite invisible, you know. After the steamboat was invented, you man-things got to moving about so unreasonably that we had to cloak the whole island with a psychic shield.

"Of course, incidents will take place. Once a huge, barbaric vessel hit us dead center and it took all the psychic energy of the entire population to give the island the appearance of an iceberg. The Titanic, I believe, was the name printed on the vessel. And nowadays there are planes flying overhead all the time and sometimes there are crashes. We picked up cases of canned milk once. That’s when I tasted it."

Prentiss said, "Well, then, damn it, why aren’t you still on Avalon? Why did you leave?"

"I was ordered to leave," said the elf angrily. "The fools."


"You know how it is when you’re a little different. I’m not like the rest of them and the poor tradition-ridden fools resented it. They were jealous. That’s the best explanation. Jealous!"

"How are you different?"

"Hand me that light bulb," said the elf. "Oh, just unscrew it. You don’t need a reading lamp in the daytime."

With a quiver of repulsion, Prentiss did as he was told and passed the object into the little hands of the elf. Carefully, the elf, with fingers so thin and wiry that they looked like tendrils, touched the bottom and side of the brass base.

Feebly the filament in the bulb reddened.

"Good God," said Prentiss.

"That," said the elf proudly, "is my great talent. I told you that we elves couldn’t adapt psychic energy to electronics. Well, I can! I’m not just an ordinary elf. I’m a mutant! A super-elf! I’m the next stage in elfin evolution. This light is due just to the activity of my own mind, you know. Now watch when I use yours as a focus."

As he said that, the bulb’s filament grew white hot and painful to look at, while a vague and not unpleasant tickling sensation entered Prentiss’ skull.

The lamp went out and the elf put the bulb on the desk behind the typewriter.

"I haven’t tried," said the elf proudly, "but I suspect I can fission uranium too."

"But look here, lighting a bulb takes energy. You can’t just hold it-"

"I’ve told you about psychic energy. Great Oberon, man-thing, try to understand."

Prentiss felt increasingly uneasy; he said cautiously, "What do you intend doing with this gift of yours?"

"Go back to Avalon, of course. I should let those fools go to their doom, but an elf does have a certain patriotism, even if he is a coleopteron."

"A what?"

"We elves are not all of a species, you know. I’m of beetle descent. See?"

He rose to his feet and, standing on the desk, turned his back to Prentiss. What had seemed merely a shining black cuticle suddenly split and lifted. From underneath, two filmy, veined wings fluttered out.

"Oh, you can fly," said Prentiss.

"You’re very foolish," said the elf contemptuously, "not to realize I’m too large for flight. But they are attractive, aren’t they? How do you like the iridescence? The lepidoptera have disgusting wings in comparison. They’re gaudy and indelicate. What’s more they’re always sticking out."

"The lepidoptera?" Prentiss felt hopelessly confused.

"The butterfly clans. They’re the proud ones. They were always letting humans see them so they could be admired. Very petty minds in a way. And that’s why your legends always give fairies butterfly wings instead of beetle wings which are much more diaphanously beautiful. We’ll give the lepidoptera what for when we get back, you and I."

"Now hold on-"

"fust think," said the elf, swaying back and forth in what looked like elfin ecstasy, "our nightly revels on the fairy green will be a blaze of sparkling light from curlicues of neon tubing. We can cut loose the swarms of wasps we’ve got hitched to our flying wagons and install internal-combustion motors instead. We can stop this business of curling up on leaves when it’s time to sleep and build factories to manufacture decent mattresses. I tell you, we’ll live. . . . And the rest of them will eat dirt for having ordered me out."

"But I can’t go with you," bleated Prentiss. "I have responsibilities. I have a wife and kid. You wouldn’t take a man away from his-his larva, would you?"

"I’m not cruel," said the elf. He turned his eyes full on Prentiss. "I have an elfin soul. Still, what choice have I? I must have a man-brain for focusing purposes or I will accomplish nothing; and not all man-brains are suitable."

"Why not?"

"Great Oberon, creature. A man-brain isn’t a passive thing of wood and stone. It must co-operate in order to be useful. And it can only co-operate by being fully aware of our own elfin ability to manipulate it. I can use your brain, for instance, but your wife’s would be useless to me. It would take her years to understand who and what I am."

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