Author: Richard Matheson

Genres: Horror

It was just past three a.m. when Mr Ketchum drove past the sign that read Zachry: pop. 67. He groaned. Another in an endless string of Maine seaside towns. He closed his eyes hard a second, then opened them again and pressed down on the accelerator. The Ford surged forward under him. Maybe, with luck, he'd reach a decent motel soon. It certainly wasn't likely there'd be one in Zachry: pop. 67.

Mr Ketchum shifted his heavy frame on the seat and stretched his legs. It had been a sour vacation. Motoring through New England's historic beauty, communing with nature and nostalgia was what he'd planned. Instead, he'd found only boredom, exhaustion and over-expense.

Mr Ketchum was not pleased.

The town seemed fast asleep as he drove along its Main Street. The only sound was that of the car's engine, the only sight that of his raised head beams splaying out ahead, lighting up another sign. Speed 15 Limit.

'Sure, sure,' he muttered disgustedly, pressing down on the gas pedal. Three o'clock in the morning and the town fathers expected him to creep through their lousy hamlet. Mr Ketchum watched the dark buildings rush past his window.

Goodbye Zachry, he thought. Farewell, pop. 67.

Then the other car appeared in the rear-view mirror. About half a block behind, a sedan with a turning red spotlight on its roof. He knew what kind of car it was. His foot curled off the accelerator and he felt his heartbeat quicken. Was it possible they hadn't noticed how fast he was going?

The question was answered as the dark car pulled up to the Ford and a man in a big hat leaned out of the front window. Pull over!' he barked.

Swallowing dryly, Mr Ketchum eased his car over to the kerb. He drew up the emergency brake, turned the ignition key and the car was still. The police car nosed in towards the kerb and stopped. The right front door opened.

The glare of Mr Ketchum's headlights outlined the dark figure approaching. He felt around quickly with his left foot and stamped down on the knob, dimming the lights. He swallowed again. Damned nuisance this. Three a.m. in the middle of nowhere and a hick policeman picks him up for speeding. Mr Ketchum gritted his teeth and waited.

The man in the dark uniform and wide-brimmed hat leaned over into the window. 'Licence.'

Mr Ketchum slid a shaking hand into his inside pocket and drew out his billfold. He felt around for his licence. He handed it over, noticed how expressionless the face of the policeman was. He sat there quietly while the policeman held a flashlight beam on the licence.

'From New Jersey.'

'Yes, that... that's right,' said Mr Ketchum.

The policeman kept staring at the licence. Mr Ketchum stirred restlessly on the seat and pressed his lips together. 'It hasn't expired,' he finally said.

He saw the dark head of the policeman lift. Then, he gasped as the narrow circle of flashlight blinded him. He twisted his head away.

The light was gone. Mr Ketchum blinked his watering eyes.

'Don't they read traffic signs in New Jersey?' the policeman asked.

'Why, I... You mean the sign that said p-population sixty-seven?'

'No, 1 don't mean that sign,' said the policeman.

'Oh.' Mr Ketchum cleared his throat. 'Well, that's the only sign I saw,' he said.

'You're a bad driver then.'

'Well, I'm-'

'The sign said the speed limit is fifteen miles an hour. You were doing fifty.'

'Oh. I... I'm afraid I didn't see it.'

'The speed limit is fifteen miles an hour whether you see it or not.'

'Well... at �C at this hour of the morning?'

'Did you see a timetable on the sign?' the policeman asked.

'No, of course not. I mean, I didn't see the sign at all,'

'Didn't you?'

Mr Ketchum felt hair prickling along the nape of his neck. 'Now, now see here,' he began faintly, then stopped and stared at the policeman. 'May I have my licence back?' he finally asked when the policeman didn't speak.

The policeman said nothing. He stood on the street, motionless.

'May I -?' Mr Ketchum started.

'Follow our car,' said the officer abruptly and strode away.

Mr Ketchum stared at him, dumbfounded. Hey wait! he almost yelled. The officer hadn't even given him back his licence. Mr Ketchum felt a sudden coldness in his stomach.

'What is this?' he muttered as he watched the policeman getting back into his car. The police car pulled away from the kerb, its roof light spinning again.

Mr Ketchum followed.

'This is ridiculous,' he said aloud. They had no right to do this. Was this the Middle Ages? His thick lips pressed into a jaded mouth line as he followed the police car along Main Street.

Two blocks up, the police car turned. Mr Ketchum saw his headlights splash across a glass store front. Hand's Groceries read the weather-worn letters.

There were no lamps on the street. It was like driving along an inky passage. Ahead were only the three red eyes of the police car's rear lights and spotlight; behind only impenetrable blackness. The end of a perfect day, thought Mr Ketchum; picked up for speeding in Zachry, Maine. He shook his head and groaned. Why hadn't he just spent his vacation in Newark; slept late, gone to shows, eaten, watched television?

The police car turned right at the next corner, then, a block up, turned left again and stopped. Mr Ketchum pulled up behind it as its lights went out. There was no sense in this. This was only cheap melodrama. They could just as easily have fined him on Main Street. It was the rustic mind. Debasing someone from a big city gave them a sense of vengeful eminence.

Mr Ketchum waited. Well, he wasn't going to haggle. He'd pay his fine without a word and depart. He jerked up the hand brake. Suddenly he frowned, realising that they could fine him anything they wanted. They could charge him $500 if they chose! The heavy man had heard stories about small town police, about the absolute authority they wielded. He cleared his throat viscidly. Well, this is absurd, he thought. What foolish imagination.

The policeman opened the door.

'Get out,' he said.

There was no light in the street or in any building. Mr Ketchum swallowed. All he could really see was the black figure of the policeman.

'Is this the �C station?' he asked.

Turn out your lights and come on,' said the policeman.

Mr Ketchum pushed in the chrome knob and got out. The policeman slammed the door. It made a loud, echoing noise-as if they were inside an unlighted warehouse instead of on a street. Mr Ketchum glanced upward. The illusion was complete. There were neither stars nor moon. Sky and earth ran together blackly.

The policeman's hard fingers clamped on his arm. Mr Ketchum lost balance a moment, then caught himself and fell into a quick stride beside the tall figure of the policeman.

'Dark here,' he heard himself saying in a voice not entirely familiar.

The policeman said nothing. The other policeman fell into step on the other side of him. Mr Ketchum told himself: These damned hick-town Nazis were doing their best to intimidate him. Well they wouldn't succeed.

Mr Ketchum sucked in a breath of the damp, sea-smelling air and let it shudder out. A crumby town of 67 and they have two policemen patrolling the streets at three in the morning. Ridiculous.

He almost tripped over the step when they reached it. The policeman on his left side caught him under the elbow.

'Thank you,' Mr Ketchum muttered automatically. The policeman didn't reply. Mr Ketchum licked his lips. Cordial oaf, he thought and managed a fleeting smile to himself. There, that was better. No point in letting this get to him.

He blinked as the door was pulled open and, despite himself, felt a sigh of relief filtering through him. It was a police station all right. There was the podiumed desk, there a bulletin board, there a black, pot-bellied stove unlit, there a scarred bench against the wall, there a door, there the floor covered with cracked and grimy linoleum that had once been green.

'Sit down and wait,' said the first policeman.

Mr Ketchum looked at his lean, angled face, his swarthy skin. There was no division in his eyes between iris and pupil. It was all one darkness. He wore a dark uniform that fitted him loosely.

Mr Ketchum didn't get to see the other policeman because both of them went into the next room. He stood watching the closed door a moment. Should he leave, drive away? No, they'd have his address on the licence. Then again, they might actually want him to attempt to leave. You never knew what sort of warped minds these small-town police had. They might even �C shoot him down if he tried to leave.

Mr Ketchum sat heavily on the bench. No, he was letting imagination run amuck. This was merely a small town on the Maine seacoast and they were merely going to fine him for-

Well, why didn't they fine him then? What was all this play-acting? The heavy man pressed his lips together. Very well, let them play it the way they chose. This was better than driving anyway. He closed his eyes. I'll just rest them, he thought.

After a few moments he opened them again. It was damned quiet. He looked around the dimly lit room. The walls were dirty and bare except for a clock and one picture that hung behind the desk. It was a painting �C more likely a reproduction �C of a bearded man. The hat he wore was a seaman's hat. Probably one of Zachry's ancient mariners. No; probably not even that. Probably a Sears Roebuck print: Bearded Seaman.

Mr Ketchum grunted to himself. Why a police station should have such a print was beyond him. Except, of course, that Zachry was on the Atlantic. Probably its main source of income was from fishing. Anyway, what did it matter? Mr Ketchum lowered his gaze.

In the next room he could hear the muffled voices of the two policemen. He tried to hear what they were saying but he couldn't. He glared at the closed door. Come on, will you? he thought. He looked at the clock again. Three twenty-two. He checked it with his wrist watch. About right. The door opened and the two policemen came out.

One of them left. The remaining one �C the one who had taken Mr Ketchum's licence �C went over to the raised desk and switched on the gooseneck lamp over it, drew a big ledger out of the top drawer and started writing in it. At last, thought Mr Ketchum.

A minute passed.

'I -' Mr Ketchum cleared his throat. 'I beg your -'

His voice broke off as the cold gaze of the policeman raised from the ledger and fixed on him.

'Are you... That is, am I to be �C fined now?'

The policeman looked back at the ledger. 'Wait,' he said.

'But it's past three in the mor �C ' Mr Ketchum caught himself. He tried to look coldly belligerent. 'Very well/ he said curtly. 'Would you kindly tell me how long it will be?'

The policeman kept writing in the ledger. Mr Ketchum sat there stiffly, looking at him. Insufferable, he thought. This was the last damned time he'd ever go within a hundred miles of this damned New England.

The policeman looked up. 'Married?' he asked.

Mr Ketchum stared at him.

'Are you married?'

'No, I �C it's on the licence,' Mr Ketchum blurted. He felt a tremor of pleasure at his retort and, at the same time, an impaling of strange dread at talking back to the man.

'Family in Jersey?' asked the policeman.

'Yes. I mean no, Just a sister in Wiscons -'

Mr Ketchum didn't finish. He watched the policeman write it down. He wished he could rid himself of this queasy distress.

'Employed?' asked the policeman.

Mr Ketchum swallowed. 'Well,' he said, 'I -1 have no one particular em -'

'Unemployed,' said the policeman.

'Not at all; not at all,' said Mr Ketchum stiffly. I'm a �C a free-lance salesman. I purchase stocks and lots from...' His voice faded as the policeman looked at him. Mr Ketchum swallowed three times before the lump stayed down. He realised that he was sitting on the very edge of the bench as if poised to spring to the defence of his life. He forced himself to settle back. He drew in a deep breath. Relax, he told himself. Deliberately, he closed his eyes. There. He'd catch a few Winks. May as well make the best of this, he thought.

The room was still except for the tinny, resonant ticking of the clock. Mr Ketchum felt his heart pulsing with slow, dragging beats. He shifted his heavy frame uncomfortably on the hard bench. Ridiculous, he thought.

Mr Ketchum opened his eyes and frowned. That damned picture. You could almost imagine that bearded seaman was looking at you.


Mr Ketchum's mouth snapped shut, his eyes jerked open, irises flaring. He started forward on the bench, then shrank back.

A swarthy-faced man was bent over him, hand on Mr Ketchum's shoulder.

'Yes?' Mr Ketchum asked, heart jolting.

The man smiled.

'Chief Shipley,' he said. 'Would you come into my office?'

'Oh,' said Mr Ketchum. 'Yes. Yes.'

He straightened up, grimacing at the stiffness in his back muscles. The man stepped back and Mr Ketchum pushed up with a grunt, his eyes moving automatically to the wall clock. It was a few minutes past four.

'Look,' he said, not yet awake enough to feel intimidated. 'Why can't I pay my fine and leave?'

Shipley's smile was without warmth.

'We run things a little different here in Zachry,' he said.

They entered a small musty-smelling office.

'Sit down,' said the chief, walking around the desk while Mr Ketchum settled into a straight-backed chair that creaked.

'I don't understand why I can't pay my fine and leave.'

'In due course,' said Shipley.

'But -' Mr Ketchum didn't finish. Shipley's smile gave the ' impression of being no more than a diplomatically veiled warning. Gritting his teeth, the heavy man cleared his throat and waited while the chief looked down at a sheet of paper on his desk. He noticed how poorly Shipley's suit fitted. Yokels, the heavy man thought, don't even know how to dress.

'1 see you're not married,' Shipley said.

Mr Ketchum said nothing. Give them a taste of their own no-talk medicine he decided.

'Have you friends in Maine?' Shipley asked.


'Just routine questions, Mr Ketchum,' said the chief. Tour only family is a sister in Wisconsin?'

Mr Ketchum looked at him without speaking. What had all this to do with a traffic violation?

'Sir?' asked Shipley.

'I already told you; that is, I told the officer. I don't see -'

'Here on business?'

Mr Ketchum's mouth opened soundlessly.

'Why are you asking me all these questions?' he asked. Stop shaking! he ordered himself furiously.

'Routine. Are you here on business?'

'I'm on my vacation. And I don't see this at all! I've been patient up to now but, blast it, I demand to be fined and released!'

'I'm afraid that's impossible,' said the chief.

Mr Ketchum's mouth fell open. It was like waking up from a nightmare and discovering that the dream was still going on. 'I -1 don't understand,' he said.

'You'll have to appear before the judge.'

'But that's ridiculous.'

'Is it?'

'Yes, it is. I'm a citizen of the United States. I demand my rights.'

Chief Shipley's smile faded.

'You limited those rights when you broke our law,' he said. 'Now you have to pay for it as we declare.'

Mr Ketchum stared blankly at the man. He realised that he was completely in their hands. They could fine him anything they pleased or put him in jail indefinitely. All these questions he'd been asked; he didn't know why they'd asked them but he knew that his answers revealed him as almost rootless, with no one who cared if he lived or �C

The room seemed to totter. Sweat broke out on his body.

'You can't do this,' he said; but it was not an argument.

'You'll have to spend the night in jail,' said the chief. 'In the morning you'll see the judge.'

'But this is ridiculous!' Mr Ketchum burst out. 'Ridiculous!'

He caught himself. 'I'm entitled to one phone call,' he said quickly. 'I can make a telephone call. It's my legal right,'

'It would be,' said Shipley, 'if there was any telephone service in Zachry.'

When they took him to his cell, Mr Ketchum saw a painting in the hall. It was of the same bearded seaman. Mr Ketchum didn't notice if the eyes followed him or not.

Mr Ketchum stirred. A look of confusion lined his sleep-numbed face. There was a clanking sound behind him; he reared up on his elbow.

A policeman came into the cell and set down a covered tray.

'Breakfast,' he said. He was older than the other policemen, even older than Shipley. His hair was iron-grey, his cleanly shaved faced seamed around the mouth and eyes. His uniform fitted him badly.

As the policeman started relocking the door, Mr Ketchum asked, 'When do I see the judge?'

The policeman looked at him a moment. 'Don't know/ he said and turned away.

'Wait!' Mr Ketchum called out.

The receding footsteps of the policeman sounded hollowly on the cement floor. Mr Ketchum kept staring at the spot where the policeman had been. Veils of sleep peeled from his mind.

He sat up, rubbed deadened fingers over his eyes and held up his wrist. Seven minutes past nine. The heavy man grimaced. By God, they were going to hear about this! His nostrils twitched. He sniffed, started to reach for the tray; then pulled back his hand.

'No,' he muttered. He wouldn't eat their damned food. He sat there stiffly, doubled at the waist, glaring at his sock-covered feet.

His stomach grumbled uncooperatively.

'Well,' he muttered after a minute. Swallowing, he reached over and lifted off the tray cover.

He couldn't check the oh of surprise that passed his lips.

The three eggs were fried in butter, bright yellow eyes focused straight on the ceiling, ringed about with long, crisp lengths of meaty, corrugated bacon. Next to them was a platter of four book-thick slices of toast spread with creamy butter swirls, a paper cup of jelly leaning on them. There was a tall glass of frothy orange juice, a dish of strawberries bleeding in alabaster cream. Finally a tall pot from which wavered the pungent and unmistakable fragrance of freshly brewed coffee.

Mr Ketchum picked up the glass of orange juice. He took a few drops in his mouth and rolled them experimentally over his tongue. The citric acid tingled deliciously on his warm tongue. He swallowed. If it was poisoned it was by a master's hand. Saliva tided in his mouth. He suddenly remembered that, just before he was picked up, he'd been meaning to stop at a cafe for food.

While he ate, warily but decidedly, Mr Ketchum tried to figure out the motivation behind this magnificent breakfast.

It was the rural mind again. They regretted their blunder. It seemed a flimsy notion, but there it was. The food was superb. One thing you had to say for these New Englanders; they could cook like a son-of-a-gun. Breakfast for Mr Ketchum was usually a sweet roll, heated, and coffee. Since he was a boy in his father's house he hadn't eaten a breakfast like this.

He was just putting down his third cup of well-creamed coffee when footsteps sounded in the hall. Mr Ketchum smiled. Good timing, he thought. He stood.

Chief Shipley stopped outside the cell. 'Had your breakfast?'

Mr Ketchum nodded. If the chief expected thanks he was in for a sad surprise. Mr Ketchum picked up his coat.

The chief didn't move.

'Well ...?' said Mr Ketchum after a few minutes. He tried to put it coldly and authoritatively. It came out somewhat less.

Chief Shipley looked at him expressionlessly. Mr Ketchum felt his breath faltering.

'May I inquire -?' he began.

'Judge isn't in yet,' said Shipley.

'But...' Mr Ketchum didn't know what to say.

'Just came into tell you,' said Shipley. He turned and was gone.

Mr Ketchum was furious. He looked down at the remains of his breakfast as if they contained the answer to this situation. He drummed a fist against his thigh. Insufferable! What were they trying to do �C intimidate him? Well, by God-

�Cthey were succeeding.

Mr Ketchum walked over to the bars. He looked up and down the empty hallway. There was a cold knot inside him. The food seemed to have turned to dry lead in his stomach. He banged the heel of his right hand once against the cold bar. By God! By God!

It was two o'clock in the afternoon when Chief Shipley and the old policeman came to the cell door. Wordlessly the policeman opened it. Mr Ketchum stepped into the hallway and waited again, putting on his coat while the door was relocked.

He walked in short, inflexible strides between the two men, not even glancing at the picture on the wall. 'Where are we going?' he asked.

'Judge is sick,' said Shipley. 'We're taking you out to his house to pay your fine.'

Mr Ketchum sucked in his breath. He wouldn't argue with them; he just wouldn't. 'All right,' he said. 'If that's the way you have to do it.'

'Only way to do it,' said the chief, looking ahead, his face an expressionless mask.

Mr Ketchum pressed down the corners of a slim smile. This was better. It was almost over now. He'd pay his fine and clear out.

It was foggy outside. Sea mist rolled across the street like driven smoke. Mr Ketchum pulled on his hat and shuddered. The damp air seemed to filter through his flesh and dew itself around his bones. Nasty day, he thought. He moved down the steps, eyes searching for his Ford.

The old policeman opened the back door of the police car and Shipley gestured towards the inside.

'What about my car?' Mr Ketchum asked.

'We'll come back here after you see the judge,' said Shipley.

'Oh. I...'

Mr Ketchum hesitated. Then he bent over and squeezed into the car, dropping down on the back seat. He shivered as the cold of the leather pierced trouser wool. He edged over as the chief got in.

The policeman slammed the door shut. Again that hollow sound, like the slamming of a coffin lid in a crypt. Mr Ketchum grimaced as the simile occurred to him.

The policeman got into the car and Mr Ketchum heard the motor cough into liquid life. He sat there breathing slowly and deeply while the policeman out-choked warmth into the engine. He looked out the window at his left.

The fog was just like smoke. They might have been parked in a burning garage. Except for that bone-gripping dampness. Mr Ketchum cleared his throat. He heard the chief shift on the seat beside him.

'Cold,' Mr Ketchum said, automatically.

The chief said nothing.

Mr Ketchum pressed back as the car pulled away from the kerb, V-turned and started slowly down the fog-veiled street. He listened to the crisp sibilance of the tyres on wet paving, the rhythmic swish of the wipers as they cleared off circle segments on the misted windshield.

After a moment he looked at his watch. Almost three. Half a day shot in this blasted Zachry.

He looked out through the window again as the town ghosted past. He thought he saw brick buildings along the kerb but he wasn't sure. He looked down at his white hands, then glanced over at Shipley. The chief was sitting stiffly upright on the seat, staring straight ahead. Mr Ketchum swallowed. The air seemed stagnant in his lungs.

On Main Street the fog seemed thinner. Probably the sea breezes, Mr Ketchum thought. He looked up and down the street. All the stores and offices looked closed. He glanced at the other side of the street. Same thing.

'Where is everybody?' he asked.


'I said where is everybody?'

'Home,' the chief said.

'Rut it's Wednesday,' said Mr Ketchum. 'Aren't your -stores open?'

'Bad day,' said Shipley. 'Not worth it.'

Mr Ketchum glanced at the sallow faced chief, then withdrew his look hastily. He felt cold premonition spidering in his stomach again. What in God's name is this? he asked himself. It had been bad enough in the cell. Here, tracking through this sea of mist, it was altogether worse.

'That's right,' he heard his nerve-sparked voice saying. There are only sixty-seven people, aren't there?'

The chief said nothing.

'How... h-how old is Zachry?'

In the silence he heard the chiefs finger joints crackle dryly.

'Hundred fifty years,' said Shipley.

'That old,' said Mr Ketchum. He swallowed with effort. His throat hurt a little. Come on, he told himself. Relax.

'How come it's named Zachry?' The words spilled out, uncontrolled.

'Noah Zachry founded it,' said the chief.

'Oh. Oh. I see. I guess that picture in the station...?'

That's right,' said Shipley.

Mr Ketchum blinked. So that was Noah Zachry, founder of this town they were driving through �C

�Cblock after block after block. There was a cold, heavy sinking in Mr Ketchum's stomach as the idea came to him.

In a town so big, why were there only 67 people?

He opened his mouth to ask it, then couldn't. The answer might be wrong.

'Why are there only -?' The words came out anyway before he could stop them. His body jolted at the shock of hearing them.


'Nothing, nothing. That is �C ' Mr Ketchum drew in a shaking breath. No help for it. He had to know.

'How come there are only sixty-seven?'

'They go away,' said Shipley.

Mr Ketchum blinked. The answer came as such an anticlimax. His brow furrowed. Well, what else? he asked himself defensively. Remote antiquated, Zachry would have little attraction for its younger generations. Mass gravitation to more interesting places would be inevitable.

The heavy man settled back against the seat. Of course. Think how much I want to leave the dump, he thought, and I don't even live here.

His gaze slid forward through the windshield, caught by something. A banner hanging across the street, barbecue tonight. Celebration, he thought. They probably went berserk every fortnight and had themselves a rip roaring taffy pull or fishnet-mending orgy.

'Who was Zachry anyway?' he asked. The silence was getting to him again.

'Sea captain,' said the chief.


'Whaled in the South Seas,' said Shipley.

Abruptly, Main Street ended. The police car veered left on to a dirt road. Out the window Mr Ketchum watched shadowy bushes glide by. There was only the sound of the engine labouring in second and of gravelly dirt spitting out from under the tyres. Where does the judge live, on a mountain top? He shifted his weight and grunted.

The fog began thinning now. Mr Ketchum could see grass and trees, all with a greyish cast to them. The car turned and faced the ocean. Mr Ketchum looked down at the opaque carpet of fog below. The car kept turning. It faced the crest of the hill again.

Mr Ketchum coughed softly. 'Is... uh, that the judge's house up there?' he asked.

'Yes,' the chief answered.

'High,' said Mr Ketchum.

The car kept turning on the narrow, dirt road, now facing the ocean, now Zachry, now the bleak, hill-topping house. It was a greyish white house, three storeys high, at each end of it the crag of an attic tower. It looked as old as Zachry itself, thought Mr Ketchum. The car turned. He was facing the fog-crusted ocean again.

Mr Ketchum looked down at his hands. Was it a deception of the light or were they really shaking? He tried to swallow but there was no moisture in his throat and he coughed instead, rattlingly. This was so stupid, he thought; there's no reason in the world for this. He saw his hands clench together.

The car was moving up the final rise towards the house now. Mr Ketchum felt his breaths shortening. I don't want to go, he heard someone saying in his mind. He felt a sudden urge to shove out the door and run. Muscles tensed emphatically.

He closed his eyes. For God's sake, stop it! he yelled at himself. There was nothing wrong about this but his distorted interpretation of it. These were modern times. Things had explanations and people had reasons. Zachry's people had a reason too; a narrow distrust of city dwellers. This was their socially acceptable revenge. That made sense. After all �C

The car stopped. The chief pushed open the door on his side and got out. The policeman reached back and opened the other door for Mr Ketchum. The heavy man found one of his legs and foot to be numb. He had to clutch at the top of the door for support. He stamped the foot on the ground.

'Went to sleep,' he said.

Neither of the men answered. Mr Ketchum glanced at the house; he squinted. He had seen a dark green drape slip back into place? He winced and made a startled noise as his arm was touched and the chief gestured towards the house. The three men started towards it.

'I, uh... don't have much cash on me, I'm afraid/ he said. 'I hope a traveller's check will be all right.'

'Yes,' said the chief.

They went up to the porch steps, stopped in front of the door. The policeman turned a big, brass key-head and Mr Ketchum heard a bell ring tinnily inside. He stood looking through the door curtains. Inside, he could make out the skeletal form of a hat rack. He shifted weight and the boards creaked under him. The policeman rang the bell again.

'Maybe he's �C too sick,' Mr Ketchum suggested faintly.

Neither of the men looked at him. Mr Ketchum felt his muscles tensing. He glanced back over his shoulder. Could they catch him if he ran for it?

He looked back disgustedly. You pay your fine and you leave, he explained patiently to himself. That's all; you pay your fine and you leave.

Inside the house there was dark movement. Mr Ketchum looked up, startled in spite of himself. A tall woman was approaching the door.

The door opened. The woman was thin, wearing an ankle-length black dress with a white oval pin at her throat. Her face was swarthy, seamed with threadlike lines. Mr Ketchum slipped off his hat automatically.

'Come in,' said the woman.

Mr Ketchum stepped into the hall.

'You can leave your hat there,' said the woman, pointing towards the hat rack that looked like a tree ravaged by flame. Mr Ketchum dropped his hat over one of the dark pegs. As he did, his eye was caught by a large painting near the foot of the staircase. He started to speak but the woman said, 'This way.'

They started down the hall. Mr Ketchum stared at the painting as they passed it.

'Who's that woman,' he asked, 'standing next to Zachry?'

'His wife,' said the chief.

'But she-'

Mr Ketchum's voice broke off suddenly as he heard a whimper rising in his throat. Shocked, he drowned it out with a sudden clearing of the throat. He felt ashamed of himself. Still... Zachry's wife?

The woman opened a door. 'Wait in here,' she said.

The heavy man walked in. He turned to say something to the chief. Just in time to see the door shut.

'Say, uh...' He walked to the door and put his hand on the knob. It didn't turn.

He frowned. He ignored the pile-driver beats of his heart. 'Hey, what's going on?' Cheerily bluff, his voice echoed off the walls. Mr Ketchum turned and looked around. The room was empty. It was a square empty room.

He turned back to the door, lips moving as he sought the proper words.

'Okay,' he said, abruptly, 'it's very -' He twisted the knob sharply. 'Okay, it's a very funny joke.' By God, he was mad. 'I've taken all I'm -'

He whirled at the sound, teeth bared.

There was nothing. The room was still empty. He looked around dizzily. What was that sound? A dull sound, like water rushing.

'Hey,' he said automatically. He turned to the door. 'Hey!' he yelled, 'cut it out! Who do you think you are anyway?'

He turned on weakening legs. The sound was louder. Mr Ketchum ran a hand over his brow. It was covered with sweat. It was warm in there.

'Okay, okay,' he said, 'it's a fine joke but -'

Before he could go on, his voice had corkscrewed into an awful, wracking sob. Mr Ketchum staggered a little. He stared at the room. He whirled and fell back against the door. His out flung hand touched the wall and jerked away.

It was hot.

'Huh?' he asked incredulously.

This was impossible. This was a joke. This was their deranged idea of a little joke. It was a game they played. Scare the City Slicker was the name of the game.

'Okay!' he yelled. 'Okay? It's funny, it's very funny! Now let me out of here or there's going to be trouble!'

He pounded at the door. Suddenly he kicked it. The room was getting hotter. It was almost as hot as an �C

Mr Ketchum was petrified. His mouth sagged open.

The questions they'd asked him. The loose way the clothes fit everyone he'd met. The rich food they'd given him to eat. The empty streets. The savage like swarthy colouring of the men, of the woman. The way they'd all looked at him. And the woman in the painting, Noah Zachry's wife �C a native woman with her teeth filed to a point.


Mr Ketchum screamed. He kicked and pounded on the door. He threw his heavy body against it. He shrieked at the people outside.

'Let me out! Let me out! LET... ME... OUT!'

The worst part about it was, he just couldn't believe it was really happening.

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