ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

“Well—” I took the map out of my coat pocket, unfolded it, and squinted to see in the gloom. After a moment, the glowing characters were clear and easy to read. “We’re right about here somewhere,” I said, pointing to a shaded forest area. “Halfway through this section of the forest. Then we have to cover this series of foothills, not rugged but quite steep in some places. Skirt this final copse, and we’re there. Maybe two and a half hours yet.”

“That’s much too long.”

“It’s the shortest way. I checked it several times in San Francisco when we ate dinner, remember? And again in the movie theater when that damned show became intolerable. This always measured the shortest and easiest route. Less hills than if we moved east to take advantage of that temporary ravine, less forests than if we went west along the ridge here.” I pointed to the corresponding portions of the map.

He didn’t answer.

I sat down next to Him. The snow was falling harder now, though it still might be only a local storm or even a short-term squall. He didn’t speak, and I didn’t feel like interrogating Him. We sat for about five minutes until the warmth we had gained from marching drained out and the cold began seeping back into my bones. He had given way completely to that unknown part of His personality, and I could not see how to approach Him, how to ask what was the matter. When another five minutes passed, I decided on the blunt route. “What is it?” I asked.

“Jacob, I am sitting here in a quandary, faced with two decisions, each of which will be in some way unpleasant.” He spoke in that same, deep, even tone that denied emotion. That was what a machine should sound like – not like a seductress. “One of the courses of action that is open to me will end with your becoming a little less sure of me, a little frightened of me.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes, it will I know. You will be slightly disgusted, and it will have a bearing on the way you feel about me. Maybe small, maybe large. I don’t want to lose your friendship.”

“The second alternative?”

“I can postpone continuation of the changes going on in me, lose the momentum of biological processes, and wait until we are to the cabin to begin. It might mean a lost day.”

“What are you trying to say?” Despite myself, I let a note of fear slip through my words. It must have showed, for He grinned and slapped my back.

“I need food,” He said. “I can’t wait until we get to the cabin. I’ve started new systems, and I would suffer a complete setback if I had to wait much longer for food to create the energy needed to form large quantities of muscle tissue.”

“I don’t see how you propose to get food out here. Also, I don’t see what you could possibly do to upset me.”

“All right,” He said. “I will not postpone the changes. If you do not like what happens, try to remember that it is necessary.”

He took off His gloves again and knelt on the earth. He pressed His fingers against the ground after brushing the snow away over a two-foot square area. As I watched, His hands seemed to melt and run into the soil. The frozen ground cracked and spattered up as His lengthening fingers probed and displaced it. Several minutes later, He smiled and withdrew His hands, His fingers flowing back into normal shape as if they had been rubber that had been stretched and now released. “I found two of them,” He said mysteriously. “Over there.”

“What?” I asked.


I followed him across the clearing to a jumble of rotting logs and brush. He hefted the logs aside effortlessly, revealing a burrow of some sort. He reached into it, and He made His arm grow longer now, not just His fingers. Abruptly, there was a squealing and thrashing from inside the burrow. He drew His arm back out, a snow rabbit clutched in His fist. The animal had been strangled. A few moments later, He had done the same thing to a second rabbit and had brought it out and placed it next to the first. “This is the part you may find disgusting,” He said. “I’ll have to eat them raw. No time for a fire and too risky to start one anyway.”

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Categories: Koontz, Dean