Something about this was so very funny that he had to laugh. She laughed with him, knowing what it was that she had done that was funny. They stopped laughing at last and lay in their cool night bed, their hands clasped, their heads together.
“Good night,” he said, after a moment.
“Good night,” she said.
* * *
THEIR EYES were fire and the breath flamed out the witches’ mouths as they bent to probe the caldron with greasy stick and bony finger.
“When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
They danced drunkenly on the shore of an empty sea, fouling the air with their three tongues, and burning it with their cats’ eyes malevolently aglitter:
“Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!”
They paused and cast a glance about. “Where’s the crystal? Where the needles?”
“Is the yellow wax thickened?”
“Pour it in the iron mold!”
“Is the wax figure done?” They shaped it like molasses adrip on their green hands.
“Shove the needle through the heart!”
“The crystal, the crystal; fetch it from the tarot bag. Dust it off; have a look!”
They bent to the crystal, their faces white.
“See, see, see . . .”
A rocket ship moved through space from the planet Earth to the planet Mars. On the rocket ship men were dying.
The captain raised his head, tiredly. “We’ll have to use the morphine.”
“You see yourself this man’s condition.” The captain lifted the wool blanket and the man restrained beneath the wet sheet moved and groaned. The air was full of sulphurous thunder.
“I saw it—I saw it.” The man opened his eyes and stared at the port where there were only black spaces, reeling stars, Earth far removed, and the planet Mars rising large and red. “I saw it—a bat, a huge thing, a bat with a man’s face, spread over the front port. Fluttering and fluttering, fluttering and fluttering.”
“Pulse?” asked the captain.
The orderly measured it. “One hundred and thirty.”
“He can’t go on with that. Use the morphine. Come along, Smith.”
They moved away. Suddenly the floor plates were laced with bone and white skulls that screamed. The captain did not dare look down, and over the screaming he said, “Is this where Perse is?” turning in at a hatch.
A white-smocked surgeon stepped away from a body. “I just don’t understand it.”
“How did Perse die?”
“We don’t know, Captain. It wasn’t his heart, his brain, or shock. He just—died.”
The captain felt the doctor’s wrist, which changed to a hissing snake and bit him. The captain did not flinch. “Take care of yourself. You’ve a pulse too.”
The doctor nodded. “Perse complained of pains—needles, he said—in his wrists and legs. Said he felt like wax, melting. He fell. I helped him up. He cried like a child. Said he had a silver needle in his heart. He died. Here he is. We can repeat the autopsy for you. Everything’s physically normal.”
“That’s impossible! He died ofsomething!”
The captain walked to a port. He smelled of menthol and iodine and green soap on his polished and manicured hands. His white teeth were dentifriced, and his ears scoured to a pinkness, as were his cheeks. His uniform was the color of new salt, and his boots were black mirrors shining below him. His crisp crew-cut hair smelled of sharp alcohol. Even his breath was sharp and new and clean. There was no spot to him. He was a fresh instrument, honed and ready, still hot from the surgeon’s oven.
The men with him were from the same mold. One expected huge brass keys spiraling slowly from their backs. They were expensive, talented, well-oiled toys, obedient and quick.
The captain watched the planet Mars grow very large in space. “We’ll be landing in an hour on that damned place. Smith, did you see any bats, or have other nightmares?”
“Yes, sir. The month before our rocket took off from New York, sir. White rats biting my neck, drinking my blood. I didn’t tell. I was afraid you wouldn’t let me come on this trip.”