“It’s a plot,” whispered Ettil. “A plot, I tell you!”
The odors of perfume were fanned out on the summer air by the whirling vents of the grottoes where the women hid like undersea creatures, under electric cones, their hair curled into wild whorls and peaks, their eyes shrewd and glassy, animal and sly, their mouths painted a neon red. Fans were whirring, the perfumed wind issuing upon the stillness, moving among green trees, creeping among the amazed Martians.
“For God’s sake!” screamed Ettil, his nerves suddenly breaking loose. “Let’s get in our rockets—go home! They’ll get us! Those horrid things in there. See them? Those evil undersea things, those women in their cool little caverns of artificial rock!”
Look at them in there, he thought, drifting their dresses like cool green gills over their pillar legs. He shouted.
“Someone shut his mouth!”
“They’ll rush out on us, hurling chocolate boxes and copies ofKleig Love andHolly Pick-ture, shrieking with their red greasy mouths! Inundate us with banality, destroy our sensibilities! Look at them, being electrocuted by devices, their voices like hums and chants and murmurs! Do you dare go in there?”
“Why not?” asked the other Martians.
“They’ll fry you, bleach you, change you! Crack you, flake you away until you’re nothing but a husband, a working man, the one with the money who pays so they can come sit in there devouring their evil chocolates! Do you think you could control them?”
“Yes, by the gods!”
From a distance a voice drifted, a high and shrill voice, a woman’s voice saying, “Ain’t that middle one there cute?”
“Martians ain’t so bad after all. Gee, they’re just men,” said another, fading.
“Hey, there.Yoo-hoo! Martians! Hey!”
Yelling, Ettil ran. . . .
He sat in a park and trembled steadily. He remembered what he had seen. Looking up at the dark night sky, he felt so far from home, so deserted. Even now, as he sat among the still trees, in the distance he could see Martian warriors walking the streets with the Earth women, vanishing into the phantom darknesses of the little emotion palaces to hear the ghastly sounds of white things moving on gray screens, with little frizz-haired women beside them, wads of gelatinous gum working in their jaws, other wads under the seats, hardening with the fossil imprints of the women’s tiny cat teeth forever imbedded therein. The cave of winds—the cinema.
He jerked his head in terror.
A woman sat on the bench beside him, chewing gum lazily. “Don’t run off; I don’t bite,” she said.
“Oh,” he said.
“Like to go to the pictures?” she said.
“Aw, come on,” she said. “Everybody else is.”
“No,” he said. “Is that all you do in this world?”
“All? Ain’t that enough?” Her blue eyes widened suspiciously. “What you want me to do—sit home, read a book? Ha, ha! That’s rich.”
Ettil stared at her a moment before asking a question.
“Do you do anything else?” he asked.
“Ride in cars. You got a car? You oughta get you a big new convertible Podler Six. Gee, they’re fancy! Any man with a Podler Six can go out with any gal, you bet!” she said, blinking at him. “I bet you got all kinds of money—you come from Mars and all. I bet if you really wanted you could get a Podler Six and travel everywhere.”
“To the show maybe?”
“What’s wrong with ‘at?”
“You know what you talk like, mister?” she said. “A Communist! Yes, sir, that’s the kinda talk nobody stands for, by gosh. Nothing wrong with our little old system. We was good enough to let you Martians invade, and we never raised even our bitty finger, did we?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to understand,” said Ettil. “Why did you let us?”
“’Cause we’re bighearted, mister; that’s why! Just remember that, bighearted.” She walked off to look for someone else.
Gathering courage to himself, Ettil began to write a letter to his wife, moving the pen carefully over the paper on his knee.
But again he was interrupted. A small-little-girl-of-an-old-woman, with a pale round wrinkled little face, shook her tambourine in front of his nose, forcing him to glance up.