Now, tonight, he drifted up and down, seeing the wax women in every colorful shop window, pink and beautiful. For the first time he knew how dead the town was. He drew a glass of beer and sobbed gently.
“Why,” he said, “I’m all alone.”
He entered the Elite Theater to show himself a film, to distract his mind from his isolation. The theater was hollow, empty, like a tomb with phantoms crawling gray and black on the vast screen. Shivering, he hurried from the haunted place.
Having decided to return home, he was striking down the middle of a side street, almost running, when he heard the phone.
“Phone ringing in someone’s house.”
He proceeded briskly.
“Someone should answer that phone,” he mused.
He sat on a curb to pick a rock from his shoe, idly.
“Someone!” he screamed, leaping. “Me! Good lord, what’s wrong with me!” he shrieked. He whirled. Which house? That one!
He raced over the lawn, up the steps, into the house, down a dark hall.
He yanked up the receiver.
“Hello!” he cried.
They had hung up.
“Hello!” he shouted, and banged the phone. “You stupid idiot!” he cried to himself. “Sitting on that curb, you fool! Oh, you damned and awful fool!” He squeezed the phone. “Come on, ring again! Come on!”
He had never thought there might be others left on Mars. In the entire week he had seen no one. He had figured that all other towns were as empty as this one.
Now, staring at this terrible little black phone, he trembled. Interlocking dial systems connected every town on Mars. From which of thirty cities had the call come?
He didn’t know.
He waited. He wandered to the strange kitchen, thawed some iced huckleberries, ate them disconsolately.
“There wasn’t anyone on the other end of that call,” he murmured. “Maybe a pole blew down somewhere and the phone rang by itself.”
But hadn’t he heard a click, which meant someone had hung up far away?
He stood in the hall the rest of the night. “Not because of the phone,” he told himself. “I just haven’t anything else to do.”
He listened to his watch tick.
“She won’t phone back,” he said. “She won’t ever call a number that didn’t answer. She’s probably dialing other houses in town right now! And here I sit—Wait a minute!” He laughed. “Why do I keep saying ‘she’?”
He blinked. “It could as easily be a ‘he,’ couldn’t it?”
His heart slowed. He felt very cold and hollow.
He wanted very much for it to be a “she.”
He walked out of the house and stood in the center of the early, dim morning street.
He listened. Not a sound. No birds. No cars. Only his heart beating. Beat and pause and beat again. His face ached with strain. The wind blew gently, oh so gently, flapping his coat.
“Sh,” he whispered. “_Listen_.”
He swayed in a slow circle, turning his head from one silent house to another.
She’ll phone more and more numbers, he thought. It must be a woman. Why? Only a woman would call and call. A man wouldn’t. A man’s independent. Did I phone anyone? No! Never thought of it. It must be a woman. It has to be, by God!
Far away, under the stars, a phone rang.
He ran. He stopped to listen. The ringing, soft. He ran a few more steps. Louder. He raced down an alley. Louder still! He passed six houses, six more. Much louder! He chose a house and its door was locked.
The phone rang inside.
“Damn you!” He jerked the doorknob.
The phone screamed.
He heaved a porch chair through a parlor window, leaped in after it.
Before he even touched the phone, it was silent.
He stalked through the house then and broke mirrors, tore down drapes, and kicked in the kitchen stove.
Finally, exhausted, he picked up the thin directory which listed every phone on Mars. Fifty thousand names.
He started with number one.
Amelia Ames. He dialed her number in New Chicago, one hundred miles over the dead sea.
Number two lived in New New York, five thousand miles across the blue mountains.