Written by Leo Tifton - Illustrated by Jerry Burge
 

t's no use blaming me, it wasn't my fault. I tend to put the credit to my brother Zefus, or maybe Aunt Toody. Evil Aunt Toody my sister Salty calls her, and Salty knows evil. Course I suspect anybody knows Aunt Toody knows that, so maybe I'm giving Salty too much credit. Aunt Toody's not a Crittenberry, but is married to my Uncle Tufts, who's deaf, which is the sensible thing for anyone to be as is married to my Aunt Toody.

We'd left our home world, Klystra in that spaceship that my brother Zefus built out in our south pasture. I know that sounds like something that's hard to do but ever since that rock fell in our north pasture, Zefus has been a little strange. Not that he's the only one of us turned strange (not to mention them as was strange to begin with) but he's the one builds things.

Actually, it was two ships Zefus built, the big Family one and the Outship, as Pa called it, where Uncle Lester lived. It wasn't a real Outship, of course, because nobody builds a spaceship that doesn't have plumbing in it, even Zefus - though the porthole on the airlock door of Uncle Lester's starship was shaped like a crescent.

We were right comfortable and well set in the Family Ship. But none of us really felt it would have been that way if Uncle Lester was in the

 

same ship we was, but we wasn't about to leave him behind on Klystra - not after what he'd done - except maybe Aunt Toody but we don't listen to her, and Zefus figured out it might as be a good idea if we built a second ship to tag along behind the Family one. Salty suggested mebbe we could use yet a third ship just for Aunt Toody and my Ma allowed as how it might be well if she did travel along behind us, but why go to the trouble of building an extra spaceship? That's when Pa put his boot to the floor and said we weren't going to space nobody in the family, even Aunt Toody. Dad don't like Toody any more than the rest of us but he's fond of his brothers and won't tolerate anything that might hurt Uncle Tuft's feelings, or even Uncle Lester's.

We wasn't the only ones had to leave Klystra, sudden like. Those people on Klystra are sure easy to upset, and you'd think they'd be as easy-going as all getout, what with the critters and folks they got living in those caves deep under the surface of the planet. But no, let a little thing go haywire and they're out for blood. And it weren't like no really big city got destroyed, neither.

So's there was Billingsleys and Alexanders and Schmitzes taking off from Klystra too, all of us in homemade spaceships thrown together out of odds and ends out in the pasture. Zefus had to help the


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Schmitzes with building their spaceship on account of what happened to their boy Blodgett, and that meant hanging on another three whole days, which was exciting times, let me tell you, but worth it to me on account of it meant they'd get off that world with their hide on their backs, and I have to confess, I was somewhat sweet on the Schmitz girl, Liz-Ray, especially the hide on her back and elsewheres.

We was three days or so out of Klystra and had been orbiting the nebula called the Lantern of the Lost Worlds half that time and Pa called me up to the bridge and says to me, he says, “Boofer, I got you a job to do for me.”

“Yassir, Pa,” I says real polite like on account of the way Pa swatted me with that tree the last time I back talked him. We don't have no tree on board the Crittenberry's Delight, which is what we call our ship on account of the family name and all, but if I give Pa any sass, I wouldn't put it past him to grow one just to hit me with it.

Pa waved toward the screens. “You see that, son?”

Boy, did I! I gazed at that screen and I could see that nebula like I was right there. Which, now I think about it, I was, or leastways pretty close. There was billowing clouds of all shades of gray and black, and there was red lightning and orange ghost lights and all kinds of strange shapes and what-all in it.

said, “I sure do see it, Pa. Have you decided just where in it we're going to sit and live a spell?”

 

And Pa says, “That's what I called you up here about, Boofer. I haven't any idea where we ought to land.”

“Well, now,” I said, “you can't be asking me for any ideas on that on account of I ain't never been there, neither. So I suppose you want me to go in there and explore and come back and tell you where we ought to make our home.”

“No son,” Pa says. “You'd just get us lost. What I want you to do is to go back to the Outship and ask Uncle Lester. Uncle Lester will have the answer.”

“Well, I'll be. I never knew Old Uncle Lester'd ever been in the Lantern of the Lost Worlds. Fact is, I thought he'd never been off Klystra before.”

“Well, he ain't,” said Pa. “But ever since that rock fell out of the sky into our north pasture, your baby brother Zefus and Uncle Lester, ain't been as normal as you or me or even your Evil Aunt Toody. He knows things. And I 'spect he knows where in that consarned fire cloud it is we ought to go and sit.”

Well, to tell you the truth, I wasn't real happy about having to go see Uncle Lester, but there wasn't nothing to be done about it. Pa couldn't send Zefus on account of how that Schmitz boy Rooney had left the vents open on that reactor near where Zefus was taking his nap. It was just a case of first degree radioactivity, but Zefus was so broke out in blisters, it would be another day before he was any good for


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anything. And Pa wouldn't send Evil Aunt Toody on account of he was pretty sure she wouldn't make it and he'd have to put up with Uncle Tufts blaming him on account of he didn't have nobody to wait on him hand and foot, not that that no count woman ever did, anyway. So it looked like it was all up to me.

Salty put me in the airlock and sealed it up tight and good and let all the air out. She was so darned quick about it, I almost didn't have the chance to take no deep breath before it was all gone. Then she opened the outer hatch and what was left of the air just naturally spit me out into space, and there I was all fired up with sight of that danged nebula just hanging there, with that red lightning flashing and forking through the blue-black particle clouds.

They's all kinds of wonderful critters supposed to be in that nebula. They got those strange, big, hungry things nobody ever saw and lived to tell about, called Manticores, they got all them Great Old Ones such as Azathoth and Nyarlathotep and such-like, They got those

 

strange, big, hungry things nobody ever saw and lived to tell about, called Manticores, they got all them Great Old Ones such as Azathoth and Nyarlathotep and such-like, which Evil Aunt Toody worships, they got witches and sorcerers and this thing and that thing, and they even got planets. It was something. It hung there and from where I was, floating outside our old spaceship, it covered half the sky. It stretched up, it stretched down, it went to either side and to see anything that wasn't the Lantern of the Lost Worlds, I'd have to turn plumb around. It might as well have been the whole galaxy from where I floated.

But this wasn't no sight seeing trip. So after no more than a quarter hour of gaping at that nebula, I thought I'd better be about the business my Pa sent me on. For one thing, I was starting to get a little low on air. For another, I was freezing on one side and baking on the other. So I started whipping my legs around till they were moving fit to be egg-beaters, and let the reaction to the movement send me back toward Uncle Lester's. Pretty soon I was almost to his ship and, sure enough, the airlock was open. I thought that was right thoughtful of Uncle Lester but I later found out he'd just forgot to shut it after we left Klystra.

t's pretty dark in Uncle Lester's ship on account of he don't take none too kindly to bright lights. Fact is, he's not real happy about dim ones. But there was red lights here and there as I made my way toward what I thought might be the control room of the spaceship. Of course there was no reason to think Uncle Lester was in the control room, but it was as good a place to start as any.

All of a sudden this great big voice booms out of the shadows in front of me, “WHO GOES THERE?” I jumped liked I'd been shot at but


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they missed.

“Dagnabit, Uncle Lester,” I says. “It's me, your loving nephew Boofer.”

“All my nephews is boozers,” said Uncle Lester, coming partways from the darkness so I could see him better. “You wouldn't be Zefus, would you? Cause if you are, I got a complaint about the fungus on the bulkhead of the control room.”

“I'm not Zefus,” I tells him. “Nor am I no boozer, neither. Fact is, I ain't touched one dram since I left the other ship almost half an hour ago. I am your nephew Boofer, and I come to chat with you at Pappy's command. And what's all this about fungus on your bulkheads?”

“There isn't any,” said Uncle Lester. “That damned brother of yours done broke his word to me.”

“I'll mention it next time I see him,” I said, “and surely he'll do something about it.” Most likely, laugh, I thought. But I wasn't here for cheerful chitchat, so I straightaway told him what Pa had sent me about.

“Pa says you was talking up a storm about this planet you knew about that would be just perfect for us, and matter of fact, he's turned the ships about and is heading into the Lantern of the Lost Worlds right now and needs to know just where it is this here planet of yourn is hidden.”

 

“Well it sure isn't in the Lantern of Lost Worlds,” said Uncle Lester. “I was talking about the Lesser Magellanic Cloud. Why don't that damned fool brother of mine just follow the chart I gave him and we'd be safely pointed in the other direction.”

“But he is following that chart,” I told him. “I seen it myself, with my own two and a half eyes. That chart shows the nebula and it has three or four dozen places marked in it. Pa wants to know which one of them is that there planet you been yapping about.”

“None of them,” snarled Uncle Lester.

“Didn't I just tell you it was in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud?” Then he let out a guffaw like he'd seen Aunt Toody fall down stairs. “I bet you I done gave that fool pa of yours the wrong map. All the X-marks on that map shows places no one's ever gone to and come back alive from.”

Well, that explained everything. So I thanked Uncle Lester kindly and headed back toward the airlock, leaving him rolling around on the deck, laughing fit to beat the band. I took me a big breath afore I left the spaceship and started dogpaddling back toward the family ship.

We was smack dab inside the nebula now. There was thick gray clouds on all sides of me and after a couple minutes I could only dimly


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see the Outship behind of me. Off in the distance there was lights, streaking here and there like lightning on a planet, or else occasional pops of yellow light showing suddenly like gunshots in fog. It was sure purty but I noticed this about it. I could smell something. There weren't no air, of course, to carry smells like there is inside a ship most of the time or on a planet, but there was a lot of particles of various sorts and they got in my nose where they itched and smelled. Mostly it just smelled like nebula. But there was this faint extra smell of brimstone that I just plain didn't take to.

So I got to the ship and after seven or eight minutes of me pounding on the airlock hatch someone came and opened it and I went in and the outer hatch closed up. Through the winder in the inner hatch I could see it was Evil Aunt Toody and she was saying something but I

 

couldn't make it out because of all that hair growing down so I couldn't read her lips none. But I found that if I held my ear close to the bulkhead I could just make out that she was saying, “What is it you want now, you damned fool idjit?”

Well, I just held my mouth right against the bulkhead and replied as forcefully as I could, using up the last of my oxygen in the process, “I wants you should fill this dad blasted airlock up with air, you ugly old hag.” And she kindly obliged, and even opened up the inner hatch for me.

And as I crawled gasping out of the airlock, she looked down at me and said, “'Lo! Many and diverse are the ways in which the mind is like an eye,' as the Dread Book says. Not the least of which is that it can be batted.” And sure enough behind her back Aunt Toody had an old bat which she swatted me with. I'm a peaceable soul, I am, not given to violence and such-like, but I swear I would have taken that bat away from her and swatted her back if there's been enough of it left after she used it on me.

And that's Evil Aunt Toody for you. She's a great one for quoting from the Dread Book, her favorite line being that part about “That is not dead which can eternal lie.” And since I've never known her to tell the truth, I honestly fear me she's going to live forever. But her next favorite one is that part about the mind being like an eye. Since the bat was now rendered into toothpicks and tallow fat, there weren't nothing I could really do about her though, except toss her down a handy stairwell. Then I went forward to see Pa.

There was Pa sitting at the chair up front of that place in the ship


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Zefus built just for him and which he likes to call the bridge, although I have no idea why. I never saw him play anything but Texas Hold 'Em myself.

He had his legs up on the control panel and he was gazing at the mist which was all you see in the forward view screen, so I told him what Uncle Lester says. And Pa remarks, “Well, that explains ever-thing,” which I thought was special smart of him on account of it's the same thing I said about it, though I never said it out loud because I didn't want to hurt Uncle Lester's feelings none, he was having such a good time laughing at his little joke when I left.

“That also explains that,” he said, pointing to the radar screen. It showed this sort of blotch moving straight toward the ship.

“Not to me it don't,” I said after glaring at the radar screen a time.

“Well just look here at what Uncle Lester wrote next to the X-mark that I aimed this ship at - and which we've surely reached by now, as I would know if I could figure out any of these directional gauges that fool brother of yours installed. See that?”

His finger was pointed straight to a word written on the chart Uncle Lester had give him. On account of it was Uncle Lester's best handwriting, I couldn't make head nor tail what the damned scrawl was saying and I said so.

“It's the word 'Manticore,'” said Pa. “If I know Uncle Lester, it's his subtle way of saying this here part of space is filled to the eyeballs with monsters. And that could explain that blotch on my otherwise spic

 

and span radar screen.”

“Indeed it could,” I agreed, taking another gander at the radar. “And I do believe me that's the hungriest looking radar blip I ever seen, too.”

“So that leaves us only one thing left to do,” Pa said. “First, I want you to go down to the hydroponics deck and find me a jug of that fresh-made soy liquor I know you turned out just yestidy. And second, I want you to go wake up Zefus and the two of you go outside and fight that thing.”

“But Pa,” I said, spotting the mistake in his reckoning, “that's two things.”

Pa thought a spell, then said, “Why so it is. Son, there are times I don't think you are at all so stupid as you let's on.”

“Ah, thanks Pa.”

“But you better hop to, on account of my throat is rightly parched.”

So I went and found the jug and brung it back, which gave me time to think of something. I said, “Hey, Pa, do you rightly think it will take the two of us to whip that thing?”

do not think that atall,” said Pa. “Matter of fact, I'm pretty well sure the two of you aren't anywhere near a match for a well-grown Manticore. But you and your brother are so ornery you might slow it down. And as you are certainly so tough it will take


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that blamed critter extra time to digest you, I think you might give the rest of the family time to get away. Besides which, them blisters on Zefus is just about ripe enough to bust and I don't want the delicate instruments of this ship tarnished and eaten away with all that pus. So you go get your brother and the two of you skedaddle.”

So I took a glance at the radar screen and sure enough that blotch was even closer, and if anything much hungrier looking than before. So I went and woke up Zefus, who didn't take kindly to that at all, so I had practically to drag the varmint to the airlock.

I wasn't sure how I was going to get him to go outside without wasting a lot of time but fortunately Evil Aunt Toody was standing there by the airlock, reading aloud from the Dread Book. Half afraid she'd start preaching to him, Zefus pushed both him and me into the airlock and closed the door behind of. But he had this funny look on his face and turned to me and said, “Did what she was reading from that book of hers sound to you a lot like, 'Here, kitty, kitty?'”

“I suppose so,” I told back at him. “But I think it was 'Manticore' not 'Kitty.'” But we didn't have time for no more discussion on account of we had to take deep breaths while there was still air in the airlock.

So outside we went and by that time, that Manticore was right there, and I realized that smell I'd smelled earlier was a lot stronger now.

I mean to tell you that Manticore was one large something.

 

Now I'm not saying it was the size of a planet, but it had some size there. And tentacles or something a lot like them, and soon as we got within range, that blame thing reached with them. It caught me around the neck and squeezed, which was all right because I had me a pretty good lungful of air and none of it was certainly going to get out with the grip that thing had, unless my lungs burst. It caught Zefus by the foot and then it commenced to bang our heads together. The tentacles it had us with were about fifteen miles apart, so naturally by the time our heads collided, we'd built up some pretty good speed. And it kept doing that over and over again for an aggravatingly long while.

Well that got old right away. Somehow I managed to wriggle loose from its hold and I kicked and darted around while the thing swatted at me but I wasn't the least bit of a mind to get grabbed no more. Not that it cared the slightest bit for my mind cause it caught me again anyway and started in again to bang us together, head to head and such like.


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As I headed toward Zefus I saw something I thought was odd. At first I thought it was just that Zefus was swelling up from holding his breath. But as we got closer I realized it wasn't that at all. It was his blisters. They was swelling up.

Next thing I knowed there we was, banging heads at about three hundred miles an hour or more, and that set up such a ruckus between my ears, there just wasn't no point in trying to hear what I was thinking and I couldn't even see straight until the ringing in my head died down some. And what I sawed then was something, all right. I'd never had such a scare in all my born days! My brother Zefus exploded.

Well, that's what it looked like. He just blew up like a balloon and burst and suddenly Zefus parts was spewing all over space.

Only all the Zefus parts was sort of thick and liquid like bad made gravy.

t was his blisters. They'd just naturally ripened and burst and it was acid filled pus not his actual parts. I was drenched in the stuff. So was that Manticore. It looked to me like he got much more of it than I did, and I can't rightly say I minded that, though I'm never going to come out and say I was grateful for what I did get. If you think a Manticore stinks, you should smell that pus.

 

They's an old saying that in space nobody can hear you scream. Well, I'm here to tell you I sure heard that Manticore, at least while his tentacle was still wrapped around me. But it let go after banging our heads together a couple more times and there Zefus and I were, floating in the particle cloud while that monster high-tailed it back to where it came from, like a scalded Manticore.

Well, after a while along came Pa, to pick us up, letting on like the whole thing had been his plan all along, and he was glad to see us. He admitted as how he was just as happy not to be cleaning and scraping up all that acidy pus from the ship's drive system, too.

And sure enough Zefus's blisters cleared right up and he's got the run of the ship again. But not me. All that pus I was slopped down with give me that kind of blisters Zefus had. So I'm spending my days down here on the reactor deck, watching them blisters get riper and riper and wondering just what sort of plan Pa has in store for me when they get ready to burst.

The End?

CONTENTS