e Crittenberrys is just naturally so peace loving that whenever any fool suggests otherwise, it is likely to rile us into violence. But let me remind you that my Evil Aunt Toody ain’t rightly no Crittenberry, but is married to my Uncle Tufts, so we expect her to get into all kinds of trouble, especially including mayhem, because she ain’t peace loving

 

at all. So I wasn’t particularly surprised when Pa came and told me she’s gone into town and got into trouble, but it frankly shocked me to learn that he expected me to go get her out of it.

“And what kind of trouble could she be in that she cain’t get herself


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out of?” I wanted to know. And Pa said, “She’s in jail.”

“Oh,” I said, as the logic and rightness of it all fell into place. “Sure, I’ll go. A jailbreak’s not no hard thing at all.”

“Well, now, son,” said Pa, and I knew this was important to him because he almost never likes to admit he and I are related. “There’s a catch.”

“There is? What kind of catch?”

“I’d take it kindly if you sort of left their jail alone this time and got her out some other way than by destroying the whole building.”

“What other way?” “Diplomacy, son. Just simple, old-fashioned diplomacy.”

“Diplomacy? You mean I should shoot the town constable?”

“No, son, I do not.” Pa didn’t swat me with no handy two by four, neither, which also goes to show how seriously he was taking this. “I want you to go into town and sit down with the constable and have a nice friendly, non-violent conversation with the man and rightly find some compromise that gets Evil Aunt Toody out of jail and keeps the law – and our neighbors – happy. Maybe you could pay her fine if they’re not planning on hanging her again.”

 

a’s touchy on the subject of keeping our neighbors happy because of all the worlds we got asked to get off of because of one thing and another. I guess he wants to stay on this one.

So I got out my power scooter and packed a lot of sandwiches into my bag and took off and later that day that bag was empty and I was in Flat’s Landing.

Not that it was much of a place to be in. It had a handful of board buildings sort of arranged in some kind of order that suggested a pathway, if not an actual street down the middle of it. It found a place to put up my scooter and looked around to see if I could tell which of those flimsy shacks the jailhouse was, and there it was, down at the other end of the town. And it sure was flimsy, too. I’d have to watch my breathing if I was going to obey Pa’s order not to knock it down.

I would have started off for it right then except that the town planners had foolishly put a saloon a lot closer to where I was standing than the jailhouse was. That diplomacy, at least the way Pa described it to me, definitely involved a lot of talk and such like wear and tear on the throat. I didn’t see no sense at all in sitting down for a spell of high class diplomacy without softening up my tonsils first. So I headed to the saloon.

This waterhole was pretty typical of that sort of establishment on the


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rougher and readier worlds inside the Lantern of the Lost Worlds. It had a heavy plank set up on a bunch of barrels, and that was the bar. It had more barrels behind the bar, and that was the drinking comestibles. And it had an ugly scudder in a dirty apron between the bar and the booze, and that was the barkeep. I ordered a bucket of howdy dew and found myself a spot of floor that wasn’t already taken up by a snoring client of the establishment and sat down to contemplate all that responsibility Pa had given me.

And it’s a good thing, too, because I soon realized that I had spent most of the money what Pa had give me to pay Aunt Toody’s fine with, on those first two buckets, so I had to come up with some new way of getting her out of jail. That weren’t no great amount of trouble on account of I find that two or three buckets of howdy dew and I get all kinds of great ideas I ain’t never had afore.

So after awhile I drags myself out of that there imbibing establishment and resumes my meander to the jailhouse. As I done said, it’s a cheap looking place, built up all out of unpainted wood planks, not even bars on the windows, just a sort of mesh chicken wire a baby could have chawed her way out of. But I knowed it was the jailhouse on account of they’s a bulletin board on the outside with all sorts of wanted posters for the likes of such desperadoes as Two-gun Vick, the Terror of the Peninsula, and Dan’l “Slick” Kiernan, who’d run for mayor of this fine community four times and won five. As if that weren’t enough to tell me what the building was, somebody’d put up a wood sign over the door what had “Jail” writ on it.

 

o I goes in and it’s not as rundown a place as I thought it would be. It has way more furniture than the saloon, did, a desk and two chairs, and there’s even a pallet in the corner of the jail cell so Aunt Toody can make herself comfortable when she’s not making herself unwelcome, which I suppose ain’t much of the time. The cell’s just a wood post at the corner, with chicken wire stretched and nailed down to it and the walls and when she sees me, Aunt Toody starts jumping up and down and shouting, “Curses be! Curses be! Praise be to Cthulhu, my prayers done been answered.” She was waving that Book of hers around in the air and hopping like a toady frog.

The constable was behind the desk, occupying half the chairs in the place. He looked up at me over the eyeglasses he was using to read a newspaper with, and scowled. “Don’t I know you?” he asked.

“Yassir, Mr. Constable, but don’t go reaching for your gun, any, on account of Pa told me I wasn’t allowed to break up this jail of yourn this time. I been sent to get my relative, Evil Aunt Toody out of durance vile, and do it peaceable.”

“Hrmmph,” hrmmphed that constable. “The way I run things, I like to think of it more as ‘durance mild.’ You’d be Boofer Crittenberry if my memory don’t fail me none – and it don’t. So you’re related to this she-goofus? Don’t surprise me none to learn that. I suppose you pay her fine and you can have her.”

“Well, how much would thet be?” I asks.


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he done a powerful lot of damage afore I got hold of her and dragged her off to the hoosegow. Her fine’s eight and a half credits.”

“Eight and a half!” I yelled. “You can get a bucket of good hooch at that saloon back there for four! Air you a highway robber?”

The constable made that there hrmmph sound again. “Son,” he said somber-like. “In this here town it ain’t considered polite to ask the constable what he does in his off-hours. Can you pay the fine or not?”

“Well,” I says, sort of drawing out the word.

“Pay my fine and get me out of here,” says Evil Aunt Toody. “They’s a law in this town says you can’t conjure in jail, and I can’t call up nothing till you get me out of here.”

“I was sort of thinking that you’d be so dad-blasted sick of her by now, you might pay me to take her off your hands,” I said, a tad hopeful, I suspects.

He nodded. “That is a temptation, it truly is. But son, this here is a civilized community and we got rules, one of which is that I can’t let nobody out of this here jailhouse, gunny-sack cabin as it may be, until they either serve their time or pay their fine.”

I thought right then that I saw a way out of this dilemma, so I says, “And how much time has she got to serve yet?”

 

“Boofer, pay my fine, or by Cthulhu –”

“How much did I say that fine was?” the constable asked.

“An outrageous eight and a half credits,” I yelped.

“That much? Well, then, she must be serving a life sentence. If you go down to the undertaker and fill out some papers, we can arrange for you to receive the remains when she finally kicks off –”

“I can’t do that. She might live another week, and I gotta get back home by dinner time.”

“And I take it you don’t have that many credits?”

“Well,” I said, “not any more.”

“In that case, son, you is on the horns of a dilemma.”

I was getting so desperate I decided to play on his good nature, not that he wasn’t a constable and all. I said, “When I think of that poor, sweet old lady incarcinomated and all in this here rickety old jail of yours…”

“Oh, I’d love to be rid of her, I would,” said the constable, a-rubbing his forepaws together. “But it’s the law and all. Me being a lawman, I more or less have to uphold the law, leastways when people are watching. So you can see, there just ain’t nothing I can do. Nothing …


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except....except...."

h, I’d appreciate anything you can do for us, I would,” said I. “And I’d show my appreciation, too. You ever met my sister Salty, Mr. Lawman?’

Well, his eyes bulged when I mentioned her name and I though he was going to strangle. After a moment he said, “Matter of fact, I have, and let’s just leave that, eh, lovely young thing out of the discussion.” He cleared his throat, pushed his glasses back on that long fox-looking nose of his’n and picked up a piece of paper he had on his desk. “Matter of fact, there might be something you can do for me, you looking like a fine, obliging sort of boy and all – you are a boy and all, aren’t you Boofer?”

“Of course I is.”

“Of course. But thinking about Salty and all, I got to wondering if my first thought was the right one. I got here a complaint needs to be cleared this afternoon as luck has it. I suppose if I made you a deputy, why I’d have to let Evil Aunt Toody out of this jail on account of we can’t be showing no favors to employees.”

“Why, that makes perfect sense,” I said.

“Of course it does. And you’ll even get this shiny tin badge,” he said, taking it out of his desk drawer and waving it around. It was all

 

star-shaped. Not like a real star, I mean; it had points on it and such like.

So he pins the star on my chest and for a bit there I wished I’d wore a shirt, and he starts to swear me in. Turns out he don’t have no other book for me to swear on, so he has to borrow Evil Aunt Toody’s Necronomicon, but in jest a tad of time, I’m an official deputy constable.

“Well, you can let Evil Aunt Toody out of that henhouse now and I’ll fetch her back home,” I says.

But the constable, sitting back down at his desk, says, “Now don’t be so hasty, son. Rightly speaking, you’re still a probationary deputy.”

“Well, put her on probation, then.”

“No, don’t work like that. You being probationary means there’s a spell you have to serve to make sure you can work out –”

“Spell! I can serve ye a spell just as soon as you hands my Book back,” Toody shouts, joyful-like.

“Not that kind of spell, Toody,” he says. “You’re in for a serious offense, you know. Threatening to conjure something up to wreck this here whole township.”

“Oh, I wasn’t even going to call up a full-growed Shoggoth, just a tad.


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It wouldn’t do too much damage.”

“Well, I appreciate that,” said the constable. “And this community could probably use some sort of urban renewal program at that. But the law’s the law.”

“How long am I going to be a probationary deputy?” I asks.

“Not long,” he says, this sly briar-eating smile coming craftily upon his otherwise simple face. “Just till you serves this here eviction, I suppose.”

He handed me that piece of paper he was holding.

I looked at it and it didn’t make no sense, which I was about to remark upon, when he reached out and turned the paper right side up. I could make out the words “Official Eviction Notice,” on it.

I got suspicious then. I said, “You ain’t sending me to evict my family, are you?”

“Oh, no, son. I wouldn’t do nothing like that. Though it’s an interesting idea and I’m going to keep it in mind. The problem with your family is that technically you folks don’t live inside the township limits. We’d need a special election to extend the limits out that far.” He jotted down a note on a piece of paper and shoved it in his pocket. Then he said, “No, this here is a whole other family, and all you got to do is

 

hand this here piece of paper to the head of the family. That’s all. Oh, and make sure he obeys it and leaves the planet.”

“Well, that don’t sound like nothing a-tall,” says I.

“No, it don’t,” says he. “But I’m sure you’ll make it into something. Just remember, as a deputy you have the full resources of any help I can give you, short of my own personal endangerment. You’ll find them down at the tail-end of the street. If they’re gone by sundown, we’ll not only let Evil Aunt Toody out of jail, but the whole township will escort you out past the town limits.”

So off I goes.

I was thinking about all this, about how that constable seemed like to be such a nice fellow, once you got to know him, and not unreasonable like a lot of his sort that I’d met afore. It seemed to me that being a deputy weren’t no hard thing to be a-tall and I was wondering whether or not I might actual be able to pick up some spending money by helping him out with these here simple chores ever once in a while and all.

When he said tail-end of the street, he meant tail end. As I headed toward it, I noticed the buildings began to look worn down and broke up, and there was even fewer people out and about and they seemed kind of nervous, now I took notice of them. But that didn’t worry me none because for some reason people sometimes looks that way when


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I pass by.

So I walked all the way down it to a sort of flat plain which wasn’t paved over or nothing, but just a large patch of hard-packed ground where spaceships could land if they weren’t too heavy ones. Only one thing there now and I wasn’t real sure whether it was a spaceship nor some kind of building. It looked like a turned over bowl, made all out of that scummy green metal they sometimes makes Quonset huts out of, and sometimes prisons. But it didn’t seem to be neither one, and I thought I saw a few stray piles of bones and stuff out behind it.

So I figures out this flat thing set into the wall or hull or whatever it was of the thing might be a door and I walks up to it and knocks on it.

It was a quiet day and the sky was all runny with blue in amongst the clouds and I was thinking about how I might get home in time to go call on Liz-Ray Schmitz tonight. But I didn’t get no answer right then, so I knocked on the door again.

Everything was quiet as all get out when it’s really got out. Then suddenly the panel sort of shifted out of focus, and blipped out and I was staring into a gaping black hole. And something said, in a real loud voice, “What the tarnated thunder do YOU want.”

“Howdy,” I said, remembering what Pa told me about diplomacy and figuring I ought to go out of my way to be nice to whatever it was on account of I was still representing the Crittenberry family and we’re such peaceable folks.

 

ust what I thought,” came that loud booming again, afore I could add anything else to say. And suddenly there was a bright flash of light, a sound suspiciously like when a really big gout of lightning takes out a grove or a small wood, and I was numb all over and flying about ten feet above the ground. I didn’t come down till I was clear across the field, and then I came down in what I thought was a rather hard way.

After about fifteen minutes, when I could walk again, I got to my feet and limped back to the ship. Durned if that door were closed again. So I knocked and it blipped out again, and the real loud voice said, “Don’t tell me you’re back.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” I said, sweetly. “But it is obvious to me you have made a silly mistake and mistooken me for something other than what I is.”

“I was under the impression you were a fool deputy with an eviction notice,” said the voice, and I allowed that that was certainly so, except maybe for the “fool” part, when there was another bright light, brighter than before, a loud noise, louder than before, and another flight across the field, although I allow as I was a mite higher off the ground, and I certainly traveled further. And lay there longer when I got on the ground again.

When I could get up again, I gave some thought to just walking back and trying all over to be reasonable again, when it occurred to me that


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if each time I got blowed out of the spaceport, I was going to fly farther than before, it wouldn’t be too long a time before it would take me a full day to walk back. That didn’t strike me as if it were real productive. I thought I better regroup, as Pa calls it when you runs off and hides, and get some information about what I was up against.

o when I walked back into the jailhouse, the constable looked up at me and says, “The way it’s going, Boofer, I’m going to be stuck with Evil Aunt Toody for the rest of my life.”

“I sure don’t see doing a thing like that to a nice man like you,” I tells him. “But I got me a question or two. “What is that damned thing, anyhow?”

“We don’t rightly know,” says the constable. “Other than that it’s something needs to be evicted.”

“Well then, how long’s it been here?”

The constable scratched his chin a moment while thinking up the answer, then allowed it had been here near about a week. “Landed last Thursday, I think. Whatever was in it reported to the control center that it was just landing in order to restock supplies.”

“Control center? I didn’t see no buildings down there.”

“I think if you look hard you can still see the basement,” he said. “We didn’t think a thing about it for a couple days, then we started to notice

 

people was going missing on us. Then we noticed that some of the other ships was in port had disappeared and nobody could remember them taking off or nothing. Ships make an awful lot of fuss when they takes off.”

“You know,” I said, thoughtful like. “I did see some bones piled up out back of that thing.”

“Cleaned picked ones, too,” said the deputy. “We suspect that whatever it is in that ship, it’s pulling in folks and ships, eating the folks and storing the ships for parts or maybe to sell or barter off planet.”

“Eating folks? That don’t make sense, constable, on account of it just kicked me clear across the spaceport.”

The constable eyed me a minute and sort of hemmed and hawed, and finally said, “Well now, I hope you don’t take no offense, Boofer, but there is something about you that’s just plain unappetizing.”

“Oh, I don’t take no offence at that a-tall,” I said. “Pa’s said that about me many a time.”

“And you no doubt noticed there was some buildings down at that end of town been torn down.”

“I surely did,” I allowed.

“Spaceships aren’t landing down there like they used to for some


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reason. Maybe words got out. Anyhow, the last couple of nights that thing’s been getting out of its ship and slurping up honest citizens. And otherwise, if the truth be told. So the good citizens came to me and demanded I do something.”

“And what did you do?”

“I did what any self-respecting lawman would do. I arrested Evil Aunt Toody and deputized you.”

“No,” I said. “I mean about the space monster.”

“Oh, that,” he said. “Well, I give you an eviction notice, didn’t I?”

“Well,” says I, “yes you did. And I set myself to go down there and have a session of diplomatical conversation with aforesaid critter, but there’s this here hitch done developed. I can talk a blue-streak like a preacher man, but that durned thing isn’t listening to me one bit. It just ups and electrifries me and off I go clear across the field, further away each time. If you know what I mean.”

“Which I does,” he allowed.

“I was hoping for some of them resources you told me I could have leave to if I needed.”

“Oh. Those. Well, it doesn’t seem right to me that I should interfere in your assignment, son –”

 

ow, constable, don’t go getting worried none. I ain’t suggesting you should go down there with me. I was thinking, what this calls for is not just one forthright and noble deputy. It calls for two.”

“And where do we find somebody else so stupid they’ll let me deputize them,” the constable said, dropping it seemed to me all pretense of being diplomatical about it.

“I’m not worried I,” I said, “about finding somebody stupid enough to be deputized. What’s called for here is somebody stupid enough to do the deputizing.”

And Evil Aunt Toody said, “I’ll tell you one thing. If I were out of here thet there space monster would think twice about ever eating anything he found on this planet.”

“Oh,” said the constable, the light of understanding lighting up his eyeballs.

He gets up, he goes over to the chicken wire, he looks Evil Aunt Toody in the eye and he says, “You willing to be sweared in, Toody?”

“Damn your eyeballs, you bet I am,” said she, spitting and rubbing her hands together in a gleeful manner.

He opened up the chicken wire cell and out she comes, a cavorting around and waving that Necronomicon around and I could already smell the brimstone.


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t smelt right refreshing, it did.

We went down to the tail-end of town and when we were not quite there, Evil Aunt Toody stops of a sudden and opens up her book, turning pages and all, and then says, “This is the one. The very one.”

“You found a good spell for our visitor, did you?” I says, trying to peer over her shoulder, but she pushed me away. She didn’t need to do that, really, on account of I can’t read that writing in the Necronomicon anyway.

“Oh, I found a good one,” she says. “But I needs you to buy me some time.”

“Time?”

“Yeah. That stuff keeps everything from happening all at once.”

“I know what time is –”

“You go over there and engage that monster in conversational activity to give me the time to do all the things I got to do just to work this one small spell.”

“Well, that critter seems to be inside his spaceship paying us no mind a-tall,” I says. “He might even be taking a nap. I don’t see no reason really to wake him up if he is just taking a nap.”

“What did yore Pa tell you about argying with yore elders?” said she.

 

I can’t rightly argue there, so I left her where she was and she started into dancing and Ia! Ia! Ftagning away, and I went up to the spaceship and knocked on that thing that was like a door, and nothing happened so I knocked again and waited, and presently it opened up and something said, so loud it hurt my ears, “What? Are you back again?” and electrifried me.

Well, I sailed me a pretty good height off the ground on this one, and made it over a stand of trees well past the edge of the spaceport. But as soon as I wasn’t no longer numb all over, I got me to my hind legs and scampered back as fast I could to the spaceport. But before I knocked on that door again, I looked up the street to where Evil Aunt Toody was a whirlyjigging away and I calls out, “Are you about ready?”

“Buy me more time,” says Evil Aunt Toody, flinging her arms about something ferocious. I goes up to the spaceship and knocks on the door. This time whatever is in there don’t even wait to open up. He just electrifries me something fierce, and it’s almost an hour passes by before I staggers back up to that spaceship.

I sees Evil Aunt Toody still a-prancing and carrying on in the middle of the street and I calls out, “Air ye ready, Evil Aunt?” and she says, “Get me just a tad more time, Boofer.”

So I goes up to the door and knocks and just as I does so, Evil Aunt Toody calls out, “That’s all I need, Boofer,” and whatever it is inside that danged ship yells, “Not again,” and I get the flat-out biggest jolt


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of electrifrication I have ever had, and go flying just as far as the last time, though not so high that I don’t hit all the trees.

I bounce a lot, too. Actually, I guess it was more like a ricochet. The upshot is I travel about the same distance but I don’t end up as far away. I get back to the spaceport in about the same amount of time, but I do more crawling than actual staggering.

I notice, though it’s not exactly the first thing I notice, that the

 

spaceship is gone. But I don’t think it’s because the critters in it accepted any eviction notice.

The first thing I noticed was these two big somethings just a-going round and round with each other. I can’t rightly describe them, they was so big and ugly. They both looked like small putrefied mountains, is what they looked like. One of them looked suspiciously like a drawing I seen in Evil Aunt Toody’s book, so I figured that would be the thing she conjured up. I’d never seen nothing like the other one so I sort of think it might have been the loud thing kept electrifrying me.

They was all a-tangled up like a nest of snakes, what with their tentacles and eyestalks and all, and covered in green foam. I didn’t see any mouths which is kind of funny because I sure could see teeth. Big, sharp, snapping teeth all over the place. They was stumbling around and biting of one another, and crushing each other and so on, and I sort of suspect that when they was finished, the ground at that spaceport was even more hard-packed than it had been.

Well, Aunt Toody had told me she didn’t need no more time and there wasn’t any door as I could see to knock on, so I stayed away from the spaceport and skirted around amongst the trees until I reached her and we headed back up the street to the jailhouse to turn in our badges.

When he saw us, the constable ran out on the street and said, “Where are you two going?” I thought his tone of voice was right unneighborly considering how much help we’d given him.

“We’re going home,” I told him. “We served the notice just like you


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said to, and one way or another that critter is going to be gone by sundown. So are we.”

“But what about the other one?” the constable yelled. Darned if he weren’t almost as loud as that space monster was.

“Send it a eviction notice, why don’t you?” said Evil Aunt Toody. She was so happy and so all that she was dancing around and jumping and I was fearful she was going to conjure up something else, so I took her by the shoulders and dragged her out of town.

Pa was real happy when we got back. He didn’t even reach for his two by four when he saw me. But I was starting to get worried about something, and I couldn’t hide it from him no matter how much I wanted to.

“Pa, I don’t think Flat’s Landing is going to survive that battle.”

“You don’t say?” said Pa.

“But I just did,” I said, puzzled. “I heard me.”

“And you mean we don’t have no more close by neighbors on this world?”

“Not if you don’t count that thing what Evil Aunt Toody conjured up.”

“Oh, I think I can live with that. Those things aren’t much for roaming

 

around.” Pa laughed, then. It sounded a lot like when Evil Aunt Toody cackles. “That’s what I like about you, son. You can always be counted on.”


fillo by Jim Garrison


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