Effortlessly spinning tales of adventure through the distant worlds of outer space and the inner worlds of dream and psychic experience, Andre Norton sends you on a breathtaking journey of the imagination in this collection of her finest works. Follow the path to Moon Mirror, and enter the shimmering lands that lay beyond.
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About the Author
For well over a half century, Andre Norton was one of the most popular science fiction and fantasy authors in the world. With series such as Time Traders, Solar Queen, Forerunner, Beast Master, Crosstime, and Janus, as well as many standalone novels, her tales of adventure have drawn countless readers to science fiction. Her fantasy novels, including the bestselling Witch World series, her Magic series, and many other unrelated novels, have been popular with readers for decades. Lauded as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, she is the recipient of a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention. An Ohio native, Norton lived for many years in Winter Park, Florida, and died in March 2005 at her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
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By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Andre Norton
All rights reserved.
HOW MANY MILES TO BABYLON?
"How many miles to Babylon?
Three score and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again."
Sue Patterson shut her eyes and wished she could close her ears as well. The throb in her head which had been only a warning ache this morning, was building into one of the bad times. But if she begged off from this promised hour at the nursery school that would mean explanations. And at the very thought of explanations her fear came, keener and worse than the pain. She could not tell—not unless she had a chance to see J.J. first—and she had not seen or talked to him all week.
She rested her head against the post of the tall playground fence, that sing-song coursing through her as if the words were blows. Who ever thought it would be clever to teach the kids those stupid songs? Well, she need only look in the mirror. But the Sue Patterson of a week ago was a different person. Looking back now she was dully surprised that she had ever been that person. Then all that mattered was getting through the day so she could see J.J. in the evening.
Well, she still wanted to see J.J. But for a different reason— Her head, it was much worse this morning. And if Bobby Kinney did not stop that screaming—! Her hand clenched at her mouth and she bit hard on her knuckles to choke down a cry of her own. This was the worst time yet. What if—if she could not stand it any longer, let out a scream louder than Bobby's, maybe fell over out here on the playground? What if there was something wrong in her skull ever since—
No! She would not let herself think that! If she let any one know, any one at all, they would start asking questions. And they would get it all out of her, she knew they would—about J.J. and the bike, and—the rest of it!
But where was J.J.? She had called his house twice, and the last time she had to hang up fast when his mother answered.
If her head would only stop hurting so!
There was the bell, Miss Manning was calling in the kids for their milk and crackers and morning rest. Rest—if she could only bundle up somewhere herself.
Sue stumbled away from the fence, began feebly to help Eva round up the children, start them back to the house.
"Say, Sue, you don't look so good." Eva was staring at her.
"You feel sick—virus maybe?"
Why had she not thought of that? Of course, they would not want her around with the virus. And she could even use that excuse with Mom. She was sure stupid today.
"I—I guess so. I better tell Miss Manning and go home."
"Right. You know how she is about being sick around the kids."
Leaving Eva to struggle with the round-up, Sue managed to reach the door and Miss Manning. There was no need to put on an act, she must already look half dead, because Miss Manning was staring at her intently.
"Sue, what's the matter? Are you ill?" She spoke sharply but Sue could not blame her. Spread virus here and Miss Manning would find herself with an empty school.
"I'm going home. Guess I have the virus—"
"You had better see Miss Luce at once!"
Not the visiting nurse! Sue swallowed, she felt so sick at her stomach now. And she was stupid again, she had forgotten all about it being Miss Luce's day here.
"I can manage, Miss Manning. Really I can—" She summoned all that was left of her strength and tried to look as if this was no worse than the sniffles.
Miss Manning regarded her doubtfully. But Sue knew she really only wanted to get her away before she spread any germs—or whatever made virus.
"Are you sure you can get home all right, Sue?"
Home? Home was the last place she wanted to go—with
Mom there ready to start fussing.
"Sure—I can get home all right." She held on with determination, fighting the sickness which spread from that throb right behind her eyes downward, to dry her mouth, bringing waves of nausea. Maybe she did have the virus. It must be that—it had to!
Sue could not remember much of how she got away from the school. She must have looked and talked all right because Miss Manning let her go, and Miss Manning was nosey.
But she was free, walking down the street. Only in her head that silly rhyme kept repeating over and over:
"How many miles to Babylon? Three score and ten."
What was Babylon? She had a faint idea it was a city—somewhere. Three score and ten—how many did that make? Oh, her head! Twice she leaned against a tree to wait out the waves of pain which blotted out everything but the agony they brought.
She was in the park without knowing how she got there. Sitting on the grass at the foot of a big tree. And she had been sick, there was a nasty mess on the ground. But her head did not hurt so much and she was weakly thankful for that.
If she only knew where JJ. was! She could not remember much of the accident now. It was a violent ending to the peaceful life of a while ago. They had been down at Benny's, playing the juke box and drinking Cokes.
Cokes! Sue shuddered and her stomach heaved. She never wanted to see a Coke, smell one, even be near one. Never, never, never!
Even though she closed her eyes and tried to close out memory she could see a clear picture, a picture of J.J. dropping that pill into his Coke, one into hers, too. Only she had managed to spill it. And that had made him so mad he said he was taking her right home. Sue was afraid of him then but she hated to make a big fuss—
The picture in her mind changed, they were on their way back to town. She could see J.J., his hair sticking out below the edge of his helmet in a rough fringe, feel the wind whipping her own face. And then—
There had been the dog in the road and—and J.J. did not swerve to avoid it at all. He had deliberately run straight at it—laughing! She had screamed. And he had— She could not remember. When she did, she had been lying with her head against the fence post. And when she sat up, feeling so queer, J.J., the Honda, they were gone. Everything was gone but that black thing in the road. She could not make herself crawl over to it, she had gotten away as fast as she could.
Then—there was more she could not remember. Mom and Dad, they had been at the Cape for the weekend, Aunt Martha staying at the house. She had gone to the movie with Mrs. Marland. That was one piece of luck. Sue had been able to get home and into bed. It was like something sort of took over inside her, telling her what to do.
The next morning—J.J. never called. She waited and waited. Why did he act like this? If she could see him, talk to him—
Sue's head sank forward on her knees. She felt so weak, so tired, and it was hard to think. J.J.—he had always been so quiet, and kind, not wild like some of the boys. That's why she liked him, she'd always felt safe—up until Saturday night. If she talked, they might arrest J.J.—with the new laws about drugs and all—they could shut him up for years and years. Maybe J.J. had only been trying out those pills—somebody dared him— something like that. She just couldn't think very straight anymore.
At least her head did not hurt as bad as it had. First she was only dimly aware of that. But she had no desire to get up, go home, go anywhere. Just sit here and—
No pain at all now, only a kind of tingling—not in her head but at the base of her spine. Now that was climbing up along her back. She did not care—the pain was gone. Now it had settled at the nape of her neck. She wanted to raise her hands to the source of that feeling, but did not seem to have enough energy left.
It was in her head now, seeming to push away the memory of the pain. She had no desire to move, instead Sue was aware of an odd feeling that what was she, herself, Sue Patterson, was not really a body at all, but something which lived inside a frame of flesh and bones, made that operate by her orders.
The tingling was now behind her eyes where the pain had been the worst of all. But she was not hurting now, she was—
She was afraid! But in spite of that fear there was something else, a need to know, to understand what was happening—that was growing stronger than the fear. She—
Sue could have cried out in sheer terror, yet this other self who lived in the body would not let her. For a terrifying moment or two out of time she—she had not been in that body at all! She had been—above it! She had looked down at Sue Patterson slumped on the ground. Dying—was she dying? No!
Then—she was back. She was safe in her body again. But the pain in her head was still gone, as was the tingling now. All she felt was very weak and tired as if she had been sick with the virus.
Had she imagined what had happened? But it was so vivid that she shivered, chilled. Somehow she got to her feet, started home. If Mom asked what was the matter—she was sick. Just to get home—safely home!
Mom's car was gone. Sue wavered around the side of the house and fumbled under the loose brick for the back door key. The house was cool, dark after the bright blaze of the sun. She stood in the kitchen, steadying herself with a hand against the fridge. Then she lurched to the sink, let the water run cold before she filled a glass and gulped thirstily. This was real. She was drinking water, was in the kitchen at home. This was real—that other— it had not happened! Of course not! She would go to bed, maybe take a couple of aspirin—
No! The flash of memory of J.J.'s hand poised above the glass about to drop that pill into the Coke was a picture which no amount of time might erase. She filled the glass again and drank feverishly, looking over its rim about the kitchen, to impress the real upon her mind.
There was the sound of a car pulling into the drive— voices— Mom was coming back and someone with her. Sue wanted to escape, but she was too late. Mom and Mrs. Chambers came in carrying overflowing cartons of what looked like a lot of junk—the stuff for the P.T.A. rummage sale.
"Sue! What are you doing home!" Mom dropped her carton on the floor.
There was nothing to do but tell the part of the truth that she dared.
"I got sick—something I ate, I guess. I feel a lot better now—" And that was the truth. All the pain which had been with her since the accident and which had swelled at times to that agony such as she had experienced earlier this morning was gone. She just felt tired and weak, but not sick anymore.
"Well." Mom looked at her closely. "You don't look good. You get yourself to bed, young lady. I'll take your temperature. If you hadn't had all those flu shots, I'd think you had the virus."
Mom would fuss, and ordinarily that would have driven Sue wild. But now she did not care. It was good to go to her room, undress and crawl between the covers. But she did not take the aspirin Mom brought. And somehow she was not in the least suprised to learn that her temperature was normal.
Sue slept after Mom left, and it must have been noon when she awoke, with a queer feeling that she had been somewhere else and had done something important, if she could only remember. As she lay there, trying hard to recall her dream, the tingling began again.
She shut her eyes on the familiar walls with their posters, on real life, and felt that sensation once more creep up her body, into her head. But she would not—look!
NO! She was not going to see that again. Determinedly Sue fought. And, after what seemed a long time, the tingling was gone, she dared to look about. She was safely in bed, in her body—and this was her room. Also she felt better— hungry—
It must be long after lunch. Sue pulled out of bed, reached for her robe. No headache anymore. She padded along the hall to the kitchen.
The cartons were still beside the table. Mom was gone— maybe for another load. Sue poured a glass of milk, spread a piece of bread liberally with Mom's special raspberry jam and sat down to eat.
She was on her second slice when Jerry banged in, heading for the fridge. His team cap stuck to the back of his head and he had the beginning flush of a sunburn across his nose. He shed his catcher's mitt on the chair beside her as he passed, kicked at the cartons.
"Thought you were sick," he commented. "Hey, where's that piece of pie we had left over? Did you know Mrs. Mason called—she wanted to talk to you. Mom said you were sick—sleeping—she went in to look."
Sue stopped chewing. J.J.'s mother calling her— She knew again that cold fear she had lived with during the past few days. They would ask questions—
Jerry, with a Coke bottle in one hand, the missing pie in the other, nudged the fridge door shut with his shoulder as he turned.
"Mom's crowd is sure getting in the junk for the sale," he commented as he rounded the cartons to sit down opposite to her. "Say, you don't look too good—"
For a pesty brother, Jerry was not too bad. Sue wished she was as young as Jerry, even as she had been before last Saturday. She put down the rest of the bread and jam slice. Right now she did not feel any better than Jerry thought she looked.
"That Ken, he's a dope. He's got this idea he's a pitcher! Jerry snorted in disgust, cramming in an out-sized bite of pie and chewing with a vigor totally unrelated to any acceptable table manners. "He can't send one over the plate in ten tries—at least ten tries! The guy's a disaster, a plain disaster, and we've got to live with him." He scowled.
This was real, the kitchen, Jerry, all of it real. Sue had to hold on to that reality. If they asked her about J.J., she drew a long breath—she might have to tell them, except about the pill. But why had not J.J. called?
"What a lot of junk," Jerry repeated, staring down at the carton by his knee. "Who'd want to buy any of this stuff?"
He reached down to pull at the jumble of contents, coming up with a small, brad-studded harness, red in color. Something only a very small dog could wear. It still had a leash attached.
Jerry dangled it up and down by the leash. "Here, Spot!" He trailed it along as if there was a dog in tow.
A dog in tow— Sue blinked. Had she for a moment, a single frightening moment, seen a cream and brown body within that harness? Of course not! Unsteadily she put her hands to her head, closed her eyes, and then looked again. Jerry still held the leash, and the empty harness was lying on the floor. Suddenly she grabbed at it, she had to know there was nothing else there.
Her hands closed upon the strips of metal-studded leather, crumpling them together.
It was like the time in the park. Only this time there was no warning tingle, no slow rise of sensation to her head. Instead she saw a picture in her mind.
Sue gave a gasp, dropped the harness.
"Su-Ki! The car hit her—Su-Ki!"
There was no kitchen, but a street, and in the gutter a Siamese cat kicked spasmodically.
"Sue!" Jerry pulling at her arm. "Sue—what's the matter? Who's Suky? Sue!"
She threw the harness from her and the picture was gone. But it remained so vividly in her memory that she could not rid herself of it so easily.
"Su-Ki—she was a cat. She wore that—a car hit her—" she repeated as if she must keep in mind what she had seen, that it was important.
Dimly she was aware of Jerry staring at her as she pushed back from the table, heading for her room. Once in that refuge Sue slammed the door behind her. Shaking, cold with fear, she fell rather than sat on the edge of the bed.
Was this the way people went crazy? She—she had been hit on the head when she fell off the Honda. Then all those headaches— And in the park when she thought she was outside her body— Just now seeing Su-Ki ... NO! She did not know any Su-Ki—she had never seen a cat the. She could not be remembering—it was— She must be going crazy!
Sue bit down hard on the edge of the hand she had raised to her mouth. She could feel the pain of that. This was her own room, she was here—
"Sue!" Jerry pounded on the door, called through it.
"Just let me alone! Let me alone!" her voice was close to a scream.
She had to think, to know— How did a person go crazy?
They saw things that were not there— They— She wanted to dive into bed and pull up the covers, bury herself so and never come out. A doctor— suppose she went to Dr. Wilson and told him, and then they took her away to be shut up somewhere— And—
Excerpted from Moon Mirror by Andre Norton. Copyright © 1988 Andre Norton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsHow Many Miles to Bablyon?,
The Toymaker's Snuffbox,
Desirable Lakeside Residence,
The Long Night of Waiting,
Through the Needle's Eye,
One Spell Wizard,