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Authors: Manly Wade Wellman,Lou Feck

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The Beyonders

BOOK: The Beyonders
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Table of Contents

THE
BEYONDERS

MANLY WADE WELLMAN

There was a cave in a mountain hollow--and it didn't end on Earth.

The Beyonders were shapes in the forests who bribed and promised. They had their human allies, and only a few men knew that when the Beyonders came in their full strength, the would sweep all before them.

But before the Beyonders could conquer the Earth, they had to rule one hamlet; and the folk there had been hunters and riflemen for as many generations as they had lived in the mountains....

"Manly knew and loved the folk of the Carolina mountains long before that was fashionable. THE BEYONDERS contains some of the most vivid characters and one of the funniest true stories ever worked into an SF novel." -- David Drake

"Wellman's not only a writer, but a weaver, spinning the stuff of nightmares..." -- SF Review

"There isn't any writer better at this back country, no-nonsense approach than Manly Wade Wellman." -- Gahan Wilson, Fantasy & Science Fiction

THE BEYONDERS

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 1977 by Manly Wade Wellman

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Book

Baen Publishing Enterprises 260 Fifth Avenue

New York, N.Y. 10001

ISBN: 0-671-69853-2

Cover art by Todd Hamilton

First Baen printing, December 1989

Distributed by

SIMON & SCHUSTER

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, N.Y. 10020

Printed in the United States of America

Electronic version by Baen Books

eISBN: 978-1-62579-443-7

I

They sat in front of Duffy Parr's SKY NOTCH GAS & SERV STATION, sat in the late morning sun of late May, fairly content with things. Gander Eye Gentry and little Bo Fletcher were on the paint-hungry old bench against the cinderblock front, and Duffy himself had the chair between the gas pumps. From there they could see across Main Street to Longcohr's Grocery, to Bo's house next to it with his little one-chair barbershop tacked on and, on their side, the white-painted Sky Notch Community Church. Just to the right of the station, Main Street joined the narrow, pitted road that ran twelve miles to the county seat. Left, Main Street curved around the church and out of sight, but they knew what was there without having to see.

There would be the town's handful of houses, clapboard or brick or old log, the empty old school where Gander Eye and Duffy and Bo had gone before it closed and, at the end, the fallen bridge across Bull Creek, unmended for months now. Beyond that soared the slope of Dogged Mountain, cobbled with boulders, shaggy with trees, up to its scalloped ridge like a cloudbank against the blue sky. Sky Notch was dwindling, it was barely a town any more, but they all lived there because they wouldn't live anywhere else.

Gander Eye was called that for his black, gleaming eyes. Hardly anyone remembered he'd been christened Mark. He sat at sinewy ease, dressed in faded jeans and checked shirt, gazing at the soft brown glow of his boots. His black hair curled closely. He had a long, rigorously shaven chin and a short, straight nose. He looked as if he could grin easily, a hobgoblin grin. In one broad-backed hand he held a Coke bottle with something mixed into the Coke. He gazed across to where a woman came out of Longcohr's Grocery.

"Slowly Kimber," said Gander Eye appreciatively. His voice could be tuneful tenor to the banjo he picked the best in the county, just as he shot a rifle the best and fished and tracked game the best. "Yonder comes Slowly."

Duffy Parr swivelled in his chair. He was broad and bushy-haired, with a square, plaintive face. He looked about thirty-three, say a year or two older than Gander Eye. "That's her," he agreed.

She carried a brown bag of groceries along Main Street, deliberately, strongly. She was nearly as tall as Gander Eye, who was five feet ten. In brown slacks and brown blouse, her figure was both rich and fine, and rich and fine was her cloud of cinnamon hair. Even across the street, all three of them knew that Slowly's eyes were green and slanting and direct as a cat's. Her cheeks bunched, her mouth was red, her small chin was firm.

"Slowly's the prettiest woman in this here town," declared Bo. He was a scrap of a man with crinkled eyes and a foxy nose. His barbering wouldn't feed him and his wife plentifully, so he also sharpened knives, set saws, carved peerless gun stocks and necks for banjos and fiddles. He was carving something now. Expertly he pared flecks from a length of wild cherry wood.

"She'd be the prettiest woman in towns another sight bigger'n this one," Duffy almost moaned. Gander Eye nodded sympathy. He knew that Duffy loved Slowly Kimber, would marry her if she'd say yes, but she always said a gentle no.

"All them Kimber women is pretty," said Bo. "And all the Kimber men clever."

"Slowly ain't Kimber by blood," said Duffy longingly. "Her mamma's sister married a Kimber, and when Slowly's folks got killed back yonder when their car wrecked, her aunt took her to be a Kimber."

"I knowed that," Bo nodded above his whittling. "Her auntie's a pretty woman, too. The Kimbers always come away marrying good-looking folks, both the ladies and the men. And they live their own manner, up that draw they got. I kind of like Kimbers."

A battered blue pickup drove in and stopped by the pumps. Duffy got up. "Hey, Nick," he greeted the driver. "Fill her up?"

"I'll get it coming back out," was the reply. "I fetched in this here gentleman, he's fixing to stay here in Sky Notch."

The other man got out. "Good morning," he said, while Gander Eye and Duffy and Bo all studied him, the intent mountain-fashion with strangers.

"My name's James Crispin," he introduced himself.

He was of middle height and middle build and maybe not quite middle age. He wore gray town clothes and carried a soft hat in his hand. He had well-combed brown hair and a clipped brown beard, with a few stitches of gray in it. His eyes were deep, knowledgeable blue, and his features were strong and regular enough to be memorably handsome.

"I'm looking for the Hyson house," he said, as if he hoped they would think it was all right for him to do that.

"It's just 'round the turn of the street," Duffy told him, pointing. "Cross over the culvert and there's a gravel side street to your left. You go down there across the branch and there's the Hyson place, the only one that side. But the Hysons moved off last year. Mayor Derwood Ballinger owns it now."

"I know." James Crispin's white teeth smiled. "I've rented it from him." His blue eyes looked at them. "I hope to see you again, gentlemen. Thank you."

They watched him get into the truck and roll away with it. Bo spat reflectively. "I've seen folks leave out of here, but it's been a spell since anybody moved in," he observed.

"That's a fact," said Duffy. "Wonder what he's up to round here."

"That's what I wonder," said Gander Eye.

He drained the bottle and got up in a swift, smooth flow of motion. Stooping, he slid the bottle into a crate. Then he walked down the street after the truck, feeling the sun's brightness all over him.

Once he passed the church, he saw the curve of Main Street. Houses fronted it, not many and none of them new. Farther along stood the old brick schoolhouse, its windows staring emptily, with against it the shedlike place where Slowly Kimber lived alone. The street sloped down across a heavy concrete span to let a curve of Bull Creek flow under. The truck turned left down a gravel street, at the corner where Doc Hannum lived.

Doc was holding the door open for Slowly to go in with the groceries. She swept out for him and cooked his noon meal and left a supper of sandwiches or soup or both. What he paid her gave her enough for a living, along with her small check for keeping the town's records and getting out the water bills. She paused on the doorsill and smiled at Gander Eye. Under the brown blouse her breasts stirred like soft bells. Then she went in.

"We're getting a new fellow in town," said Gander Eye to Doc. "Yonder he goes with that stuff in the pickup. He allowed he's renting the Hyson cabin."

"I wondered who he was. " Doc Hannum was a close-built old gentleman, nobody knew just how far past seventy. His silver hair was like a smooth pelt. He had the smartest-looking face in Sky Notch, because he was the smartest. He wore a zipped brown shirt and khaki pants, and on his broad nose rode heavy-rimmed glasses. One hand clipped a lean cigar.

"He gave the name of James Crispin," said Gander Eye. "I reckoned I could maybe give him a hand moving in. Seemed like a pretty good fellow, first off."

"I'll go with you."

With Doc, too, people had forgotten his first name, which was Robert. Forty years before, he had been the company doctor for a lumber corporation at Sky Notch. He had left when the operation abandoned the region, taking with it most of the trees. Folks said that Doc had been a professor at a medical school up north, that he'd married, but when he returned to Sky Notch to vegetate he said very little about either of those things. He had lived in bachelor quarters for six years by now, calling himself retired. But he took care of the few Sky Notch residents who got sick, and sometimes he saw them to an Asheville hospital when they'd be better off there. Doc served on the town board with Bo Fletcher and William Longcohr, and otherwise read old books and savored the best article of blockade whiskey. He walked briskly along with Gander Eye.

A stout old bridge of rusty iron took them across the creek's muddy crawl to where the pickup had stopped before an old pole cabin. James Crispin was helping the driver pull things out of it. They carried in an army cot and mattress and came back for a leather armchair.

"I figured I might give you a hand," said Gander Eye.

"Thank you, but let me handle these canvases."

"Canvases," repeated Doc, looking. "You're a painter."

"I try to be." Crispin eased out a stack of variously sized oblong frames with gesso-whitened canvas tacked tightly upon them. "All the way here I've seen things I'd like to try to do."

Gander Eye dragged out two heavy suitcases and walked into the cabin. It was a good cabin, its logs chinked with cement, and the rafters overhead had been skilfully hand-hewn. The front room had windows on three sides and a wood stove in a corner. Crispin lowered his canvases against the rear wall and gazed at a window.

"That's north light enough," he judged, and turned to where Doc brought in a folded easel. "Gentlemen, thank you again, but I have only a few sticks of things to live with. You needn't put yourselves out."

"No trouble." Gander Eye headed back to shoulder a roll of blankets. The yard was grown with sparse, weedy plants, and dried shrubs stood at the door. The others fetched in the rest of the things. As Crispin had said, they weren't many or cumbersome. Crispin paid the driver of the truck and thanked him courteously.

Doc gazed at a finished picture of a low-roofed house with a stairway outside. "If you did that," he said, "I'm glad you came to town."

"And I'm glad to make friends," said Crispin. "Now, I'll need to buy some things. A broom and a bucket and—but this place is wired for electricity, I see." He trundled a television set across the floor.

"We're in a hollow here," Gander Eye told him. "A TV won't grab on and give you a good picture."

"Maybe mine will work all right." Crispin pushed in the plug and turned a switch. A clear, vivid image popped out on the screen, a man standing beside a display of canned goods. A consciously rich voice described the excellence of the wares. Crispin shut off the power again.

"I don't watch it much, except for the news and sometimes a play," he said. "You gentlemen will be welcome here to watch what you like."

"I thank you," said Gander Eye.

"Tell me something else," went on Crispin. "If I don't want to cook, is there a lunchroom or a boarding house here?"

"No, sir," replied Doc. "But look here, I'm going to have something at my place pretty soon. I'm just across the bridge from you here. Come and eat what I'm eating, while you plan to settle in." He held out his hand. "My name's Hannum. I'm a physician. Used to be."

"He still is," spoke up Gander Eye as Doc and Crispin shook hands. "A damned good one. And my name's Gentry, and my friends call me Gander Eye."

"Let me be your friend and call you that, and call me Jim." Crispin's white teeth shone in the brown beard. He rummaged in a suitcase and fetched out a bottle with a flowing darkness of ruby red.

"If you're going to be hospitable, Doctor, may I contribute this to our lunch?" he asked, smiling again.

Doc's spectacles twinkled. "That's another proof that you're a civilized man. Come on, let's see what Miss Slowly is putting on the table for us."

They all went out together. Doc and Crispin strolled toward the bridge. Gander Eye took a step after them, but paused.

He had thought the shrubs and plants around the cabin were scrubby and half dead, but he saw flowers. Against the wall, rising above scarflike tumbles of green leaves, showed the sweet, pale bloom of old man's beard, and beside this the soft lavender of ground orchids. Farther into the yard was a rich mat of dark green cow's tongue with its little red jewels of blooms, each centered with a fleck of butter-bright yellow.

Gander Eye's ready grin sprang to his face. He always noticed flowers, and he was amazed that he had not noticed these before. Or had they been there before? Had they just been turned on all of a sudden, like the television inside? He grinned wider at the notion.

Yards outward from where he stood, the slope rose from the hollow in which Sky Notch nestled. Where tall pines had been cut away rose a series of brushy thickets, just now pale with spring leaves. Something waited there, watched there, something that seemed as sooty black as the head of a burnt match. Gander Eye saw it, and he reckoned it saw him.

It might be somebody's stray black calf, almost grown up to be a baby beef. But the thing was standing up on two legs among the leaves. A black bear, then, down from the mountain here in the springtime, watching Gander Eye from its hiding place in the brush.

It must be sure that he saw it. Stealthily it drew deeper into cover. For an instant the sun found it, and it wasn't a bear, either. For it gleamed softly in that instant, like a black beetle or a black snake. Next moment it was gone from his sight, it had retreated.

"I'll be dogged," said Gander Eye to himself.

As he said it to himself, he decided to keep the whole thing to himself for the time being. Better wait for somebody else to mention seeing such a thing, or the softly gleaming flash of such a thing.

Intently he peered, for a long breath's space, at the leaves among which it had vanished. Then he turned and followed Doc and Crispin away.

BOOK: The Beyonders
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