«Cora, these blossoms!»

She handled them.

«Do you see? They're different. They've changed! They're not peach blossoms any more!»

«Look all right to me,» she said.

«They're not. They're wrong! I can't tell how. An extra petal, a leaf, something, the colour, the smell!»

The children ran out in time to see their father hurrying about the garden, pulling up radishes, onions, and carrots from their beds.

«Cora, come look!»

They handled the onions, the radishes, the carrots among them.

«Do they look like carrots?»

«Yes… No.» She hesitated. «I don't know.»

«They're changed.»


«You know they have! Onions but not onions, carrots but not carrots. Taste: the same but different. Smell: not like it used to be.» He felt his heart pounding, and he was afraid. He dug his fingers into the earth. «Cora, what's happening? What is it? We've got to get away from this.» He ran across the garden. Each tree felt his touch. «The roses. The roses. They're turning green!»

And they stood looking at the green roses.

And two days later, Tim came running. «Come see the cow. I was milking her and I saw it. Come on!»

They stood in the shed and looked at their one cow.

It was growing a third horn.

And the lawn in front of their house very quietly and slowly was colouring itself, like spring violets. Seed from Earth but growing up a soft purple.

«We must get away,» said Bittering. «We'll eat this stuff and then we'll change — who knows to what. I can't let it happen. There's only one thing to do. Burn this food!»

«It's not poisoned.»

«But it is. Subtly, very subtly. A little bit. A very little bit. We mustn't touch it.»

He looked with dismay at their house. «Even the house. The wind's done something to it. The air's burned it. The fog at night. The boards, all warped out of shape. It's not an Earthman's house any more.»

«Oh, your imagination!»

He put on his coat and tie. «I'm going into town. We've got to do something now. I'll be back.»

«Wait, Harry!» his wife cried.

But he was gone.

In town, on the shadowy step of the grocery store, the men sat with their hands on their knees, conversing with great leisure and ease.

Mr.Bittering wanted to fire a pistol in the air.

What are you doing, you fools! he thought. Sitting here! You've heard the news — we're stranded on this planet. Well, move! Aren't you frightened? Aren't you afraid? What are you going to do?

«Hello, Harry,» said everyone.

«Look,» he said to them. «You did hear the news, the other day, didn't you?»

They nodded and laughed. «Sure. Sure, Harry.»

«What are you going to do about it?»

«Do, Harry, do? What can we do?»

«Build a rocket, that's what!»

«A rocket, Harry? To go back to all that trouble? Oh, Harry!»

«But you must want to go back. Have you noticed the peach blossoms, the onions, the grass?»

«Why, yes, Harry, seems we did,» said one of the men.

«Doesn't it scare you?»

«Can't recall that it did much, Harry.»


«Now, Harry.»

Bittering wanted to cry. «You've got to work with me. If we stay here, we'll all change. The air. Don't you smell it? Something in the air. A Martian virus, maybe; some seed, or a pollen. Listen to me!»

They stared at him.

«Sam,» he said to one of them.

«Yes, Harry?»

«Will you help me build a rocket?»

«Harry, I got a whole load of metal and some blueprints. You want to work in my metal shop, on a rocket, you're welcome. I'll sell you that metal for five hundred dollars. You should be able to construct a right pretty rocket if you work alone, in about thirty years.»

Everyone laughed.

«Don't laugh.»

Sam looked at him with quiet good humour.

«Sam,» Bittering said. «Your eyes ?»

«What about them, Harry?»

«Didn't they used to be grey?»

«Well, now, I don't remember.»

«They were, weren't they?»

«Why do you ask, Harry?»

«Because now they're kind of yellow-coloured.»

«Is that so, Harry?» Sam said, casually.

«And you're taller and thinner ?»

«You might be right, Harry.»

«Sam, you shouldn't have yellow eyes.»

«Harry, what colour eyes have you got?» Sam said.

«My eyes? They're blue, of course.»

«Here you are, Harry.» Sam handed him a pocket mirror. «Take a look at yourself.»

Mr.Bittering hesitated, and then raised the mirror to his face.

There were little, very dim flecks of new gold captured in the blue of his eyes.

«Now look what you've done,» said Sam, a moment later. «You've broken my mirror.»

Harry Bittering moved into the metal shop and began to build the rocket. Men stood in the open door and talked and joked without raising their voices. Once in a while they gave him a hand on lifting something. But mostly they just idled and watched him with their yellowing eyes.

«It's supper-time, Harry,» they said.

His wife appeared with his supper in a wicker basket.

«I won't touch it,» he said. «I'll eat only food from our deepfreeze. Food that came from Earth. Nothing from our garden.»

His wife stood watching him. «You can't build a rocket.»

«I worked in a shop once, when I was twenty. I know metal. Once I get it started, the others will help,» he said, not looking at her, laying out the blueprints.

«Harry, Harry,» she said, helplessly.

«We've got to get away, Cora. We've got to!»

The nights were full of wind that blew down the empty moonlit sea-meadows past the little white chess cities lying for their twelve-thousandth year in the shallows. In the Earthmen's settlement, the Bittering house shook with a feeling of change.

Lying abed, Mr.Bittering felt his bones shifted, shaped, melted like gold. His wife, lying beside him, was dark from many sunny afternoons. Dark she was, and golden, burnt almost black by the sun, sleeping, and the children metallic in their beds, and the wind roaring forlorn and changing through the old peach trees, violet grass, shaking out green rose petals.

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