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Kingsley Amis

The Anti-Death League

First published in 1966

Part One

The Edge of a Node

A GIRL and an older woman were walking along a metaled pathway. To their left, beyond a strip of grass, was the front of a large high building in grey stone. Reaching its corner, at which there was a pointed turret, brought them a view of a square of grass on which stood a tower-like structure supported by stone pillars. The afternoon sun was shining brightly and the space under the main part of the tower was in deep shadow.

The girl halted. 'What's happening?' she asked.

'That's just the old cat,' said the other. 'He's spotted something under the tower there, I expect.'

A small black cat, crouching quite still, faced the shadow. After a moment, a bird with tapering wings flew out, dipped towards the cat, gave two brief twitters and wheeled back to where it had come from. The girl went on watching.

'Oh, you know what that is,' said the older woman. 'She'll have got a nest under there, the bird, and she's trying to keep the cat away from it. Trying to give him a scare, you see.'

As she spoke, three uniformed men came into sight round the corner of the block beyond the tower and walked along the path towards the women. At the same time, a large aircraft, flying low, moved into earshot.

The bird made its circuit exactly as before. 'Why doesn't he move?' asked the girl. 'Can't he see the bird?'

'Oh, you bet he can. He's not missing anything, that old cat. He's got his eye on her all right. But he's not going to move and give the game away. Now we'll just watch them the once more and then we'll be getting on, shall we?'

The three in uniform came up. One of them, a tall fair-complexioned young man, slowed in his walk and stopped. 'Look at this,' he.said. 'Did you ever see anything like it?'

'Like what?' asked the older of the two with him.

'That tower.'

'Just a water-tower they thought they might as well do in the same style. A bit sinister, I agree.'

The sound of the aircraft grew in volume sharply. The cat ran off towards a tree growing beside the path. Just when the girl turned and looked at the tall young man it was as if the sun went out for an instant. He flinched and drew in his breath almost with a cry.

'God, did you feel that?'

'I'll say I did. I thought I'd had a stroke or something.'

'It was like the passing of the shadow of death,' said the third man.

'But what it really was was the passing of the shadow of a passenger aircraft. Look, it'll cross that slope in a second. There.'

'Thank Christ for that,' said the tall young man. 'I really felt like, you know, a fly when the swatter comes down. Gave me quite a turn.'

He looked again at the girl, who was not looking at him. The older woman, however, was, and unamiably.

'Come along, Mrs. Casement,' she said with an abruptness she had not shown earlier. 'We haven't

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