Invasion of The Body Snatchers
I warn you that what you're starting to read is full of loose ends and unanswered questions. It will not be neatly tied up at the end, everything resolved and satisfactorily explained. Not by me it won't, anyway. Because I can't say I really know exactly what happened, or why, or just how it began, how it ended, or if it has ended; and I've been right in the thick of it. Now if you don't like that kind of story, I'm sorry, and you'd better not read it. All I can do is tell what I know.
For me it began around six o'clock, a Thursday evening, August 13, 1953, when I let my last patient – a sprained thumb – out of the side door of my office, with the feeling the day wasn't over for me. And I wished I weren't a doctor, because with me that kind of hunch is often right. I've gone on a vacation certain I'd be back in a day or so; as I was, for a measles epidemic. I've gone to bed staggering-tired, knowing I'd be up in a couple hours driving out to a country call; as I did, have done often, and will again.
Now, at my desk, I added a note to my patient's case record, then I took the medicinal brandy, went to the washroom, and mixed a drink, something I almost never did. But I did that night, and standing at the window behind my desk, staring down at Main Street, I sipped it. I'd had an emergency appendectomy and no lunch that afternoon, and felt irritable. I still wasn't used to being at loose ends, and I wished I had some fun to look forward to that evening, for a change.
So when I heard the light rapping on the outer locked door of my reception room, I just wanted to stand there motionless till whoever it was went away. In any other business you could do that, but not in mine. My nurse had gone – she'd probably raced the last patient to the stairway, winning handily – and now, for a moment or so, one foot on the radiator under the window, I just sipped my drink, looking down at the street and pretending, as the gentle rapping began again, that I wasn't going to answer it. It wasn't dark yet, and wouldn't be for sometime, but it wasn't full daylight any more, either. A few neon lights had come on, and Main Street below was empty – at six, around here, nearly everyone is eating – and I felt lonely and depressed.
Then the rapping sounded again, and I set my drink down, walked out, unlocked the door, and opened it. I guess I blinked a couple of times, my mouth open foolishly, because Becky Driscoll was standing there.
'Hello, Miles.' She smiled, pleased at the surprise and pleasure in my face.
'Becky,' I murmured, stepping aside to let her in, 'it's good to see you. Come on in!' I grinned suddenly, and Becky walked in past me, and on through the reception room toward my office. 'What is this,' I said, closing the door, 'a professional call?' I was so relieved and pleased that I got excited and exuberant. 'We have a special on appendectomies this week,' I called gaily; 'better stock up,' and she turned to smile. Her figure, I saw, following along after her, was still marvelous. Becky has a fine, beautifully fleshed skeleton; too wide in the hips, I've heard women say, but I never heard a man say it.
'No,' – Becky stopped at my desk, and turned to answer my question – 'this isn't a professional call exactly.'
I picked up my glass, raising it to the light. 'I drink all day, as everyone knows. On operating days especially. And every patient has to have one with me – how about it?'
The glass nearly slipped through my fingers, because Becky sobbed, a dry, down-in-the-throat gasp, her breath sucking in convulsively. Her eyes brimmed with sudden bright tears, and she turned quickly away, shoulders hunching, hands rising toward her face. 'I could use one' – she could hardly speak.
After a second I said, 'Sit down,' speaking very gently, and Becky dropped into the leather chair before my desk. I went to the washroom, mixed her a drink, taking my time about it, came back, and set it on the glass- topped desk before her.
Then I walked around the desk and sat down facing her, leaning back in my swivel chair, and when Becky glanced up, I just nodded at her glass, gently urging her to drink, and I took a swallow from mine, smiling at her over the rim, giving her a few moments to get hold of herself. For the first time I really saw her face again. I saw it was the same nice face, the bones prominent and well-shaped under the skin; the same kind and intelligent eyes, the rims a little red just now; the same full, good-looking mouth. Her hair was different; it was shorter, or something; but it was the same rich brown, almost black, thick and wiry, and looking naturally wavy, though I remembered it wasn't. She'd changed, of course; she wasn't eighteen now, but well into her twenties, and looked it, no more and no less. But she was also still the same girl I'd known in high school; I'd dated her a few times in my senior year. 'It's good to see you again, Becky,' I said, saluting her with my glass and smiling. Then I took a sip, lowering my eyes. I wanted to get her talking on something else, before she got down to whatever the trouble was.
'Good to see you, Miles.' Becky took a deep breath and sat back in her chair, glass in hand; she knew what I was doing, and went along with it. 'Remember when you called for me once? We were going to a Hi-Y dance, and you had that writing on your forehead.'
I remembered, but raised my brows questioningly.
I grinned. 'Yeah, I remember.' Then I remembered something else. 'Becky, I heard about your divorce, of course; and I'm sorry.'
She nodded. 'Thanks, Miles. And I've heard about yours; I'm sorry, too.'
I shrugged. 'Guess we're lodge brothers now.'
'Yes.' She got down to business. 'Miles, I've come about Wilma.' Wilma was her cousin.
'What's the trouble?'
'I don't know.' Becky stared at her glass for a moment, then looked up at me again. 'She has a – ' she hesitated; people hate to give names to these things. 'Well, I guess you'd call it a delusion. You know her uncle – Uncle Ira?'
'Miles, she's got herself thinking that he
'How do you mean?' I took a sip from my glass. 'That they aren't really related?'
'No, no.' She shook her head impatiently. 'I mean she thinks he's' – one shoulder lifted in a puzzled shrug – 'an impostor, or something. Someone who only
I stared at Becky. I wasn't getting this; Wilma was raised by her aunt and uncle. 'Well, can't she tell?'
'No. She says he looks exactly like Uncle Ira, talks just like him, acts just like him – everything. She just knows it isn't Ira, that's all. Miles, I'm worried sick!' The tears sprang to her eyes again.
'Work on that drink,' I murmured, nodding at her glass, and I took a big swallow of mine, and sat back in my chair, staring at the ceiling, thinking about this. Wilma had her problems, but she was tough-minded and bright; about thirty-five years old. She was red-cheeked, short, and plump, with no looks at all; she never married, which is too bad. I'm certain she'd have liked to, and I think she'd have made a fine wife and mother, but that's how it goes. She ran the local rental library and greeting-card shop, and did a good job of it. She made a living out of it, anyway, which isn't so easy in a small town. Wilma hadn't turned sour or bitter; she had a shrewd, humorously cynical turn of mind; she knew what was what, and didn't fool herself. I couldn't see Wilma letting mental troubles get to her, but still, you never know. I looked back at Becky. 'What do you want me to do?'
'Come out there tonight, Miles.' She leaned forward across the desk, pleading. 'Right now, if you possibly can, before it gets dark. I want you to look at Uncle Ira, talk to him; you've known him for years.'
I had my glass raised halfway to my mouth, but I set it back down on the desk, staring at Becky. 'What do you mean? What're you talking about, Becky? Don't you think he's Ira?'
She flushed. 'Of course; of course I do!' Suddenly she was biting her lips, shaking her head helplessly from side to side. 'Oh, I don't know, Miles, I don't