He, too, watched Blanche, waiting for signs of restoring animation, waiting for the
beginnings of breakdown in the elf’s control.
The elf said, "When is your larva returning from its place of instruction? I need
"Soon, soon," said Prentiss nervously. He looked at his wristwatch. Actually, Jan,
Junior, would be back, yelling for a slab of cake and milk, in something like fifteen
"Fill 'er up," he said urgently. "Fill 'er up."
The elf sipped gaily. He said, "Once the larva arrives, you can go."
"Only to the library. You’ll have to get volumes on electronics. I’ll need the details
on how to build television, telephones, all that. I’ll need to have rules on wiring,
instructions for constructing vacuum tubes. Details, Prentiss, details! We have tremendous
tasks ahead of us. Oil drilling, gasoline refining, motors, scientific agriculture. We’ll build a
new Avalon, you and I. A technical one. A scientific fairyland. We will create a new world."
"Great!" said Prentiss. "Here, don’t neglect your drink."
"You see. You are catching fire with the idea," said the elf. "And you will be
rewarded. You will have a dozen female man-things to yourself."
Prentiss looked at Blanche automatically. No signs of hearing, but who could tell?
He said, "I’d have no use for female man-to-for women, I mean."
"Come now," said the elf censoriously, "be truthful. You men-things are well
known to our folk as lecherous, bestial creatures. Mothers frightened their young for
generations by threatening them with men-things. . . Young, ah!" He lifted the glass of
eggnog in the air and said, "To my own young," and drained it.
"Fill 'er up," said Prentiss at once. "Fill 'er up."
The elf did so. He said, "I’ll have lots of children. I’ll pick out the best of the
coleoptresses and breed my line. I’ll continue the mutation. Right now I’m the only one,
but when we have a dozen or fifty, I’ll interbreed them and develop the race of the superelf.
A race of electro-ulp-electronic marvels and infinite future. . . . If I could only drink
more. Nectar! The original nectar!"
There was the sudden noise of a door being flung open and a young voice calling,
"Mom! Hey, Mom!"
The elf, his glossy eyes a little dimmed, said, "Then we’ll begin to take over the
men-things. A few believe already; the rest we will-urp-teach. It will be the old days, but
better; a more efficient elfhood, a tighter union."
Jan, Junior's, voice was closer and tinged with impatience. "Hey, Mom! Ain’t you
Prentiss felt his eyes popping with tension. Blanche sat rigid. The elf’s speech was
slightly thick, his balance a little unsteady. If Prentiss were going to risk it, now, now was
"Sit back," said the elf peremptorily. "You’re being foolish. I knew there was
alcohol in the eggnog from the moment you thought your ridiculous scheme. You menthings
are very shifty. We elves have many proverbs about you. Fortunately, alcohol has
little effect upon us. Now if you had tried catnip with just a touch of honey in it . . . Ah,
here is the larva. How are you, little man-thing?"
The elf sat there, the goblet of eggnog halfway to his mandibles, while Jan, Junior,
stood in the doorway. Jan, Junior's, ten-year-old face was moderately smeared with dirt,
his hair was immoderately matted and there was a look of the utmost surprise in his gray
eyes. His battered schoolbooks swayed from the end of the strap he held in his hand.
He said, "Pop! What’s the matter with Mom? And-and what’s that?"
The elf said to Prentiss, "Hurry to the library. No time must be lost. You know the
books I need." All trace of incipient drunkenness had left the creature and Prentiss'
morale broke. The creature had been playing with him.
Prentiss got up to go.
The elf said, "And nothing human; nothing sneaky; no tricks. Your wife is still a
hostage. I can use the larva’s mind to kill her; it’s good enough for that. I wouldn’t want to
do it. I’m a member of the Elfitarian Ethical Society and we advocate considerate
treatment of mammals so you may rely on my noble principles if you do as I say."
Prentiss felt a strong compulsion to leave flooding him. He stumbled toward the
Jan, Junior, cried, "Pop, it can talk! He says he’ll kill Mom! Hey, don’t go away!"
Prentiss was already out of the room, when he heard the elf say, "Don’t stare at
me, larva. I will not harm your mother if you do exactly as I say. I am an elf, a fairy. You
know what a fairy is, of course."
And Prentiss was at the front door when he heard Jan, Junior's, treble raised in
wild shouting, followed by scream after scream in Blanche’s shuddering soprano.
The strong, though invisible, elastic that was drawing Prentiss out the house
snapped and vanished. He fell backward, righted himself and darted back up the stairs.
Blanche, fairly saturated with quivering life, was backed into a corner, her arms
about a weeping Jan, Junior.
On the desk was a collapsed black carapace, covering a nasty smear of pulpiness
from which colorless liquid dripped.
Jan, Junior, was sobbing hysterically, "I hit it. I hit it with my school-books. It was
An hour passed and Prentiss felt the world of normality pouring back into the
interstices left behind by the creature from Avalon. The elf itself was already ash in the
incinerator behind the house and the only remnant of its existence was the damp stain at
the foot of his desk.
Blanche was still sickly pale. They talked in whispers.
Prentiss said, "How’s Jan, Junior?"
"He’s watching television."
"Is he all right?"
"Oh, he’s all right, but I’ll be having nightmares for weeks."
"I know. So will I unless we can get it out of our minds. I don’t think there’ll ever be
another of those-things here."
Blanche said, "I can’t explain how awful it was. I kept hearing every word he said,
even when I was down in the living room."
"It was telepathy, you see."
"I just couldn’t move. Then, after you left, I could begin to stir a bit. I tried to
scream but all I could do was moan and whimper. Then Jan, Junior, smashed him and all
at once I was free. I don’t understand how it happened."
Prentiss felt a certain gloomy satisfaction. "I think I know. I was under his control
because I accepted the truth of his existence. He held you in check through me. When I
left the room, increasing distance made it harder to use my mind as a psychic lens and
you could begin moving. By the time I reached the front door, the elf thought it was time
to switch from my mind to Jan, Junior’s. That was his mistake."
"In what way?" asked Blanche.
"He assumed that all children believe in fairies, but he was wrong. Here in America
today children don’t believe in fairies. They never hear of them. They believe in Tom
Corbett, in Hopalong Cassidy, in Dick Tracy, in Howdy Doody, in Superman and a dozen
other things, but not in fairies.
"The elf just never realized the sudden cultural changes brought about by comic
books and television, and when he tried to grab Jan, Junior’s mind, he couldn’t. Before
he could recover his psychic balance, Jan, Junior, was on top of him in a swinging panic
because he thought you were being hurt and it was all over.
"It’s like I’ve always said, Blanche. The ancient folk motifs of legend survive only in
the modern fantasy magazine, and modem fantasy is purely adult fare. Do you finally see
Blanche said humbly, "Yes, dear."
Prentiss put his hands in his pockets and grinned slowly. "You know, Blanche, next
time I see Walt Rae, I think I’ll just drop a hint that I write the stuff. Time the neighbors
knew, I think."
Jan, Junior, holding an enormous slice of buttered bread, wandered into his
father’s study in search of the dimming memory. Pop kept slapping him on the back and
Mom kept putting bread and cake in his hands and he was forgetting why. There had
been this big old thing on the desk that could talk . . .
It had all happened so quickly that it got mixed up in his mind.
He shrugged his shoulders and, in the late afternoon sunlight, looked at the partly
typewritten sheet in his father’s typewriter, then at the small pile of paper resting on the
He read a while, curled his lip and muttered, "Gee whiz. Fairies again. Always kid
stuff!" and wandered off.