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#### CHILD STARTS FIRE DEVASTATING WISCONSIN TOWN
It was one of their last issues.
Brock thought it was strange to be left in charge of the estate. But a lot of funny things had been happening lately.
First Mr. Rossman had gone. That was not unusual, though the reason this time was certainly new. Then, the very next day, Stan Wilmer had been attacked by the pigs when he went in to feed them. They charged him, grunting and squealing, stamping him down under their heavy bodies, and several had to be shot before they left him. Most had rushed the fence then, hitting it together and breaking through and disappearing into the woods. Wilmer was pretty badly hurt and had to be taken to the hospital; he swore he'd never come back.
Brock was in too much of a daze, too full of the change within himself, to care. He didn't have much to do, anyway, now that all work except the most essential was suspended. He looked after the, animals, careful to treat them well and to wear a gun at his hip, and had little trouble. Joe was always beside him. The rest of the time he sat around reading, or just with his chin in his hand to think.
Bill Bergen called him in a couple of days after the pig episode. The overseer didn't seem to have changed much, not outwardly. He was still tall and sandy and slow-spoken, with the same toothpick worried between his lips, the same squinted pale eyes. But he spoke even more slowly and cautiously than he had done before to Brock—or did it only seem that way?
"Well, Archie," he said, "Rogers just quit."
Brock shifted from one foot to another, looking at the floor.
"Said he wanted to go to college. I couldn't talk him out of it." Bergen's voice held a faintly amused contempt. "The idiot. There won't _be_ any more colleges in another month. That leaves just you and my wife and Voss and me."
"Kind of short-handed," mumbled Brock, feeling he ought to say something.
"One man can do the bare essentials if he must," said Bergen. "Lucky it's summer. The horses and cows can stay outdoors, which saves barn cleaning."
"How about the crops?"
"Not much to do there yet. To hell with them, anyway."
Brock stared upward. In all his years on the place, Bergen had been the steadiest and hardest worker they had.
"You've gotten smart like the rest of us, haven't you, Archie?" asked Bergen.
"I daresay you're about up to normal now—pre-change normal, I mean."
Brock's face grew hot.
"Sorry, I didn't mean anything personal. You're a good man." Bergen's voice was growing dreamy now, he spoke as if from very far away. "Let me ask you a question. Little brain teaser. You got an island four feet on a side in the middle of a square lake twenty feet on a side. You want to get over to the island without swimming, and you've got two boards, each six feet long. It's eight feet from the lakeshore to the island, remember. How do you get across?"
"Why, uh, nail the boards together—"
"Well, uh, let's see—" Brock scratched his head, squinting with concentration.
"I, gee, I dunno—Oh, yes. I got it. Lay one board across a corner of the lake.
Lay the other one from the middle of the first one to the corner of the island. That's it, I think."
"You'll do," said Bergen. He sat for a moment fiddling with the papers on his desk. Then: "Okay, Archie, you're in charge here now."
" _Huh?_ "
"I'm leaving too."
"But, Bill—you can't—"
"Can and will, Archie." Bergen stood up. "You know, my wife always wanted to travel, and I have some things to think out. Never mind what they are, it's something I've puzzled over for many years and now I believe I see an answer.
We're taking our car and heading west."
"But—but—Mr. Rossman—he's de-pen-ding on you, Bill—"
"I'm afraid that there are more important things in life than Mr. Rossman's country retreat," said Bergen evenly. "You can handle the place all right, even if Voss leaves too."
Fright and bewilderment lashed into scorn: "Scared of the animals, huh?"
"Why, no, Archie. Always remember that you're still brighter than they are, and what's more important, you have hands. A gun will stop anything." Bergen walked over to the window and looked out. It was a bright windy day with sunlight torn in the restless branches of trees. "As a matter of fact," he went on in the same gentle, remote tone, "a farm is safer than any other place I can think of. If the production and distribution systems break down, as they may, you'll still have something to eat. But my wife and I aren't getting any younger. I've been a steady, sober, conscientious man all my life. Now I wonder what all the fuss and the lost years were about."
He turned his back. "Good-bye, Archie." It was a command.
Brock went out into the yard, shaking his head and muttering to himself. Joe whined uneasily and nuzzled his palm. He ruffled the golden fur and sat down on a bench and put his head in his hands.
_The trouble is_ , he thought, _that while the animals and I got smarter, so did everybody else. God in heaven—what sort of things are going on inside Bill Bergen's skull?_
It was a terrifying concept. The speed and scope and sharpness of his own mind were suddenly cruel. He dared not think what a normal human might be like by now.
Only it was hard to realize. Bergen hadn't become a god. His eyes didn't blaze, his voice was not vibrant and resolute, he didn't start building great engines that flamed and roared. He was still a tall stoop-shouldered man with a weary face and a patient drawl, nothing else. The trees were still green, a bird chattered behind a rosebush, a fly rested cobalt-blue on the arm of the bench.
Brock remembered, vaguely, sermons from the few times he had been in church.
The end of the world—was the sky going to open up, would the angels pour down the vials of wrath on a shaking land, and would God appear to judge the sons of man? He listened for the noise of great galloping hoofs, but there was only the wind in the trees.
That was the worst of it. The sky didn't care. The Earth went on turning through an endlessness of dark and silence, and what happened in the thin scum seething over its crust didn't matter.
_Nobody cared. It wasn't important._
Brock looked at his scuffed shoes and then at the strong hairy hands between his knees. They seemed impossibly alien, the hands of a stranger. _Sweet Lord_ , he thought, _is this really happening to me_?
He grabbed Joe by the ruffed neck and held him close. Suddenly he had a wild need for a woman. It wasn't that he had the old hunger for her, not that, he just wanted someone to hold him and talk to him and block out the loneliness of the sky.
He got up, sweat cold on his body, and walked over to the Bergens' cottage. It was his now, he supposed.
Voss was a young fellow, a kid from town who wasn't very bright and hadn't been able to find any other employment. He looked moodily up from a book as the other man entered the small living room.
"Well," said Brock, "Bill just quit."
"I know," said Voss. "What're we gonna do?"
"Stay here." Brock shrugged, aware that Voss was scared and weak and willing to surrender leadership. Bergen must have foreseen that. The sense of responsibility was strengthening.
"We'll be all right if we stay here," said Brock. "Just wait it out, keep going, that's all."
"You got a gun, don't you? Anyway, they'll know when they're well off. Just be careful, always lock the gates behind you, treat 'em good—"
"I'm not gonna wait on any damn animals," said Voss sullenly.
"That you are, though." Brock went over to the icebox and took out two cans of beer and opened them.
"Look here, I'm smarter than you are, and—"
"And I'm stronger'n you. If you don't like it, you can quit. I'm staying."
Brock gave Voss one can of beer and tilted the other to his mouth.
"Look," he said after a moment, "I know those animals. They're mostly habit.
They'll stick around because they don't know any better and because we feed
'em and because—uh—respect for man has been drilled into 'em. There ain't no bears or wolves in the woods, nothing that can give us trouble except maybe the pigs. Me, I'd he more scared to be in a city."
"How come?" Despite himself, Voss was overmastered. He laid down the book and took up his beer. Brock glanced at the title— _Night of Passion_ , in a two- bit edition. Voss might have gained a better mind, but that didn't change him otherwise. He just didn't _want_ to think.
"The people," said Brock. "God knows what they'll do." He went over to the radio and turned it on and presently got a newscast. It didn't mean much to him; mostly it was about the wave of new brain power, but the words were strung together in a way that didn't make a lot of sense. The voice sounded frightened, though.
After lunch, Brock decided to take a scout through the woods and see if he couldn't locate the pigs and find what they were up to. They worried him more than he would admit. They could perfectly well take care of themselves in the wild, and they seemed to have realized what man did to them, keeping them penned in their own filth and killing and maiming them at his pleasure. Pigs had always been smarter than most people knew. They might also get to thinking about the stores of feed kept on a farm watched by only two men.
"Of course," he said aloud to Joe, "they ain't got a language. They couldn't'a learned English yet, and I don't think those grunts and squeals ever meant much. Still, I dunno. And they might not need a language anyway."
The dog thumped his tail on the ground. Brock wondered how much he really knew.
Voss wasn't even asked to come; he'd have refused, and in any event it was wise to keep one man on guard at home. Brock and Joe went over the fence and into the hundred acres of forest alone.
It was green and shadowy and full of rustling in there. Brock went quietly, a rifle under one arm, parting the underbrush before him with habitual ease. He saw no squirrels, though they were ordinarily plentiful. Well—they must have thought it out, the way crows had done long ago, and seen that a man with a gun was something to stay away from. He wondered how many eyes were watching him, and what was going on behind the eyes. Joe stuck close to his heels, not bounding on all sides as he normally did.
An overlooked branch slapped viciously at the man's face. He stood for an instant of creeping fear. Were the trees thinking too, now?
No—After a moment he got control of himself and went stolidly on along the sheep trail. To be changed by this—whatever-it-was—a thing had to be able to think in the first place. Trees had no brains. He seemed to recall hearing once that insects didn't either, and made a note to check up on this. Good thing that Mr. Rossman had a big library.
And a good thing, Brock realized, that he himself was steady. He had never gotten too excited about anything, and was taking the new order more calmly than seemed possible. One thing at a time, that was it. Just go along from day to day, doing as much as he could to stay alive.
The thicket parted before him and a pig looked out. It was an old black boar, a big mean-looking creature which stood immovably in his path. The snouted face was a mask, but Brock had never seen anything so cold as his eyes. Joe bristled, growling, and Brock lifted the rifle. They stood that way for a long time, not moving. Then the boar grunted—it seemed contemptuous—and turned and slipped into the shadows. Brock realized that his body was wet.
He forced himself to go on for a couple of hours, ranging the woods but seeing little. When he came back, he was sunk in thought. The animals had changed, all right, but he had no way of telling how much, or what they would do next.
"I been on the phone," said Voss when he entered the cottage. "Called up the neighboring farms and the town. Most people are just sitting tight, trying to organize something. A lot have left, though, nobody knows where."
"Yeah," grunted Brock.
"I been thinking. Maybe we should move in with another farmer. Ralph Martinson invited us to. He needs extra help, now his hired man has quit."
Voss gave him a cool glance. "Because you don't want to go back to being a moron, huh?"
Brock winced, but made his answer flat. "Call it what you like."
"I'm not going to stay here forever."
"Nobody asked you to. Come on, it's about time for the milking."
"Judas, what'll we do with the milk from thirty cows? The creamery truck ain't come around for three days."
"Mmmm—yeah—Well, I'll figger out something. Right now, we can't let 'em bust their udders."
"Can't we just?" muttered Voss, but followed him out to the barn.
Milking thirty cows was a big job, even with a couple of machines to help.
Brock decided to dry up most of them, but that would take some time; you had to taper them off gradually. Meanwhile they were restless and hard to control.
He came out and took a pitchfork and began throwing hay over the fence to the sheep, which had flocked in from the woods as usual. Halfway through the job, he was roused by Joe's wild yammer. He turned and saw the farm's enormous Holstein bull approaching.
_He's loose!_ Brock's hand went to the pistol at his belt, then back to his fork. A popgun wasn't much use against such a monster. The bull snorted, pawing the ground and shaking his horn-cropped head.
"Okay, fella." Brock went slowly toward him, wiping sandy lips with his tongue. The noise of his heart was loud in his ears. "Okay, easy, back to the pen with yuh."
Joe snarled, stiff-legged beside his master. The bull lowered his head and charged.
Brock braced himself. The giant before him seemed to fill the sky. At the last moment, he flicked aside. Joe sprang, closing his teeth on the sensitive nose.
The bull bellowed and shook the dog loose. Blood ran from his torn nostrils.
Whirling, incredibly fast for his bulk, he rushed down on the man again.
Brock stabbed under the jaw. It was a mistake, he realized wildly; he should have gone for the eyes. The fork ripped out of his hands and he felt a blow that knocked him to the ground. The bull ground his head against Brock's chest, trying to gore with horns that weren't there.
Suddenly he bellowed again. There was a horror of pain in his voice. Joe had come behind him and fastened jaws in the right place. The bull turned, one hoof grating along Brock's ribs. The man got his gun out and fired from the ground. The bull began to run. Brock rolled over, scrambled to his feet, and sprang alongside the great head. He put the pistol behind one ear and fired.
The bull stumbled, falling to his knees. Brock took closer aim and fired again.
After that he collapsed on the body, whirling toward darkness. Joe sprang to lick his face and bark frantically.
Brock came to as Voss shook him. "Oooo-ough! Lemme go, will ya?"
He stumbled erect, leaning on the other man. "Are yuh hurt, Archie?" The words gibbered meaninglessly on his ears. "Are yuh hurt?"
Brock let Voss lead him into the cottage. After a stiff drink he felt better and inspected himself. "I'm all right," he muttered. "Bruises and cuts, no bones broke. I'm okay."
"That settles it." Voss was shaking worse than Brock. "We are leaving here."
The red head shook. "No."
"Are you crazy? Alone here, all the animals running wild, everything gone to hell—are you crazy?"
"I'm not! I got half a mind to make you come along."
Joe growled. "Don't," said Brock. He felt, suddenly, only an immense weariness. "You go if you want to, but leave me. I'll be all right."
"I'll herd some of the stock over to Martinson's tomorrow, if he'll take 'em.
I can handle the rest myself."
Voss argued for awhile longer, then gave up and took the jeep and drove away.
Brock smiled without quite knowing why he did.
He checked the bull's pen. The gate had been broken down by a determined push.
Half the power of fences had always lain in the fact that animals didn't know enough to keep shoving at them. Well, now they did, it seemed.
"I'll have to bury that fellow with a bulldozer," said Brock. It was becoming more and more natural for him to speak aloud to Joe. "Do it tomorrow. Let's have supper, boy, and then we'll read and play some music. We're alone now, I guess."