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John Carpenter's

 

DELETED SCENES:
Excerpts from Alan Dean Foster's novelization

Norris Comes and Gets MacReady

Garry mulled the idea over, not liking it much.  But he desperately wanted some explanations before both the weather and official inquiries started to come in.  Besides which, as Copper had pointed out, there might be injured needing help at the Norwegian station.  What would the official reaction be if he didn't make an effort to help them?

Palmer took the last hit off his joint.  "Shit, Doc.  I'll give you a lift if --"

Garry interrupted him sharply.  "Forget it, Palmer."  He turned back to Copper, who was waiting patiently for a decision.  "Doc, you're such a pain in the ass."

"Only when I'm giving certain injections."

"Oh hell."  The station manager turned away to hide his smile.  "Norris, go get MacReady."

A few easy laughs filled the room.  Norris grinned at his superior.  "MacReady ain't going nowhere.  Bunkered in 'til spring.  Who says humans can't hibernate?"

"Neveready MacReady," Bennings muttered.

Garry looked bored.  "Just go and get him."

"You're the boss, boss."  Norris headed toward the door.  "Anyway, he's probably ripped.  Palmer'll have to go anyhow."

Despite the familiarity bred of constant repetition, it took Norris several minutes to prepare himself to go outside.  Slogging along beneath sixty-five pounds of extra clothing, he made his way toward the outside door.

Wind hammered at his face as he pulled the door aside.  Instinctively, he held his lips apart so the saliva in his mouth wouldn't freeze them together.  Ice particles rattled on his snow goggles.

Maybe Bennings was right.  It seemed as he started up the stairs that the wind had let up slightly.  Windchill factor had fallen from the rapidly fatal to the merely intimidating.  Of course they had yet to experience a real winter storm.  They were still basking in comparatively mild autumn weather.

His destination was a shack one hundred yards from the main compound, connected to it by guide ropes and a wooden walkway.  A hundred yards on foot in the Antarctic seems like a hundred miles, even when the hiker is blessed by the presence of a visible destination.

He emerged from the stairs leading down into the central building and started along the boardwalk, his gloved hands sliding easily on the familiar slickness of the guide rope.  A few icicles drooped from it and broke off as his sliding fingers made contact with them.  He used the rope not only to guide himself but to pull his way up the slight slope.  Here arms had to compliment legs that had a tendency to go on strike after even brief exposure to the bitter cold.

It was comfortably warm inside the shack, which had double walls and radiant electric heat.  MacReady kept it as tropical as regulations would allow.  He hated the cold, hated it even worse than [Windows].  Isolation he didn't mind.  The mitigating factor was the pay, which was astounding.

He took the ice cubes from the little refrigerator and dropped them into the glass.  Amber liquid of impressive potency sloshed around the cubes.

"Bishop to knight four," said a calm voice that wasn't his.

He sipped at the whiskey and walked over to the table holding the game.  A large, gaily colored Vera Cruz sombrero hung from his neck and bounced gently against his back.  He bent to duck the naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

The shack was small, individualistic, and furnished in contemporary unkempt.  Garry called it a pigsty.  MacReady preferred the description "lived-in".  It was a point the station manager didn't press.  MacReady did his work.  Usually.

Several large posters of warm places provided interior color.  Naples, Rio, Jamaica, Acapulco, one blonde, and two redheads.  It was hot enough in the shack to make you sweat.

The electronic chessboard on the table was larger than the average model.  MacReady sat down and chuckled over his opponent's bad move.

"Poor little son of a bitch.  You're starting to lose it, aren't you?"

He thought a moment, then tapped in his move.  The machine's response was immediate.

"Pawn takes queen at knight four."  Electronically manipulated pieces quivered slightly as they shuffled across the board.

MacReady's grin slowly faded as he examined the new alignment.  Someone was pounding on his door.  He ignored the noise while brooding over his next move, finally entering the instructions.

Again pieces shifted.  "Rook to knight six," said the implacable voice from the board's internal speaker.  "Check."

The pounding was getting insistent.  MacReady's teeth ground together as he glared at the board.  He bent forward and opened a small flap on the side of the playing field.  Colored circuitry stared back at him as he dumped the remnants of his drink over them.  Snapping and popping burst from the machine, followed by a flash of sparks and very little smoke.

"Bishop to pawn three takes rook to queen five king to bishop two move pawn to pawn six to pawn seven to pawn eight to pawn nine to pawn to pawn to pawnnizzzzfisssttt*ttt*..."

MacReady listened until the gibberish stopped, then rose and stumbled toward the door, mumbling disgustedly to himself.

"... cheating bastard ... damn aberrant programming ... better get my money back ..."

Carefully he cracked open the door.  Heat burst past him, sucked toward the South Pole.  Norris pushed through and past him, a rush of snow following like a white remora.

"You jerking off or just pissed?" the geophysicist growled, slapping at his sides.  "Why the hell didn't you open up?"

MacReady said nothing but gestured toward the still smoking board.  "We got any replacement modules for these chess things down in supply?"

"How the hell would I know?  Get your gear on."

The chess game was suddenly forgotten.  MacReady regarded his visitor with sudden suspicion.  "What for?"

"What d'you think for?"

"Oh no."  He started backing away from Norris.  "No way.  Not a chance.  Huh-uh ..."

"Garry says --"

"I don't give a shit what Garry says."  Outside, the wind howled.  To MacReady it sounded hungry.

(Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 16-9)

 

The Second Norwegian Corpse

The recent conflagration that had seared the camp further strained the strength of the woodwork.  They could hear it creaking and complaining around them as they made their way up the tunnel.  Bits of ice and silt trickled down, landing in their hair and tickling their cheeks.

A broken beam lay crossways ahead of them, blocking the tunnel.  It still smoldered.  MacReady ducked to slip gingerly underneath, brushing it gently.  A shower of fine debris rained from the arched ceiling.

"Easy here, Doc.  This one belongs in the roof, not on the floor."

Copper crouched and passed under the beam.  It groaned but held steady.  They continued onward.

"Hey!"

"Mac?  Something wrong?"  Copper whirled, shining the light toward his companion.

MacReady was searching the wall behind him.  "Bumped into something.  Didn't feel like wood.  I thought it moved when I hit it.  Holy shit."  He grimaced.

The arm was sticking out of the edge of a steel door set into the corridor wall.  The elbow was about three feet off the ground.  The door was shut tight.  Fingers clutched a small welding torch.

Copper leaned close, examining the trapped limb.

"Watch it, Doc," MacReady warned him.  "Might still be gas running to that sucker."

"I don't think so."  Copper indicated the torch controls.  "The switch is in the on position, I think.  I don't smell anything."  He licked a finger, held it under the nozzle of the torch.  "Nothing.  Fuel burned or leaked out long ago."

MacReady tried the door.  It was unlocked and unlike the previous two they'd had to wrestle with, this one opened easily.  The arm dropped loosely to the floor.  It wasn't attached to anything anymore, having been severed as well as held in place by the door.  There was no sign of its former owner.

That was about enough as far as MacReady was concerned.  He turned away and coughed, feeling his stomach play ferris wheel inside his belly.  The dips and bobs of a wind-tossed helicopter didn't bother him, but this ...

"Christ," Copper mumbled.  He peered into the new passageway, raising the lantern high.  "Let's see where this one goes."

...

"Copper, come here!"

Now what, he wondered?  Found the owner of the arm they'd encountered in the other hall, maybe.  He shut off the recorder and rushed out of the room.

MacReady hadn't gone far.  Copper had to squeeze his greater bulk through the narrow opening leading to the next room and drew more of the dirty little avalanche that had greeted the pilot's initial entrance.

"Careful," MacReady warned with a gesture toward the ceiling.  "This one's ready to go."

The doctor flicked debris from his arms and walked over to join his companion.  MacReady was standing next to a huge block of ice.  A glance showed that it hadn't fallen from the ceiling.  Copper was no geologist, but he'd helped Norris often enough to know that this mass was composed of old ice, not newly formed material.

Automatically his orderly mind made approximations.  The block was about fifteen feet long and six wide, maybe four high.  It lay on the floor, too massive to rest on any table.  The edges showed signs of recent melting, a process halted by the freezing temperatures that had invaded the camp.

Other than its size, it was unremarkable.  "Block of ice," he said to MacReady.  "So what?"

MacReady leaned over the block, shining his flashlight downward.  "Check this out."

Copper moved nearer.  The center of the block had been thawed or scraped out.  It looked as if someone had tried to make the block into a huge frozen bathtub.

"What d'you make of this?"

Copper shook his head, thoroughly puzzled.  "Beats the hell out of me, Mac.  Glaciology's not my department.  Anything else here?"

"Don't know yet.  This caught my eye right off."  He turned away from the block, searching with the light until it caught a large metal cabinet standing against a wall.  Closer inspection revealed several Polaroid prints taped to its front.  They walked over to it.  The pictures showed men at work and play around the compound.

"At least something's intact," he murmured.  He put the shotgun carefully aside and held the flashlight in his mouth as he used both hands to try to open the cabinet.

The latch gave slightly, but the doors refused to come apart.  Stuck, decided.  Perhaps frozen.  He pulled again.  Dust trickled down from the top of the cabinet.  The partially collapsed ceiling was slightly blocking the tops of the doors.  He yanked again.  Something groaned overhead.

Copper took a step back, eyeing the roof warily.  "Watch it, Mac."

MacReady readied himself, shot a cursory glance at the unstable ceiling, and pulled hard.  Too hard.  The doors flew open and he stumbled backward, fighting for balance.

Large chunks of insulation and wood tumbled from the roof.  MacReady coughed and waved at the dust as he made his way back toward the cabinet.

The contents were a disappointment, not that he'd expected to find much.  His struggle with the doors produced no revelations.  Some of the shelves were empty.  Others supported small scientific instruments, several programmable calculators, racks of slides, a few unbroken beakers, and some glass tubing.

His flashlight focused on a large photograph taped to the inside of one door.  Five men filled the picture.  They stood arm in arm, all smiles, holding glasses in a mutual toast.  It was an exterior shot, taken somewhere outside the camp.

In front of them on the snow lay the block of ice.  The photo made it appear larger.  Perhaps some of it had melted in transit, MacReady decided.  It was obviously set out for the benefit of the camera, though he couldn't decide from looking at the photo whether the men were toasting it or each other.

He looked over his shoulder at the block of ice, back at the photo, then at the ice again.  There was no doubt in his mind that the block in the picture and the one resting five feet away were one and the same.  The dimensions of the one in the picture might be slightly greater but the proportions were identical.

He carefully untaped the photo and slipped it into a coat pocket, then reclosed the cabinet doors.

As he did so more debris tumbled from the ceiling; wood, plaster, fiberglass insulation, and something else.  Something cold but still soft.  MacReady screamed; Copper gaped.

The corpse was missing an arm, but was still heavy enough to knock MacReady down ...

(Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 29-34)

 

MacReady and his "Friend"

The wall clocks in the complex read four-thirty.  Only night-lights illuminated the corridors and storage areas, the empty rec room, and the deserted kitchen.  Snoring issued softly from behind closed doors.  Sleep came easily in the white land.

Only one section was still occupied.  As dazed as he was determined, MacReady sat in the little pub and continued staring at the television screen.  He was on the last of the Norwegian videotapes.

At the moment he was keeping one eye on the screen while inflating a roughly irregular flesh-toned balloon.  This mysterious object soon took on the crude outline of a full-sized woman.  MacReady's wind was weak and he was having a hard time of it.  His polyethylene paramour's proportions fluctuated with his unsteady breathing.

Something on the tape caught his attention and he stopped suddenly.  Holding the filler tube clamped shut with one hand he reached up and hit the rewind.  Pictures streaked the wrong way like a bad movie until he touched "play" again.  He squinted at the screen.

There were the Norwegians again, working against a pale sky.  No blowing snow obscured the picture.  They were dressed for heavy outdoor work.

As he watched they separated and spread out.  The picture momentarily showed waving sky as the cameraman changed his position without turning off the camera.  When it steadied again it showed the team of foreign researchers standing on flat, wind-scoured ice.  Their arms were outstretched toward one another as if they were trying to measure something.

Within the circumference of their outstretched arms was a huge, dark stain on the ice.  The perimeter they'd formed with their bodies encompassed only one small section of a sweeping curve.

That was what had attracted MacReady's faltering attention.  The dark stain seemed to lie beneath the surface than on top of it.

The picture went to black, then came to life again.  He could hear the Norwegians mumbling in the background. 

The location hadn't changed but time had passed.  In the background the sky showed blue rather than white.  The Norwegians could be seen moving around the dark, roughly oval shape.  They had its boundaries clearly marked off with little flags set on ice probes.

Again the scene faded.  When the picture returned MacReady found himself watching three men with ice drills boring holes in a little triangle above the center of the dark oval.  The camera swayed as its operator moved in close to shoot downward.

Black, then picture again.  The camera was shooting down into a large hole in the ice.  Something dark and metallic showed at the bottom.  MacReady leaned closer, now more than slightly curious.

The next sequence showed the men using the drills to sink small, widely scattered holes into the ice at various points above the oval, using new flags as positioning marks.  Others moved around the drill sites, working on their hands and knees with small boxes.

MacReady frowned, mumbling to himself.  "Too much to drill out.  Decanite, maybe?  Or thermite charges?"

The next time the picture cleared, the little flags were hanging limply from their staffs.  The view was from far away and there wasn't a Norwegian in sight.  Several small explosions kicked up clouds of powdered ice, confirming the pilot's guess as to what the men on their knees had been doing while temporarily obscuring the view of the oval.

Suddenly the view yawed wildly.  Something rumbled over the monitor.  Then the camera seemed to be thrown through the air as a tremendous explosion strained the bass range of the television's tiny speaker.  A startled MacReady jumped out of the chair.  Suddenly he was awake.

"What in ...?"

The tape continued to play, the picture now badly distorted, showing only white ground.  A jagged dark line ran the length of the picture.  It took MacReady a couple of seconds to realize that the line represented a crack in the camera lens.

Forgetting his airy companion, MacReady jabbed the rewind button.  The rejected mannequin went sputtering around the pub until it ran out of air and crumpled limply to the floor.

(Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 54-6)

 

Discovering Fuchs' Body in the Greenhouse

Childs opened the door carefully and peered into the exposed room.  Empty.  He closed the door quietly, moved a few yards down the hallway and opened the divider.  The corridor ahead was also deserted.

"What'd we ever do to these Things, anyway?" a voice said close behind him.

The mechanic whirled and glared down at Palmer.  The pilot had been mumbling to himself and had fallen a few steps behind his companion.

The abruptness of Childs' move brought Palmer to a startled halt.  "What ...?"

"Don't walk behind me."

"Walk behind ...?"  Realization dawned.  Normally Palmer could let his mind drift langorously, but not now.  This wasn't the time for idle introspection.  "Oh yeah ... right."

He moved up until he was standing next to the opposite wall, across from the mechanic.  "This better?"

"Much better," Childs agreed.  He moved past the divider and into the next section of corridor.  They continued that way, neither man advancing ahead of or falling far behind his partner.  The jerky, awkward mutual lockstep did nothing to loosen the tension between them.

It was cold in the side corridor.  The generator was still struggling to replace the heat lost during its temporary shutdown.

Palmer stood by as Childs methodically undid the locks sealing the plant room.  It took time.  The pilot didn't enjoy waiting.  He would greatly have preferred to wait back in the rec room.  But orders were orders.  At least Mac hadn't forced him to go with the jittery [Windows].

Eventually Childs turned the last dial and pulled the heavy door aside.  An unexpected gust of wind-driven snow made the two surprised men step backward.  Childs put his head down and moved into it, wedging his body against the doorjamb.  Palmer hung close to him.

"My babies," the mechanic murmured, ignoring the cold and the wind as he entered the modified storage closet.

The carefully machined skylight had been smashed.  Glass littered the floor, some still attached to the hand-welded metal frames.  The plants were dead.  Their crowns touched the floor, unable to stand straight under the weight of accumulated ice.

Palmer's eyes widened as he took in first the gap in the ceiling, then the forest of little green stalagmites.  "Somebody broke in," he whispered fearfully, "or out."

Childs didn't seem to hear.  "Now who'd go and do a thing like this?"  A whole year's off-time cultivation, careful work with the makeshift hydroponics, all shot to hell.  He took a step farther into the room.

Fear giving him necessary strength, Palmer reached in and quickly yanked the mechanic back.

"Childs ... no!"

The bigger man turned on him.  "Let go of me, man, before I ..."  He raised a threatening fist.

"No, no."  Palmer let go of Childs' shirt and backed off, pleading with him.  "Don't stay in there."  His gaze went to the hole in the roof.  "Don't get near the plants.  They look like they're frozen, but we can't be sure.  The plants, they're alive.  Those Things can imitate anything living, remember?  Any kind of organic construction."

Childs hesitated, reflexively moving his feet away from the nearest growth.  "What's it going to do, being a plant?  Grow up my leg?"

"I don't know, but we can't take any chances."  Palmer was carrying one of the portable torches Childs and MacReady had fashioned.  Now he was checking the flow valve as he pointed it toward the storage room.

"We got to burn 'em."

Childs gaze narrowed.  "Now hold on just a minute, you dumb -" He took a step toward the pilot.

Palmer dodged around him and activated the torch.  A narrow trail of fire sprayed past the mechanic.  Ice melted instantly and the plants underneath ignited, burning like thin green candles.  A pungent smoke drifted out into the hallway.

Childs gave Palmer a shove, and started dancing on the flames in a futile attempt to the put the fire out.

"You stupid, ignorant son of a -"

Palmer screamed.  He'd started to turn away and his gaze had fallen on the door blocking the corridor.  The door had swung lazily inward on its hinges, and now stood half closed.  Childs stopped stomping and stared past the pilot.

Staring at them from the back of the door was the frozen body of Fuchs.  An axe was imbedded in his chest, pinning him to the wood.  His eyes were still open.  Together with the expression on his face, they effectively mirrored whatever had killed him.

Palmer was still screaming.

Norris heard it and jumped up from his seat in the recreation room.  Common sense fought with orders.  He looked at the couch.  All three of his charges were still tightly bound and sleeping off their drug-induced stupor.

Still, MacReady had ordered him not to leave the room.  He settled for throwing the alarm.

[Windows] had arrived in the storage area after finishing up outside.  Now he gazed in fascination at the corpse of the young biologist as the siren continued to wail around them.

He put both hands on the axe and tried to wrench it out.  It wouldn't shift, let alone break free.  The sharp head was completely buried in Fuchs' chest and into the door beyond.

The radio operator gave up.  Stepping back he eyed Childs' hulking frame and said pointedly, "Whoever put this through him is one bad-ass and strong mother."

Childs moved closer, carefully inspecting the gruesome sight.  He made a fist and hammered on the handle of the axe.  It quivered slightly but didn't loosen.  His tone was subdued rather than offended when he turned to the radio operator.

"No one's this strong, boy."

"I just got back in, heard the siren," [Windows] told them.

"What about MacReady and Nauls?"  Palmer was trying hard not to look at the corpse.

"I think they're on their way in.  They were just behind me."  He shrugged.  "Qien sabe?"

Childs nodded thoughtfully.  "All right.  You both remember the orders.  That siren goes off, everybody beats it back to the rec room.  Wonder what set it off early."

Palmer looked elsewhere.  "Norris probably heard me scream."

"Yeah, and he doesn't know why.  Sensible reaction."  He clapped the pilot on the shoulder.  "Hey, forget it, man.  The wonder is that we all aren't running around screaming our damn heads off.  Let's get back there.  We can do some checking on the way."

They made good time, opening and closing doors to rooms or hallways as they ran, even rechecking those they'd already inspected.  But despite the momentary feeling of closeness they'd shared back in the storage area, Palmer still kept his distance from Childs, Childs kept clear of the pilot, and [Windows] stayed clear from both of them.

"I don't understand," Palmer was saying as they ran, "why didn't it take control of Fuchs?  Isn't that its number ... to get more recruits?"

Childs considered the question as he opened the door to a closet.  It contained several metal buckets full of sand and a large fire extinguisher.  That was all.  He slammed it shut and moved to the next door.

"I guess it didn't have enough time.  The generator was out what, thirty minutes?  Twenty?  Takes the bastards about an hour or maybe more to take control of somebody, remember?  Maybe it got started on him and when the lights came back on, it figured it had a choice between trying to hide out and finish the job or splitting and preserving its cover.  It could hardly leave Fuchs standing around to tell the rest of us who the mystery guest is.  So it offed him."

"Yeah, but why Fuchs?" [Windows] wanted to know.  The next room held steel canisters, cold air, and nothing alive.  They moved on.  "Why not MacReady, or you or me?  The lights were out all over camp.  It could've jumped any one of us."

"Maybe none of the rest of us were as accessible or alone at the time," Childs suggested.  "But I wouldn't bet that was the reason."  His thoughts were churning.  "Fuchs was supposed to come up with a new test for this thing, remember?  He must have been onto something.  These bastards got scared and got rid of him.  Maybe they didn't even bother to try taking him over.  Probably were more concerned about getting rid of him."

(Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 144, 149-152)

 

Out on the Ice Fields

In the lingering darkness of the Antarctic winter, morning was reduced to an abstract remembrance of another world.  Your body functioned according to a preset schedule, not badly confused natural urges.

Come breakfast time you had to make do without the comforting arrival of a warming sunrise.  Nauls did his best to compensate for its absence with a buffet of eggs, bacon, toast, jellies and butter, country-fried potatoes, and hot or cold cereal.

The feast was necessary as well as welcome.  Below sixty degrees latitude, calories vanished as fast as civilization.  There were no fat researchers or workers at any of the many international stations scattered around the continent.  Even if you'd been overweight all your life, a year's stay in Antarctica would melt away your surplus bulk.  It was a phenomenon even the earliest explorers had noticed.

The only ones who could keep weight on in Antarctica were the seals and whales.  Most of the men and women who sojourned near the South Pole agreed there were easier ways to lose weight, however.

The mess hall was a long, narrow room, not much wider than the access corridors that connected it to the rest of the camp.  At the moment it was filling up with hungry, half-awake men.

Copper intercepted Nauls as the cook was bringing in another load of toast and biscuits.  The doctor slipped an innocuous-looking blue capsule onto the tray.

Nauls studied it and smiled at the doc.  "Hey, I already took my vitamins today."

"It's not for you," Copper told him quietly.  "Put this in Blair's juice before you take him his tray."

"You still think he's dangerous?"

"I hope not.  But he needs more than one night to cool down, emotionally as well as physically.  This'll help him to relax."  He nudged the pill away from the toast.

Nauls shrugged.  "You're the doctor."

He was just setting the tray down on the table after having pocketed the pill when Clark burst into the room.  Everyone turned to stare at the dog handler.  Conversation ceased.  He was pale and out of breath.

"The dogs ..." he gasped.  Without elaborating or waiting for a response, he whirled and shot back down the hallway.

"Shit, what now?" somebody muttered as eggs and coffee were abandoned.

The kennel was empty.  Dry dog food lay untouched in the metal trough.  The big water can was full to the brim.  There was no sign of any disturbance.

At the far end of the kennel was the ingenious dog door.  It led to a narrow ramp that rose to the surface.  Clark used it to take the dogs outside when it was time to exercise them, so he wouldn't have to run them through a camp hallway.  Wind whistled along the door's edges.

Clark and Garry examined the latch, which normally held the door shut.  It was carefully designed so that no dog could accidentally open it.

"It's not broken?"  The station manager spoke quietly as he fingered the insulated backing of the metal.

"It's not."  Clark tapped the latch.  "This was wide open when I came in this morning.  I know I latched it.  I always check it before going to bed."

Garry's gaze went to the ceiling.  "Outside clothes.  Let's get topside and have a look around."

Daily duties were momentarily put aside as the men scrambled into heavy outer clothing.

You could see outside, but just barely.  Blowing snow obscured the harsh yellow glare that fell from the argon lamps ringing the compound.

The snow was light and the dog tracks were clearly visible on the ground above the kennel.  They led from the ramp straight out into the darkness.  The men gathered around as Clark bent over them.

"Three sets of paw prints," he announced, tracing them with his glove.  "No question about that.  All three of them took off together."

MacReady stood nearby, writing with a gas-powered pen on a small pad.

Copper was staring northwestward, into the last remnants of daylight, shielding his goggles from the blowing ice particles.  "How long do you suppose they've been gone?"

Clark pondered the question.  "I haven't seen them since checking the latch last night.  Could be as much as ten or twelve hours."

MacReady looked up from his list.  His face was grim as he followed Copper's gaze.  "They couldn't have gotten far in this weather.  Probably they had to stop soon after they left and hole up somewhere for the night."

Several of the men turned uncertainly toward the pilot.

"You're not thinking of going after them, are you?" Garry asked him.  "I know I've pushed you a little hard about flying in bad weather lately, Mac, but ..."

"Damn right I'm going after them," MacReady snapped, putting away the pen.

"What in hell for?"  Norris eyed the pilot as though MacReady were proposing an unnecessary trip to the seventh level of Dante's Inferno.

Norris continued.  "Even if Blair's right and one of them isn't ... isn't a dog anymore, they'll just die out there.  There's no food, not even a solitary penguin.  Not even a damn spider.  They're over a thousand miles from anything but ice and rock."

"Besides which," Palmer put in with unaccustomed lucidity, "the choppers aren't going to be ready for days, if ever."

MacReady ignored them both and handed the list he'd been preparing to Bennings.  "Get these things out of supply and meet me over by the snowmobiles."

Garry stared at the pilot in disbelief.  "You're not going to catch them in one of those with the head start they've got."

"Like I said, they probably spent most of the night huddled somewhere for warmth.  They're not bats, dammit.  And we don't know that they've been gone the whole ten or twelve hours."  He looked sharply at his assistant.  "Palmer, how long would it take you to strap those big four-cylinder carburetors onto the bikes?"

"What fo... oh, yeah, I get you."  He smiled, relishing the opportunity.  He'd always wanted to try that with the snowmobiles, but Garry and Mac had forbidden it.  Now he'd have the chance.  Not the same as monkeying with a Corvette block, but it'd be fun nonetheless.

"Then get a move on," MacReady urged him.  The younger man turned and jogged off toward the big maintenance barn.  "Childs, you come with me.  We got work to do."

MacReady put his arm around the big mechanic and the two strolled off into the snow, chatting animatedly.  Slightly bewildered, the rest of the men watched them go.  Ice and snow swirled around them.

Garry shouted after the pilot.  "What are you going to do when you catch up to them?"

Bennings was reading the list MacReady had handed to him.  "Holy shit," he muttered aloud.

The station manager looked over at him, noticing the list.  "What's that about?"

Bennings handed it over.  "Whatever he's planning to do, he isn't fucking around."

Garry studied the list, then looked up and off to his left.  But the two men were already out of sight, swallowed up by the darkness and blowing snow.

...

The sun didn't actually rise this time of year in the southern polar regions.  It just peeked hesitantly over the ice and spent a few hours crawling along the horizon until, seemingly exhausted by the effort, it vanished abruptly into the lingering night.

The snowmobiles rumbled smoothly across the twilight landscape, their engines thrumming with unaccustomed extra horsepower thanks to Palmer's ministrations and the addition of the larger carburetors.  Bennings piloted the one pulling the trailer while MacReady and Childs doubled up on the other.

From time to time they stopped to check the trail.  Snow whistled around them, but the flakes were tiny and stayed airborne more often than they settled to the ground.

The dogs had been running hard and fast.  Their paw prints were widely spaced.  So far the tracks had remained visible.  That couldn't last forever, they knew.  Soon wind and snow would fill them in.  It was a race to see which would give out first: the dogs or their tracks.

MacReady took regular sightings through his binoculars, the three men rotating driving shifts.  Now something dark and irregular showed against the ice ahead and slightly to their right.

He tapped Childs on the back, keeping his balance on the passenger seat.  "Something over there!" he shouted over the roar of the engine.  "Over there!"  He pointed several times to indicate direction.

Childs nodded acknowledgment and angled the vehicle slightly to the right.  Off to his left, Bennings swerved to match the new course.

Soon you could see it without binoculars.  The two snowmobiles slowed as they approached.

It was surrounded by dog tracks.  The prints were crowded and repetitive, signs of a short but intense struggle having disturbed the snow.

The dark lump was the half-eaten remains of a husky.  Its hind legs and lower body had been picked clean.  Torn hide flapped loosely in the wind.  The top half of the body, from the sternum up, was missing.

MacReady turned a slow circle, searching first with his eyes and then through the binoculars.  There was no sign of the missing part of the dog or of its two companions.

"What is it?" Childs muttered, staring distastefully at the mangled husky.

MacReady put the binoculars back in their case and walked out into the snow, following the line of still visible tracks.  The line was narrower now.

"Maybe dinner," he muttered.  The dim horizon showed nothing but the faint light and a lowering sky.

"Dogs don't eat each other."  Bennings kicked at the frozen body.  "I'm no expert like Clark, but I know that much.  A dog would rather starve than eat its own kind."

"I know," MacReady said softly.

Childs moved away from the body and was turning a slow half-circle.  "Where's the other half?"

"Not around here," MacReady told him.  "I checked with the binocs.  Probably took it along with them."

"For the next meal?"  Childs spat into the snow.

"I'd think so.  See, that's what Garry wasn't figuring on.  One dog couldn't make it a thousand miles.  One dog living off one or two others ..."  He let the obvious go unsaid.  "Very convenient, having a steady food supply that travels with you on its own legs."

He went over to the snowmobile trailer, flipped up the lid and removed a two-gallon can of gasoline.  He unscrewed the cap, then glanced over at Bennings.

"They're still moving in a straight line.  Where are these tracks headed?"

"Nowhere," the meteorologist insisted.  "Just straight toward the ocean."

"That's something, anyway."  The pilot silently poured the contents of the can over the remains.  The men stepped clear.  MacReady pulled a crumpled piece of paper from a parka pocket and lit it with his lighter, tossing it toward the remains.  The bone and skin caught instantly and burned with a steady flame in the steady wind.

"Let's move."

Some of the initial enthusiasm was seeping away from his companions.  They'd already traveled a long way from the warmth and comfort of the outpost.  Now the gnawed remains of the sled dog had again reminded them of just how deadly an adversary they were pursuing.

"Maybe we ought to think this through again, Mac," Childs murmured half apologetically.  He nodded toward the horizon.  "They could be hours ahead of us."

Bennings surveyed the feeble sun.  "Gonna get dark soon, too.  Supposed to be fifty below tonight."

MacReady, straddling the snowmobile towing the supply trailer, ignored them both.  "Turn back if you want to.  I'm going after them."

His companions exchanged an uncertain look, then started toward the machines.

"He's crazy for wanting to go on with this," Childs muttered unhappily.

"Yeah?"  Bennings climbed onto the seat behind the mechanic.  "Maybe not.  Maybe we're the ones who are crazy for thinking of turning back."

"Ah, shut up."  Childs gunned the engine.

Only a slight glow came from a sun the color of stale sherbet as the snowmobiles continued to follow the fading dog tracks.  Quite unexpectedly, the trail changed direction.  MacReady slowed to a stop.  Childs and Bennings pulled up alongside him, their engines idling roughly.

"What's wrong, Mac?" the mechanic asked.

The pilot broke snow from his beard.  The tracks had turned toward a ridge of low hills and snowcapped bluffs.  It was very cold now.

"They turn off that way."

Childs rose in his seat and stared off in the indicated direction.  "You think we can get in there?"

"As long as it doesn't get too steep," MacReady told him.  "You still with me?"

Childs looked back at Bennings.  The meteorologist nodded.  "Hell, it's too late to turn back tonight anyway.  Might as well keep going 'til we stop for sleep.  We can argue about what to do tomorrow morning."

"That's fair enough."  MacReady resumed his seat and veered his machine toward the rocks.

The terrain was more rugged than the pilot had supposed.  High cliffs of solid ice rose from the little canyon they were exploring.  Pressure ridging had been at work here in ancient times, as well as seismic forces.  He felt like an ant crawling up a broken mirror.

They'd been using the snowmobile's headlamps since they'd entered the canyon.  The sun hardly supplied enough light to see your own feet.  But at least the dog tracks stood out starkly.  The shielding cliffs had protected them from the blowing snow.

Bennings was uncomfortable in the maze.  Out on the ice flats nothing could spring out at you, catch you by surprise.  He wasn't in the mood for surprises.  Not here.

What am I doing here? he thought.  I should be back in camp, taking anemometer readings, watching the barometer, figuring fronts and lows and plotting percentage drops in temperature gradients against old figures in manuals.  Instead I'm freezing to death while we hunt a couple of dogs that maybe aren't dogs because their DNA has been altered by the invasion of something a hundred millennia old that got buried in the ice and dug up by a bunch of overeager, unsuspecting Norwegians who --

He blinked.  The snowmobiles were slowing down.  He tried to see around Childs' bulk.

Dead ahead, caught in the light from the snowmobiles' headlamps, was a single husky.  Bennings didn't know whether to feel frightened or gratified.

The dog could have cared less.  It sat in the middle of the little canyon, its back turned unconcernedly toward the approaching men, and munched contentedly on the upper half of the dog carcass they'd encountered out on the plain.

The lack of fear or any other recognizable reaction made MacReady doubly cautious.  He slowed his own vehicle and raised a hand.  Childs and Bennings eased up alongside him.

He pointed at their quarry.  It was barely twenty yards away and still gave no sign that it was aware of their presence.  "What d'you make of that?"

"That's our runner, no question about that," Childs murmured.  "It's finishing up its buddy, just like you said it would."

MacReady carefully searched the canyon's rim, first the right side and then the left.  Nothing could be seen among the crags.  Nothing moved.

"Why the hell's it just sitting there?"

"Who gives a shit."  Bennings was too cold for complex thinking.  "Let's torch it and move on."

"I'm not sure ..." MacReady began.

Bennings interrupted him.  "Don't go clever on me now, Mac.  Either we finish this one now or I'm taking one of the mobiles and heading home."

Childs was already unloading the torch and hooking it to the tank.  MacReady shrugged, arming himself with a thermite bomb.  When Childs was ready they started up the sides of the canyon, each hugging the cliff wall.  Bennings stood on guard at the snowmobiles in case the dog might try running past them at the last minute.

As Childs and MacReady approached, the dog continued to ignore them, seemingly content merely to chew its food.  The mechanic's eyes roved the landscape, trying to see into the darkness beyond the animal, into the area out of reach of the snowmobiles' headlights.

"Where's the other one, Mac?  Where in hell's the other one?"

MacReady shouted back toward the machines.  "There's only the one of 'em here, Bennings!  Keep a sharp eye out for the other one."

The meteorologist yelled his understanding, took out a flashlight and began playing its beam over the rocks off to his right.

MacReady spoke to the dog while trying to look four ways at once.  His voice was tense, coaxing.  "Where's your buddy, boy?  Huh?  You can tell us.  Man's best friend, remember?  Where'd your friend get to?"

Not only didn't the animal react, it continued to ignore their approach.  MacReady took out his own flashlight, uneasily playing it over crevices and possible hiding places in the cliff sides.  Still nothing.

"Screw this.  Childs, let that thing fly.  Don't let up until he's ashes.  We'll find the other one later."

Childs activated the nozzle.  The tip of the torch sprang to life.

Bennings' attention was on the cliff face when something clutched at his ankles.  He looked down and barely had time to scream as his body was yanked below the surface.  The flashlight went flying.  In seconds only his head and shoulders showed above the ice.

Childs and MacReady whirled at the sound of the scream, and rushed back toward their companion.  Only his head was visible now.  MacReady stumbled, snow stinging his face as he fell.

Something made a noise behind him, and it wasn't the wind.  He'd never heard anything quite like it.  It was a crackling, a snapping of something that wasn't wood or plastic.  It was organic.  He thought of fried pigskins being crumbled in a child's hand.

He rolled over.  The dog was still facing away from him, but it was no longer eating.  Its hair stuck straight up like the quills of a porcupine.  As he stared it snarled a throaty, undoglike sound.  It turned to face him.  Its skin was splitting, the mouth ripping open as something inside struggled to emerge, like a butterfly bursting from its cocoon.  Only there was nothing in the least attractive about the metamorphosis the husky was undergoing.

"Childs!"

The mechanic halted, his fingers tight on the torch, uncertain who to help first.  Bennings was still in sight.  In addition to his head he'd managed to get one arm out and was clawing frantically at the slick surface.  Each time his shoulders started to emerge, something unseen would yank him back beneath the snow.

Childs took a step toward MacReady, his attention torn between his two companions.  The dog continued to change.  It had grown larger and darker.  Suddenly it leaped, though no dog could possibly jump twenty feet in that clinging snow.

Childs reacted instinctively as the Thing attacked the fallen MacReady.  He opened the flow to the torch.  A stream of fire hit the dog-Thing in mid-leap.  The violence of the blast knocked it head over heels backward, a flaming ball of fur.  And something else.

The animal was howling in pain, making a sound no dog ever made, a high-pitched screeching that reminded MacReady of fingernails dragging down a blackboard.

He got to his knees and activated the thermite canister.  Aiming as carefully as he could in the confusion and dim light, he heaved it past the snowmobiles.  The force of the throw sent him sprawling again.

The canister landed a foot short of the twisting, flaming dog-Thing and exploded.  The smaller fire was suddenly enveloped in a blast of white flame.

Childs turned and started toward Bennings.  The ice beneath the meteorologist was heaving violently.  MacReady scrambled to his feet and overtook the mechanic, grabbed him by his parka and tried to pull him back.

"What's the matter?"  Childs tried to shake the smaller man off.

The pilot continued to pull at his friend.  "Keep away!  It'll get you too."

"Damn it!"  Childs was half-moaning, half-crying.  He repeated the curse over and over.

Suddenly Bennings' head finally vanished beneath the surface, his body jerked out of sight by something still unseen.  The ice continued to ripple like boiling water.  The activity moved around, coming toward the two men, then drifting away from them.

Part of the unfortunate meteorologist's body popped into view and just as quickly was sucked beneath the surface again.

MacReady and Childs watched for it to reappear, unable to aid their companion.

"What are we going to do?" the frustrated Childs cried.  He was trying to trace the course of the subsurface heaving with the tip of the torch.

"How the fuck do I know?"

Suddenly Bennings' head and shoulders exploded through the ice close to the snowmobiles.  Something had him in an unbreakable grip, though in the distant glow from the headlamps they couldn't see what.  To Childs it looked like the jaws of a dog, except that no dog that ever lived had a mouth that wide.

Bennings' heavy outer clothes began to split, stretched to their limits as the flesh beneath burst its natural boundaries.  The clutching jaws writhed, turning the body toward their center.  A snake always turns its prey in order to swallow it head first, MacReady thought wildly.  Bennings' face vanished into that fluid, shifting mouth.

He turned and dashed for the snowmobile trailer, shouting back over his shoulder as he ran.

"Torch them!"

"But Bennings ...!" Childs started to protest.

MacReady wouldn't have recognized his own voice.  "Can't you see that he's gone?  Do it ... while we've still got the chance to!"

Bennings ... damn it, Bennings!  Childs teeth ground against one another.  Bennings is dead, man.  That Thing is still alive.  He activated the torch.

The powerful stream of fire struck the indistinguishable mass of which Bennings was now a part.  The hulking clump of dark flesh burst into flame and ice began to melt around it.  A wailing screech filled the night air.

MacReady was working like a madman at the snowmobile trailer, frantically removing can after can of gasoline and tossing them onto the ice.

Something hard as steel thrust out of the ground.  It had knobs and sharp projections and things like long, stiff hairs scattered across it.  It just missed MacReady and went right through the fiberglass body of the trailer.

MacReady threw himself to one side.  The leg yanked itself clear of the splintered fiberglass and flailed around in search of something to grab.

The pilot scrambled across the snow, uncapped a couple of cans and dumped their contents on that weaving, questing limb.  Then he moved away and began pouring the rest onto the larger mass that Childs was melting out of the ice.

The cans went up like small bombs, further immolating the convulsive, twitching abomination beneath the snow.  Behind them, the other dog-Thing continued to burn.  The continuous screeching and mewling echoed horribly off the walls of the little canyon, deafening the two frantic men.

MacReady tossed the last can into the conflagration and clutched at Childs' arm.  "That's enough, man."

The mechanic did not seem to hear him.  Glassy-eyed, Childs continued to play the fire stream over the already seething mass.  Part of Bennings' burning skeleton showed through the flames.  If the other Thing possessed a skeleton, MacReady couldn't make it out.  The inferno that filled the canyon was almost too bright to look at.

MacReady finally had to step around in front of the mechanic and grab the torch with both hands.  "Childs, that's enough!  We got it."

The big man looked slowly down at him and blinked.  "Yeah.  Yeah, okay Mac."  He shut off the flow to the torch.  They stood there close together, their stunned faces awash with light from the dying flames.  As the blaze began to subside, so did that damnable screeching.  Soon it sounded far away, weak and unthreatening.

It gave out entirely in a few minutes.  The two fires continued to burn.  MacReady and Childs waited until the last embers had turned dark.  The pilot emptied a few more gallons of gas over the dark smudges staining the canyon floor and lit them.  When they burnt themselves out there was nothing left to burn except ice and rock.

The snowmobile trailer was ruined.  That thrusting leg that had come so close to impaling MacReady had shattered not only the container but one of the supporting skis.  MacReady unlatched it and they transferred the remaining supplies to the storage box mounted over the snowmobile's rear seat.

Then they set off to retrace their path, speeding down the canyon back to the glacial plain and the frozen Antarctic night.  It would have been more sensible to wait until morning.  More sensible, yes, but neither man had any intention of spending a moment longer in that canyon, now occupied only by the ghosts of two gargoyles whose night-shrouded appearance would have put to shame any dozen visages haunting far distant Notre Dame.

Macready and Childs preferred to take the chance of freezing to death out on the clean ice.

(Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 101-104, 106-114)

 

"The Lights Went Out ..."

Time passed, but not slowly.  You could feel the tension though everyone did his best to conceal it from his neighbor.  Everyday tasks provided welcome relief.  They took one's mind off the horror that might still be lingering over the camp.  Jokes were forced, as was the laughter that greeted them.

Outwardly, everything seemed normal, but suspicion and paranoia colored every word, every movement.  Suspicion, paranoia, and a desperate fear.

Palmer was working on the second snowmobile.  He'd removed all the spark plugs from both, dismantled the carburetors, removed and concealed the gas filters.

Now he was taking the engines off their mountings.  They would go into the locked storage room, along with the vital components of the helicopters and the tractor.  The mounting bolts and screws would be hidden elsewhere.

MacReady was taking no chances.  He was at work in the balloon tower with a kitchen knife, methodically slashing each of the huge, uninflated weather balloons into uninflatable strips.  There was no telling how long they might have to remain isolated before Fuchs could come up with a new test.

It was unlikely, but a half-frozen gull or man-o-war bird just might drop into camp.  It would be better to take no chances.  Birds could not be pursued.

He finished the last of the balloons, then lingered over the tanks of hydrogen stored nearby before deciding there was no need to empty them.  There was nothing in camp their resident thing could surreptitiously combine to make a suitable envelope out of.

The stereo in the kitchen wailed, its vibrant, undisciplined music easing the tension with the unconcern of a world that seemed a million miles away.  Nauls hummed as he removed the dishes from the washer and stacked them neatly on their proper shelf.

Childs sighed.  One hand scratched at an ear.  The other flipped the pages of a thick magazine.  The industrial torch, its new tip gleaming, lay close at hand.

Clark, Copper, and the station manager dozed on the couch nearby.  The effects of the morphine would be wearing off soon.  Norris would be around to redose the trio, Childs knew.

Clark stirred, rose and mumbled thickly at the guard.  "Gotta go to the can, Childs."

Making a face the mechanic put down the magazine.  He half-carried the dog handler to the far end of the room and opened the door for him.

"Be quick about it."  Clark staggered into the head.  A few seconds passed and the lights began to flicker.  Childs looked around worriedly.

They went out completely for a second, then came back on.  "Oh no," the mechanic muttered.  "No ... not now, man."

When they winked out the second time it was for good.  Along with the light something else had vanished: a mechanical breathing so soft and steady you quickly learned to ignore it.  The purr of the generator.

"Childs!"  That was Nauls, shouting from the kitchen.  "That a breaker?"

"No," Childs told him.  "Breaker would have gone out instantly.  There wouldn't have been any flicker.  Listen, don't you hear it?"

"Hear what, man?" came the reply.  "I don't hear anything."

"That's what I mean.  The generator's gone.  You got the controls for the auxiliary there in the hall next to you.  They're opposite the door from the kitchen.  Get to 'em."  He stumbled around in the darkness, cursing as he bumped into the card table.  "Where's that damn flashlight?"  Something fell from the table and hit the floor.  Magazine, probably.

"You fellas okay over there?"

A giggle came from the couch, edgy and fearful.

"Cut that out, Copper."  Childs hesitated.  The flashlight should be in the corner, on a shelf.  He started feeling his way along the wall.  "Nauls, what's taking you so long?  It's straight out the door."

"I know," came the nervous reply.  "I found it.  I'm working on it right now, but nothing's happening!"

"That's impossible, man."  He reached the shelf and felt among the books and games.  No flashlight.

Turning back to the center of the room he shuffled carefully back to the card table.  "Okay, Clark.  Out of the john right now."

"It's shorted out or something!"  Nauls was yelling at him from down the corridor.

Childs ignored the cook's lament.  He wanted a response from the bathroom.  "Clark.  You hear me, Clark?  You come on out of there!  Now."

When there was still no reply forthcoming, Childs felt around the table until he located the torch.  It flared to life with gratifying speed.  Blue fire filled the recreation room with ghostly but adequate illumination.

He started toward the john but something half-seen made him pause and turn the torch toward the couch.

"Where ... where's Garry?"  The station manager had disappeared.  Copper was staring numbly at the empty cushion next to him.  He and Childs were now alone.

"Well, shit."  The mechanic groped for the portable siren and switched it on, thankful for the batteries that powered it.

Palmer looked up from the now invisible snowmobile he'd nearly finished dismantling.  MacReady and [Windows] pushed a path out of the trash dump and exchanged a glance with the assistant pilot.  Soon all three of them were loping toward the nearest entrance, making their way by flashlight through the long night.

Childs twisted and spun at every little imagined noise, trying to keep the torch between himself and the darkness.  "Where are you, Garry?  Don't you move an inch, Copper."  The doctor giggled again, loudly.  It did not improve the mechanic's already shaky state of mind.

"Nauls, bring me a goddamn flashlight!"

The cook abandoned the useless control box and returned to the kitchen, feeling along his familiar cabinets until he reached a particular drawer.  His hands moved among the contents, picking up spoons and spatulas and ladles, everything except what he was searching for.

"Somebody's taken mine.  I can't find it!"

"Clark!"  Childs turned the torch toward the bathroom.  "You coming out of there or you want me to come in after you?"

MacReady, [Windows], and Palmer stumbled into the hallway, bumping into each other as they fought to get their bearings in the unexpectedly dark corridor.  MacReady closed the door behind them.  Their flashlights provided the only illumination.

"What's happened?" MacReady called out.  When the outside lights had gone he'd expected some trouble inside, but not this utter, complete blackness.  "Anybody know what happened?"

"MacReady ... that you?"  It was Norris.

"Yeah!  Palmer and Windows are with me.  What the hell's going on?"

"I think it's the generator," the geophysicist replied.  "There's no power to anything, the lights included."

"What about the backup?"

"Beats me.  All I know is everything's out."

MacReady turned to his assistant.  "All right, Palmer, let's get down there."

"MacReady!"

"That you, Childs?"

"Yeah.  I'm still in the rec room."

MacReady's thoughts were racing.  "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, man.  But Garry's missing."

"Oh shit."  The pilot thought a moment.  They had other priorities right now.  "Well ... hang on!"

"Gee, thanks."  The mechanic's voice was cheerless as it floated down the corridor.  "What about power?"

"Palmer and I are getting on it."  He started running up the corridor.

The flashlight beam seemed weak and on the verge of failing as the two men stumbled down the short flight of stairs leading to the generator room.  At the bottom MacReady hesitated, turned, and searched the darkness with the light.

"[Windows].  Where's [Windows]?"

They examined the stairway together, then the floor and walls of the generator room.  [Windows] was gone.

Palmer took a step back the way they'd come and asked unenthusiastically, "Want me to go look for him?"

"No.  Not now," MacReady said impatiently.  "We've got to get this mother going first, then we can go looking for people."

They approached the silent mass of metal.  It squatted like an armored dinosaur in the middle of the floor.  The smell of diesel, thick and noxious, was everywhere.  But it was fading rapidly.

Palmer used the light, inspecting components.  The beam lingered on an open space near the base.

"The fuel pump's gone."  Panic cracked his voice.  "You've got to get up to Supply and find another unit, Mac.  If we don't get this thing started soon it'll freeze up on us and we'll never get it going."

"What about the auxiliary?"

"I know what's been done to this.  I don't know about the other."

"You sure about the pump?  That's all that's missing?"

The flashlight beam retraced its path across the generator.  "I think so.  I don't see anything else.  This is really Childs' department."

"Childs is busy," MacReady reminded his assistant.  "Hang on.  I'll be back as fast as I can."

"You want my light?"

MacReady glanced at his own feeble beam.  "No, you keep it.  Make sure nothing else has been jammed."  He turned and rushed up the stairs, heedless of tripping in the near dark.

Palmer just waited.  It occurred to him that he was all alone in the lowest, most isolated area of the compound.

Hell, get your mind on something else, he told himself.

Holding the flashlight tightly in one hand, he lay down on his back and edged under the generator.  At least he could make sure everything else was ready to go.

Of course there was always the chance MacReady might not return for awhile.  He might get distracted.  Or something might distract him.  Palmer furiously began tightening screws, regardless of whether or not they were loose.

Childs paced the rec room floor, swatting his sides to keep warm.  The temperature was falling rapidly, the Antarctic night leeching the heat from the compound despite the multiple layers of insulation designed to keep it at bay.  The torch lay on the card table, adding a little heat, its blue glow barely reaching to the corners of the room.  Copper sat by himself on the couch.

At least he'd stopped that infernal giggling, Childs mused to himself.

MacReady charged out of the supply room, juggling his flashlight and a new solid-state pump unit, and promptly careened off another body.

"Who ... who's that?  Who goes there?"

There was no reply.  The dim silhouette hurried off down the hallway.

"[Windows]?  That you?  You flipped out again, man?  It's okay ... it's me, MacReady.  Hey, who ...?"

A dim voice drifted up from the other direction.  "Mac?"  Palmer sounded anxious.  "That you, Mac?  Where the hell is that pump?"

"Coming!"  He threw a last look down the hallway, but saw only darkness.  Then he was running for the generator room.

So intent was he on protecting the fuel pump that he nearly fell in his haste to get down the few stairs.  Palmer's light beckoned from beneath the generator.  MacReady dropped to his knees and put the unit close to the other pilot.  Palmer backed out and joined him in tearing at the box.

"This going to do it?" MacReady asked him.  Palmer was studying the exposed unit.

"It's not the same."

"Hell."  MacReady started to rise.  "I'll go look again."

"No, no," Palmer grabbed his arm and held him back.  "I mean, it's made by a different manufacturer than the missing unit.  It'll fit."

MacReady breathed a sigh of relief.  "Shit, Palmer, don't do that to me."

"Hold the light for me, will you?"  Palmer reached in and grabbed his own flashlight and handed it to MacReady.  Then he wormed his way back underneath.

"A little higher, Mac."  MacReady raised the twin beams.  Palmer's hands came into view.  Their breath was already starting to freeze as the temperature continued to fall.

He held the lights as steady as he could while Palmer worked with increasingly clumsy, numb fingers.

"Somebody definitely messed with it."  A hose clamp was slipped into place, tightened.

"We going to make it?"

"Hope so.  Another fifteen minutes."  Palmer was beginning to sound more confident.  "Wonder what happened to the auxiliary.  What I don't get is ..."

He was interrupted by a violent, thunderous screeching.  MacReady froze.  He'd heard that sound twice before now.  Once on the tape salvaged from the Norwegian camp, and once far out on the ice.  He thought of Bennings as his heart began to hammer against his ribs ...



MacReady had never been so glad to see anything happen in his life as he was to see the lights come back on.  Palmer crawled out from beneath the now humming generator, wiping grease off on his pants.

"That should hold it for now, until Childs can get down here and bolt it properly.  Where to?"

"Rec room," MacReady told him tersely.  He was reluctant to abandon the generator room, but had to content himself with slapping a heavy padlock on the door as they exited.

(Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 134-140)

 

Mac and Nauls Check out the Shack

In spite of the intensifying gale MacReady and Nauls managed to reach the top of the little hill.  The shed provided some protection from the growing storm.  It was very dark.  The feeble light from the main compound was completely obliterated by blowing snow.

MacReady gestured and Nauls took up a ready stance on the far side of the doorway.  Reaching out with a gloved hand the pilot flipped up the heavy latch.  Then he took a deep breath, shoved the door open and stepped inside, holding a burning flare in front of him.

The first thing he did was trip the light switch just inside the door, but no friendly light flared from the overhead fixture.  His gazed turned upward.

There was no light fixture.  It was gone, along with most of the roof.  A few bent corners showed where the weighted metal had been ripped back.

Aghast, he strode into his room.  The wind was nearly as strong inside as out front, now that the roof was gone.  Whether from the battering it had already taken from the wind or from something else, the interior was a snow-swept wreck.

He became aware that Nauls was shouting at him.  "Where's the roof?"  The cook had been standing in the doorway, staring.  Now he walked in and turned in a slow circle as he gazed skyward.  "This storm do that?"

MacReady shook his head.  Before they'd forced the door he'd been frightened.  Now he was getting angry.

"Possible but not likely," he told his companion.  "Must have weighed a ton and a half.  I had it weighted against hundred and fifty mile per hour winds.  This little blow we're having isn't anywhere near that strong."

They quietly inspected the ruin that had been MacReady's home away from home.  The oversized chess set was a cracked chunk of red and black plastic.  It lay in a corner where it had been thrown.  A few of the pieces were visible above the accumulated snow.  They lay scattered all over the floor, a pawn here, a broken king there.

Nauls kicked over a chair.  As he did so something pale and bloated bounded from beneath.  He let out a half scream and instinctively thrust his flare at it.

It caught the inflatable lady in the midsection.  There was a sharp report.  MacReady whirled at the gunshot-like report while Nauls tripped and fell to the floor.

Caught by the gusting wind, the deflated latex soared through the missing roof and disappeared into the night.

"Shit," MacReady muttered, though whether because of the loss of his companion or the false alarm Nauls couldn't tell.  The cook picked himself off the floor, brushing snow from his rumpled parka.

"Goddamn women," he growled darkly.  "Never could tell what they're going to do."

(Alan Dean Foster, The Thing, 148-9)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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