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Authors: Richard Matheson

The Shrinking Man

BOOK: The Shrinking Man
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The Shrinking Man

Richard Matheson

Copyright

The Shrinking Man
Copyright © 1956 by Richard Matheson; renewed 1984 by Richard Matheson
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2011 by RosettaBooks, LLC

All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher or the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Electronic edition published 2011 by RosettaBooks LLC, New York.
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795315701

C
HAPTER
O
NE

First he thought it was a tidal wave. Then he saw that the sky and ocean were visible through it and it was a curtain of spray rushing at the boat.

He’d been sunbathing on top of the cabin. It was just coincidence that he pushed up on his elbow and saw it coming.

“Marty!” he yelled. There was no answer. He scuttled across the hot wood and slid down the deck. “Hey, Marty!”

The spray didn’t look menacing, but for some reason he wanted to avoid it. He ran around the cabin, wincing at the hot planks underfoot. It would be a race.

Which he lost. One moment he was in sunlight. The next he was being soaked by the warm, glittering spray.

Then it was past. He stood there watching it sweep across the water, sun-glowing drops of it covering him. Suddenly he twitched and looked down. There was a curious tingling on his skin.

He grabbed for a towel and dried himself. It wasn’t so much pain as a pleasant stinging, like that of lotion on newly shaven cheeks.

Then he was dry and the feeling was almost gone. He went below and woke up his brother and told him about the curtain of spray that had run across the boat.

It was the beginning.

C
HAPTER
T
WO

The spider rushed at him across the shadowed sands, scrabbling wildly on its stalklike legs. Its body was a giant, glossy egg that trembled blackly as it charged across the windless mounds, its wake a score of sand-trickling scratches.

Paralysis locked the man. He saw the poisonous glitter of the spider eyes. He watched it scramble across a loglike stick, body mounted high on its motion-blurred legs, as high as the man’s shoulders.

Behind him, suddenly, the steel-encased flame flared into life with a thunder that shook the air. It jarred the man loose. With a sucking gasp, he spun around and ran, the damp sand crunching beneath his racing sandals.

He fled through lakes of light and into darkness again, his face a mask of terror. Beams of sunlight speared across his panic-driven path, cold shadows enveloped it. Behind, the giant spider scoured sand in its pursuit.

Suddenly the man slipped. A cry tore back his lips. He skidded to a knee, then pitched forward onto outstretched palms. He felt the cold sands shaking with the vibration of the roaring flame. He pushed himself up desperately, palms flaking sand, and started running again.

Fleeing, he glanced back across his shoulder and saw that the spider was gaining on him, its pulsing egg of a body perched on running legs—an egg whose yolk swam with killing poisons. He raced on, breathless, terror in his veins.

Suddenly the cliff edge was before him, shearing off abruptly to a gray, perpendicular face. He raced along the edge, not looking down into the vast canyon below. The giant spider scuttled after him, the sound of its running a delicate scraping on the stone. It was closer still.

The man dashed between two giant cans that loomed like tanks above him. He threaded, racing, in between the silent bulks of all the clustered cans, past green and red and yellow sides all caked with livid smears. The spider had to climb above them, unable to move its swollen body rapidly enough between them. It slithered up the side of one, then sped across their metal tops, bridging the gaps between them with sudden, jerking hops.

As the man started out into the open again, he heard a scratching sound above. Recoiling and jerking back his head, he saw the spider just about to leap on him, two legs slipping down a metal side, the rest clutching at the top.

With a terrified gasp, the man dived again into the space between the giant cans, half running, half stumbling back along the winding route. Behind him, the spider drew itself back up to the top and, backing around in a twitching semicircle, started after him again.

The move gained seconds for the man, lunging out into the shadow-swept sands again, he raced around the great stone pillar and through another stack of tanlike structures. The spider leaped down on the sand and scurried in pursuit.

The great orange mass loomed over the man now as he headed once more for the edge of the cliff. There was no time for hesitation. With an extra springing of his legs, he flung himself across the gulf and clutched with spastic fingers at the roughened ledge.

Wincing, he drew himself onto the splintered orange surface just as the spider reached the cliff’s edge. Jumping up, the man began running along the narrow ledge, not looking back. If the spider jumped that gap, it was over.

The spider did not jump it. Glancing back, the man saw that and, stopping, stood there looking at the spider. Was he safe now that he was out of the spider’s territory?

His pale cheek twitched as he saw thread-twined cable pour like shimmering vapor from the spider’s tubes.

Twisting around, he began running again, knowing that, as soon as the cable was long enough, air currents would lift it, it would cling to the orange ledge, and the black spider would clamber up it.

He tried to run faster, but he couldn’t. His legs ached, breath was a hot burning in his throat, a stitch drove dagger points into his side.
He ran and skidded down the orange slope, jumping the gaps with desperate, weakening lunges.

Another edge. The man knelt quickly, tremblingly, and, holding tight, let himself over. It was a long drop to the next level. The man waited until his body was swinging inward, then let go. Just before he fell, he saw the great spider scrabbling down the orange slope at him.

He landed on his feet and toppled forward on the hard wood. Pain drove needles up his right ankle. He struggled to his feet; he couldn’t stop. Overhead, he heard the spider’s scratching. Running to the edge, he hesitated, then jumped into space again. The arm-thick curve of the metal wicket flashed up at him. He grabbed for it.

He fell with a fluttering of arms and legs. The canyon floor rushed up at him. He
had
to miss the flower-patched softness.

And yet he didn’t. Almost at the edge of it, he landed feet first and bounced over backward in a neck-snapping somersault.

He lay on his stomach and chest, breathing in short, strangled bursts. There was a smell of dusty cloth in his nostrils, and fabric was rough against his cheek.

Alertness returned then and, with a spasmodic wrenching of muscles, the man looked up and saw another ghostlike cable being spun into the air. In a few moments, he knew, the spider would ride it down.

Pushing up with a groan, he stood a moment on trembling legs. The ankle still hurt, breathing was a strain, but there were no broken bones. He started off.

Hobbling quickly across the flower-splotched softness, the man lowered himself across the edge. As he did so, he saw the spider swinging down, a terrible, wriggling pendulum.

He was on the floor of the canyon now. He ran, limping across the wide plain of it, his sandals flopping on the leveled hardness. To his right loomed the vast brown tower in which the flame still burned, the very canyon trembling with its roar.

He glanced behind. The spider was dropping to the flower-covered softness now, then rushing for the edge. The man raced on toward the great log pile, which was half as high as the tower itself. He ran by what looked like a giant, coiled serpent, red and still and open-jawed at either end.

The spider hit the canyon floor and ran at the man.

But the man had reached the gigantic logs now, and, falling forward on his chest, he wriggled into a narrow space between two of them. It was so narrow he could hardly move; dark, damp, cold, and smelling of moldy wood. He crawled and twisted in as far as he could, then stopped and looked back.

The black, shiny-cased spider was trying to follow him.

For a horrible moment, the man thought it was succeeding. Then he saw that it was stuck and had to pull back. It could not follow.

Closing his eyes, the man lay there on the canyon floor, feeling the chill of it through his clothes, panting through his opened mouth, wondering how many more times he would have to flee the spider.

The flame in the steel tower went out then, and there was silence except for the spider’s scratching at the rock floor as it moved about restlessly. He could hear it scraping on the logs as it clambered over them, searching for a way to get at him.

When at last the scratching sounds had gone, the man backed himself cautiously out from the narrow, splinter-edged passage between the logs. Out on the floor again, he stood with wary haste and looked in all directions to see where the spider was.

High up on the sheer wall he saw it climbing toward the cliff edge, its dark legs drawing its great egg of a body up the perpendicular face. A shaking breath trickled from the man’s nostrils. He was safe for another while. Lowering his gaze, he started toward his sleeping place.

He limped slowly past the silent steel tower, which was an oil burner; past the huge red serpent, which was a nozzleless garden hose clumsily coiled on the floor, past the wide cushion whose case was covered with flower designs; past the immense orange structure, which was a stack of two wooden lawn chairs; past the great croquet mallets hanging in their racks. One of the wickets from the croquet set had been stuck in a groove on the top lawn chair. It was what the man, in his flight, had grabbed for and missed. And the tanklike cans were used paint cans, and the spider was a black widow.

He lived in a cellar.

Now he walked past the towering clothes tree toward his sleeping place, which was underneath a water heater. Just before he reached it, he twitched sharply as, in its concrete cave, the water pump lurched into spinning motion. He listened to its labored wheezing and sighing, which sounded like the breathing of a dying dragon.

Then he clambered up the cement block on which the looming, enamel-faced heater rested and crawled under its protective warmth.

For a long time, motionless, he lay on his bed, which was a rectangular sponge around which a torn handkerchief was wrapped. His chest rose and fell with shallow movements, his hands lay limp and curled at his sides. Without blinking, he stared up at the rust-caked bottom of the heater.

The last week
.

Three words and a concept. A concept that had begun in a flash of incomprehensive shock and become the intensely intimate moment-by-moment horror it now was. The last week. No, not even that now, because Monday was already half over. His eyes strayed briefly to the row of charcoal strokes on the wood scrap that was his calendar. Monday, March the tenth.

In six days he would be gone.

Across the vast reaches of the cellar, the oil-burner flame roared up again, and he felt the bed vibrate under him. That meant the temperature had fallen in the house above and that the thermostat had kicked a switch and now heat was flowing again through the floor grilles.

He thought of them up there, the woman and the little girl. His wife and daughter. Were they still that to him? Or had the element of size removed him from their sphere? Could he still be considered a part of their world when he was the size of a bug to them, when even Beth could crush him underfoot and never know it?

In six days he would be gone.

He’d thought about it a thousand times in the past year and a half, trying to visualize it. He’d never been able to. Invariably, his mind had rebelled against it, rationalizing: the injections would start to work now, the process would end by itself,
something
would happen. It was impossible that he could ever be so small that…

Yet he was; so small that in six days he would be gone.

When it came on him, this cruel despair, he would lie for hours on his makeshift bed, not caring whether he lived or died. The despair had never really gone. How could it? For no matter what adjustment he thought he was making, it was obviously impossible to adjust, because there had never been a tapering or a leveling off. The process had gone on and on, ceaseless.

BOOK: The Shrinking Man
5.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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