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Title: The Drone
Author: Abraham Merritt
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Title: The Drone
Author: Abraham Merritt

FOUR MEN SAT AT A TABLE of the Explorers' Club--Hewitt, just in from
two years botanical research in Abyssinia; Caranac, the ethnologist;
MacLeod, poet first, and second the learned curator of the Asiatic
Museum; Winston, the archeologist, who, with Kosloff the Russian, had
worked over the ruins of Khara-Kora, the City of the Black Stones in
the northern Gobi, once capital of the Empire of Genghis Khan.

The talk had veered to werewolves, vampires, fox-women, and similar
superstitions. Directed thence by a cabled report of measures to be
taken against the Leopard Society, the murderous fanatics who drew on
the skins of leopards, crouched like them on the boughs of trees, then
launched themselves down upon their victims tearing their throats with
talons of steel. That, and another report of a "hex-murder" in
Pennsylvania where a woman had been beaten to death because it was
thought she could assume the shape of a cat and cast evil spells upon
those into whose houses, as cat, she crept.

Caranac said: "It is a deep-rooted belief, an immeasurably ancient,
that a man or woman may assume the shape of an animal, a serpent, a
bird, even an insect. It was believed of old everywhere, and
everywhere it is still believed by some--fox-men and fox-women of
China and Japan, wolf-people, the badger and bird people of our own
Indians. Always there has been the idea that there is a borderland
between the worlds of consciousness of man and of beast--a borderland
where shapes can be changed and man merge into beast or beast into

MacLeod said: "The Egyptians had some good reason for equipping their
deities with the heads of birds and beasts and insects. Why did they
portray Khepher the Oldest God with the head of a beetle? Why give
Anubis, the Psychopomp, Guide of the Dead, the head of a jackal? Or
Thoth, the God of Wisdom, the head of an ibis; and Horus, the Divine
son of Isis and Osiris, the head of a hawk? Set, God of Evil, a
crocodile's and the Goddess Bast a cat's? There was a reason for all
of that. But about it one can only guess."

Caranac said: "I think there's something in that borderland, or
borderline, idea. There's more or less of the beast, the reptile, the
bird, the insect in everybody. I've known men who looked like rats and
had the souls of rats. I've known women who belonged to the horse
family, and showed it in face and voice. Distinctly there are bird
people--hawk-faced, eagle-faced--predatory. The owl people seem to be
mostly men and the wren people women. There are quite as distinct wolf
and serpent types. Suppose some of these have their animal element so
strongly developed that they can cross this borderline--become at
times the animal? There you have the explanation of the werewolf, the
snake-woman, and all the others. What could be more simple?"

Winston asked: "But you're not serious, Caranac?"

Caranac laughed. "At least half serious. Once I had a friend with an
uncannily acute perception of these animal qualities in the human. He
saw people less in terms of humanity than in terms of beast or bird.
Animal consciousness that either shared the throne of human
consciousness or sat above it or below it in varying degrees. It was
an uncomfortable gift. He was like a doctor who has the faculty of
visual diagnosis so highly developed that he constantly sees men and
women and children not as they are but as diseases. Ordinarily he
could control the faculty. But sometimes, as he would describe it,
when he was in the Subway, or on a bus, or in the theatre--or even
sitting tete-a-tete with a pretty woman, there would be a swift haze
and when it had cleared he was among rats and foxes, wolves and
serpents, cats and tigers and birds, all dressed in human garb but
with nothing else at all human about them. The clear-cut picture
lasted only for a moment--but it was a highly disconcerting moment."

Winston said, incredulously: "Do you mean to suggest that in an
instant the musculature and skeleton of a man can become the
musculature and skeleton of a wolf? The skin sprout fur? Or in the
matter of your bird people, feathers? In an instant grow wings and the
specialized muscles to use them? Sprout fangs...noses become snouts..."

Caranac grinned. "No, I don't mean anything of the sort. What I do
suggest is that under certain conditions the animal part of this dual
nature of man may submerge the human part to such a degree that a
sensitive observer will think he sees the very creature which is its
type. Just as in the case of the friend whose similar sensitivity I
have described."

Winston raised his hands in mock admiration. "Ah, at last modern
science explains the legend of Circe! Circe the enchantress who gave
men a drink that changed them into beasts. Her potion intensified
whatever animal or what-not soul that was within them so that the
human form no longer registered upon the eyes and brains of those who
looked upon them. I agree with you, Caranac--what could be more
simple? But I do not use the word simple in the same sense you did."

Caranac answered, amused: "Yet, why not? Potions of one sort or
another, rites of one sort or another, usually accompany such
transformations in the stories. I've seen drinks and drugs that did
pretty nearly the same thing and with no magic or sorcery about them--
did it almost to the line of the visual illusion."

Winston began heatedly: "But--"

Hewitt interrupted him: "Will the opposing counsel kindly shut up and
listen to expert testimony. Caranac, I'm grateful to you. You've given
me courage to tell of something which never in God's world would I
have told if it were not for what you've been saying. I don't know
whether you're right or not, but man--you've knocked a hag off my
shoulders who's been riding them for months! The thing happened about
four months before I left Abyssinia. I was returning to Addis Ababa.
With my bearers I was in the western jungles. We came to a village and
camped. That night my headman came to me. He was in a state of nerves.
He begged that we would go from there at dawn. I wanted to rest for a
day or two, and asked why. He said the village had a priest who was a
great wizard. On the nights of the full moon the priest turned himself
into a hyena and went hunting. For human food, the headman whispered.
The villagers were safe, because he protected them. But others
weren't. And the next night was the first of the full moon. The men
were frightened. Would I depart at dawn?

"I didn't laugh at him. Ridiculing the beliefs of the bush gets you
less than nowhere. I listened gravely, and then assured him that my
magic was greater than the wizard's. He wasn't satisfied, but he shut
up. Next day I went looking for the priest. When I found him I thought
I knew how he'd been able to get that fine story started and keep the
natives believing it. If any man ever looked like a hyena he did.
Also, he wore over his shoulders the skin of one of the biggest of the
beasts I'd ever seen, its head grinning at you over his head. You
could hardly tell its teeth and his apart. I suspected he had filed
his teeth to make 'em match. And he smelled like a hyena. It makes my
stomach turn even now. It was the hide of course--or so I thought

"Well, I squatted down in front of him and we looked at each other for
quite a while. He said nothing, and the more I looked at him the less
he was like a man and more like the beast around his shoulders. I
didn't like it--I'm frank to say I didn't. It sort of got under my
skin. I was the first to weaken. I stood up and tapped my rifle. I
said, 'I do not like hyenas. You understand me.' And I tapped my rifle
again. If he was thinking of putting over some similar kind of
hocus-pocus that would frighten my men still more, I wanted to nip it
in the bud. He made no answer, only kept looking at me. I walked away."

"The men were pretty jittery all day, and they got worse when night
began to fall. I noted there was not the usual cheerful twilight
bustle that characterizes the native village. The people went into
their huts early. Half an hour after dark, it was as though deserted.
My camp was in a clearing just within the stockade. My bearers
gathered close together around their fire. I sat on a pile of boxes
where I could look over the whole clearing. I had one rifle on my knee
and another beside me. Whether it was the fear that crept out from the
men around the fire like an exhalation, or whether it had been that
queer suggestion of shift of shape from man to beast while I was
squatting in front of the priest I don't know--but the fact remained
that I felt mighty uneasy. The headman crouched beside, long knife in

"After a while the moon rose up from behind the trees and shone down
on the clearing. Then, abruptly, at its edge, not a hundred feet away
I saw the priest. There was something disconcerting about the
abruptness with which he had appeared. One moment there had been
nothing, then--there he was. The moon gleamed on the teeth of the
hyena's head and upon his. Except for that skin he was stark naked and
his teeth glistened as though oiled. I felt the headman shivering
against me like a frightened dog and I heard his teeth chattering."

"And then there was a swift haze--that was what struck me so forcibly
in what you told of your sensitive friend, Caranac. It cleared as
swiftly and there wasn't any priest. No. But there was a big hyena
standing where he had been--standing on its hind feet like a man and
looking at me. I could see its hairy body. It held its forelegs over
its shaggy chest as though crossed. And the reek of it came to me--
thick. I didn't reach for my gun--I never thought of it, my mind in
the grip of some incredulous fascination.

"The beast opened its jaws. It grinned at me. Then it walked--walked
is exactly the word--six paces, dropped upon all fours, trotted
leisurely into the bush, and vanished there.

"I managed to shake off the spell that had held me, took my flash and
gun and went over to where the brute had been. The ground was soft and
wet. There were prints of a man's feet and hands. As though the man
had crawled from the bush on all fours. There were the prints of two
feet close together, as though he had stood there erect. And then--
there were the prints of the paws of a hyena.

"Six of them, evenly spaced, as though the beast had walked six paces
upon its hind legs. And after that only the spoor of the hyena
trotting with its unmistakable sidewise slinking gait upon all four
legs. There were no further marks of man's feet--nor were marks of
human feet going back from where the priest had stood."

Hewitt stopped. Winston asked: "And is that all?"

Hewitt said, as though he had not heard him: "Now, Caranac, would you
say that the animal soul in this wizard was a hyena? And that I had
seen that animal soul? Or that when I had sat with him that afternoon
he had implanted in my mind the suggestion that at such a place I
would see him as a hyena? And that I did?"

Caranac answered: "Either is an explanation. I rather hold to the

Hewitt asked: "Then how do you explain the change of the human foot
marks into those of the beast?"

Winston asked: "Did anyone but you see those prints?"

Hewitt said: "No. For obvious reasons I did not show them to the

Winston said: "I hold then to the hypnotism theory. The foot marks
were a part of the same illusion."

Hewitt said: "You asked if that was all. Well, it wasn't. When dawn
came and there was a muster of men, one was missing. We found him--
what was left of him--a quarter mile away in the bush. Some animal had
crept into the camp--neatly crushed his throat and dragged him away
without awakening anybody. Without even me knowing it--and I had not
slept. Around his body were the tracks of an unusually big hyena.
Without doubt that was what had killed and partly eaten him."

"Coincidence," muttered Winston.

"We followed the tracks of the brute," went on Hewitt. "We found a
pool at which it had drunk. We traced the tracks to the edge of the
pool. But--"

He hesitated. Winston asked, impatiently: "But?"

"But we didn't find them going back. There were the marks of a naked
human foot going back. But there were no marks of human feet pointing
toward the pool. Also, the prints of the human feet were exactly those
which had ended in the spoor of the hyena at the edge of the clearing.
I know that because the left big toe was off."

Caranac asked: "And then what did you do?"

"Nothing. Took up our packs and beat it. The headman and the others
had seen the footprints. There was no holding them after that. So your
idea of hypnotism hardly holds here, Winston. I doubt whether a half
dozen or less had seen the priest. But they all saw the tracks."

"Mass hallucination. Faulty observation. A dozen rational
explanations," said Winston.

MacLeod spoke, the precise diction of the distinguished curator
submerged under the Gaelic burr and idioms that came to the surface
always when he was deeply moved:

"And is it so, Martin Hewitt? Well, now I will be telling you a story.
A thing that I saw with my own eyes. I hold with you, Alan Caranac,
but I go further. You say that man's consciousness may share the brain
with other consciousness--beast or bird or what not. I say it may be
that all life is one. A single force, but a thinking and conscious
force of which the trees, the beasts, the flowers, germs and man and
everything living are parts, just as the billions of living cells in a
man are parts of him. And that under certain conditions the parts may
be interchangeable. And that this may be the source of the ancient
tales of the dryads and the nymphs, the harpies and the werewolves and
their kind as well."

"Now, listen. My people came from the Hebrides where they know more of
some things than books can teach. When I was eighteen I entered a
little mid-west college. My roommate was a lad named--well, I'll just
be calling him Ferguson. There was a professor with ideas you would
not expect to find out there.

"'Tell me how a fox feels that is being hunted by the hounds,' he
would say. 'Or the rabbit that is stalked by the fox. Or give me a
worm's eye view of a garden. Get out of yourselves. Imagination is the
greatest gift of the gods,' he said, 'and it is also their greatest
curse. But blessing or curse it is good to have. Stretch your
consciousness and write for me what you see and feel.'

"Ferguson took to that job like a fly to sugar. What he wrote was not
a man telling of a fox or hare or hawk--it was fox and hare and hawk
speaking through a man's hand. It was not only the emotions of the
creatures he described. It was what they saw and heard and smelt and
how they saw and heard and smelt it. And what they--thought.

"The class would laugh, or be spellbound. But the professor didn't
laugh. No. After a while he began to look worried and he would have
long talks in private with Ferguson. And I would say to him: 'In God's
name how do you do it, Ferg? You make it all seem so damned real.'

"'It is real,' he told me. 'I chase with the hounds and I run with the
hare. I set my mind on some animal and after a bit I am one with it.
Inside it. Literally. As though I had slipped outside myself. And when
I slip back inside myself--I remember.'

"'Don't tell me you think you change into one of these beasts!' I
said. He hesitated. 'Not my body,' he answered at last. 'But I know my
mind...soul...spirit...whatever you choose to call it--must.'

"He wouldn't argue the matter. And I know he didn't tell me all he
knew. And suddenly the professor stopped those peculiar activities,
without explanation. A few weeks later I left college.

"That was over thirty years ago. About ten years ago, I was sitting in
my office when my secretary told me that a man named Ferguson who said
he was an old schoolmate was asking to see me. I remembered him at
once and had him in. I blinked at him when he entered. The Ferguson
I'd known had been a lean, wiry, dark, square-chinned, and clean-cut
chap. This man wasn't like that at all. His hair was a curious golden,
and extremely fine--almost a fuzz. His face was oval and flattish with
receding chin. He wore oversized dark glasses and they gave the
suggestion of a pair of fly's eyes seen under a microscope. Or
rather--I thought suddenly--of a bee's. But I felt a real shock when I
grasped his hand. It felt less like a man's hand than the foot of some
insect, and as I looked down at it I saw that it also was covered with
the fine yellow fuzz of hair. He said:

"'Hello, MacLeod, I was afraid you wouldn't remember me.'"

"It was Ferguson's voice as I remembered it, and yet it wasn't. There
was a queer, muffled humming and buzzing running through it."

"But it was Ferguson all right. He soon proved that. He did more
talking than I, because that odd inhuman quality of the voice in some
way distressed me, and I couldn't take my eyes off his hands with
their yellow fuzz, nor the spectacled, eyes and the fine yellow hair.
It appeared that he had bought a farm over in New Jersey. Not so much
for farming as for a place for his apiary. He had gone in for bee
keeping. He said: 'I've tried all sorts of animals. In fact I've tried
more than animals. You see Mac--there's nothing in being human.
Nothing but sorrow. And the animals aren't so happy. So I'm
concentrating on the bee. A drone, Mac. A short life but an
exceedingly merry one.'

"I said: 'What in the hell are you talking about?'

"He laughed, a buzzing, droning laugh. 'You know damned well. You were
always interested in my little excursions, Mac. Intelligently
interested. I never told you a hundredth of the truth about them. But
come and see next Wednesday and maybe your curiosity will be
satisfied. I think you'll find it worth while.'

"Well, there was a bit more talk and he went out. He'd given me minute
directions how to get to his place. As he walked to the door I had the
utterly incredulous idea that around him was a droning and humming
like an enormous bagpipe, muted.

"My curiosity, or something deeper, was tremendously aroused. That
Wednesday I drove to his place. A lovely spot--all flowers and
blossom-trees. There were a couple of hundred skeps of bees set out in
a broad orchard. Ferguson met me. He looked fuzzier and yellower than
before. Also, the drone and hum of his voice seemed stronger. He took
me into his house. It was an odd enough place. All one high room, and
what windows there were had been shuttered--all except one. There was
a dim golden-white light suffusing it. Nor was its door the ordinary
door. It was low and broad. All at once it came to me that it was like
the inside of a hive. The unshuttered window looks out upon the hives.
It was screened.

"He brought me food and drink--honey and honeymead, cakes sweet with
honey, and fruit. He said: 'I do not eat meat.'

"He began to talk. About the life of the bee. Of the utter happiness
of the drone, darting through the sun, sipping at what flowers it
would, fed by its sisters, drinking of the honey cups in the and careless and its nights and days only a smooth
clicking of rapturous seconds...

"'What if they do kill you at the end?' he said. 'You have lived--
every fraction of a second of time. And then the rapture of the
nuptial flight. Drone upon drone winging through the air on the track
of the virgin! Life pouring stronger and stronger into you with each
stroke of the wing! And at last...the flaming ecstasy...the flaming
ecstasy of the fiery inner core of life...cheating death. True, death
strikes when you are at the tip of the flame...but he strikes too
late. You die--but what of that? You have cheated death. You do not
know it is death that strikes. You die in the heart of the

"He stopped. From outside came a faint sustained roaring that steadily
grew stronger. The beating of thousands upon thousands of bee
wings...the roaring of hundreds of thousands of tiny planes..."

"Ferguson leaped to the window.

"'The swarms! The swarms!' he cried. A tremor shook him, another and
another--more and more rapidly...became a rhythm pulsing faster and
faster. His arms, outstretched, quivered...began to beat up and down,
ever more rapidly until they were like the blur of the hummingbird's the blur of a bee's wings. His voice came tome...buzzing,
humming...'And tomorrow the virgins fly...the nuptial flight...I must
be there...must...mzzz...mzzzb...bzzz...bzzzzzzz...zzzzmmmm....'

"For an instant there was no man there at the window. No. There was
only a great drone buzzing and humming...striving to break through the
screen...go free...

"And then Ferguson toppled backward. Fell. The thick glasses were torn
away by his fall. Two immense black eyes, not human eyes but the
multiple eyes of the bee stared up at me.

"I bent down closer, closer, I listened for his heart beat. There was
none. He was dead.

"Then slowly, slowly the dead mouth opened.

"Through the lips came the questing head of a drone...antennae
wavering...eyes regarding me. It crawled out from between the lips. A
handsome drone...a strong drone. It rested for a breath on the lips,
then its wings began to vibrate...faster, faster...

"It flew from the lips of Ferguson and circled my head once and twice
and thrice. It flashed to the window and clung to the screen, buzzing,
crawling, beating its wings against it...

"There was a knife on the table. I took it and ripped the screen. The
drone darted out--and was gone---

"I turned and looked down at Ferguson. His eyes stared up at me. Dead
eyes. But no longer as I had known them of old. And
human. His hair was no longer the fine golden fuzz of the bee--it was
black as it had been when I had first known him. And his hands were
white and sinewy and--hairless."


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