Old Rambling House

       Frank Herbert / Science Fiction
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Old Rambling House Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net



Old Rambling House

By FRANK HERBERT

_All the Grahams desired was a home they could call their own ... but what did the home want?_

Illustrated by JOHNSON

On his last night on Earth, Ted Graham stepped out of a glass-walledtelephone booth, ducked to avoid a swooping moth that battered itself ina frenzy against a bare globe above the booth.

Ted Graham was a long-necked man with a head of pronounced egg shapetopped by prematurely balding sandy hair. Something about his lanky,intense appearance suggested his occupation: certified publicaccountant.

He stopped behind his wife, who was studying a newspaper classifiedpage, and frowned. ”They said to wait here. They'll come get us. Saidthe place is hard to find at night.”

Martha Graham looked up from the newspaper. She was a doll-faced woman,heavily pregnant, a kind of pink prettiness about her. The yellow glowfrom the light above the booth subdued the red-auburn cast of herponytail hair.

”I just _have_ to be in a house when the baby's born,” she said. ”What'dthey sound like?”

”I dunno. There was a funny kind of interruption--like an argument insome foreign language.”

”Did they sound foreign?”

”In a way.” He motioned along the night-shrouded line of trailers towardone with two windows glowing amber. ”Let's wait inside. These bugs outhere are fierce.”

”Did you tell them which trailer is ours?”

”Yes. They didn't sound at all anxious to look at it. That's odd--themwanting to trade their house for a trailer.”

”There's nothing odd about it. They've probably just got itchy feet likewe did.”

He appeared not to hear her. ”Funniest-sounding language you ever heardwhen that argument started--like a squirt of noise.”

* * * * *

Inside the trailer, Ted Graham sat down on the green couch that openedinto a double bed for company.

”They could use a good tax accountant around here,” he said. ”When Ifirst saw the place, I got that definite feeling. The valley looksprosperous. It's a wonder nobody's opened an office here before.”

His wife took a straight chair by the counter separating kitchen andliving area, folded her hands across her heavy stomach.

”I'm just continental tired of wheels going around under me,” she said.”I want to sit and stare at the same view for the rest of my life. Idon't know how a trailer ever seemed glamorous when--”

”It was the inheritance gave us itchy feet,” he said.

Tires gritted on gravel outside.

Martha Graham straightened. ”Could that be them?”

”Awful quick, if it is.” He went to the door, opened it, stared down atthe man who was just raising a hand to knock.

”Are you Mr. Graham?” asked the man.

”Yes.” He found himself staring at the caller.

”I'm Clint Rush. You called about the house?” The man moved farther intothe light. At first, he'd appeared an old man, fine wrinkle lines in hisface, a tired leather look to his skin. But as he moved his head in thelight, the wrinkles seemed to dissolve--and with them, the years liftedfrom him.

”Yes, we called,” said Ted Graham. He stood aside. ”Do you want to lookat the trailer now?”

Martha Graham crossed to stand beside her husband. ”We've kept it inawfully good shape,” she said. ”We've never let anything get seriouslywrong with it.”

_She sounds too anxious_, thought Ted Graham. _I wish she'd let me dothe talking for the two of us._

”We can come back and look at your trailer tomorrow in daylight,” saidRush. ”My car's right out here, if you'd like to see our house.”

Ted Graham hesitated. He felt a nagging worry tug at his mind, tried tofix his attention on what bothered him.

”Hadn't we better take our car?” he asked. ”We could follow you.”

”No need,” said Rush. ”We're coming back into town tonight anyway. Wecan drop you off then.”

Ted Graham nodded. ”Be right with you as soon as I lock up.”

Inside the car, Rush mumbled introductions. His wife was a dark shadowin the front seat, her hair drawn back in a severe bun. Her featuressuggested gypsy blood. He called her Raimee.

_Odd name_, thought Ted Graham. And he noticed that she, too, gave thatstrange first impression of age that melted in a shift of light.

Mrs. Rush turned her gypsy features toward Martha Graham. ”You are goingto have a baby?”

It came out as an odd, veiled statement.

Abruptly, the car rolled forward.

Martha Graham said, ”It's supposed to be born in about two months. Wehope it's a boy.”

Mrs. Rush looked at her husband. ”I have changed my mind,” she said.

Rush spoke without taking his attention from the road. ”It is too ...”He broke off, spoke in a tumble of strange sounds.

Ted Graham recognized it as the language he'd heard on the telephone.

Mrs. Rush answered in the same tongue, anger showing in the intensity ofher voice. Her husband replied, his voice calmer.

Presently, Mrs. Rush fell moodily silent.

Rush tipped his head toward the rear of the car. ”My wife has momentswhen she does not want to get rid of the old house. It has been with herfor many years.”

Ted Graham said, ”Oh.” Then: ”Are you Spanish?”

Rush hesitated. ”No. We are Basque.”

He turned the car down a well-lighted avenue that merged into a highway.They turned onto a side road. There followed more turns--left, right,right.

Ted Graham lost track.

They hit a jolting bump that made Martha gasp.

”I hope that wasn't too rough on you,” said Rush. ”We're almost there.”

* * * * *

The car swung into a lane, its lights picking out the skeleton outlinesof trees: peculiar trees--tall, gaunt, leafless. They added to TedGraham's feeling of uneasiness.

The lane dipped, ended at a low wall of a house--red brick withclerestory windows beneath overhanging eaves. The effect of the wall anda wide-beamed door they could see to the left was ultramodern.

Ted Graham helped his wife out of the car, followed the Rushes to thedoor.

”I thought you told me it was an old house,” he said.

”It was designed by one of the first modernists,” said Rush. He fumbledwith an odd curved key. The wide door swung open onto a hallway equallywide, carpeted by a deep pile rug. They could glimpse floor-to-ceilingview windows at the end of the hall, city lights beyond.

Martha Graham gasped, entered the hall as though in a trance. Ted Grahamfollowed, heard the door close behind them.

”It's so--so--so _big_,” exclaimed Martha Graham.

”You want to trade _this_ for our trailer?” asked Ted Graham.

”It's too inconvenient for us,” said Rush. ”My work is over themountains on the coast.” He shrugged. ”We cannot sell it.”

Ted Graham looked at him sharply. ”Isn't there any money around here?”He had a sudden vision of a tax accountant with no customers.

”Plenty of money, but no real estate customers.”

They entered the living room. Sectional divans lined the walls. Subduedlighting glowed from the corners. Two paintings hung on the oppositewalls--oblongs of odd lines and twists that made Ted Graham dizzy.

Warning bells clamored in his mind.

* * * * *

Martha Graham crossed to the windows, looked at the lights far awaybelow. ”I had no idea we'd climbed that far,” she said. ”It's like afairy city.”

Mrs. Rush emitted a short, nervous laugh.

Ted Graham glanced around the room, thought: _If the rest of the houseis like this, it's worth fifty or sixty thousand_. He thought of thetrailer: _A good one, but not worth more than seven thousand_.

Uneasiness was like a neon sign flashing in his mind. ”This seemsso ...” He shook his head.

”Would you like to see the rest of the house?” asked Rush.

Martha Graham turned from the window. ”Oh, yes.”

Ted Graham shrugged. _No harm in looking_, he thought.

When they returned to the living room, Ted Graham had doubled hisprevious estimate on the house's value. His brain reeled with thesumming of it: a solarium with an entire ceiling covered by sun lamps,an automatic laundry where you dropped soiled clothing down a chute,took it washed and ironed from the other end
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