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The chameleon man, p.1
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       The Chameleon Man, p.1

           William P. McGivern
 
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The Chameleon Man


  Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from Amazing Stories January 1943. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

  The Chameleon Man

  By WILLIAM P. McGIVERN

  Perfect adaptation, that's what it was. When a human being can blend with his surroundings, funny things can happen!

  * * * * *

  I've got an office in the _Daily Standard_ building and sometimes whenthings are slow in my line--theatrical bookings--I drift upstairs andtalk to the guy who writes the column, The Soldier's Friend, for the_Standard_.

  On this particular morning I walked into his office and found it emptyso I sat down and waited, figuring he was downstairs getting a mug ofcoffee. After I cleaned my nails and glanced through Jake's mail Ipropped my feet up on the desk and relaxed.

  Things in my line were strictly stinkeroo. With the army taking anoption on every available hunk of male flesh, it made it pretty toughto get acts together. Of course, I still had a few dollies to peddle,but the situation don't look too good there, what with the WAVES andthe WAACS and the demand from factories for powder-puff riveters.

  I sighed and moodily contemplated my uncreased trouser legs andthought of my non-existent bank balance. Whoever said war was hell,sure hit the nail on the head.

  The door opened and I heard a shuffle of footsteps on the floor. Itipped my derby back and looked up, expecting to see Jake, but theoffice was empty.

  The door was standing open and I scratched my head. Maybe it had blownopen. Then I remembered the sound of footsteps I'd heard and mybewilderment increased.

  "Hello," a voice said.

  My feet came down from the desk with a crash. I sat up straight andstared about the small room.

  "Who said that?" I demanded.

  "I did. I'm right here." It was the same voice and I jerked my head inthe direction of the sound.

  For an instant I didn't see a thing. But then, my eyes seemed suddenlyto focus, and I saw a tall, lanky young man standing a few feet fromme. He had a shock of straw colored hair and mild blue eyes. He wore alight suit.

  "Can you see me now?" he asked, and his voice sounded strained, as ifhe were exerting himself in some manner.

  "Yes, I can see you," I said. I was a little nettled. "What do youmean coming in and scaring people that way?"

  "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to scare you. I just can't helpit. I'll have to relax now."

  "You'll have to what? Are you--"

  I broke off and goggled. The young man had completely disappeared. Myforehead was suddenly damp with nervous perspiration. I closed my eyesand forced myself to think calmly. This was some trick of myimagination. I'd been working too hard. My nerves were shot. I'd haveto take a rest.

  I opened my eyes cautiously. The room was empty. I drew a relievedbreath.

  "I'm sorry if I frightened you," a familiar voice said apologetically."But, you see, I can't help it."

  I stood up warily and peered about the room.

  "Where are you?" I whispered.

  "Right here in front of you."

  "If you're a mahout for pink elephants, I don't want to see you," Isaid. "Go away."

  "Please," the young man's voice was plaintive, "I need your advice.I'm in trouble."

  "That's too bad," I said, edging toward the door.

  "Please listen to me. There's nothing to be afraid of."

  "From your viewpoint, no," I said.

  "If you'll look carefully you can see me," the voice said. "That'swhat bothers most people. I mean not being able to see me."

  "How stupid of them to be bothered by a little thing like that," Isaid, trying not to gibber. But in spite of my common sense I did peerclosely at the area the young man had occupied and I saw a veryremarkable thing.

  * * * * *

  I saw the vague, indistinct shape of the straw-haired, blue-eyed youngman standing exactly where I had seen him the first time. But theeffect was so uncertain and shadowy that I was hardly able to trust myeyes.

  The young man seemed to blend into the background, which happened tobe a desk, water cooler and wall, so evenly and completely that it wasimpossible to see him at all.

  But even so, seeing him, however fuzzily, was a relief.

  "It's a good trick," I said cautiously.

  "It's not a trick," the young man said, aggrieved. "It's something Ican't help."

  "Oh yeah? Well how does it happen that I was able to see you when youcame in?"

  "I was exerting my will power," the young man said. "But that'sawfully tiring. I had to relax a moment or so and when I did youweren't able to see me quite so distinctly."

  I found my curiosity stirring. Maybe the guy was a crackpot or phony,but it wouldn't hurt to hear his story. In my line, with things aslean as they are, you can't afford to miss any bets.

  "What makes you pop on and off like an electric light?" I asked. "Mustbe a tiring way to go through life."

  "You don't know the half of it," the young man said mournfully. "I'veonly been this way for a few months, but it seems like it's beenyears."

  "Well, go on," I said. "Spill your troubles. Why should Mr. Anthonyhave all the fun?"

  "What?"

  "Never mind. Shoot."

  "I'm not sure what causes me to fade-out like this. I've been to ahalf dozen doctors and psychiatrists and they aren't sure either. Butit has something to do with personality development, they think. Thelast psychiatrist I visited told me that I had a very colorlesspersonality and abnormal inhibitions and frustrations. He said that mypresent condition was a physical manifestation of my colorlesspersonality."

  I shook my head disgustedly.

  "That sounds about as asinine as the droolings of the averagepsychiatrist," I muttered. "He didn't know and spent an hour sayingso, I'll bet."

  "It's awful," the young man sighed disconsolately. "I can make myselfvisible for a little while but it's awfully tiring. The rest of thetime I go around like a ghost. I blend into the background socompletely that people just don't notice me at all. It's just like notbeing alive."[1]

  [Footnote 1: The young man's peculiar physical condition is not asfantastic and unprecedented as one might at first believe. Everyonehas had the experience of meeting a person who makes almost noimpression whatsoever on them. People with such anemia of thepersonality are constantly being forgotten, overlooked even by friendswho know them well. Their presence in a room will be unobserved forseveral minutes and, frequently, such people will be completelyignored, even when they are sitting or standing in plain view. Innature, the chameleon has similar properties but for a definitereason, namely that of defense against its stronger enemies. Thechameleon blends perfectly into the brown and green foliage of itsnative habitat and even the marvelously keen eyes of its naturalenemies are unable to detect its presence. It is not impossible toconceive that the same camouflaging property could develop in a humanbeing. Nature might appreciate the difficulty of a retiring, sensitiveperson to mingle with his more vivid fellow creatures, and so clothehim with a defensive armor of practical invisibility to insulate himagainst the attacks of those with stronger personalities. Readers of_Fantastic Adventures_ will remember John York Cabot's classic, "TheMan the World Forgot," as an exposition of this theme. Unexplainedinstances of men and women "disappearing" from normal environmentsmight be simply cases of submerged personalities which did not"disappear" but were simply and tragically forgotten.--ED.]

  I studied the
vague shape of the young man carefully. I could see him,but only by straining my eyes. The whole thing was amazing. Lookingcarefully, I realized that the young man was _not_ invisible; he wasjust easy to miss because he was so inconspicuously blended into thebackground of the office.

  "You'd probably have a fine time on a patch work quilt," I said.

  The young man shuddered.

  "Please don't joke," he said imploringly. "I'm in real trouble. I needhelp."

  "I'll say you do," I said. "But I don't see what I can do for you."

  "It's this," the young man said. "My draft board just deferred me witha 4-F classification. They told me I wouldn't be any good in mypresent shape. So there."

  I looked at the young phantom.

  "Well--go on!"

  "Go on? That's all there is to it. They've rejected me. They won'ttake me."

  "And that's your problem?"

  "Naturally."

  * * * * *

  I shook my head. It takes all kinds, I guess.

  "Now listen to me," I said. "If the army doesn't want you, consideryourself lucky."

  "But I want to get in," the young man protested. "I won't feel rightuntil I am in service."

  "You left that psychiatrist too soon," I muttered. "Anyway, what doyou expect me to do?"

  "Why, I was sure you could help me," the young man said. "You're theSoldier's Friend, aren't you? You write the column of advice to theYanks in the _Standard_, don't you?"

  I got it then. This wraith thought I was the Soldier's Friend. That'swhy he was spilling himself to me.

  He continued. "You know all the angles of the various branches of theService, and I hoped you'd be able to recommend some branch that coulduse me. I'm willing to do anything or go anywhere. If you'll help meI'll put myself completely in your hands."

  "Now just a minute," I said. "You've got the wrong idea. The guy youwant to see--"

  I closed my big mouth with a snap. What was wrong with me? Were mybrains on a permanent vacation? Here was opportunity hammering andbanging at my door and I was too deaf to hear a sound.

  This hard-to-see young man was a natural for show business. I alreadyhad an act lined up that he would fit as neatly as five fingers in aglove. And he was practically begging me to take him under my wing.

  "Young man," I said. "You impress me as being sincere and earnest. Andfor that reason I am going to try and help you."

  "Oh, gosh, thanks."

  "It's the least I can do," I said. "But," I added sternly, "you've gotto put yourself completely in my hands. You mustn't question a thing Itell you to do. You see, this isn't going to be easy. I'll have to goabout it in a rather roundabout way. And it may take a little while."

  "Oh, I don't care," the young man said happily. "Anything you say isall right with me."

  "Fine." I glanced at my watch. "We've got to go now. You follow me."

  "Sure, Mr.--"

  "Flannigan," I said automatically.

  "But, Mr. Flannigan, that isn't the name you use on your column."

  "Naturally," I said. "Very sharp of you to catch that. I might get youinto Intelligence, even if only as a decoy. The name I use on thecolumn is a pseudonym."

  "Oh!"

  "Now come along with me."

  I hurriedly got my young phantom out of the Soldier's Friend officebefore anyone could butt in and ruin everything. When we were safelyensconced in my own office, I waved the young man to a chair.

  "What's your name?" I asked.

  "Horatio Heely," he replied.

  * * * * *

  I was becoming more enthused every minute. Looking at him, or _trying_to look at him, seated in a chair, convinced me of his enormouspotentialities. The chair was brown leather and, at first glance, theonly thing that indicated that it was occupied, was a slightindentation in the seat and back of the chair. Horatio blended inperfectly with the deep brown of the chair and his face, which stuckup six or eight inches, was invisible against the grayness of thewall.

  "Maybe you could get me into the Coast Guard," he said.

  I frowned. "I hardly think so," I said. "I know the Commander overthere but I don't think I could swing it. Now, remember, you're goingto leave everything in my hands."

  The door of my office opened then and a slim, stunning blonde walkedin, followed by a tall, gaunt, sober individual with a gloomy face anddeep black eyes. He wore a turban with an imitation jewel set in thecenter folds, squarely over his high forehead.

  "Hah!" this character cried. "I suppose again you will tell me thereis nothing for Mystiffio The Great, today."

  "Ix-nay," I snapped. "Ut-shay up-yay!"

  The blonde looked at me, eyebrows raising.

  "What gives, mastermind?"

  This was the act I had in mind for Horatio. Mystiffio was a fairmagician and his line of patter wasn't bad. The blonde, whose name wasAlice, acted as a prop, and with her looks and Mystiffio's line theydidn't do badly. But with Horatio in the act it would be tremendous.

  He would blend perfectly into the stage background. Invisible, hecould assist Mystiffio with the hocus-pocus and really produce somewonderful effects.

  Alice was still looking at me as if I'd gone batty.

  "Just trust Uncle," I said hastily. "I got a great new angle for youract."

  "You act as if you've been out in the sun too long," Alice murmured."But don't mind me."

  With a weary sigh she sank into the brown leather chair. And one-tenthof a second later she leaped to her feet with a scream. She wheeledabout, hand raised to slap, and then as she stared at the seeminglyempty chair, an expression of wonderment stole over her pretty face.

  "Oh!" she screamed, and leaped from the chair]

  "What--I could have sworn I--" She turned to me pleadingly. "What isit? Am I going screwy or is there somebody sitting in that chair?"

  "Horatio," I said. "Exert a little willpower and show yourself."

  "All right, Mr. Flannigan," Horatio's voice from the chair answered.

  Mystiffio moved nervously toward the door.

  "I don't believe it," he said. His broad dark face was an unhappymixture of fear and surprise.

  "Well, I'll be darned!" Alice cried. She was staring at the chair, orrather at Horatio, who had suddenly become visible.

  * * * * *

  I made the introductions quickly.

  "Now that's enough, Horatio," I said. "You can turn yourself offagain. I don't want you to wear out."

  "Thanks," Horatio said gratefully. He smiled faintly at Alice."Pleased to have met you," he said. Then he vanished into the brownbackground of the chair.

  "Get me a drink!" Mystiffio said. He grasped the edge of the desk andstared solemnly at the empty brown chair. "Get me two drinks."

  "What is it?" Alice demanded. "How do you do it? Mirrors? Lighting?It's terrific."

  "It's completely on the level. Now here's the angle. I'm going to putthis guy into your act. Wait'll the crowds get a load of Mystiffio'smagic then. With Horatio in the background pulling the strings he'llmake Thurston look like an amateur parlor entertainer."

  Mystiffio turned to me stiffly.

  "What," he said frigidly, "makes you think I need an invisible man tohelp me in my act? I am perfectly capable of astounding and amazing anaudience by myself."

  "You're quoting your own press notices now," I said. "I know; I wrote'em."

  "And what makes you think I'm not as good as Thurston?" Mystiffioasked in an injured voice.

  "Ah, temperament!" I murmured. I turned to Alice. "You work on him.You can see that Horatio will be a good thing, can't you? You don'twant your act to die, do you?"

  "Mr. Flannigan." It was Horatio. His voice sounded apologetic. "Idon't want to disturb you, but what has all this got to do withgetting me into the army? You sound more like a booking agent than theSoldier's Friend."

  Alice looked at me.

  "Heel," she said. "What kind of line are y
ou giving him?"

  "Horatio," I said. "I am disappointed. I expected a little trust fromyou. Didn't I tell you it might be a little while before I got thingsset? This angle I'm working now will put you practically into thearmy."

  "Yeah! How?"

  "I'm going to line you up doing an act for the U. S. O. Does that showyou my heart's in the right place?"

  "There will be a short pause for cat-calls and boos," Alice murmured.

  "All right," Horatio said with a sigh. "I'll go along with you."

  "Fine," I said. "And just to get you used to army life I'm going tostart paying you fifty bucks a month."

  "You great big generous man," Alice said and I think there was atwinge of sarcasm in her voice.

  "Now that's no way to talk," I said.
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