Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/114

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ment. It was the air of somewhere, I don't know where, somewhere out among the endless reaches of the stars. Somewhere out there, out beyond the sun.

Another thought occurred to me.

"Do you think these things could have carried some creatures?" I asked. Ed stared at me a while, bit his lip, looked slowly around. He shrugged his shoulders without saying anything.

"The oddness of the air," I went on, "maybe it was like the air of some other world. Maybe they were trying to make our own air more breathable to them?"

Ed didn't answer that one either. It didn't require any. And he didn't ask me whom I meant by "they."

"And what makes the stink?" Ed finally commented. This time I shrugged.

Around us the smell waxed and waned. As if breezes were playing with a stream of noxious vapor. And yet, I suddenly realized, no breezes were blowing. The air was quite still. But still the smell grew stronger at one moment and weaker at another.

It was as if some creature were moving silently about, leaving no trace of itself save its scent.

"Look!" said Ed suddenly. He pointed to the west. I looked and stared at the sky. The whole west was a mass of seething dark clouds. But it was a curiously arrested mass. There was a sharply defined edge to the area—an edge of blue against which the black clouds piled in vain and we could see lightnings crackle and flash in the storm. Yet no wind reached us and no thunder and the sky was serene and blue overhead.

It looked as if the storm had come up against a solid obstacle beyond which it could go no further. But there was no such obstacle visible.

As a meteorologist I knew that meant there must be a powerful opposing bank of air shielding us. We could not see it for air is invisible but it must be there straining against the cloud bank.

I noticed now that a pressure was growing in my ears. Something was concentrating around this area. We were in for it if the forces of the air ever broke through.

The stink welled up powerfully, suddenly. More so than it had before. It seemed to pass by us and through us and around us. Then again it was gone. It almost vanished from everything. We could detect but the faintest traces of it after that passage.

Ed and I rode out to an outcropping of rock. We dismounted. We got well under the rock and we waited. It wouldn't be long before the protecting air bank gave way.

To the south now, storm clouds materialized, and then finally to the east and north. As I learned later the cold wave had eddied around us and met the Equatorial Front at last and now we were huddled with some inexplicable globes from unknown space and a bunch of strange stinks and atmosphere,