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The Seed of the Toc-Toc Birds   By: (1898-1946)

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Transcriber's Note: This e text was produced from "Astounding Stories", January, 1932. Extensive research did not reveal any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

[Illustration: His clutching hands closed on something small and hard. ]

The Seed of the Toc Toc Birds

By Francis Flagg

[Sidenote: Little did Prof. Reubens suspect what his atom tampering would set loose upon the world.]

Talbot had been working that day, far up in the Catalinas, looking over some mining prospects for his company, and was returning to the Mountain View Hotel in Oracle when, from the mouth of an abandoned shaft some distance back of that town, he saw a strange object emerge.

"Hello," he said to Manuel, his young Mexican assistant, "what the devil can that be?"

Manuel crossed himself swiftly.

"Dios!" he exclaimed, "but it is a queer bird, señor."

Queer, it certainly was, and of a species Talbot had never before laid eyes on. The bird stood on the crumbling rim of the mining shaft and regarded him with golden eyes. Its body was as large as that of a buzzard, and its head had a flat, reptilian look, unpleasant to see. Nor was that the only odd thing. The feathers glittered metallically, like blued copper, and a streak of glistening silver outlined both wings.

Marveling greatly, and deciding that the bird must be some rare kind escaped from a zoo, or a stray from tropical lands much further south, Talbot advanced cautiously, but the bird viewed his approach with unconcern. Ten feet from it he stopped uneasily. The strange fowl's intent look, its utter immobility, somewhat disconcerted him.

"Look out, señor," warned Manuel.

Involuntarily, Talbot stepped back. If he had possessed a rifle he would have shot the bird, but neither Manuel nor himself was armed. Suddenly he had looked away for a moment the bird was gone. Clutching a short miner's pick ax, and a little ashamed of his momentary timidity, he strode to the edge of the abandoned shaft and peered down. There was nothing to see; only rotting joists of wood, crumbling earth for a few feet, and then darkness.

He pondered for a moment. This was the old Wiley claim. He knew it well. The shaft went down for over two hundred feet, and there were several lateral workings, one of which tunneled back into the hills for a considerable distance. The mine had been a bonanza back in the days when Oracle boomed, but the last ore had been taken out in 1905, and for twenty seven years it had lain deserted. Manuel came up beside him and leaned over.

"What is that?" he questioned.

Talbot heard it himself, a faint rumbling sound, like the rhythmic throb of machinery. Mystified, he gazed blankly at Manuel. Of course it was impossible. What could functioning machinery be doing at the bottom of an abandoned hole in the ground? And where there were no signs of human activity to account for the phenomenon? A more forsaken looking place it would be hard to imagine. Not that the surrounding country wasn't ruggedly beautiful and grand; the hills were covered with live oak, yucca grass, chulla, manzanita, and starred with the white blossoms of wild thistle. But this locality was remote from human habitation, and lonely.

Could it be, Talbot wondered, the strange bird making that noise? Or perhaps some animal? The noise sounded like nothing any creature, furred or feathered, could make, but, of course, that must be the explanation. However, it would be dark within the hour, with Oracle still two miles distant, so he turned reluctantly away, Manuel thwacking the burros from the grazing they had found. But that was not to be the end of the odd experience. Just before the trail swung over the next rise, Talbot glanced back. There, perching on the rim of the abandoned mining shaft, were not one but two of the strange birds. As if cognizant of his backward glance, they napped their gleaming, metallic wings, although they did not rise, and gave voice to what could only be their natural harsh cries, measured and, somehow, sinister... Continue reading book >>

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