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Weird Tales

May, 1952

A Bit of Moss

By Suzanne Pickett

A bit of moss—and in it the undeniable imprint of human teeth.

SOMETHING had happened to the moss! Every day fresh chunks of it were missing. Martha Sylvan looked around her with sudden interest. Her eyes lighted for a minute. Then they dulled and she sighed mournfully. She thought of the day she had sat beside the coffin and looked through burning eyes at her father; a little, wizened, wrinkled man.

He was so still, so insignificant. How had he managed to fill all of her life? Now he was gone she had no one, nothing. "Father?" she whispered in anguish. Almost she heard his voice. The deep tones that had ruled her life, saw the flash of his eyes. He was living again. There was his keen mind, his tenderness and his—jealous, enveloping love for her.

He had guided her all of his life. Her studies, her books, music, literature. And his taste was exquisite in everything. Fear, cold, still fear that was her constant companion edged closer to her. What would she do now? She was twenty-five. She had no friends and remoteness had grown in her until it was part of her being.

She stared at the moss again. Puzzled at its disappearance. Interest lighted her eyes again. The fear receded and with its leaving came a doubtful relief. A queer sense of freedom. Other girls loved and married. Perhaps she could live too. But whom could she love? Was there anyone, anywhere—

A piece of moss hit her on the foot! She picked it up and scanned the woods. "I wonder who did that?" she whispered. It was suddenly cold. She pulled her wrap around her and hurried home.

The maid had kindled a fire in the library. Martha held out a chilled hand and looked at the moss. She opened her mouth to call the girl, then closed it. "She might leave, too," Martha whispered. "They can't all leave me."

There was only the gardener now, a colored woman who came to cook and clean by day and one maid who stayed in the house. Other servants stayed a day, perhaps two or three with frightened faces, then left. This girl had been with her a month.

"She mustn't leave me!" Martha said. "Anyhow, it's pure imagination. No one COULD have walked with me from the woods! I would have seen him!" She fingered the moss, hastily thrust it into her pocket. "Perhaps I'm going mad and don't know it," she whispered. "I must talk to someone!" Her voice rose. But whom did she know? She stared at the fire a minute, then smiled. Doctor Glengarry, of course. He was very nice. Father had always liked him.

Her fingers trembled eagerly as she dialed his number. She thought she heard a sigh, and whirled. There was no one there.

"Something upset you?" the doctor asked curiously when he came in.

"Well—I was scared for a minute."

"Yes?" He waited until she sat down, then sat beside her. "Tell me," he said. "What did you see?"

"You'll laugh at me."

"I won't laugh." He had reddish, brown hair, and blue eyes in a thin, narrow face. He regarded her a minute. "I have heard of your ghosts," he said abruptly. "Tell me. What did you see?"

"It was just a piece of moss." Her hand rubbed the moss in her pocket.

"A piece of moss? Queer thing to frighten you."

"But who would eat moss?" She handed it to him.

He examined it, a doubtful look on his face. "Open your mouth," he told her. He inspected her small, white teeth. "Your mouth is too small," he said and looked again at the clear, round imprint of human teeth in the moss. "A beautiful bite," he remarked and handed it back to her.

He chatted a few minutes then arose to go. "Take these if you can't sleep." He gave her a small envelope.

"You—you think I'm crazy?" she whispered.

His eyes were tense, eager. "No," he said. "There's something—odd—around here. I have felt it myself. If—if anything happens—Well, let me know."

After he left, Martha locked and barred the door. She washed her face, brushed her teeth and slipped into bed. But she was not sleepy! She waited expectantly for something, for someone. Finally, she grew drowsy, then suddenly was wide awake. Someone was in the room. Someone kind, gentle, good.

"What is it?" she whispered. "Who are you? Speak please." The night was utterly dark, the moon was not up and clouds hid the stars. "What do you want?" she asked, and wondered that she was not afraid.

Two lips were pressed to hers.

Her lips tingled and a great stillness and wonder and joy swept through her. "You?" she breathed. "Who are you?"

A voice spoke to her. Strange, wonderful, vibrant. An accent she couldn't recognize. A sound like nothing on earth. "I will not hurt you," the voice said.

She was amazed that she still felt no fear. That her joy increased. I'm asleep of course, she thought. But she heard herself ask, "Who are you?"

"I am Maris."

"Maris?" she wondered. "How did you get in?" He did not answer and she was silent awhile. Then doubt and grief entered her. "I'm dreaming of ...

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