A Friend of the Earth


                                  Cary C. W. Thomas 

               Copyright 1996, 2003, The Cary C. W. Thomas Trust, dated 

          7/11/90; All Rights Reserved


               The dog's body slumped to the earth as the muted double pop! 

          of the silenced rifle shot, and the bursting skull of the guard 

          dog, faded away into the moonless night surrounding the neatly 

          manicured lawn and scrupulously kept gardens of the modest single 

          story mansion. The dog died in the whitewash from the mercury 

          vapor lamps mounted intermittently to the exterior of the mansion.

               Only parts of a three meter high fence were visible in the 

          weakened illumination beyond the dog's body. Beyond the fence, 

          thick woodland sheltered the ebony atmosphere, denying the cooling

                                    Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 2

          light access.

               Along the south side of the rectangular manse, just outside 

          the fence, a few tree limbs rustled, disturbing the trees' 

          protecting girdle.

               A bulbous metallic nose poked its way through the dense tangle 

          of limbs. Emerging a few inches, the silencer became motionless, 

          floating like a nefarious hummingbird.

               The sniper fired again as a second guard dog appeared around 

          a distant corner of the house, coming to investigate the suspicious 

          noise that had announced its companion's demise. The dog only had 

          time to orient on its dead fellow, and begin to open its jaws to 

          declare its discovery, before the bullet pierced its skull. The 

          body fell leadenly to the crisp grass, releasing a sigh from its 

          deflating lungs to mingle with the inconspicuous breezes that 

          came onto the mansion's grounds over the tops of the indifferent 



               The bearded, corpulent man ignored the soaring images flung 

          onto the wide screen of the projection TV. Eyes closed, his mind 

          provided him with all the necessary imagery to revel in the 

          magnificent aural flights of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet.

               His watch began its insistent beeping. For a few seconds he 

          attempted to ignore the sound but his facial twitches betrayed 

          his inevitable recognition of the signal.

               He canceled the alarm with a touch of a finger to the watch 

          rim and turned off the disk player.

               Pushing himself up out of his comfortable armchair he moved 

          across the carpet of warm russets and browns. Detouring around

                                    Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 3

          the wide projection screen, he moved out of his living room into 

          the undivided, intimate dining section and through the open doorway 

          into his spacious, well lit kitchen.

               Going to one of the cupboards below a counter he got out a 

          clean, stainless steel bucket which he placed by a large, 

          freestanding butcher block in the middle of the floor. Flipping a 

          switch in one of the block's legs, he turned on a single flood 

          light directly above the cutting surface.

               He moved to a large door set in between the cabinets that 

          lined the walls. Pulling on the large, heavy latch he opened the 

          door to a refrigerated locker.

               Inside, he selected a large hindquarter of beef from a shelf 

          and hefted it onto a hooked rack suspended from a rail attached 

          to the ceiling.

               The rail passed out of the locker into the kitchen, ending 

          above the butcher block. He pushed the meat ahead of him into the 

          kitchen, closing the door.

               Letting the meat hang on the hook, he used saw and clever to 

          fill the bucket on the floor, chopping the meat into small chunks.

               Finished, the bucket generously full, he rolled the remaining 

          meat back into the locker, giving the rack a shove at the door. 

          He would reshelve it later.

               Slamming the locker door behind him, he picked up the bucket 

          and headed toward the living room. There, he stopped at a carved 

          cabinet and withdrew a portable tape recorder and three or four 

          tapes. Pocketing the tapes in his lounging jacket and slinging 

          the recorder's long strap over his shoulder he headed toward the 

          door that would lead to the mansion's basement and another fruitful

                                    Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 4

          night's conversation with his informant.

               He jumped violently, after taking only a few steps, when the 

          tall, narrow-frame window by the front door shattered inward, 

          broken by the butt of a rifle. A gloved hand shot through the 

          opening and grappled with the simple twist lock-button in the 

          center of the door handle. The door burst open even before the 

          intruder's hand had been pulled back through the window. The door 

          shuddered to a stop, only inches open, as it caught up against 

          the security chain.

               Setting his bucket down and putting the recorder on a nearby 

          table the bearded man stood calmly as the muzzle of a silenced 

          pistol was poked through the smashed window. Through the narrow 

          opening of the door he could see the silhouette of the man against 

          the brightly lit grounds. "Unchain it, Evan! I can easily kill 

          you from here." The voice was harsh and taut. Evan walked over to 

          the door, closed it and unlatched the chain. He had barely stepped 

          back when the door was pushed violently open by the man outside. 

          The man picked up his rifle, resting against the jamb, and walked 

          in, closing the door behind him.

               The intruder grinned companionably at Evan.

               While he spoke, the man chucked the rifle butt under one 

          arm, keeping the pistol trained on Evan. He opened the rifle's 

          chamber and cleared it.

               "Your security's not too good, is it, Evan? The closest 

          guard's hundreds of yards down the drive."

               The man waved the pistol in the direction he spoke. He laid 

          the rifle on a nearby table. He pulled off his gloves and green 

          plastic camouflage cap. His entire outfit was camouflage green.

                                    Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 5

               Evan examined the man's face. A day's stubble shaded the 

          man's lean jaw, but Evan still recognized him.

               "I don't think you need have come to see me in such a 

          flamboyant fashion, Jeral," said Evan.

               "I have a very strong feeling it would have been too easy 

          for you to turn me away and avoid me if my appearance had been 

          more formal. I am rather angry with you.

               "Let's sit down, hmm?," Jeral said as he gestured to some 


               As Evan lowered himself into a chair he saw Jeral notice the 

          bucket of meat on the carpet. He met Jeral's gaze. Jeral seated 

          himself facing Evan, still carefully aiming his weapon at him.

               "Your dogs won't need feeding tonight. Sorry I had to kill 

          them," Jeral said, nodding his head toward the bucket on the floor.

               Jeral looked about the room.

               "You seem to have a conspicuous lack of security, Evan. Makes 

          me wonder if it wasn't set up this way just for me."

               He smiled widely at Evan.

               "Or am I being too pompous?," Jeral continued. "No alarms, 

          no guards in the forest, just two dogs, an electrified fence, and 

          a couple of guards at the front gate. Not much for such a 

          successful and reclusive entrepreneur as yourself."

               "I never expected an armed assault, Jeral."

               Evan paused, then continued.

               "I can imagine reasons why you've come, but your violent 

          entrance would seem to jeopardize your realizing anything you 

          might gain."

               "I'll worry about securing my 'gain' as you call it. Maybe

                                    Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 6

          I've come for a little vengeance. It wasn't very nice of you to 

          run out on me with the money in London. Your con was very good 

          and I thought I played my role in it very well. Well enough to be 

          paid my share."

               "I needed all the money, very desperately. I tried to locate 

          you afterward when I had no more need of it. Then, I was willing 

          to give all of it to you."

               "How long afterward, Evan," Jeral said bitterly. "One, two 

          years, maybe? You certainly weren't in a hurry to pay me off. I 

          wonder how hard you really tried?"

               Evan waited for him to continue, but Jeral just sat there 

          holding the gun on him unwaveringly.

               "What do you want then?," Evan said. "I can pay you the money 

          if you want ---"

               "I've no doubt that you can do that very easily. No, I want 

          something more."

               Jeral waved his hand in a vague gesture at the room.

               "You used the con money to work up to all this, didn't you? 

          That's what I want: what is it that makes you so valuable to your 

          employers, or should I say partners? The oil and mineral companies 

          are doing a good job of misdirecting the media. They've got the 

          newspeople believing it's that mystic Claude Jenson who's leading 

          them to the new deposits. But fortunately I know you, Evan. And I 

          remembered your big PR splash before you dropped out of the 

          public's eye. And now I find you living quite well.

               "I think its you, Evan. You're supplying the companies with 

          their deposit info, and however you're doing it you can get it 

          into a crate and move it around."

                                    Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 7

               Jeral zipped open his camouflage jacket and pulled out a 

          medium sized envelope. He flung it at Evan who caught it clumsily.

               "Go on, look inside," Jeral said.

               Evan lifted up the unsealed flap and spread the sides of the 

          envelope so he could get at its contents. He pulled out about a 

          dozen color photos.

               Turning them upright he looked at them.

               "That's what you needed the money for, four years ago. To 

          transport whatever you found in England here, to America, and 

          keep it safe. Then you established your 'reputation', or should I 

          say your amazing ability, by finding the Lost Dutchman Mine. That 

          was a good move, Evan. You really got attention."

               The pictures were not even six months old. They showed the 

          mansion and grounds, the structure finished but the grounds still 

          torn up in places, the landscaping not yet completed. The photos 

          were of the back of the house. A large truck was parked right by 

          the unusually large well area outside the basement door. A self-

          contained crane arm on the truck was lowering a large rectangular 

          crate down into the well. Telephoto shots showed workmen in the 

          well guiding the crate onto a heavy duty coaster. A few photos 

          showed Evan standing at various spots supervising the operation. 

          "Don't tell me it was a piece of precious furniture, either." 

          Jeral's voice was rough. Evan suspected Jeral was reveling in his 

          little intellectual accomplishments.

               "I saw all your furniture brought in by van. Uncrated," Jeral 


               "What was it you found, that could tell you where to find 

          untapped deposits, Evan? That's what I want."

                                    Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 8

               Evan put the pictures back in the envelope and laid it on 

          the floor next to his chair. Now he looked at Jeral. He studied 

          the tensions in the man's face and saw the outward telltales of 

          utter satisfaction that hinted at an internal exuberance bordering 

          on glee. Evan now knew that Jeral wouldn't accomplish his purpose 

          here by just learning of Evan's informant.

               Jeral intended to kill him afterward. Possibly that had been 

          Jeral's goal all along. Discovering Evan's secret was just a 

          convenient windfall.

               "Alright, Jeral," Evan said. "Yes, I found something in 

          England. Do you remember the trips I used to take out into the 


               Jeral nodded that he did.

               "I found it there," Evan continued. "An animal, nearly dead. 

          It could speak human language, Jeral. Scared the hell out of me 

          when it called to me for help. It can't move, you see, it's buried 

          in the ground. It called to me for help only because it was 

          starving to death. Urban development had threatened its food 

          supply. It agreed to give me something in return for my help. It 

          told me of its ability. You might call it an intimate with the 

          earth. Somehow, it can sense things within or on the earth. That's 

          what I found. It agreed to give any information I wanted if I 

          would protect it.

               "We're dependent on each other now: it for my protection, me 

          for it's information."

               Jeral chuckled softly, shaking his head slightly.

               "I would have found Jenson's spiritual mysticism more 


                                    Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 9

               Jeral's slight smile faded and he looked cooly at Evan.

               "I'm impatient, Evan. What..."

               "You don't have to rely on my word. I can show it to you. 

          That's what was in the crate you photographed."

               Evan watched Jeral ponder over the offer a moment. Jeral 

          nodded and rose.

               "Ok, we'll go see this fantastic creature of yours. But be 

          careful, Evan, if it's a trick I'll kill you at the first hint."

               Evan walked over to the basement door. Out of a corner of 

          his eye, through one of the windows, he glimpsed a large 

          rectangular blot hanging over the barbed wire that topped the 

          perimeter fence. Outside the fence, unnatural glints of light 

          betrayed some form of ladder leading up to the insulating sheet. 

          Opening the door he turned on the basement light.

               Evan a few feet ahead, they descended a rough oak stairway 

          that led to an earthen floor. Jeral closed the door behind him as 

          he followed.

               "You've been extraordinarily patient these past four years," 

          Evan said as they went down.

               "Finding you was quite a job, especially after you dropped 

          out of sight after the Lost Dutchman find...."

               "I preferred to make my business contacts unobtrusively. The 

          Dutchman ploy was only to pique the companies' interest. That and 

          a gratis demonstration. That was enough."

               "...then there were financial problems: getting back from 

          England, living, moving..."

               "I see."

               Evan reached the dirt floor.

                                   Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 10

               Directly before them, across the spacious room, was the 

          basement doorway through which the crate had been moved. A concrete 

          apron ran from the door to the center of the basement.

               Evan moved off to the right of the stairway, walking toward 

          the wall opposite the basement door.

               There, he came up to a tarpaulin draped over some form of 

          frame which held the tarp off the earthen floor. To one side a 

          plain, sturdy table and cushioned chair stood on another, smaller 

          concrete apron. Over the tarpaulin, suspended on a vertical boom 

          from an overhead beam, was a microphone. The 'phone's lead ran 

          overhead to drop down to the table.

               "Wait a minute," said Jeral as he moved into a better position 

          to see what would be beneath the tarp.

               "Alright, but slowly, and keep your hands in sight," Jeral 

          warned, leveling his weapon at Evan's back. Jeral watched closely 

          as Evan pulled the tarp off its frame.

               As Evan let the tarp drop to the ground by his side he heard 

          Jeral's breath hiss as he saw the animal.

               Flush with the surface of the floor, the creature's visible 

          portion resembled a large sphincter muscle. Dark brown, leathery 

          skin emerged from the earth to form a puckered, closed circular 


               Jeral looked at Evan.

               "You said it could speak," Jeral prompted.

               "Yes, I can."

               The creature's susurrant voice rose from the floor. Startled, 

          Jeral trained his gun on the creature. Out of the corner of his 

          eye, Jeral had seen the sphincter deform over two parallel ridges

                                   Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 11

          just below the flesh.

               The orifice had elongated in line with the ridges and the 

          being had spoken in a human manner.

               As Jeral watched, the mouth deformed again.

               "Who is this other, Evan?"

               Evan looked to Jeral first. Jeral nodded his approval, 

          returning his attention to the creature.

               "A former friend, Pedna," Evan said.

               Jeral looked up at Evan as he spoke the name.

               "It has a name?," Jeral said.

               "Pedna, so I call myself," the creature responded for Evan.

               Jeral wiped his free hand across his upper lip, looking back 

          at Evan.

               "How large is it, underground?," he asked Evan.

               "Quite extensive when established in a permanent location. 

          It has rootlike growths that go into the earth. It gets its 

          moisture through the roots. When I transported it, it was able to 

          shorten its roots so I could dig it up. Then it had to have water 

          poured into the earth it traveled in."

               "So I do not dry up and die," the creature added.

               "Does it get its food from the ground, too?," Jeral asked.

               Evan hesitated a second.

               "No, it feeds from the surface. It eats ---"

               "Meat," the creature interrupted quietly and with the word 

          shot forth tentacles up about Jeral from muscular sheathes growing 

          in the earth around the being.

               For a fraction of a second, before his muscles could respond 

          to the frantic signals traveling from his mind, Jeral thought

                                   Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 12

          jets of water were being sprayed up around him. Then he felt the 

          cool tentacles curl about his legs and arms, grasping the gun and 

          tearing it from his fingers. As he struggled, he fell to the 


               Evan walked calmly to the table and seated himself.

               "You were right about the security here, Jeral. It was meant 

          for you," Evan said quietly, not loud enough to be heard over 

          Jeral's terrified screams and imprecations.

               Tentacles closer to the mouth had emerged and grasped Jeral, 

          the further ones releasing.

               Jeral dug deep troughs in the soft dirt with his fingers as 

          he was dragged closer to Pedna. His yells were almost animalistic 

          as he struggled with the powerful, leathery tentacles.

               Evan thought of what he must do upstairs afterward: bring 

          the rifle down so Pedna could pull it and the gun deep into the 

          ground. Burn the photos, put the meat back in the locker, and the 

          recorder and tapes away.

               Then lock himself in his bedroom and call the front gate 

          guards. When they arrived and could find no intruder he would 

          suggest the man had fled when he could not get at Evan. As for 

          any letters or negatives of the photos Jeral might have left, 

          Evan felt he could deal with those. It was the man Evan feared, 

          the only partner he had taken on in his five years of embezzlements 

          and cons during his former life.

               Jeral's legs were well into Pedna's mouth now. Jeral pushed 

          down against the flesh, trying to draw himself out. But Pedna's 

          flexible, prehensile tongue held fast.

               A muffled snap came out of Pedna's mouth. Jeral's head jerked

                                   Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 13

          back, his face contorted in excruciating pain. Then Jeral passed 

          out, his body going limp.

               Pedna's lower set of grinding jaws had broken the man's legs.

               Soon Jeral's face disappeared below Pedna's lips.

               Evan waited a few more moments then got up. He walked halfway 

          to the stairs then stopped.

               "You'll have to bury yourself for a while, Pedna, while the 

          guards and police investigate. I'm going up to get another weapon 

          he brought so you can pull it into the earth with the handgun. 

          I'll rake out the scuffle after you're underground, then call the 

          guards. OK?"

               As an answer a sheath poked above ground near the gun. The 

          tentacle extended, felt for the weapon and pulled it down after 

          the sheath. Small clods of dirt fell in after the gun. The tentacle 

          would dig and pull until the weapon was quite deep.

               Evan started for the stairs.

               "Evan," Pedna said. Evan put his hand on the rail and looked 

          back. "Yes?"

               "Because we may not speak to each other for a while I need 

          to tell you something of great importance to me. While I am 

          underground you may prepare whatever may be needed."

               "What...? What do you mean?"

               "I have found another of my kind, Evan. In the continent 

          south of here. It is a female, Evan. I want her. As soon as 


               As Evan ascended the stairs he mentally reviewed his financial 


               He had known a time would come when their impasse would end

                                   Thomas / A Friend of the Earth / Page 14

          and one of them would gain some advantage over the other. Evan 

          had hoped it would be himself. Now he felt it was otherwise. But 

          what disturbed him as he climbed the stairs was a building 

          trepidation toward Pedna that he had never experienced since 

          unearthing the creature from beside the maple tree in the pleasant 

          English countryside. During the four years he had kept Pedna his 

          most persistently disturbing speculation about his informant had 

          been how its kind dispersed its offspring. What kind of 

          independence did the method confer to the young? And to what extent 

          did the young have fealty toward the parents?

               Soon, he would know.

                                     THE END


               The kernel for this tale grew from an appreciation of E. 

          Nesbit's glorious creature, the Psammead (pronounced "sammy-add"), 

          or sand-fairy. My creature is much more vicious. Though the 

          Psammead had a ferocious temper, it would never eat anyone. The 

          Psammead appeared in Nesbit's novel "Five Children and It". The 

          Psammead would grant the children wishes so they would go away 

          and leave it alone in it's sand pile. It was a very grumpy fairy.