Long before Under the Dome, this novel of a town trapped within an invisible force field earned a Nebula Award nomination for the author of Way Station. Nothing much ever happens in Millville, a small, secluded Middle-American community—until the day Brad Carter discovers he is unable to leave. And the nearly bankrupt real estate agent is not the only one being held prisoner; every resident is confined within the town’s boundaries by an invisible force field that cannot be breached. As local tensions rapidly reach breaking point, a set of bizarre circumstances leads Brad to the source of their captivity, making him humanity’s reluctant ambassador to an alien race of sentient flora, and privy to these jailers’ ultimate intentions. But some of Millville’s most powerful citizens do not take kindly to Carter’s “collaboration with the enemy,” even under the sudden threat of global apocalypse. Decades before Stephen King trapped an entire town in Under the Dome, science fiction Grand Master Clifford D. Simak explored the shocking effects of communal captivity on an unsuspecting population. Nominated for the Nebula Award, All Flesh Is Grass is a riveting masterwork that brilliantly reinvents the alien invasion story.
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|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
During his fifty-five-year career, Clifford D. Simak produced some of the most iconic science fiction stories ever written. Born in 1904 on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin, Simak got a job at a small-town newspaper in 1929 and eventually became news editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, writing fiction in his spare time. Simak was best known for the book City, a reaction to the horrors of World War II, and for his novel Way Station. In 1953 City was awarded the International Fantasy Award, and in following years, Simak won three Hugo Awards and a Nebula Award. In 1977 he became the third Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and before his death in 1988, he was named one of three inaugural winners of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Read an Excerpt
All Flesh Is Grass
By Clifford D. Simak
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1965 Clifford D. Simak
All rights reserved.
When I swung out of the village street into the main highway, there was a truck behind me. It was one of those big semi jobs and it was really rolling. The speed limit was forty-five on that stretch of road, running through one corner of the village, but at that time in the morning it wasn't reasonable to expect that anyone would pay attention to a posted speed.
I wasn't too concerned with the truck. I'd be stopping a mile or so up the road at Johnny's Motor Court to pick up Alf Peterson, who would be waiting for me, with his fishing tackle ready. And I had other things to think of, too — principally the phone and wondering who I had talked with on the phone. There had been three voices and it all was very strange, but I had the feeling that it may have been one voice, changed most wonderfully to make three voices, and that I would know that basic voice if I could only pin it down. And there had been Gerald Sherwood, sitting in his study, with two walls lined by books, telling me about the blueprints that had formed, unbidden, in his brain. There had been Stiffy Grant, pleading that I not let them use the bomb. And there had been, as well, the fifteen hundred dollars.
Just up the road was the Sherwood residence, set atop its hill, with the house almost blotted out, in the early dawn, by the bulking blackness of the great oak trees that grew all around the house. Staring at the hill, I forgot about the phone and Gerald Sherwood in his book-lined study with his head crammed full of blueprints, and thought instead of Nancy and how I'd met her once again, after all those years since high school. And I recalled those days when we had walked hand in hand, with the pride and happiness that could not come again, that can come but once when the world is young and the first, fierce love of youth is fresh and wonderful.
The road ahead was clear and wide; the four lanes continued for another twenty miles or so before they dwindled down to two. There was no one on the road except myself and the truck, which was coming up behind me and coming fairly fast. Watching the headlights in my rear vision mirror, I knew that in just a little while it would be swinging out to pass me.
I wasn't driving fast and there was a lot of room for the truck to pass me, and there was not a thing to hit — and then I did hit something.
It was like running into a strong elastic band. There was no thump or crash. The car began slowing down as if I had put on the brakes. There was nothing I could see and for a moment I thought that something must have happened to the car — that the motor had gone haywire or the brakes had locked, or something of the sort. I took my foot off the accelerator and the car came to a halt, then started to slide back, faster and faster, for all the world as if I'd run into that rubber band and now it was snapping back. I flipped the drive to neutral because I could smell the rubber as the tires screeched on the road, and as soon as I flipped it over, the car snapped back so fast that I was thrown against the wheel.
Behind me the horn of the truck blared wildly and tires howled on the pavement as the driver swung his rig to miss me. The truck made a swishing sound as it went rushing past and beneath the swishing, I could hear the rubber of the tires sucking at the roadbed, and the whole thing rumbled as if it might be angry at me for causing it this trouble. And as it went rushing past, my car came to a halt, over on the shoulder of the road.
Then the truck hit whatever I had hit. I could hear it when it struck. It made a little plop. For a single instant, I thought the truck might break through whatever the barrier might be, for it was heavy and had been going fast and for a second or so there was no sign that it was slowing down. Then it began to slow and I could see the wheels of that big job skidding and bumping, so that they seemed to be skipping on the pavement, still moving forward doggedly, but still not getting through. It moved ahead for a hundred feet or so beyond the point where I had stopped. And there the rig came to a halt and began skidding back. It slid smoothly for a moment, with the tires squealing on the pavement, then it began to jackknife. The rear end buckled around and came sidewise down the road, heading straight for me.
I had been sitting calmly in the car, not dazed, not even too much puzzled. It all had happened so fast that there had not been time to work up much puzzlement. Something strange had happened, certainly, but I think I had the feeling that in just a little while I'd get it figured out and it would all come right again.
So I had stayed sitting in the car, absorbed in watching what would happen to the truck. But when it came sliding back down the road, jackknifing as it slid, I slapped the handle of the door and shoved it with my shoulder and rolled out of the seat. I hit the pavement and scrambled to my feet and ran.
Behind me the tires of the truck were screaming and then there was a crash of metal, and when I heard the crash, I jumped out on the grassy shoulder of the road and had a look behind me. The rear end of the truck had slammed into my car and shoved it in the ditch and now was slowly, almost majestically, toppling into the ditch itself, right atop my car.
"Hey, there!" I shouted. It did no good, of course, and I knew it wouldn't. The words were just jerked out of me.
The cab of the truck had remained upon the road, but it was canted with one wheel off the ground. The driver was crawling from the cab.
It was a quiet and peaceful morning. Over in the west some heat lightning was skipping about the dark horizon. There was that freshness in the air that you never get except on a summer morning before the sun gets up and the heat closes down on you. To my right, over in the village, the street lights were still burning, hanging still and bright, unstirred by any breeze. It was too nice a morning, I thought, for anything to happen.
There were no cars on the road. There were just the two of us, the trucker and myself, and his truck in the ditch, squashing down my car. He came down the road toward me.
He came up to me and stopped, peering at me, his arms hanging at his side. "What the hell is going on?" he asked. "What did we run into?"
"I don't know," I said.
"I'm sorry about your car," he told me. "I'll report it to the company. They'll take care of it."
He stood, not moving, acting as if he might never move again. "Just like running into nothing," he declared. "There's nothing there."
Then slow anger flared in him.
"By God," he said, "I'm going to find out!"
He turned abruptly and went stalking up the highway, heading toward whatever we had hit. I followed along behind him. He was grunting like an angry hog.
He went straight up the middle of the road and he hit the barrier, but by this time he was roaring mad and he wasn't going to let it stop him, so he kept plowing into it and he got a good deal farther than I had expected that he would. But finally it stopped him and he stood there for a moment, with his body braced ridiculously against a nothingness, leaning into it, and with his legs driving like well-oiled pistons in an attempt to drive himself ahead. In the stillness of the morning I could hear his shoes chuffing on the pavement.
Then the barrier let him have it. It snapped him back. It was as if a sudden wind had struck him and was blowing him down the road, tumbling as he rolled. He finally ended up jammed half underneath the front end of the cab.
I ran over and grabbed him by the ankles and pulled him out and stood him on his feet. He was bleeding a little from where he'd rubbed along the pavement and his clothes were torn and dirty. But he wasn't angry any more; he was just plain scared. He was looking down the road as if he'd seen a ghost and he still was shaking.
"But there's nothing there," he said.
"There'll be other cars," I said, "and you are across the road. Hadn't we ought to put out some flares or flags or something?"
That seemed to snap him out of it.
"Flags," he said.
He climbed into the cab and got out some flags.
I walked down the road with him while he set them out.
He put the last one down and squatted down beside it. He took out a handkerchief and began dabbing at his face.
"Where can I get a phone?" he asked. "We'll have to get some help."
"Someone has to figure out a way to clear the barrier off the road," I said. "In a little while there'll be a lot of traffic. It'll be piled up for miles."
He dabbed at his face some more. There was a lot of dust and grease. And a little blood.
"A phone?" he asked.
"Oh, any place," I told him. "Just go up to any house. They'll let you use a phone."
And here we were, I thought, talking about this thing as if it were an ordinary road block, as if it were a fallen tree or a washed-out culvert.
"Say, what's the name of this place, anyhow? I got to tell them where I am calling from."
"Millville," I told him.
"You live here?"
He got up and tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket.
"Well," he said, "I'll go and find that phone."
He wanted me to offer to go with him, but I had something else to do. I had to walk around the road block and get up to Johnny's Motor Court and explain to Alf what had happened to delay me.
I stood in the road and watched him plod along.
Then I turned aound and went up the road in the opposite direction, walking toward that something which would stop a car. I reached it and it stopped me, not abruptly, nor roughly, but gently, as if it didn't intend to let me through under any circumstance, but was being polite and reasonable about it. I put out my hand and I couldn't feel a thing. I tried rubbing my hand back and forth, as you would to feel a surface, but there was no surface, there was not a thing to rub; there was absolutely nothing, just that gentle pressure pushing you away from whatever might be there.
I looked up and down the road and there was still no traffic, but in a little while, I knew, there would be. Perhaps, I told myself, I should set out some flags in the east-bound traffic lane to convey at least some warning that there was something wrong. It would take no more than a minute or two to set up the flags when I went around the end of the barrier to get to Johnny's Motor Court.
I went back to the cab and found two flags and climbed down the shoulder of the road and clambered up the hillside, making a big sweep to get around the barrier — and even as I made the sweep I ran into the barrier again. I backed away from it and started to walk alongside it, climbing up the hill. It was hard to do. If the barrier had been a solid thing, I would have had no trouble, but since it was invisible, I kept bumping into it. That was the way I traced it, bumping into it, then sheering off, then bumping into it again.
I thought that the barrier would end almost any time, or that it might get thinner. A couple of times I tried pushing through it, but it still was as stiff and strong as ever. There was an awful thought growing in my mind. And the higher up the hill I climbed, the more persistent grew the thought. It was about this time that I dropped the flags.
Below me I heard the sound of skidding tires and swung around to look. A car on the east-bound lane had slammed into the barrier, and in sliding back, had skidded broadside across both lanes. Another car had been traveling behind the first and was trying to slow down. But either its brakes were bad or its speed had been too high, for it couldn't stop. As I watched, its driver swung it out, with the wheels upon the shoulder, skinning past the broadside car. Then he slapped into the barrier, but his speed had been reduced, and he didn't go far in. Slowly the barrier pushed back the car and it slid into the other car and finally came to rest.
The driver had gotten out of the first car and was walking around his car to reach the second car. I saw his head tilt up and it was clear he saw me. He waved his arms at me and shouted, but I was too far away to make out what he said.
The truck and my car, lying crushed beneath it, still were alone on the west-bound lanes. It was curious, I told myself, that no one else had come along.
There was a house atop the hill and for some reason I didn't recognize it. It had to be the house of someone that I knew, for I'd lived all my life in Millville except for a year at college and I knew everyone. I don't know how to explain it, but for a moment I was all mixed up. Nothing looked familiar and I stood confused, trying to get my bearings and figure where I was.
The east was brightening and in another thirty minutes the sun would be poking up. In the west a great angry cloud bank loomed, and at its base I could see the rapier flickering of the lightning that was riding with the storm.
I stood and stared down at the village and it all came clear to me exactly where I was. The house up on the hill was Bill Donovan's. Bill was the village garbage man.
I followed along the barrier, heading for the house and for a moment I wondered just where the house might be in relation to the barrier. More than likely, I told myself, it stood just inside of it.
I came to a fence and climbed it and crossed the littered yard to the rickety back stairs. I climbed them gingerly to gain the stoop and looked for a bell. There wasn't any bell. I lifted a fist and pounded on the door, then waited. I heard someone stirring around inside, then the door came open and Bill stared out at me. He was an unkempt bear of a man and his bushy hair stood all on end and he looked at me from beneath a pair of belligerent eyebrows. He had pulled his trousers over his pajamas, but he hadn't taken the time to zip up the fly and a swatch of purple pajama cloth stuck out. His feet were bare and his toes curled up a bit against the cold of the kitchen floor.
"What's the matter, Brad?" he asked.
"I don't know," I told him. "There is something happening down on the road."
"An accident?" he asked.
"No, not an accident. I tell you I don't know. There's something across the road. You can't see it, but it's there. You run into it and it stops you cold. It's like a wall, but you can't touch or feel it."
"Come on in," said Bill. "You could do with a cup of coffee. I'll put on the pot. It's time for breakfast anyhow. The wife is getting up."
He reached behind him and snapped on the kitchen light, then stood to one side so that I could enter.
Bill walked over to the sink. He picked a glass off the counter top and turned on the water, then stood waiting.
"Have to let it run a while until it gets cold," he told me.
He filled the glass and held it out to me. "Want a drink?" he asked.
"No, thanks," I told him.
He put the glass to his mouth and drunk in great slobbering gulps.
Somewhere in the house a woman screamed. If I live to be a hundred, I'll not forget what that scream was like.
Donovan dropped the glass on the floor and it broke, spraying jagged glass and water.
"Liz!" he cried. "Liz, what's wrong!"
He charged out of the room and I stood there, frozen, looking at the blood on the floor, where Donovan's bare feet had been gashed by the broken glass.
The woman screamed again, but this time the scream was muffled, as if she might be screaming with her mouth pressed against a pillow or a wall.
I blundered out of the kitchen into the dining room, stumbling on something in my path — a toy, a stool, I don't know what it was — and lunging halfway across the room to try to catch my balance, afraid of falling and hitting my head against a chair or table.
And I hit it again, that same resistant wall that I'd walked into down on the road. I braced myself against it and pushed, getting upright on my feet, standing in the dimness of the dining room with the horror of that wall rasping at my soul.
I could sense it right in front of me, although I no longer touched it. And whereas before, out in the open, on the road, it had been no more than a wonder too big to comprehend, here beneath this roof, inside this family home, it became an alien blasphemy that set one's teeth on edge.
"My babies!" screamed the woman. "I can't reach my babies!"
Now I began to get my bearings in the curtained room. I saw the table and the buffet and the door that led into the bedroom hallway.
Excerpted from All Flesh Is Grass by Clifford D. Simak. Copyright © 1965 Clifford D. Simak. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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