Don't Look Now
by Henry Kuttner

That man beside you may be a Martian. They own our world, but only a few wise and far-seeing men like Lyman know it!

The man in the brown suit was looking at himself in the mirror behind the bar. The reflection seemed to interest him even more deeply than the drink between his hands. He was paying only perfunctory attention to Lyman’s attempts at conversation. This had been going on for perhaps fifteen minutes before he finally lifted his glass and took a deep swallow.

“Don’t look now,” Lyman said.

The brown man slid his eyes sidewise toward Lyman; tilted his glass higher, and took another swig. Ice-cubes slipped down toward his mouth. He put the glass back on the red-brown wood and signaled for a refill. Finally he took a deep breath and looked at Lyman.

“Don’t look at what?” he asked.

“There was one sitting right beside you,” Lyman said, blinking rather glazed eyes. “He just went out. You mean you couldn’t see him?”

The brown man finished paying for his fresh drink before he answered. “See who?” he asked, with a fine mixture of boredom, distaste and reluctant interest. “Who went out?”

“What have I been telling you for the last ten minutes? Weren’t you listening?”

“Certainly I was listening. That is—certainly. You were talking about—bathtubs. Radios. Orson—”

“Not Orson. H. G. Herbert George. With Orson it was just a gag. H. G. knew—or suspected. I wonder if it was simply intuition with him? He couldn’t have had any proof—but he did stop writing science-fiction rather suddenly, didn’t he? I’ll bet he knew once, though.”

“Knew what?”

“About the Martians. All this won’t do us a bit of good if you don’t listen. It may not anyway. The trick is to jump the gun—with proof. Convincing evidence. Nobody’s ever been allowed to produce the evidence before. You are a reporter, aren’t you?”

Holding his glass, the man in the brown suit nodded reluctantly.

“Then you ought to be taking it all down on a piece of folded paper. I want everybody to know. The whole world. It’s important. Terribly important. It explains everything. My life won’t be safe unless I can pass along the information and make people believe it.”

“Why won’t your life be safe?”

“Because of the Martians, you fool. They own the world.”

The brown man sighed. “Then they own my newspaper, too,” he objected, “so I can’t print anything they don’t like.”

“I never thought of that,” Lyman said, considering the bottom of his glass, where two ice-cubes had fused into a cold, immutable union. “They’re not omnipotent, though. I’m sure they’re vulnerable, or why have they always kept under cover? They’re afraid of being found out. If the world had convincing evidence—look, people always believe what they read in the newspapers. Couldn’t you—”

“Ha,” said the brown man with deep significance.

Lyman drummed sadly on the bar and murmured, “There must be some way. Perhaps if I had another drink....”

The brown suited man tasted his drink, which seemed to stimulate him. “Just what is all this about Martians?” he asked Lyman. “Suppose you start at the beginning and tell me again. Or can’t you remember?”

“Of course I can remember. I’ve got practically total recall. It’s something new. Very new. I never could do it before. I can even remember my last conversation with the Martians.” Lyman favored the brown man with a glance of triumph.

“When was that?”

“This morning.”

“I can remember conversations I had last week,” the brown man said mildly. “So what?”

“You don’t understand. They make us forget, you see. They tell us what to do and we forget about the conversation—it’s post-hypnotic suggestion, I expect—but we follow their orders just the same. There’s the compulsion, though we think we’re making our own decisions. Oh, they own the world, all right, but nobody knows it except me.”

“And how did you find out?”

“Well, I got my brain scrambled, in a way. I’ve been fooling around with supersonic detergents, trying to work out something marketable, you know. The gadget went wrong—from some standpoints. High-frequency waves, it was. They went through me. Should have been inaudible, but I could hear them, or rather—well, actually I could see them. That’s what I mean about my brain being scrambled. And after that, I could see and hear the Martians. They’ve geared themselves so they work efficiently on ordinary brains, and mine isn’t ordinary any more. They can’t hypnotize me, either. They can command me, but I needn’t obey—now. I hope they don’t suspect. Maybe they do. Yes, I guess they do.”

“How can you tell?”

“The way they look at me.”

“How do they look at you?” asked the brown man, as he began to reach for a pencil and then changed his mind. He took a drink instead. “Well? What are they like?”

“I’m not sure. I can see them, all right, but only when they’re dressed up.”

“Okay, okay,” the brown man said patiently. “How do they look, dressed up?”

“Just like anybody, almost. They dress up in—in human skins. Oh, not real ones, imitations. Like the Katzenjammer Kids zipped into crocodile suits. Undressed—I don’t know. I’ve never seen one. Maybe they’re invisible even to me, then, or maybe they’re just camouflaged. Ants or owls or rats or bats or—”

“Or anything,” the brown man said hastily.

“Thanks. Or anything, of course. But when they’re dressed up like humans—like that one who was sitting next to you awhile ago, when I told you not to look—”

“That one was invisible, I gather?”

“Most of the time they are, to everybody. But once in a while, for some reason, they—”

“Wait,” the brown man objected. “Make sense, will you? They dress up in human skins and then sit around invisible?”

“Only now and then. The human skins are perfectly good imitations. Nobody can tell the difference. It’s that third eye that gives them away. When they keep it closed, you’d never guess it was there. When they want to open it, they go invisible—like that. Fast. When I see somebody with a third eye, right in the middle of his forehead, I know he’s a Martian and invisible, and I pretend not to notice him.”

“Uh-huh,” the brown man said. “Then for all you know, I’m one of your visible Martians.”

“Oh, I hope not!” Lyman regarded him anxiously. “Drunk as I am, I don’t think so. I’ve been trailing you all day, making sure. It’s a risk I have to take, of course. They’ll go to any length—any length at all—to make a man give himself away. I realize that. I can’t really trust anybody. But I had to find someone to talk to, and I—” He paused. There was a brief silence. “I could be wrong,” Lyman said presently. “When the third eye’s closed, I can’t tell if it’s there. Would you mind opening your third eye for me?” He fixed a dim gaze on the brown man’s forehead.

“Sorry,” the reporter said. “Some other time. Besides, I don’t know you. So you want me to splash this across the front page, I gather? Why didn’t you go to see the managing editor? My stories have to get past the desk and rewrite.”

“I want to give my secret to the world,” Lyman said stubbornly. “The question is, how far will I get? You’d expect they’d have killed me the minute I opened my mouth to you—except that I didn’t say anything while they were here. I don’t believe they take us very seriously, you know. This must have been going on since the dawn of history, and by now they’ve had time to get careless. They let Fort go pretty far before they cracked down on him. But you notice they were careful never to let Fort get hold of genuine proof that would convince people.”

The brown man said something under his breath about a human interest story in a box. He asked, “What do the Martians do, besides hang around bars all dressed up?”

“I’m still working on that,” Lyman said. “It isn’t easy to understand. They run the world, of course, but why?” He wrinkled his brow and stared appealingly at the brown man. “Why?”

“If they do run it, they’ve got a lot to explain.”

“That’s what I mean. From our viewpoint, there’s no sense to it. We do things illogically, but only because they tell us to. Everything we do, almost, is pure illogic. Poe’s Imp of the Perverse—you could give it another name beginning with M. Martian, I mean. It’s all very well for psychologists to explain why a murderer wants to confess, but it’s still an illogical reaction. Unless a Martian commands him to.”

“You can’t be hypnotized into doing anything that violates your moral sense,” the brown man said triumphantly.

Lyman frowned. “Not by another human, but you can by a Martian. I expect they got the upper hand when we didn’t have more than ape-brains, and they’ve kept it ever since. They evolved as we did, and kept a step ahead. Like the sparrow on the eagle’s back who hitch-hiked till the eagle reached his ceiling, and then took off and broke the altitude record. They conquered the world, but nobody ever knew it. And they’ve been ruling ever since.”


“Take houses, for example. Uncomfortable things. Ugly, inconvenient, dirty, everything wrong with them. But when men like Frank Lloyd Wright slip out from under the Martians’ thumb long enough to suggest something better, look how the people react. They hate the thought. That’s their Martians, giving them orders.”

“Look. Why should the Martians care what kind of houses we live in? Tell me that.”

Lyman frowned. “I don’t like the note of skepticism I detect creeping into this conversation,” he announced. “They care, all right. No doubt about it. They live in our houses. We don’t build for our convenience, we build, under order, for the Martians, the way they want it. They’re very much concerned with everything we do. And the more senseless, the more concern.

“Take wars. Wars don’t make sense from any human viewpoint. Nobody really wants wars. But we go right on having them. From the Martian viewpoint, they’re useful. They give us a spurt in technology, and they reduce the excess population. And there are lots of other results, too. Colonization, for one thing. But mainly technology. In peace time, if a guy invents jet-propulsion, it’s too expensive to develop commercially. In war-time, though, it’s got to be developed. Then the Martians can use it whenever they want. They use us the way they’d use tools or—or limbs. And nobody ever really wins a war—except the Martians.”

The man in the brown suit chuckled. “That makes sense,” he said. “It must be nice to be a Martian.”

“Why not? Up till now, no race ever successfully conquered and ruled another. The underdog could revolt or absorb. If you know you’re being ruled, then the ruler’s vulnerable. But if the world doesn’t know—and it doesn’t—

“Take radios,” Lyman continued, going off at a tangent. “There’s no earthly reason why a sane human should listen to a radio. But the Martians make us do it. They like it. Take bathtubs. Nobody contends bathtubs are comfortable—for us. But they’re fine for Martians. All the impractical things we keep on using, even though we know they’re impractical—”

“Typewriter ribbons,” the brown man said, struck by the thought. “But not even a Martian could enjoy changing a typewriter ribbon.”

Lyman seemed to find that flippant. He said that he knew all about the Martians except for one thing—their psychology.

“I don’t know why they act as they do. It looks illogical sometimes, but I feel perfectly sure they’ve got sound motives for every move they make. Until I get that worked out I’m pretty much at a standstill. Until I get evidence—proof—and help. I’ve got to stay under cover till then. And I’ve been doing that. I do what they tell me, so they won’t suspect, and I pretend to forget what they tell me to forget.”

“Then you’ve got nothing much to worry about.”

Lyman paid no attention. He was off again on a list of his grievances.

“When I hear the water running in the tub and a Martian splashing around, I pretend I don’t hear a thing. My bed’s too short and I tried last week to order a special length, but the Martian that sleeps there told me not to. He’s a runt, like most of them. That is, I think they’re runts. I have to deduce, because you never see them undressed. But it goes on like that constantly. By the way, how’s your Martian?”

The man in the brown suit set down his glass rather suddenly.

“My Martian?”

“Now listen. I may be just a little bit drunk, but my logic remains unimpaired. I can still put two and two together. Either you know about the Martians, or you don’t. If you do, there’s no point in giving me that, ‘What, my Martian?’ routine. I know you have a Martian. Your Martian knows you have a Martian. My Martian knows. The point is, do you know? Think hard,” Lyman urged solicitously.

“No, I haven’t got a Martian,” the reporter said, taking a quick drink. The edge of the glass clicked against his teeth.

“Nervous, I see,” Lyman remarked. “Of course you have got a Martian. I suspect you know it.”

“What would I be doing with a Martian?” the brown man asked with dogged dogmatism.

“What would you be doing without one? I imagine it’s illegal. If they caught you running around without one they’d probably put you in a pound or something until claimed. Oh, you’ve got one, all right. So have I. So has he, and he, and he—and the bartender.” Lyman enumerated the other barflies with a wavering forefinger.

“Of course they have,” the brown man said. “But they’ll all go back to Mars tomorrow and then you can see a good doctor. You’d better have another dri—”

He was turning toward the bartender when Lyman, apparently by accident, leaned close to him and whispered urgently,

Don’t look now!

The brown man glanced at Lyman’s white face reflected in the mirror before them.

“It’s all right,” he said. “There aren’t any Mar—”

Lyman gave him a fierce, quick kick under the edge of the bar.

“Shut up! One just came in!”

And then he caught the brown man’s gaze and with elaborate unconcern said, “—so naturally, there was nothing for me to do but climb out on the roof after it. Took me ten minutes to get it down the ladder, and just as we reached the bottom it gave one bound, climbed up my face, sprang from the top of my head, and there it was again on the roof, screaming for me to get it down.”

What?” the brown man demanded with pardonable curiosity.

“My cat, of course. What did you think? No, never mind, don’t answer that.” Lyman’s face was turned to the brown man’s, but from the corners of his eyes he was watching an invisible progress down the length of the bar toward a booth at the very back.

“Now why did he come in?” he murmured. “I don’t like this. Is he anyone you know?”

“Is who—?”

“That Martian. Yours, by any chance? No, I suppose not. Yours was probably the one who went out a while ago. I wonder if he went to make a report, and sent this one in? It’s possible. It could be. You can talk now, but keep your voice low, and stop squirming. Want him to notice we can see him?”

“I can’t see him. Don’t drag me into this. You and your Martians can fight it out together. You’re making me nervous. I’ve got to go, anyway.” But he didn’t move to get off the stool. Across Lyman’s shoulder he was stealing glances toward the back of the bar, and now and then he looked at Lyman’s face.

“Stop watching me,” Lyman said. “Stop watching him. Anybody’d think you were a cat.”

“Why a cat? Why should anybody—do I look like a cat?”

“We were talking about cats, weren’t we? Cats can see them, quite clearly. Even undressed, I believe. They don’t like them.”

“Who doesn’t like who?”

“Whom. Neither likes the other. Cats can see Martians—sh-h!—but they pretend not to, and that makes the Martians mad. I have a theory that cats ruled the world before Martians came. Never mind. Forget about cats. This may be more serious than you think. I happen to know my Martian’s taking tonight off, and I’m pretty sure that was your Martian who went out some time ago. And have you noticed that nobody else in here has his Martian with him? Do you suppose—” His voice sank. “Do you suppose they could be waiting for us outside?”

“Oh, Lord,” the brown man said. “In the alley with the cats, I suppose.”

“Why don’t you stop this yammer about cats and be serious for a moment?” Lyman demanded, and then paused, paled, and reeled slightly on his stool. He hastily took a drink to cover his confusion.

“What’s the matter now?” the brown man asked.

“Nothing.” Gulp. “Nothing. It was just that—he looked at me. With—you know.”

“Let me get this straight. I take it the Martian is dressed in—is dressed like a human?”


“But he’s invisible to all eyes but yours?”

“Yes. He doesn’t want to be visible, just now. Besides—” Lyman paused cunningly. He gave the brown man a furtive glance and then looked quickly down at his drink. “Besides, you know, I rather think you can see him—a little, anyway.”

The brown man was perfectly silent for about thirty seconds. He sat quite motionless, not even the ice in the drink he held clinking. One might have thought he did not even breathe. Certainly he did not blink.

“What makes you think that?” he asked in a normal voice, after the thirty seconds had run out.

“I—did I say anything? I wasn’t listening.” Lyman put down his drink abruptly. “I think I’ll go now.”

“No, you won’t,” the brown man said, closing his fingers around Lyman’s wrist. “Not yet you won’t. Come back here. Sit down. Now. What was the idea? Where were you going?”

Lyman nodded dumbly toward the back of the bar, indicating either a juke-box or a door marked MEN.

“I don’t feel so good. Maybe I’ve had too much to drink. I guess I’ll—”

“You’re all right. I don’t trust you back there with that—that invisible man of yours. You’ll stay right here until he leaves.”

“He’s going now,” Lyman said brightly. His eyes moved with great briskness along the line of an invisible but rapid progress toward the front door. “See, he’s gone. Now let me loose, will you?”

The brown man glanced toward the back booth.

“No,” he said, “He isn’t gone. Sit right where you are.”

It was Lyman’s turn to remain quite still, in a stricken sort of way, for a perceptible while. The ice in his drink, however, clinked audibly. Presently he spoke. His voice was soft, and rather soberer than before.

“You’re right. He’s still there. You can see him, can’t you?”

The brown man said, “Has he got his back to us?”

“You can see him, then. Better than I can maybe. Maybe there are more of them here than I thought. They could be anywhere. They could be sitting beside you anywhere you go, and you wouldn’t even guess, until—” He shook his head a little. “They’d want to be sure,” he said, mostly to himself. “They can give you orders and make you forget, but there must be limits to what they can force you to do. They can’t make a man betray himself. They’d have to lead him on—until they were sure.”

He lifted his drink and tipped it steeply above his face. The ice ran down the slope and bumped coldly against his lip, but he held it until the last of the pale, bubbling amber had drained into his mouth. He set the glass on the bar and faced the brown man.

“Well?” he said.

The brown man looked up and down the bar.

“It’s getting late,” he said. “Not many people left. We’ll wait.”

“Wait for what?”

The brown man looked toward the back booth and looked away again quickly.

“I have something to show you. I don’t want anyone else to see.”

Lyman surveyed the narrow, smoky room. As he looked the last customer beside themselves at the bar began groping in his pocket, tossed some change on the mahogany, and went out slowly.

They sat in silence. The bartender eyed them with stolid disinterest. Presently a couple in the front booth got up and departed, quarreling in undertones.

“Is there anyone left?” the brown man asked in a voice that did not carry down the bar to the man in the apron.

“Only—” Lyman did not finish, but he nodded gently toward the back of the room. “He isn’t looking. Let’s get this over with. What do you want to show me?”

The brown man took off his wrist-watch and pried up the metal case. Two small, glossy photograph prints slid out. The brown man separated them with a finger.

“I just want to make sure of something,” he said. “First—why did you pick me out? Quite a while ago, you said you’d been trailing me all day, making sure. I haven’t forgotten that. And you knew I was a reporter. Suppose you tell me the truth, now?”

Squirming on his stool, Lyman scowled. “It was the way you looked at things,” he murmured. “On the subway this morning—I’d never seen you before in my life, but I kept noticing the way you looked at things—the wrong things, things that weren’t there, the way a cat does—and then you’d always look away—I got the idea you could see the Martians too.”

“Go on,” the brown man said quietly.

“I followed you. All day. I kept hoping you’d turn out to be—somebody I could talk to. Because if I could know that I wasn’t the only one who could see them, then I’d know there was still some hope left. It’s been worse than solitary confinement. I’ve been able to see them for three years now. Three years. And I’ve managed to keep my power a secret even from them. And, somehow, I’ve managed to keep from killing myself, too.”

“Three years?” the brown man said. He shivered.

“There was always a little hope. I knew nobody would believe—not without proof. And how can you get proof? It was only that I—I kept telling myself that maybe you could see them too, and if you could, maybe there were others—lots of others—enough so we might get together and work out some way of proving to the world—”

The brown man’s fingers were moving. In silence he pushed a photograph across the mahogany. Lyman picked it up unsteadily.

“Moonlight?” he asked after a moment. It was a landscape under a deep, dark sky with white clouds in it. Trees stood white and lacy against the darkness. The grass was white as if with moonlight, and the shadows blurry.

“No, not moonlight,” the brown man said. “Infra-red. I’m strictly an amateur, but lately I’ve been experimenting with infra-red film. And I got some very odd results.”

Lyman stared at the film.

“You see, I live near—” The brown man’s finger tapped a certain quite common object that appeared in the photograph. “—and something funny keeps showing up now and then against it. But only with infra-red film. Now I know chlorophyll reflects so much infra-red light that grass and leaves photograph white. The sky comes out black, like this. There are tricks to using this kind of film. Photograph a tree against a cloud, and you can’t tell them apart in the print. But you can photograph through a haze and pick out distant objects the ordinary film wouldn’t catch. And sometimes, when you focus on something like this—” He tapped the image of the very common object again, “you get a very odd image on the film. Like that. A man with three eyes.”

Lyman held the print up to the light. In silence he took the other one from the bar and studied it. When he laid them down he was smiling.

“You know,” Lyman said in a conversational whisper, “a professor of astrophysics at one of the more important universities had a very interesting little item in the Times the other Sunday. Name of Spitzer, I think. He said that, if there were life on Mars, and if Martians had ever visited earth, there’d be no way to prove it. Nobody would believe the few men who saw them. Not, he said, unless the Martians happened to be photographed....”

Lyman looked at the brown man thoughtfully.

“Well,” he said, “it’s happened. You’ve photographed them.”

The brown man nodded. He took up the prints and returned them to his watch-case. “I thought so, too. Only until tonight I couldn’t be sure. I’d never seen one—fully—as you have. It isn’t so much a matter of what you call getting your brain scrambled with supersonics as it is of just knowing where to look. But I’ve been seeing part of them all my life, and so has everybody. It’s that little suggestion of movement you never catch except just at the edge of your vision, just out of the corner of your eye. Something that’s almost there—and when you look fully at it, there’s nothing. These photographs showed me the way. It’s not easy to learn, but it can be done. We’re conditioned to look directly at a thing—the particular thing we want to see clearly, whatever it is. Perhaps the Martians gave us that conditioning. When we see a movement at the edge of our range of vision, it’s almost irresistible not to look directly at it. So it vanishes.”

“Then they can be seen—by anybody?”

“I’ve learned a lot in a few days,” the brown man said. “Since I took those photographs. You have to train yourself. It’s like seeing a trick picture—one that’s really a composite, after you study it. Camouflage. You just have to learn how. Otherwise we can look at them all our lives and never see them.”

“The camera does, though.”

“Yes, the camera does. I’ve wondered why nobody ever caught them this way before. Once you see them on film, they’re unmistakable—that third eye.”

“Infra-red film’s comparatively new, isn’t it? And then I’ll bet you have to catch them against that one particular background—you know—or they won’t show on the film. Like trees against clouds. It’s tricky. You must have had just the right lighting that day, and exactly the right focus, and the lens stopped down just right. A kind of minor miracle. It might never happen again exactly that way. But ... don’t look now.”

They were silent. Furtively, they watched the mirror. Their eyes slid along toward the open door of the tavern.

And then there was a long, breathless silence.

“He looked back at us,” Lyman said very quietly. “He looked at us ... that third eye!”

The brown man was motionless again. When he moved, it was to swallow the rest of his drink.

“I don’t think that they’re suspicious yet,” he said. “The trick will be to keep under cover until we can blow this thing wide open. There’s got to be some way to do it—some way that will convince people.”

“There’s proof. The photographs. A competent cameraman ought to be able to figure out just how you caught that Martian on film and duplicate the conditions. It’s evidence.”

“Evidence can cut both ways,” the brown man said. “What I’m hoping is that the Martians don’t really like to kill—unless they have to. I’m hoping they won’t kill without proof. But—” He tapped his wrist-watch.

“There’s two of us now, though,” Lyman said. “We’ve got to stick together. Both of us have broken the big rule—don’t look now—”

The bartender was at the back, disconnecting the juke-box. The brown man said, “We’d better not be seen together unnecessarily. But if we both come to this bar tomorrow night at nine for a drink—that wouldn’t look suspicious, even to them.”

“Suppose—” Lyman hesitated. “May I have one of those photographs?”


“If one of us had—an accident—the other one would still have the proof. Enough, maybe, to convince the right people.”

The brown man hesitated, nodded shortly, and opened his watch-case again. He gave Lyman one of the pictures.

“Hide it,” he said. “It’s—evidence. I’ll see you here tomorrow. Meanwhile, be careful. Remember to play safe.”

They shook hands firmly, facing each other in an endless second of final, decisive silence. Then the brown man turned abruptly and walked out of the bar.

Lyman sat there. Between two wrinkles in his forehead there was a stir and a flicker of lashes unfurling. The third eye opened slowly and looked after the brown man.

End of Don't Look Now by Henry Kuttner