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MISS PRINKS

Miss Lydia Prinks was somebody’s aunt. Not the aunt of several somebodies, but the aunt of one person only and with no other living brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, or nieces to her name. A sort of singleton aunt. It would be possible to describe her further, but it would not be in good taste. To draw a clearer picture possibly would be to destroy the anonymity that Miss Prinks has, at the cost of a very great sacrifice indeed, maintained. Think of her then as a singleton aunt, and you have a pretty fair picture of her.

She lived on a sort of annuity in a small apartment up three flights of stairs on a certain street in a middle-sized city. The apartment had pale gold curtains of lace, a green carpet, and furniture upholstered in wine red. It had an assortment of good books in the bookcases and good pictures on the wall and a large, fat cat called Solomon on a footstool. It was a very proper sort of apartment for a singleton aunt living on an annuity, and Miss Prinks lived a peaceful, contented sort of life there.

That is to say, she did live a peaceful, contented sort of life until one afternoon just after lunch when the grandfather clock in the corner of the living room, having gone from twelve noon through twelve forty-five, went one step farther than it had ever done before, and instead of striking one o’clock, struck thirteen.

“What on earth—” said Miss Prinks, looking up astonished from her current Book-of-the-Month Club selection and staring at the clock. Solomon, the fat cat, also raised his head inquiringly.

“What on earth?” repeated Miss Prinks indignantly. She stared hard at the clock, for she was a very ladylike person herself, and the apartment was very ladylike, and there is something nearly bohemian about a clock which, after twenty-eight years of striking correctly, jumps the traces and tolls off an impossible hour like thirteen.

“Now who’s responsible for this, I’d like to know?” said Miss Prinks, almost fiercely, addressing the room at large. And then it happened.

Miss Prinks had not really expected an answer to her question. But she got one. For no sooner had the words left her mouth—in fact, while the words were still vibrating in the air—a strange something like a small, busily whirling dust devil began mistily to take form in the middle of the green carpet. At first only a wisp of vapor, it grew rapidly until it was quite solidly visible and the breeze of its rapid rotation fluttered the gold lace curtains.

“I’m afraid,” spoke an apologetic voice inside Miss Prinks’s head, “that I am responsible, Madam.”

Now this was not the sort of answer which would be calculated to calm the fears of an ordinary person who has just discovered that it is thirteen o’clock—a time that never was, and it is profoundly hoped, will never be again. But Miss Prinks was a singleton aunt of great courage and rock-hard convictions. Her personal philosophy started with the incontrovertible fact that she was a lady and went on from there. Starting from this fact, then, and going down the line of natural reasoning, it followed that the miniature dust devil, whatever else it might be, was a Vandal—a clock-gimmicking Vandal, just as the neighborhood boys who played baseball in the adjoining vacant lot were window-smashing Vandals, and the drunken man who on one previous occasion had parked his car up on the apartment building’s front lawn was a grass-destroying Vandal, and with Vandals Miss Prinks took a firm line.

“You’re a Vandal!” she said angrily, to put the creature in its place and make it realize that she saw it for what it was.

This appeared to disconcert the dust devil somewhat. It paused before replying, by thought-waves, of course.

“I beg your pardon?” it thought. “I don’t seem to understand that name you called me. Surely you never saw me before?”

“Perhaps not,” retorted Miss Prinks, fiercely. “But I know your type!”

“You do?” The dust devil’s thought was clearly astonished. Then it seemed to gather dignity. “Be that as it may,” it thought. “Allow me to explain what has happened.”

“Very well,” said Miss Prinks in the cold, impartial tones of a judge agreeing to hear a case.

“You may know my type,” said the dust devil, mentally. “But I am sure you do not know me personally. I am—” he paused, and Miss Prinks felt little light fingers searching for the proper term in her mind, “a scientist of the eighty-third Zanch dimension. I was doing some research into the compressibility of time for a commercial concern in my sector of eighty-third dimensional space. They wished to know whether it would be feasible to package and ship time in wholesale quantities.”

Miss Prinks made an impatient gesture.

“Anyhow,” thought the dust devil hurriedly, “to make a long story short, there was an explosion, and roughly an hour of the time I was experimenting with was blown into your day. Naturally, I am extremely sorry about it, and I’ll be only too glad to take the hour back.”

“My clock—” said Miss Prinks, coldly.

“I will take care of it,” said the dust devil, or Zanch scientist, to refer to him correctly. “I will realign its temporal coordinates and make whatever spatial corrections are necessary.” He waited anxiously for Miss Prinks to agree.

Now, to tell the truth, Miss Prinks was beginning to soften inside. The politeness of the Zanch scientist was making a good impression on her in spite of herself. But she did not want to give in too easily.

“Well . . .” she said, hesitantly.

“Ah, but naturally!” cried the Zanch scientist mentally. “You feel yourself entitled to some compensation for the temporal damage done to your day. Don’t think another word. I understand completely.”

“Well . . .” said Miss Prinks, with a hint of a deprecating smile that in a less ladylike person would have been a simper. “I know nothing at all about business arrangements of that type.”

“Of course,” said the Zanch scientist. “Allow me . . .” Light fingers seemed to touch the surface of Miss Prinks’s mind. “Forgive me for saying it, but I have reviewed your condition and notice several improvements that could be made. If you have no objection . . . ?”

Miss Prinks half-turned her head away.

“Of course not,” she said.

It has often been recorded in history that two people have come to shipwreck upon the mutual misunderstanding of a single word. This was merely one more of those instances. Miss Prinks was a lady, and she thought in ladylike terms. To her, the word condition referred to a person’s position in the world, and particularly to that aspect of position which is related to the financial by grosser minds. She believed, therefore, that the Zanch scientist was, with the utmost delicacy, offering her monetary damages. Such things were, out of consideration for one another’s feelings, referred to in periphrasis. Her sensitivity to the social situation forbade her to do anything as gross as inquiring about the amount.

The Zanch scientist, of course, had no such intention in mind. He was telepathic, but not particularly perceptive, and he knew nothing of human mores. To him, Miss Prinks was an organism with certain mental and physical attributes. Frankly, over a cup of something Zanchly, he was later to admit to a coworker that these were pretty horrible. But such bluntness was reserved for moments of intimacy among his own people. In his way, he also had manners. Therefore he used the thought condition, as a manager might refer to his boxer, or, more appositely, as a doctor might refer to a patient in the last stages of a wasting disease.

“Of course not,” said Miss Prinks.

“Fine,” said the Zanch scientist. There was a sudden shimmer in the air of the apartment living room, and Miss Prinks felt a strange quiver run from the soles of her feet to the tips of her hair. Then the room was empty.

The grandfather clock solemnly tolled two.

“Well!” said Miss Prinks.

Now that the Zanch scientist was actually gone, she found herself of two minds about him. He had undoubtedly been polite, but then he had also as undeniably been in the wrong. However, the important thing was that he was gone. And it was two o’clock.

She had shopping to do. There was a small business center two blocks from where she lived, and when the weather was good it was her practice to visit this early in the afternoon, leaving the latter part of the day for a visit to the public library which was only a block away from the shopping center in another direction. Miss Prinks reached for her purse, which was ready on the table beside her, and arose from her chair.

Arose is indeed the best description. With the first effort she exerted to get up from her chair, Miss Prinks shot forward and upward in an arc that carried her across the room, through the good lace curtains and the window, which was fortunately open, and down three stories to the sidewalk below. She landed on her feet, and, though the sound of her landing was noisy in the drowsy summer afternoon, it did not seem as if the fall had hurt her in any way. In fact, thought Miss Prinks, standing on the sidewalk with a disturbed expression on her face, she had never really felt so well in her life.

Just at that moment, however, she became aware that somebody was calling her name. She turned and recognized her neighbor on the first floor below her apartment—a somewhat mousy little woman with the name of Annabelle LeMer.

“Oooh, Lydia!” cried Annabelle LeMer, as she reached Miss Prinks by the expedient of running frantically out into the street. “I was watering the flowers in my window box and I saw it all. Whatever possessed you to jump out the window?”

There are some times when a lady must take refuge in a complete refusal to discuss a subject. Miss Prinks was quick to realize that this moment was one of those. She drew herself up with queenly dignity.

“I?” she repeated in tones of icy outrage. “I jump out a window? You are having one of your bilious attacks, Annabelle.”

“But I saw—” babbled the little woman in desperation.

“Bilious!” snapped Miss Prinks in a tone of voice that brooked no contradiction. She glared at Annabelle with such ferocity that the smaller woman faltered and began to doubt the evidence of her own senses. “I jump out a window! The very idea!”

So convincing was her tone that Annabelle LeMer began to half-feel the waves of dizziness that in actual truth preceded one of her bilious attacks. She looked at Miss Prinks and then up at the window with the gold lace curtains three stories above. She looked so long that the blood rushed out of her head and when she returned her gaze to Miss Prinks, the street wavered about her.

“P-perhaps—” stammered Miss LeMer dizzily, “perhaps you’re right, Lydia.” And, turning away from Miss Prinks’s angry gaze, she weaved back into her own apartment, to put cold packs on her forehead and collapse on the bed.

Left alone on the sidewalk, Miss Prinks experimented. She found that by being very, very careful not to exert herself, and by attempting what she felt were tiny steps, she could walk in quite a natural manner. By the time she had this matter straightened out, she found herself at the end of the block and, so strong is habit, decided to keep on going and get her shopping done.

This decision was an excellent one, and one that might well have carried her through the rest of the day without mishap. Unfortunately fate took a hand, and the manner in which it did so was unexpected.

Now it must be confessed that, while Miss Prinks herself was every inch a lady, her neighborhood was perhaps not quite the best that a lady could live in. Perhaps it was not even the second best. One block away from the apartment building in which Miss Prinks lived, and halfway to the shopping center which she patronized and intended to visit today, there was something which for want of a better pair of words must bluntly be described as railroad tracks. Squarely athwart Miss Prinks’s way they lay, and to get over them she was forced to cross a bridge beneath which the tracks lay in dark parallels and under which the trains smoked and thundered.

Usually at the time when Miss Prinks normally went marketing there were no trains, and she was able with ladylike detachment to ignore the fact that they existed. But today, owing to the particular circumstances following lunch, she was later than usual and just in time for the early afternoon Comet, a crack passenger train possessing great speed and a mighty whistle for blowing at railway crossings and other artifacts of present-day civilization. It was a very distinctive and a very powerful whistle, and to tell the truth, the engineer who usually handled the Comet on its early afternoon run liked blowing it whenever the excuse offered.

Just what the excuse was this day, no one will ever know. But it is a fact that the engineer blew the Comet’s whistle as he started under the bridge Miss Prinks was on. And he blew it just as she was right in the middle of her crossing.

Miss Prinks, it has been shown, had iron courage. But she also had very ladylike and delicate nerves. So, when the Comet shot under her feet and the whistle blasted away practically in her ear, she could not repress a tiny start.

Unfortunately, people in Miss Prinks’s made-over condition should never start. For ordinary humans it is all right, but Miss Prinks’s start shot her up into the air and into a long arc that dropped her on the tracks some twenty yards in front of the charging Comet.

Miss Prinks took one horrified glance at the towering engine rushing down upon her, turned heel, and ran.

“Ulp!” said the engineer, and fainted dead away.

The landscape blurred by Miss Prinks and she felt her breath growing shorter. She risked a quick glance over her shoulder and nearly fainted herself. Behind her, the tracks stretched bare and empty to the horizon. The Comet was nowhere in sight.

Nor was the city.

Profoundly shaken, Miss Prinks leaped off the tracks, and, skidding to a stop, sat down heavily on a bank by the side of the tracks.

“Am I dead?” wondered Miss Prinks, in awe. “Did the train run me down?”

Being a practical person, she took her pulse—correctly, with the second finger of her left hand on her right wrist. Her blood pulsed strongly and steadily. That settled it, then, as far as Miss Prinks was concerned. She was alive.

Miss Prinks fanned herself with her purse and began to think. She thought back over the last few hours and she thought and she thought, and suddenly she stopped fanning herself and turned a bright pink with embarrassment.

“Well!” she said.

She had just realized what the Zanch scientist had meant when he used the word condition and what he had evidently done to her. At the thought of being altered, she blushed again.

However, one cannot go on being embarrassed forever, as Miss Prinks abruptly realized with unusual clarity of mind. She had been changed, the Zanch scientist was gone where she most probably could never reach him, and the thing to do was to investigate herself.

Her shoes caught her attention first. These were, quite literally, in ruined condition. The sole and heel of each was worn to rags. There was, in fact, little left but the tops. Torn edges stuck out over the bare arch of her foot like sad tendrils. Miss Prinks began to get some idea of how fast she had been running when she fled from the express train.

“Oh, my poor feet!” thought Miss Prinks, automatically, and then immediately had to correct herself. Her feet felt fine. In fact, they had never felt so fine, even in the dim past of her childhood when she had been allowed to run barefoot. A suspicion struck her, and she leaned over to check once more. Her bunions were gone.

Modestly, she tucked her soleless shoes under her and went back to considering the situation. She, Miss Prinks, could run faster than a train. Impossible; but here she was and—she looked back along the tracks—the Comet was not even in sight. If she could run that fast, how high could she jump?

She glanced quickly around the countryside. It was open and deserted with occasional clumps of trees and farmland stretching out of sight over rolling hills. There was no sign even of a building. Miss Prinks got gingerly to her feet, tucked her purse firmly under one arm, crouched slightly, and sprang.

There was a terrific rush of air, a moment’s dizzy sensation and Miss Prinks found herself gasping for oxygen high in the atmosphere. Far below her, laid out in neat little checkerboard squares, the ground from horizon to horizon rocked and swayed.

“Oh my!” thought Miss Prinks in dismay as she reached the limit of her spring, turned over and started head downward toward the Earth. “Now I’ve done it!”

On the way to the ground, however, she thought of the proprieties and turned herself right side up again, which was, as it turned out, a very prudent move. For instead of landing on ordinary ground and sinking in about ten feet, she had the good luck to land on a large boulder which shattered into fragments beneath the impact of her falling body, but left her quite properly on the surface of the Earth.

Miss Prinks took time out to powder her nose and catch her breath.

It would be foolish to deny that at this point she was becoming somewhat excited about the possibilities inherent in her new self. When she had finished powdering her nose, she tried out a few more tests. She discovered that she was now capable of doing the following things:


Felling a tree approximately two feet thick with one punch.

Tying knots in sections of rail from the railway track.

Lifting the largest boulder in sight (which was about ten feet high) and throwing it about eighty feet.

Doing all the above without working up an unladylike perspiration.


But it was not these feats that startled her so much as a quite accidental discovery. She had untied the knots in the steel rails and was replacing them on the railway track, hammering in the spikes with dainty taps of her fist, when a tiny splinter on one of the wooden ties seemed to come to life and walk away on six legs. Earlier that morning, Miss Prinks would never have recognized it, but no sooner had its movement caught her attention than she immediately identified it as Diapheromera femorata, or common walking-stick insect of the eastern United States—being somewhat far west considering the present latitude.

For a moment her identification astounded her; and then she remembered reading about this particular insect some years previous, one day in one of those little squibs of general information which are used by editors to fill out columns in the daily newspaper. With letter-perfect recall, the item came back to her. For a moment she was tempted to speculate about the family of the Phasmidae in general, but she pushed the temptation from her, and set herself instead to considering the implications of this most recent self-discovery.

So Miss Prinks sat and thought, and, after having thought for a while, she took her way back alongside the railroad tracks at a jog trot in the neighborhood of a hundred miles an hour. On the way she passed the Comet.

This time the engineer did not faint. He merely shut his eyes firmly and told himself that he needed glasses.

At the outskirts of town Miss Prinks slowed down to an ordinary human gait, so as not to attract attention, and took a streetcar back to her apartment, where she changed shoes and sallied forth once more—this time to the library three blocks away.


The library was a large, rambling building of brown brick, split up into a number of large rooms, each of which specialized in the supply of some particular class of reading material to the general public. One of these dealt with material on the more abstract branches of science, and it was this one that Miss Prinks, with some trepidation, entered.

She spoke to the woman clerk behind the desk, filled out some slips, and after a due wait was supplied with several books, in particular one rather heavy and impressive-looking volume.

It was this one she opened first. She skimmed through the first few pages, clicked her tongue disapprovingly, and went back to the desk to order several textbooks on mathematics, leading up to and including one on tensor calculus. She returned with these to her seat and flipped through them with amazing rapidity. Then she set them aside with a satisfied air, and returned to her original volume.

She sat reading this for some time, and when she had finally finished it and laid it aside she continued to sit deep in thought for some time.

A new factor had entered into her life. A social, scientific, and for all that, probably a moral and ethical problem as well. It had come as a direct result of what the Zanch scientist had done to her. And because of it she had made a serious discovery.

Mr. Einstein was wrong on several points. Ought she to tell someone?

For a long time she sat there at her library table, and her thoughts ranged far and wide over the almost limitless vista that her new abilities had opened up for her.

She was, without doubt, the strongest person in the world. The evidence she had just acquired tended to indicate that she was probably also the most intelligent person in the world. Whatever was she to do then, with all this intelligence and strength? How was she to use it? Why? Where? When? What would people think when she told them she could outrun a train?

Possibly, thought Miss Prinks, she could be useful as a sort of lady traffic policeman chasing reckless drivers. Miss Prinks shuddered a little at the thought. No, that would be too undignified, running down a street in a blue uniform at her age. Perhaps she could become some sort of government scientist. But they would probably put her to work designing some sort of super-weapon. As a member of the SPCA, she simply could not do it. Possibly.

A bell rang through the library, notifying all and sundry that the seven o’clock closing hour had arrived. Still deep in thought, Miss Prinks rose to her feet, returned her books, and made off in the direction of her apartment.

She had thought away the last hours of the afternoon, and twilight was closing down. In the soft dwindling light, she took her way down the almost deserted street, across the railroad bridge (no train this time, thank goodness), and past the closed shops on her way toward home.

She left the bridge behind her and went on in a careful imitation of her usual walk. She had half a block to go to reach the safety and peace of the green rug, the gold lace curtains, the grandfather clock, and Solomon, the cat.

And it was then that the purse-snatcher got her.

He came diving out of the shadows of the narrow alleyway between the pet shop and the hardware store, seconds after Miss Prinks had inched her way past. A few quick running strides brought him up to her—a tall, heavy youth with a scarred face and breath whistling fiercely through his straining, open mouth. With one sudden twitch, he pulled the purse from her arm, tucked it under his own and was away at a dead run down the block.

Now, of course, with her super-hearing, Miss Prinks should have heard his breathing and the pounding of his heart as he waited for her in the alley. With her super-intelligence, she should have instantly divined that he was after the contents of her purse, and with her super-reactions she should have sidestepped and tripped him up quite neatly.

Unfortunately, just like any ordinary mortal, Miss Prinks had become absorbed in her own thoughts, and the purse-snatcher took her by surprise. In fact it was a good 8.7326 seconds, as she later shame-facedly admitted to herself, before the fact registered on her that she had been robbed. When it did register, she reacted without thinking. With one super-leap she overtook the youth and snatched at his jacket.

It ripped away from him like so much tissue paper. Frantic with the thought that he might escape, Miss Prinks grabbed again, this time coming away with half his shirt and undershirt. Her fingers were ripping through the left leg of the purse-snatcher’s heavy workpants when sanity returned to her. She gasped, stared once at the half-denuded figure fainting before her, and ran.


So, in a third-story apartment on a certain street, Miss Prinks still lives. She is still a singleton aunt on a pension, and she still has gold lace curtains on the window, the green carpet on the floor, and wine-colored upholstery on her furniture. The grandfather clock and Solomon are intact and present. She does her housecleaning in the morning, her shopping in the afternoon, and still visits the library late in the day, on nice days.

But she never goes in the science room, and she never requests Mr. Einstein’s book again. Sometimes, in the evening when she has finished supper at home, she will sit down in her favorite chair to see what the news is. Then, with hands that are capable of crumpling three-inch steel plate, she picks up the evening paper. From the table beside her chair she picks up glasses and fixes them firmly in front of eyes that can see a fly crawling up a window pane two miles away. And, with a perception that is capable of scanning and memorizing a page at a glance, she plods through the news stories, word by word.

And sometimes she comes across an item on the front page reporting the construction of an atomic airplane, or a new discovery of medical science, or a release on the latest Air Force rocket—or on flying saucers. When this happens she reads it through, then shakes her head a little, then smiles. But that is all. She puts the paper down again and goes to bed.

For Miss Prinks made up her mind in that split second of realization that came to her in the heat of her flurry with the purse-snatcher. For the first time she had put her newly acquired powers to use, and in that moment she realized that it never could be.

For perhaps it would benefit the world to have a Miss Prinks who can outrun an express train, jump over the Empire State Building, or correct the Theory of Relativity. These things might be good and they might not. Miss Prinks does not know.

But there is one thing she does know. And it is the reason the world will never see Miss Prinks doing any of these things.

For Miss Prinks is a lady, and such goings-on are far too dangerous. There is no doubt about it, and you are just wasting your breath if you try to argue with her. For there is too great a risk—far too great a risk (and Miss Prinks blushes at the memory) that such exercise of her powers might lead to another such occasion as that in which she—a lady—suddenly found herself tearing a man’s clothes off on the public street! Further such doings are not for her.

No indeed! Not for Miss Prinks!



Fear not the dying of the flesh, only the slaying of the soul.

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Framed