Read The Fury Out of Time Online
Authors: Lloyd Biggle Jr.
Tags: #alien, #Science Fiction, #future, #sci-fi, #time travel
Copyright © 1965 by Lloyd Biggie, Jr.
Published by Wildside Press LLC.
Edited By Kenneth Lloyd Biggle
With Thanks To David Datta
To Dean McLaughlin….
The day began strangely.
Bowden Karvel wrenched himself from a drunken slumber and took his first step without falling flat on his face. He wondered if it were an omen.
The trailer park reposed in an uncanny state of quiet. Puzzled, Karvel limped to the door of his trailer and opened it. A chill, gusty wind tore at his pajamas and spat fine particles of sand into his face. The November sun was coldly bright, and almost overhead. An F-102 jet flashed into sight, headed for a landing at nearby Hatch Air Force Base. Karvel watched it until it sank below the tree-choked horizon.
He stood for a moment in the open doorway, gratefully embracing the cold wind. The park’s children would not be released for their customary frolic in mob formation until the day had warmed up somewhat, which accounted for the unnatural silence.
He limped to the bathroom mirror and studied his face with the distasteful detachment of one attempting to identify a corpse. With one hand he fingered a three-day growth of beard; with the other he held up his razor. His hand was steadier than it had any right to be.
He shaved slowly, dressed himself slowly. It was afternoon when he finished, but he had no hunger.
Nor any thirst. He had never experienced a craving for drink. He drank only when he had nothing better to do, which was, unfortunately, almost always.
He limped out into the cold, insistent wind and locked the trailer door. “Another damned day,” he said, and got into his car.
Whistler’s Country Tavern was a long log building set far back from the road behind a screen of young pines. There was no sign. Whistler’s customers knew where he was, and anyone traveling that narrow, winding, unimproved road who was not Whistler’s customer was lost.
The military invasion was already under way when Karvel drove into the deeply rutted parking lot. On weekday evenings the tavern was merely crowded; on Saturday afternoons it was mobbed. Airmen from Hatch Air Force Base achieved spectacular feats of engineering in packing themselves into anything that possessed wheels and a hint of self-propulsion, and descended en masse on Whistler’s Country Tavern, and Whistler hated them for it.
Karvel hesitated at the front entrance, told himself without conviction that he should eat something, and entered.
Bert Whistler, obscenely bald, formidably jowled, splenetically bad-tempered, was presiding at the bar like an irascible God on Judgement Day. He dealt out the momentary solace of beer to some, withheld it from others at a whim, and dismissed all complaints with a snarl. The airmen liked Whistler. There was no class consciousness to his incivility. He insulted colonels and the lowliest of enlisted men with superb impartiality.
His eyes fell on Karvel. His scowl deepened, and he raised both hands despairingly. Karvel grinned, pushed his way past the crowd by the door, and limped toward the kitchen.
Ma Whistler was bending bleary-eyed over greasy mounds of hamburger. She greeted Karvel with a toothless grin and unconsciously smoothed back her thinning strands of gray hair. “Have you had breakfast?”
Karvel shook his head.
“Kick somebody out of a chair, and I’ll bring it.”
Karvel nodded, and circled around to a small back room that bore a crudely lettered sign, OFFICERS CLUB NO GENTLEMEN ALLOWED.
“Major Karvel!” a voice exclaimed. “Come and join us!”
A good-looking young captain jumped up from the large circular table that filled the room, and whacked a lieutenant who was seated next to him. “Give Major Karvel your chair,” he ordered.
The lieutenant good-naturedly picked up his bottle and glass, and moved aside. “Sit down, Major.”
Karvel,” Karvel said. “Thanks.” He looked about him and blinked his surprise. The day was continuing as oddly as it had begun. “What do you mean, defying natural law by bringing females to Whistler’s?” he demanded.
There were three young women seated at the table, all of them in attractive civilian clothing, all of them young, and pretty, and curvaceous. The sight was rare enough to be unsettling. Whistler had lost his easygoing, friendly local trade when the Air Force took over. A male civilian at Whistler’s during the off-duty hours was made to feel as unwelcome as a Communist at a Birch Society meeting, and although a WAF occasionally appeared with appropriate bodyguard, no female civilian dared approach the place. Even Whistler’s elderly, rheumatic wife frequently closed her kitchen in disgust and locked herself in their living quarters, and such was the tavern’s local reputation that Whistler couldn’t hire a waitress.
The captain performed introductions. “Miss Sylvester, Miss Carson, Miss Drews. Major Bowden Karvel. Major Karvel is retired, which is why he’s trying to call himself
The ladies are television actresses, Major. You’ve probably seen them on TV.”
“You know better than that,” Karvel said.
“They’re on the program ‘Wayward Girls.’ Miss Sylvester is the star.”
Karvel studied her gravely. She was a blonde, she had a lovely face, and her curves were as sensationally proportioned as her eyelashes. “I’m sorry to hear it,” he murmured politely.
She fluttered the eyelashes. “Sorry?”
“Sorry you’re a wayward girl.”
The soaring, musical lilt of her laughter was unsettling to even such a confirmed misogynist as Bowden Karvel. “Oh, I’m not one of the wayward girls,” she said. “I play the part of a probation officer.”
“You can understand why I was confused,” Karvel told her. “None of my probation officers ever looked like you.”
“Never mind Major Karvel,” the captain said. “He just doesn’t approve of there being two sexes.”
Miss Sylvester arched the delicate lines of her eyebrows. “Goodness! He must be awfully behind the times!”
“He thinks women are one part flesh and blood and three parts optical illusion,” the captain went on, “and you have to admit—”
“They don’t have to admit a thing,” Karvel said. “Optical illusion is the one art the twentieth century excels in, and should be respected. Enjoy it as much as you like, but keep your mind off the structural implications, which are none of your business.”
“I don’t know which of us he insulted,” Miss Sylvester said, “but
ought to slap him.”
The captain laughed, and playfully clipped Karvel on the chin. “By the way, Major—have you seen Sergeant Walling lately?”
Karvel shook his head.
“He’s complaining about those collections of yours that are on display in the library. He says they take up too much space, and he wants them out of there.”
“They give the establishment a very important intellectual tone. I thought the men found them interesting.”
“Maybe they did two years ago, but the novelty’s worn off. Walling says it interferes with the powers of concentration to be surrounded by carcasses of insects, not to mention the rocks-in-the-head feeling one gets from looking at rocks day after day, and as for the seashells—”
“The rocks in Walling’s head are no responsibility of mine. But I’ll have a talk with him.”
“You’d better. He’s threatening to feed the insects to the birds. I forget what it is he’s going to do with the rocks and shells.”
“I haven’t any place to put them. I’ll appeal to his generous nature. Anyway, he’s got nothing to complain about. My collection of stuffed alligators is still down at Homestead.”
Ma Whistler pushed her way into the room with Karvel’s breakfast. He looked at it helplessly.
“Eat it!” she snapped. “You die twice as fast drinking on an empty stomach.”
Karvel ate, chewing each tasteless mouthful interminably while mustering courage to swallow, and listened to the cheerful banter that was tossed about the table. He said nothing more—he had already said too much, for he did not belong there. Crippled, tossed onto the retirement heap at the age of thirty-six, he felt decades too old to associate with these young officers and young women whose aspirations were unsullied and whose futures were still bright. He continued to nod or shake his head when spoken to, but he did not hear the questions; and afterward he remembered very little of what happened during the next hour.
For no particular reason, the disconnected impressions he retained stood out vividly:
The odd question Miss Sylvester asked, with an equally odd flutter of her eyelashes. “Exactly how far is this place from the base?”
Whistler’s new and inexperienced bartender serving a Manhattan with an olive in it, and getting it dashed into his face.
Lieutenant Phineas Ostrander charging in, waving his moose call and shouting “Geronimo!”
And there was the strange civilian who appeared suddenly in the tavern doorway, and called out, “Hey! Can you tell me how to get to Highway 41?”
Whistler, at his disrespectful worst, filled the ensuing silence with a snort. “What way you going, 41 east or 41 west?”
The stranger stared. “What difference does that make? It’s just one highway, isn’t it?”
“Mister,” Whistler said scornfully, “you better know the difference between east and west before you start asking for directions.”
Karvel became aware that hands were reaching for his, that the girls and their escorts were leaving. He started to get to his feet, found his artificial leg hooked around a chair leg, and was still struggling to free it when they walked away.
He returned his half-eaten breakfast to the kitchen and told Ma Whistler that he’d done his best. Leaving the tavern by the kitchen door, he circled around to the plot of ground in the rear that Whistler chose to call the tavern gardens.
Whistler’s gardening consisted of cutting weeds at irregular intervals, but during the summer months he had kept three gaudy umbrella tables behind the tavern for the use of favored customers, none of whom cared what he called the place. The chairs were comfortable, the service and insults no worse than those suffered inside the tavern, and the view, because Whistler’s Country Tavern was perched precariously on the rim of a deep valley, was magnificent.
On that Saturday the tables were missing. Of all of the day’s singularities, this was the most irksome. Karvel limped back through the tavern, invaded the sacrosanct region behind the bar, and demanded an explanation.
Whistler straightened up to his full five feet five inches, wiped his hands on the soiled white apron that magnified his paunch, and eyed Karvel in flabbergasted silence.