Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Wild Fire

I must be very careful around open flames. I read a story once by Roger Zelazny, in which natives of a certain place had blood that burned on contact with the air. How did THAT evolve? Now I find myself hoping that my initial skepticism was misplaced.

It all started with Wally McGolly's latest invention. You know Wally, his exploits were popularized (under another name) by the historian R. A. Lafferty. Anyway, Wally ran into me at the supermarket and told me I simply had to see his new invention.

"It will revolutionize transportation," he told me. As a freelance writer, I'm always looking for things like this and he knew it. Wally lived in a second-floor apartment in a Victorian house downtown. He's looking for a new place now, I hear, though I haven't talked to him lately. I believe that he will not be charged with arson. Anyway, the thing was just like all of his inventions: a hodge-podge of ordinary objects, including a Hobart mixer, some bed springs, radio components, and what looked like several disemboweled hand-held game machines. And it glowed. The center of the thing was a perforate ring of metal.

"You crawl through that," he said. "In the production model it will be large enough to walk through."

"What is it?"

"A spatial translocator of course. Right now I have it set on the fountain in the town square." I had meant the metal ring, but now I recognized it. It was part of the innards of an electric washing machine.

Suffice it to say that he talked me into trying it out. I had misgivings. After all, who can forget the disaster last Thanksgiving when Wally tried out his cephalic enhancer on the entire stock of Jensen's turkey farm? I don't think the EPA will EVER let anyone back in there. But, Wally assured me that he had thoroughly tested the thing. What he didn't tell me was that after each test, including the last, he had had to make minor adjustments to the settings….

I started to crawl through the ring.

"Anything in your pockets?" he asked.

"Sure. My keys, wallet, the usual. Why?"

"Better empty them. The field reacts with metal."

"What about my fillings?" I asked, backing out hastily.

"Don't worry about those."

I emptied my pockets and crawled through. I was on my hands and knees in the fountain in front of the courthouse. That water is COLD! It comes straight from a spring. I leaped to my feet and jumped out of the fountain, almost landing on what appeared to be a charred pigeon corpse. Dodging the disgusting thing, I bumped into a large city policeman.

"What the hell are you doing?" he growled, grabbing my arm.

"I know I shouldn't do it," I said, "but I was tossing my keys in the air and catching them. One time I missed." He scowled and moved off. I hurried to the nearest pay phone, rubbing my arm and intending to call Wally. Then I remembered. I had emptied my pockets! What the hell. I made the call collect. He could afford it.

"Wally," I said. "I made it!"

"Wonderful." he sounded relieved. "Any side effects?"

"None! Everything is just fine. Sound as a dollar." I slapped the side of the phone for emphasis, and I cut my palm. I looked at the cut to see how deep it was. It was really just a scratch, but flames were dancing over it. My hand was on fire! Hurt like crazy. "Whoa!" I shouted, tears streaming down my cheeks.

"No undesirable …. combustion?" Wally asked anxiously.

"You knew," I accused, beating the flames out against my pants leg. I flashed on an image of the charred pigeon. "And your last subject was a pigeon. You bastard!" I heard a dial tone.

Damn that guy! Now I live very quietly. And I stay far away from open flames.

No comments: