Friday, July 8, 2016

games, part 4

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

the professor, who knew things that should never be known…

“… but there’s plenty more dames in the sea, that’s what i always say.” bob wound up his story about sally, the waitress in fredericksburg maryland, who had a set of curves you had to see to believe…

the road had grown increasingly dark - they hadn’t passed a light of any kind for at least a couple of miles - and bob couldn’t see the look on the professor’s face or tell if he believed bob’s story.

if he didn’t, to hell with him.

“that’s a good story,” the professor finally said. he kept his pipe in his mouth as he spoke.

“you know, it’a a funny thing about stories,” the professor added, after they went about another thousand yards. he actually took his pipe out of his mouth as he said this, the first time he had since he had picked bob up.

“and what’s that?” bob asked.

“some are more stories than others.”

“yeah,” bob agreed, though he was not sure what the professor meant. was he cracking wise, giving bob the needle? did he think bob made up the story about sally the waitress and her curves?

“stories are on a spectrum,” the professor continued, with his unlit pipe back in mouth.

‘i guess,” said bob, although he did not see, and did not know what a “spectrum” was. something like an atomic bomb, maybe?

suddenly the professor pulled over to the side of the road.

“what are you stopping for?” bob asked. they seemed to be stopped beside a field, though it was too dark to tell even that. there was not a light in sight, and no moon or stars.

“just to fill my pipe and light it,” the professor replied in a mild voice. “we’ll be on our way shortly. why, were you in a hurry?”


“we will come back to civilization in a few miles. we’ll stop and get a cup of coffee.”

“uh - i’m a little short,” bob said.

“that’s all right, i’ll but you a cup.”

“gee. thanks.”

‘all you have to do is listen my story.”

“i can do that.”

the professor finished filling his pipe from a pouch he had taken out of his vest pocket., and lit it with a wooden match.

he took a long contented drag of the pipe, and the started the car again.

they drove a while in silence. bob thought the professor was going to wait until they got to wherever they were going to get coffee before he began his story, but suddenly he started.

“i have never told this story to anyone before,” he began. “and i did not think i ever would. but it’s been eating away at me for years, and i have finally decided i need to tell somebody… even if that somebody is…”

bob thought thought the professor was going to say “a bum”, but he said “a complete stranger.”

“my story starts about fifteen tears ago,” the professor continued. “when i first obtained my appointment to the faculty of st crassus college. i was looking forward to a long and leisurely life of teaching shelley and tennyson and ruskin to undergraduates, when i received a letter in the mail. a letter without postmark or return address but in an envelope inscribed with a firm masculine hand.

i opened it, and saw that it was from something calling itself the “universal concatenation company”. surely a name to inspire skepticism. i quickly scanned it and to my astonishment found that it was signed by my old boyhood chum barry atkinson!

barry and i had been lads together in the golden faraway days before the world went mad. we had hunted jackrabbits and fished for trout together, and as you may have surmised, had been in love with the same girl.

who had, needless to say, chosen barry. barry, accompanied by his lovely bride, had headed to the corridors of power on the faraway east coast, those corridors bustling with activity in anticipation of the coming world cataclysm. and i had resolved to bury myself and my broken heart away among the silos and bookshelves of st crassus agricultural college.

i went back and read the letter more carefully.

barry was offering me a position on a project - one of many competing ones, as he readily acknowledged - that bid fair not only to win the coming war - victory was treated as a certainty - but to reorganize the very fabric of what the man in the street laughingly regards as “reality”.

why me? i was only a humble interpreter of ancient bards, quite ignorant of any science except the elementary principles of euclid.

because, barry assured me, he could count on my absolute loyalty. he would, he explained, quickly get me up to speed on all i needed to know to be his loyal factotum.

and of course, i would be helping to save civilization and all that…

would it shock you, my friend, if i told you i cared not a rap for civilization, or patriotism, or glory, or for any of the finer feelings you might care to name?

no, what i saw was the chance to once more set eyes on millie… beautiful, rosy-cheeked, millie…

wife, as she might be, of another man…

and so it was that i found myself the only passenger getting off at a tiny railroad station in the middle of nevada, blinking in the sun and not seeing anybody there to greet me.

the station itself was no more than a shack, and was closed. i tried the door, and noticed a sign that said - tickets noon to 4 p m only’.

and then i heard a voice behind me.

'charles! how wonderful to see you!'

i turned and it was millie. laughing, sparkling, curly-haired millie. just as i had dreamed of her all those hundreds of lonely nights and dreary afternoons…

'millie- ' i stammered foolishly, 'where did you come from?'

'the car is parked behind the station, silly, where there is at least a bit of shade. come on, barry is waiting for you, with a big pitcher of lemonade!'

the car was an old model t ford, of all things, but polished to a high shine, and, millie assured me merrily, quite capable of traversing the stony wastes of the desert.

it took me a moment to realize it, but i was alone with millie. alone, in what seemed to be a hundred miles of desert…

and in that moment i wondered if there were any power in the world that could keep a man from breaking down when his soul is being smashed into a thousand pieces… “

the professor paused.

suddenly there were lights in the distance, as the car approached a main highway.

part 5

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