Friday, August 19, 2016

games, part 10

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

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 in his story, as he guided the packard on to what seemed to be a main highway.

at least, thought bob, it was more of a main highway than the road he had been walking down and that the professor had picked him up on.

they could see the lights of a few other cars.

they all seemed to be going tin the other direction - east .

east, west, it was all the same to bob.

“where was i?” asked the professor.

“your soul was getting smashed into a thousand pieces,” bob told him.

“of course, of course… by millie… beautiful millie….”

the professor’s thoughts seemed to drift and bob wondered if he was falling asleep and would run them off the road.

but he recovered and resumed his narrative.

“… we got into the old model t and millie started off into the desert.

somehow i kept my eyes on the dirt road and the tumbleweeds blowing across it, when all i wanted to do was turn and gaze and gaze at millie.

‘barry has been so looking forward to seeing you - as of course i have too, charles - especially today.’

‘why today?’ i managed to say, hardly able to hear myself over the sound of my hammering heart.

‘oh - perhaps i am just imagining things - but barry has seemed - just a little bit out of sorts the last couple of days - i am sure it is nothing, really - but your visit should be just the thing to cheer him up!’

barry a little out of sorts? maybe he would drop dead and leave millie to me! not that i seriously wished any such thing, of course, but these are the sort of thoughts that drift through a man’s head when he is being driven mad by impossible passion.

‘perhaps it has something to do with the work he is engaged on?’ i ventured.

‘oh, it is, most definitely,’ millie surprised me by saying. ‘we have run into a few snags on the project.’

we? i thought. but i said, ‘no doubt barry has some sort of crew of scientists working on this with him.’

‘oh no! there is just barry and i working on it .’

barry and i? now i was completely bewildered. millie was working on this project? the millie i knew was the most beautiful, the sweetest, the most wonderful girl in the world but no more a scientist than she was john dillinger or hitler. in fact barry himself was no scientist and i had assumed he was just administering the project and riding herd on the scientists who were actually doing whatever they were doing.

‘but,’ i said, ’surely there were others?’

‘there were,’ millie replied, ‘but they turned out to be a bunch of quitters! who gave up at the first little sign of trouble. and good riddance to them, thats what i say!’

i was completely baffled and resolved to say no more and wait until we reached our destination.

we drove in silence as i tried to find a glimmer of sense in what millie had told me.

‘here we are’ millie announced suddenly, as she stopped the model t.

it was my turn to be astonished anew. “here” was nothing more than a shack - in the proverbial middle of nowhere - with no outbuildings that i could see, let alone the kind of structures i had expected from a hush-hush government project. i had also had a vague notion that there might be soldiers or guards on the premises, but there was no sign of such.

nor was there any sign of barry, though i thought he might have seen or heard us coming.

‘barry must be taking a nap,’ said millie. ‘that’s good, he needs one. ‘ she smiled at me - i was so astonished by the surroundings that i felt hardly a glimmer of the bliss such a smile would have aroused in me a mere fifteen minutes before - and led the way the few feet to the shack.

‘we won’t wake him’, millie said. ‘ i will just get you a nice glass of lemonade. come in, make yourself at home.’

i heard a voice from the shack say ‘i’m awake’.

and then i got the biggest shock of all.”

the professor paused. “look up there,” he said to bob.

lights appeared up ahead.

it was a road block. the professor slowed the packard , and a state trooper stepped out on to the road fifty yards ahead of them and waved them down.

the professor rolled his window down and the trooper, a big farmhand looking fellow who looked like he could carry two cows to market under his arms, approached.

“what’s going on, officer?” the professor asked genially. “has a madman escaped from the asylum? a bunch of desperadoes busted out of the state pen?”

“nothing like that, sir,” the trooper answered with a straight face. “but we are just warning travelers that a big storm is headed this way and may wash out the road up ahead and especially the bridge over the river. so wherever you are going, even if you get there you might not get back any time soon.”

“why thank you, officer,” the professor answered, “but i was quite aware of this no doubt storm of the century. my name is doctor fletcher, by the way, and i am on my way to treat one of the richest men in the world, for a rare disease that i am the world’s greatest authority on. and this is my assistant, perwald. i am sure mister barnes will offer us the full hospitality of his magnificent estate no matter the circumstances.”

the trooper straightened up. “that’s as may be, sir. it is up to you if you wish to proceed.” he pointed to the sawhorses that had been put across the road.. “there is plenty of room there, sir, on the right, to get around the barrier.”

“thank you, officer.”

“good night, sir.” the trooper waved the packard on with his flashlight.

“ha, ha!” exclaimed the professor, as they were past the barricade and speeding up again. “we fooled him! we fooled him good!”

part 11

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