I Sing the Body Electric

By Catherine Holmes,2014-11-04 22:29
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Product `desc`riptionA collection of fantasy and science-fiction short stories, amongst which are found the time traveller in search of Ernest Hemingway; a baby born into another dimension; a lost Martian city springing into a weird and extaordinary existence; and an electronic grandmother. Published by Earthlight on 1998/08/03



    Ray Bradbury


    This book, a bit late in the day, but with admiration, affection, and friendship,

    is for NORMAN CORWIN.


    I sing the Body Electric;

     The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them;

     They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,

     And discorrupt them, And charge them full with the charge of the Soul.

    ? ? ? ?—WALT WHITMAN




    I arrived in the truck very early in the morning. I had been driving all night, for I hadn'tbeen able to sleep at the motel so I thought I might as well drive and I arrived among themountains and hills near Ketchum and Sun Valley just as the sun carne up and I was glad I hadkept busy with driving.

    I drove into the town itself without looking up at that one hill. I was afraid if I looked atit, I would make a mistake. It was very important not to look at the grave. At least that ishow I felt. And I had to go on my hunch.

    I parked the truck in front of an old saloon and walked around the town and talked to a fewpeople and breathed the air and it was sweet and clear. I found a young hunter, but he waswrong; I knew that after talking to him for a few minutes. I found a very old man, but he wasno better. Then I found me a hunter about fifty, and he was just right. He knew, or sensed,everything I was looking for.

    I bought him a beer and we talked about a lot of things, and then I bought him another beer andled the conversation around to what I was doing here and why I wanted to talk to him. We weresilent for a while and I waited, not showing my impatience, for the hunter, on his own, tobring up the past, to speak of other days three years ago, and of driving toward Sun Valley atthis time or that and what he saw and knew about a man who had once sat in this bar and drunkbeer and talked about hunting or gone hunting out beyond.

    And at last, looking off at the wall as if it were the highway and the mountains, the huntergathered up his quiet voice and was ready to speak.

    "That old man," he said. "Oh, that old man on the road. Oh, that poor old man."

    I waited.

    "I just can't get over that old man on the road," he said, looking down now into his drink.

    I drank some more of my beer, not feeling well, feeling very old myself and tired.

    When the silence prolonged itself, I got out a local map and laid it on the wooden table. Thebar was quiet. It was midmorning and we were completely alone there.

    "This is where you saw him most often?" I asked.

    The hunter touched the map three times. "I used to see him walking here. And along there. Thenhe'd cut across the land here. That poor old man. I wanted to tell him to keep off the road. Ididn't want to hurt or insult him. You don't tell a man like that about roads or that maybehe'll be hit. If he's going to be hit, well that's it. You figure it's his business, and you goon. Oh, but he was old there at the last."

    "He was," I said, and folded the map and put it in my pocket.

    "You another of those reporters?" said the hunter.

    "Not quite those," I said.

    "Didn't mean to lump you in with them," he said.

    "No apology needed," I said. ''Let's just say I was one of his readers."

    "Oh, he had readers all right, all kinds of readers. Even me. I don't touch books from oneautumn to the next. But I touched his. I think I liked the Michigan stories best. About thefishing. 1 think the stories about the fishing are good. I don't think anybody ever wrote aboutfishing that way and maybe won't ever again. Of course, the bullfight stuff is good, too. Butthat's a little far off. Some of the cowpokes like them; they been around the animals all theirlife. A bull here or a bull there, I guess it's the same. I know one cowpoke has read just thebull stuff in the Spanish stories of the old man's forty times. He could go over there andfight, I swear."

    "I think all of us felt," I said, "at least once in our lives, when we were young, we could goover there, after reading the bull stuff in the Spanish stories, that we could go over thereand fight. Or at least jog ahead of the running of the bulls, in the early morning, with a good

    drink waiting at the other end of the run, and your best girl with you there for the longweekend."

    I stopped. I laughed quietly. For my voice had, without knowing, fallen into the rhythm of hisway of saying, either out of his mouth, or from his hand. I shook my head and was silent.

    "You been up to the grave yet?" asked the hunter, as if he knew I would answer yes.

    "No," I said.

    That really surprised him. He tried not to show it.

    "They all go up to the grave," he said.

    "Not this one."

    not?"He explored around in his mind for a polite way of asking. "I mean?…?" he said. "Why

    "Because it's the wrong grave," I said.

    "All graves are wrong graves when you come down to it," he said.

    "No," I said. "There are right graves and wrong ones, just as there are good times to die andbad times."

    He nodded at this. I had come back to something he knew, or at least: smelled was right.

    "Sure, I knew men," he said, "died just perfect. You always felt, yes, that was good. One man Iknew, sitting at the table waiting for supper, his wife in the kitchen, when she came in with abig bowl of soup there he was sitting dead and neat at the table. Bad for her, but, I mean,wasn't that a good way for him? No sickness. No nothing but sitting there waiting for supper tocome arid never knowing if it came or not. Like another friend. Had an old dog. Fourteen yearsold. Dog was going blind and tired. Decided at last to take the dog to the pound and have himput to sleep. Loaded the old blind tired dog on the front seat of his car. The dog licked hishand, once. The man felt awful. He drove toward the pound. On the way there, with not onesound, the dog passed away, died on the front seat, as if he knew and, knowing, picked thebetter way, just handed over his ghost, and there you are. That's what you're talking about,right?"

    I nodded.

    "So you think that grave up on the hill is a wrong grave for a right man, do you?"

    "That's about it," I said.

    "You think there are all kinds of graves along the road for all of us?"

    "Could be," I said.

    "And if we could see all our life one way or another, we'd choose better? At the end, lookingback," said the hunter, "we'd say, hell, that was the year and the place, not the other year

    and the other place, but that one year, that one place. Would we say that?"

    "Since we have to choose or be pushed finally," I said, "yes."

    "That's a nice idea," said the hunter. "But how many of us have that much sense? Most of usdon't have brains enough to leave a party when the gin runs out. We hang around."

    "We hang around," I said, "and what a shame."

    We ordered some more beer.

    The hunter drank half the glass and wiped his mouth.

    "So what can you do about wrong graves?" he said.

    "Treat them as if they didn't exist," I said. "And maybe they'll go away, like a bad dream."

    The hunter laughed once, a land of forlorn cry. "God, you're crazy. But I like listening tocrazy people. Blow some more."

    "That's all," I said.

    "Are you the Resurrection and the Life?" said the hunter.


    "You going to say Lazarus come forth?"


    "What then?"

    "I just want, very late in the day," I said, "to choose right places, right times, rightgraves."

    "Drink that drink," said the hunter. "You need it. Who in hell sent you?"

    "Me," I said. "I did. And some friends. We all chipped in and picked one out of ten. We boughtthat truck out on the street and I drove it across country. On the way I did a lot of huntingand fishing to put myself in the right frame. I was in Cuba last year. Spain the summer before.Africa the summer before that. I got a lot to think about. That's why they picked me."

    what, to do what, goddammit?" said the hunter urgently, half wildly, shaking his head."To do

    "You can't do anything. It's all over."

    "Most of it," I said. "Come on."

    I walked to the door. The hunter sat there. At last, examining the fires lit in my face by mytalking, he grunted, got up, walked over, and came outside with me.

    I pointed at the curb. We looked together at the truck parked there.

    "I've seen those before," he said. "A truck like that, in a movie. Don't they hunt rhino from atruck like that? And lions and things like that? Or at least travel in them around Africa?"

    "You remember right."

    "No lions around here," he said. "No rhino, no water buffalo, nothing."

    "No? "I asked.

    He didn't answer that.

    I walked over and touched the open truck.

    "You know what this is?"

    "I'm playing dumb from here on," said the hunter. "What is it?"

    I stroked the fender for a long moment.

    "A Time Machine," I said.

    His eyes widened and then narrowed and he sipped the beer he was carrying in one large hand. Henodded me on.

    "A Time Machine," I repeated.

    "I heard you," he said.

    He walked out around the safari truck and stood in the street looking at it. He wouldn't lookat me. He circled the truck one entire round and stood back on the curb and looked at the capon the gas tank.

    "What kind of mileage you get?" he said.

    "I don't know yet."

    "You don't know anything," he said.

    "This is the first trip," I said. "I won't know until it's over."

    "What do you fuel a thing like that with?" he said.

    I was silent.

    "What kind of stuff you put in?" he asked.

    I could have said: Reading late at night, reading many nights over the years until almostmorning, reading up in the mountains in the snow or reading at noon in Pamplona, or reading bythe streams or out in a boat somewhere along the Florida coast. Or I could have said: All of usput our hands on this Machine, all of us thought about it and bought it and touched it and put

    our love in it and our remembering what his words did to us twenty years or twenty-five orthirty years ago. There's a lot of life and remembering and love put by here, and that's thegas and the fuel and the stuff or whatever you want to call it; the rain in Paris, the sun inMadrid, the snow in the high Alps, the smoke off the guns in the Tyrol, the shine of light offthe Gulf Stream, the explosion of bombs or explosions of leapt fish, that's the gas and thefuel and the stuff here; I should have said that, I thought it, but I let it stay unsaid.

    The hunter must have smelled my thought, for his eyes squinted up and, telepath that he wasfrom long years in the forest, chewed over my thinking.

    touched?…?my Machine.Then he walked over and did an unexpected thing. He reached out and?…?

    He laid his hand on it and left it there, as if feeling for the life, and approving what hesensed beneath his hand. He stood that way for a long time.

    Then he turned without a word, not looking at me, and went back into the bar and sat drinkingalone, his back turned toward the door.

    I didn't want to break the silence. It seemed a good time to go, to try.

    I got in the truck and started the motor.

    What kind of mileage? What kind of fuel? I thought. And drove away.

    I kept on the road and didn't look right or left and I drove for what must have been an hour,first this direction and then that, part of the time my eyes shut for full seconds, taking achance I might go off and get hurt or killed.

    And then, just before noon, with the clouds over the sun, suddenly I knew it was all right.

    I looked up at the hill and I almost: yelled.

    The grave was gone.

    I drove down into a little hollow just then and on the road ahead, wandering along by himself,was an old man in a heavy sweater.

    I idled the safari truck along until I was pacing him as he walked. I saw he was wearing steel-rimmed glasses and for a long moment we moved together, each ignoring the other until I calledhis name.

    He hesitated, and then walked on.

    I caught up with him in the truck and said again, "Papa."

    He stopped and waited.

    I braked the car and sat there in the front seat.

    "Papa," I said.

    He came over and stood near the door.

    "Do I know you?"

    "No. But I know you."

    He looked me in the eyes and studied my face and mouth. "Yes. I think you do."

    "I saw you on the road. I think I'm going your way. Want a lift?"

    "It's good walking this time of day," he said. "Thanks."

    "Let me tell you where I'm going," I said.

    He had started off but now stopped and, without looking at me, said, "Where?"

    "A long way," I said.

    "It sounds long, the way you tell it. Can't you make it shorter?"

    "No. A long way," I said. "About two thousand six hundred days, give or take some days, andhalf an afternoon."

    He came back and looked into the car.

    "Is that how far you're going?" "That's how far." "In which direction? Ahead?" "Don't you want to go ahead?" He looked at the sky. "I don't know. I'm not sure." "It's not ahead," I said. "It's back." His eyes took on a different color. It was a subtle shift, a flex, like a man stepping out from

    the shade of a tree into sunlight on a cloudy day. "Back." "Somewhere between two thousand and three thousand days, split half a day, give or take an

    hour, borrow or loan a minute, haggle over a second," I said. "You really talk," he said. "Compulsive," I said. "You'd make a lousy writer," he said. "I never knew a writer yet was a good talker." "That's my albatross," I said. "Back?" He weighed the word. "I'm turning the car around," I said. "And I'm going back down the road." "Not miles but days?" "Not miles but days." "Is it that kind of car?" "That's how it's built." "You're an inventor then?" "A reader who happens to invent," "If the car works, that's some car you got there." "At your service," I said. "And when you get where you're going," said the old man, putting his hand on the door and

    leaning and then, seeing what he had done, taking his hand away and standing taller to speak to

    me, "where will you be?" "January 10, 1954." "That's quite a date," he said. "It is, it was. It can be more of a date." Without moving, his eyes took another step out into fuller light. "And where will you be on that clay?" "Africa," I said. He was silent. His mouth did not work. His eyes did not shift. "Not far from Nairobi," I said. He nodded, once, slowly. "Africa, not far from Nairobi." I waited. "And when we get there, if we go?" he said. "I leave you there." "And then?" "You stay there."

    "And then?" "That's all." "That's all?" "Forever," I said. The old man breathed out and in, and ran his hand over the edge of the doorsill. "This car," he said, "somewhere along the way does it turn into a plane?" "I don't know," I said. "Somewhere along the way do you turn into my pilot?" "It could be. I've never done this before." "But you're willing to try?" I nodded. "Why?" he said, and leaned in and stared me directly in the face with a terrible, quietly wild

    intensity. "Why?" Old man, I thought, I can't tell you why. Don't ask me. He withdrew, sensing he had gone too far. "I didn't say that," he said. "You didn't say it," I said. "And when you bring the plane in for a forced landing," he said, "will you land a little

    differently this time?" "Different, yes." "A little harder?" "I'll see what can be done." "And will I be thrown out but the rest of you okay?" "The odds are in favor." He looked up at the hill where there was no grave. I looked at the same hill. And maybe he

    guessed the digging of it there. He gazed back down the road at the mountains and the sea that could not be seen beyond the

    mountains and a continent beyond the sea. "That's a good day you're talking about." "The best." "And a good hour and a good second." "Really, nothing better." "Worth thinking about." His hand lay on the doorsill, not leaning, but testing, feeling, touching, tremulous,

    undecided. But his eyes came full into the light of African noon. "Yes." "Yes?" I said. "I think," he said, "I'll grab a lift with you." I waited one heartbeat, then reached over and opened the door. Silently he got in the front seat and sat there and quietly shut the door without slamming it.

    He sat there, very old and very tired. I waited. "Start her up," he said. I started the engine and gentled it. "Turn her around," he said. I turned the car so it was going back on the road.

"Is this really," he said, "that kind of car?"

    "Really, that kind of car."

    He looked out at the land and the mountains and the distant house.

    I waited, idling the motor.

    "When we get there," he said, "will you remember something?…??"

    "I'll try."

    "There's a mountain," he said, and stopped and sat there, his mouth quiet, and he didn't go on.

    But I went on for him. There is a mountain in Africa named Kilimanjaro, I thought. And on thewestern slope of that mountain was once found the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No onehas ever explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.

    We will put you up on that same slope, I thought, on Kilimanjaro, near the leopard, and writeyour name and under it say nobody knew what he was doing here so high, but here he is, Andwrite the date born and died, and go away down toward the hot summer grass and let mainly darkwarriors and white hunters and swift okapis know the grave.

    The old man shaded his eyes, looking at the road winding away over the hills. He nodded.

    "Let's go," he said.

    "Yes, Papa," I said.

    And we motored away, myself at the wheel, going slow, and the old man beside me, and as we wentdown the first hill and topped the next, the sun came out full and the wind smelled of fire. Weran like a lion in the long grass. Rivers and streams flashed by. I wished we might stop forone hour and wade and fish and lie by the stream frying the fish and talking or not talking.But if we stopped we might never go on again. I gunned the engine. It made a great fiercewondrous animal's roar. The old man grinned.

    "It's going to be a great day!" he shouted.

    "A great day."

    Back on the road, I thought, How must it be now, and now, us disappearing? And now, us gone?And now, the road empty. Sun Valley quiet in the sun. What must it be, having us gone?

    I had the car up to ninety.

    We both yelled like boys.

    After that I didn't know anything.

    "By God," said the old man, toward the end. "You know? I think we're?…?flying?"


    The men had been hiding down by the gatekeeper's lodge for half an hour or so, passing a bottleof the best between, and then, the gatekeeper having been carried off to bed, they dodged upthe path at six in the evening and looked at the great house with the warm lights lit in eachwindow.

    "That's the place," said Riordan.

    "Hell, what do you mean, 'that's the place'?" cried Casey, then softly added, "We seen it allour lives."

    "Sure," said Kelly, "but with the Troubles over and around us, sudden-like a place looksdifferent. It's quite a toy, lying there in the snow."

    And that's what it seemed to the fourteen of them, a grand playhouse laid out in the softlyfalling feathers of a spring night.

    "Did you bring the matches?" asked Kelly.

    "Did I bring the—what do you think I am!"

    "Well, did you, is all I ask."

    Casey searched himself. When his pockets hung from his suit he swore and said, "I did not."

    "Ah, what the hell," said Nolan. "They'll have matches inside. We'll borrow a few. Come on."

    Going up the road, Timulty tripped and fell.

    "For God's sake, Timulty," said Nolan, "where's your sense of romance? In the midst of a bigEaster Rebellion we want to do everything just so. Years from now we want to go into a pub andtell about the Terrible Conflagration up at the Place, do we not? If it's all mucked up withthe sight of you landing on your ass in the snow, that makes no fit picture of the Rebellion weare now in, does it?"

    Timulty, rising, focused the picture and nodded. "I'll mind me manners."

    "Hist! Here we are!" cried Riordan.

    "Jesus, stop saying things like 'that's the place' and 'here we are,' " said Casey. "We see thedamned house. Now what do we do next?"

    "Destroy it?" suggested Murphy tentatively.

    "Gah, you're so dumb you're hideous," said Casey. "Of course we destroy it, butfirst?…?blueprints and plans."

    "It seemed simple enough back at Hickey's Pub," said Murphy. "We would just come tear the damnplace down. Seeing as how my wife outweighs me, I need to tear something down."

    "It seems to me," said Timulty, drinking from the bottle, "we go rap on the door and askpermission."

    "Permission!" said Murphy. "I'd hate to have you running hell, the lost souls would never getfried! We—"

    But the front door swung wide suddenly, cutting him off.

    A man peered out into the night.

    "I say," said a gentle and reasonable voice, "would you mind keeping your voices down. The ladyof the house is sleeping before we drive to Dublin for the evening, and—"

    The men, revealed in the hearth-light glow of the door, blinked and stood back, lifting theircaps.

    "Is that you, Lord Kilgotten?"

    "It is," said the man in the door.

    "We will keep our voices down," said Timulty, smiling, all amiability.

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