For some time now, R. A. Lafferty has been writing stories about the four men who know everything. A tricky subject for someone who doesn’t claim to know everything himself, but . . . well, maybe Lafferty knows things that you and I don’t know. (And perhaps he makes some up.)


* * * *



R. A. Lafferty





Beware aesthetics throwing stones

(We state it here prologgy).

Oh by our fathers’ busted bones

We’ll fight with dint and doggy!

—”Rocky McCrocky” comic strip


Austro was still only twelve years old, and Chiara Benedetti had just had her thirteenth birthday and so had to resign from the club. She nominated Austro to take her place.


Ivan Kalisky had also turned thirteen and would have to get out of it. He nominated his little, fat, freckled, glasses-wearing sister Susie Kalisky to take his place. Susie Kalisky looked a lot like the Susie Kalusy in the “Rocky McCrocky” comic strip.


There was another vacancy in the gang. One small boy who shall be nameless had been expelled when it was discovered that he was as yellow as a daffodil. Austro, as soon as he was confirmed as a member, nominated his dog for this other vacant place.


“People will laugh at us if we have a dog for a member,” Dennis Oldstone said.


“People won’t laugh a whole lot at a dog that can swallow them in one swallow,” Austro argued.


“And there is a certain prestige in having the biggest dog in the world as a member,” Lowell Ragswell supported Austro. So they accepted the dog into their club. And they had gotten their membership in shape just in time.


There was another group of young people around; these were pure-hearted and aesthetic, and they had psychokinetic powers that reflected their pure-heartedness. They danced willow dances and they wore sweet-gum leaves in their hair. And it had been announced that they would give a public demonstration of their powers. There was quite a bit of scientific interest in the demonstration.


But the gang that Susie and Austro and the dog had just joined was more known for its fish fries than for its pure-heartedness. And it was known for its harassing of those aesthetic kids. In its reorganized form, it now took the name of “The Local Anaesthetics” to show that it was at war with the aesthetic kids. It had never had a name before this.


* * * *


Along about this time, Barnaby Sheen was opinionating to some of us.


“We deal in facts at our place,” he said. ‘We are open-minded, but we do not let just every wind blow through. We respect the new as well as the old, but we do know that some things must be rejected instantly. There are people around here who still haven’t rejected the pretensions of those willow-dancing, rainmaking kids. Austro, you have assured me twice that you don’t belong to that whey-witted bunch of squid kids, but I keep hearing tales about you. Assure me one more time that you’re not a member of them.”


“By the busted bones of my fathers, I am not a member of the willow dancers,” Austro swore the oath truly. And that was the start of that.


* * * *


The willow-dance children were to give a “Sunshine and Showers” presentation right in the Civic Center Area to show their powers and to promote science and inquiry. They had the full support of the city magistrates in this. Our magistrates were all proud of those talented and scientific children, and we were all proud of our magist—


“We sure do have good-looking magistrates in our town,” Barnaby Sheen would say with that forked tongue of his. “They’re not as competent as we’d like. They’re not as dedicated as we’d like. They haven’t much integrity. They bumble and they stumble, and they’re just not very smart. But they are good-looking.”


“And it will be a good-looking show that they put on,” George Drakos said. “We are all for pure-hearted and aesthetic children with a scientific bent, and we are all for willow dancing (what is it anyhow?); we are certainly for ‘Sunshine and Showers’ in proper proportion. I, at least, do not reject the weather-making powers of these children instantly. If they do it, then it can be done. Let us see the presentation.”


“The weather influences me a lot, and maybe I influence the weather a little bit,” Harry O’Donovan stated. “If I had my life to do all over again, I believe that I could influence the weather and many other things much more than I did. Well, these children do have lives to do all over again. They start where we left off. Children aways did have special powers. We tend to forget about it, but even we had a smattering of powers once.”


“Ah, peacock pug, we did not!” Barnaby Sheen argued. ‘There are no special powers.”


“I myself haven’t any doubt that humans do influence the weather,” Cris Benedetti said. “The ideal system is to let the towns go dry-shod in their sunshine, and let the farmers enjoy their needed rain. As a general thing, that has always been the real as well as the ideal case. There are records to confirm this. Cities do have (from the viewpoint of cities) more pleasant weather than do the countrysides: milder in summer, milder in winter also, dryer most times, and more sunny and more smiling than country places. This is because, in the cities, there are greater numbers of minds working for fine weather. The people of a town, by their desires and sympathies, can literally hold an umbrella over a town and protect it from inclement weather. But in the country there is need for great falls of rain and for, ah, sometimes showers of proteid matter also.”


“Into each rain some albuminoid must fall,” said Austro. That’s a proverb.”


“Prayers for rain have been part of the furniture of the Church from the beginning,” George Drakos commented. They have always been effective, but perhaps they were more effective when the majority of the people were rural. Dozens of great historical droughts have been broken by the fervent prayers of the peoples.”


“I don’t doubt the efficacy of prayer,” Barnaby said. “But I will doubt the efficacy of this weather-making pseudo-science that has been shoveled into tender children’s minds by certain mentors. And I doubt the efficacy of the little fetish magic that the children themselves contribute to it.”


The fetish magic of children is a form of prayer,” Cris said. “And both prayer and fetish magic have scientific backing (read Manolo Grogly and others). Prayers are legitimate scientific requests, and they do often receive scientific answers in the form of rain from heaven, and even in the form of bread and fish from heaven.” ,


“Aw, porcupine pellets!” Barnaby barked.


“Consider our two weathermen on the evening broadcasts,” said Harry O’Donovan. “What they really present is ritual, scientific prayer. And, as is always the case, one of them is of good influence and the other one is evil. Dean is a good-weather man. Keen is a bad-weather man. And they defer to each other. One of them will give a listless presentation on the evening that the other one gives a passionate show: and the sense of the situation goes out to the people. With a good-weather feel in the air, seventy percent of the clients will tune in on Dean, and the good weather for the morrow will be even better. With a bad-weather feel in the air, seventy percent of the clients will tune in on Keen, and the bad weather for the morrow will be even worse.”


“Aw, turtle dirt!” snapped Barnaby Sheen.


“The four men who know everything,” jeered the twelve-year-old Austro, “and they don’t know weather from wolfmagite!”


(Barnaby Sheen, George Drakos, Harry O’Donovan, and Cris Benedetti were the four men who knew everything.)


* * * *


Amelia Corngrinder, one of the aesthetic children, was making it rain a very local shower into Donners’ front-yard birdbath. She did this by mental and spiritual powers alone. Several persons were watching her and admiring. One lady (well, it was Amelia’s own mother, Ellen Corngrinder) was admiring Amelia out loud.


“This is angelic power!” Ellen was crying out. “This is a miracle that my girl performs by sheer mentality and grace and goodness. This is controlled and pure rain from the sky. It’s wonderful.”


“What’s wonderful about it?” asked Austro, who was watching. “It only has to come a mile, and it’s downhill all the way.”


“Buzz off, fuzz-face,” the angelic-powered, willow-dancing Amelia told Austro out of the corner of her mouth. It was a controlled and directed remark that was heard only by Austro and by that fat little freckled girl Susie Kalisky, who also happened to be there.


“It just seems that something is lacking,” Susie said. ‘There is something wrong with empty water, and there is something lonesome about uninhabited rain. Nobody lives in your rain, Amelia.”


“Broom off, crack-eyes,” the pure-hearted and aesthetic Amelia hissed a controlled hiss at Susie. And then she willow danced some more and drew down still more rain. It was absolutely pure rain.


“I like there to be some body to the rain,” Susie said. Then she cupped her mouth and her voice skyward and bawled out, “Does anybody live in that house?” And there was either a slight clap of thunder or a hoarse murmuration of cold-blood voices above.


“I do believe that you two are envious,” said the mother, Ellen Corngrinder, to Austro and Susie. ‘Why must you be like that? You two could hardly be called “beautiful children’ in any sense of the term.”


“Your glasses are cracked, lady,” Susie said. And Ellen Corngrinder’s glasses were indeed cracked. Austro and Susie walked on up the street.


How long does it take a sardonic mass to fall a mile? From the time that there was either a slight clap of thunder or else a hoarse murmuration of sky voices, it took—just that long! A very large and lively body smashed out of the sky into Donners’ birdbath and shattered the thing into shards of Granite Mountain Simulated Pressed Stone of which it was made. And, with this distraction, Amelia Corngrinder lost control of the little shower, and it unfocused and dispersed into a thin sprinkle over several blocks.


* * * *


“Your glasses are cracked, sir,” Susie said to a gentleman in the next block, and sure enough they were. Susie always noticed cracked glasses before the owners did. The Susie Kalusy of the “Rocky McCrocky” comic strip would shatter the flint-glass lenses out of folks’ spectacles for pure malevolence and leave the rock frames hanging empty on the mortified faces. But Susie Kalisky was a slightly different person, and how could she smash eyeglasses by thought alone?


* * * *


It rained foreign matter that night all over the south part of town. It was very strong sardonic substance and it offended everyone within nose shot.


“There’s something a little bit funny about this!” Barnaby Sheen bellowed when he saw it the next morning. “Austro, did you make it rain? —Oh, what’s gone wrong with my wits? How could the kid make it—well, I already have the words in my mouth and I’m not going to swallow them again. Austro, did you make it rain that—ugh—stuff?”


‘What a strange question, Mr. Sheen! All I will say is that I did not do anything to prevent it raining that stuff. Is that a good enough answer?”


“No it isn’t. Say, that’s about the strongest I ever smelled! You could hardly praise it for its downwind flavor, could you?”


“It wouldn’t be so bad, Mr. Sheen, if it were seasoned with just a few bushels of wielandiella fronds.”


“Is that the stuff your dog eats?”


‘That’s some of the stuff that he eats.”


Austro’s dog came then. It had slipped in from the country for an early-morning visit. It was, as you know, a very large creature. It had been clearing blackjack oak trees and thickets off of a few sections of land forty miles to the west. Flamethrowers and eight-way power saws and the strongest bulldozers in the world wouldn’t clear those blackjacks very well, but that dog could get rid of them; and he got his needed roughage doing it. Now he wanted a little bit of more satisfying fare. And that more satisfying fare fell down for him with a muted but heavy jolt. It was 180-foot-long crinoid stems, and it was huge fronds of macrotaenopteris ferns.


Austro told the dog that he had been accepted for membership in the smoothest club in town, and the dog croaked pleasure. Barnaby patted that biggest-dog-in-the-world of Austro’s, and then he went about his daily business.


* * * *




The world’s a blast (Ka-whoosh! Ka-whish!)

With healthy soul and belly,

And all the skies are full of fish,

And all the fish are smelly.

—”Rocky McCrocky” comic strip


The weather happening was scheduled for one o’clock that afternoon in the Civic Center Open-air People’s Area. Press people and university people and scientific people would be there. And all the city magistrates would be present: Arthur (“It’s pretty but is it Art?” Barnaby Sheen used to say about him) Topmann, the mayor. Topmann really was a good-looking man, and he liked to serve the people, and he liked almost all children. Almost all of them.


“Your glasses are cracked, Mr. Mayor,” said that little, fat Susie Kalisky, who just happened to be there. And the mayor’s glasses were cracked as soon as she said it.


There was Gaberdine McPhillips, the lady commissioner of playgrounds and sewers. Gaberdine was offering, from her own funds, a money prize to the young person who could make it rain the purest rain. Gaberdine had a thing about pure water.


“Your glasses are cracked, madam,” Susie told her, and they were. But had they been cracked just a moment before?


There was George H. Corngrinder, who was commissioner of streets and who was also the father of Amelia Corngrinder, who was one of the willow-dance youngsters who had now seized the scientific community by the ears.


There was Peter Kalisky, the police commissioner, who was a gruff man.


“Austro, get that sign out of here or I’ll pitch you into the pokey,” he called now.


“You can’t,” Austro said. “I’m a juvenile, and besides I belong to an alien species. Your anti-poster ordinances don’t apply to me.”


Austro belonged to the species Australopithecus. The sign or poster that he was putting up there in the area read:


cosmic, free fish fry! we really know how to fix them! come to sheen’s ravine at one-thirty today (immediately after the debacle). everybody come.


“Get it out of there, Austro, or I’ll put the police dogs on you,” Commissioner Peter Kalisky thundered.


“The dogs are all afraid of me,” Austro said. “They know I own the biggest dog in the world.”


“Your glasses are cracked, Mr. Commissioner,” that fat, freckled little Susie Kalisky said. And Peter Kalisky’s glasses were cracked. They were cracked so recently that glass slivers were still tinkling to the pavement.


“Dammit, Susie, I’m your father!” Commissioner Kalisky roared, and with shocking cruelty he swatted that little girl where she was biggest.


“Oh, wah, wah, wah,” Susie blubbered. “I keep forgetting. How’m I supposed to remember everyone?”


* * * *


The willow dancers were gathered and they were ready for it. They were effective from the very start. Little clouds began to form and to dance in the sky with the same shape and motion the willow dancers showed. It was winding into the most graceful rain that anybody had ever seen.


“It’s a fraud all the way,” Barnaby Sheen gruffed. “There is no way that such an empty-eyed aggregation of kids could make it rain. I wouldn’t believe it if I drowned in it.”


“Your glasses are cracked, mister,” Susie Kalisky said.


“Susie McGoozy, you know I don’t wear glasses.”


“Then get some, and we can enter into a whole new relationship.”


Barnaby Sheen and Susie Kalisky liked each other.


* * * *


“There is no way that they can make it rain,” Barnaby said again.


“There’s a dozen ways they can do it,” said that young Roy Mega who worked as an electronic genius for Barnaby. “There’s half a dozen ways that I could do it myself, and I’ve almost left off being a kid. I could set up a simple astasis voltage grid, and I could add a bleeder circuit with one reflecting nexus located just above the predominant cloud layer at five thousand feet. Then I’d build up a hysteresis shield to a point just short of coronal discharge. Then, by the addition of almost any Keefe-Minsky equation, I could—”


“No, no, Roy,” Barnaby protested. “I mean that there’s no way that a person could make it rain by use of the mind.”


‘This would be by use of the mind. I’d arrange all those things by use of my mind.”


“By your mind alone, Roy; not by tools of the mind.”


“Oh, that’s like saying that one may use his hands but not the fingers of his hands,” Roy Mega complained.


* * * *


Those aesthetic children—Amelia Corngrinder with her controlled grace and goodness; Aldous McKeever with his exquisite pallor and his high psychic threshold; Horace Wickiup, who was an Indian (and you know how full of rain they are); Margaret Grainger; Adrien Chastel; Alice Whitetoken (who was very spiritual, as her mother had been also); Rolland Clatchby—they were all doing the rain-willow dance. They were rolling their eyes; they were breathing hard (but always in good taste): and their seven clouds in the sky had turned into seven sparkling showers that began to spill down, under absolute control, into the Civic Center fountains.


“I’ll not believe it,” Barnaby Sheen said sourly. “It isn’t scientific.”


“Let’s say that it is prescientific,” Roy Mega suggested. “It works, but we don’t yet know how it works.”


* * * *


“I bet that’s the biggest dog in the world over there,” a woman among the spectators said to her husband.


“Yes, I heard that some monkey boy in town had the biggest dog in the world,” the husband said.


“Oh, but now it’s gone. I can’t see it anywhere. Instead of it I see a big hairy hill over there. I bet it’s thirty feet high. What would a big hairy hill be doing in the middle of the Civic Center Plaza?”


“I imagine that the city fathers had it put there for the children to play on,” the husband said. But when you are as big as that dog, and you live in a world as small as this one, you learn the art of camouflage.


* * * *


“Let’s say that it’s pseudo-science.” Barnaby still balked (and there were now seven pretty good showers of rain coming down all asparkle into the fountains). “It works, yes, apparently, and for the moment at least. But I bet it can be unworked. Austro, can you unwork it?”


“What do you think all our huffing and puffing’s been about? We’re on your side, Mr. Sheen. Parascience will beat pure pseudo-science every time. Local Anaesthetics, come get with it! Susie! Dog! Dennis! Lowell! They’re leading us on points!”


“Your glasses are cracked, sir,” Susie remarked to a gentleman as she hurried to the assembly of the Locals. And the gentleman’s glasses were cracked.


“Oh, look, Reggie,” that woman among the spectators said to her husband. “Now that big hairy hill is getting up and walking off.”


“They’re probably not going to use it today, what with the rainmakers and all.”


* * * *


But those pure-hearted and aesthetic children with their rainmaking willow dances were far ahead of the Local Anaesthetics on points. The Locals would have to play catch-up ball. Those were plumes and sheens of the purest rain that anybody ever saw.


It was now or never. The Locals put their heads and their hearts together to generate what power they might. A fish crashed to the pavement there amid the throng.


That was a crash? You couldn’t have heard the sound of it a block. That was a fish? Why, that thing wasn’t more than three feet long.


‘We might as well let the empty-water people have it if we can’t do any better than that,” Dennis said.


An anomalous frond of macrotaenopteris fell down there with a muted but heavy jolt. That was a heavy jolt? Why, that frond wasn’t twenty feet wide, and it wasn’t twenty million years old. That was the biggest dog in the world with his snout in this business? A little Great Dane could do that well. The Local Anaesthetics would have to muster more power than this.


* * * *


“How are you going to get the fish out to Sheen’s Ravine, Austro?” Roy Mega asked.


“I never thought of that,” Austro admitted. Austro was panting already, and the battle looked bad for the Locals. “Maybe Dog would carry them out there in his mouth,” Austro said.


“Fish?” Barnaby asked. “What fish? Will there be many fish?”


“Quite a few, I believe,” Mega said, “though I’m not sure quite what the kids have in mind.”


“Better go get the twelve-ton truck, then, Roy,” Barnaby said. “Some people might be fussy about the dog carrying the fish in his mouth.” So Roy went to get the heavy truck.


* * * *


A few of the larger fish fell, but most of them weren’t much longer than a man. Quite a few of the long crinoid stems swacked down to earth, and many really big wielandiella and macrotaenopteris ferns from the ancient days. The dog was getting with it now. He was drawing bigger stuff down from the Tertiary skies. He was doing a better job than the kids in the gang were.


(Several persons, George Drakos and Roy Mega among others, have said that Austro’s big dog was really a hairy dinosaur. You can believe this if you want to, but you should notice that there are points of poor correspondence between them. Go look at the anklebones of a dinosaur, for instance. Then look at the anklebones of Austro’s big dog. How about it?)


* * * *


There were bigger and more weird sky falls now, but the Local Anaesthetics just weren’t stealing the initiative from the willow-dancing, pure-water kids. The limpid showers of the dancers were just doing too many sparkling things. And yet there was real talent to be found among the L.A.s. There was Austro. There was Dog. There was Susie.


“Almost every time the world is turned around it’s a little trick that does it,” Susie said. “I’ll just try a little trick.” And she went boldly into the area of the enemy, into the lair of the pure-pseudo-science, rain-dancing young people.


“Your glasses are cracked, kids,” Susie told them. And the glasses of all seven of them were cracked (all aesthetic, willow-dancing children wear glasses). And something else about them cracked at the same time. It was their protective psychic carapaces. It was their science itself.


The tide of battle swung to the Local Anaesthetics. Something else was falling to the pavements of the area now. It was the scales from the eyes of the people. Now the folks were able to see the monstrous crashing ichthyoids that had been, or would be, or maybe already were fish. Ancient sorceries will whip modern fetishes every time, and it was a case of that.


Man, that’s when they pulled the stopper out of the drain and let it all come down!


People loaded up the twelve-ton truck that Roy Mega arrived with then. And then they brought in a number of really big trucks and loaded them with the gloriously smelling old fish and the earlier-age crinoids and giant fern fronds. And a great number of loaded trucks as well as several thousand people went out to Sheen’s Ravine for the enjoyment.


“My magic can whip your magic and my dog can whip your dog!” Austro called to the aesthetic remnant.


* * * *


Out at the ravine, it was fun to cut up crinoid stems with axes and crosscut saws. It was fun to bruise the fronds of large and early ferns and palms (Ah, that was a palmy hour!) with pneumatic hammers. And then to use that royal vegetation to garnish the big and powerful fish, to bring out the nobility of their strong smell and taste, that was to know what an enjoyment and a banquet were all about.


* * * *


“Where those rain dancers and the big people who sustained them made their mistake,” Dennis Oldstone was lecturing like an even younger Roy Mega, “was that they didn’t understand the vastness of the universe. They—”


“Duck, everybody! There’s no way he won’t think of it!” Susie wailed the warning.


“—they only understood the half-vastness of the universe. Luckily, enough of us with enough scope to handle the situation happened to be around.”


* * * *


“I suppose that I’ll have to accept it,” Barnaby Sheen was saying. “It’s a fractured plane of reality that is introduced here. I can brush up on my fractured-plane equations, or I can have Roy Mega review me on them. Ah, I find that little shower rather refreshing. And the fish really isn’t bad, Austro.”


Susie Kalisky (or Susie Kalusy; it depends on which part of the fractured plane you are on) was focusing a shower of inhabited rain right on the head of Barnaby Sheen. The shower was inhabited by frogs and fish and eels and claw-feet that bedecked the wet head and shoulders of Barnaby as he ate (along with five thousand other people) the fried and garnished fish.


“It’s not really bad fish the way it’s fixed,” Barnaby admitted. “The garnish is so strong that one can’t taste the fish, and the fish is so strong that one can’t taste the garnish. But where did it really come from, Austro?”


“There’s a pool about a mile from here, Mr. Sheen. It’s plain loaded with those big old fish. And the banks and bottom of it are loaded with those big old plants. It was Dog who first discovered it.”


* * * *


“Your glasses are cracked, mister,” Susie Kalusy said to a fish-eating man there.


“That’s all right, little girl. They never did fit me. I don’t look through them. I look over them.” He was a nice man.


* * * *


“The pool’s only a mile from here, Austro?” Barnaby Sheen asked. “Which way?”