THE MAN f\
R. A. LAFFERTY
fn the past two months, R. A. Lafferty has published his first three novels. (Ace Books published two of them, PAST MASTER and SPACE CHANTEY.) He continues his break-neck rush into print with two stories in this year's annual. First, a strange tale of a future kind of man who had some new powers and made a mistake in the way he used them:
Tm a future kind of man," Lado said one day. "And I believe there are other men appearing with new powers. The world will have to accept us for what we are."
"Bet it don't," said Runkis.
This began with Raymond Runkis sniping at Mihai Lado the cattle dealer. "You are a double-decked, seven-stranded, copper-bottomed, four-dimension liar!" Runkis roared out that day.
"Yes, I know," Lado said. He was pleased when praised for his specialty. He was the best liar in the neighborhood, and had the most fun out of it. But Runkis didn't let it go at that.
"Lado, you never told the truth in your life," he said loudly.
"Tell you what 111 do, Runkis," Lado said, and his eyes got that double look in them. "You pick any lie IVe ever told, anything IVe ever guyed you about, and I'll make it come true. That's an open offer."
We began to pay attention then.
"There's a thousand to choose from," Runkis said. "I could make you produce that educated calf you brag about."
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"Is that the one you pick? I'll whistle him up in a minute."
"No. Or I could call you on the cow that gives beer, ale, porter and stout each from a separate teat."
"You want her? Nothing easier. But it's only fair to warn you that the porter might be a little too heavy for your taste."
"I could make you bring that horse you have that reads Homer."
"Runkis, you're the liar now. I never said he read Homer; I said he recited him. I don't know where that pinto picked it up."
"You said once you could send a man over the edge, make him disappear completely. I pick that one. Do itl"
"I wouldn't want to send a man away; Runkis."
"Do it, Lado. You're called. That's one lie you can't make come true. Pick a man and make him disappear. We want to watch."
"All right," Lado said. "It will take a couple of days, but you can watch all of it. Sure, I'll send a man over the edge."
This Lado was a funny fellow. He paid for everything in cash and he made up his mind so quick that he scared you. He was the smartest cattle buyer in the Cimarron valley, a big, ruddy, freckled man, but he didn't look like a country boy. He had those crazy eyes that didn't grow around here; he was like one man looking out through the face of another like a mask.
"I've left more than one town and more than one name behind me," he had told us one day. "I'm a new kind of man with new powers. I don't use them much, but they grow on me. There's a few of us scattered out. We will either have to accommodate, or the world will."
"Bet it don't/' said Raymond Runkis.
Lado put little Mack McGoot to sleep once and sent him around introducing himself to a bunch of cattle as though they were people. And he had once sold Runkis a two-year-old runt for a young calf. A runt will have grown a long tail, but a calf will still have a calf-length tail.
"By hokey, that runt didn't have a long tail when I bought him from you yesterday," Runkis had said when he realized he was taken.
"He had the same tail," Lado told him. "You saw what I wanted you to see." This Lado was tricky, but nobody can send a man over the edge.
"I'll do it," Lado said this day after he'd thought about it a little. "It'll send Jessie Pidd there over the edge."
R. A. LAFFERTY
"Who?" Runkis asked.
"Jessie Pidd-drinking coffee there at the end of the counter."
"Oh. Oh, Jessie. AH right. When will you do it?"
"I've started," said Lado. "I've thinned him out a bit already. You can amuse yourselves by watching him fade. It will be gradual, but in three days he will be gone completely."
Man! We laughed like a clatter of colts coming onto new clover! But it didn't bother Lado; he always had a deep smile when he was on the long end of a bargain, and he had it now.
In a way, Lado had a jump on the thing. Jessie Pidd wasn't all there to begin with, though in a different meaning of the words. He was a simpleminded slight man, not much to him. We used to say that he was so thin that he'd disappear if you looked at him sideways, but that was a joke.
Lado took a lot of harrowing and cross-harrowing as we sat around late that night. We played poker and pitch, and Lado won; we had out the dominoes and played draw and moon, and Lado won. We went with the dice a while, and Lado won. He was the winningest man who ever hit our town, but it looked like there was one deal coming up he couldn't win. But he kept taking bets on the thing; if he did make Jessie Pidd disappear, Lado would own half the town.
Jessie Pidd looked bad the next morning when he sidled into Cattleman's Cafe for breakfast. He'd always looked bad, though.
"Are you all right, Jessie?" Raymond Runkis asked him.
"Don't feel all there," Jessie said. Somehow that startled us.
"Lado," Runkis warned. "Tricks are tricks, and youVe pulled some good ones. But if you really harm the man it will go hard on you around here."
"Runkis, you don't even know what constitutes a man,** said Lado.
"No, I don't All I say is you'd better not hurt him."
"Nobody will be hurt by any trick of mine," Lado said.
But, whatever it was, it had begun.
At mid-morning, Johnny Noble cried out to the town that Jessie Pidd was walking in the sunlight. and casting no shadow. Two others saw it. Then it clouded over and couldn't be tested further.
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Just before noon, Maudie Malcome cornered Lado in the bank lobby. "Mr. Lado, what are you doing to my husband?" she demanded.
"Have you a husband, Maudie?" Lado asked.
"You red-headed scum! Jessie Pidd, my common-law husband."
"Why, Maudie, I am making him disappear."
"If you harm a hair of him, Til kill you."
Later that day the stories were going around town like an epidemic. Even hard-headed Raymond Runkis had to admit that something was wrong.
"I tell you that I can see light shining through Jessie Pidd there," he declared, "and I can see the outlines of objects behind him. Tell me, Lado, before we come to violence—is this all a trick?"
"Yes, it is all a trick," said Lado.
"Well, I am hay-baling going to keep this trick within bounds," Runkis said. "I have the biggest and tightest house in town. The eight of us here for witnesses, and you Jessie, and you Lado, are going there, and we are going to see this thing through. If any of you have any business, attend to it within an hour. Then be at my house. We are going to keep the damnest watch anyone ever kept. Whatever you are, Lado, and whatever you do, we will watch you do it. Am I clear?"
"No. You are confused, Runkis, but your plan suits me, What trickster does not love a captive audience?"
We laid in groceries, assembled in the house of Runkis, and locked it tight just at sundown that day. Nobody was allowed to enter for fifty hours, though people did knock and rattle—particularly Maudie Malcome.
Ten of us: Mihai Lado, Jessie Pidd, Raymond Runkis, Johnny Noble, Will Wilton, Wenchie Hetmonek, Mike McGregor, Billy West, little Mack McGoot, Remberton Randall —one of this bunch (and the way things got legal and sticky later I'm sure not going to say which) being myself.
Runkis appointed us into watches. We dragged two beds into the big room, and set up two cots. Some of us slept, and some of us played pitch to pass away the night.
And about once an hour Runkis exploded: ^hado, you're killing a man! If he goes, you go too!"
"I swear that I do no harm to a person named Jessie Pidd or to any other person," Lado always said.
R. A. LAFFERTY
None of us could longer doubt that Jessie had become faintly transparent. Outlines of objects could be seen through him; his own outline softened. There was less to him than there had been.
None of us slept much that night. It was a growing horror to watch Jessie go, and by morning you might say that he was half gone.
The next day was like a crooked dream. Lado had already won all the money in the house. Thereafter, we played for kitchen matches. The cards seemed to change spots and colors in my hands, and the others had the same trouble. Lado also won all the kitchen matches in the house. We watched Jessie fade before our eyes. We lost all sense of time and proportion.
That night Pidd had become so unsubstantial that smoke drifted through him; there wasn't much left of him but his outline and his slow-witted smile.
By second morning Pidd was still there, but barely. It was running out in a living nightmare. By noon, little Mack Mc-Goot announced that he could no longer see Jessie. By mid-afternoon, all of us would sometimes lose Jessie Pidd, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that his outline could be picked up again.
Then we lost him.
First the outline forever—then the slow-witted smile. By dark, Jessie Pidd was gone. We sat silent and stunned. Then Raymond Runkis broke it with a rumbling sigh: "Lado!" Runkis growled dangerously, "can you still see him?"
"Never could," Lado said softiy.
"I said that I never could see him," Lado explained easily.
"You fool! This won't go! Jessie is gone, Lado!"
"I know it. It's the best trick I ever pulled."
Runkis collared Lado savagely. "Bring him back! Bring him back right now, Lado!"
"I can't, Runkis. There is nobody to bring back."
"There is—was—Jessie Pidd. Bring him back or I name it murder!"
"I believe we should all go to the sheriff," said Hetmonek. "If this isn't murder, we will find as good a name for it."
AH of us were witnesses at the hearing. We gave affidavits. Sheriff Bryce was there but out of his depth. There was also a police doctor named Bates from the City, and a Com-
THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS
missioner named Ottleman from State. This Ottleman was asking the questions, and he had a cutting way of doing it.
"Mr. Lado," he said, "I have heard what is either the most brainless meandering ever given at a hearing, or the most damning testimony it has ever been my displeasure to savor. Are there facts behind this, Lado?"
"Facts of a sort," said Lado. "What do you want to know?"
"Younger brother of a blind moose! What happened to Jessie Pidd?"
"He disappeared. They've told you about it."
"Can you bring him back?"
"Oh, I suppose I could, for a little while, but it would spoil the joke."
"You consider the murder of a man a joke, Mr. Lado?"
"It isn't a question of murder at all; Jessie Pidd was not a person."
"Ah? What was he, then?"
"He was nothing at all. There was never any Jessie Pidd."
"Lado, you are a red-headed liar," Runkis growled.
"Sure, I'm a liar," Lado admitted. "That's to say that I'm an illusionist. I have a hundred powers, and I played a little joke with one of them. I can make anything seem to be; I can create reality. I've hidden these things because I don't understand their purpose yet. And one day to lighten the responsibility they cast over me, I decided to have a little fun."
"When was it you first caused us to see Jessie?" Runkis asked tightly.
"The other night when you challenged me to send a man over the edge," Lado said.
"Then how have we known Jessie for years and him doing odd jobs around town?" Runkis asked.
"You hadn't known him, Raymond," Lado said. "I suggested him to you and you were susceptible. There was never any Jessie Pidd."
"Lado, there are difficulties about your explanation," said Ottleman. "There is testimony that Pidd was indeed known here for years; he was the common-law husband of one—ah —-Maudie Malcome."
"The nearest thing to a husband that Maudie will ever have, it's true," said Lado. "She is an irrational woman."
"She's no such thing!" swore little Mack McGoot. "She is a poor, simple-minded person, as was Jessie. We liked them. There is going to be vengeance here, either inside or outside the lines."
R. A. LAFFERTY
"I didn't know I was that good," said Lado. "I turned it on. Why can't I turn it off? Ottleman, these people dream in bunches and build up what never was. Test itl Find me written reference to Pidd antedating these last four days. If a man did live in a town for years, there would have to be some record of him, he would have to live somewhere. If he did odd jobs for years, then someone would have records of payments to his name. We live in a paper world, and somewhere there would be paper on him."
"Jessie wasn't such as to be much noted," said John Noble.
"Try it, Ottleman," insisted Lado. "You will find there is no note anywhere. I also ask that you get separate descriptions of him from these eight witnesses."
"We will recess and try it for two hours," said Ottleman.
They assembled a mass of information in two hours.
"The hearing will come to order again," Ottleman announced. "You haven't a thing to stand on, Lado. There's no doubt of it: Jessie Pidd was well known around town for many years."
"How many years?" asked Lado.
"Nobody is quite sure. Estimates run from five to fifty years."
"Do the descriptions of this non-man agree?"
"All agree in calling him nondescript."
"And what age do they give this nondescript person?"
"All speak of him as of an uncertain age. Mr. Lado, I have appraised more evidence than you have. It is normal for people to be vague; it is the usual thing that they do not describe well. But I have no doubt that Jessie Pidd was a real man, and that you have inflicted on him a real death."
"Did you find any written note of him? That's the test."
"No, we didn't; and it's no test at all. As they all say, he was not such a man as you would make written note of. Those who hired him paid him in cash. He had never registered to vote, never had a driver's license or social security number, never had a bank account, never been on the tax rolls. He was a man untouched by affairs; he was no part of your paper world."
"Did he himself leave anything in writing?"
"No. The opinion is that he was an illiterate."
"Well cat-haired conniptions! Didn't he even leave an X?"
"Not even an X, Lado, but he was real for all that. We nay as well close off this diversion of yours and get back to
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the main inquiry. How did you kill him? Where is his body?"
"Mr. Ottleman, I am speaking clear truth to a room that has no ears for it," said Lado. "Illusion is one of the gifts that came to me unasked. For the amusement of myself and, I believed, of others, I created an illusion of a man; then I let it fade. There was no Jessie Pidd. He was a simple man only in that I created him by a simple trick. These are all simple men here, Mr. Ottlemen, and they are subject to a continuing illusion."
"Have you no remorse for the murder?" asked Ottleman.
"Suffering sandburs, you cannot be as obdurate as that! It was a simple trick. Now it is over with, and nobody laughs." Then Lado spoke more shrilly. "I have the powers by accident. I'm a new kind of man."
"We have an old kind of justice," said Ottleman. "We will find the body wherever you have hidden it, and you will hang for it."
But, however much the rope itched for Lado's neck, officialdom could not hang him without a body for evidence.
Fortunately the private persons of us were not so circumscribed. It had to be done, and we did it.
It was bright afternoon. Lado didn't want to go; a new kind of man makes just as much fuss about going as the old kind.
"You fools!" Lado shouted with his hands tied behind him. "We are the beginning of something. We're on the line to the future."
"But on the wrong end of the rope today," Runkis said.
"You fools!" he screamed. "There was never any Jessie Pidd!"
Oh, well—we knew that by now. But, as Lado said once, who wants to spoil a good joke?
We hanged him then. Like he said, he arrived in the world a little too early for his own good. He had stopped screaming just before we hoisted him. "I got the powers blind," he said. "I keep thinking somebody will tell me what to do with them."
"But they don't," said Raymond Runkis, and we strung him up then.
Runkis and little Mack McGoot disposed of the body. They said it would never be found where they put it, and it wasn't.
R. A. LAFFERTY
What do you do when you have just hanged a man? Why, the man himself had showed us what to do. Besides, a future kind of man doesn't leave much of a hole in the present.
When a whole town sticks together it can do wonders in a few hours. We destroyed every trace of Mihai Lado. We had plenty in our favor. That man with his eternal roll of bills had done everything in cash. We suspected that the name he used wasn't his real name. We went over every business, every person, every deal, every record. A few things had to be smudged, but not many. We had sent him clear over the edge.
When Ottleman, accompanied by the militia, arrived at dusk, it was a remarkably hard-of-hearing town they had come to.
Hanged a man? Who? Us? A Mihai Lado? That name sure did not ring any bell in our town. Even our sheriff did not recognize Mr. Ottleman when he came; they had to be introduced all over again. Ottleman set his briefcase down on the ground in exasperation.
There is some mistake, we said. This is Springdale. You must be looking for Springfield clear in the other part of the State. A previous hearing, you say? And only the day before yesterday? There must be some mistake. And the papers in your briefcase there? I bet that is the case the boy just ran away with. No, we don't know who he was. We don't know who anyone is.
It was a nervous business, but we played it out all the way and we got clear with it. People, there never was any Jessie Pidd in our town, and there never was any Mihai Lado either.
There's one thing about those future types, though: we all got to go through that future country.
"He'll be waiting up ahead," said little Mack McGoot, "one side or the other of the barrier. He'll have us then."
"Bet he don't," said Raymond Runkis, but Runkis had begun to go to pieces. He began to get old all at once, and old is one thing I don't want to get. I sure drag my feet on it.
Up ahead, around some dark corner, one side or the other of the barrier as little Mack McGoot says, there's a big ruddy freckled man who has some powers that will be beginning to get ripe. He's a man with crazy eyes that didn't grow around here, and he's like one man looking out through the face of another like a mask.