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There Will Be Time
By Poul Anderson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1972 Trigonier Trust
All rights reserved.
The beginning shapes the end, but I can say almost nothing of Jack Havig's origins, despite the fact that I brought him into the world. On a cold February morning, 1933, who thought of genetic codes, or of Einstein's work as anything that could ever descend from its mathematical Olympus to dwell among men, or of the strength in lands we supposed were safely conquered? I do remember what a slow and difficult birth he had. It was Eleanor Havig's first, and she quite young and small. I felt reluctant to do a Caesarian; maybe it's my fault that she never conceived again by the same husband. Finally the red wrinkled animal dangled safe in my grasp. I slapped his bottom to make him draw his indignant breath, he let the air back out in a wail, and everything proceeded as usual.
Delivery was on the top floor, the third, of our county hospital, which stood at what was then the edge of town. Removing my surgical garb, I had a broad view out a window. To my right, Senlac clustered along a frozen river, red brick at the middle, frame homes on tree-lined streets, grain elevator and water tank rearing ghostly in dawnlight near the railway station. Ahead and to my left, hills rolled wide and white under a low grey sky, here and there roughened by leafless woodlots, fence lines, and a couple of farmsteads. On the edge of sight loomed a darkness which was Morgan Woods. My breath misted the pane, whose chill made my sweaty body shiver a bit.
'Well,' I said half aloud, 'welcome to Earth, John Franklin Havig.' His father had insisted on haying namesready for either sex. 'Hope you enjoy yourself.'
Hell of a time to arrive, I thought. A worldwide depression hanging heavy as winter heaven. Last year noteworthy for the Japanese conquest of Manchuria, bonus march on Washington, Lindbergh kidnapping. This year begun in the same style: Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany ... Well, a new President was due to enter the White House, the end of Prohibition looked certain, and springtime in these parts is as lovely as our autumn.
I sought the waiting room. Thomas Havig climbed to his feet. He was not a demonstrative man, but the question trembled on his lips. I took his hand and beamed. 'Congratulations, Tom,' I said. 'You're the father of a bouncing baby boy. I know – I just dribbled him all the way down the hall to the nursery.'
My attempt at a joke came back to me several months afterwards.
Senlac is a commercial centre for an agricultural area; it maintains some light industry, and that's about the list. Having no real choice in the matter, I was a Rotarian, but found excuses to minimise my activity and stay out of the lodges. Don't get me wrong. These people are mine. I like and in many ways admire them. They're the salt of the earth. It's simply that I want other condiments too.
Under such circumstances, Kate's and my friends tended to be few but close. There was her banker father, who'd staked me; I used to kid him that he'd done so because he wanted a Democrat to argue with. There was the lady who ran our public library. There were three or four professors and their wives at Holberg College, though the forty miles between us and them was considered rather an obstacle in those days. And there were the Havigs.
These were transplanted New Englanders, always a bit homesick; but in the '30s you took what jobs were to be had. He taught physics and chemistry at our high school. In addition, he must coach for track. Slim, sharp-featured, the shyness of youth upon him as well as an inborn reserve, Tom got through his secondary chore mainly on student tolerance. They were fond of him; besides, we had a good football team. Eleanor was darker, vivacious, an avid tennis player and active in her church's poor-relief work. 'It's fascinating, and I think it's useful,' she told me early in our acquaintance. With a shrug: 'At least it lets Tom and me feel we aren't altogether hypocrites. You may've guessed we only belong because the school board would never keep on a teacher who didn't.'
I was surprised at the near hysteria in her voice when she phoned my office and begged me to come.
A doctor's headquarters were different then from today, especially in a provincial town. I'd converted two front rooms of the big old house where we lived, one for interviews, one for examination and treatments, including minor surgery. I was my own receptionist and secretary. Kate helped with paperwork – looking back from now, it seems impossibly little, but perhaps she never let on – and, what few times patients must wait their turns, she entertained them in the parlour. I'd made my morning rounds, and nobody was due for a while; I could jump straight into the Marmon and drive down Union Street to Elm.
I remember the day was furnace-hot, never a cloud above or a breath below, the trees along my way standing like cast green iron. Dogs and children panted in their shade. No birdsong broke the growl of my car engine. Dread closed on me. Eleanor had cried her Johnny's name, and this was polio weather.
But when I entered the fan-whirring venetian-blinded dimness of her home, she embraced me and shivered. 'Am I going crazy, Bob?' she gasped, over and over. 'Tell me I'm not going crazy!'
'Whoa, whoa, whoa,' I murmured. 'Have you called Tom?' He eked out his meagre pay with a summer job, quality control at the creamery.
'No, I ... I thought –'
'Sit down, Ellie.' I disengaged us. 'You look sane enough to me. Maybe you've let the heat get you. Relax – flop loose – unclench your teeth, roll your head around. Feel better? Okay, now tell me what you think happened.'
'Johnny. Two of him. Then one again.' She choked. 'The other one!'
'Huh? Whoa, I said, Ellie. Let's take this a piece at a time.'
Her eyes pleaded while she stumbled through the story. 'I, I, I was bathing him when I heard a baby scream. I thought that must be from a buggy or something, outside. But it sounded as if it came from the ... the bedroom. At last I wrapped Johnny in a towel – I couldn't leave him in the water – and carried him along for a, a look. And there was another tiny boy, there in his crib, naked and wet, kicking and yelling. I was so astonished I ... dropped mine. I was bent over the crib, he should've landed on the mattress, but, oh, Bob, he didn't. He vanished. In midair. I'd made a, an instinctive grab for him. All I caught was the towel. Johnny was gone! I think I must've passed out for a few seconds. And when I hunted I – found – nothing –'
'What about the strange baby?' I demanded.
'He's ... not gone ... I think.'
'Come on,' I said. 'Let's go see.'
And in the room, immensely relieved, I crowed: 'Why, nobody here but good ol' John.'
She clutched my arm. 'He looks the same.' The infant had calmed and was gurgling. 'He sounds the same. Except he can't be!'
'The dickens he can't. Ellie, you had a hallucination. No great surprise in this weather, when you're still weak.' Actually, I'd never encountered such a case before, certainly not in a woman as levelheaded as she. But my words were not too implausible. Besides, half a GP's medical kit is his confident tone of voice.
She wasn't fully reassured till we got the birth certificate and compared the prints of hands and feet thereon with the child's. I prescribed a tonic, jollied her over a cup of coffee, and returned to work.
When nothing similar happened for a while, I pretty well forgot the incident. That was the year when the onlydaughter Kate and I would ever have caught pneumonia and died, soon after her second birthday.
Johnny Havig was bright, imaginative, and a loner. The more he came into command of limbs and language, the less he was inclined to join his peers. He seemed happiest at his miniature desk drawing pictures, or in the yard modelling clay animals, or sailing a toy boat along the riverbank when an adult took him there. Eleanor worried about him. Tom didn't. 'I was the same,' he would say. 'It makes for an odd childhood and a terrible adolescence, but I wonder if it doesn't pay off when you're grown.'
'We've got to keep a closer eye on him,' she declared. 'You don't realise how often he disappears. Oh, sure, a game for him, hide-and-seek in the shrubbery or the basement or wherever. Grand sport, listening to Mommy hunt up the close and down the stair, hollering. Someday, though, he'll find his way past the picket fence and –' Her fingers drew into fists. 'He could get run over.'
The crisis came when he was four. By then he understood that vanishings meant spankings, and had stopped (as far as his parents knew. They didn't see what went on in his room). But one summer morning he was not in his bed, and he was not to be found, and every policeman and most of the neighbourhood were out in search.
At midnight the doorbell rang. Eleanor was asleep, after I had commanded her to take a pill. Tom sat awake, alone. He dropped his cigarette – the scorch mark in the rug would long remind him of his agony – and knocked over a chair on his way to the front entrance.
A man stood on the porch. He wore a topcoat and shadowing hat which turned him featureless. Not that that made any difference. Tom's whole being torrented over the boy who held the man by the hand.
'Good evening, sir,' said the pleasant voice. 'I believe you're looking for this young gentleman?'
And, when Tom knelt to seize his son, hold him, weep and try to babble thanks, the man departed.
'Funny,' Tom said to me afterwards. 'I couldn't have been focusing entirely on Johnny for more than a minute. You know Elm Street has good lamps and no cover. Even in a sprint, nobody could get out of sight fast. Besides, running feet would've set a dozen dogs barking. But the pavement was empty.'
The child would say nothing except that he had been 'around,' and was sorry, and wouldn't wander again.
Nor did he. In fact, he emerged from his solitariness to the extent of acquiring one inseparable friend, the Dunbar boy. Pete fairly hulked over his slight, quiet companion. He was no fool; today he manages the local A & P. But John, as he now wanted to be called, altogether dominated the relationship. They played his games, went to his favourite vacant lots and, later, his chosen parts of Morgan Woods, enacted the histories of his visionary worlds.
His mother sighed, in my cluttered carbolic-and-leather-smelling office: 'I suppose John's so good at daydreaming that even for Pete, the real world seems pale by contrast. That's the trouble. He's too good at it.'
This was in the second year following. I'd seen him through a couple of the usual ailments, but otherwise had no cause to suspect problems and was startled when Eleanor requested an appointment to discuss him. She'd laughed over the phone: 'Well, you know Tom's Yankee conscience. He'd never let me ask you professional questions on a social occasion.' The sound had been forlorn.
I settled back in my creaky swivel chair, bridged my fingers, and said, 'Do you mean he tells you things that can't be true, but which he seems to believe are? Quite common. Always outgrown.'
'I wonder, Bob.' She frowned at her lap. 'Isn't he kind of old for that?'
'Perhaps. Especially in view of his remarkably fast physical and mental development, these past months. However, practising medicine has driven into my bones the fact that "average" and "normal" do not mean the same ... Okay. John has imaginary playmates?'
She tried to smile. 'Well, an imaginary uncle.'
I lifted my brows. 'Indeed? Just what has he said to you?'
'Hardly anything. What do children ever tell their parents? But I've overheard him talking to Pete, often, about his Uncle Jack who comes and takes him on all sorts of marvellous trips.'
'Uncle Jack, eh? What kind of trips? To this kingdom you once mentioned he's invented, which Leo the Lion rules over?'
'N-no. That's another weird part. He'll describe Animal Land to Tom and me; he knows perfectly well it's pure fantasy. But these journeys with his "uncle" ... they're different. What snatches I've caught are, well, realistic. A visit to an Indian camp, for instance. They weren't story-book or movie Indians. He described work they had to do, and the smell of drying hides and dung fires. Or, another time, he claimed he'd been taken on an airplane ride. I can see how he might dream up an airplane bigger than a house. But why did he dwell on its having no propellers? I thought boys loved to go eee-yowww like a diving plane. No, his flew smooth and nearly noiseless. A movie was shown aboard. In Technicolour. He actually had a name for the machine. Jet? Yes, I think he said "jet."'
'You're afraid his imagination may overcome him?' I asked needlessly. When she nodded, swallowing, I leaned forward, patted her hand, and told her:
'Ellie, imagination is the most precious thing childhood has got. The ability to imagine in detail, like those Indians, is beyond valuation. Your boy is more than sane; he may be a genius. Whatever you do, never try to kill that in him.'
I still believe I was right – totally mistaken, but right.
On this warm day, I chuckled and finished, 'As for his, uh, jet airplane, I'll bet you a dozen doughnut holes Pete Dunbar has a few Buck Rogers Big Little Books.'
All small boys were required to loathe school, and John went through the motions. No doubt much of it did bore him, as must be true of any kid who can think and is forced into lockstep. However, his grades were excellent, and he was genuinely gripped by what science and history were offered. ('A star passed near our sun and pulled out a ribbon of flaming gas that became the planets ... The periods of world civilisation are Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Middle Ages, and modern time, which began in 1492.')
His circle of friends, if not intimates, widened. Both sets of parents regretted that my Billy was four years older, Jimmy two and Stuart three years younger, than Johnny. At their stage of life, those gaps dwarfed the Grand Canyon. John shunned organised games, and by and large existed on the fringes of the tribe. For instance, Eleanor had to do the entire organising of his birthday parties. Nevertheless, between his gentle manner and his remarkable fund of conversation – when someone else took the initiative and stimulated him – he was fairly well liked.
In his eighth year he caused a new sensation. A couple of older boys from the tough side of the tracks decided it would be fun to lie in wait for individuals on their way back from school and pummel them. Buses only carried farm children, and Senlac wasn't yet built solid; most walking routes had lonely spots. Naturally, the victims could never bring themselves to complain.
The sportsmen did, after they jumped John Havig. They blubbered that he'd called an army to his aid. And beyond doubt, they had taken a systematic drubbing.
The tale earned them an extra punishment. 'Bullies are always cowards,' said fathers to their sons. 'Look what happened when that nice Havig boy stood up and fought.' For a while he was regarded with awe, though he blushed and stammered and refused to give details; and thereafter we called him Jack.
Otherwise the incident soon dropped into obscurity, That was the year when France fell.
'Any news of the phantom uncle?' I asked Eleanor. Some families had gotten together for a party, but I wanted a respite from political talk.
'What?' She blinked, there where we stood on the Stocktons' screened porch. Lighted windows and buzzing conversation at our backs didn't blot out a full moon above the chapel of Holberg College, or the sound of crickets through a warm and green-odorous dark. 'Oh.' She dimpled. 'You mean my son's. No, not for quite a while. You were right, that was only a phase.'
'Or else he's learned discretion.' I wouldn't have uttered my thought aloud if I'd been thinking.
Stricken, she said, 'You mean he may have clammed up completely? He is reserved, he does tell us nothing important, or anybody else as far as I can learn –'
'I.e.,' I said in haste, 'he takes after his dad. Well, Ellie, you got yourself a good man, and your daughter-in-law will too. Come on, let's go in and refresh our drinks.'
My records tell me the exact day when, for a while, Jack Havig's control broke apart.
Tuesday, April 14, 1942. The day before, Tom had made the proud announcement to his son. He had not mentioned his hope earlier, save to his wife, because he wasn't sure what would happen. But now he had the notice. The school had accepted his resignation, and the Army his enlistment, as of term's end.
Excerpted from There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson. Copyright © 1972 Trigonier Trust. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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