A few delicious tidbits in here, to which we will add as the hours, days, weeks, months and years go by.


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:54 pm

Chapter 5

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is a powerful organ. Indeed, its influence is so prodigious that strict rules had to be drawn up by its editorial staff to prevent its misuse. So none of its field researchers is allowed to accept any kind of services, discounts, or preferential treatment of any kind in return for editorial favors unless:

a. they have made a bona fide attempt to pay for a service in the normal way;

b. their lives would be otherwise in danger; or

c. they really want to.

Since invoking the third rule involved giving the editor a cut, Ford always preferred to muck about with the first two.

He stepped out along the street, walking briskly.

The air was stifling, but he liked it because it was stifling city air, full of excitingly unpleasant smells, dangerous music, and the distant sound of warring police tribes.

He carried his satchel with an easy swaying motion so that he could get a good swing at anybody who tried to take it from him without asking. It contained everything he owned, which at the moment wasn't much.

A limousine careened down the street, dodging between the piles of burning garbage, and frightening an old pack animal which lurched, screeching, out of its way, stumbled against the window of a herbal remedies shop, set off a wailing alarm, blundered off down the street, and then pretended to fall down the steps of a small Italian restaurant where it knew it would get photographed and fed.

Ford was walking north. He thought he was probably on his way to the spaceport, but he had thought that before. He knew he was going through that part of the city where people's plans often changed quite abruptly.

"Do you want to have a good time?" said a voice from a doorway.

"As far as I can tell," said Ford, "I'm having one. Thanks."

"Are you rich?" said another.

This made Ford laugh.

He turned and opened his arms in a wide gesture.

"Do I look rich?" he said.

"Don't know," said the girl. "Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you'll get rich. I have a very special service for rich people ..."

"Oh yes," said Ford, intrigued but careful, "and what's that?"

"I tell them it's okay to be rich."

Gunfire erupted from a window high above them, but it was only a bass player getting shot for playing the wrong riff three times in a row, and bass players are two a penny in Han Dold City.

Ford stopped and peered into the dark doorway.

"You what?" he said.

The girl laughed and stepped forward a little out of the shadow. She was tall, and had that kind of self-possessed shyness which is a great trick if you can do it.

"It's my big number," she said. "I have a master's degree in social economics and can be very convincing. People love it. Especially in this city."

"Goosnargh," said Ford Prefect, which was a special Betelgeusian word he used when he knew he should say something but didn't know what it should be.

He sat on a step, took from his satchel a bottle of that Ol' Janx Spirit and a towel. He opened the bottle and wiped the top of it with the towel, which had the opposite effect to the one intended, in that the Ol' Janx Spirit instantly killed off millions of the germs which had been slowly building up quite a complex and enlightened civilization on the smellier patches of his towel.

"Want some?" he said, after he'd had a swig himself.

She shrugged and took the proffered bottle.

They sat for a while, peacefully listening to the clamor of burglar alarms in the next block.

"As it happens, I'm owed a lot of money," said Ford, "so if I ever get hold of it, can I come and see you then maybe?"

"Sure, I'll be here," said the girl. "So how much is a lot?"

"Fifteen years' back pay."


"Writing two words."

"Zarquon," said the girl, "which one took the time?"

"The first one. Once I'd got that the second one just came one afternoon after lunch."

A huge electronic drum kit hurtled through the window high above them and smashed itself to bits in the street in front of them.

It soon became apparent that some of the burglar alarms on the next block had been deliberately set off by one police tribe in order to lay an ambush for the other. Cars with screaming sirens converged on the area, only to find themselves being picked off by helicopters which came thudding through the air between the city's mountainous tower blocks.

"In fact," said Ford, having to shout now above the din, "it wasn't quite like that. I wrote an awful lot, but they just cut it down."

He took his copy of the Guide back out of his satchel.

"Then the planet got demolished," he shouted, "really worthwhile job, eh? They've still got to pay me, though."

"You work for that thing?" the girl yelled back.


"Good number."

"You want to see the stuff I wrote," he shouted, "before it gets erased? The new revisions are due to be released tonight over the net. Someone must have found out that the planet I spent fifteen years on has been demolished by now. They missed it on the last few revisions, but it can't escape their notice forever."

"It's getting impossible to talk, isn't it?"


She shrugged and pointed upward.

There was a helicopter above them now which seemed to be involved in a side skirmish with the band upstairs. Smoke was billowing from the building. The sound engineer was hanging out the window by his fingertips, and a maddened guitarist was beating on his fingers with a burning guitar. The helicopter was firing at all of them.

"Can we move?"

They wandered down the street, away from the noise. They ran into a street theater group who tried to do a short play for them about the problems of the inner city, but then gave up and disappeared into the small restaurant most recently patronized by the pack animal.

All the time, Ford was poking at the interface panel of the Guide. They ducked into an alleyway. Ford squatted on a garbage can while information began to flood over the screen of the Guide.

He located his entry.

"Earth: Mostly harmless."

Almost immediately the screen became a mass of system messages.

"Here it comes," he said.

"Please wait, " said the messages ... Entries are being updated over the Sub Etha Net. This entry is being revised. The system will be down for ten seconds."

At the end of the alley a steel-gray limousine crawled past.

"Hey, look," said the girl, "if you get paid, look me up. I'm a working girl, and there are people over there who need me. I gotta go."

She brushed aside Ford's half-articulated protests, and left him sitting dejectedly on his garbage can preparing to watch a large swath of his working life being swept away electronically into the ether.

Out in the street things had calmed down a little. The police battle had moved off to other sectors of the city, the few surviving members of the rock band had agreed to recognize their musical differences and pursue solo careers, the street theater group was reemerging from the Italian restaurant with the pack animal, telling it they would take it to a bar they knew where it would be treated with a little respect, and a little way farther on the steel-gray limousine was parked silently by the curb.

She hurried toward it.

Behind her, in the darkness of the alley, a green flickering glow was bathing Ford Prefect's face, and his eyes were slowly widening in astonishment.

For where he had expected to find nothing -- an erased, closed-off entry -- there was instead a continuous stream of data-text, diagrams, figures, and images, moving descriptions of surf on Australian beaches, yogurt on Greek islands, restaurants to avoid in Los Angeles, currency deals to avoid in Istanbul, weather to avoid in London, bars to go everywhere. Pages and pages of it. It was all there, everything he had written.

With a deepening frown of blank incomprehension he went backward and forward through it, stopping here and there at various entries.


Tips for aliens in New York:

Land anywhere, Central Park, anywhere. No one will care or indeed even notice.

Surviving: get a job as a cabdriver immediately. A cabdriver's job is to drive people anywhere they want to go in big yellow machines called taxis. Don't worry if you don't know how the machine works and you can't speak the language, don't understand the geography or indeed the basic physics of the area, and have large green antennae growing out of your head. Believe me, this is the best way of staying inconspicuous.

If your body is really weird, try showing it to people in the streets for money. Amphibious life forms from any of the worlds in the Swulling, Noxios, or Nausalia systems will particularly enjoy the East River, which is said to be richer in those lovely life-giving nutrients than the finest and most virulent laboratory slime yet achieved.

Having fun: this is the big section. It is impossible to have more fun without electrocuting your pleasure center ..."


Ford flipped the switch which he saw was marked "Mode Execute Ready" instead of the now old-fashioned "Access Standby" that had so long ago replaced the appallingly stone-aged "Off."

This was a planet he had seen completely destroyed, seen with his own two eyes or rather, blinded as he had been by the hellish disruption of air and light, felt with his own two feet as the ground had started to pound at him like a hammer, bucking, roaring, gripped by tidal waves of energy pouring out of the loathsome yellow Vogon ships. And then at last, five seconds after the moment he had determined as being the last possible moment had already passed, he felt the gently swinging nausea of dematerialization as he and Arthur Dent had been beamed up through the atmosphere like a sports broadcast.

There was no mistake, there couldn't have been. The Earth had definitely been destroyed. Definitely, definitely. Boiled away into space.

And yet here -- he activated the Guide again -- was his own entry on how you would set about having a good time in Bournemouth, Dorset, England, which he had always prided himself on as being one of the most baroque pieces of invention he had ever delivered. He read it again and shook his head in sheer wonder.

Suddenly he realized what the answer to the problem was, and it was this, that something very weird was happening; and if something very weird was happening, he thought, he wanted it to be happening to him.

He stashed the Guide back in his satchel and hurried out on to the street.

Walking north again he passed a steel-gray limousine parked by the curb, and from a nearby doorway he heard a soft voice saying, "It's okay, honey, it's really okay, you got to learn to feel good about it. Look at the way the whole economy is structured ..."

Ford grinned, detoured round the next block, which was now in flames, found a police helicopter that was standing unattended in the street, broke into it, strapped himself in, crossed his fingers, and sent it hurtling inexpertly into the sky.

He weaved terrifyingly up through the canyoned walls of the city, and once clear of them, hurtled through the black-and-red pall of smoke that hung permanently above it.

Ten minutes later, with all the copter's sirens blaring and its rapid-fire cannon blasting at random into the clouds, Ford Prefect brought it careening down among the gantries and landing lights at Han Dold City spaceport, where it settled like a gigantic, startled, and very noisy gnat.

Since he hadn't damaged it too much he was able to trade it in for a first-class ticket on the next ship leaving the system, and he settled into one of its huge, voluptuous, body-hugging seats.

This was going to be fun, he thought to himself, as the ship blinked silently across the insane distances of deep space and the cabin service got into its full extravagant swing.

"Yes, please," he said to the cabin attendants whenever they glided up to offer him anything at all.

He smiled with a curious kind of manic joy as he flipped again through the mysteriously reinstated entry on the planet Earth. He had a major piece of unfinished business that he would now be able to attend to, and he was terribly pleased that life had suddenly furnished him with a serious goal to achieve.

It suddenly occurred to him to wonder where Arthur Dent was, and if he knew.


Arthur Dent was one thousand, four hundred and thirty-seven light-years away in a Saab and anxious.

Behind him in the back seat was a girl who had made him crack his head on the door as he had climbed in. He didn't know if it was just because she was the first female of his own species that he had laid eyes on in years, or what it was, but he felt stupefied with ... with ... This is absurd, he told himself. Calm down, he told himself. You are not, he continued to himself in the firmest internal voice he could muster, in a fit and rational state. You have just hitchhiked over a hundred thousand light-years across the Galaxy, you are very tired, a little confused, and extremely vulnerable. Relax, don't panic, concentrate on breathing deeply.

He twisted round in his seat.

"Are you sure she's all right?" he said again.

Beyond the fact that she was, to him, heart-thumpingly beautiful, he could make out very little, how tall she was, how old she was, the exact shading of her hair. And he couldn't ask her anything about herself because, sadly, she was completely unconscious.

"She's just drugged," said her brother, shrugging, not moving his eyes from the road ahead.

"And that's all right, is it?" said Arthur, in alarm.

"Suits me," he said.

"Ah," said Arthur. "Er," he added after a moment's thought.

The conversation so far had been going astoundingly badly.

After an initial flurry of opening hellos, he and Russell -- the wonderful girl's brother's name was Russell, a name which to Arthur's mind always suggested burly men with blond mustaches and blow-dried hair who would at the slightest provocation start wearing velvet tuxedos and frilly shirt fronts and would then have to be forcibly restrained from commentating on billiards matches -- had quickly discovered they didn't like each other at all.

Russell was a burly man. He had a blond mustache. His hair was fine and blow-dried. To be fair to him -- though Arthur didn't see any necessity for this beyond the sheer mental exercise of it -- he, Arthur, was himself looking pretty grim. A man can't cross a hundred thousand light-years, mostly in other people's baggage compartments, without beginning to fray a little, and Arthur had frayed a lot.

"She's not a junkie," said Russell suddenly, as if he clearly thought that someone else in the car might be, "she's under sedation."

"But that's terrible," said Arthur, twisting round to look at her again. She seemed to stir slightly and her head slipped sideways on her shoulder. Her dark hair fell across her face, obscuring it.

"What's the matter with her, is she ill?"

"No," said Russell, "merely barking mad."

"What?" said Arthur, horrified.

"Loopy, completely bananas. I'm taking her back to the hospital and telling them to have another go. They let her out while she still thought she was a hedgehog."

"A hedgehog?"

Russell hooted his horn fiercely at a car that came round the corner toward them halfway across on to their side of the road, making them swerve. The anger seemed to make him feel better.

"Well, maybe not a hedgehog," he said after he'd settled down again, "though it would probably be simpler to deal with if she did. If somebody thinks they're a hedgehog, presumably you just give 'em a mirror and a few pictures of hedgehogs and tell them to sort it out for themselves, come down again when they feel better. At least medical science could deal with it, that's the point. Seems that's not good enough for Fenny, though."

"Fenny ...?"

"You know what I got her for Christmas?"

"Well, no."

"Black's Medical Dictionary."

"Nice present."

"I thought so. Thousands of diseases in it, all in alphabetical order."

"You say her name is Fenny?"

"Yeah. Take your pick, I said. Anything in here can be dealt with. The proper drugs can be prescribed. But no, she has to have something different. Just to make life difficult. She was like that at school, you know."

"Was she?"

"She was. Fell over playing hockey and broke a bone nobody had ever heard of."

"I can see how that would be irritating," said Arthur doubtfully. He was rather disappointed to discover her name was Fenny. It was a rather silly, dispiriting name, such as an unlovely maiden aunt might vote herself if she couldn't sustain the name Fenella properly.

"Not that I wasn't sympathetic," continued Russell, "but it did get a bit irritating. She was limping for months."

He slowed down.

"This is your exit, isn't it?"

"Ah no," said Arthur, "five miles farther on. If that's all right."

"Okay," said Russell, after a very tiny pause to indicate that it wasn't, and speeded up again.

It was in fact Arthur's exit, but he couldn't leave without finding out something more about this girl who seemed to have taken such a grip on his mind without even waking up. He could take either of the next two exits.

They led back to the village that had been his home, though what he would find there he hesitated to imagine. Familiar landmarks had been flitting by, ghostlike, in the dark, giving rise in him to the shudders that only very very normal things can create, when seen where the mind is unprepared for them, and in an unfamiliar light.

By his own personal time scale, so far as he could estimate it. living as he had been under the alien rotations of distant suns, it was eight years since he had left, but what time had passed here he could hardly guess. Indeed, what events had passed were beyond his exhausted comprehension because this planet, his home, should not be here.

Eight years ago, at lunchtime, this planet had been demolished, utterly destroyed, by the huge yellow Vogon ships which had hung in the lunchtime sky as if the law of gravity was no more than a local regulation, and breaking it no more than just a parking offense.

"Delusions," said Russell.

"What?" said Arthur, startled out of his train of thought.

"She says she suffers from strange delusions that she's living in the real world. It's no good telling her that she is living in the real world because she just says that's why the delusions are so strange. Don't know about you, but I find that kind of conversation pretty exhausting. Give her the tablets and piss off for a beer is my answer. I mean, you can only muck about so much, can't you?"

Arthur frowned, not for the first time. "Well ..."

"And all this dreams and nightmare stuff. And the doctors going on about strange jumps in her brain-wave patterns."


"This," said Fenny.

Arthur whirled round in his seat and stared into her suddenly open but utterly vacant eyes. Whatever she was looking at wasn't in the car. Her eyes fluttered, her head jerked once, and then she was sleeping peacefully.

"What did she say?" he asked anxiously.

"She said 'this.'"

"This what?"

"This what? How the heck should I know? This hedgehog, that chimney pot, the other pair of Don Alfonso's tweezers. She's barking mad, I thought I'd mentioned that."

"You don't seem to care very much." Arthur tried to say it as matter-of-factly as possible but it didn't seem to work.

"Look, buster ..."

"Okay, I'm sorry. It's none of my business. I didn't mean it to sound like that," said Arthur. "I know you care a lot, obviously," he added, lying. "I know that you have to deal with it somehow. You'll have to excuse me. I just hitched from the other side of the Horsehead Nebula."

He stared furiously out the window.

He was astonished that of all the sensations fighting for room in his head on this night as he returned to the home that he thought had vanished into oblivion forever, the one that was compelling him was an obsession with this bizarre girl of whom he knew nothing other than that she had said "this" to him, and that he wouldn't wish her brother on a Vogon.

"So, er, what were the jumps, these jumps you mentioned," he went on to say as quickly as he could.

"Look, this is my sister, I don't even know why I'm talking to you about --"

"Okay, I'm sorry. Perhaps you'd better let me out. This is ..."

At the moment he said it, it became impossible, because the storm which had passed them by suddenly erupted again. Lightning belted through the sky, and someone seemed to be pouring something which closely resembled the Atlantic Ocean over them, through a sieve.

Russell swore and steered intently for a few seconds as the sky blattered at them. He worked out his anger by rashly accelerating to pass a lorry marked "McKenna's All-Weather Haulage." The tension eased as the rain subsided.

"It started out with all that business of the CIA agent they found in the reservoir, when everybody had all the hallucinations and everything, you remember?"

Arthur wondered for a moment whether to mention again that he had just hitchhiked back from the other side of the Horsehead Nebula and was for this and various other related and astounding reasons a little out of touch with recent events, but he decided it would only confuse matters further.

"No," he said.

"That was the moment she cracked up. She was in a cafe somewhere. Rickmansworth. Don't know what she was doing there, but that was where she cracked up. Apparently she stood up, calmly announced that she had undergone some extraordinary revelation or something, wobbled a bit, looked confused, and finally collapsed screaming into an egg sandwich."

Arthur winced.

"I'm very sorry to hear that," he said a little stiffly.

Russell made a sort of grumping noise.

"So what," said Arthur in an attempt to piece things together, "was the CIA agent doing in the reservoir?"

"Bobbing up and down, of course. He was dead."

"But what --"

"Come on, you remember all that stuff. The hallucinations. Everyone said it was the CIA experimenting with drug warfare or something. Some crackpot theory that instead of invading a country it would be much cheaper and more effective to make everyone think they'd been invaded."

"What hallucinations were those exactly ...?" said Arthur in a rather quiet voice.

"What do you mean, what hallucinations? I'm talking about all that stuff with the big yellow ships, everyone going crazy and saying we're going to die, and then pop, they vanished as the effect wore off. The CIA denied it, which meant it must be true."

Arthur's head went a little swimmy. His hand grabbed at something to steady himself, and gripped it tightly. His mouth made little opening and closing movements as if it was on his mind to say something, but nothing emerged.

"Anyway," continued Russell, "whatever drug it was it didn't seem to wear off so fast with Fenny. I was all for suing the CIA, but a lawyer friend of mine said it would be like trying to attack a lunatic asylum with a banana, so ..."

He shrugged.

"The Vogon ..." squeaked Arthur, "the yellow ships ... vanished?"

"Well, of course they did, they were hallucinations," said Russell, and looked at Arthur oddly. "You trying to say you don't remember any of this? Where have you been, for heaven's sake?"

This was, to Arthur, such an astonishingly good question that he half leaped out of his seat with shock.

"Christ!!!" yelled Russell, fighting to control the car, which was suddenly trying to skid. He pulled it out of the path of an oncoming lorry and swerved up onto a grass bank. As the car lurched to a halt, the girl in the back was thrown against Russell's seat and collapsed awkwardly.

Arthur twisted round in horror.

"Is she all right?" he blurted out.

Russell swept his hands angrily back through his blow-dried hair. He tugged at his blond mustache. He turned to Arthur.

"Would you please," he said, "let go of the handbrake?"
Site Admin
Posts: 31196
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:54 pm

Chapter 6

From here it was a four-mile walk to his village: a mile farther to the exit, to which the abominable Russell had now fiercely declined to take him, and from there a farther three miles of winding country lane.

The Saab seethed off into the night. Arthur watched it go, as stunned as a man might be who, having believed himself to be totally blind for five years, suddenly discovers that he had merely been wearing too large a hat.

He shook his head sharply in the hope that it might dislodge some salient fact which would fall into place and make sense of an otherwise utterly bewildering Universe, but since the salient fact, if there was one, entirely failed to do this, he set off up to the road again, hoping that a good vigorous walk and maybe even some good painful blisters would help to reassure him of at least his own existence, if not his sanity.

It was ten-thirty when he arrived, a fact he discovered from the steamed and greasy window of the Horse and Groom pub, in which there had hung for many years a battered old Guinness clock which featured a picture of an emu with a pint glass jammed rather amusingly down its throat.

This was the pub in which he had passed the fatal lunchtime during which first his house and then the entire Earth had been demolished, or rather had seemed to be demolished, no, damn it, had been demolished because if they hadn't been then where the bloody heck had he been for the last eight years, and how had he got there if not in one of the big yellow Vogon ships which the appalling Russell had just been telling him were merely drug-induced hallucinations, and yet if it had been demolished, what was he currently standing on ...?

He jammed the brake on this line of thought because it wasn't going to get him any further than it had the last twenty times he'd been over it.

He started again.

This was the pub in which he had passed the fatal lunchtime during which whatever it was had happened that he was going to sort out later had happened, and ...

It still didn't make sense.

He started again.

This was the pub in which ...

This was a pub.

Pubs served drinks and he could certainly do with one.

Satisfied that his jumbled thought processes had at last arrived at a conclusion, and a conclusion he was happy with even if it wasn't the one he had set out to achieve, he strode toward the door.

And stopped.

A small black wirehaired terrier ran out from behind a low wall and then, catching sight of Arthur clearly, began to snarl.

Now Arthur knew this dog, and he knew it well. It belonged to an advertising friend of his, and was called Know-Nothing-Bozo the Non-Wonder Dog because the way its hair stood up on its head reminded people of the President of the United States of America, and the dog knew Arthur, or at least should. It was a stupid dog, but it should at least have been able to recognize Arthur instead of standing there, hackles raised, as if Arthur were the most fearful apparition ever to intrude upon its feeble-witted life.

This prompted Arthur to go and peer at the window again, this time with an eye not for the asphyxiating emu but for himself.

Seeing himself for the first time suddenly in a familiar context, he had to admit that the dog had a point.

He looked a lot like something a farmer would use to scare birds with, and there was no doubt but that to go into the pub in his present condition would excite comment of a raucous kind, and worse still, there would doubtless be several people in there at the moment whom he knew, all of whom would be bound to bombard him with questions which at the moment he felt ill-equipped to deal with.

Will Smithers, for instance, the owner of Know-Nothing-Bozo the Non-Wonder Dog, an animal so stupid that it had been sacked from one of Will's own commercials for being incapable of knowing which dog food it was supposed to prefer, despite the fact that the meat in all the other bowls had engine oil poured all over it.

Will would definitely be in there. Here was his dog, there was his car, a gray Porsche 928S with a sign in the back window which read "My other car is also a Porsche." Damn him.

He stared at it and realized that he had just learned something he hadn't known before.

Will Smithers, like most of the overpaid and underscrupulous bastards Arthur knew in advertising, made a point of changing his car every August so that he could tell people his accountant made him do it, though the truth was that his accountant was trying like hell to stop him, what with all the alimony he had to pay, and so on -- and this was the same car Arthur remembered him having before. The number plate proclaimed its year.

Given that it was now winter, and that the event which had caused Arthur so much trouble eight of his personal years ago had occurred at the beginning of September, less than six or seven months could have passed here.

He stood terribly still for a moment and let Know-Nothing-Bozo jump up and down yapping at him. He was suddenly stunned by a realization he could no longer avoid, which was this: he was now an alien on his own world. Try as they might, no one was even going to be able to believe his story. Not only did it sound perfectly potty, but it was flatly contradicted by the simplest observable facts.

Was this really the Earth? Was there the slightest possibility that he had made some extraordinary mistake?

The pub in front of him was unbearably familiar to him in every detail -- every brick, every piece of peeling paint; and inside he could sense its familiar stuffy, noisy warmth, its exposed beams, its unauthentic cast-iron light fittings, its bar sticky with beer that people he knew had put their elbows in, overlooked by cardboard cutouts of girls with packets of peanuts stapled all over their breasts. It was all the stuff of his home, his world.

He even knew this blasted dog.

"Hey, Know-Nothing!"

The sound of Will Smithers's voice meant he had to decide what to do quickly. If he stood his ground he would be discovered and the whole circus would begin. To hide would only postpone the moment, and it was bitterly cold now.

The fact that it was Will made the choice easier. It wasn't that Arthur disliked him as such -- Will was quite fun. It was just that he was fun in such an exhausting way because, being in advertising, he always wanted you to know how much fun he was having and where he had got his jacket from.

Mindful of this, Arthur hid behind a van.

"Hey. Know-Nothing, what's up?"

The door opened and Will came out, wearing a leather flying jacket that he'd got a mate of his at the Road Research Laboratory to crash a car into specially, in order to get that battered look. Know-Nothing yelped with delight and, having got the attention it wanted, was happy to forget Arthur.

Will was with some friends, and they had a game they played with the dog.

"Commies!" they all shouted at the dog in chorus, "Commies, Commies, Commies!!!"

The dog went berserk with barking, prancing up and down, yapping its little heart out, beside itself in transports of ecstatic rage. They all laughed and cheered it on, then gradually dispersed to their various cars and disappeared into the night.

Well, that clears one thing up, thought Arthur from behind his van, this is quite definitely the planet I remember.
Site Admin
Posts: 31196
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:55 pm

Chapter 7

His house was still there.

How or why, he had no idea, but he had decided to go and have a look while he was waiting for the pub to empty so that he could go and ask the landlord for a bed for the night when everyone else had gone, and there it was.

He let himself in with a key he kept under a stone frog in the garden, hurriedly because, astoundingly, the phone was ringing.

He had heard it faintly all the way up the lane and had started to run as soon as he realized where the sound was coming from.

The door had to be forced open because of the astonishing accumulation of junk mail on the doormat. It jammed itself stuck on what he would later discover were fourteen identical, personally addressed invitations to apply for a credit card he already had, seventeen identical threatening letters for nonpayment of bills on a credit card he didn't have, thirty-three identical letters saying that he personally had been specially selected as a man of taste and discrimination who knew what he wanted and where he was going in today's sophisticated jet-setting world and would he therefore like to buy some grotty wallet, and also a dead tabby kitten.

He rammed himself through the relatively narrow opening afforded by all this, stumbled through a pile of wine offers that no discriminating connoisseur would want to miss, slithered over a heap of beach villa holidays, blundered up the dark stairs to his bedroom, and got to the phone just as it stopped ringing.

He collapsed, panting, onto his cold, musty-smelling bed and for a few minutes stopped trying to prevent the world from spinning round his head in the way it obviously wanted to.

When it had enjoyed its little spin and had calmed down a bit, Arthur reached out for the bedside light, not expecting it to come on. To his surprise it did. This appealed to Arthur's sense of logic. Since the Electricity Board had cut him off without fail every time he paid his bill, it seemed only reasonable that they should leave him connected when he hadn't. Sending them money obviously only drew attention to himself.

The room was much as he had left it, festeringly untidy, though the effect was muted a little by a thick layer of dust. Half-read books and magazines nestled among piles of half-used towels. Half-pairs of socks reclined in half-drunk cups of coffee. What once had been a half-eaten sandwich had now half-turned into something that Arthur didn't entirely want to know about. Bung a fork of lightning through this lot, he thought to himself, and you'd start the evolution of life off all over again.

There was only one thing in the room that was different.

For a moment or so he couldn't see what the one thing that was different was, because it was too covered in a film of disgusting dust. Then his eyes caught it and stopped.

It was next to a battered old television on which it was only possible to watch Open University study courses, because if it tried to show anything more exciting it would break down.

It was a box.

Arthur pushed himself up on his elbows and peered at it.

It was a gray box, with a kind of dull luster to it. It was a cubical gray box, just over a foot on one side. It was tied with a single gray ribbon, knotted into a neat bow on the top.

He got up, walked over, and touched it in surprise. Whatever it was was clearly gift-wrapped, neatly and beautifully, and was waiting for him to open it.

Cautiously, he picked it up and carried it back to the bed. He brushed the dust off the top and loosened the ribbon. The top of the box was a lid, with a flap tucked into the body of the box.

He untucked it and looked into the box. In it was a glass globe, nestling in fine gray tissue paper. He drew it out, carefully. It wasn't a proper globe because it was open at the bottom, or, as Arthur realized, turning it over, at the top, with a thick rim. It was a bowl. A fishbowl.

It was made of the most wonderful glass, perfectly transparent, yet with an extraordinary silver-gray quality as if crystal and slate had gone into its making.

Arthur slowly turned it over and over in his hands. It was one of the most beautiful objects he had ever seen, but he was entirely perplexed by it. He looked into the box, but other than the tissue paper there was nothing. On the outside of the box there was nothing.

He turned the bowl round again. It was wonderful. It was exquisite. But it was a fishbowl.

He tapped it with his thumbnail and it rang with a deep and glorious chime which was sustained for longer than seemed possible and when at last it faded seemed not to die away but to drift off into other worlds, as into a deep sea dream.

Entranced, Arthur turned it round yet again, and this time the light from the dusty little bedside lamp caught it at a different angle and glittered on some fine abrasions on the fishbowl's surface. He held it up, adjusting the angle to the light, and suddenly saw clearly the finely engraved shapes of words shadowed on the glass.

"So Long," they said, "and Thanks ..."

And that was all. He blinked, and understood nothing.

For fully five more minutes he turned the object around and around, held it to the light at different angles, tapped it for its mesmerizing chime, and pondered on the meaning of the shadowy letters but could find none. Finally he stood up, filled the bowl with water from the tap, and put it back on the table next to the television. He shook the little Babel fish from his ear and dropped it, wriggling, into the bowl. He wouldn't be needing it anymore, except for watching foreign movies.

He returned to lie on his bed, and turned out the light.

He lay still and quiet. He absorbed the enveloping darkness, slowly relaxed his limbs from end to end, eased and regulated his breathing, gradually cleared his mind of all thought, closed his eyes, and was completely incapable of getting to sleep.


The night was uneasy with rain. The rain clouds themselves had now moved on and were currently concentrating their attention on a small cafe just outside Bournemouth, but the sky through which they had passed had been disturbed by them and now wore a damply ruffled air, as if it didn't know what else it might not do if further provoked.

The moon was out in a watery way. It looked like a ball of paper from the back pocket of jeans that have just come out of the washing machine, which only time and ironing would tell if it was an old shopping list or a five-pound note.

The wind flicked about a little, like the tail of a horse that's trying to decide what sort of mood it's in tonight, and a bell somewhere chimed midnight.

A skylight creaked open.

It was stiff and had to be jiggled and persuaded a little because the frame was slightly rotten and the hinge had at some time in its life been rather sensibly painted over, but eventually it was open.

A strut was found to prop it and a figure struggled out into the narrow gully between the opposing pitches of the roof.

The figure stood and watched the sky in silence.

The figure was completely unrecognizable as the wild-looking creature who had burst crazily into the cottage a little over an hour ago. Gone was the ragged threadbare dressing gown, smeared with the mud of a hundred worlds, stained with junk food condiment from a hundred grimy spaceports, gone was the tangled mane of hair, gone the long and knotted beard, flourishing ecostructure and all.

Instead, there was Arthur Dent, smooth and casual in corduroys and a bulky sweater. His hair was cropped and washed, his chin clean- shaven. Only the eyes still said that whatever it was the Universe thought it was doing to him, he would still like it please to stop.

They were not the same eyes with which he had last looked out at this particular scene, and the brain which interpreted the images the eyes resolved was not the same brain. There had been no surgery involved, just the continual wrenching of experience.

The night seemed like an alive thing to him at this moment, the dark Earth around him a being in which he was rooted.

He could feel like a tingle on distant nerve ends the flood of a far river, the roll of invisible hills, the knot of heavy rain clouds parked somewhere away to the south.

He could sense, too, the thrill of being a tree, which was something he hadn't expected. He knew that it felt good to curl your toes in the earth, but he'd never realized it could feel quite as good as that. He could sense an almost unseemly wave of pleasure reaching at him all the way from the New Forest. He must try this summer, he thought, to see what having leaves felt like.

From another direction he felt the sensation of being a sheep startled by a flying saucer, but it was virtually indistinguishable from the feeling of being a sheep startled by anything else it ever encountered, for they were creatures who learned very little on their journey through life, and would be startled to see the sun rising in the morning, and astonished by all the green stuff in the fields.

He was surprised to find he could feel the sheep being startled by the sun that morning, and the morning before, and being startled by a clump of trees the day before that. He could go further and further back, but it got dull because all it consisted of was sheep being startled by things they'd been startled by the day before.

He left the sheep and let his mind drift outward sleepily in developing ripples. It felt the presence of other minds, hundreds of them, thousands in a web, some sleepy, some sleeping, some terribly excited, one fractured.

One fractured.

He passed it fleetingly and tried to feel for it again, but it eluded him like the other card with an apple on it in a memory course. He felt a spasm of excitement because he knew instinctively who it was, or at least knew who it was he wanted it to be, and once you know what it is you want to be true, instinct is a very useful device for enabling you to know that it is.

He instinctively knew that it was Fenny and that he wanted to find her; but he could not. By straining too much for it, he could feel he was losing this strange new faculty, so he relaxed the search and let his mind wander easily once more.

And again, he felt the fracture.

Again he couldn't find it. This time, whatever his instincts were busy telling him it was all right to believe, he wasn't certain that it was Fenny -- or perhaps it was a different fracture this time. It had the same disjointed quality but it seemed a more general feeling of fracture, deeper, not a single mind, maybe not a mind at all. It was different.

He let his mind sink slowly and widely into the Earth, rippling, seeping, sinking.

He was following the Earth through its days, drifting with the rhythms of its myriad pulses, seeping through the webs of its life, swelling with its tides, turning with its weight. Always the fracture kept returning, a dull disjointed distant ache.

And now he was flying through a land of light; the light was time, the tides of it were days receding. The fracture he had sensed, the second fracture, lay in the distance before him across the land, the thickness of a single hair across the dreaming landscape of the days of Earth.

And suddenly he was upon it.

He danced dizzily over the edge as the dreamland dropped sheer away beneath him, a stupefying precipice into nothing, him wildly twisting, clawing at nothing, flailing in horrifying space, spinning, falling.

Across the jagged chasm had been another land, another time, an older world, not fractured from, but hardly joined: two Earths. He woke.

A cold breeze brushed the feverish sweat standing on his forehead. The nightmare was spent and so, he felt, was he. His shoulders drooped, he gently rubbed his eyes with the tips of his fingers. At last he was sleepy as well as very tired. As to what it meant, if it meant anything at all, he would think about in the morning; for now he would go to bed and sleep. His own bed, his own sleep.

He could see his house in the distance and wondered why this was. It was silhouetted against the moonlight and he recognized its rather dull blockish shape. He looked about him and noticed that he was about eighteen inches above the rosebushes of one of his neighbors, John Ainsworth. His rosebushes were carefully tended, pruned back for the winter, strapped to canes and labeled, and Arthur wondered what he was doing above them. He wondered what was holding him there, and when he discovered that nothing was holding him there he crashed awkwardly to the ground.

He picked himself up, brushed himself down, and hobbled back to his house on a sprained ankle. He undressed and toppled into bed. While he was asleep the phone rang again. It rang for fully fifteen minutes and caused him to turn over twice. It never, however, stood a chance of waking him up.
Site Admin
Posts: 31196
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:55 pm

Chapter 8

Arthur awoke feeling wonderful, absolutely fabulous, refreshed, overjoyed to be home, bouncing with energy, hardly disappointed at all to discover it was the middle of February. He almost danced to the fridge, found the three least hairy things in it, put them on a plate and watched them intently for two minutes. Since they made no attempt to move within that time he called them breakfast and ate them. Between them they killed a virulent space disease he'd picked up without knowing it in the Flargathon Gas Swamps a few days earlier, which otherwise would have killed off half the population of the Western Hemisphere, blinded the other half, and driven everyone else psychotic and sterile, so the Earth was lucky there.

He felt strong, he felt healthy. He vigorously cleared away the junk mail with a spade and then buried the cat.

Just as he was finishing that, the phone rang, but he let it ring while he maintained a moment's respectful silence. Whoever it was would ring back if it was important.

He kicked the mud off his shoes and went back inside.

There had been a small number of significant letters in the piles of junk -- some documents from the council, dated three years earlier, relating to the proposed demolition of his house, and some other letters about the setting up of a public inquiry into the whole bypass scheme in the area; there was also an old letter from Greenpeace, the ecological pressure group to which he occasionally made contributions, asking for help with their scheme to release dolphins and orcas from captivity; and some postcards from friends vaguely complaining that he never got in touch these days.

He collected these together and put them in a cardboard file which he marked "Things To Do." Since he was feeling so vigorous and dynamic that morning, he even added the word "Urgent!"

He unpacked his towel and another few odd bits and pieces from the plastic bag he had acquired at the Port Brasta Mega-Market. The slogan on the side was a clever and elaborate pun in Lingua Centauri which was completely incomprehensible in any other language and therefore entirely pointless for a duty-free shop at a spaceport. The bag also had a hole in it so he threw it away.

He realized with a sudden twinge that something else must have dropped out in the small spacecraft that had brought him to Earth, kindly going out of its way to drop him right beside the A 3 O 3. He had lost his battered and space-worn copy of the thing which had helped him find his way across the unbelievable wastes of space he had traversed. He had lost The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Well, he told himself, this time I really won't be needing it again.

He had some calls to make.

He had decided how to deal with the mass of contradictions his return journey precipitated, which was that he would simply brazen it out.

He phoned the BBC and asked to be put through to his department head.

"Oh, hello, Arthur Dent here. Look, sorry I haven't been in for six months but I've gone mad."

"Oh, not to worry. Thought it was probably something like that. Happens here all the time. How soon can we expect you?"

"When do hedgehogs start hibernating?"

"Sometime in spring, I think."

"I'll be in shortly after that."


He flipped through the Yellow Pages and made a short list of numbers to try.

"Oh, hello, is that the Old Elms Hospital? Yes, I was just phoning to see if I could have a word with Fenella, er ... Fenella ... good Lord, silly me, I'll forget my own name next, er, Fenella -- isn't this ridiculous? Patient of yours, dark-haired girl, came in last night ..."

"I'm afraid we don't have any patients called Fenella."

"Oh, don't you? I meant Fiona, of course, we just call her Fen --"

"I'm sorry, goodbye."


Six conversations along these lines began to take their toll on his mood of vigorous, dynamic optimism, and he decided that before it deserted him entirely he would take it down to the pub and parade it a little.

He had the perfect idea for explaining away every inexplicable weirdness about himself at a stroke, and he whistled as he pushed open the door which had so daunted him last night.


He grinned cheerfully at the boggling eyes that stared at him from all corners of the pub, and told them all what a wonderful time he'd had in Southern California.
Site Admin
Posts: 31196
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:55 pm

Chapter 9

He accepted another pint and took a pull at it.

"Of course, I had my own personal alchemist, too."

"You what?"

He was getting silly and he knew it. Exuberance and Hall and Woodhouse best bitter was a mixture to be wary of, but one of the first effects it has is to stop you being wary of things, and the point at which Arthur should have stopped and explained no more was the point at which he started instead to get inventive.

"Oh yes," he insisted with a happy glazed smile, "it's why I've lost so much weight."

"What?" said his audience.

"Oh yes," he said again, "the Californians have rediscovered alchemy, oh yes."

He smiled again.

"Only," he said, "it's in a much more useful form than that which in" he paused thoughtfully to let a little grammar assemble in his head -- "in which the ancients used to practice it. Or at least," he added, "failed to practice it. They couldn't get it to work, you know. Nostradamus and that lot. Couldn't cut it."

"Nostradamus?" said one of his audience.

"I didn't think he was an alchemist," said another.

"I thought," said a third, "he was a seer."

"He became a seer," said Arthur to his audience, the component parts of which were beginning to bob and blur a little, "because he was such a lousy alchemist. You should know that."

He took another pull at his beer. It was something he had not tasted for eight years. He tasted it and tasted it.

"What has alchemy got to do," asked a bit of the audience, "with losing weight?"

"I'm glad you asked that," said Arthur, "very glad. And I will now tell you what the connection is between" -- he paused -- "between those two things. The things you mentioned. I'll tell you."

He paused and maneuvered his thoughts. It was like watching oil tankers doing three-point turns in the English Channel.

"They've discovered how to turn excess body fat into gold," he said, in a sudden blurt of coherence.

"You're kidding."

"Oh yes," he said, "no," he corrected himself, "they have."

He rounded on the doubting part of his audience, which was all of it, and so it took a little while to round on it completely.

"Have you been to California?" he demanded. "Do you know the sort of stuff they do there?"

Three members of his audience said they had and that he was talking nonsense.

"You haven't seen anything," insisted Arthur. "Oh yes," he added, because someone was offering to buy another round.

"The evidence," he said, pointing at himself, and not missing by more than a couple of inches, "is before your eyes. Fourteen hours in a trance," he said, "in a tank. In a trance. I was in a tank. I think," he added after a thoughtful pause, "I already said that."

He waited patiently while the next round was duly distributed. He composed the next bit of his story in his mind, which was going to be something about the tank needing to be oriented along a line dropped perpendicularly from the Pole Star to a base line drawn between Mars and Venus, and was about to start trying to say it when he decided to give it a miss.

"Long time," he said instead, "in a tank. In a trance." He looked round severely at his audience, to make sure it was all following attentively.

He resumed.

"Where was I?" he said.

"In a trance," said one.

"In a tank," said another.

"Oh yes," said Arthur, "thank you. And slowly," he said, pressing onward, "slowly, slowly slowly, all your excess body fat ... turns ... to" -- he paused for effect -- "subcoo ... subyoo ... subtoocay" -- he paused for breath -- "subcutaneous gold, which you can have surgically removed. Getting out of the tank is hell. What did you say?"

"I was just clearing my throat."

"I think you doubt me."

"I was clearing my throat."

"She was clearing her throat," confirmed a significant part of the audience in a low rumble.

"Oh yes," said Arthur, "all right. And you then split the proceeds" -- he paused again for a math break -- "fifty-fifty with the alchemist. Make a lot of money!"

He looked swayingly around at his audience, and could not help but be aware of an air of skepticism about their jumbled faces.

He felt very affronted by this.

"How else," he demanded, "could I afford to have my face dropped?"

Friendly arms began to help him home. "Listen," he protested, as the cold February breeze brushed his face, "looking lived-in is all the rage in California at the moment. You've got to look as if you've seen the Galaxy. Life, I mean. You've got to look as if you've seen life. That's what I got. A face drop. Give me eight years, I said. I hope being thirty doesn't come back into fashion or I've wasted a lot of money."

He lapsed into silence for a while as the friendly arms continued to help him along the lane to his house.

"Got in yesterday," he mumbled. "I'm very very very happy to be home. Or somewhere very like it ..."

"Jet lag," muttered one of his friends, "long trip from California. Really mucks you up for a couple of days."

"I don't think he's been there at all," muttered another. "I wonder where he has been. And what's happened to him."


After a little sleep Arthur got up and pottered round the house a bit. He felt woozy and a little low, still disoriented by the journey. He wondered how he was going to find Fenny.

He sat and looked at the fishbowl. He tapped it again, and despite being full of water and a small yellow Babel fish which was gulping its way around rather dejectedly, it still chimed its deep and resonant chime as clearly and mesmerically as before.

Someone is trying to thank me, he thought to himself. He wondered who, and for what.
Site Admin
Posts: 31196
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:56 pm

Chapter 10

At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty-two ... and twenty seconds."

"Beep ... beep ... beep."

Ford Prefect suppressed a little giggle of evil satisfaction, realized that he had no reason to suppress it, and laughed out loud, a wicked laugh.

He switched the incoming signal through from the Sub-Etha Net to the ship's superb hi-fi system, and the odd, rather stilted singsong voice spoke out with remarkable clarity round the cabin.

"At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty-two ... and thirty seconds."

"Beep ... beep ... beep."

He tweaked the volume up just a little, while keeping a careful eye on a rapidly changing table of figures on the ship's computer display. For the length of time he had in mind, the question of power consumption became significant. He didn't want a murder on his conscience.

"At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty-two ... and forty seconds."

"Beep ... beep ... beep."

He checked around the small ship. He walked down the short corridor.

"At the third stroke ..."

He stuck his head into the small, functional, gleaming steel bathroom.

" ... it will be ..."

It sounded fine in there.

He looked into the tiny sleeping quarters.

"... one ... thirty-two ..."

It sounded a bit muffled. There was a towel hanging over one of the speakers. He took down the towel.

"... and fifty seconds."


He checked out the packed cargo hold, and wasn't at all satisfied with the sound. There was altogether too much crated junk in the way. He stepped back out and waited for the door to seal. He broke open a closed control panel and pushed the jettison button. He didn't know why he hadn't thought of that before. A whooshing, rumbling noise died away quickly into silence. After a pause a slight hiss could be heard again.

It stopped.

He waited for the green light to show and then opened the door again onto the new empty cargo hold.

"... one ... thirty-three ... and fifty seconds."

Very nice.

"Beep ... beep ... beep."

He then went and had a last thorough examination of the emergency suspended animation chamber, which was where he particularly wanted it to be heard.

"At the third stroke it will be one ... thirty-four ... precisely."

He shivered as he peered down through the heavily frosted covering at the dim bulk of the form within. One day, who knew when, it would wake, and when it did, it would know what time it was. Not exactly local time, true, but what the heck.

He double-checked the computer display above the freezer bed, dimmed the lights, and checked it again.

"At the third stroke it will be ..."

He tiptoed out and returned to the control cabin.

" ... one ... thirty-four and twenty seconds."

The voice sounded as clear as if he were hearing it over a phone in London, which he wasn't, not by a long way.

He gazed out into the inky night. The star he could see in the distance the size of a brilliant biscuit crumb was Zondostina, or as it was known on the world from which the rather stilted, singsong voice was being received, Pleiades Zeta.

The bright orange curve that filled over half the visible area was the giant gas planet Sesefras Magna, where the Xaxisian battleships docked, and just rising over its horizon was a small cool blue moon, Epun.

"At the third stroke it will be ..."

For twenty minutes he sat and merely watched as the gap between the ship and Epun closed, as the ship's computer teased and kneaded the numbers that would bring it into a loop around the little moon, close the loop and keep it there, orbiting in perpetual obscurity.

"One ... fifty-nine ..."

His original plan had been to close down all external signaling and radiation from the ship, to render it as nearly invisible as possible unless you were actually looking at it, but then he'd had an idea he preferred. It would now emit one single continuous beam, pencil thin, broadcasting the incoming time signal to the planet of the signal's origin, which it would not reach for four hundred years, traveling at light-speed, but where it would probably cause something of a stir when it did.

"Beep ... beep ... beep ..."

He sniggered.

He didn't like to think of himself as the sort of person who giggled or sniggered, but he had to admit that he had been giggling and sniggering almost continuously for well over half an hour now.

"At the third stroke ..."

The ship was now locked almost perfectly into its perpetual orbit round a little-known and never-visited moon. Almost perfect.

One thing only remained. He ran again the computer simulation of the launching of the ship's little Escape-O-Buggy, balancing actions, reactions, tangential forces, all the mathematical poetry of motion, and saw that it was good.

Before he left, he turned out the lights.

As his tiny little cigar tube of an escape craft zipped out on the beginning of its three-day journey to the orbiting space station Port Sesefron, it rode for a few seconds a long pencil-thin beam of radiation that was starting out on a longer journey still.

"At the third stroke, it will be two ... thirteen ... and fifty seconds."

He giggled and sniggered. He would have laughed out loud but he didn't have room.

"Beep ... beep ... beep."
Site Admin
Posts: 31196
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:56 pm

Chapter 11

"April showers I hate especially."

However noncommittally Arthur grunted, the man seemed determined to talk to him. He wondered if he should get up and move to another table, but there didn't seem to be one free in the whole cafeteria. He stirred his coffee fiercely.

"Bloody April showers. Hate, hate, hate."

Arthur stared, frowning, out the window. A light, sunny spray of rain hung over the motorway. Two months he'd been back now. Slipping back into his old life had in fact been laughably easy. People had such extraordinarily short memories, including him. Eight years of crazed wanderings round the Galaxy now seemed to him not so much like a bad dream as like a film he had videotaped off television and now kept in the back of a cupboard without bothering to watch.

One effect that still lingered, though, was his joy at being back. Now that the Earth's atmosphere had closed over his head for good, he thought wrongly, everything within it gave him extraordinary pleasure. Looking at he silvery sparkle of the raindrops he felt he had to protest.

"Well, I like them," he said suddenly, "and for all the obvious reasons. They're light and refreshing. They sparkle and make you feel good."

The man snorted derisively.

"That's what they all say," he said, and glowered darkly from his corner seat.

He was a lorry driver. Arthur knew this because his opening, unprovoked remark had been, "I'm a lorry driver. I hate driving in the rain. Ironic, isn't it? Bloody ironic."

If there was a sequitur hidden in this remark, Arthur had not been able to divine it and had merely given a little grunt, affable but not encouraging.

But the man had not been deterred then, and was not deterred now. "They all say that about bloody April showers," he said, "so bloody nice, so bloody refreshing, such charming bloody weather."

He leaned forward, screwing his face up as if he was going to say something extraordinary about the government.

"What I want to know is this," he said, "if it's going to be nice weather, why," he almost spat, "can't it be nice without bloody raining?"

Arthur gave up. He decided to leave his coffee, which was too hot to drink quickly and too nasty to drink cold.

"Well, there you go," he said, and instead got up himself. "Bye."

He stopped off at the service station shop, then walked back through the parking lot, making a point of enjoying the fine play of rain in his face. There was even, he noticed, a faint rainbow glistening over the Devon hills. He enjoyed that, too.

He climbed into his battered but adored old black VW Rabbit, squealed the tires, and headed out past the islands of gas pumps and along the slip road to the motorway.

He was wrong in thinking that the atmosphere of the Earth had closed finally and forever above his head.

He was wrong to think that it would ever be possible to put behind him the tangled web of irresolutions into which his galactic travels had dragged him.

He was wrong to think he could now forget that the big, hard, oily, dirty, rainbow-hung Earth on which he lived was a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot lost in the unimaginable infinity of the Universe.

He drove on, humming, being wrong about all these things.

The reason he was wrong was standing by the slip road under a small umbrella.

His jaw sagged. He sprained his ankle against the brake pedal and skidded so hard he very nearly turned the car over.

"Fenny!" he shouted.

Having narrowly avoided hitting her with the actual car, he hit her instead with the car door as he leaned across and flung it open.

It caught her hand and knocked away the umbrella from it, which then bowled wildly away across the road.

"Shit!" yelled Arthur as helpfully as he could, leaped out of his own door, narrowly avoided being run down by McKenna's All-Weather Haulage, and watched in horror as it ran down Fenny's umbrella instead. The lorry swept along the motorway and away.

The umbrella lay like a recently swatted daddy longlegs, expiring sadly on the ground. Tiny gusts of wind made it twitch a little.

He picked it up.

"Er," he said. There didn't seem to be a lot of point in offering the thing back to her.

"How did you know my name?" she said.

"Er, well," he said, "look, I'll get you another one."

He looked at her and tailed off.

She was tallish with dark hair which fell in waves around a pale and serious face. Standing still, alone, she seemed almost somber, like a statue to some important but unpopular virtue in a formal garden. She seemed to be looking at something other than what she looked as if she was looking at.

But when she smiled, as she did now, suddenly, it was as if she had just arrived from somewhere. Warmth and life flooded into her face, and impossibly graceful movement into her body. The effect was very disconcerting, and it disconcerted Arthur like hell.

She grinned, tossed her bag into the back, and swiveled herself into the front seat.

"Don't worry about the umbrella," she said to him as she climbed in, "it was my brother's and he can't have liked it or he wouldn't have given it to me." She laughed and pulled on her seat belt. "You're not a friend of my brother's, are you?"


Her voice was the only part of her which didn't say "Good."

Her physical presence there in the car, his car, was quite extraordinary to Arthur. He felt, as he let the car pull slowly away, that he could hardly think or breathe, and hoped that neither of these functions was vital to his driving or they were in trouble.

So what he had experienced in the other car, her brother's car, the night he had returned exhausted and bewildered from his nightmare years in the stars had not been the unbalance of the moment or, if it had been, he was at least twice as unbalanced now, and quite liable to falloff whatever it is that well-balanced people are supposed to be balancing on.

"So ..." he said, hoping to kick the conversation off to an exciting start.

"'He was supposed to pick me up -- my brother -- but phoned to say he couldn't make it. I asked about buses but the man started to look at a calendar rather than a timetable, so I decided to hitch. So."


"So here I am. And what I would like to know, is how you know my name."

"Perhaps we ought to first sort out," said Arthur, looking back over his shoulder as he eased his car into the motorway traffic, "where I'm taking you."

Very close, he hoped, or a long way. Close would mean she lived near him, a long way would mean he could drive her there.

"I'd like to go to Taunton," she said, "please. If that's all right. It's not far. You can drop me at --"

"You live in Taunton?" he said, hoping that he'd managed to sound merely curious rather than ecstatic. Taunton was wonderfully close to him. He could ...

"No, London," she said, "there's a train in just under an hour."

It was the worst thing possible. Taunton was only minutes away up the motorway. He wondered what to do, and while he was wondering heard himself, with horror, saying, "Oh, I can take you to London. Let me take you to London ..."

Bungling idiot. Why on earth had he said "let" in that stupid way? He was behaving like a twelve-year-old.

She looked at him severely.

"Are you going to London?" she asked.

"Yes," he didn't say.

"And I've got to step on it," he failed to add, omitting to glance at his watch.

"I wasn't," he said, "but ..." Bungling idiot.

"It's very kind of you," she said, "but really no. I like to go by train." And suddenly she was gone. Or rather, that part of her which brought her to life was gone. She looked rather distantly out the window and hummed lightly to herself.

He couldn't believe it.

Thirty seconds into the conversation, and already he'd blown it.

Grown men, he told himself, in flat contradiction of centuries of accumulated evidence about the way grown men behave, do not behave like this.

Taunton 5 miles, said the signpost.

He gripped the steering wheel so tightly the car wobbled.

He was going to have to do something dramatic.

"Fenny," he said.

She glanced round sharply at him. "You still haven't told me how --"

"Listen," said Arthur, "I will tell you, though the story is rather strange. Very strange."

She was still looking at him, but said nothing.

"Listen ..."

"You said that."

"Did I? Oh. There are things I must talk to you about, and things I must tell you ... a story I must tell you which would ..." He was thrashing about. He wanted something along the lines of "Thy knotted and combined locks to part, / And each particular hair to stand on end, / like quills upon the fretful porcupine" but didn't think he could carry it off and didn't like the hedgehog reference.

"... which would take more than five miles," he settled for in the end, rather lamely, he was afraid.

"Well ..."

"Just supposing," he said, "just supposing" -- he didn't know what was coming next, so he thought he'd just sit back and listen -- "that there was some extraordinary way in which you were very important to me, and that, though you didn't know it, I was very important to you, but it all went for nothing because we only had five miles and I was a stupid idiot at knowing how to say something very important to someone I've only just met and not crash into lorries at the same time, what would you say ..." He paused, helplessly, and looked at her.

" ... I should do?"

"Watch the road!" she yelped.


He narrowly avoided careening into the side of a hundred Italian washing machines in a German lorry.

"I think," she said, with a momentary sigh of relief, "you should buy me a drink before my train goes."
Site Admin
Posts: 31196
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:56 pm

Chapter 12

There is, for some reason, something especially grim about pubs near stations, a very particular kind of grubbiness, a special kind of pallor to the pork pies.

Worse than the pork pies, though, are the sandwiches. There is a feeling which persists in England that making a sandwich interesting, attractive, or in any way pleasant to eat is something sinful that only foreigners do.

"Make 'em dry" is the instruction buried somewhere in the collective national consciousness, "make 'em rubbery. If you have to keep the buggers fresh, do it by washing 'em once a week."

It is by eating sandwiches in pubs at Saturday lunchtime that the British seek to atone for whatever their national sins have been. They're not altogether clear what those sins are, and don't want to know either. Sins are not the sort of things one wants to know about. But whatever sins there are are amply atoned for by the sandwiches they make themselves eat.

If there is anything worse than the sandwiches, it is the sausages which sit next to them. Joyless tubes, full of gristle, floating in a sea of something hot and sad, stuck with a plastic pin in the shape of a chefs hat: a memorial, one feels, for some chef who hated the world, and died, forgotten and alone among his cats on a back stair in Stepney.

The sausages are for the ones who know what their sins are and wish to atone for something specific.

"There must be somewhere better," said Arthur.

"No time," said Fenny, glancing at her watch, "my train leaves in half an hour."

They sat at a small wobbly table. On it were some dirty glasses, and some soggy beer mats with jokes printed on them. Arthur got Fenny a tomato juice, and himself a pint of yellow water with gas in it. And a couple of sausages, he didn't know why. He bought them for something to do while the gas settled in his glass.

The barman dunked Arthur's change in a pool of beer on the bar, for which Arthur thanked him.

"All right," said Fenny, glancing at her watch, "tell me what it is you have to tell me."

She sounded, as well she might, extremely skeptical, and Arthur's heart sank. Hardly, he felt, the most conducive setting to try to explain to her as she sat there, suddenly cool and defensive, that in a sort of out-of-body dream he had had a telepathic sense that the mental breakdown she had suffered had been connected with the fact that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the Earth had been demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass, something which he alone on Earth knew anything about, having virtually witnessed it from a Vogon spaceship, and that furthermore both his body and soul ached for her unbearably and he needed deeply to go to bed with her as soon as was humanly possible.

"Fenny," he started.

"I wonder if you'd like to buy some tickets for our raffle? It's just a little one."

He glanced up sharply.

"To raise money for Anjie, who's retiring."


"And needs a kidney machine."

He was being leaned over by a rather stiffly slim, middle-aged woman with a prim knitted suit and a prim little perm, and a prim little smile that probably got licked by prim little dogs a lot.

She was holding out a small book of cloakroom tickets and a collecting tin.

"Only ten pence each," she said, "so you could probably even buy two. Without breaking the bank!" She gave a tinkly little laugh and then a curiously long sigh. Saying "without breaking the bank" had obviously given her more pleasure than anything since some G.I.s had been billeted on her in the war.

"Er, yes, all right," said Arthur, hurriedly digging in his pocket and producing a couple of coins.

With infuriating slowness, and prim theatricality, if there was such a thing, the woman tore off two tickets and handed them to Arthur.

"I do hope you win," she said with a smile that suddenly snapped together like a piece of advanced origami, "the prizes are so nice."

"Yes, thank you," said Arthur, pocketing the tickets rather brusquely and glancing at his watch.

He turned toward Fenny.

So did the woman with the raffle tickets.

"And what about you, young lady?" she said. "It's for Anjie's kidney machine. She's retiring, you see. Yes?" She hoisted the little smile even farther up her face. She would have to stop and let it go soon or the skin would surely split.

"Er, look, here you are," said Arthur, and pushed a fifty-pence piece at her in the hope that that would see her off.

"Oh, we are in the money, aren't we?" said the woman, with a long smiling sigh. "Down from London, are we?"

Arthur wished she wouldn't talk so slowly.

"No, that's all right, really," he said with a wave of his hand, as she started with an awful deliberation to peel off five tickets, one by one.

"Oh, but you must have your tickets," insisted the woman, "or you won't be able to claim your prize. They're very nice prizes, you know. Very suitable."

Arthur snatched the tickets, and said thank you as sharply as he could.

The woman turned to Fenny once again.

"And now, what about --"

"No!" Arthur nearly yelled. "These are for her," he explained, brandishing the five new tickets.

"Oh, I see! How nice!"

She smiled sickeningly at both of them.

"Well, I do hope you --"

"Yes," snapped Arthur, "thank you."

The woman finally departed to the table next to theirs. Arthur turned desperately to Fenny, and was relieved to see that she was rocking with silent laughter.

He sighed and smiled.

"Where were we?"

"You were calling me Fenny, and I was about to ask you not to."

"What do you mean?"

She twirled the little wooden cocktail stick in her tomato juice.

"It's why I asked if you were a friend of my brother's. Or half-brother really. He's the only one who calls me Fenny, and I'm not fond of him for it."

"So, what's ...?"





She looked at him sternly.

"Yes," she said, "and I'm watching you like a lynx to see if you're going to ask the same silly question that everyone asks me till I want to scream. I shall be cross and disappointed if you do. Plus I shall scream. So watch it."

She smiled, shook her hair a little forward over her face and peered at him from behind it.

"Oh," he said, "that's a little unfair, isn't it?"



"All right," she said with a laugh, "you can ask me. Might as well get it over with. Better than having you call me Fenny all the time."

"Presumably ..." said Arthur.

"We've only got two tickets left, you see, and since you were so generous when I spoke to you before --"

"What?" snapped Arthur.

The woman with the perm and the smile and the now nearly empty book of cloakroom tickets was waving the two last ones under his nose.

"I thought I'd give the opportunity to you, because the prizes are so nice."

She wrinkled up her nose a little confidentially.

"Very tasteful. I know you'll like them. And it is for Anjie's retirement present, you see. We want to give her --"

"A kidney machine, yes," said Arthur, "here."

He held out two more ten-pence pieces to her, and took the tickets.

A thought seemed to strike the woman. It struck her very slowly. You could watch it coming in like a long wave on a sandy beach.

"Oh dear," she said, "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

She peered anxiously at both of them.

"No, it's fine," said Arthur, "everything that could possibly be fine," he insisted, "is fine.

"Thank you," he added.

"I say," she said, in a delighted ecstasy of worry, "you're not ... in love, are you?"

"It's very hard to say," said Arthur. "We haven't had a chance to talk yet."

He glanced at Fenchurch. She was grinning.

The woman nodded with knowing confidentiality.

"I'll let you see the prizes in a minute," she said, and left.

Arthur turned, with a sigh, back to the girl that he found it hard to say whether he was in love with.

"You were about to ask me," she said, "a question."

"Yes," said Arthur.

"We can do it together if you like," said Fenchurch. "Was I found ..."

" ... in a handbag," joined in Arthur.

" ... in the Left Luggage office," they said together.

" ... at Fenchurch Street Station," they finished.

"And the answer," said Fenchurch, "is no."

"Fine," said Arthur.

"I was conceived there."


"I was con --"

"In the Left Luggage office?" hooted Arthur.

"No, of course not. Don't be silly. What would my parents be doing in the Left Luggage office?" she said, rather taken aback by the suggestion.

"Well, I don't know," sputtered Arthur, "or rather --"

"It was in the ticket queue."

"The --"

"The ticket queue. Or so they claim. They refuse to elaborate. They only say you wouldn't believe how bored it is possible to get in the ticket queue at Fenchurch Street Station."

She sipped demurely at her tomato juice and looked at her watch.

Arthur continued to gurgle chirpily for a moment or two.

"I'm going to have to go in a minute or two," said Fenchurch, "and you haven't begun to tell me whatever this terrifically extraordinary thing is that you were so keen to get off your chest."

"Why don't you let me drive you to London?" said Arthur. "It's Saturday, I've got nothing particular to do, I'd --"

"No," said Fenchurch, "thank you, it's sweet of you, but no. I need to be by myself for a couple of days." She smiled and shrugged.

"But --"

"You can tell me another time. I'll give you my number."

Arthur's heart went boom boom churn churn as she scribbled seven figures in pencil on a scrap of paper and handed it to him.

"Now we can relax," she said with a slow smile which filled Arthur till he thought he would burst.

"Fenchurch," he said, enjoying the name as he said it, "I --"

"A box," said a trailing voice, "of cherry liqueurs, and also, and I know you'll like this, a gramophone record of Scottish bagpipe music --

"Yes, thank you, very nice," insisted Arthur.

" I just thought I'd let you have a look at them," said the permed woman, "as you're down from London ..."

She was holding them out proudly for Arthur to see. He could see that they were indeed a box of cherry brandy liqueurs and a record of bagpipe music. That was what they were.

"I'll let you have your drink in peace now," she said, patting Arthur lightly on his seething shoulder, "but I knew you'd like to see."

Arthur reengaged his eyes with Fenchurch's once again, and suddenly was at a loss for something to say. A moment had come and gone between the two of them, but the whole rhythm of it had been wrecked by that stupid, blasted woman.

"Don't worry," said Fenchurch, looking at him steadily from over the top of her glass, "we will talk again." She took a sip.

"Perhaps," she added, "it wouldn't have gone so well if it wasn't for her." She gave a wry smile and dropped her hair forward over her face again.

It was perfectly true.

He had to admit it was perfectly true.
Site Admin
Posts: 31196
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:57 pm

Chapter 13

That night, at home, as he was prancing round the house pretending to be tripping through cornfields in slow motion and continually exploding with sudden laughter, Arthur thought he could even bear to listen to the album of bagpipe music he had won. It was eight o'clock and he decided he would make himself, force himself, to listen to the whole record before he phoned her. Maybe he should even leave it till tomorrow. That would be the cool thing to do. Or next week sometime.

No. No games. He wanted her and didn't care who knew it. He definitely and absolutely wanted her, adored her, longed for her, wanted to do more things than there were names for with her.

He actually caught himself saying things like "Yippee," as he pranced ridiculously round the house. Her eyes, her hair, her voice, everything ...

He stopped.

He would put on the record of bagpipe music. Then he would call her.

Would he, perhaps, call her first?

No. What he would do was this. He would put on the record of bagpipe music. He would listen to it, every last banshee wail of it. Then he would call her. That was the correct order. That was what he would do.

He was worried about touching things in case they blew up when he did so.

He picked up the record. It failed to blow up. He slipped it out of its cover. He opened the record player, he turned on the amp. They both survived. He giggled foolishly as he lowered the stylus onto the disk.

He sat and listened solemnly to "A Scottish Soldier."

He listened to "Amazing Grace."

He listened to something about some glen or other.

He thought about his miraculous lunchtime.

They had just been on the point of leaving when they were distracted by an awful outbreak of "yoo-hooing." The appallingly permed woman was waving to them across the room like some stupid bird with a broken wing. Everyone in the pub turned to them and seemed to be expecting some sort of response.

They hadn't listened to the bit about how pleased and happy Anjie was going to be about the £4.30 everyone had helped to raise toward the cost of her kidney machine, had been vaguely aware that someone from the next table had won a box of cherry brandy liqueurs, and took a moment or two to cotton on to the fact that the yoo-hooing lady was trying to ask them if they had ticket number 37.

Arthur discovered that he had. He glanced angrily at his watch.

Fenchurch gave him a push.

"Go on," she said, "go and get it. Don't be bad-tempered. Give them a nice speech about how pleased you are and you can give me a call and tell me how it went. I'll want to hear the record. Go on."

She flicked his arm and left.

The regulars thought his acceptance speech a little overeffusive. It was, after all, merely an album of bagpipe music.

Arthur thought about it, and listened to the music, and kept on breaking into laughter.
Site Admin
Posts: 31196
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:57 pm

Chapter 14




"Hello, yes? Yes, that's right. Yes. You'll 'ave to speak up, there's an awful lot of noise in 'ere. What?

"No, I only do the bar in the evenings. It's Yvonne who does lunch, and Jim he's the landlord. No, I wasn't on. What?

"You'll have to speak up.

"What? No, don't know nothing about no raffle. What?

"No, don't know nothing about it. 'Old on, I'll call Jim."

The barmaid put her hand over the receiver and called over the noisy bar.

"'Ere, Jim, bloke on the phone says something about he's won a raffle. He keeps on saying it's ticket 37 and he's won."

"No. there was a guy in the pub here won," shouted back the barman.

"He says 'ave we got the ticket."

"Well, how can he think he's won if he hasn't even got a ticket?"

"Jim says 'ow can you think you've won if you 'aven't even got the ticket. What?"

She put her hand over the receiver again.

"Jim, 'e keeps effing at me. Says there's a number on the ticket."

"'Course there was a number on the ticket, it was a bloody raffle ticket, wasn't it?"

"'E says 'e means it's a telephone number on the ticket."

"Put the phone down and serve the bloody customers, will you?"
Site Admin
Posts: 31196
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Return to Fiction

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests