I AM THE DOORWAY
Richard and I sat on my porch, looking out over the dunes to the Gulf. The smoke from his cigar drifted mellowly in the air, keeping the mosquitoes at a safe distance. The water was a cool aqua, the sky a deeper, truer blue. It was a pleasant combination.
‘You are the doorway,’ Richard repeated thoughtfully. ‘You are sure you killed the boy – you didn’t just dream it?’
‘I didn’t dream it. And I didn’t kill him, either – I told you that. They did. I am the doorway.’
Richard sighed. ‘You buried him?’
‘You remember where?’
‘Yes.’ I reached into my breast pocket and got a cigarette. My hands were awkward with their covering of bandages. They itched abominably. ‘If you want to see it, you’ll have to get the dune buggy. You can’t roll this -‘ I indicated my wheelchair – ‘through the sand.’ Richard’s dune buggy was a 1959 VW with pillow-sized tyres. He collected driftwood in it. Ever since he retired from the real estate business in Maryland he had been living on Key Caroline and building driftwood sculptures which he sold to the winter tourists at shameless prices.
He puffed his cigar and looked out at the Gulf. ‘Not yet. Will you tell me once more?’
I sighed and tried to light my cigarette. He took the matches away from me and did it himself. I puffed twice, dragging deep. The itch in my fingers was maddening.
‘All right,’ I said. ‘Last night at seven I was out here, looking at the Gulf and smoking, just like now, and J..’
‘Go further back,’ he invited.
‘Tell me about the flight.’
I shook my head. ‘Richard, we’ve been through it and through it. There’s nothing -‘
The seamed and
fissured face was as enigmatic as one of his own driftwood sculptures. ‘You may remember,’ he said. ‘Now you may remember.’
‘Do you think so?’
‘Possibly. And when you’re through, we can look for the grave.’
‘The grave,’ I said. It had a hollow, horrible ring, darker than anything, darker even than all that terrible ocean Cory and I had sailed through five years ago. Dark, dark, dark.
Beneath the bandages, my new eyes stared blindly into the darkness the bandages forced on them. They itched.
Cory and I were boosted into orbit by the Saturn 16, the one all the commentators called the Empire State Building booster. It was a big beast, all right. It made the old Saturn 1-B look like a Redstone, and it took off from a bunker two hundred feet deep – it had to, to keep from taking half of Cape Kennedy with it.
We swung around the earth, verifying all our systems, and then did our inject. Headed out for Venus. We left a Senate fighting over an appropriations bill for further deep-space exploration, and a bunch of NASA people praying that we would find something, anything.
‘It don’t matter what,’ Don Lovinger, Project Zeus’s private whiz kid, was very fond of saying when he’d had a few. ‘You got all the gadgets, plus five souped-up TV cameras and a nifty little telescope with a zillion lenses and filters. Find some gold or platinum. Better yet, find some nice, dumb little blue men for us to study and exploit and feel superior to. Anything. Even the ghost of Howdy Doody would be a start.’
Cory and I were anxious enough to oblige, if we could. Nothing had worked for the deep-space programme.