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by Thor May
first published in
OMEGA Science Digest
Sydney, April 1984, p.118
copyright (c) Thor May 1997, all rights reserved
Bits of Clarry kept leaking into the past. Small bits but there they were; enough to be troublesome. A typical bit of future Clarry would dribble back from two seconds ahead. But yesterday he had thrown up his arm a whole minute before a drunk in the Winsome Hotel had taken a swing at him.
Memories from the future Clarry weren't so bad. The younger Clarry could chew them over for a bit and when their proper time came, deliver with some panache and a turn of phrase that had begun to startle his lecturers. Clarry was a mediocre student in a mediocre regional university. McKinnock's jaw had fairly dropped when Clarry anticipated the exposition of Chomsky's Minimum Distance Principle by fully 30 seconds. McKinnock was just a chapter ahead of his students, and this kind of prescience threatened a major catastrophe.
Janet edged away from him a little after that moment too. She was a sensible girl who had been confident of managing a comfortable and placid fellow like Clarry. But Clarry didn't mind this new notoriety for intellect too much. The novelty gave a rather pleasant twist to old put-downs and, anyhow, another species of woman had begun to notice him. Yolanda.
Trouble was, the damned leaks didn't seem to be selective. They were as likely to be a gross neuro-muscular signal as a future memory of McKinnock's lecture. Take that embarrassing feint in the Winsome's bar. Hell, people would think he was cracking up if it happened too often. Placid Clarry was beginning to exercise new-found and morbid speculations. Imagine wetting his pants five minutes before heading for the loo. Or kissing Yolanda before she was psyched up for the event.
But the final contribution of future Clarry to younger Clarry was to be a show-stopper. No one would ever really understand why it had happened at a demonstration. They would never know why the weather had conspired so cruelly with fate.
The demonstration had been arranged with the confident assumption of normal atmospheric opacity. But there were days in that valley where Clarry lived when the past seemed to claim the scarred landscape of its industrial present. The air, which was normally a hazy emulsion of fine grey ash with the pungent overtones of a nearby factory, would, on such mornings, expand with intimidating clarity to a horizon of mountains and distant bushland. Postcards, stocked in those newsagencies near the tour-bus depots, strove to capture this ambience, like postcards the world over, but the locals never really believed in such weather. It didn't suit the functional architecture. It was a cosmic mistake..
The shockingly clear weather on the day of the demonstration was an embarrassment to the organisers and a distinct discouragement to the marchers. Individuals felt exposed, naked. The whole thing was going wrong. Mass movements, with their blur of colour, the fused hum of common speech, the shapeless but commanding resonance from mobile loudspeaker systems, could give people a sense of belonging to something at once powerful, daring and morally right, something greater than themselves. "I was there," they could say later, and everyone knew immediately what being there meant.
Clarry was there and wished he wasn't. Demonstrations weren't his thing and this one wasn't even a proper demonstration. The weather was making it look like a group of people with individual ideas. When the Channel 3 reporter put a microphone under the noses of these people today they wouldn't have the courage of The Movement. They were going to stumble and say something personal like "I'm not sure. What do you think?"
Clarry usually said things like that anyway. He was only here because Yolanda had said "see you at the demo" in a voice that made it clear that all the real people would be there. Actually it was a Labour Day march, which gave a certain solidity to all the other' causes that turned up under hand-painted banners. Clarry wasn't sure what cause he belonged to. He was looking for Yolanda.
That was how he came to be standing on the back of a truck when his hair burnt. A march steward with a black arm-band and a megaphone was just about to chase Clarry off the truck when it happened. The steward gasped audibly into the megaphone. It was enough to attract some attention, but Clare's shriek a second later riveted the crowed. A white hot bayonet had slashed his scalp, a shaft of heat so intense that all consciousness contracted into that dreadful, life-seeking sound.
It was odd, really, that the hair burning had come first and by itself. There was no accounting for the pattern of time leaks. Then again, there was no special reason to expect the final slow-motion metamorphosis of younger Clary into future Clarry. Perhaps the intensity of the hair burning triggered something.
In any case, when Clare's eyes melted and ran down his cheeks, Yolanda was watching. They all were. In the terrible , clear air they saw his skin burst and his fat sizzle on to the aluminium tray of the truck.
They were there
with Clarry in his agony. Certainly nobody happened to be looking north
five minutes later. They never saw the fireball.
copyright (c) Thor May 1997, all rights reserved