Humphrey

    (short short story)




Old Humphrey at 80 stood at the edge of The Grand Canyon and he knew. He knew there was this world and it was very big and full of visions, some of which could be touched and some only distant. Then there was the gateway and a backward—gear-broken cheaply made time machine. And there was the gateway to things that didn't exist at all, except elements did, pasted together with wishes. All this kept him continuously young and hopeful. So he stood, bandy-legged, in his old man touristy shorts showing his crusty, bumpy stomach to a disinterested crowd of young tourists from The University of Northern Arizona.

Standing amidst the forest of memories that clouded his eyes and made him keep shaking his head, the vision of one twelve-year-old girl, when he was sitting on the root of a tree back in Maryland, when she asked, “are you a man or a boy?” Aside from blushing, he didn't know how to respond at fourteen.

Electronics made a lot of things possible that couldn't have happened before. Humphrey knew that there were lots of other worlds with larger canyons even than this. He knew that they were all the same once you landed on them though. You always fell downward and had the familiar difficulty with your bandy knees, walking. The sky was some boring color. And they always felt like what they were, worlds, places. You coped with them.

“Another planet,” he chanted, “another planet, small steps.”

When it's morning and I emerge from the first circle where there is only me dripping with ectoplasmic yolk. The sunlight is low, reminding me loudly through the window. I come out of it slowly and meet with you, people of the symbol, halfway out of dreams. Slowly my sources of pain, fragrance, touch come back to me.
Then, the voice of a young woman broke through the milk of his Humphrey's mind.
“Dad! Dad!” the female voice was saying. He turned slowly, absently. Who was this girl? He was rising from a coma. “We have to go,” she was saying.
Then he said something that scared her. “You don't need this world of feet, Wendy. There is enough in you. You can live forever in a world of whispers and dreams.”
It occurred to him—the heat and the reverie were doing odd things to his brain. Now now I'm back to earth, boring and real, real and boring, when there is so much out there, unbelievable adventure. Humphrey looked at his daughter whom he began to recognize again.

“Yes, I'm coming.”
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