ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

Ford thought they had come up with something that was going to do away with the wheel. Then the hitches began to develop. The sled worked well on a lake, on any small body of water. But in a large lake or on the ocean, it was useless. The waves swamped it, for it rode on the water, not above it like a flivver. Ocean travel was out. Secondly, and far worse, further testing proved that the magnetic sled would not function on land. It required a surface with a high degree of give and resilience, such as water—or snow. When driven on the ground or a pavement, the aluminum was shredded away in seconds, the wire grid torn loose immediately afterward, and the sled came to a slamming, banging halt. Finally, Kesey discovered that there was a limitation to the size of the magnetic sled. A one-man sled worked exceedingly well. A two-man sled was slightly more difficult to handle. A three-man sled required a competent and experienced driver. A four-man sled required two men and two separate wheels to control the bucking. A five-man sled was too erratic for use. The Kesey-Ford dream of revolutionizing the world suffered a severe setback.

The sleds went into production as pleasure craft. It wasn’t long before they had replaced the small boat as the favorite middle-class luxury item. The snowmobile, so popular for thirty years, died overnight. The magnetic sled could never get stuck, could never break a tread, and moved faster. It could also go places the snowmobile could never reach. Ford made money. Kesey was kept on at his research lab. But the revolution never came.

Now I rested outside the cabin on the snow, drifting slightly forward. I accelerated a bit more, brought the craft smoothly ahead, and took it around the cabin, under the trees. I pointed the front end down the white stretch of the long slope below the cabin and stepped up the propeller speed. They whined behind me. I surged forward, the trees and mounds of snow flashing past. I kept the machine at twenty, not daring to go much faster. There was just enough light reflected off the snow from the pale moon to see by, and I kept a sharp lookout for sharp rises in the landscape. If the land dropped abruptly, the sled would fall gently back to the surface without disaster. But if there was a rise that I did not pull back on the wheel to compensate for, the sled would glide into it, smash nose-first and tip over. Even if I didn’t get hurt, such an accident would damage the sled so that I would be forced to walk the rest of the way. And that was not a pleasant prospect.

When I came to the first section of woods, I decided to circle it rather than hunt a wide enough path through. Even if I did find a deer trail, I would have to slow up, for the woods were very treacherous for a sled. I soared past, curving in a wide arc around the trees. It would be an extra couple of miles around the stand of pine, but the increased speed would more than compensate for it. I moved sharply in the last moments of the high point of the arc, sending a spray of snow in a long geyser behind. The ride was exhilarating. For the first time in a long time, I felt like laughing.

I crossed more open fields beyond the wood, bringing the speed up to thirty, now that I was more sure of myself. Five minutes like that brought me to another section of forest. As I approached, I saw that it stretched to both sides, far out of sight. It looked as if I would be forced to go through the trees here. I slowed to fifteen and cruised along the edge of the woods, looking for a path. I disregarded the first two because they were windy and narrow, but the third showed regular use by elk or deer and had been beaten into a fairly well-traveled and wide thoroughfare. I turned into it, dropped my speed to eight miles an hour, and proceeded with care.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean