“Your head knocks heaven, Mr. Wetherby,” said the doctor dryly. “But your roots ache for sustenance, water, minerals, air. You stroke and pump wildly, but go nowhere. Once off that rack, will you not fall on your side, destroyed?”

“Nay, nay.” Wetherby, in gusts, pumped again. “For I have discovered some physics, as yet nameless. The faster you propel this bodily device, the less tendency to fall left or right but continue straight, if no obstacles prevent!”

“With only two wheels beneath? Prove it. Release your invention, set it free in flight, let us see you sustain your forward motion without breaking your bum!”

“Oh, God, shut up!” cried Wetherby as his kindling legs thrashed the pedals, racketing round as he leaned into a phantom wind, eyes clenched against an invisible storm, and churned the wheels to a frenzy. “Don’t you hear? Listen. That whine, that cry, that whisper. The ghost in the machine, which promises things most new, unseen, unrealized, only a dream now but tomorrow – Great God, don’t you see?! If I were on a real path this would be swifter than gazelles, a panic of deer! All pedestrians vanquished. All coach-and-horses in dust! Not twenty miles a day, but thirty, forty miles in a single glorious hour! Stand off, Time. Beware, meadow-beasts! Here glides, in full plummet, Wetherby with nothing to stop him!”

“Aye,” said the Searcher dryly, “you pump up a storm on that stand. But, set free, how would you balance on only two wheels!?”

“Like this!” cried Wetherby, and with a thrust of his hands and an uplift of frame, seized the Traveler, the Motion Machine, the Pathfinder, up free of its stand and in an instant plunged through the room and out the door, with Dr. Goff, in full pursuit, yelling:

“Stop! You’ll kill yourself!”

“No, exhilarate my heart, oxygenate my blood!” cried Wetherby, and there he was in a chicken-yard he had trampled flat, paths some sixty feet around on which he now flailed his metal machine with scythings of ankle, toe, heel, and leg, sucking air, gusting out great laughs. “See? I do not fall! Two legs, two wheels, and: presto!”

“My God!” cried Dr. Goff, eyes thrust forth like hardboiled eggs. “God’s truth! How so?!”

“I fly forward faster than I fall downward, an unguessed law of physics. But lo! I almost fly. Fly! Good-bye horses, doomed and dead!”

And with “dead” he was overcome with such a delirium of pant and pump, perspiration raining off him in showers, that with a great cry, he wobbled and was flung, a meteor of flesh, over and down on a coop where the chickens, in dumb feather-duster alarms, exploded in shrieks as Wetherby slid in one direction while his vehicle, self-motivated, wheels a-spin, mounted Dr. Goff, who jumped aside, fearful of being spliced.

Wetherby, helped to his feet, protested his trajectory:

“Ignore that! Do you at last understand?”

“Fractures, wounds, broken skulls, yes!”

“No, a future brave with motion, ‘tween my legs. You have come a long way, Doctor. Will you adopt and further my machine?”

“Well,” said the doctor, already out of the yard, into the house, and to the front door, his face confused, his wits a patch of nettles. “Ah,” he said.

“Say you will, Doctor. Or my device dies, and I with it!”

“But.. .” said the doctor and opened the outer door, only to draw back, alarmed. “What have I done!” he cried.

Peering over his shoulder, Wetherby expressed further alarm. “Your presence is known, Doctor; the word has spread. A lunatic has come to visit a lunatic.”

And it was true. On the road and in the front garden yard were some twelve or twenty farmers and villagers, some with rocks, some with clubs, and with looks of malice or outright hostility caught in their eyes and mouths.

“There they are!” someone cried.

“Have you come to take him away?” someone else shouted.

“Yah” echoed the struggling crowd, moving forward.

Thinking quickly, Dr. Goff replied, “Yes. I will take him away!” And turned back to the old man.

“Take me where, Doctor?” whispered Wetherby, clutching his elbow.

“One moment!” cried the doctor to the crowd, which then subsided in murmurs. “Let me think.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray