“God bless!”

He slammed a lever, whirled a knob, and the machine, in a spiral of metal, a whisk of butterfly ribbon, very simply-vanished.

A moment later, the Mobius Machine gave a twist of its atoms and-returned.

“Voila!” cried Harrison Cooper, pink-faced and wild-eyed. ‘It’s done!”

“So soon?” exclaimed his friend Samuel “A minute here, but hours there!”

“Did you succeed?”

“Look! Proof positive.”

For tears dripped off his chin.

“What happened? what?!”

“This, and this … and …this!”

A gyroscope spun, a celebratory ribbon spiraled endlessly on itself, and the ghost of a massive window curtain haunted the air, exhaled, and then ceased.

As if fallen from a delivery-chute, the books arrived almost before the footfalls and then the half-seen feet and then the fog-wrapped legs and body and at last the head of a man who, as the ribbon spiraled itself back into emptiness, crouched over the volumes as if warming himself at a hearth.

He touched the books and listened to the air in the dim hallway where dinnertime voices drifted up from below and a door stood wide near his elbow, from which the faint scent of illness came and went, arrived and departed, with the stilted breathing of some patient within the room. Plates and silverware sounded from the world of evening and quiet good health downstairs. The hall and the sickroom were for a time deserted. In a moment, someone might ascend with a tray for the half-sleeping man in the intemperate room.

Harrison Cooper rose with stealth, checking the stairwell, and then, carrying a sweet burden of books, moved into the room, where candles lit both sides of a bed on which the dying man lay supine, arms straight at his sides, head weighting the pillow, eyes grimaced shut, mouth set as if daring the ceiling, mortality itself, to sink and extinguish him.

At the first touch of the books, now on one side, now on the other, of his bed, the old man’s eyelids fluttered, his dry lips cracked; the air whistled from his nostrils:

“Who’s there?” he whispered. “what time is it?”

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth, whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, then I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can,” replied the traveler at the foot of the bed, quietly.

“What, what?” the old man in the bed whispered swiftly. “It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation,” quoted the visitor, who now moved to place a book under each of the dying man’s hands where his tremoring fingers could scratch, pull away, then touch, Braille-like, again.

One by one, the stranger held up book after book, to show the covers, then a page, and yet another title page where printed dates of this novel surfed up, adrift, but to stay forever on some far future shore.

The sick man’s eyes lingered over the covers, the tides, the dates, and then fixed to his visitor’s bright face. He exhaled, stunned. “My God, you have the look of a traveler. From where?”

“Do the years show?” Harrison Cooper leaned forward. “Well, then-I bring you an Annunciation.”

“Such things come to pass only with virgins,” whispered the old man. “No virgin lies here buried under his unread books.”

“I come to unbury you. I bring tidings from a far place.” The sick man’s eyes moved to the books beneath his trembling hands.

“Mine?” he whispered.

The traveler nodded solemnly, but began to smile when the color in the old man’s face grew warmer arid the expression in his eyes and on his mouth was suddenly eager.

“Is there hope. then?”

“There is!”

“I believe you.” The old man took a breath and then wondered, “Why?”

“Because,” said the stranger at the foot of the bed, “I love you.”

“I do not know you, sir!”

“But I know you fore and aft, port to starboard, main topgallants to gunnels, every day in your long life to here!”

“Oh, the sweet sound!” cried the old man. “Every word that you say, every light from your eyes, is foundation-of-the-world true! How can it be?” Tears winked from the old man’s lids. “Why?”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray