“Hitchcock!” he cried, as loud as he could, almost frantically, as if he himself were falling over a cliff. “It’s me. It’s your pal! Hey!”
Clemens turned and walked away out of the silent room.
Twelve hours later another alarm bell rang.
After all of the running had died down, the captain explained: “Hitchcock snapped out of it for a minute or so. He was alone. He climbed into a space suit. He opened an airlock. Then he walked out into space—alone.”
Clemens blinked through the immense glass port, where there was a blur of stars and distant blackness. “He’s out there now?”
“Yes. A million miles behind us. We’d never find him. First time I knew he was outside the ship was when his helmet radio came in on our control-room beam. I heard him talking to himself.”
“What did he say?”
“Something like ‘No more space ship now. Never was any. No people. No people in all the universe. Never were any. No planets. No stars.’ That’s what he said. And then he said something about his hands and feet and legs. ‘No hands,’ he said. ‘I haven’t any hands any more. Never had any. No feet. Never had any. Can’t prove it. No body. Never had any. No lips. No face. No head. Nothing. Only space. Only space. Only the gap.’”
The men turned quietly to look from the glass port out into the remote and cold stars.
Space, thought Clemens. The space that Hitchcock loved so well. Space, with nothing on top, nothing on the bottom, a lot of empty nothings between, and Hitchcock falling in the middle of the nothing, on his way to no particular night and no particular morning. . . .
* * *
The Fox and the Forest
THERE WERE fireworks the very first night, things that you should be afraid of perhaps, for they might remind you of other more horrible things, but these were beautiful, rockets that ascended into the ancient soft air of Mexico and shook the stars apart in blue and white fragments. Everything was good and sweet, the air was that blend of the dead and the living, of the rains and the dusts, of the incense from the church, and the brass smell of the tubas on the bandstand which pulsed out vast rhythms of “La Paloma.” The church doors were thrown wide and it seemed as if a giant yellow constellation had fallen from the October sky and lay breathing fire upon the church walls; a million candles sent their color and fumes about. Newer and better fireworks scurried like tight-rope walking comets across the cool-filed square, banged against adobe café walls, then rushed on hot wires to bash the high church tower, in which boys’ naked feet alone could be seen kicking and re-kicking, clanging and tilting and re-tilting the monster bells into monstrous music. A flaming bull blundered about the plaza chasing laughing men and screaming children.
“The year is 1938,” said William Travis, standing by his wife on the edge of the yelling crowd, smiling. “A good year.”
The bull rushed upon them. Ducking, the couple ran, with fire balls pelting them, past the music and riot, the church, the band, under the stars, clutching each other, laughing. The bull passed, carried lightly on the shoulders of a charging Mexican, a framework of bamboo and sulphurous gunpowder.
“I’ve never enjoyed myself so much in my life.” Susan Travis had stopped for her breath.
“It’s amazing,” said William.
“It will go on, won’t it?”
“No, I mean our trip.”
He frowned and patted his breast pocket. “I’ve enough traveler’s checks for a lifetime. Enjoy yourself. Forget it. They’ll never find us.”
Now someone was setting off giant crackers, hurling them from the great bell-tolling tower of the church in a sputter of smoke, while the crowd below fell back under the threat and the crackers exploded in wonderful concussions among their dancing feet and flailing bodies. A wondrous smell of frying tortillas hung all about, and in the cafés men sat at tables looking out, mugs of beer in their brown hands.
The bull was dead. The fire was out of the bamboo tubes and he was expended. The laborer lifted the framework from his shoulders. Little boys clustered to touch the magnificent papier-mâché head, the real horns.