Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online
Come, enjoy a Carl Jacobi field day—backed by his vivid, irresistible imagination and his keen sense of fun. Or was it so funny for Martin Sutter? For, unlike him, you’ll surely be cautious the next time you turn on your TV set—especially if you notice it was made in Tanganyika.
by … Carl Jacobi
See what happens when two conchologists get caught in a necromantic nightmare of their own.
On his fortieth birthday Martin Sutter decided life was too short to continue in the rut that had been his existence for more than twenty years. He withdrew his savings from the Explosion City Third Federal Bank, stopped in a display room and informed a somewhat surprised clerk he was taking the electric runabout with the blue bonnet. The ground-car, complete with extras, retailed for a tidy three thousand credits.
To accustom himself to the car’s controls Sutter chose Highway 56 for a driving lesson. He tooled the electric runabout up into the third level, purred out across state at an effortless two hundred, then descended via a cloverleaf to ground tier and entered a maze of subsidiary roads that led through the summer countryside.
In this manner he drove the major part of the afternoon. Travel was light, away from the elevated lanes and he enjoyed himself.
At four o’clock he began to look for a convenient place to turn around. It was then that he sighted the roadside stand ahead. Above it a freshly painted sign read: TV SETS. LATEST MODELS. SPECIAL WHOLESALE PRICES!
Sutter smiled. Whoever heard of selling television sets on a country highway? It was like—why, it was like selling eggs in the lobby of the Hotel International! Then it occurred to him that his own TV set had not been in good working order for more than a year. The olfactory control had jammed last week while he was watching a Sumatran tribal ceremony, inland from Soerabaja, and he had been unable to smell the backdrop frangipani blossoms. It was time he bought a new set….
Sutter touched a stud and the electric runabout coasted to a halt. As he climbed out of the car and walked across the highway toward the stand, he thought for a moment there was something wrong with his contact lenses or perhaps his eyes.
The stand and the sign above it appeared to waver uncertainly, to become disjointed as though viewed through uneven glass. But the effect passed and Sutter approached the stand and nodded to the individual tilted back in a chair beside it.
He was a rawboned man with a thatch of thick black hair and small watery eyes. He was dressed, oddly enough, in a pair of tight-fitting trousers of white lawn, a flaming red tunic and a yellow cummerbund.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “Can I show you something in a new TV?”
“Where are they?” asked Sutter, surveying the empty stand.
“Out back,” replied the man. “Just a minute and I’ll show you.”
He rose lazily from his chair and led the way around to the rear of the stand. Sutter could have sworn he had seen an apple orchard behind the structure as he rode up, but he must have been mistaken for now he saw a low-roofed, aluminum-walled building there, huge doors open on one side. It looked, he thought, somewhat like a hangar….
Two hours later Sutter arrived back at his home in town. He parked the car, went around to the rear compartment, lifted out a large packing case and carried it to his sitting room. There, with the aid of hammer and crowbar, he stripped away the protective boards and then trundled the cabinet to an unoccupied corner.
It was certainly a unique TV set. A very new model, the salesman had said. The cabinet was shaped like a delta with a cube surmounted on the pointed end of the triangle. The cube held the screen, the triangle, the controls. Finished in a subdued ochre color, the set captured the light of the dying day that filtered through the bay window and gleamed with a soft radiance.
Sutter looked at the control panel and his smile of satisfaction faded somewhat. It looked a little complicated….
Instead of the usual knobs there were five small spoked wheels, each closely calibrated in lavender with resilient studs that seemed to be made of plush. Below this was a small dial with the legend Element of Probability lettered on it.
Sutter was about to switch on the set when the door buzzer sounded. He crossed to the door and pulled it open.
A tall gangly man stood there. Swarthy, face partially covered by a neatly trimmed beard, he looked the conventional picture of a story-book villain. He wore a broad-brimmed hat and an under-slung pipe was clamped in his teeth. He said in a deep booming voice, “Are you Mr. Martin Sutter?”
“Yes, I am. What can I do for you?”
The man said his name was Lucien Travail. He explained that he had been looking for a room and that Mrs. Conworth, the landlady, had informed him she had no vacancies but suggested that her roomer, Mr. Sutter, might be interested in a roommate.
“Of course I realize you don’t know me but I believe our strangeness will be offset by our mutual hobby.”
Sutter was silent, waiting for him to continue.
“I collect shells,” Travail said.
For thirty years Sutter had pursued a hobby which had begun in his boyhood days during summer vacations at the seashore—the collecting of exoskeletons of mollusks and crustaceans. Long ago his assortment of cowries, spiny combs and yellow dragon-castles had outgrown their glass cabinet and overflowed into three carefully catalogued packing cases.
To Sutter, anyone who liked shells was a person above suspicion. Thus it was that two days later, after a casual checking of the bearded man’s references, he invited Travail to move in with him.
During those two days Sutter tried unsuccessfully to put his new television set into operation. But the set refused to work. Turn the queer dials as he would, all he could get on the elliptical screen was a blur of blinding colors.