The Six Fingers of Time, p.1R. A. Lafferty
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This etext was produced from the September 1960 issue of If.Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U. S.copyright on this publication was renewed. Obvious printer's andpunctuation errors have been fixed. Original page numbers havebeen retained.
THE SIX FINGERS OF TIME
_Time is money. Time heals all wounds. Given time, anything is possible. And now he had all the time in the world!_
By R. A. LAFFERTY
Illustrated by GAUGHAN
He began by breaking things that morning. He broke the glass ofwater on his night stand. He knocked it crazily against theopposite wall and shattered it. Yet it shattered slowly. Thiswould have surprised him if he had been fully awake, for he hadonly reached out sleepily for it.
Nor had he wakened regularly to his alarm; he had wakened to aweird, slow, low booming, yet the clock said six, time for thealarm. And the low boom, when it came again, seemed to come fromthe clock.
He reached out and touched it gently, but it floated off thestand at his touch and bounced around slowly on the floor. Andwhen he picked it up again it had stopped, nor would shakingstart it.
He checked the electric clock in the kitchen. This also said sixo'clock, but the sweep hand did not move. In his living room theradio clock said six, but the second hand seemed stationary.
"But the lights in both rooms work," said Vincent. "How are theclocks stopped? Are they on a separate circuit?"
He went back to his bedroom and got his wristwatch. It also saidsix; and its sweep hand did not sweep.
"Now this could get silly. What is it that would stop bothmechanical and electrical clocks?"
He went to the window and looked out at the clock on the MutualInsurance Building. It said six o'clock, and the second hand didnot move.
"Well, it is possible that the confusion is not limited tomyself. I once heard the fanciful theory that a cold shower willclear the mind. For me it never has, but I will try it. I canalways use cleanliness for an excuse."
The shower didn't work. Yes, it did: the water came now, but notlike water; like very slow syrup that hung in the air. He reachedup to touch it there hanging down and stretching. And itshattered like glass when he touched it and drifted in fantasticslow globs across the room. But it had the feel of water, wet andpleasantly cool. And in a quarter of a minute or so it was downover his shoulders and back, and he luxuriated in it. He let itsoak his head and it cleared his wits at once.
"There is not a thing wrong with me. I am fine. It is not myfault that the water is slow this morning and other things awry."
He reached for the towel and it tore to pieces in his hands likeporous wet paper.
Now he became very careful in the way he handled things. Slowly,tenderly, and deftly he took them so that they would not break.He shaved himself without mishap in spite of the slow water inthe lavatory also.
Then he dressed himself with the greatest caution and cunning,breaking nothing except his shoe laces, a thing that is likely tohappen at any time.
"If there is nothing the matter with me, then I will check andsee if there is anything seriously wrong with the world. The dawnwas fairly along when I looked out, as it should have been.Approximately twenty minutes have passed; it is a clear morning;the sun should now have hit the top several stories of theInsurance Building."
But it had not. It was a clear morning, but the dawn had notbrightened at all in the twenty minutes. And that big clockstill said six. It had not changed.
Yet it had changed, and he knew it with a queer feeling. Hepictured it as it had been before. The hour and the minute handhad not moved noticeably. But the second hand had moved. It hadmoved a third of the dial.
So he pulled up a chair to the window and watched it. He realizedthat, though he could not see it move, yet it did make progress.He watched it for perhaps five minutes. It moved through a spaceof perhaps five seconds.
"Well, that is not my problem. It is that of the clock maker,either a terrestrial or a celestial one."
But he left his rooms without a good breakfast, and he left themvery early. How did he know that it was early since there wassomething wrong with the time? Well, it was early at leastaccording to the sun and according to the clocks, neither ofwhich institutions seemed to be working properly.
He left without a good breakfast because the coffee would notmake and the bacon would not fry. And in plain point of fact thefire would not heat. The gas flame came from the pilot light likea slowly spreading stream or an unfolding flower. Then it burnedfar too steadily. The skillet remained cold when placed over it;nor would water even heat. It had taken at least five minutes toget the water out of the faucet in the first place.
He ate a few pieces of leftover bread and some scraps of meat.
In the street there was no motion, no real motion. A truck, firstseeming at rest, moved very slowly. There was no gear in which itcould move so slowly. And there was a taxi which crept along, butCharles Vincent had to look at it carefully for some time to besure that it was in motion. Then he received a shock. He realizedby the early morning light that the driver of it was dead. Deadwith his eyes wide open!
Slowly as it was going, and by whatever means it was moving, itshould really be stopped. He walked over to it, opened the door,and pulled on the brake. Then he looked into the eyes of the deadman. Was he really dead? It was hard to be sure. He felt warm.But, even as Vincent looked, the eyes of the dead man had begunto close. And close they did and open again in a matter of abouttwenty seconds.
This was weird. The slowly closing and opening eyes sent a chillthrough Vincent. And the dead man had begun to lean forward inhis seat. Vincent put a hand in the middle of the man's chest tohold him upright, but he found the forward pressure as relentlessas it was slow. He was unable to keep the dead man up.
So he let him go, watching curiously; and in a few seconds thedriver's face was against the wheel. But it was almost as if ithad no intention of stopping there. It pressed into the wheelwith dogged force. He would surely break his face. Vincent tookseveral holds on the dead man and counteracted the pressuresomewhat. Yet the face was being damaged, and if things werenormal, blood would have flowed.
The man had been dead so long however, that (though he was stillwarm) his blood must have congealed, for it was fully two minutesbefore it began to ooze.
"Whatever I have done, I have done enough damage," said Vincent."And, in whatever nightmare I am in, I am likely to do furtherharm if I meddle more. I had better leave it alone."
He walked on down the morning street. Yet whatever vehicles hesaw were moving with an incredible slowness, as though driven bysome fantastic gear reduction. And there were people here andthere frozen solid. It was a chilly morning, but it was not thatcold. They were immobile in positions of motion, as though theywere playing the children's game of Statues.
"How is it," said Charles Vincent, "that this young girl (who Ibelieve works across the street from us) should have diedstanding up and in full stride? But, no. She is not dead. Or, ifso, she died with a very alert expression. And--oh, my God, she'sdoing it too!"
For he realized that the eyes of the girl were closing, and inthe space of no more than a quarter of a second they hadcompleted their cycle and were open again. Also, and this waseven stranger, she had moved, moved forward in full stride. Hewould have timed her if he could, bu
He went into the cafeteria. The early morning crowd that he hadoften watched through the windows was there. The girl who madeflapjacks in the window had just flipped one and it hung in theair. Then it floated over as if caught by a slight breeze, andsank slowly down as if settling in water.
The breakfasters, like the people in the street, were all dead inthis new way, moving with almost imperceptible motion. And allhad apparently died in the act of drinking coffee, eating eggs,or munching toast. And if there were only time enough, there waseven a chance that they would get the drinking, eating, andmunching done with, for there was the shadow of movement in themall.
The cashier had the register drawer open and money in her hand,and the hand of the customer was outstretched for it. In time,somewhere in the new leisurely time, the hands would cometogether and the change be given. And so it happened. It may havebeen a minute and a half, or two minutes, or two and
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