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To remember charlie by, p.3
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       To Remember Charlie By, p.3

           Roger D. Aycock
 
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couldn't tell us anything more about the kid's newfixation than we already knew. When she asked him why he stared up atthe sky like that he'd say only that he wants something to rememberCharlie by.

  It was about nine o'clock, when Ethel went home to cook supper. Docand I knocked off our cribbage game and went outside with our foldingchairs to get some air. It was then that the first star moved.

  It moved all of a sudden, the way any shooting star does, and shotacross the sky in a curving, blue-white streak of fire. I didn't paymuch attention, but Doc nearly choked on his beer.

  "Roy," he said, "that was Sirius! _It moved!_"

  I didn't see anything serious about it and said so. You can see adozen or so stars zip across the sky on any clear night if you're inthe mood to look up.

  "Not serious, you fool," Doc said. "The _star_ Sirius--the Dog Star,it's called--it moved a good sixty degrees, _then stopped dead_!"

  I sat up and took notice then, partly because the star really hadstopped instead of burning out the way a falling star seems to do,partly because anything that excites Doc Shull that much is somethingto think about.

  We watched the star like two cats at a mouse-hole, but it didn't moveagain. After a while a smaller one did, though, and later in the nighta whole procession of them streaked across the sky and fell into placearound the first one, forming a pattern that didn't make any sense tous. They stopped moving around midnight and we went to bed, butneither of us got to sleep right away.

  "Maybe we ought to look for another interest in life ourselves insteadof drumming up one for Joey," Doc said. He meant it as a joke but ithad a shaky sound; "Something besides getting beered up every night,for instance."

  "You think we've got the d.t.'s from drinking _beer_?" I asked.

  Doc laughed at that, sounding more like his old self. "No, Roy. Notwo people ever had instantaneous and identical hallucinations."

  "Look," I said. "I know this sounds crazy but maybe Joey--"

  Doc wasn't amused any more. "Don't be a fool, Roy. If those starsreally moved you can be sure of two things--Joey had nothing to dowith it, and the papers will explain everything tomorrow."

  He was wrong on one count at least.

  The papers next day were packed with scareheads three inches high butnone of them explained anything. The radio commentators quoted everyauthority they could reach, and astronomers were going crazyeverywhere. It just couldn't happen, they said.

  Doc and I went over the news column by column that night and I learnedmore about the stars than I'd learned in a lifetime. Doc, as I've saidbefore, is an educated man, and what he couldn't recall offhand aboutastronomy the newspapers quoted by chapter and verse. They raninterviews with astronomers at Harvard Observatory and Mount Wilsonand Lick and Flagstaff and God knows where else, but nobody couldexplain why all of those stars would change position then stop.

  It set me back on my heels to learn that Sirius was twice as big asthe Sun and more than twice as heavy, that it was three times as hotand had a little dark companion that was more solid than lead butdidn't give off enough light to be seen with the naked eye. Thislittle companion--astronomers called it the "Pup" because Sirius wasthe Dog Star--hadn't moved, which puzzled the astronomers no end. Isuggested to Doc, only half joking, that maybe the Pup had stayed putbecause it wasn't bright enough to suit Joey's taste, but Doc calledme down sharp.

  "Don't joke about Joey," he said sternly. "Getting back toSirius--it's so far away that its light needs eight and a half yearsto reach us. That means it started moving when Joey was only eighteenmonths old. The speed of light is a universal constant, Roy, andastronomers say it can't be changed."

  "They said the stars couldn't be tossed around like pool balls, too,"I pointed out. "I'm not saying that Joey really moved those damnstars, Doc, but if he did he could have moved the light along withthem, couldn't he?"

  But Doc wouldn't argue the point. "I'm going out for air," he said.

  I trailed along, but we didn't get farther than Joey's wheelchair.

  There he sat, tense and absorbed, staring up at the night sky. Doc andI followed his gaze, the way you do automatically when somebody on thestreet ahead of you cranes his neck at something. We looked up justin time to see the stars start moving again.

  The first one to go was a big white one that slanted across the skylike a Roman candle fireball--_zip_, like that--and stopped deadbeside the group that had collected around Sirius.

  Doc said, "There went Altair," and his voice sounded like he had justrun a mile.

  That was only the beginning. During the next hour forty or fifty morestars flashed across the sky and joined the group that had moved thenight before. The pattern they made still didn't look like anything inparticular.

  I left Doc shaking his head at the sky and went over to give Joey, whohad called it a night and was hand-rolling his wheelchair toward thePond trailer, a boost up the entrance ramp. I pushed him inside whereDoc couldn't hear, then I asked him how things were going.

  "Slow, Roy," he said. "I've got 'most a hundred to go, yet."

  "Then you're really moving those stars up there?"

  He looked surprised. "Sure, it's not so hard once you know how."

  The odds were even that he was pulling my leg, but I went ahead anywayand asked another question.

  "I can't make head or tail of it, Joey," I said. "What're you makingup there?"

  He gave me a very small smile.

  "You'll know when I'm through," he said.

  I told Doc about that after we'd bunked in, but he said I should notencourage the kid in his crazy thinking. "Joey's heard everybodytalking about those stars moving, the radio newscasters blared aboutit, so he's excited too. But he's got a lot more imagination than mostpeople, because he's a cripple, and he could go off on a crazy tangentbecause he's upset about Charlie. The thing to do is give him alogical explanation instead of letting him think his fantasy is afact."

  Doc was taking all this so hard--because it was upsetting things he'dtaken for granted as being facts all his life, like those astronomerswho were going nuts in droves all over the world. I didn't realize howupset Doc really was, though, till he woke me up at about 4:00 A.M.

  "I can't sleep for thinking about those stars," he said, sitting onthe edge of my bunk. "Roy, I'm _scared_."

  That from Doc was something I'd never expected to hear. It startled mewide enough awake to sit up in the dark and listen while he unloadedhis worries.

  "I'm afraid," Doc said, "because what is happening up there isn'tright or natural. It just can't be, yet it is."

  It was so quiet when he paused that I could hear the blood swishing inmy ears. Finally Doc said, "Roy, the galaxy we live in is asdelicately balanced as a fine watch. If that balance is upset too farour world will be affected drastically."

  Ordinarily I wouldn't have argued with Doc on his own ground, but Icould see he was painting a mental picture of the whole universecrashing together like a Fourth of July fireworks display and I wasafraid to let him go on.

  "The trouble with you educated people," I said, "is that you thinkyour experts have got everything figured out, that there's nothing inthe world their slide-rules can't pin down. Well, I'm an illiteratemugg, but I know that your astronomers can measure the stars tillthey're blue in the face and they'll never learn who _put_ those starsthere. So how do they know that whoever put them there won't move themagain? I've always heard that if a man had faith enough he could movemountains. Well, if a man has the faith in himself that Joey's gotmaybe he could move stars, too."

  Doc sat quiet for a minute.

  "'_There are more things, Horatio...._'" he began, then laughed. "Aline worn threadbare by three hundred years of repetition but as apttonight as ever, Roy. Do you really believe Joey is moving thosestars?"

  "Why not?" I came back. "It's as good an answer as any the expertshave come up with."

  Doc got up and went back to his own bunk. "Maybe you're right. We'llfind out tomorrow."

  And we did. Doc did,
rather, while I was hard at work hauling redsnappers up from the bottom of the Gulf.

  * * * * *

  I got home a little earlier than usual that night, just before it gotreally dark. Joey was sitting as usual all alone in his wheelchair. Inthe gloom I could see a stack of books on the grass beside him, booksDoc had given him to study. The thing that stopped me was that Joeywas staring at his feet as if they were the first ones he'd ever seen,and he had the same look of intense
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