To remember charlie by, p.1

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To Remember Charlie By

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To Remember Charlie By

  Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at

  Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe March 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

  [The history of this materialistic world is highlighted withstrange events that scientists and historians, unable to explainlogically, have dismissed with such labels as "supernatural,""miracle," etc. But there are those among us whose simple faithcan--and often does--alter the scheme of the universe. Even a littlechild can do it....]

  to remember charlie by

  by ... Roger Dee

  Just a one-eyed dog named Charlie and a crippled boy named Joey--but between them they changed the face of the universe ... perhaps.

  * * * * *

  I nearly stumbled over the kid in the dark before I saw him.

  His wheelchair was parked as usual on the tired strip of carpet grassthat separated his mother's trailer from the one Doc Shull and I livedin, but it wasn't exactly where I'd learned to expect it when I rolledin at night from the fishing boats. Usually it was nearer the west endof the strip where Joey could look across the crushed-shell square ofthe Twin Palms trailer court and the palmetto flats to the Tampahighway beyond. But this time it was pushed back into the shadows awayfrom the court lights.

  The boy wasn't watching the flats tonight, as he usually did. Insteadhe was lying back in his chair with his face turned to the sky,staring upward with such absorbed intensity that he didn't even know Iwas there until I spoke.

  "Anything wrong, Joey?" I asked.

  He said, "No, Roy," without taking his eyes off the sky.

  For a minute I had the prickly feeling you get when you are watching amovie and find that you know just what is going to happen next.You're puzzled and a little spooked until you realize that the reasonyou can predict the action so exactly is because you've seen the samething happen somewhere else a long time ago. I forgot the feeling whenI remembered why the kid wasn't watching the palmetto flats. But Icouldn't help wondering why he'd turned to watching the sky instead.

  "What're you looking for up there, Joey?" I asked.

  He didn't move and from the tone of his voice I got the impressionthat he only half heard me.

  "I'm moving some stars," he said softly.

  I gave it up and went on to my own trailer without asking any morefool questions. How can you talk to a kid like that?

  Doc Shull wasn't in, but for once I didn't worry about him. I wastrying to remember just what it was about my stumbling over Joey'swheelchair that had given me that screwy double-exposure feeling offamiliarity. I got a can of beer out of the ice-box because I thinkbetter with something cold in my hand, and by the time I had finishedthe beer I had my answer.

  The business I'd gone through with Joey outside was familiar becauseit _had_ happened before, about six weeks back when Doc and I firstparked our trailer at the Twin Palms court. I'd nearly stumbled overJoey that time too, but he wasn't moving stars then. He was juststaring ahead of him, waiting.

  He'd been sitting in his wheelchair at the west end of thecarpet-grass strip, staring out over the palmetto flats toward thehighway. He was practically holding his breath, as if he was waitingfor somebody special to show up, so absorbed in his watching that hedidn't know I was there until I spoke. He reminded me a little of aventriloquist's dummy with his skinny, knob-kneed body, thin face andround, still eyes. Only there wasn't anything comical about him theway there is about a dummy. Maybe that's why I spoke, because helooked so deadly serious.

  "Anything wrong, kid?" I asked.

  He didn't jump or look up. His voice placed him as a cracker, eithersouth Georgian or native Floridian.

  "I'm waiting for Charlie to come home," he said, keeping his eyes onthe highway.

  Probably I'd have asked who Charlie was but just then the trailer dooropened behind him and his mother took over.

  I couldn't see her too well because the lights were off inside thetrailer. But I could tell from the way she filled up the doorway thatshe was big. I could make out the white blur of a cigarette in hermouth, and when she struck a match to light it--on her thumb-nail,like a man--I saw that she was fairly young and not bad-looking in atough, sullen sort of way. The wind was blowing in my direction and ittold me she'd had a drink recently, gin, by the smell of it.

  "This is none of your business, mister," she said. Her voice wasSouthern like the boy's but with all the softness ground out of itfrom living on the Florida coast where you hear a hundred differentaccents every day. "Let the boy alone."

  She was right about it being none of my business. I went on into thetrailer I shared with Doc Shull and left the two of them waiting forCharlie together.

  Our trailer was dark inside, which meant first that Doc had probablygone out looking for a drink as soon as I left that morning to pick upa job, and second that he'd probably got too tight to find his wayback. But I was wrong on at least one count, because when I switchedon the light and dumped the packages I'd brought on the sink cabinet Isaw Doc asleep in his bunk.

  He'd had a drink, though. I could smell it on him when I shook himawake, and it smelled like gin.

  Doc sat up and blinked against the light, a thin, elderly little manwith bright blue eyes, a clipped brown mustache and scanty brown hairtousled and wild from sleep. He was stripped to his shorts against theheat, but at some time during the day he had bathed and shaved. He hadeven washed and ironed a shirt; it hung on a nail over his bunk with acrumpled pack of cigarettes in the pocket.

  "Crawl out and cook supper, Rip," I said, holding him to his end ofour working agreement. "I've made a day and I'm hungry."

  Doc got up and stepped into his pants. He padded barefoot across thelinoleum and poked at the packages on the sink cabinet.

  "Snapper steak again," he complained. "Roy, I'm sick of fish!"

  "You don't catch sirloins with a hand-line," I told him. And becauseI'd never been able to stay sore at him for long I added, "But we gotbeer. Where's the opener?"

  "I'm sick of beer, too," Doc said. "I need a real drink."

  I sniffed the air, making a business of it. "You've had one already.Where?"

  He grinned at me then with the wise-to-himself-and-the-world grin thatlit up his face like turning on a light inside and made him differentfrom anybody else on earth.

  "The largess of Providence," he said, "is bestowed impartially uponsot and Samaritan. I helped the little fellow next door to thebathroom this afternoon while his mother was away at work, and myselflessness had its just reward."

  Sometimes it's hard to tell when Doc is kidding. He's an educatedman--used to teach at some Northern college, he said once, and I neverdoubted it--and talks like one when he wants to. But Doc's no bum,though he's a semi-alcoholic and lets me support him like an invaliduncle, and he's keen enough to read my mind like a racing form.

  "No, I didn't batter down the cupboard and help myself," he said. "Thelady--her name is Mrs. Ethel Pond--gave me the drink. Why else do yousuppose I'd launder a shirt?"

  That was like Doc. He hadn't touched her bottle though his insideswere probably snarled up like barbed wire for the want of it. He'dshaved and pressed a shirt instead so he'd look decent enough to ratea shot of gin she'd offer him as a reward. It wasn't such a doubtfulgamble at that, because Doc has a way with him when he bothers to useit; maybe that's why he bums around with me after the commercialfishing and migratory crop work, because he's used that charm toooften in the wrong places.

  "Good enough," I said and pun
ctured a can of beer apiece for us whileDoc put the snapper steaks to cook.

  He told me more about our neighbors while we killed the beer. ThePonds were permanent residents. The kid--his name was Joey and he wasten--was a polio case who hadn't walked for over a year, and hismother was a waitress at a roadside joint named the Sea Shell Diner.There wasn't any Mr. Pond. I guessed there never had been, which wouldexplain why Ethel acted so tough and sullen.

  We were halfway through supper when I remembered something the kid hadsaid.

  "Who's Charlie?" I asked.

  Doc frowned at his plate. "The kid had a dog named Charlie, a bigshaggy mutt with only one eye and no love for anybody but
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