Idiot's Crusade, page 1
Clifford D. Simak
The village idiot has been possessed by an anthropologist alien, but now the "idiot" has ideas of his own.
Clifford D. Simak
For a long time I was the village idiot, but not any longeralthough they call me "dummy" still and even worse than that.
I'm a genius now, but I won't let them know.
If they found out, they'd be on their guard against me.
No one has suspected me and no one will. My shuffle is the same and my gaze as vacant and my mumblings just as vague as they ever were. At times, it has been hard to remember to keep the shuffle and the gaze and mumblings as they were before, times when it was hard not to overdo them. But it's important not to arouse suspicion.
It all started the morning I went fishing.
I told Ma I was going fishing while we were eating breakfast and she didn't object. She knows I like fishing. When I fish, I don't get into trouble.
"All right, Jim," she said. "Some fish will taste real good."
"I know where to get them," I told her. "That hole in the creek just past Alf Adams' place."
"Now don't you get into any fracas with Alf," Ma warned me. "Just because you don't like him…"
"He was mean to me. He worked me harder than he should have. And he cheated me out of my pay. And he laughs at me."
I shouldn't have said that, because it hurts Ma when I say someone laughs at me. "You mustn't pay attention to what people do," said Ma, speaking kind and gentle. "Remember what Preacher Martin said last Sunday. He said…"
"I know what he said, but I still don't like being laughed at. People shouldn't laugh at me."
"No," Ma agreed, looking sad. "They shouldn't."
I went on eating my breakfast, thinking that Preacher Martin was a great one to be talking about humility and patience, knowing the kind of man he was and how he was carrying on with Jennie Smith, the organist. He was a great one to talk about anything at all.
After breakfast, I went out to the woodshed to get my fishing tackle and Bounce came across the street to help me. After Ma, Bounce is the best friend I have. He can't talk to me, of coursenot actually, that isbut neither does he laugh at me.
I talked to him while I was digging worms and asked him if he wanted to go fishing with me. I could see he did, so I went across the street to tell Mrs. Lawson that Bounce was going along. He belonged to her, but he spent most of his time with me.
We started out, me carrying my cane pole and all my fishing stuff and Bounce walking at my heels, as if I were someone he was proud to be seen walking with.
We went past the bank, where Banker Patton was sitting in the big front window, working at his desk and looking like the most important man in all of Mapleton, which he was. I went by slow so I could hate him good. Ma and me wouldn't be living in the old tumbledown house we're living in if Banker Patton hadn't foreclosed on our home after Pa died.
We went out past Alf Adams' place, which is the first farm out of town, and I hated him some, too, but not as hard as Banker Patton. All Alf had done was work me harder than he should have, then cheat me out of my pay.
Alf was a big, blustery man and a good enough farmer, I guessat least he made it pay. He had a big new barn and it's just like him not to paint it red, the way any proper barn is painted, but white with red trim. Who ever heard of paint trim on a barn?
Just beyond Alf's place, Bounce and I turned off the road and went down across the pasture, heading for the big hole in the creek.
Alfs prize Hereford bull was way off in another corner of the pasture with the rest of the stock. When he saw us, he started coming for us, not mean or belligerent, but just investigating and ready for a fight if one was offered him. I wasn't afraid of him, because I'd made friends with him that summer I had worked for Alf. I used to pet him and scratch behind his ears.
Alf said I was a crazy fool and someday the bull would kill me. "You can never trust a bull," Alf said.
When the bull was near enough to see who it was, he knew we meant no harm, so he went back across the pasture again.
We got to the hole and I started fishing, while Bounce went up the stream to do some investigating. I caught a few fish, but they weren't very big and they weren't biting very often and I got disinterested. I like to fish, but to keep my interest up, I have to catch some.
So I got to daydreaming. I began wondering if you marked off a certain area of grounda hundred feet square, sayand went over it real careful, how many different kinds of plants you'd find. I looked over a patch of ground next to where I was sitting and I could see just ordinary pasture grass and some dandelions and some dock and a couple of violets, and a buttercup which didn't have any flowers.
Suddenly, when I was looking at the dandelion, I realized I could see all that dandelion, not just the part that showed above the ground!
I don't know how long I'd been seeing it that way before realizing it. And I'm not certain that "seeing" is the right word.
Maybe "know" would be better. I knew how that dandelion's big taproot went down into the ground and how the little feathery roots grew out of it, and I knew where all the roots were, how they were taking water and chemicals out of the ground, how reserve food was stored in the root and how the dandelion used the sunlight to convert its food into a form it could use. And the funniest thing about it was that I had never known any of it before.
I looked at the other plants and I could see all of them the same way. I wondered if something had gone wrong with my eyes and if I would have to go around looking into things instead of at them, so I tried to make the new seeing go away and it did.
Then I tried to see the dandelion root again and I saw it, just the way I had before.
I sat there, wondering why I had never been able to see that way before and why I was able to now. And while I was wondering, I looked into the pool and tried to see down into the pool and I could, just as plain as day. I could see clear to the bottom of it and into all the corners of it, and there were lunkers lying in there, bigger than any fish that ever had been taken from the creek.
I saw that my bait was nowhere near any of the fish, so I moved it over until it was just in front of the nose of one of the biggest ones. But the fish didn't seem to see it, or if he did, he wasn't hungry, for he just lay there, fanning the water with his fins and making his gills work.
I moved the bait down until it bumped his nose, but he still didn't pay any attention to it. So I made the fish hungry.
Don't ask me how I did it. I can't tell you. I all at once knew I could and just how to do it. So I made him hungry and he went for that bait like Bounce grabbing a bone.
He pulled the cork clear under and I heaved on the pole and hoisted him out. I took him off the hook and put him on the stringer, along with the four or five little ones I'd caught.
Then I picked out another big fish and lowered my bait down to him and made him hungry.
In the next hour and a haft, I just about cleaned out all the big fish. There were some little ones left, but I didn't bother with them. I had the stringer almost full and I couldn't carry it in my hand, for then the fish would have dragged along the ground. I had to sling it over my shoulder and those fish felt awfully wet.
I called Bounce and we went back to town.
Everyone I met stopped and had a look at my fish and wanted to know where I'd got them and what I'd caught them on and if there were any left or had I taken them all. When I told them I'd taken all there was, they laughed fit to kill.
I was just turning off Main Street on my way home when Banker Patton stepped out of the barber shop. He smelled nice from the bottles of stuff t
He saw me with my fish and stopped in front of me. He looked at me and looked at the fish and he rubbed his fat hands together. Then he said, like he was talking to a child, "Why, Jimmy, where did you get all those fish?" He sounded a little bit, too, like I might not have a right to them and probably had used some lowdown trick to get them.
"Out in the hole on Alf's place," I told him.
All at once, without even trying to do it, I saw him the same way I had seen the dandelionhis stomach and intestines and something that must have been his liverand up above them all, surrounded by a doughy mass of pink, a pulsating thing that I knew must be his heart.
I guess that's the first time anybody ever really hated someone else's guts.
I shot out my handswell, not my hands, for one was clutching the cane pole and the other was busy with the fishbut it felt almost exactly as if I'd put them out and grabbed his heart and squeezed it hard.
He gasped once, then sighed and wilted, like all the starch had gone out of him, and I had to jump out of the way so he wouldn't bump into me when he fell.
He never moved after he hit the ground.
Jake came running out of his barber shop.
"What happened to him?" he asked me.
"He just fell over," I said.
Jake looked at him. "It's a heart attack. I'd know it anywhere. I'll run for Doc."
He took off up the street for Doc Mason while other people came hurrying out of the places along the street.
There was Ben from the cheese factory and Mike from the pool hall and a couple of farmers who were in the general store.
I got out of there and went on home and Ma was pleased with the fish.
"They'll taste real good," she said, looking at them. "How did you come to catch that many, Jim?"
"They were biting good," I said.
"Well, you hurry up and clean them. We'll have to eat some right away and I'll take some over to Preacher Martin's and I'll rub salt in the others and put them in the cellar where it's good and cool. They'll keep for several days."
Just then, Mrs. Lawson ran across the street and told Ma about Banker Patton.
"He was talking to Jim when it happened," she told Ma.
Ma said to me, "Why didn't you tell me, Jim?"
"I never got around to it," I said. "I was showing you these fish."
So the two of them went on talking about Banker Patton and I went out to the woodshed and cleaned the fish. Bounce sat alongside me and watched me do it and I swear he was as happy over those fish as I was, just like he might have had a hand in catching them.
"It was a nice day, Bounce," I said and Bounce said he'd thought so, too. He recalled running up and down the stream and how he'd chased a frog and the good smell there was when he stuck his nose down to the ground and sniffed.
Now I don't want you to think I'm trying to make you believe Bounce actually talked, because he didn't. But it was just as if he'd said those very words.
People all the time are laughing at me and making cracks about me and trying to bait me because I'm the village idiot, but there are times when the village idiot has it over all of them.
They would have been scared they were going crazy if a dog talked to them, but I didn't think it was strange at all. I just thought how much nicer it was now that Bounce could talk and how I wouldn't have to guess at what he wanted to say. I never thought it was queer at all, because I always figured Bounce could talk if he only tried, being a smart dog.
So Bounce and I sat there and talked while I cleaned the fish.
When I came out of the woodshed, Mrs. Lawson had gone home and Ma was in the kitchen, getting a skillet ready to cook some of the fish.
"Jim, you…" she hesitated, then went on, "Jim, you didn't have anything to do with what happened to Banker Patton, did you? You didn't push him or hit him or anything?"
"I never even touched him," I said and that was true. I certainly hadn't touched him.
In the afternoon, I went out and worked in the garden. Ma does some housework now and then and that brings in some money, but we couldn't get along if it wasn't for the garden. I used to work some, but since the fight I had with Alf over him not paying me, she don't let me work for anyone. She says if I take care of the garden and catch some fish, I'm helping out enough.
Working in the garden, I found a different use for my new way of seeing. There were worms in the cabbages and I could see every one of them and I killed them all by squeezing them, the way I'd squeezed Banker Patton. I found a cloudy sort of stuff on some of the tomato plants and I suppose it was some kind of virus, because it was so small I could hardly see it at first. So I magnified it and could see it fine, and I made it go away. I didn't squeeze it like I did the worms. I just made it go away.
It was fun working in the garden, when you could look down into the ground and see how the parsnips and radishes were coming and could kill the cutworms you found there, and know just how the soil was and if everything was all right.
We'd had fish for lunch and we had fish again for supper, and after supper I went for a walk.
Before I knew it, I was walking by Banker Patton's place and, going past, I felt the grief inside the house. I stood out on the sidewalk and let the grief come into me. I suppose that outside any house in town, I could have felt just as easily whatever was going on inside, but I hadn't known I could and I hadn't tried. It was only because the grief in the Patton house was so deep and strong that I noticed it.
The banker's oldest daughter was upstairs in her room and I could feel her crying. The other daughter was sitting with her mother in the living-room and neither of them was crying, but they seemed lost and lonely. There were other people in the house, but they weren't very sad. Some neighbours, probably, who'd come in to keep the family company.
I felt sorry for the three of them and I wanted to help them.
Not that I'd done anything wrong in killing Banker Patton, but I felt sorry for those women, because, after all, it wasn't their fault the way Banker Patton was, so I stood there, wishing I could help them.
And all at once I felt that perhaps I could and I tried first with the daughter who was upstairs in her room. I reached out to her and I told her happy thoughts. It wasn't easy to start with, but pretty soon I got the hang of it and it wasn't hard to make her happy. Then I made the other two happy and went on my way, feeling better about what I'd done to the family.
I listened in on the houses I passed. Most of them were happy, or at least contented, though I found a couple that were sad.
Automatically, I reached out my mind and gave them happiness. It wasn't that I felt I should do something good for any particular person. To tell the truth, I don't remember which houses I made happy. I just thought if I was able to do a thing that, I should do it. It wasn't right for someone to have that kind of power and refuse to use it.
Ma was sitting up for me when I got home. She was looking kind of worried, the way she always does when I disappear for a long time and she don't know where I am.
I went up to my room and got into bed and lay awake for a long time, wondering how come I could do all the things I could and how, suddenly, today I was able to do them when I'd never been able to before. But finally I went to sleep.
The situation is not ideal, of course, but a good deal better than I had any reason to expect. It is not likely that one should find on every alien planet a host so made to order for our purpose as is this one of mine.
It has accepted me without recognizing me, has made no attempt to deny itself to me or to reject me. It is of an order of intelligence which has enabled it, quickly and efficiently, to make use of those most-readily manipulated of my abilities and this has aided me greatly in my observations. It is fairly mobile and consorts freely with its kind, which are other distinct advantages.
I reckon myself fortunate, indeed, to have found so satisfactory a host so soon upon arrival.
We went up the road toward Alf's place, but turned off down across the pasture, heading for some cut-over land on the hill across the creek.
When we were off the road, I turned around to give Alf a good hating and while I was standing there, hating him; thought came into my mind. I didn't know if I could do it, but it seemed to be a good idea, so I tried.
I moved my seeing up to Alf's barn and went right through and came out in the middle of the haymow, with hay packed all around me. But all the time, you understand, I was standing there in the pasture with Bounce, on our way to chase some rabbits.
I'd like to explain what I did next and how I did it, but mostly what worries me is how I knew enough to do itI mean enough about chemical reaction and stuff like that. I did something to the hay and something to the oxygen and I started a fire there in the centre of the haymow. When I saw it was started good, I got out of there and was in myself again, and Bounce and I went on across the creek and up the hill.
I kept looking back over my shoulder, wondering if the fire might not have gone out, but all at once there was a little trickle of smoke coming out of the haymow opening up under the gable's end.
We'd got up into the cut-over land by that time and I sat down on a stump and enjoyed myself. The fire had a good start before it busted out and there wasn't a thing that could be do to save the barn. It went up with a roar and made the prettiest column of smoke you've ever seen.
On the way home, I stopped at the general store. Alf was there and he seemed much too happy to have just lost his barn. But it wasn't long until I understood why he was so happy.
"I had her insured," he told Bert Jones, the storekeep, "plumb up to the hilt. Anyhow, it was too big a barn, bigger than I needed. When I built it, I figured I was going to go into milking heavier than I've done and would need space."
Other author's books:
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