Tales of the unknown in which a fix-it man crosses into another dimension—and moreHiram Taine is a handyman who can fix anything. When he isn’t fiddling with his tools, he is roaming through the woods with his dog, Towser, as he has done for as long as he can remember. He likes things that he can understand. But when a new ceiling appears in his basement—a ceiling that appears to have the ability to repair television sets so they’re better than before—he knows he has come up against a mystery that no man can solve. Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, “The Big Front Yard” is a powerful story about what happens when an ordinary man finds reality coming apart around him. Along with the other stories in this collection, it is some of the most lyrical science fiction ever published. Each story includes an introduction by David W. Wixon, literary executor of the Clifford D. Simak estate and editor of this ebook.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Series:||Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak Series , #2|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
During his fifty-five-year career, Clifford D. Simak produced some of the most iconic science fiction stories ever written. Born in 1904 on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin, Simak got a job at a small-town newspaper in 1929 and eventually became news editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, writing fiction in his spare time.Simak was best known for the book City , a reaction to the horrors of World War II, and for his novel Way Station. In 1953 City was awarded the International Fantasy Award, and in following years, Simak won three Hugo Awards and a Nebula Award. In 1977 he became the third Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and before his death in 1988, he was named one of three inaugural winners of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.
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The Big Front Yard and Other Stories
The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, Volume Two
By Clifford D. Simak
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Estate of Clifford D. Simak
All rights reserved.
THE BIG FRONT YARD
"The Big Front Yard," which started out identified in Cliff's notes as "Rats in the House," then "Errand Boy," and then "A Mouse in the House," before reaching its final name, may be the most lauded of the author's short fiction, even beyond the fact that it won the Hugo Award. I say this because it's a story that people often mention when speaking of Clifford D. Simak. And few stories have a submission history like this one: the story was sent to Galaxy Magazine on April 2, 1958, only to be rejected and returned on the fourteenth; it was sent to Astounding on the following day and accepted there on the twenty-eighth – all this action, including two submissions, occurred in less than a month.
The exotic and unusual is most effectively seen when positioned next to the commonplace.
Hiram Taine came awake and sat up in his bed.
Towser was barking and scratching at the floor.
"Shut up," Taine told the dog.
Towser cocked quizzical ears at him and then resumed the barking and scratching at the floor.
Taine rubbed his eyes. He ran a hand through his rat's-nest head of hair. He considered lying down again and pulling up the covers.
But not with Towser barking.
"What's the matter with you, anyhow?" he asked of Towser, with not a little wrath.
"Whuff," said Towser, industriously proceeding with his scratching at the floor.
"If you want out," said Taine, "all you got to do is open the screen door. You know how it is done. You do it all the time."
Towser quit his barking and sat down heavily, watching his master getting out of bed.
Taine put on his shirt and pulled on his trousers, but didn't bother with his shoes.
Towser ambled over to a corner, put his nose down to the baseboard and snuffled moistly.
"You got a mouse?" asked Taine.
"Whuff," said Towser, most emphatically.
"I can't ever remember you making such a row about a mouse," Taine said, slightly puzzled. "You must be off your rocker."
It was a beautiful summer morning. Sunlight was pouring through the open window.
Good day for fishing, Taine told himself, then remembered that there'd be no fishing, for he had to go out and look up that old four-poster maple bed that he had heard about up Woodman way. More than likely, he thought, they'd want twice as much as it was worth. It was getting so, he told himself, that a man couldn't make an honest dollar. Everyone was getting smart about antiques.
He got up off the bed and headed for the living room.
"Come on," he said to Towser.
Towser came along, pausing now and then to snuffle into corners and to whuffle at the floor.
"You got it bad," said Taine.
Maybe it's a rat, he thought. The house was getting old.
He opened the screen door and Towser went outside.
"Leave that woodchuck be today," Taine advised him. "It's a losing battle. You'll never dig him out."
Towser went around the corner of the house.
Taine noticed that something had happened to the sign that hung on the post beside the driveway. One of the chains had become unhooked and the sign was dangling.
He padded out across the driveway slab and the grass, still wet with dew, to fix the sign. There was nothing wrong with it – just the unhooked chain. Might have been the wind, he thought, or some passing urchin. Although probably not an urchin. He got along with kids. They never bothered him, like they did some others in the village. Banker Stevens, for example. They were always pestering Stevens.
He stood back a ways to be sure the sign was straight.
It read, in big letters:
And under that, in smaller lettering:
I fix anything
And under that:
ANTIQUES FOR SALE
What have you got to trade?
Maybe, he told himself, he'd ought to have two signs, one for his fix-it shop and one for antiques and trading. Some day, when he had the time, he thought, he'd paint a couple of new ones. One for each side of the driveway. It would look neat that way.
He turned around and looked across the road at Turner's Woods. It was a pretty sight, he thought. A sizable piece of woods like that right at the edge of town. It was a place for birds and rabbits and woodchucks and squirrels and it was full of forts built through generations by the boys of Willow Bend.
Some day, of course, some smart operator would buy it up and start a housing development or something equally objectionable and when that happened a big slice of his own boyhood would be cut out of his life.
Towser came around the corner of the house. He was sidling along, sniffing at the lowest row of siding and his ears were cocked with interest.
"That dog is nuts," said Taine, and went inside.
He went into the kitchen, his bare feet slapping on the floor.
He filled the tea kettle, set it on the stove and turned the burner on underneath the kettle.
He turned on the radio, forgetting that it was out of kilter.
When it didn't make a sound, he remembered and, disgusted, snapped it off. That was the way it went, he thought. He fixed other people's stuff, but never got around to fixing any of his own.
He went into the bedroom and put on his shoes. He threw the bed together.
Back in the kitchen the stove had failed to work again. The burner beneath the kettle still was cold.
Taine hauled off and kicked the stove. He lifted the kettle and held his palm above the burner. In a few seconds he could detect some heat.
"Worked again," he told himself.
Some day, he knew, kicking the stove would fail to work. When that happened, he'd have to get to work on it. Probably wasn't more than a loose connection.
He put the kettle back onto the stove.
There was a clatter out in front and Taine went out to see what was going on.
Beasly, the Horton's yardboy-chauffeur-gardener-et cetera was backing a rickety old truck up the driveway. Beside him sat Abbie Horton, the wife of H. Henry Horton, the village's most important citizen. In the back of the truck, lashed on with ropes and half-protected by a garish red and purple quilt, stood a mammoth television set. Taine recognized it from of old. It was a good ten years out of date and still, by any standard, it was the most expensive set ever to grace any home in Willow Bend.
Abbie hopped out of the truck. She was an energetic, bustling, bossy woman.
"Good morning, Hiram," she said. "Can you fix this set again?"
"Never saw anything that I couldn't fix," said Taine, but nevertheless he eyed the set with something like dismay. It was not the first time he had tangled with it and he knew what was ahead.
"It might cost you more than it's worth," he warned her. "What you really need is a new one. This set is getting old and –"
"That's just what Henry said," Abbie told him, tartly. "Henry wants to get one of the color sets. But I won't part with this one. It's not just TV, you know. It's a combination with radio and a record player and the wood and style are just right for the other furniture, and, besides –"
"Yes, I know," said Taine, who'd heard it all before.
Poor old Henry, he thought. What a life the man must lead. Up at that computer plant all day long, shooting off his face and bossing everyone, then coming home to a life of petty tyranny.
"Beasly," said Abbie, in her best drill-sergeant voice, "you get right up there and get that thing untied."
"Yes'm," Beasly said. He was a gangling, loose-jointed man who didn't look too bright.
"And see you be careful with it. I don't want it all scratched up."
"Yes'm," said Beasly.
"I'll help," Taine offered.
The two climbed into the truck and began unlashing the old monstrosity.
"It's heavy," Abbie warned. "You two be careful of it."
"Yes'm," said Beasly.
It was heavy and it was an awkward thing to boot, but Beasly and Taine horsed it around to the back of the house and up the stoop and through the back door and down the basement stairs, with Abbie following eagle-eyed behind them, alert to the slightest scratch.
The basement was Taine's combination workshop and display room for antiques. One end of it was filled with benches and with tools and machinery and boxes full of odds and ends and piles of just plain junk were scattered everywhere. The other end housed a collection of rickety chairs, sagging bedposts, ancient highboys, equally ancient lowboys, old coal scuttles painted gold, heavy iron fireplace screens and a lot or other stuff that he had collected from far and wide for as little as he could possibly pay for it.
He and Beasly set the TV down carefully on the floor. Abbie watched them narrowly from the stairs.
"Why, Hiram," she said, excited, "you put a ceiling in the basement. It looks a whole lot better."
"Huh?" asked Taine.
"The ceiling. I said you put in a ceiling."
Taine jerked his head up and what she said was true. There was a ceiling there, but he'd never put it in.
He gulped a little and lowered his head, then jerked it quickly up and had another look. The ceiling still was there.
"It's not that block stuff," said Abbie with open admiration. "You can't see any joints at all. How did you manage it?"
Taine gulped again and got back his voice. "Something I thought up," he told her weakly.
"You'll have to come over and do it to our basement. Our basement is a sight. Beasly put the ceiling in the amusement room, but Beasly is all thumbs."
"Yes'm," Beasly said contritely.
"When I get the time," Taine promised, ready to promise anything to get them out of there.
"You'd have a lot more time," Abbie told him acidly, "if you weren't gadding around all over the country buying up that broken-down old furniture that you call antiques. Maybe you can fool the city folks when they come driving out here, but you can't fool me."
"I make a lot of money out of some of it," Taine told her calmly.
"And lose your shirt on the rest of it," she said.
"I got some old china that is just the kind of stuff you are looking for," said Taine. "Picked it up just a day or two ago. Made a good buy on it. I can let you have it cheap."
"I'm not interested," she said and clamped her mouth tight shut.
She turned around and went back up the stairs.
"She's on the prod today," Beasly said to Taine. "It will be a bad day. It always is when she starts early in the morning."
"Don't pay attention to her," Taine advised.
"I try not to, but it ain't possible. You sure you don't need a man? I'd work for you cheap."
"Sorry, Beasly. Tell you what – come over some night soon and we'll play some checkers."
"I'll do that, Hiram. You're the only one who ever asks me over. All the others ever do is laugh at me or shout."
Abbie's voice came bellowing down the stairs. "Beasly, are you coming? Don't go standing there all day. I have rugs to beat."
"Yes'm," said Beasly, starting up the stairs.
At the truck, Abbie turned on Taine with determination: "You'll get that set fixed right away? I'm lost without it."
"Immediately," said Taine.
He stood and watched them off, then looked around for Towser, but the dog had disappeared. More than likely he was at the woodchuck hole again, in the woods across the road. Gone off, thought Taine, without his breakfast, too.
The teakettle was boiling furiously when Taine got back to the kitchen.
He put coffee in the maker and poured in the water. Then he went downstairs.
The ceiling was still there.
He turned on all the lights and walked around the basement, staring up at it.
It was a dazzling white material and it appeared to be translucent – up to a point, that is. One could see into it, but he could not see through it. And there were no signs of seams. It was fitted neatly and tightly around the water pipes and the ceiling lights.
Taine stood on a chair and rapped his knuckles against it sharply. It gave out a bell-like sound, almost exactly as if he'd rapped a fingernail against a thinly blown goblet.
He got down off the chair and stood there, shaking his head. The whole thing was beyond him. He had spent part of the evening repairing Banker Stevens' lawn mower and there'd been no ceiling then.
He rummaged in a box and found a drill. He dug out one of the smaller bits and fitted it in the drill. He plugged in the cord and climbed on the chair again and tried the bit against the ceiling. The whirling steel slid wildly back and forth. It didn't make a scratch. He switched off the drill and looked closely at the ceiling. There was not a mark upon it. He tried again, pressing against the drill with all his strength. The bit went ping and the broken end flew across the basement and hit the wall.
Taine stepped down off the chair. He found another bit and fitted it in the drill and went slowly up the stairs, trying to think. But he was too confused to think. That ceiling should not be up there, but there it was. And unless he went stark, staring crazy and forgetful as well, he had not put it there.
In the living room, he folded back one corner of the worn and faded carpeting and plugged in the drill. He knelt and started drilling in the floor. The bit went smoothly through the old oak flooring, then stopped. He put on more pressure and the drill spun without getting any bite.
And there wasn't supposed to be anything underneath that wood! Nothing to stop a drill. Once through the flooring, it should have dropped into the space between the joists.
Taine disengaged the drill and laid it to one side.
He went into the kitchen and the coffee now was ready. But before he poured it, he pawed through a cabinet drawer and found a pencil flashlight. Back in the living room he shined the light into the hole that the drill had made.
There was something shiny at the bottom of the hole.
He went back to the kitchen and found some day-old doughnuts and poured a cup of coffee. He sat at the kitchen table, eating doughnuts and wondering what to do.
There didn't appear, for the moment at least, much that he could do. He could putter around all day trying to figure out what had happened to his basement and probably not be any wiser than he was right now.
His money-making Yankee soul rebelled against such a horrid waste of time.
There was, he told himself, that maple four-poster that he should be getting to before some unprincipled city antique dealer should run afoul of it. A piece like that, he figured, if a man had any luck at all, should sell at a right good price. He might turn a handsome profit on it if he only worked it right.
Maybe, he thought, he could turn a trade on it. There was the table model TV set that he had traded a pair of ice skates for last winter. Those folks out Woodman way might conceivably be happy to trade the bed for a reconditioned TV set, almost like brand new. After all, they probably weren't using the bed and, he hoped fervently, had no idea of the value of it.
He ate the doughnuts hurriedly and gulped down an extra cup of coffee. He fixed a plate of scraps for Towser and set it outside the door. Then he went down into the basement and got the table TV set and put it in the pickup truck. As an afterthought, he added a reconditioned shotgun which would be perfectly all right if a man were careful not to use these far-reaching, powerful shells, and a few other odds and ends that might come in handy on a trade.
He got back late, for it had been a busy and quite satisfactory day. Not only did he have the four-poster loaded on the truck, but he had as well a rocking chair, a fire screen, a bundle of ancient magazines, an old-fashioned barrel churn, a walnut highboy and a Governor Winthrop on which some half-baked, slap-happy decorator had applied a coat of apple-green paint. The television set, the shotgun and five dollars had gone into the trade. And what was better yet – he'd managed it so well that the Woodman family probably was dying of laughter at this very moment about how they'd taken him.
He felt a little ashamed of it – they'd been such friendly people. They had treated him so kindly and had him stay for dinner and had sat and talked with him and shown him about the farm and even asked him to stop by if he went through that way again.
He'd wasted the entire day, he thought, and he rather hated that, but maybe it had been worth it to build up his reputation out that way as the sort of character who had softening of the head and didn't know the value of a dollar. That way, maybe some other day, he could do some more business in the neighborhood.
He heard the television set as he opened the back door, sounding loud and clear, and he went clattering down the basement stairs in something close to panic. For now that he'd traded off the table model, Abbie's set was the only one downstairs and Abbie's set was broken.
It was Abbie's set, all right. It stood just where he and Beasly had put it down that morning and there was nothing wrong with it – nothing wrong at all. It was even televising color.
He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and leaned against the railing for support.
The set kept right on televising color.
Taine stalked the set and walked around behind it.
The back of the cabinet was off, leaning against a bench that stood behind the set, and he could see the innards of it glowing cheerily.
He squatted on the basement floor and squinted at the lighted innards and they seemed a good deal different from the way that they should be. He'd repaired the set many times before and he thought he had a good idea of what the working parts would look like. And now they all seemed different, although just how he couldn't tell.
Excerpted from The Big Front Yard and Other Stories by Clifford D. Simak. Copyright © 2015 Estate of Clifford D. Simak. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Big Front Yard,
Trail City's Hot-Lead Crusaders,
Mr. Meek – Musketeer,
So Bright the Vision,
About the Author,
About the Editor,