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´╗┐Title: Year of the Big Thaw
Author: Bradley, Marion Zimmer, 1930-1999
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Year of the Big Thaw" ***

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    _In this warm and fanciful story of a Connecticut farmer, Marion
    Zimmer Bradley has caught some of the glory that is man's love for
    man--no matter who he is nor whence he's from. By heck, you'll like
    little Matt._


 year
   of
  the
  big
 thaw

 _by ... Marion Zimmer Bradley_


 Mr. Emmett did his duty by the visitor from
 another world--never doubting the right of it.


_You say that Matthew is your own son, Mr. Emmett?_

Yes, Rev'rend Doane, and a better boy never stepped, if I do say it as
shouldn't. I've trusted him to drive team for me since he was eleven,
and you can't say more than that for a farm boy. Way back when he was a
little shaver so high, when the war came on, he was bounden he was going
to sail with this Admiral Farragut. You know boys that age--like runaway
colts. I couldn't see no good in his being cabin boy on some tarnation
Navy ship and I told him so. If he'd wanted to sail out on a whaling
ship, I 'low I'd have let him go. But Marthy--that's the boy's Ma--took
on so that Matt stayed home. Yes, he's a good boy and a good son.

We'll miss him a powerful lot if he gets this scholarship thing. But I
'low it'll be good for the boy to get some learnin' besides what he gets
in the school here. It's right kind of you, Rev'rend, to look over this
application thing for me.

_Well, if he is your own son, Mr. Emmett, why did you write 'birthplace
unknown' on the line here?_

Rev'rend Doane, I'm glad you asked me that question. I've been turnin'
it over in my mind and I've jest about come to the conclusion it
wouldn't be nohow fair to hold it back. I didn't lie when I said Matt
was my son, because he's been a good son to me and Marthy. But I'm not
his Pa and Marthy ain't his Ma, so could be I stretched the truth jest a
mite. Rev'rend Doane, it's a tarnal funny yarn but I'll walk into the
meetin' house and swear to it on a stack o'Bibles as thick as a cord of
wood.

You know I've been farming the old Corning place these past seven year?
It's good flat Connecticut bottom-land, but it isn't like our land up in
Hampshire where I was born and raised. My Pa called it the Hampshire
Grants and all that was King's land when _his_ Pa came in there and
started farming at the foot of Scuttock Mountain. That's Injun for
fires, folks say, because the Injuns used to build fires up there in the
spring for some of their heathen doodads. Anyhow, up there in the
mountains we see a tarnal power of quare things.

You call to mind the year we had the big thaw, about twelve years before
the war? You mind the blizzard that year? I heard tell it spread down
most to York. And at Fort Orange, the place they call Albany now, the
Hudson froze right over, so they say. But those York folks do a sight of
exaggerating, I'm told.

Anyhow, when the ice went out there was an almighty good thaw all over,
and when the snow run off Scuttock mountain there was a good-sized hunk
of farmland in our valley went under water. The crick on my farm flowed
over the bank and there was a foot of water in the cowshed, and down in
the swimmin' hole in the back pasture wasn't nothing but a big gully
fifty foot and more across, rushing through the pasture, deep as a lake
and brown as the old cow. You know freshet-floods? Full up with sticks
and stones and old dead trees and somebody's old shed floatin' down the
middle. And I swear to goodness, Parson, that stream was running along
so fast I saw four-inch cobblestones floating and bumping along.

I tied the cow and the calf and Kate--she was our white mare; you mind
she went lame last year and I had to shoot her, but she was just a young
mare then and skittish as all get-out--but she was a good little mare.

Anyhow, I tied the whole kit and caboodle of them in the woodshed up
behind the house, where they'd be dry, then I started to get the
milkpail. Right then I heard the gosh-awfullest screech I ever heard in
my life. Sounded like thunder and a freshet and a forest-fire all at
once. I dropped the milkpail as I heard Marthy scream inside the house,
and I run outside. Marthy was already there in the yard and she points
up in the sky and yelled, "Look up yander!"

We stood looking up at the sky over Shattuck mountain where there was a
great big--shoot now, I d'no as I can call its name but it was like a
trail of fire in the sky, and it was makin' the dangdest racket you ever
heard, Rev'rend. Looked kind of like one of them Fourth-of-July
skyrockets, but it was big as a house. Marthy was screaming and she
grabbed me and hollered, "Hez! Hez, what in tunket is it?" And when
Marthy cusses like that, Rev'rend, she don't know what she's saying,
she's so scared.

I was plumb scared myself. I heard Liza--that's our young-un, Liza
Grace, that got married to the Taylor boy. I heard her crying on the
stoop, and she came flying out with her pinny all black and hollered to
Marthy that the pea soup was burning. Marthy let out another screech and
ran for the house. That's a woman for you. So I quietened Liza down some
and I went in and told Marthy it weren't no more than one of them
shooting stars. Then I went and did the milking.

But you know, while we were sitting down to supper there came the most
awful grinding, screeching, pounding crash I ever heard. Sounded if it
were in the back pasture but the house shook as if somethin' had hit it.

Marthy jumped a mile and I never saw such a look on her face.

"Hez, what was that?" she asked.

"Shoot, now, nothing but the freshet," I told her.

But she kept on about it. "You reckon that shooting star fell in our
back pasture, Hez?"

"Well, now, I don't 'low it did nothing like that," I told her. But she
was jittery as an old hen and it weren't like her nohow. She said it
sounded like trouble and I finally quietened her down by saying I'd
saddle Kate up and go have a look. I kind of thought, though I didn't
tell Marthy, that somebody's house had floated away in the freshet and
run aground in our back pasture.

So I saddled up Kate and told Marthy to get some hot rum ready in case
there was some poor soul run aground back there. And I rode Kate back to
the back pasture.

It was mostly uphill because the top of the pasture is on high ground,
and it sloped down to the crick on the other side of the rise.

Well, I reached the top of the hill and looked down. The crick were a
regular river now, rushing along like Niagary. On the other side of it
was a stand of timber, then the slope of Shattuck mountain. And I saw
right away the long streak where all the timber had been cut out in a
big scoop with roots standing up in the air and a big slide of rocks
down to the water.

It was still raining a mite and the ground was sloshy and squanchy
under foot. Kate scrunched her hooves and got real balky, not likin' it
a bit. When we got to the top of the pasture she started to whine and
whicker and stamp, and no matter how loud I whoa-ed she kept on
a-stamping and I was plumb scared she'd pitch me off in the mud. Then I
started to smell a funny smell, like somethin' burning. Now, don't ask
me how anything could burn in all that water, because I don't know.

When we came up on the rise I saw the contraption.

Rev'rend, it was the most tarnal crazy contraption I ever saw in my
life. It was bigger nor my cowshed and it was long and thin and as shiny
as Marthy's old pewter pitcher her Ma brought from England. It had a
pair of red rods sticking out behind and a crazy globe fitted up where
the top ought to be. It was stuck in the mud, turned halfway over on the
little slide of roots and rocks, and I could see what had happened, all
right.

The thing must have been--now, Rev'rend, you can say what you like but
that thing must have _flew_ across Shattuck and landed on the slope in
the trees, then turned over and slid down the hill. That must have been
the crash we heard. The rods weren't just red, they were _red-hot_. I
could hear them sizzle as the rain hit 'em.

In the middle of the infernal contraption there was a door, and it hung
all to-other as if every hinge on it had been wrenched halfway off. As I
pushed old Kate alongside it I heared somebody hollering alongside the
contraption. I didn't nohow get the words but it must have been for
help, because I looked down and there was a man a-flopping along in the
water.

He was a big fellow and he wasn't swimming, just thrashin' and
hollering. So I pulled off my coat and boots and hove in after him. The
stream was running fast but he was near the edge and I managed to catch
on to an old tree-root and hang on, keeping his head out of the water
till I got my feet aground. Then I hauled him onto the bank. Up above me
Kate was still whinnying and raising Ned and I shouted at her as I bent
over the man.

Wal, Rev'rend, he sure did give me a surprise--weren't no proper man I'd
ever seed before. He was wearing some kind of red clothes, real shiny
and sort of stretchy and not wet from the water, like you'd expect, but
dry and it felt like that silk and India-rubber stuff mixed together.
And it was such a bright red that at first I didn't see the blood on it.
When I did I knew he were a goner. His chest were all stove in, smashed
to pieces. One of the old tree-roots must have jabbed him as the current
flung him down. I thought he were dead already, but then he opened up
his eyes.

A funny color they were, greeny yellow. And I swear, Rev'rend, when he
opened them eyes I _felt_ he was readin' my mind. I thought maybe he
might be one of them circus fellers in their flying contraptions that
hang at the bottom of a balloon.

He spoke to me in English, kind of choky and stiff, not like Joe the
Portygee sailor or like those tarnal dumb Frenchies up Canady way,
but--well, funny. He said, "My baby--in ship. Get--baby ..." He tried to
say more but his eyes went shut and he moaned hard.

I yelped, "Godamighty!" 'Scuse me, Rev'rend, but I was so blame upset
that's just what I did say, "Godamighty, man, you mean there's a baby in
that there dingfol contraption?" He just moaned so after spreadin' my
coat around the man a little bit I just plunged in that there river
again.

Rev'rend, I heard tell once about some tomfool idiot going over Niagary
in a barrel, and I tell you it was like that when I tried crossin' that
freshet to reach the contraption.

I went under and down, and was whacked by floating sticks and whirled
around in the freshet. But somehow, I d'no how except by the pure grace
of God, I got across that raging torrent and clumb up to where the crazy
dingfol machine was sitting.

Ship, he'd called it. But that were no ship, Rev'rend, it was some
flying dragon kind of thing. It was a real scarey lookin' thing but I
clumb up to the little door and hauled myself inside it. And, sure
enough, there was other people in the cabin, only they was all dead.

There was a lady and a man and some kind of an animal looked like a
bobcat only smaller, with a funny-shaped rooster-comb thing on its head.
They all--even the cat-thing--was wearing those shiny, stretchy clo'es.
And they all was so battered and smashed I didn't even bother to hunt
for their heartbeats. I could see by a look they was dead as a doornail.

Then I heard a funny little whimper, like a kitten, and in a funny,
rubber-cushioned thing there's a little boy baby, looked about six
months old. He was howling lusty enough, and when I lifted him out of
the cradle kind of thing, I saw why. That boy baby, he was wet, and his
little arm was twisted under him. That there flying contraption must
have smashed down awful hard, but that rubber hammock was so soft and
cushiony all it did to him was jolt him good.

I looked around but I couldn't find anything to wrap him in. And the
baby didn't have a stitch on him except a sort of spongy paper diaper,
wet as sin. So I finally lifted up the lady, who had a long cape thing
around her, and I took the cape off her real gentle. I knew she was dead
and she wouldn't be needin' it, and that boy baby would catch his death
if I took him out bare-naked like that. She was probably the baby's Ma;
a right pretty woman she was but smashed up something shameful.

So anyhow, to make a long story short, I got that baby boy back across
that Niagary falls somehow, and laid him down by his Pa. The man opened
his eyes kind, and said in a choky voice, "Take care--baby."

I told him I would, and said I'd try to get him up to the house where
Marthy could doctor him. The man told me not to bother. "I dying," he
says. "We come from planet--star up there--crash here--" His voice
trailed off into a language I couldn't understand, and he looked like he
was praying.

I bent over him and held his head on my knees real easy, and I said,
"Don't worry, mister, I'll take care of your little fellow until your
folks come after him. Before God I will."

So the man closed his eyes and I said, _Our Father which art in Heaven_,
and when I got through he was dead.

I got him up on Kate, but he was cruel heavy for all he was such a tall
skinny fellow. Then I wrapped that there baby up in the cape thing and
took him home and give him to Marthy. And the next day I buried the
fellow in the south medder and next meetin' day we had the baby baptized
Matthew Daniel Emmett, and brung him up just like our own kids. That's
all.

_All? Mr. Emmett, didn't you ever find out where that ship really came
from?_

Why, Rev'rend, he said it come from a star. Dying men don't lie, you
know that. I asked the Teacher about them planets he mentioned and she
says that on one of the planets--can't rightly remember the name, March
or Mark or something like that--she says some big scientist feller with
a telescope saw canals on that planet, and they'd hev to be pretty near
as big as this-here Erie canal to see them so far off. And if they could
build canals on that planet I d'no why they couldn't build a flying
machine.

I went back the next day when the water was down a little, to see if I
couldn't get the rest of them folks and bury them, but the flying
machine had broke up and washed down the crick.

Marthy's still got the cape thing. She's a powerful saving woman. We
never did tell Matt, though. Might make him feel funny to think he
didn't really b'long to us.

_But--but--Mr. Emmett, didn't anybody ask questions about the
baby--where you got it?_

Well, now, I'll 'low they was curious, because Marthy hadn't been in
the family way and they knew it. But up here folks minds their own
business pretty well, and I jest let them wonder. I told Liza Grace I'd
found her new little brother in the back pasture, and o'course it was
the truth. When Liza Grace growed up she thought it was jest one of
those yarns old folks tell the little shavers.

_And has Matthew ever shown any differences from the other children that
you could see?_

Well, Rev'rend, not so's you could notice it. He's powerful smart, but
his real Pa and Ma must have been right smart too to build a flying
contraption that could come so far.

O'course, when he were about twelve years old he started reading folks'
minds, which didn't seem exactly right. He'd tell Marthy what I was
thinkin' and things like that. He was just at the pesky age. Liza Grace
and Minnie were both a-courtin' then, and he'd drive their boy friends
crazy telling them what Liza Grace and Minnie were a-thinking and tease
the gals by telling them what the boys were thinking about.

There weren't no harm in the boy, though, it was all teasing. But it
just weren't decent, somehow. So I tuk him out behind the woodshed and
give his britches a good dusting just to remind him that that kind of
thing weren't polite nohow. And Rev'rend Doane, he ain't never done it
sence.



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Fantastic Universe_ May 1954.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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