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Title: Seller of the Sky
Author: Dryfoos, Dave
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 "Seller of the Sky" ***

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                           SELLER OF THE SKY

                            BY DAVE DRYFOOS

            _No one took Old Arch seriously; he was just an
         ancient, broken-down wanderer who went about seeking
          alms and spreading tales of the great Outside. But
           sometimes children are curious and believing when
                 adults are cynical and doubting...._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
             Worlds of If Science Fiction, February 1955.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


There have always been the touched, the blessés, God's poor. Such a one
was Old Arch. Archer Jakes, the Wanderer of the Plains.

They say he was born on Earth in 3042 and taken to Mazzeppa as a child.
That he learned pilotage and mining. But that he was injured in a
cave-in on Hurretni in 3068 or thereabouts, and then his wife died in a
landing accident and his child was taken from him and adopted by people
he never could find.

Those things are too far distant in time and space to be verified now.
But it is a fact that by 4000, when my grandfather Hockington Hammer
was growing up in New Oshkosh, Old Arch was a familiar figure in all
the Domed Cities of the Plains.

He looked ancient then, with his deformed back that people touched for
luck, and his wild hair and beard, and ragged castoff clothing. On his
back he carried a roll of cloth he called his bed, though it looked
like no bed any City man had ever seen. In his right hand he carried
a staff of wood, unless someone bought it from him and gave him a
plastic rod in its place. And in his left he carried what he called a
billy can, which was a food container with a loop of wire across the
top for a handle, and the bottom blackened by what he said was fire.

It would have been like no fire any City man had ever seen. Even the
water in the can would be poison to a City man. When he came in the
airlocks the guards would make him throw it away.

"Why the lock?" he'd demand, coming into a City. "Why the lock and why
the plastic bubble over all and why the guards? There's no pollution.
Am I not alive?"

The guards would touch his hump and make circular motions at the sides
of their heads and raise their eyebrows as if to say, "Yes, you're
alive. But are you not crazy?"

Still they would admit him, the only nonresident to walk between the
Domed Cities of the Plains and enter all of them; the only man to pass
unharmed through the camps of the Outsiders who lived in the open on
the Plains at the heart of the North American Continent of Earth.

And Old Arch would go to the residence buildings and he'd knock on
someone's door--any door, chosen at random--and he'd say, "Have you
seen the sky and do you know it's blue? Have you felt the soft kiss of
the breezes? I can show you where to breathe fresh air."

Maybe the people would say, "Phew! Does it smell like you, this fresh
air?" and slam the door in his face.

Or maybe they'd say, "Come on around to the back, Old Man, and we'll
find you something to eat."

Then Old Arch would shoulder his bed and pick up his billy can and his
staff and walk down the stairs and go around to the back and walk up
the stairs to the rear door.

It might be an hour before he appeared there--it might be two. When he
did, the people would ask, "Why didn't you say something? You should
have known they wouldn't let you in the elevator! And twenty flights
down and twenty flights up again is too much for a man of your years."

Then, the next time he came they would do the same thing again.

In the kitchen he would refuse all the pills and potions and shots, and
insist on bulky foods. These he would eat neatly, holding aside the
long white hair around his mouth and brushing the crumbs from it often.
What he couldn't eat right away would go into his blackened billy can.

The children would come before he finished--those of the household,
and neighbor kids too. First they'd stand shyly and watch him from a
doorway. Then they'd press closer. By the time he got through they'd
be fighting to sit on his lap.

The winner would climb up and sit there proudly. One of the losers,
trying to prove he hadn't lost much, might wrinkle up his nose and say,
"What's that awful stink, Old Man?"

And Arch would answer mildly, "It's only wood smoke, son."

Then the children would ask, "What's wood, please? And what's smoke?"

And he would tell them.

He would tell of the wind and the rain and the snow; of the cattalo
herds that roamed to the west and the cities that lay to the east and
the stars and the Moon that they never had seen. He would claim to have
been in the endless forests and on the treeless plains and to have
tasted the salt ocean and drunk of the freshwater lakes and rivers.

The children would have heard, in their lessons and from their elders,
enough to know what he was talking about. Sometimes they would tire of
it, and ask him to tell of the distant planets and their far-off suns.
But this he would not do.

"You already hear too much about them," he'd say. "I want you to know
Earth. Your own country. The one planet on which these plastic-covered
cities are unnecessary, where you can actually go out and roll on the
grass."

Then the children might ask, "What's grass?"

But their fathers would pointedly say, "What about the radioactivity,
Old Man?"

"I'm alive," he'd reply. "There's no radioactivity out there."

But they'd say, "How can we be sure? There are individual differences
of susceptibility. Probably you are unhurt by dosages that would kill
any normal person."

And the mothers would say, "Eat some more, Old Man. Eat--and go. Bring
our babies dreams, if you like, but don't try to tempt them Outside.
Even if it isn't radioactive there, you've admitted it gets hot and it
gets cold and the wind blows fiercely hard. Our babies were born under
shelter, and under shelter they must stay, like us and our parents
before us."

So Old Arch would brush off his whiskers one last time and maybe put on
an old shirt the father dug up for him and then go out the back way. In
spite of what might have been said, he would have to walk the twenty
flights down to the ground because he wouldn't be invited to walk
through the apartment to the front hall where the elevator was.

Sometimes people were hostile when he spoke to their children, and they
would have him arrested. He was then bathed and barbered in the jail,
and was given all new clothes. But they'd always burn his bed, and he'd
have trouble getting a new one. And sometimes a jailor might covet the
pocketknife he carried, or take away his billy can. On the whole I
think he preferred not to go to jail except perhaps in winter, when it
was cold outside the City.

There were always those ready to talk of asylums, and the need to
put him away for his own good. But nobody was sure where his legal
residence was, so he wasn't really eligible for public hospitalization.

He kept to his rounds. My grandfather remembers standing in his
mother's kitchen listening to Old Arch. It was like meeting one of
Joseph's brethren and being told exactly what the coat looked like.
Something exciting out of a dream from the remote past, when all the
worlds had on them those bright moist diamonds Arch described as
morning dew.

My grandfather wanted to see the morning dew, though he knew better
than to say so.

Old Arch understood. He tried to make the thing possible. But an
opportunity to see the morning dew was something he just couldn't give
to my grandfather or anybody else.

So he decided to sell it.

He persuaded a charitable lithographer to make him a batch of stock
certificates. They looked very authentic. Each said plainly it was good
for one share of blue sky, though the fat half-draped woman portrayed
in three colors stood outside a Domed City pointing not at the sky but
at a distant river with forested hills behind it.

Arch sold his certificates for a stiff price; ten dollars apiece. He
could do it because by this time his wanderings followed a fairly
definite route. The people who hated or feared or despised him
were pretty well eliminated from it, and most of his calls were at
apartments where he was known and expected and even respected a little.

My grandfather's was one of these--or rather, my great-grandfather's.
When Arch first brought his stock certificates my grandfather was a
little fellow everybody called Ham, maybe seven years old. He had a
sister named Annie who was five. He's given me a mental picture of the
two of them standing close together for reassurance, and from an open
doorway shyly watching the old man eat and listening to him talk.

When my great-grandfather bought a ten dollar stock certificate in my
grandfather's name, my grandfather took it as a promise. And his little
sister Annie was so jealous that the next time Old Arch came around my
great-grandfather had to buy a share for her.

       *       *       *       *       *

As they grew to be nine, ten, eleven, twelve, every winter when Old
Arch would come around, my grandfather and his sister Annie would ask,
"When are you going to take us to see the sky, Arch?" And he would say,
"When you're older. When your folks say you can go." And, "When it's
summer, and not too cold for these old bones."

But when my grandfather was fourteen he followed Old Arch out and down
the stairs after the old man had paid his annual call, and he stopped
him on a landing to ask, "Arch, have you ever taken anyone Outside?"

"No," Arch said, sighing. "People won't go."

"I'll go," said my grandfather, "and so will my sister Annie."

Arch looked at him and put a hand on him and said, "I don't want to
come between any boy and his parents."

"Well," said my grandfather, "you sold them a share of sky for each of
us. Do you really want us to have that, or do you just want to talk
about it?"

"Of course I want you to. But I can't take you Outside, boy."

My grandfather was disgusted. "There isn't any sky," he said sadly.
"It's all talk. The certificates were just for begging."

"No," said Arch. "It's not all talk and I'm not a beggar. I'm a guide.
But it's hard to see the sky right now because it's winter, and there
are clouds all over."

"Let's see the clouds, then," my grandfather said stubbornly. "I've
never seen a cloud."

The old man sat down on the stairs to consider the matter.

"I can't do this thing to your parents," he said at last.

"But you can do it to me and my sister," my grandfather charged wildly.
"You can come to the house year after year after year, and tell us
about the sky and the wind and the moon and the dew and the grass and
the sun. You can even take money for our share of them. But when it
comes time to produce--when we're old enough to go where these things
are supposed to be--you think of excuses.

"I don't believe there are any such things," he shouted. "I think
you're a liar. I think you ought to be arrested for gypping my dad on
the stock deal, and I'm going to turn you in."

"Don't do that, boy," Arch said mildly.

"Then take us Outside--today!"

"It's winter, my boy. We'd freeze."

"You've said it's pretty in winter! You took the money for the
certificate."

"I suppose you'll grow away from your parents soon anyhow; I suppose
you have to.... Get your warmest clothes and meet me at emergency exit
four."

My grandfather talked it over with his sister Annie and of course they
didn't have any warm clothes, but they'd heard so often from Old Arch
about the cold that they put on two sets of tights apiece, and two
pairs of sox, and then they hunted for the emergency exit.

They'd never been there before. They didn't know anyone who had. The
signs pointing to it were all worn and defaced.

And it was a long way to go. After a while Annie began to hang back.

"How do we know the exit will work?" she asked. "And how will we get
back in if we ever do get out?"

"You don't have to come," my grandfather said. "But you'll have to find
your own way home from here."

"I'll bet I could," she said. "But I'm not going to. I don't think Old
Arch will even be at the exit."

But he was.

He looked at them carefully to see how they were dressed. "You mean
trouble for me, girl," he told Annie. "They'll think I took you along
to make love to."

She had just reached that betwixt and between stage where she was
beginning to look like a woman but didn't yet think like one. "Pooh!"
she said. "I can run faster and hit harder than you can, Arch. You
don't worry me a bit."

Old Arch sighed and led them through the lock. They stepped out into a
raging snowstorm, which soon draped a cloak of invisibility over them.

Neither my grandfather nor Annie had ever smelled fresh air before. It
threatened to make them drunk. Their nostrils tingled and their eyes
misted over and their breath steamed up like bathwater. For the first
time in their lives, they shivered.

When the City was out of sight in the storm, they stopped for a moment
in the ankle-deep snow and just listened. They held their breaths and
heard silence for the first time in their lives.

Old Arch reached down and picked up some soft snow and threw it at
them. They pelted him back, and then, because he was so old, attacked
each other instead, shouting and throwing snowballs and running
aimlessly.

Old Arch soon checked them. "Don't get lost," he said. "We're walking
down hill. Don't forget that. We're going into a draw where there are
some trees."

He coughed and drew his rags about him. "The city is up hill," he said.
"If you keep walking around it you'll find a way in."

His tone was frightening. Annie clung to my grandfather and made him
walk close to the old man. It was clear the old man didn't have enough
clothes on. He staggered and leaned hard on my grandfather.

They kept moving down the slight grade. They saw no sky and little of
anything else. The snow was like a miniature of the City's Dome, except
that this dome floated over them as they walked. Its edges were only
about fifty yards off.

"Where are the Outsiders?" my grandfather asked. "Aren't there people
here?"

"They're miles away," Arch told him. "And indoors. Only fools and
youngsters are out in this blizzard."

"Fools is right," Annie said tartly. "There was supposed to be sky. And
there isn't."

Old Arch staggered again. To my grandfather he said, "Could--could you
carry my pack?"

My grandfather took it and they went on, stumbling blindly through
knee-deep drifts, getting more and more chilled and less and less
comfortable, 'til they came to a small clump of trees with a solidly
frozen creek running through it.

Here Old Arch made a lean-to shelter of windfallen limbs. Annie and my
grandfather helped as soon as they understood the design. Arch spread
part of his bed over the lean-to, breaking the force of the wind, and
put the rest inside. Just outside, on a place scraped bare of snow, he
built the first wood fire my grandfather and Annie had ever seen.

He chipped ice from the creek and put it in his billy can and hung the
can by its bail over the fire, and in due course they had a little hot
tea.

The youngsters felt cold but happy. The old man shivered and coughed.

He'd kept moving till the tea was made. He sat still to drink it, and
couldn't get up.

"Go to bed," Annie told him. "Ham will get on one side of you and I'll
get on the other. We'll keep you warm."

Old Arch tried to protest but was almost beyond speech. The youngsters
didn't know enough to brush the snow off him or themselves. They helped
him roll up in his bedding and crawled under the lean-to after him.
There they all lay in a heap, getting colder and damper and more
miserable, till finally my grandfather couldn't stand it any more.

He got up and looked around. The inverted cup of visibility was
smaller. Darkness fell like a dye-stuff, turning the white snow to
gray, to black.

It was a bitter night. The first he'd ever had outdoors. It was the
first Annie'd ever had. The first either had ever spent at the futile
task of holding off death.

They knew Old Arch was dying. As the night wore on he sank into
semi-consciousness. They hugged him and rubbed his lean old limbs.

Just before morning the snow stopped. The old man roused a little,
became gradually aware of his surroundings.

"Go look at the sun," he murmured. "Go see the sunrise."

They went out to look. Neither had ever seen a sunrise before. It was
mauve first, then red, then gold, then blue. Venus led the way, and the
sun followed. The moon, deep in the west, was like a tombstone to the
dead night.

A bird chirruped. A clot of snow fell from a tree with a soft ruffle of
cottony drums.

My grandfather held his sister's hand and looked and sniffed at the
great Earth from which he'd been separated by the fear-inspired plastic
over his City, so near, now, in the clear morning light. He climbed
with Annie up the side of the draw and looked out over snow-covered
plains stretching to a horizon farther away than the longest distance
he'd ever imagined.

He went back and took Old Arch's head up on his knees and said, "Is it
like this every day?"

And the old man said, "No, each day is different."

And my grandfather said, "Well, I've seen one, anyhow."

"That's what I've lived for," said Old Arch. And he smiled and stopped
living.

Annie and my grandfather left him there and went back to the City and
told the guards and their family. A burial party was sent out; guards,
in their helmeted spacesuits.

People heard about it and followed. Everyone was curious because
they'd all seen Old Arch and wondered about him.

Hundreds of people went out the gate--so many, the guards couldn't stop
them. They saw the lean-to and the open fire and the woods and the snow
and the frozen creek. They smelled the air and the smoke. They heard a
bird. They tossed snowballs.

And then they went back and flung rocks through their City's Dome.





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