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A World Apart   By: (1910-1996)

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For obvious reasons, since time travel has yet to be invented as far as we know, science fiction authors usually attribute it to the future. Yet there is always the possibility that somewhere, somehow, somewhen, it has already been put to use. A possibility which Sammy Merwin here considers in highly intriguing and human terms. Let's go back with Coulter....

a world apart

by ... Sam Merwin, Jr.

Most men of middle age would welcome a chance to live their lives a second time. But Coulter did not.

It wasn't much of a bump. The shock absorbers of the liquid smooth convertible neutralized all but a tiny percent of the jarring impact before it could reach the imported English flannel seat of Coulter's expensively tailored pants. But it was sufficient to jolt him out of his reverie, trebly induced by a four course luncheon with cocktails and liqueur, the nostalgia of returning to a hometown unvisited in twenty years and the fact that he was driving westward into an afternoon sun.

Coulter grunted mild resentment at being thus disturbed. Then, as he quickly, incredulously scanned the road ahead and the car whose wheel was gripped by his gloved hands, he narrowed his eyes and muttered to himself, "Wake up! For God's sake snap out of it!"

The road itself had changed. From a twin laned ten car highway, carefully graded and landscaped and clover leafed, it had become a single laned three car thoroughfare, paved with tar instead of concrete and high crowned along its center. He swung the wheel quickly to avoid running onto a dirt shoulder hardened with ice.

Its curves were no longer graded for high speed cars but were scarcely tilted at all, when they didn't slant the wrong way. Its crossings were blind, level and unprotected by traffic lights. Neat unattractive clusters of mass built houses interspersed with occasional clumps of woodland had been replaced with long stretches of pine woods, only occasionally relieved by houses and barns of obviously antique manufacture. Some of these looked disturbingly familiar.

And the roadside signs all at once they were everywhere. Here a weathered but still legible little Burma Shave series, a wooden Horlick's contented cow, Socony, That Good Gulf Gasoline, the black cat face bespeaking Catspaw Rubber Heels. Here were the coal black Gold Dust twins, Kelly Springfield's Lotta Miles peering through a large rubber tire, a cocked hatted boniface advertising New York's Prince George Hotel, the sleepy Fisk Tire boy in his pajamas and carrying a candle.

And then a huge opened book with a quill pen stuck in an inkwell alongside. On the right hand page it said, United States Tires Are Good Tires and on the left, You are 3 1/2 miles from Lincolnville. In 1778 General O'Hara, leading a British raiding party inland, was ambushed on this spot by Colonel Amos Coulter and his militia and forced to retreat with heavy loss.

Slowing down because the high crowned road was slippery with sun melted ice, Coulter noted that the steering wheel responded heavily. Then he saw suddenly that it was smaller than he'd remembered and made of black rubber instead of the almond hued plastic of his new convertible. And his light costly fabric gloves had become black leather, lined with fur!

A gong rang in his memory. He had driven this road many times in years gone by, he had known all these signs as quasi landmarks, he had worn such gloves one winter. There had been a little triangular tear in the heel of the left one, where he had snagged it on a nail sticking out of the garage wall. But that had been many years ago....

He looked and found the tear and felt cold sweat bathe his body under his clothes. And he was suddenly, mightily, afraid....

He hit another bump and this time the springs did not take up the shock. He felt briefly like a rodeo cowboy riding a bucking mustang. The car in which he rode had changed... Continue reading book >>

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