Read Our Children's Children Online
Authors: Clifford D. Simak
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Our Children's Children
Clifford D. Simak
Bentley Price, photographer for Global News Service, had put a steak on the broiler and settled down in a lawn chair, with a can of beer in hand, to watch it, when the door opened underneath an ancient white oak tree and people started walking out of it.
It had been many years since Bentley Price had been astounded. He had come, through bitter experience, to expect the unusual and to think but little of it. He took pictures of the unusual, the bizarre, the violent, then turned around and left, sometimes most hurriedly, for there was competition such as the AP and the UPI, and an up-and-coming news photographer could allow no grass to grow beneath his feet, and while picture editors certainly were not individuals to be feared, it was often wise to keep them mollified.
But now Bentley was astounded, for what was happening was not something that could easily be imagined, or ever reconciled to any previous experience. He sat stiff in his chair, with the beer can rigid in his hand and with a glassy look about his eyes, watching the people walking from the door. Although now he saw it wasn't any door, but just a ragged hole of darkness which quivered at the edges and was somewhat larger than any ordinary door, for people were marching out of it four and five abreast.
They seemed quite ordinary people, although they were dressed a bit outlandishly, as if they might be coming home from a masquerade, although they weren't masked. If they all had been young, he would have thought they were from a university or a youth center or something of the sort, dressed up in the crazy kind of clothes that college students wore, but while some of them were young, there were a lot of them who weren't.
One of the first who had walked out of the door onto the lawn was a rather tall and thin man, but graceful in his thinness when he might have gangled. He had a great unruly mop of iron-gray hair and his neck looked like a turkey's. He wore a short gray skirt that ended just above his knobby knees and a red shawl draped across one shoulder and fastened at his waist by a belt that also held the skirt in place and he looked, Bentley told himself, like a Scot in kilts, but without the plaid.
Beside him walked a young woman dressed in a white and flowing robe that came down to her sandaled feet. The robe was belted and her intense black hair, worn in a ponytail, hung down to her waist. She had a pretty face, thought Bentleyâthe kind of prettiness that one very seldom saw, and her skin, what little could be seen of it, was as white and clear as the robe she wore.
The two walked toward Bentley and stopped in front of him.
“I presume,” said the man, “that you are the proprietor.”
There was something wrong with the way he talked. He slurred his words around, but was entirely understandable.
“I suppose,” said Bentley, “you mean do I own the joint.”
“Perhaps I do,” the other said. “My speech may not be of this day, but you seem to hear me rightly.”
“Sure I do,” said Bentley, “but what about this day? You mean to tell me you speak different every day?”
“I do not mean that at all,” said the man. “You must pardon our intrusion. It must appear unseemly. We'll endeavor not to harm your property.”
“Well, I tell you, friend,” said Bentley, “I don't own the place. I'm just holding down the homestead for an absent owner. Will you ask those people not to go tramping over flower beds? Joe's missus will be awful sore if she comes home and finds those flowers messed up. She sets store by them.”
All the time that they'd been talking, people had been coming through the door and now they were all over the place and spilling over into the yards next door and the neighbors were coming out to see what was going on.
The girl smiled brightly at Bentley. “I think you can be easy about the flowers,” she said. “These are good people, well-intentioned folks, and on their best behavior.”
“They count upon your sufferance,” said the man. “They are refugees.”
Bentley took a good look at them. They didn't look like refugees. In his time, in many different parts of the world, he had photographed a lot of refugees. Refugees were grubby people and they usually packed a lot of plunder, but these people were neat and clean and they carried very little, a small piece of luggage, perhaps, or a sort of attachÃ© case, like the one the man who was speaking with him had tucked underneath one arm.
“They don't look like refugees to me,” he said. “Where are they refugeeing from?”
“From the future,” said the man. “We beg utmost indulgence of you. What we are doing, I assure you, is a matter of life and death.”
That shook Bentley up. He went to take a drink of beer and then decided not to and, reaching down, set the beer can on the lawn. He rose slowly from his chair.
“I tell you, mister,” he said, “if this is some sort of publicity stunt I won't lift a camera. I wouldn't take no shot of no publicity stunt, no matter what it was.”
“Publicity stunt?” asked the man, and there could be no doubt that he was plainly puzzled. “I am sorry, sir. What you say eludes me.”
Bentley took a close look at the door. People still were coming out of it, still four and five abreast, and there seemed no end to them. The door still hung there, as he first had seen it, a slightly ragged blob of darkness that quivered at the edges, blotting out a small section of the lawn, but behind and beyond it he could see the trees and shrubs and the play set in the back yard of the house next door.
If it was a publicity stunt, he decided, it was a top-notch job. A lot of PR jerks must have beat their brains out to dream up one like this. How had they rigged that ragged hole and where did all the people come from?
“We come,” said the man, “from five hundred years into the future. We are fleeing from the end of the human race. We ask your help and understanding.”
Bentley stared at him. “Mister,” he asked, “you wouldn't kid me, would you? If I fell for this, I would lose my job.”
“We expected, naturally,” said the man, “to encounter disbelief. I realize there is no way we can prove our origin. We ask you, please, to accept us as what we say we are.”
“I tell you what,” said Bentley. “I will go with the gag. I will take some shots, but if I find it's publicity.â¦”
“You are speaking, I presume, of taking photographs.”
“Of course I am,” said Bentley. “The camera is my business.”
“We didn't come to have photographs taken of us. If you have some compunctions about this matter, please feel free to follow them. We will not mind at all.”
“So you don't want your pictures taken,” Bentley said fiercely. “You're like a lot of other people. You get into a jam and then you scream because someone snaps a picture of you.”
“We have no objections,” said the man. “Take as many pictures as you wish.”
“You don't mind?” Bentley asked, somewhat confused.
“Not at all.”
Bentley swung about, heading for the back door. As he turned, his foot caught the can of beer and sent it flying, spraying beer out of the hole.
Three cameras lay on the kitchen table, where he had been working with them before he'd gone out to broil the steak. He grabbed up one of them and was turning back toward the door when he thought of Molly. Maybe he better let Molly know about this, he told himself. The guy had said all these people were coming from the future and if that were true, it would be nice for Molly to be in on it from the start. Not that he believed a word of it, of course, but it was mighty funny, no matter what was going on.
He picked up the kitchen phone and dialed. He grumbled at himself. He was wasting time when he should be taking pictures. Molly might not be home. It was Sunday and a nice day and there was no reason to expect to find her home.
“Molly, this is Bentley. You know where I live?”
“You're over in Virginia. Mooching free rent off Joe while he is gone.”
“It ain't like that at all. I'm taking care of the place for him. Edna, she has all these flowers.â¦”
“Ha!” said Molly.
“What I called about,” said Bentley, “is would you come over here?”
“I will not,” said Molly. “If you have in mind making passes at me, you have to take me out.”
“I ain't making passes at no one,” Bentley protested. “I got people walking out of a door all over the back yard. They say they're from the future, from five hundred years ahead.”
“That's impossible,” said Molly.
“That's what I think, too. But where are they coming from? There must be a thousand of them out there. Even if they're not from the future, it ought to be a story. You better haul your tail out here and talk with some of them. Have your byline in all the morning papers.”
“Bentley, this is on the level?”
“On the level,” Bentley said. “I ain't drunk and I'm not trying to trick you out here and.â¦”
“All right,” she said. “I'll be right out. You better call the office. Manning had to take the Sunday trick himself this week and he's not too happy with it, so be careful how you greet him. But he'll want to get some other people out there. If this isn't just a joke.â¦”
“It's not any joke,” said Bentley. “I ain't crazy enough to joke myself out of any job.”
“I'll be seeing you,” said Molly.
She hung up.
Bentley had started to dial the office number when the screen door slammed. He looked around and the tall, thin man stood just inside the kitchen.
“You'll pardon me,” the tall man said, “but there seems to be a matter of some urgency. Some of the little folks need to use a bathroom. I wonder if you'd mind.â¦”