A wayfarer's return from a far country to his wife and family may be a
shining experience, a kind of second honeymoon. Or it may be so shadowed
by Time's relentless tyranny that the changes which have occurred in his
absence can lead only to tragedy and despair. This rarely discerning, warmly
human story by a brilliant newcomer to the science fantasy field is told
with no pulling of punches, and its adroit unfolding will astound you.
by ... Walter M. Miller, Jr.
A space rover has no business with a family. But what can a man
in the full vigor of youth do—if his heart cries out for a home?
They all knew he was a spacer
because of the white goggle marks
on his sun-scorched face, and so
they tolerated him and helped him.
They even made allowances for him
when he staggered and fell in the
aisle of the bus while pursuing the
harassed little housewife from seat
to seat and cajoling her to sit and
talk with him.
Having fallen, he decided to
sleep in the aisle. Two men helped
him to the back of the bus, dumped
him on the rear seat, and tucked his
gin bottle safely out of sight. After
all, he had not seen Earth for nine
months, and judging by the crusted
matter about his eyelids, he couldn't
have seen it too well now, even if
he had been sober. Glare-blindness,
gravity-legs, and agoraphobia were
excuses for a lot of things, when a
man was just back from Big Bottomless.
And who could blame a
man for acting strangely?
Minutes later, he was back up the
aisle and swaying giddily over the
little housewife. "How!" he said.
"Me Chief Broken Wing. You
wanta Indian wrestle?"
The girl, who sat nervously staring
at him, smiled wanly, and
shook her head.
"Quiet li'l pigeon, aren'tcha?" he
burbled affectionately, crashing into
the seat beside her.
The two men slid out of their
seats, and a hand clamped his shoulder.
"Come on, Broken Wing, let's
go back to bed."
"My name's Hogey," he said.
"Big Hogey Parker. I was just kidding
about being a Indian."
"Yeah. Come on, let's go have a
drink." They got him on his feet,
and led him stumbling back down
"My ma was half Cherokee, see?
That's how come I said it. You
wanta hear a war whoop? Real
He cupped his hands to his
mouth and favored them with a
blood-curdling proof of his ancestry,
while the female passengers
stirred restlessly and hunched in
their seats. The driver stopped the
bus and went back to warn him
against any further display. The
driver flashed a deputy's badge and
threatened to turn him over to a
"I gotta get home," Big Hogey
told him. "I got me a son now,
that's why. You know? A little
baby pigeon of a son. Haven't seen
"Will you just sit still and be
quiet then, eh?"
Big Hogey nodded emphatically.
"Shorry, officer, I didn't mean to
make any trouble."
When the bus started again, he
fell on his side and lay still. He
made retching sounds for a time,
then rested, snoring softly. The bus
driver woke him again at Caine's
junction, retrieved his gin bottle
from behind the seat, and helped
him down the aisle and out of the
Big Hogey stumbled about for a
moment, then sat down hard in the
gravel at the shoulder of the road.
The driver paused with one foot on
the step, looking around. There was
not even a store at the road junction,
but only a freight building
next to the railroad track, a couple
of farmhouses at the edge of a side-road,
and, just across the way, a deserted
filling station with a sagging
roof. The land was Great Plains
country, treeless, barren, and rolling.
Big Hogey got up and staggered
around in front of the bus, clutching
at it for support, losing his
"Hey, watch the traffic!" The
driver warned. With a surge of unwelcome
compassion he trotted
around after his troublesome passenger,
taking his arm as he sagged
again. "You crossing?"
"Yah," Hogey muttered. "Lemme
alone, I'm okay."
The driver started across the
highway with him. The traffic was
sparse, but fast and dangerous in
the central ninety-mile lane.
"I'm okay," Hogey kept protesting.
"I'm a tumbler, ya know?
Gravity's got me. Damn gravity.
I'm not used to gravity, ya know? I
used to be a tumbler—huk!—only
now I gotta be a hoofer. 'Count
of li'l Hogey. You know about li'l
"Yeah. Your son. Come on."
"Say, you gotta son? I bet you
"Two kids," said the driver,
catching Hogey's bag as it slipped
from his shoulder. "Both girls."
"Say, you oughta be home with
them kids. Man oughta stick with
his family. You oughta get another
job." Hogey eyed him owlishly,
waggled a moralistic finger, skidded
on the gravel as they stepped
onto the opposite shoulder, and
The driver blew a weary breath,
looked down at him, and shook his
head. Maybe it'd be kinder to find
a constable after all. This guy could
get himself killed, wandering
"Somebody supposed to meet
you?" he asked, squinting around
at the dusty hills.
"Huk!—who, me?" Hogey giggled,
belched, and shook his head.
"Nope. Nobody knows I'm coming.
S'prise. I'm supposed to be here a
week ago." He looked up at the
driver with a pained expression.
"Week late, ya know? Marie's
gonna be sore—woo-hoo!—is she
gonna be sore!" He waggled his
head severely at the ground.
"Which way are you going?" the
driver grunted impatiently.
Hogey pointed down the side-road
that led back into the hills.
"Marie's pop's place. You know
where? 'Bout three miles from
here. Gotta walk, I guess."
"Don't," the driver warned.
"You sit there by the culvert till
you get a ride. Okay?"
Hogey nodded forlornly.
"Now stay out of the road," the
driver warned, then hurried back
across the highway. Moments later,
the atomic battery-driven motors
droned mournfully, and the bus
Big Hogey blinked after it, rubbing
the back of his neck. "Nice
people," he said. "Nice buncha people.
With a grunt and a lurch, he got
to his feet, but his legs wouldn't
work right. With his tumbler's reflexes,
he fought to right himself
with frantic arm motions, but gravity
claimed him, and he went stumbling
into the ditch.
"Damn legs, damn crazy legs!"
The bottom of the ditch was wet,
and he crawled up the embankment
with mud-soaked knees, and sat on
the shoulder again. The gin bottle
was still intact. He had himself a
long fiery drink, and it warmed him
deep down. He blinked around at
the gaunt and treeless land.
The sun was almost down, forge-red
on a dusty horizon. The blood-streaked
sky faded into sulphurous
yellow toward the zenith, and the
very air that hung over the land
seemed full of yellow smoke, the
omnipresent dust of the plains.
A farm truck turned onto the
side-road and moaned away, its
driver hardly glancing at the dark
young man who sat swaying on his
duffle bag near the culvert. Hogey
scarcely noticed the vehicle. He just
kept staring at the crazy sun.
He shook his head. It wasn't really
the sun. The sun, the real sun,
was a hateful eye-sizzling horror in
the dead black pit. It painted everything
with pure white pain, and you
saw things by the reflected pain-light.
The fat red sun was strictly a
phoney, and it didn't fool him any.
He hated it for what he knew it was
behind the gory mask, and for what
it had done to his eyes.
With a grunt, he got to his feet,
managed to shoulder the duffle bag,
and started off down the middle of
the farm road, lurching from side
to side, and keeping his eyes on the
rolling distances. Another car turned
onto the side-road, honking angrily.
Hogey tried to turn around to
look at it, but he forgot to shift his
footing. He staggered and went
down on the pavement. The car's
tires screeched on the hot asphalt.
Hogey lay there for a moment,
groaning. That one had hurt his
hip. A car door slammed and a big
man with a florid face got out and
stalked toward him, looking angry.
"What the hell's the matter with
you, fella?" he drawled. "You
soused? Man, you've really got a
Hogey got up doggedly, shaking
his head to clear it. "Space legs," he
prevaricated. "Got space legs. Can't
stand the gravity."
The burly farmer retrieved his
gin bottle for him, still miraculously
unbroken. "Here's your gravity,"
he grunted. "Listen, fella, you better
get home pronto."
"Pronto? Hey, I'm no Mex. Honest,
I'm just space burned. You
"Yeah. Say, who are you, anyway?
Do you live around here?"
It was obvious that the big man
had taken him for a hobo or a
tramp. Hogey pulled himself together.
"Goin' to the Hauptman's
place. Marie. You know Marie?"
The farmer's eyebrows went up.
"Marie Hauptman? Sure I know
her. Only she's Marie Parker now.
Has been, nigh on six years. Say—"
He paused, then gaped. "You ain't
her husband by any chance?"
"Hogey, that's me. Big Hogey
"Well, I'll be—! Get in the car.
I'm going right past John Hauptman's
place. Boy, you're in no
shape to walk it."
He grinned wryly, waggled his
head, and helped Hogey and his
bag into the back seat. A woman
with a sun-wrinkled neck sat rigidly
beside the farmer in the front,
and she neither greeted the passenger
nor looked around.
"They don't make cars like this
anymore," the farmer called over
the growl of the ancient gasoline
engine and the grind of gears.
"You can have them new atomics
with their loads of hot isotopes
under the seat. Ain't safe, I say—eh,
The woman with the sun-baked
neck quivered her head slightly.
"A car like this was good enough
for Pa, an' I reckon it's good
enough for us," she drawled mournfully.
Five minutes later the car drew
in to the side of the road. "Reckon
you can walk it from here," the
farmer said. "That's Hauptman's
road just up ahead."
He helped Hogey out of the car
and drove away without looking
back to see if Hogey stayed on his
feet. The woman with the sun-baked
neck was suddenly talking
garrulously in his direction.
It was twilight. The sun had set,
and the yellow sky was turning
gray. Hogey was too tired to go on,
and his legs would no longer hold
him. He blinked around at the land,
got his eyes focused, and found
what looked like Hauptman's place
on a distant hillside. It was a big
frame house surrounded by a wheatfield,
and a few scrawny trees. Having
located it, he stretched out in
the tall grass beyond the ditch to
take a little rest.
Somewhere dogs were barking,
and a cricket sang creaking monotony
in the grass. Once there was the
distant thunder of a rocket blast
from the launching station six miles
to the west, but it faded quickly. An
A-motored convertible whined past
on the road, but Hogey went unseen.
When he awoke, it was night,
and he was shivering. His stomach
was screeching, and his nerves dancing
with high voltages. He sat up
and groped for his watch, then remembered
he had pawned it after
the poker game. Remembering the
game and the results of the game
made him wince and bite his lip
and grope for the bottle again.
He sat breathing heavily for a
moment after the stiff drink. Equating
time to position had become
second nature with him, but he had
to think for a moment because his
defective vision prevented him from
seeing the Earth-crescent.
Vega was almost straight above
him in the late August sky, so he
knew it wasn't much after sundown—probably
about eight o'clock. He
braced himself with another swallow
of gin, picked himself up and
got back to the road, feeling a little
sobered after the nap.
He limped on up the pavement
and turned left at the narrow drive
that led between barbed-wire fences
toward the Hauptman farmhouse,
five hundred yards or so from the
farm road. The fields on his left
belonged to Marie's father, he
knew. He was getting close—close
to home and woman and child.
He dropped the bag suddenly
and leaned against a fence post,
rolling his head on his forearms
and choking in spasms of air. He
was shaking all over, and his belly
writhed. He wanted to turn and
run. He wanted to crawl out in the
grass and hide.
What were they going to say?
And Marie, Marie most of all.
How was he going to tell her about
Six hitches in space, and every
time the promise had been the
same: One more tour, baby, and
we'll have enough dough, and then
I'll quit for good. One more time,
and we'll have our stake—enough
to open a little business, or buy a
house with a mortgage and get a
And she had waited, but the
money had never been quite enough
until this time. This time the tour
had lasted nine months, and he had
signed on for every run from station
to moon-base to pick up the
bonuses. And this time he'd made
it. Two weeks ago, there had been
forty-eight hundred in the bank.
And now ...
"Why?" he groaned, striking his
forehead against his forearms. His
arm slipped, and his head hit the
top of the fencepost, and the pain
blinded him for a moment. He staggered
back into the road with a
low roar, wiped blood from his
forehead, and savagely kicked his
It rolled a couple of yards up the
road. He leaped after it and kicked
it again. When he had finished
with it, he stood panting and angry,
but feeling better. He shouldered
the bag and hiked on toward the
They're hoofers, that's all—just
an Earth-chained bunch of hoofers,
even Marie. And I'm a tumbler. A
born tumbler. Know what that
means? It means—God, what does
it mean? It means out in Big Bottomless,
where Earth's like a fat
moon with fuzzy mold growing on
it. Mold, that's all you are, just
A dog barked, and he wondered
if he had been muttering aloud. He
came to a fence-gap and paused in
the darkness. The road wound
around and came up the hill in
front of the house. Maybe they were
sitting on the porch. Maybe they'd
already heard him coming. Maybe ...
He was trembling again. He
fished the fifth of gin out of his
coat pocket and sloshed it. Still over
half a pint. He decided to kill it. It
wouldn't do to go home with a
bottle sticking out of his pocket.
He stood there in the night wind,
sipping at it, and watching the reddish
moon come up in the east. The
moon looked as phoney as the
He straightened in sudden determination.
It had to be sometime.
Get it over with, get it over with
now. He opened the fence-gap, slipped
through, and closed it firmly
behind him. He retrieved his bag,
and waded quietly through the tall
grass until he reached the hedge
which divided an area of sickly
peach trees from the field. He got
over the hedge somehow, and started
through the trees toward the
house. He stumbled over some old
boards, and they clattered.
"Shhh!" he hissed, and moved
The dogs were barking angrily,
and he heard a screen door slam.
"Ho there!" a male voice called
experimentally from the house.
One of Marie's brothers. Hogey
stood frozen in the shadow of a
peach tree, waiting.
"Anybody out there?" the man
Hogey waited, then heard the
man muttering, "Sic 'im, boy, sic
The hound's bark became eager.
The animal came chasing down the
slope, and stopped ten feet away to
crouch and bark frantically at the
shadow in the gloom. He knew the
"Hooky!" he whispered. "Hooky
The dog stopped barking, sniffed,
trotted closer, and went
"Rrrooff!" Then he started sniffing
"Easy, Hooky, here boy!" he
The dog came forward silently,
sniffed his hand, and whined in
recognition. Then he trotted around
Hogey, panting doggy affection and
dancing an invitation to romp. The
man whistled from the porch. The
dog froze, then trotted quickly back
up the slope.
"Nothing, eh, Hooky?" the
man on the porch said. "Chasin'
armadillos again, eh?"
The screen door slammed again,
and the porch light went out.
Hogey stood there staring, unable
to think. Somewhere beyond the
window lights were—his woman,
What the hell was a tumbler doing
with a woman and a son?
After perhaps a minute, he stepped
forward again. He tripped over
a shovel, and his foot plunged into
something that went squelch and
swallowed the foot past the ankle.
He fell forward into a heap of
sand, and his foot went deeper into
the sloppy wetness.
He lay there with his stinging
forehead on his arms, cursing softly
and crying. Finally he rolled
over, pulled his foot out of the
mess, and took off his shoes. They
were full of mud—sticky sandy
The dark world was reeling
about him, and the wind was dragging
at his breath. He fell back
against the sand pile and let his
feet sink in the mud hole and wriggled
his toes. He was laughing
soundlessly, and his face was wet
in the wind. He couldn't think. He
couldn't remember where he was
and why, and he stopped caring,
and after a while he felt better.
The stars were swimming over
him, dancing crazily, and the mud
cooled his feet, and the sand was
soft behind him. He saw a rocket
go up on a tail of flame from the
station, and waited for the sound of
its blast, but he was already asleep
when it came.
It was far past midnight when he
became conscious of the dog licking
wetly at his ear and cheek. He
pushed the animal away with a low
curse and mopped at the side of his
face. He stirred, and groaned. His
feet were burning up! He tried to
pull them toward him, but they
wouldn't budge. There was something
wrong with his legs.
For an instant he stared wildly
around in the night. Then he remembered
where he was, closed his
eyes and shuddered. When he
opened them again, the moon had
emerged from behind a cloud, and
he could see clearly the cruel trap
into which he had accidentally
stumbled. A pile of old boards, a
careful stack of new lumber, a
pick and shovel, a sand-pile, heaps
of fresh-turned earth, and a concrete
mixer—well, it added up.
He gripped his ankles and pulled,
but his feet wouldn't budge. In
sudden terror, he tried to stand up,
but his ankles were clutched by the
concrete too, and he fell back in
the sand with a low moan. He lay
still for several minutes, considering
He pulled at his left foot. It was
locked in a vise. He tugged even
more desperately at his right foot.
It was equally immovable.
He sat up with a whimper and
clawed at the rough concrete until
his nails tore and his fingertips
bled. The surface still felt damp,
but it had hardened while he slept.
He sat there stunned until Hooky
began licking at his scuffed fingers.
He shouldered the dog away, and
dug his hands into the sand-pile to
stop the bleeding. Hooky licked at
his face, panting love.
"Get away!" he croaked savagely.
The dog whined softly, trotted
a short distance away, circled, and
came back to crouch down in the
sand directly before Hogey, inching
Hogey gripped fistfuls of the dry
sand and cursed between his teeth,
while his eyes wandered over the
sky. They came to rest on the sliver
of light—the space station—rising
in the west, floating out in Big Bottomless
where the gang was—Nichols
and Guerrera and Lavrenti
and Fats. And he wasn't forgetting
Keesey, the rookie who'd replaced
Keesey would have a rough time
for a while—rough as a cob. The pit
was no playground. The first time
you went out of the station in a
suit, the pit got you. Everything
was falling, and you fell, with it.
Everything. The skeletons of steel,
the tire-shaped station, the spheres
and docks and nightmare shapes—all
tied together by umbilical cables
and flexible tubes. Like some crazy
sea-thing they seemed, floating in a
black ocean with its tentacles bound
together by drifting strands in the
dark tide that bore it.
Everything was pain-bright or
dead black, and it wheeled around
you, and you went nuts trying to
figure which way was down. In fact,
it took you months to teach your
body that all ways were down and
that the pit was bottomless.
He became conscious of a plaintive
sound in the wind, and froze to
It was a baby crying.
It was nearly a minute before he
got the significance of it. It hit him
where he lived, and he began jerking
frantically at his encased feet
and sobbing low in his throat.
They'd hear him if he kept that up.
He stopped and covered his ears to
close out the cry of his firstborn. A
light went on in the house, and
when it went off again, the infant's
cry had ceased.
Another rocket went up from the
station, and he cursed it. Space was
a disease, and he had it.
"Help!" he cried out suddenly.
"I'm stuck! Help me, help me!"
He knew he was yelling hysterically
at the sky and fighting the relentless
concrete that clutched his
feet, and after a moment he stopped.
The light was on in the house
again, and he heard faint sounds.
The stirring-about woke the baby
again, and once more the infant's
wail came on the breeze.
Make the kid shut up, make the
kid shut up ...
But that was no good. It wasn't
the kid's fault. It wasn't Marie's
fault. No fathers allowed in space,
they said, but it wasn't their fault
either. They were right, and he had
only himself to blame. The kid was
an accident, but that didn't change
anything. Not a thing in the world.
It remained a tragedy.
A tumbler had no business with a
family, but what was a man going
to do? Take a skinning knife, boy,
and make yourself a eunuch. But
that was no good either. They needed
bulls out there in the pit, not
steers. And when a man came down
from a year's hitch, what was he
going to do? Live in a lonely shack
and read books for kicks? Because
you were a man, you sought out a
woman. And because she was a
woman, she got a kid, and that was
the end of it. It was nobody's fault,
nobody's at all.
He stared at the red eye of Mars
low in the southwest. They were
running out there now, and next
year he would have been on the
long long run ...
But there was no use thinking
about it. Next year and the years
after belonged to little Hogey.
He sat there with his feet locked
in the solid concrete of the footing,
staring out into Big Bottomless
while his son's cry came from the
house and the Hauptman menfolk
came wading through the tall grass
in search of someone who had cried
out. His feet were stuck tight, and
he wouldn't ever get them out. He
was sobbing softly when they found
This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe September 1955.
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.