The Project Gutenberg eBook of Z

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Title: Z

Author: Charles L. Fontenay

Illustrator: Ed Emshwiller

Release date: May 15, 2019 [eBook #59515]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at




Time reversal exists at the sub-atomic level
according to Feynman's Theory—and according to
that same theory any entity can exist in three
places at one time.... Does this explain, the
strange co-existence of Summer, Mark and Wyn?

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, June 1956.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

What scientific or supernatural principle is behind the mysterious appearances recorded some years ago by Mr. Charles Fort, I'm sure I don't know. It could, of course, be the same as that behind the sudden appearance of Wyndham Storm in Central Park, but I don't believe I've heard of a case that exactly paralleled this one.

I gather from a perusal of Mr. Fort's works that it is not uncommon for these unheralded visitors to come onstage without the formality of clothing; but I don't believe it's customary for them to bring their wives along.

I got caught in a thunderstorm that night in Central Park—not New York's Central Park, but Allertown's Central Park, which isn't as big. Having no raincoat—the skies had appeared clear when I left home for the movies—I took refuge in the big octagonal bandstand.

The storm was brief, but spectacular; one of those violent affairs that often mark the arrival of a cold front to dispel an unusually intense midsummer heat wave. The rain slashed across the park in wind-whipped sheets, managing to drench me even in my shelter. Big trees bowed low and reluctantly hurled away leaves and limbs. Thunder rolled incessantly and the lightning made an eerie daylight of the blackness.

Suddenly, there was a terrific clap of thunder and a fiery flash that blotted out everything around me. Shaken, I picked myself up from the floor of the bandstand, still not sure I hadn't been struck. Blue smoke was boiling away from a wrecked tree about thirty feet away, in the midst of a clump of charred, waving shrubbery.

And like Venus rising from the foam the naked woman stepped out of the shrubbery, followed by the naked man.

My first impulse was to laugh at these two whom the storm had chased from their hiding place and to be astonished at their brashness in disrobing completely in the heart of the park. Then it occurred to me that the lightning must have stripped them. They might be hurt.

I jumped from the bandstand and walked swiftly over to them. To my utter amazement, the young woman promptly threw her arms around my neck and said:

"Whatever has just happened, Don, I want you to know it's you I love."

Then she kissed me.

"What on earth!" I exclaimed, disengaging myself. The man was looking from one to the other of us, mutely.

"I'm Summer Storm and this is my husband, Wyn Storm, and we live at 138 March Street," she said, all in a rush. "Oh, Don, I'm sorry you don't know us any more, but I should have known from the way Wyn was acting and everything that's going to happen...."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute!" I interrupted. "I don't know you. How did you know my name?"

She didn't answer, but just stood there, looking at me intently. I averted my eyes. I was beginning to recover from shock enough to be embarrassed.

"How about this?" I asked the man. "Why should I know you, and where do you come from?"

"I'm afraid I don't know," he replied, sounding perfectly honest about it. "I'm afraid I don't remember anything. Do you suppose I have amnesia?"

"That's possible," I said. "But your wife seems not to be bothered with it. All right. Summer Storm and Wyn Storm it is—but the names are too trite in these circumstances not to be false. Both of you had better get back in the shrubbery while I get some help."

I found the policeman on the Main Street beat. As I thought, it was my old friend, Gus Adams. He accompanied me back to the park, the rain gleaming on his slicker.

"They picked a good address to lie about," he said, when I had explained the situation to him on the way. "The house at 138 March Street is vacant."

"They're probably spooners who got caught by that lightning bolt and are too ashamed to give their right names," I said. "If they had any clothes, I don't know what happened to them. I didn't see any in those bushes."

"What do you figure I ought to do with them, Mr. Gracey?" he asked.

"They look like decent youngsters," I said. "If it's all right with you, we'll take them out to my house until they're ready to let me help them get back where they came from."

"You're taking a chance," he grunted. But we wrapped the woman in his slicker and tied my best suit coat around the man's waist. Gus called the town's only patrol car and had them drive us out to my house.

I suppose nudists and doctors eventually reach the point where they look on nakedness as normal. But, to me, my "orphans of the storm" looked a lot more like human beings when I had them clothed in a couple of my old sweaters and some slacks.

They might have been twins. For all I knew, they were, in spite of the woman's claim that they were man and wife. Their eyes were an identical sky-blue, their hair an identical pale, wavy gold. Her hair was cut short, his needed cutting, so they were a good match. I judged their ages to be about 23, although I've been over-estimating young women's ages since I passed 30.

"Now, suppose you tell me where you're from and what this is all about," I said sternly, when they had finished eating the meal I had rustled up for them.

The man spread his hands and, for the first time, he smiled. It was the smile of an archangel. Whatever the failure of his memory, his smile was that of wisdom and patience. I was to find, not much later, that the woman's smile was its feminine counterpart.

"I'm afraid I don't remember anything before standing in the park in the rain," said the man.

"What's wrong? What's wrong, Don?" demanded the woman, a note of hysteria in her voice. "What's happening to us?"

"It's just that I don't understand this situation at all," I said. "You say you're husband and wife. Then you won't mind both sleeping here in the den, and tomorrow we'll see what we can find out."

In this remarkable fashion began a remarkable fifteen years.

Looking back on it, I suppose I loved Summer Storm from the time I saw her. I've been trying to decide what that makes me. Incestuous? Just narcissistic? Or, perhaps, Jovian?

She was alone in the den when I looked in the next morning before breakfast. Wyn—short for "Wyndham," I learned later—was wandering around in the back yard, looking lost.

Summer had a pair of my scissors in her hand, evidently preparing to trim her hair. Somewhat to my surprise, she looked contrite when she saw me.

"I just thought I might look better with short hair," she explained.

"Good Lord, it's too short now!" I exclaimed. "I like women with long hair."

She hesitated, then reached up to begin clipping. Somewhat nettled, I turned on my heel and walked out.

That incident is noteworthy for its strange sequel. At breakfast, I was thunderstruck to observe that Summer Storm's hair was long—at least shoulder length, for it was done up in a neat bun behind her head. Where in my house had she found a wig to match her own hair? And how long must the wig have been originally, for her to have cut from it the long tresses I found later in the wastebasket?

After breakfast, I took Wyn with me to check on the house at 138 March Street. I left Summer at home. Although she claimed to remember things and Wyn said he couldn't, I could make nothing of her "memories." There was a strangeness about talking with her, too, something I couldn't quite put my finger on yet.

As Gus had said, the house at 138 March Street was vacant. It was for rent. The owner, old Albert Meecham, lived next door, and I made an impulsive decision on the spot.

"Your wife insists you live here, so you two must be connected with this address in some way," I told Wyn. "I'll rent the place for you while we're trying to run down some information on your background. If you decide to stay in Allertown, you can pay me back after you get a job."

The only way I knew to probe the origins of Wyn and Summer was through the customary channels. That afternoon, I went down to the police station to talk with my friend, Gus, before he started on his beat.

The Allertown police station is nothing but a room in the ancient city hall, a block off Main Street, but it does have a separate outside entrance. Gus was sitting on a bench in the shade by the entrance, fanning himself with his cap. The perspiration pasted his dark blue shirt to his well-padded arms and chest. The relief the storm had brought hadn't lasted long.

I sat down on the other end of the bench.

"Gus," I said, "can you fellows help me find out who those people are we picked up in the park last night? It's funny, but the man has amnesia, and I think the woman's a little strange in the head."

Gus looked at me a little reproachfully. He laid the cap down, to pull his handkerchief from his hip pocket and mop his brow.

"You mean that story you told me was the truth?" he asked. "I thought they might be some relatives of yours, that had got into some sort of a scrape. Both of them look a lot like you."

"Do they? Well, they're no relatives of mine. I'd like to know just who they are. Mr. and Mrs. Wyndham Storm, she says."

"They don't come from Allertown," he said. "I'd know them if they was from Allertown. But they was raised around in this country somewhere."

"How do you know that?"

"There's a way of talking folks have around here. You don't hear it outside these three or four counties, and you wouldn't notice it if you wasn't watching for it. Take my word for it, those folks was born and raised not fifty miles from here."

"Well, just to be on the safe side, you'd better check to see that they're not wanted criminals," I said. "Amnesia would make a good dodge for a criminal."

"I've already done that," he said quietly. "They're not."

Wyn and Summer weren't missing persons from anywhere in our section of the state, either. Gus looked into that angle very thoroughly during the next few weeks, and reported failure.

Wyn got a job as clerk at McClellan's Dry Goods Store and, for reasons he did not confide to me, enrolled in night classes at Slayden College. He and Summer soon were established in the neighborhood as "that nice young couple that Don Gracey brought in from somewhere out West." How the townspeople got started on that Western origin theory, I don't know; I suppose it's natural for people to tack some sort of an origin on strangers.

I confess that their origin soon became a matter of minor importance to me, although I remained curious about it. I found Wyn extremely likeable; we became very close friends, although I estimate that I am ten to fifteen years older than Wyn. And, as I say, I was in love with Summer, although it was a long time before I admitted that to myself.

I told myself I felt about Summer as I would my own daughter, if a bachelor like me could say such a thing; and I felt toward Wyn as though he were my son. There was a good deal of accuracy to that description of my feelings, but there was a mystery about Summer that drew me powerfully.

I think the unattainable in woman is always irresistible. Summer had the most peculiar air of unattainability about her I ever have experienced. It was as though, when I touched her, it was a fleeting touch; when I looked at her, I was constantly beset by the feeling that she would, the next instant, shimmer into insubstantiality.

Talking with her heightened this illusion, rather than lessening it. A conversation with Summer was a unique experience. It was a little like two people trying to talk at once, each talking, then each hesitating to let the other have his say. Our words crossed each other, like scissor blades that do not quite meet. She might answer a question before it was asked, or take the conversation off on tangent after tangent. Disconnected, discontinuous—those adjectives describe our conversations.

Except for his amnesia, dating back to the night in the park, Wyn was perfectly normal. After some time, he confided that he, too, was concerned about Summer's strangeness. I got the impression from him—though he did not go into great detail—that it extended beyond her conversation, to her actions.

"It seems to me that I ought to know what's wrong with Summer," he told me, very puzzled about it. "I mean, it seems I ought to remember. But I don't. I've gone so far as to talk it over with her."

"What did she say?" I asked.

"She said she wasn't going to tell me now. She said she'd tell me one of these days, but that when she did, I'd leave her. She smiled all the time she was saying it, in the strangest way."

Well, we had Summer examined. Old Doctor Lodge is no psychiatrist, but a man isn't a general practitioner for as long as he's been at it without learning something about the way a person's mind ticks. He said there was nothing wrong with Summer, mentally.

"She acts like she's still suffering a little from some sort of shock," he said. "If she was right next to a lightning bolt when it struck, I'm not surprised. It's lasting a little longer than such things usually do, but it'll clear up."

It didn't clear up, but Wyn and I got used to it.

Amateurs, they say, shouldn't fool around with hypnosis, and I suppose there's a sound reason behind that admonition. But I'm a little better than the average amateur hypnotist. I've not only done a good deal of it at club benefits and what not, but I've read pretty heavily in psychology. I decided to see if hypnotizing Wyn would give me any clue to his past and Summer's.

Summer sat beside me that night at their home, as I went through the familiar motions and Wyn sank into hypnotic trance.

Under hypnosis, Wyn recalled easily everything that had happened since that night in the park. But attempts to regress him past that night brought only a death-like silence, in which he sat pale and immobile. I tried several times, and at last succeeded in getting him in an extremely deep hypnotic state.

Suddenly, Summer interrupted with an exclamation.

"That's me!" she exclaimed. "That's what I told him four years ago!"

"Quiet, Summer," I commanded, looking at her curiously. "I think I may be able to get something out of Wyn now."

Despite total lack of response when regressed to ages 22 and 20, I regressed him to age 18. He stirred and murmured. His eyelids fluttered.

"What do you see?" I asked eagerly. "What are you doing?"

"Wyn?" he exclaimed. His voice was clear and treble, the voice of a woman, as he called his own name. He clenched his fists, and moved his head from side to side. "Wyn, I'm going to have a baby!"

"What!" I exploded, amazed. "Wyn, what do you see?"

He opened his eyes.

"Why, I see you, Don," he said in his normal hearty voice. "What else should I see?"

With a suddenness I never have seen before or since, he had come out of the hypnotic state. I was afraid to delve any deeper. I didn't try hypnosis again.

During these first few years, Wyn and Summer gradually lost that identity of appearance which had made them look so much like twins the night I found them in the park. Wyn aged, not excessively but as any adult man would age in a few years. Summer, on the other hand, seemed to have found the secret of eternal youth. She grew ever more delicate and beautiful, and her fair skin seemed to take on a translucent glow.

I was a close friend of the couple, and I found that I was alone with Summer a good deal. Summer had shown an interest in schooling, too. She started in college with Wyn, then dropped back to high school, and finally fell back on studying at home. It wasn't that she wasn't bright. She seemed to recognize the facts she was studying almost at once, but tests and examinations were her downfall. She never could remember enough of the things she had studied to make a passing grade.

So I went to the house at 138 March Street often in the early evenings, to help Summer in her studies.

Their son was born about six years after they came to Allertown. It was a peculiar thing. There was no noticeable sign of pregnancy. Summer was sure she was pregnant, but Doctor Lodge scoffed at her, right up to the time of the birth.

"Sure, she has milk," he told Wyn and me, tugging at his white mustache and giving us a wise smile. "It's not unusual. She isn't carrying a child, though. It's a false pregnancy."

But the child was born. Then Doctor Lodge reversed himself and insisted she was carrying an unborn twin. Again he was wrong. Summer gradually but steadily recovered from the effects of the birth and regained her slender figure.

I still do not attempt to excuse Wyn for leaving his wife and newborn son. He was overwrought, it's true, but he should have taken them with him.

Instead, he came to me, his suitcase packed, when the child was about a month old. His face showed his agitation.

"Don, I'm leaving Summer," he said abruptly.

"Wyn! Why? What's happened?"

"I found out yesterday why she acts and talks so strangely. She told me. I couldn't sleep last night, and I've decided I must leave Allertown. Somewhere there may be people who can help me, but I can't find the help I need here."

"Was it so terrible?" I asked, trying to calm him. "What did she tell you, Wyn?"

He leaned forward intensely, pointing a finger at me, and opened his mouth to speak. Then he shut it and sat back. He shook his head.

"No," he said. "Maybe it wouldn't affect you as it has me, but you couldn't feel comfortable about it. All I want from you, Don, is the promise that you'll take care of Summer and little Mark for me until I come back."

"You know I'll do that. They can move in here right away. But I think you're making a mistake, running away from whatever it is."

"I'm not running away," he replied. "I told you, I've got to have help."

That's all he would say. He left on the mid-afternoon train for Mayer City, and I went around to 138 March Street to help move his wife and child into my own home.

I didn't recall until three days later that Summer had predicted—or so Wyn had said—that when she told him why she acted as she did, he would leave her.

If I can't excuse Wyn for leaving his wife and child, I have even less excuse for becoming his wife's lover. The fact that the interlude may have been necessary to his very existence—and hers—is no justification, for I did not know that then. Nor do I know it certainly now.

But picture the plight of a man who has in his home a young and beautiful woman, the realization growing on him, day by day, that he has loved her for six years. And it was Summer's fault, as much as my own. Perhaps more. Despite Wyn's words, I could not be sure that he would return to her, and certainly she must have known that he would. Despite this, she did more than merely encourage me.

I have wondered often about the philosophical implications of this fact. If Summer had not encouraged me, I wouldn't have been bold enough to make any advances on my own account ... and where would that have left Summer?

On the other hand, it was the most natural thing in the world that Summer should encourage me. She knew.

Wyn had been away only about two months when Summer, rousing herself from a deeply pensive mood one night, sat down by my side on the sofa and snuggled up close to me. I couldn't bring myself to pull away from her, but I exclaimed:

"Summer, this isn't right. What about Wyn?"

"I don't understand this coolness toward me, Don," she said, laying her head on my shoulder. "People who love each other shouldn't act so aloof."

I was thunderstruck at this admission. But I couldn't help saying what I said then.

"I do love you, Summer," I confessed, almost choking.

At once she arose and left me. I thought I had offended her, and I was almost relieved that I had. It was best that she should be discouraged about any ideas she might have about me.

But thirty minutes later she gave me a smile that made me not so sure she was offended. And the incident seemed to increase, rather than dampen, the warmth of her attitude toward me.

It was unpardonable, with Wyn gone so short a time, but I had no strength to resist the inexorable attentions of a woman I loved. When she came to me in negligee late one night a week later, I became Summer's lover.

I have said it was partly Summer's fault, and the sequence of events would make it appear almost entirely her fault. This is not true; and I found out several years later why it is not true.

My inexcusable affair with Summer lasted for about a year, before the conversation occurred which caused me to terminate it abruptly. I had just entered the parlor, where Summer was curled in a big chair, reading.

"I don't see any reason for our not loving each other, if we really do, Don," she said petulantly. "Wyn says he's my husband, but I don't feel that he is. Why should I be tied by a marriage ceremony I don't know anything about yet?"

I could not answer, for I was looking at her through new eyes. Her tone of voice had been so like that of an indignant child that it awakened me to something I should have seen before.

How like an adolescent girl she was, really! The pale gold hair framed a young face. Despite the rondures of her figure, there was a looseness about the way her legs were attached to her pelvis, giving her frame that impression of hollowness that is frequent among slender young virgins.

In the seven years I had known her, how could I ever have built up in my mind the picture of her as a mature woman?

When I thought about that sudden protestation of hers, made after we had lived as man and wife for a year, it seemed to me that it could only have arisen from remorse at such a situation. But it was neither this nor the fact that I was wronging her and Wyn that caused me to resolve then and there that never again would I so much as kiss her. It was that she was too young!

I did not waver in that resolve, from that time on.

But I thought a great deal about this matter: I had known Summer for seven years and she had been a woman when I first saw her. Yet her youthful appearance now made it impossible that she should have been adult then. Surely my memory did not play me wrong in picturing the Summer Storm I had seen that night in the park; indeed, the picture of her was burned indelibly on my mind. She must have, in the interim, become slighter, even smaller.

Oddly, this slenderizing process, once I noticed it, seemed reluctant to stop. The bathroom scales proved that she was losing weight slowly, but in her appearance the decline progressed much more rapidly. She began to get leggy and angular and she completely lost the once-voluptuous contours of her body, despite all the milk and starchy foods I could feed her. Nor was it that she lost appetite. She ate voraciously.

At the same time, I became convinced she was losing her memory. Chance remarks dropped at odd times indicated that her recollection of Wyn, of the events before Mark's birth, of all her past life in Allertown, was extremely faulty; she never had shown signs of remembering any events before she came to Allertown.

As a matter of fact, it became increasingly apparent that she no longer accepted Mark as her son. The boy was growing out of babyhood with that speed which is so remarkable in children. She cared for him solicitously, but seemed to look on him as her little brother.

Of course, I took her to Doctor Lodge. He, in turn, went with us to consult doctors at Mayer City. He could find nothing wrong with Summer physically, nor could they.

They seemed to think we were faking. They heard my assurances, and those of Doctor Lodge, that Summer must be approaching the age of thirty, with obvious skepticism.

"There is nothing wrong with this girl except an unfortunate emotional aberration," one doctor told me flatly. "Physiologically she is a girl of about fourteen, and it is difficult for me to believe that her chronological age is any higher."

"As I told you before, she has a son nearly four years old," I said.

"I don't say that's impossible at her age, for it isn't," he retorted. "But this girl has never been a mother. She's a virgin."

I should have realized what all this meant. I believe there have been such cases in medical history before. But I suppose I was too close to it. I didn't understand, even when Summer reposed childish confidence in me.

"I know what's going to happen, you know, because it's already happened to me," she said. She was a skinny girl now, with enormous blue eyes. "You know what's happened, because it's already happened to you. Isn't it funny?"

Fortunately, Wyn returned not long after that. Wyn had the answer to the questions that had been puzzling me.

Wyn gave no warning of his return. He just walked into the house one afternoon, carrying a suitcase and smoking a pipe.

When I found Wyn and Summer in the park, they had appeared to be twins. During Wyn's absence his hair had begun to gray—prematurely, I'm sure—and now he looked like Summer's father. The change in her must have been even more noticeable to him than it was to me, because he had been separated from her during its most remarkable development. But he showed no surprise at it.

"I knew what the trouble was before I left," he said soberly. "You see, as Summer's husband I was much closer to her than you could be, even since she and the boy have been living with you."

I could feel my ears turning red. I asked hurriedly:

"What is wrong with Summer, Wyn?"

"She lives backwards," he said. "Time is reversed for her. It isn't only a physiological reversal. Everything goes backwards in time for her. The future is the past to Summer, and the past is the unknown future. She remembers the future, Don—she remembers it, because she has seen it happen."

"That's impossible!" I exclaimed. "How can she? It hasn't happened yet!"

"To her it has," he replied. "It may upset your conception of the future as a fluid thing of limitless possibilities, but Summer's experience is pretty good evidence that it is as frozen and stable as the past. As the Orientals say, what is to be will be."

I thought about that, and I thought I detected a flaw.

"Oh, no!" I said. "Wait a minute here, Wyn. If she can't remember the past even a minute ahead, you couldn't even talk with her. She'd remember what you were going to say, instead of what you had said. Not only that, she'd talk backward! You'd never be able to understand her."

"People are adaptable," he replied. "She evidently learned to talk backward—to her; correctly, to us. People learn to talk so others can understand them. And as for conversation, do you remember Summer ever answering a question directly?"

I started to say I did, for it seemed that I did. But a moment's reflection changed my mind. Not a direct question; and her participation in a conversation always had been a jumpy and disturbing thing.

"But we can talk with Summer," I protested. "For years we've been able to understand each other."

"Like writing letters that cross in the mails," he said. "And I think people do have some knowledge of the immediate future, even you and I. Summer would develop that faculty more than the average person."

Certainly. No wonder she had been so affectionate to me that it had been impossible for me to resist her. To her, at that time, we had already been lovers. By the same token, my own knowledge when the affair was concluded that we had been lovers must have created in me an attitude that was a strong incentive for her to yield to me at the end of our relationship—the beginning, to her.

What a way to live! Always trying to guess, from the conversation of those around her, what (to her) was going to happen, so she could react intelligently.

"But," I protested, still unwilling to accept it, "if the past is the future to her, her actions could affect the past."

"Exactly," he said. "I told you, this means you have to accept the principle that the past is just as mallable as the future, and the future is no more mallable than the past."

Wyn had known all this before he left. He had gone, not just to avoid seeing his wife revert to childhood before his eyes, but to delve into studies on the nature of time itself. Where he had been, how he had supported himself I didn't know. I still don't know.

Summer, her age now about thirteen, was old enough to understand that she was Wyn's wife, but he did not resume his position as husband to her. Instead, he acted toward her and Mark both as a father. Me? I suppose I was something in the nature of a benevolent uncle now.

As a matter of fact, Wyn plunged so deeply into work that the task devolved upon me to be both father and mother to Summer and her child. Mark, developing apace into a vigorous young specimen, looked like both his parents—since their features were so much alike, he could not be said to resemble one more than the other.

Wyn did not return with his family to the house at 138 March Street. It had long been occupied by someone else. He moved in with us and, with my tacit consent, made my home both his home and the headquarters for his work.

His work actually was double. He got a good job, this time as engineer at the Allertown Mill Industries. During all his spare time, he worked at converting my precious den and my basement into something completely beyond my understanding.

There are some people who accept misfortune and live with it—or die with it. Others battle it angrily to the bitter end, even when there is no evidence that anyone ever conquered their particular misfortune before. Admittedly, there was little precedent for Summer's case; and this made the prognosis even less optimistic. Still, Wyn was constitutionally the latter type of person.

"I don't know how much longer she lived in the past before you found us," he told me. "Nothing I could do has helped my amnesia for that period. She may have lived to a ripe old age, for all I know.

"But we know that she has only a few years to live, the way she is now—perhaps twelve or thirteen. That's her physical age, and she is living backwards toward babyhood."

"What will she do?" I asked curiously. "Just fade away?"

"She has to be born," he answered solemnly. "My guess is that, a few years in the future, there will occur the most unique birth ever known to man—a birth in reverse. Some couple, somewhere—perhaps someone we know here in Allertown—will live through the experience of the daughter they never knew reentering the mother's womb and retracing her steps through the embryo stage to the moment of conception."

"Fantastic!" I exclaimed.

"It must be true;" he insisted. "It has to be true, unless she reversed ... will reverse ... her direction in time after birth. In that case, perhaps some baby girl here even now is Summer, living coexistently with her reversed self."

"If you're going to reverse her direction in time again and make her live normally," I said, for he already had told me this was his aim, "I don't see how you can prevent a paradox. She has already lived in the past as an adult woman. If you reverse her existence at this stage, then she can't be born, because she'd be living from her present age on, both forward and backward in time."

He shook his head.

"I don't know," he said. "Perhaps it can't be done. Perhaps it would involve a parallel time stream, if there is such a thing. All I know is that I must try. If I can, she might still consent to be my wife later, if the difference in our ages isn't too great. That would be up to her."

"I don't see how you even know where to start on such a project," I confessed.

"The chances are slim," he admitted, "but I have some hope. The only actual time reversal we know, scientifically, is at the sub-atomic level. The theory was advanced by Feynman that annihilation of an electron-positron pair upon contact might be, not actual annihilation, but a 'time reversal' of the electron. The emission of a photon of energy, in such cases, is powerful enough to cause a recoil in time, and the positron is merely the electron traveling backward through time after the energy explosion."

I looked extremely blank.

"Look," said Wyn, taking up a pencil. He drew a big "Z" on a piece of scrap paper, labelling the two arms "E" and the connecting line "P". The angles he marked "A" and "B:"

"The flow of Time is from left to right," he explained. "At left is the past, at right the future. This electron, E, is moving normally along at the top of the diagram when it runs into an energy explosion at A. It reverses itself, going back through time as the positron, P, until it hits another energy explosion at B. Then it is reversed again into the right time direction, continuing as the electron E, at the bottom. You follow the line, as the pencil point does in making the Z, and it's a single body."

"But," and he drew a vertical line through the Z, "we move always forward in time. To us, the energy explosion at B happens before the one at A. Suddenly at B, a positron and an electron are created out of nothing. The electron at the top apparently has nothing to do with either of them. But the positron moves along and collides with it at A, leaving nothing there again—except, once more, an apparently unrelated electron, the one at the bottom of the diagram."

"But you're saying the same thing can exist in three places at once," I objected.

"Exactly, but in one of those places, it's traveling backward in time. So, if Summer's time reversal occurred or will occur after birth, she may be existing somewhere else, as a younger girl, right now; besides being here in the house with us."

"Your example is, as you say, at the atomic level," I said. "How can you transfer that into terms of human beings?"

"The only thing I know to do," he said, "is to create an energy explosion which I know won't hurt Summer physically, but may reverse her back to a normal direction. It would be like the energy explosion that meets the positron at B and forces it to continue existence as an electron."

"It appears to me," I said slowly, trying to grasp the concept, "that your explosion at B would have to have happened already if it were going to happen at all."

The amazing thing about it is that Wyn, the man who had studied all this thoroughly, apparently didn't understand what I meant. It just goes to show that he must have been right, when he said the future is as fixed as the past.

It took Wyn four years to get his equipment ready for a test. He explained to me what it was supposed to do, but I never did get more than a general idea of the principle involved. The heart of the thing was a heavily wired chamber in the basement.

"The human body can take a lot of electricity, if it's administered in the right way," he said. "If it's administered in the wrong way, you've electrocuted somebody.

"I still don't know whether I've probed the secrets of the space-time fabric deeply enough to make this work, but I think it will reverse the charge of every atomic particle in the body of whatever is in that cubicle. I'm going to put a cat in it, as our first time-traveler.

"We may turn up with a cat and an anti-cat, the latter traveling backward in time. We may end with no cat at all. If so, maybe we've created an anti-cat in the past or maybe we've just electrocuted a cat."

"I don't see how you expect to interpret your results," I commented drily.

"If there's no cat, I won't risk it," he answered. "If we double our cats, I think we're on the way to something that may help Summer."

We picked our way through the mess of wiring and went upstairs. He had torn my bookcases out of one wall of the den and installed a control board with a television screen where the fireplace had been.

"The experiment will be controlled from here," he said. "The energies that are going to run around all over the basement would make it pretty dangerous for anyone down there. I'm sorry you can't watch, but somebody's got to keep the children away from here."

When he said "children," he meant Summer and Mark. Summer now looked as much a twin to her nine-year-old son as she had looked to her husband when I first saw them. At the last two Christmases, we had bought toys for both of them, and she played happily with Mark. She called Wyn "daddy" and me "Uncle Don," just as Mark did.

Making them look even more like twins as we entered the living room on the day of Wyn's experiment was the fact that they were dressed alike. She wore a pair of Mark's overalls, and both had on T-shirts.

At the moment, the two were trying to put doll clothes on Thomas, the stray yellow cat Wyn had picked up for his experiment. We had had Thomas about six months now. Wyn and I had dubbed the animal "Tom," unaware of its sex—it had borne kittens during its stay with us—but the children thought the cat too dignified for the nickname. It was, except when they were trying out their various original ideas on it.

"Thomas is our first heroine—or martyr," said Wyn, and swept the cat up from the floor. Over the protests of the children, he stripped off the doll clothing. "You youngsters go out on the side lawn and play. Uncle Don will take care of you for a while."

Caring for the children had been my chore for so long I was accustomed to the peculiarities involved. Mark was as much a problem as any normal, active boy—no more. But Summer's reverse living, her reverse memory, made her even more difficult to deal with as she reverted to childish habits and attitudes.

For some weeks now, she had indulged in the fantasy that she was Mark and Mark was she, a game Mark rebelled at strenuously. At the same time, her manner of speaking had become so confused and tangled that it was often incoherent. If Wyn failed in his experiment, the next nine years threatened to be trying indeed.

The children left the house with me docilely enough, but as soon as we reached the lawn Mark burst into tears.

"What's the matter with you, young fellow?" I asked in surprise.

"What's Daddy going to do to Thomas?" he demanded. "Daddy's going to hurt Thomas!"

"Don't worry, Thomas isn't going to be hurt," I reassured him, aware that I might not be telling the truth.

The boy looked at me straight.

"I know what a martyr is," he said indignantly, his sobs subsiding. "I studied Joan of Arc in school."

"Daddy ... Thomas in big furnace put," Summer informed us in her labored fashion. "Thomas all burnt up was going to. Him ... but I him saved. Saved him, Summer and I."

"Neither one of you is going to do anything about Thomas right now," I said brusquely, recognizing Summer's use of the past tense as an expression of intention. "When Daddy's through with Thomas, you may play with him again."

Mark subsided, but he retained on his face a rebellious expression which had by now become familiar to me. Summer, although she said nothing for a few moments, became more excited. She alternately flushed and paled, breathing hard, until I began to fear she was ill.

Now a deep, powerful hum arose from the house. Wyn had switched on the power and was ready for his experiment.

It was a tremendous volume of sound, a physical thing that throbbed through the ground under our feet and caused the leaves of the trees to tremble as in a breeze. An electric tension filled the air and seemed to intensify Summer's agitation. Her eyes dilated in fright and her teeth began to chatter.

"Away got I but!" she cried suddenly in a shrill voice. "Up blew it before away ran he and Thomas saved I! Me with up blew it and fire of full furnace big a was it! Furnace a in Thomas had they!"

"Here, child!" I shouted above the increasing roar of the generators. "You're hysterical. Nothing's going to happen to Thomas."

She quieted abruptly, glaring at Mark in affright. He stared back, equally alarmed.

"He isn't, Summer he's?" she asked me plaintively. "Boy a be Summer could how? Mark I'm know I."

I didn't understand this at all, especially when Summer began feeling her arms and legs and inspecting herself all over, carefully.

The sound of the machinery in the basement reached a shrieking crescendo that must have put the teeth of everyone in the neighborhood on edge. Mark came to life. His eyes shining fiercely, he grasped Summer by the arm.

"Are they going to hurt Thomas?" he demanded intently. "Are they, Summer?"

She looked at me, not the boy, and suddenly she was calm as though in the grip of profound shock. I could hardly hear her quiet, childish voice through the noise from the basement.

"Where ... know ... don't," she began haltingly. "Gone ... Summer's but. Furnace the in him had they. Thomas saved I."

Her voice trailed to a gurgle and then she began to chant, "Burn Thomas burn Thomas burn Thomas...."

The boy suddenly broke from her and began to run for the house.

And, BACKWARD, she ran after him.

Caught by surprise, it was a moment before I could gather my wits and follow, shouting at them. They had disappeared around the corner of the house, and I rounded it in time to see them tug open the outside basement door and vanish inside. An eerie blue light flickered from the open door.

Trying to run too fast, I tripped over the garden hose and fell. I got to my feet, momentarily dazed.

The explosion knocked me flat on my back, blinded by the flash that burst from the basement windows and through the cracking walls.

The blast tilted the den up from the bottom. Its metal and concrete floor, reinforced for the experiment, buckled but remained unbroken, like a giant slide. Down that slide, through the smashed walls, Wyn catapulted, to fall unhurt into the grass.

But the rest of the house crumpled in on the basement and caught fire. Under the blazing piles of ruins, I could only surmise, were trapped the children, both mother and son.

I wept frantically. At my age, I must have been a pitiful spectacle. Neighbors put their arms around my shoulders, tried to comfort me.

In contrast, Wyn was remarkably calm as he reported to Gus Adams.

"Every precaution was taken, Mr. Adams," he said, staring morosely into the smoking embers of the house. "Both of them ran into the basement just before the explosion. There was nothing anyone could do after that."

"Too bad, Mr. Storm, to lose your wife and son all at once," said Gus sympathetically, writing in his report book. We had kept Summer pretty well concealed behind the high board fence in recent years, so few people were aware of her retrogression. "If there's anything I can do to help, let me know."

I upbraided Wyn for his apparent callousness when we got to a room at the City Hotel.

"You may be right," he said. "But, first, I want to know something."

He had me relate to him everything that had transpired with the children after we left the house. He made me repeat several points and questioned me closely. He was interested particularly in what Summer had said, how she had said it and how she had acted. The whole thing was so clearly impressed on my mind, as it is today, that I'm sure I made few errors.

"Well," he said, when I had finished, "we'll never see either of them again, but I think I can say definitely they weren't killed in that explosion."

"I don't see how you can say that!" I exclaimed.

"You remember what I told you—that if Summer's existence had been reversed in time after she was born, she was existing somewhere else at the same time? Living normally as a younger child in one place, and as we knew her in reverse?"

I did remember it.

"Well, she was. But we thought she'd be a girl in both instances. When her time direction was reversed, so was her sex. Mark and Summer were the same person!"

I gasped. Wyn took a piece of hotel stationery from the rickety desk and scratched a zigzag on it with his pen. It was a figure like the one he had drawn in the library of our home, except that the top arm of this Z was very short.

He labelled the top arm of the Z "Mark," and the diagonal "Summer."

"My mistake was that I thought my energy explosion would be at B, throwing Summer back into a normal time direction. Instead, it was at A, reversing the time direction of Mark's existence: and the reversed Mark was Summer."

"But Mark was Summer's son." I exclaimed.

"Curious, isn't it?" he agreed, smiling strangely. "She gave birth to herself, like the phoenix. Nor is that all. She conceived herself!"

With a firm hand, he wrote "Wyn" above the bottom arm of the Z!

The diagram looked like this:

"The re-reversal!" His blue eyes were a little self conscious as they looked at me now. "Don, I was born Mark Storm. This explosion today reversed my time direction and I became Summer Storm, to give birth to myself nine years ago. And in a terrific burst of natural energy that you yourself saw, a crucible so fiery that it could wrench the very inner fabric and physical form of the body, the time flow for me was twisted back to its proper direction that night in the park and I became myself—to father myself six years later!

"I was my mother. I am my own father and my own son!"

There it is. Wyn believes he sprang from nothingness, from himself. Amid the wreckage of the laws of cause and effect that this whole thing involves, it's possible, I suppose. But a couple of details still bother me, details I haven't mentioned to Wyn.

Oh, it isn't the coincidences. If the future is fixed as is the past, they wouldn't necessarily be coincidences: things like Summer—in the reversed time in which she lived—stripping off her clothes, donning Gus Adams' raincoat over her nakedness and going with us out to the park, to that rendezvous with the lightning and Wyn.

One of the details I can't take is that it's hard to believe that, even in such strange twistings and turnings of time, any creature can initiate itself and, in effect, spring from nothing—though Wyn says it's done at the sub-atomic level in simple terms of conversion of energy to matter. But how about the fact that such a complicated creature as man is built by the action of the genes and chromosomes?

The other is that year that I was Summer's lover. If she was living backward biologically, wouldn't that apply, too, to the growth of an unborn child while it was still part of her. And Wyn left Allertown right after Mark's birth.

I've heard of virgin mothers. I'd rather believe in a "virgin father" than human creation from nothingness.

I once had hair, and it was blond. My eyes are blue. I look in the mirror, and then I look at Wyn lounging at ease behind his newspaper.

My son? My motherless son?