To Play In
Copyright 2015 by Donal Buchanan
Bumpy Matthews dropped his paint-brush
and hurtled downstairs to the living room where a lean, thin-faced,
spectacled young man was in the process of removing his spacesuit.
Half in and half out of the bulky gear, Mike Wilson looked up just in
time to protect himself from Bumpy's charging body.
“Hey, there,” he cried.
“Take it easy or I won't be in any shape to teach. How is my
favorite student? Got your lessons done?”
“Sure have, Mike,” replied
Bumpy. “And next month's too. Not much else to do... He ended
on a wistful note.
“Sure, kid, but you study hard
what I'm trying to pound into that thick skull of yours and, when you
grow up a bit, you'll find more to do than you have time
As he said this, Mike hung his suit on a hook by the lock.
where's your sister?”
“I guess she's out in the barn
with Dad, Mike,” said Bumpy. “Do you want me to
Bumpy's mother, a small brunette who
had been fluttering around setting things to rights, interposed.
“I'll do that. Mike, you sit down and make yourself to home.
Bumpy, go get your books.”
Carefully avoiding the chair he knew to
be Dan Matthews' favorite, Mike obediently sat, while Bumpy clattered
back up the stairs. Mrs. Matthews disappeared through the hatch to
the tunnel which led into the space-tight 'barn.' In the barn were
grain, flour, the hydroponics farm and, luxury of luxuries, a cow!
The fresh milk provided by the cow was a priceless boon and amply
repaid the work entailed in taking care of her. The fact that she had
spent her early days in an incubator tank, growing from embryo size
didn't bother the cow one bit. Never having been outside the barn,
she didn't miss the meadows of her heritage. She exercised on a
special treadmill. Like the Matthews family, she was every inch a
sister, was helping her
Dad muck out the stall. Mike Wilson, the visiting teacher, knew his
charge's duties and habits by rote. They were all mono-tonously
similar, although not many asteroid homes sported a cow! The men
worked their mines and stacked whatever ore they found in neat piles
for pickup by the cargo ship that came every month with food and
other necessities. The women cooked, kept house, helped their
husbands tend the 'farm,' looked after the children and did the
million and one other things that all housewives do—and more.
And the children grew. When they grew
big enough they took a little of the load from their parents'
shoulders. Denied a normal childhood, they read voraciously and took
every opportunity to alleviate their loneliness. Each visit from a
circuit-riding preacher, teacher, or doctor was a big event.
Mike Wilson's thoughts were interrupted
by Bumpy, who came carefully down the stairs, groaning under a stack
of reading spools, notebooks, and miscellaneous papers.
“I didn't mean to take so long,
Mike.” said Bumpy, “I couldn't find my darn old
dictionary for awhile.
“Where was it?” Wilson
“I'd used it to tilt the
projector. Got some shots of Sandy Wilkins when we visited them last
year. Some of you, too. You talk to me—I mean—I
believe you do...” Bumpy's voice trailed off.
Loneliness again! The common
denominator of the astroid community—and of all the pioneers
that have ever been, Mike guessed.
Respecting Bumpy's discomfiture, he
said “Sure, kid! I know just what you mean. I do the same
myself. Why, I've got pictures of the whole class!”
“You do? Gee, can I see 'em?”
Bumpy's eyes shone with anticipation.
“The words are 'May I,'
The teachers eyes twinkled. “After lessons. Here come your
mother and Jo, now.”
Joanna was Bumpy's
twin. They were
nine. Both were sturdy and red-headed, but lacked the freckles and
rosy cheeks sported by youngsters on Earth. Jo gave Mike a hug and
scurried up for her books. Her mother went to the kitchen to start
A bull-voice rang from the depths of
the tunnel. “Mike, you old rock-rat! Glad to see you! Be with
you in a minute—soon as I get this muck off my
Dan Matthews, a broad-shouldered, well-built man with a square,
deep-lined face and crinkles around his eyes, appeared in the
tunnel-entrance, wiping his brawny pals with a rag. His thinning red
hair was touched with grey where it bushed out at the sides. His
trousers were touched into heavy brogans. “How's the teaching
“Okay, Dan. Lost a family,
though. The Waite family took off for Ganymede colony. Said they want
to rub elbows with someone for a change. Almost lost the Scotts, but
for another reason.” Wilson got up and the two shook hands as
befitted old friends.
Dan clapped Mike on the shoulder and
led him back to his chair, choosing another for himself. Bumpy
stirred restlessly, but knew that the men always talked for a bit
before 'class” and didn't want to be disturbed. Jo must have
know this too, for she stayed discreetly upstairs.
“What's this about the Scotts,
Mike? Last I knew they were alright.” Dan's voice sounded
worried. “Of course, that was about four months ago. A lot
happen—and not all of it comes over the news.”
“Well, Dan,” replied Mike,
“I got to their place on my regular run just last week. They
were half-starved. A meteor hit their barn almost a month before and
managed to knock out their communications too, along with everything
else. They had to live on the food that was in the house. Luckily
they had a cache of oxygen and water stored near the mine. I gave
them all the food I had in the ship and called SP to the rescue.
There was a ship close by.”
Dan looked exasperated. “If I've
told Jim once,I've told him a thousand times,” he said with
feeling, “not to put his com unit in the barn! It's like
putting all your eggs in one basket. But, 'No!' says he. 'Takes up
too much room in the house'! As for the Waites
—I knew long ago that Bob
wouldn't stick it out. Have to give him credit, though. They lasted
longer than I thought they would.” He spoke with all the
Asterite's contempt for anyone not an Asterite.
turned to other
topics dealing with far off Earth and the local government on Murray
Rock, a large astroid the family had visited several times which was
responsible for collecting the ores that were being mined by many
Bumpy went up to see what his sister
was doing. He knew the men would be talking for some time now. He
found Joanna in their room. She was busily painting her side of the
spaceship model they were building together.
“Hey, Jo'” Bumpy cried,
“My side's silver! Why are you painting yours
He tried to grab the brush. She held
it away from him. “Because I like it blue. It's my side. I
do what I want with my side! I think I'll put polka-dots on it
too—and curtains in the ports!” She added that to
Bumpy realized her game and feigned
nonchalance. “A lot I care. Ruin your side if you want to.
I won't tell you the news.”
“News? You've got news?”
Jo yelped with excitement, “Tell me, quick! I”ll
side silver too—and forget the curtains!”
“The Waites have gone to
“Is that all?”'
“Tell me—Oh, alright! I'll
tell you where I hid the cookies I made last night.” She
“Where?” Bumpy was not one
to let an opportunity like this hinge on merely a promise.
Joanna told him.
“Alright,” Bumpy said,
satisfied. “The Scotts almost got done in last
Word for word, Bumpy told her
Mike had phrased it. He was a marvelous mimic and even leaned forward
with his elbows on his knees just as Mike had.
When he had
finished, Jo said, “I
bet Susie and Sam Scott will have a lot to tell us! Gee, it must have
been exciting. I'd like to see them right now!”
“I'd like to see them too,”
said Bumpy. “Mike said once that if you want a thing hard
enough you'd get it. Let's close our eyes and wish to see Sam and
Susie over on Scott's Rock. Maybe we will.” He didn't really
believe it would work, but it sounded like a good game.
“I think that's silly!” Jo
was a couple of hours older than Bumpy and never let him forget it.
“And childish,” she added.
“I bet it will work!”
Bumpy was suddenly mad enough to make an issue of it. He now became
deadly serious about a proposal made in jest. “You're scared
“I am not! What's there to be
afraid of? Let's do it!” cried Jo.
They closed their eyes and wished,
picturing the Scott children in their room on Scott Rock where they had
last seen them.
After a moment of head-over-heels
giddiness, they found themselves in pitch-darkness.
Hey, who turned out the lights?”
cried Bumpy. His voice was low and frightened. He reached over and
grabbed Jo's hand—finding, in the process, that the model
spaceship was no longer between them. Jo's hand was trembling.
“Who's there?” a sleepy
It was Sam Scott.
Bumpy found the light and turned it
on. The Asterites' homes were prefabricated so the room was very much
like his and Jo's.
Sam rose up in bed,
eyes wide. “Bumpy!
Jo! What're you two doing here? This must be a dream... Susie! Wake
up! He shook the little four-year old sleeping next to him.
“We wished ourselves here!”
Bumpy said, a note of awe in his voice. He told it all to a
fascinated audience of two—Joanna helping out with excited
Sam was baffled, but not to be
out-done, went into a long recounting of the month of starvation
endured by the Scotts. The voices of the children, being young,
became loud—and from loud to noisy is but a step. They
and talked with great gusto.
Suddenly they heard a bed creak in the
next room. A parent was coming to investigate.
“Quick, hide in the closet!”
Sam urged. “If they find us playing this late they'll tan my
hide” Scott was a hard man who put the fear of strict
discipline into his youngsters. “How will we explain how you
got here? They're grown-ups!” Bumpy could not disagree with
this clear childhood logic.
No sooner had Bumpy and Jo gotten into
the closet than the door of the room opened. Scott, a gaunt,
hungry-looking man of about thirty, entered.
“What're you kids yammering
about so late fer?” he growled. “Oughta turn you
knee, both of you!” He glared at them through sleepy eyes.
Sam pretended to have been asleep. He
stretched and yawned and started to say something, but his little
sister, too young for subterfuge, piped up.
“Wasn't us, Pop! Was Bumpy 'n
Jo! They're here!”
“here? Where?” Caught off
guard and half asleep, Jim Scott didn't question their presence.
“In the closet,” Susie
said. Sam gave her a 'wait till I get you alone' look.
Bumpy had left the closet door open
just a crack and, when he saw Scott headed for the closet, he grabbed
Jo's hand and thought urgently of home. The giddiness returned.
Back in their room,
Bumpy and Jo
looked at each other and giggled.
“I wonder what Mr. Scott said
when he looked in the empty closet?” Bumpy chortled.
“I'll bet he was mad and said
words we're not supposed to hear,” replied Jo.
Susie, anyhow... but, if we hadn't of gone in such a hurry we'd have
been caught and missed our lessons!” Jo had a practical turn
“Holy smoke!” Bumpy
yelped, “Mike's waitin' for us, I'll bet. We'd better get
there right now! Say, sis. This is our secret, huh? You won't
“No, I won't if you won't,”
Jo whispered as they started through the door. “Gee, we can
visit anyone. Maybe we could teach Sam and Susie and all the rest of
the kids how to do it—and have a club with a secret word
“Shhh!” Bumpy quieted her
as they came to the head of the stairs.
They needn't have worried. The men
were still talking earnestly and Mary Matthews was sitting listening
quietly as she knitted socks for the children. Mike was speaking.
“It's transportation and
communication that has us hog-tied, Dan. If it didn't take so long
and so darn much money to get places and to power com units, it
wouldn't be so bad; but months on end seeing only the circuit riders
and the supply ship once in awhile is killing. Man is a gregarious
animal, Dan. Kids need to grow up with other kids or they don't grow
up normally. We need a school, but the kids would have to stay there
six to nine months out of the year—and that the parents
wouldn't like. Kids need parents and parents need kids and kids need
kids...” He broke off. “I guess there is no getting
around it...” He leaned back and, as he did so caught sight
the children coming quietly down the stairs. “Whup! That's
right! Lessons. Come on kids... Say, what're you looking so secretive
“Kids always have secrets,”
Mary observed quietly. “That's just about all an Asterite's
kids do have, I reckon. There might have been the slightest hint of
bitterness in her voice.
For the first time in their
lessons dragged for Bumpy and Jo. They could hardly wait to get back
upstairs to experiment with their new ability.
The children's secret kept well. They
never teleported unless they were in the privacy of their room. They
weren't allowed to go out on the 'Rock' by themselves in spacesuits
yet so they always teleported to their friends rooms—and
friends, in turn, came to theirs. It developed that only one of their
friends couldn't teleport—a four-year old who had just come
from Earth with his parents. It seemed that only the space-born
could 'wish' themselves places. It was agreed among them that they
would always materialize in closets just in case a grown-up was in
the room (this worked well except for one time when Bumpy showed up
to find his mother poking around in his closet; he gave her quite a
scare and pretended that he had hidden there to startle her). As he
took her tongue-lashing, he was just thankful it hadn't been one of
his friends. They soon found that they were unable to travel to a
place they hadn't seen—or at least seen a good picture of.
Evidently 'making a picture in the head' —as they put
all-important to their mode of travel.
Then came the day that Bumpy decided
to run away. It is an urge that hits most children at some time or
another and he was no exception. Mary and Dan Matthews had been tired
and cross that day and had given Bumpy the dickens for forgetting to
clean out the barn and hoe the farm. It had been his day to do it.
They may have been unnecessarily harsh, but Bumpy talked back and got
sent to his room for his pains—without any supper. That hurt,
because he had hoed the farm...a little.
Jo came up later with a piece of cake.
She found Bumpy clothed in his jacket and cap (these were
light-weight articles of clothing for use in the domed cities on the
larger astroids; there being no weather to contend with,
heavy-weather gear was unknown in the astroid belt. As was common
wherever modern man set up living in space locales, artificial
gravity systems were in use, just like at home.
“What're you going to do?”
“I'm gonna run away!”
sniffed Bumpy. “I'm gonna go to Murray Rock an' join the
Patrol! They won't make me muck out a dirty old barn!”
“I'll go too!” said loyal
Jo. “Wait until I get my wraps. Do they take girls?
“I think so—I saw some on
the last ship that stopped by—and I think their Captain was a
When Jo was ready, they grasped hands
Murray Rock was a large asteroid
covered for the most part by a huge glassite dome. The rest was a
spaceport. In the dome were the offices of the Space Patrol, a
hospital, and the residences of the patrolmen and their families.
There were also shops and other homes of people who had served the
base in one way or another . Bumpy and Jo had been there before with
their parents on visits to shop for necessities and to see an old
friend of Dan's.
The two children materialized on the
steps of the SP headquarters building. Unnoticed by them, the guard
in a recess by the door passed a hand before his eyes. “Must
have dozed off standing up...” he muttered.
Suddenly, Bumpy turned to Jo and said,
“Jo! We've forgotten the spaceship model and we've gotta have
There was no denying the fact. The
ship wasn't finished yet. Jo said, “You go back and get it,
Bumpy! I'll stay right here.” She settled herself upon the
as her brother nodded and flicked out of sight. The guard groaned and
pressed the buzzer for his relief.
Bumpy arrived safely back in his room.
Their departure was as yet unnoticed. He stretched out his hand for
the model ship … and it jumped away from him!
Bumpy hardly noticed, for he had been
thrown to the floor. A shock had shaken the whole house! There was a
crashing, tearing sound from downstairs and the hiss of escaping air.
Blood burst from Bumpy's nose as he got up swiftly to run
He kept going up.
It wasn't Bumpy's first experience
with weightlessness. The gravity unit had been out of kilter before,
but it was terrifying nonetheless. He waved his arms and legs
frantically as he slowly sank to the floor. He wasn't actually
weightless, but the mass of the asteroid upon which he lived was so
tiny that he might as well have been. The hissing sound had stopped
and he was greatly relieved. Bumpy was no fool—he knew about
airless space. The house must have succeeded in sealing itself.
He discovered that he was crying,
“Mother! Dad!” He half stumbled, half floated down
The living room was a shambles.
A tiny meteor had come through the
wall behind the radio set, passed through the set and on into the
floor, knocking out the gravity unit there. The set had fallen on top
of Dan Matthews, who had been reading in a corner of the room. Only
one of his legs showed.
It was very quiet.
Bumpy was weeping madly now. He ran to
the kitchen to find his mother. She was lying on the floor where she
had collapsed from partial asphyxiation. His combined shakes, tugs,
and loud sobs brought her around. She grabbed him and held him
“Bumpy! Bumpy! Oh, you're
she sobbed. Where's Jo?”
“She's alright, Mom,”
Bumpy stated truthfully enough.
“Why doesn't she come
downstairs... Dan! What's happened to your father? I don't see
The last sentence was low and strained, building up until the 'him'
was almost a shriek as, looking through the door,
she saw the mess in the living room—and Dan Matthews
leg under the ruined radio.
“Help me, Bumpy! Hurry!”
She pushed herself into the living room and began heaving the debris
away from her husband. Her face was white and her eyes bright with
tears. All that remained was the heavy receiver lying across his
back. Between them, they managed to overcome the inertia of its mass
and shove it aside.
Dan was breathing. Blood flecked his
lips and he was unconscious, but he breathed.
Mary Matthews' face was set grimly.
She was experienced in first aid—an Asterite had to be. Dan
a couple of broken ribs and, possibly, a punctured lung; but he was
alive. Verifying first, as well as she could, that his back was not
injured, she and Bumpy moved him onto the sofa where she gently
washed and bandaged him.
One thing worried her. Dan needed
professional medical attention fast. The radio was hopeless. The ship
was out of the question. She had never learned to operate it, leaving
all that up to Dan. By an unfortunate coincidence the radio in the
ship was also inoperative—Dan having picked this time to make
some minor repairs. “I'll just have to muddle through
she thought, “and pray I do the right things.”
After she got Dan settled on the sofa
and the worst of his hurts bandaged, she started into the kitchen to
boil some water. She felt a tug at her skirt. It was Bumpy.
“Is Dad alright, Mom?” he
“He's lucky he's alive. He's
better off than most. You go get Jo. I need another woman around
here. Your dad needs a doctor, but we'll have to do.”
his hurt look at being left out, she said “You can help by
cleaning up the living room when you get back.”
She turned again to
her task and
temporarily forgot him. He promptly disappeared.
Bumpy flicked into view in front of
his sister. Seeing his tear-streaked face, she cried “Bumpy,
He told her all about it.
“I'm going back right now!”
she said, firmly.”
“You go ahead, Sis, and help
Mom. I'm going for a doctor!”
There was no time to argue. They
Bumpy had been to the hospital before,
but never inside. He ran up the steps and into the reception hall,
coming breathlessly to a halt before a starched young man.
“Mister, are you a doctor?”
“No,I'm an orderly. What's on
your mind, sonny?” came the laconic reply.
“I just gotta see a doctor!”
“My Dad's hurt bad!” Bumpy
“Where is he? The man asked
quickly, interest in his eyes.
Rock. I jut came from
there.” Bumpy asked before he thought.
“All by yourself?”
“Yessir.” Bumpy admitted
“Get off it, sonny! That's over
two million miles from here. We've had you jokesters in here before!
Go on, beat it!” He reached for Bumpy.
He got a kick in his shins for his
pains and the boy raced down one of the near-by corridors.
“Hey! Come back here!”
yelled the orderly.
Bumpy stopped at a wall directory. The
hospital was ten stories high and the doctor's offices all seemed to
be on the top story.
Not daring to use the elevators, he
ran up the stairs. After the first couple of flights he sat down to
catch his breath. There was a sudden subdued hue and cry.
“There he is!”
“The little scamp! Is he the one
Harris phoned about?”
The rest of the way he made better
time by wishing himself to each landing he could see above him. As he
reached the tenth floor, the man called Harris stepped out of the
elevator a little way down the corridor. His face was twisted in
anger and frustration. He caught sight of Bumpy, whooped, and
sprinted towards him.
waited until Harris was almost
upon him, then teleported himself to the opposite end of the
corridor, which was lined with doors—each bearing a doctor's
name. Bumpy tried to open the nearest door. People were inside and
light showed through the letters on the door: “E.H. WILLIAMS,
It would not open. The offices were
often used for private consultation and thus would not open from the
outside except to a member of the hospital staff who knew the proper
stud combination. Bumpy had seen stud doors before on his father's
ship and he wept with frustration. Harris was thundering down the
corridor. Bumpy didn't have time to try another door, so he kicked,
banged, and howled. Even after Harris grabbed him, he fought like
fury and continued to raise a ruckus. Harris raised his hand to
strike him, cursing.
“Hold it there! Put that boy
A familiar voice!
Bumpy twisted in Harris' grip and
stared. It was Mike Wilson! He gave a joyful shout.
“Quiet, Bumpy,” said Mike.
“ What in the world are you doing here, anyway? Put him down,
said!” The last was to Harris.
“He's disturbed the peace and
kicked my shins and trespassed! He's gotta leave right now and I'm
going to throw him out!” Harris was beside himself—
afraid for his job and his sanity (after all, he had seen Bumpy
disappear before his eyes).
“Now see here, you...”
Mike was interrupted.
“What's the meaning of this,
Harris! Put that child down and stop that babbling at once!”
large man filled the doorway behind
Mike. He was tanned and grey-haired with beady black eyes, a beak
nose and long, slender fingers.
“Yes, Dr. Williams.”
Harris was abashed. He gingerly set Bumpy down.
“Now, young man, suppose you
explain. I wouldn't even listen to you except my nephew seems to know
His chin reminded Bumpy of a rock, but
his eyes were kind.
Bumpy told them all of it, including
his mode of travel. “Please, Doctor Williams, won't you come?
My Dad's real bad hurt.”
“What do you say, Mike, it
sounds fantastic!” said Williams.
“I've never known Bumpy to lie,
Uncle Ned. I've taken the liberty of getting your instrument bag for
you.” Mike handed the bag to Williams.
“Young devil! Come on, let's go!
We have a Spaceship to catch!”
They each grabbed one of Bumpy's hands
and started towards the elevators, leaving Harris standing,
They took three steps and suddenly,
all was dark!
Strange shapes brushed against their
faces and draped around their necks.They tried to walk, stumbled over
objects on the floor and bumped into a wall.It seemed to be a small
enclosed space. Muffled snorts and baffled curses could be heard on
Bumpy broke the silence: “It's
my closet!” He giggled.
A choking sound came from Mike. “Two
million miles!” he gasped.
“My word!” said the
doctor. “There go my stocks in Interplanetary!. Ships are old
hat, now! Where's the patient, son?”
Bumpy led the way downstairs. Mary
Matthews looked up to see the cavalcade semi-floating down. She shook
her head as if to clear it and looked again. Jo, mean-while, whooped
and ran to carry the doctor's bag.
An hour later, Dan had regained
consciousness and was lying on the sofa drinking tea. Mike had
managed to put the grav unit in order and things had taken on a more
normal appearance. The remains of the radio were stacked in a corner.
Mike and Dr. Williams sat in the 'company chairs.' The kids were
upstairs, straightening up their room. Dan shook his head, wearily.
“I just can't take it in,”
he said. “Think of all the possibilities! But I checked
all the viewports and couldn't see a ship—unless you parked
over the horizon.” He looked at Mike suspiciously.
could have come in the roof-lock, you know!” Every Asterite
home had at least two exits as a precaution in case one became
disabled or buried in some freakish accident. One never knew what to
expect in space.
said. “Think of all the possibilities! No more
“BumPEE!” Dan called.
Not a sound.
Mary Matthews gasped and ran up the
stairs. “They're not here. They're gone!” she
worry in her voice.
“They must have gone through the
roof-lock! We've got to go get them!” Dan tried to get up.
Doctor Williams intervened. “Hold
on, Dan. It's alright, Mrs. Matthews. Come on down. If they had gone
through the roof-lock we'd have heard the alarm. They've
teleported—probably to a friend's house to talk over the
I expect. I heard Bumpy say something to Joanna about Mrs. Scott's
apple pie. I'll wager that's where they are right now!”
Which is exactly where they were.
you type the
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