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Puttering About in a Small Land

Philip K. Dick


  Voices from the Street

  Humpty Dumpty in Oakland

  In Milton Lumky Territory

  The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike

  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


  Copyright © 1985 by The Estate of Philip K. Dick

  All rights reserved.

  A Tor Book

  Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

  175 Fifth Avenue

  New York, NY 10010

  Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

  ISBN 978-0-7653-1694-3

  First Tor Edition: December 2009

  Printed in the United States of America

  0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22


  The trip was new to her. She had lived in Los Angeles for almost nine years but she had never started up Highway 99, the fast inland highway that people took to San Francisco, five hundred miles to the north. As soon as the last Chevron stations and cafés and tract houses had fallen behind, the highway made directly for the mountains; without warning, she found herself in a tight bunch of cars and trucks, traveling at immense speed—her speedometer told her it was between seventy and ninety miles an hour—in a cleft that had been cut into the first row of hills. Ahead of her were the mountains themselves and she thought to herself that they were so desolate. Nobody lived there, certainly. The diesel trucks passed her on both sides; far up in the cab the driver of each eyed her with that dull, aloof disdain that so infuriated her. And then the trucks went around the turn ahead and left her behind.

  My Lord, she thought. Her hands, clutching the wheel, were white and damp. The racket of the trucks still beat in her ears, and she said to Gregg beside her, “Don’t they go fast.”

  “Yes,” he said, in a tone that matched her own. They both sensed their insignificance; they had been cut down to the stature of motes. Meanwhile, as they shared their anxiety, three more trucks roared past.

  “I can’t keep up with them,” she said to Gregg. “I could, but I’m not. Good Lord, we’re going seventy-five miles an hour. That isn’t anything on this road. Those trucks are going ninety.” Can you imagine, she thought, what it would look like if one of them turned a curve and found a car stalled in its path? The newspaper had accounts of such carnage, but she had never seen anything of that kind; the nearest had been an accident, happening ahead of her, in which a milk truck had sideswiped a taxi. Glass and milk had gone in all directions, and bits of taxi, too.

  “Its unbelievable to think,” she said to Gregg, “that people drive this every day of their lives.”

  Gregg said, “We don’t have to go very far, do we?” His hands pressed together in his lap; the slow, nervous activity that his father gave way to under tension. On the boy’s face a frown, a wrinkling of his brows, spread and consumed, got to his eyes and then his mouth, until he had been gathered up into a crimped little shape of concern. She let go of the wheel with her right hand to pat him reassuringly; his shoulder was as sharp and rigid as bone could be. Bone, she thought. Yes, he had hunched himself down into his bones, to peep out at passing things. Just a glance now and then, without any letting go.

  “It’s not far,” she said. “We don’t stay on this highway more than a few minutes. Then we turn off. Open up the map.”

  With a rustling, a stirring, he unfolded the map.

  “Look at it,” she said, her eyes fixed ahead, on the road. “Can you see where we are? I marked it in pencil, along Highway 99; do you see that? It’s in red.”

  “Yes,” he said.

  “See that road turning off?” For an instant she glanced down. “Highway 126, I think it is.”

  “Yes,” he said.

  “Can you tell if there’s a town there?”

  After a long, long time, Gregg said, “I don’t think there is.”

  A sports car, like a black raisin, passed them and left them behind. “I loathe those things,” Virginia said.

  “That’s funny-looking,” Gregg said, rousing himself to see. “Boy!” he said.

  She knew, from having studied the map, that to make the turn-off she had to be in the extreme left lane, three lanes over. No signs were visible anywhere, and she began to fear the worst. To her left the traffic was heavy, unbroken; the cars and trucks seemed to gain speed constantly, as if they had decided to race her. She put on the left-turn signal, but the cars paid no attention. Or perhaps they did not want to pay attention; she saw the faces of the drivers and they were without excitement, painted on, faultless.

  “They know I want to get over,” she said to Gregg. “How can I get over if they don’t let me?” The turn-off was probably around the next curve, unless she had passed it already. “Look on the map,” she said. “See when the next turn-off is after that one.”

  Gregg began to rustle the map.

  “Hurry!” she said.

  “I can’t tell,” he said in his choked, apprehensive voice.

  “Give it to me.” Steadying the wheel with her left hand she glanced down at the map. But she could not keep her eyes on it long enough; a horn honked at her left and she swerved back into her lane. “Let it go,” she said, pushing the map away. “I don’t see why they don’t let me over,” she said.

  Beside her, Gregg shrank down and paid no attention to the road. That maddened her; she felt isolated. Did nobody care? But then a space appeared in the traffic and she was able to get quickly into the next lane and from there over to the one she wanted. It was the fastest of the lanes, and at once, without volition, she found herself driving at the head-on traffic at a speed so great that she could scarcely keep from shutting her eyes.

  “It just isn’t worth it,” she muttered.

  Gregg said, “I think it’s pretty soon. The turn-off.” He sounded so humble, so timid, that she was ashamed.

  “I’m not used to driving out on the highway,” she said to him. The hills, she thought; they were so bleak, so lacking in life. Could a school really be set out in this wasteland? The hills in the East; before the present generation, other people had lived there, and before them, others. It was clear that someone had always lived there. Before the English the Indians. Before the Indians—nobody knew, but certainly some race, some form of life, intelligent, responsible. The animals, she thought; she had heard them in motion, active and alert. That kind of life was enough. Here, the hills were like refuse heaps, without color; the ground was only dirt, the plants were patches of weeds separated from one another, holding beer cans and paper that had blown down the canyons. This was a canyon, she realized; it was not a cleft. And the wind roared; she felt it lift the car.

  So the city had gone as far as possible. One house might appear in a particular spot, a billboard would come, a gas station. But each would be set apart. No communication between them, she thought. Remote sparks at night, on the side of the highway.
  “There it is,” Gregg said.

  Ahead of them was a construction, signs and a road; she saw signal lights and white markings on the pavement. Yellow flashed and she slowed the car, realizing, with relief, that nothing had gone wrong. “Thanks,” she said. Before the light became red she turned left, and in an instant they had passed from the highway. The traffic continued in the other direction, and she thought to herself, Good riddance.

  “We found it after all,” Gregg said.

  “Yes,” she said. “Well, the second time we’d know where it was. We wouldn’t have to worry.”

  He nodded.

  The road, much narrower than the highway, entered an orchard of tall, peculiar-looking trees. Pleased, she pointed to them. “What are those?” she asked Gregg. “Those aren’t fruit trees.”

  “I don’t know,” he said.

  “Maybe they hold the soil,” she said. “Or break up the wind.” To their right a great far-off cliff of dry, reddish dirt stuck straight up, like the wall of a quarry. At the top a line of foliage grew, but the cliff itself was barren.

  “Is it far now?” Gregg asked.

  “I don’t think so. We go through Santa Paula. You have the map; you can look at it and see how far it is.”

  He rattled the map, searching to find Ojai.

  “It isn’t far,” she said. Now she saw smaller trees whose branches grew in tightly-wrapped heads. “Orange trees,” she said, cheered up. The countryside was fertile; tractors had taken up residence in the middle of the fields. “This is farm country,” she said. And the land, thank the Lord, was flat. “I guess we’re up high,” she said. “We’re actually in the mountains.”

  Gregg watched the tractors and the men at work near them. “Hey,” he said. “Those are Mexicans.”

  “Maybe they’re wetbacks,” she said.

  The orange trees grew so short that she felt as if she had got into a play-world; she half-expected to come across candy cottages and tiny old men with white beards down to their turned-up shoes. Her gloom and nervousness evaporated and she thought that perhaps the school would work out after all.

  Gregg said, “But what’ll I do about school?”

  Again she realized that he did not understand; he thought of it as summer camp. “Good grief,” she said.

  “And,” he said, with agitation, “How about—” Squirming around on the car seat he said, “And how’ll I get back home?”

  “We’ll come and pick you up,” she said.


  “On the weekend. Friday night. Now you know that.”

  “What happens if I get sick?”

  “There’s a nurse there. Now listen to me,” she said. “You’re old enough now to be by yourself; you don’t need me to be nearby every minute of the day and night.”

  Hearing that, he began to sniffle.

  “Stop that,” she said.

  Sniffling, he said, “I want to go home.”

  “Now we’ve talked about it,” she said. “You know it’s so you won’t have asthma. And you’ll be in a much smaller class, only five or six children.” Mrs. Alt, who owned the Los Padres Valley School, had stressed that in her letters.

  “I want to go home,” Gregg repeated, but they both knew it was no use; they both realized that she had made up her mind.

  Their road, the one they wanted, cut off to the right and took them through a dense pack of trees, up a rise away from the farm country and orchards and fields. Tangled growth appeared; they entered an abandoned area that gave her the shivers. The road became narrow and tortuous and again she was aware of the desolation, the between-towns emptiness. Once, she and Gregg saw a hunter with a gun. Signs everywhere warned:




  The hills had a hard, primitive vindictiveness, she thought. She noticed rusty barbed wire hanging from trees; it had been strung here and then—she supposed—cut away to make passage for some hunter.

  “I see the stream,” Gregg said.

  The stream had been hidden by the drop and by the trees. As the car crossed a bridge, mostly logs nailed together, she saw for an instant a bunch of fishermen with their lines out. Their cars were parked off the road, and she had to slow almost to a stop to get by them. None of the fishermen looked up.

  “Hey,” Gregg said. “Look—fishing.” For a long time he peered back. “Can I go fishing? Are we near the school?” Later, he said, “I never been fishing, but Patrick Dix went fishing with his Dad one day; I think that was up around some beach. And they caught this huge fish; it was really big. I think it was a shark.”

  The road turned suddenly to the left and rose so steeply that the car chugged and gears within the automatic transmission shifted and selected themselves. She put the lever into low range. Behind them two cars which had lined up fell back and became lost to sight.

  “It’s steep,” she said, wishing she had been told about the mountains. “We’re going up high.”

  They continued on up, turning constantly, until at last they reached the top of the mountain range. Below them lay the Ojai Valley; both she and Gregg let out a cry at the sight.

  “It’s flat!” Gregg yelled, standing up to see.

  “Down we go,” she said, gritting her teeth and holding onto the wheel. At each curve a sheer blank drop, unfenced, reminded her that she would have to come back on this road, perhaps at night. She thought, How can I drive this? Sixty or more miles each way…

  “Look!” Gregg cried. “Here comes a bus!”

  An obese, senile yellow school bus was working its way up the grades and curves toward her; in the bus children waved and leaped about. The road was barely wide enough for the bus, and already it had begun to honk at her. Is this your road? she wondered, not knowing what to do. The bus honked again and she brought the car off onto the shoulder so that the overhanging bank of dirt and roots scraped along the window. The right wheels spun; she had got into a drainage ditch. In panic, she jerked the car back toward the road. The bus, now just ahead, veered away, honking, and she passed it with a swish of dirt torn loose from the bank.

  “Oh God,” she said finally. Trembling, she drove on.

  Gregg said, “Boy, that was a close call!”

  Now the ground flattened; they had left the mountains and had reached the Valley. The road became straight. Far off, at the opposite end, she saw the town of Ojai. Thank heaven, she said to herself. Glancing at her wristwatch she realized that she had been driving only an hour and a half; the time was eleven-thirty. In time for lunch, possibly.

  Anything, she thought, for a cup of coffee.

  At the entrance to the school they both noticed more of the short, plump orange trees. The air was warm and dust blew ahead of them, among the trees and along the path. She enjoyed walking; a relief, certainly, from being in the car. But behind the school buildings were the mountains, the dreadful mountains.

  “Are you at all carsick?” she asked Gregg. Beside her he had slowed and now he examined something in his coat pocket. “Put your spray away,” she said, stopping his arm. “You aren’t wheezing; you haven’t since we left L.A. Evidently it is the smog. How do you feel?”

  “Okay,” he said, but he held on to his Adrenalin spray. Before he got out of the car he had used the spray, and on his pants was a spot that had dripped. His fright had increased, and as soon as she stopped walking he did so, too.

  “I imagine they keep the horses over in that barn,” she said, to cheer him. “Why, isn’t that somebody riding?” She made him look toward the slope of grass and trees beyond the school grounds. A trail, a fire break, separated the shrubbery of the hill from the school’s playing field. “I see they have football,” she said.

  A lemon bush, its leaves dark and shiny, grew by the steps ahead of them at the end of the path. Gregg tore loose one of the clumps of lemons; fruit and blossoms and leaves came apart between his hands as he and Virginia climbed the steps. On his fac
e was an expression of forlorn savagery. Her own mood became dreary and she wondered if the school, the whole idea of sending him away from home, was going to work out after all.

  “It’s up to you, dear,” she said. “If it turns out that you don’t like it, you can come home. You understand that. But we want to give it a try.”

  Not answering, he gazed up at the main building, his eyes almost shut, his lips clamped together. And on his forehead the furrows and folds had gathered again, the wrinkles of worry, as if he were oppressed even by the size of the building. The school grounds, at this time, were deserted; one semester had ended and the children had gone home for a week. For that matter, she did not even see any teachers. But in a day or so, she thought. Then it would be more active.

  “There’s a trail up into the mountains,” she said. “You can go on hikes. You can camp and build a fire and sleep in a tent, like your friend Bob Rooley did at summer camp.” Remembering the pictures in the booklet accompanying one of Mrs. Alts letters, she said, “And think of the rabbits and the goat and the horses—dogs and cats, all sorts of animals. Even a possum. In a cage.”

  The boy’s face stayed hating.

  Ahead of them the glass front doors of the building had been propped open, and Gregg shuffled inside. The lobby—dark and still—reminded Virginia of an old-fashioned hotel. Here was the desk, too. And all so silent. For dignity, she decided; to impress the parents. Stairs to a second floor. And, at the far end, the dining room.

  “I’m going to try to get a cup of coffee,” she said to her son.

  No school official had appeared as yet to greet them. What, she wondered, should she do?

  To her right, in an alcove serving as a library, two wide windows gave a view of the Valley. The school had been built on high ground; purposely, she decided, as she turned to the windows. The town of Ojai could be seen first, the Spanish-style buildings among which she had driven. Even the automobile garage had ivy growing up its walls. The single main street of the town had, along most of its west side, a park. On the other side, the shops, a single row of them, connecting one with the next, made her think of a mission. Or stalls, she thought. Each with its adobe arch. And the post office at the corner was in the shape of a tower; it occupied the ground floor, under what appeared to her to be a belfry.