Mr. Gantry Comes To Visit

So tonight was “Cathedral For a While” party #3. I didn’t perform, but I did put together a second issue of Summer Reading. (If you’re curious, issue #1 is available in .zip form here.)

For some reason I wasn’t satisfied with just formatting everyone else’s stories, and I didn’t want to include something old. So I wrote a new story. In an hour.

I have this feeling that it’s probably terrible, but it is amazing considering I forced myself to produce in a very short time limit. I threw caution to the wind and I just wrote! Perhaps a lesson can be learned?

(Don’t write under deadline?)

In any case:

Mr. Gantry Comes to Visit
by Jeff James

Davis woke suddenly from a very deep sleep. This was less than comfortable. His eyes would not, did not focus, and his thoughts were still dozing, lethargic and lost in the jumble. What had awakened him? Something sharp and metallic. Jabbed right into the soft part of his left foot. There was no sign of it now.
He rose from bed, walked unsteadily across the room to his miniature bathroom. “Walked” was perhaps giving him too much credit – he stumbled, cursed, stumbled again, and stepped on something that irreparably broke.
He splashed water on his face, cold water. As cold as his faucets would allow, which meant somewhere just below lukewarm. It seemed to help, at least a little bit. He could focus his eyes now. He no longer saw his apartment as a colorful field of fuzzy jumbles. The jumbles rearranged themselves into his fairly depressing collection of earthly possessions.
He toweled himself off and heard, faintly, the sound of clinking glass in the kitchen. A voice called out: “Coffee’s ready.”
Davis stepped into the hallway and walked towards his undersized kitchen. A full pot of coffee steamed on the burbling automatic coffeemaker. Just to the right of that on the counter, at about chest level, was a man’s face.
Or, to be more specific, a man’s head.
Where the man’s neck logically should have continued down into his body, there was a small metal platform that sprouted spider-like metallic legs. They clicked softly on the kitchen counter as the head skittered from side to side.
This was Gantry. He said: “I would have poured you a cup, but these things’re worthless for gripping,” and gestured meaningfully with two spider-legs.

Davis’ coffee was properly sugared and milked now. He was almost ready to deal with his guest.
“I…” Davis began. He stopped, drank another slug of red-hot coffee and winced.
“I thought you were in Greece.”
“I was. Can you push the front page over here?” Gantry read the headlines, snickered, and flipped to page two. “I need to stay for a few nights. Not too long, don’t worry. I don’t take up too much space, after all!”

“So… what are you… um… doing back in town?”
“What, can’t a guy just come for a visit?”
“Seriously, though, I was wondering if you could do some enhancements for me. I can throw some cash your way. I know you could probably use the money.”
“I… don’t… um…”
“Don’t be all proud. It doesn’t suit you.”
“What are you talking about?”
Gantry giggled. “C’mon, I’m just fucking with you.”
Davis drained the rest of his coffee in one gulp. “I’ve got to go to work. Don’t break anything while I’m gone.”
“Alright, alright. Five o’clock, right? I can keep myself busy until then.”

Sparks sprayed across Davis’ workbench. Gantry was held in place with a clamp. He winced every time the sparks came.
“Fuck!” he growled. “That shit burns, man!”
“Hold still.” Davis was a perfectionist, but he was also a tinkerer. He would never pass up the chance to improve on one of his previous inventions. Nothing was better than making something more perfect.
“This shit better be worth it!”
“This was your idea.”
“Yeah, but I was drunk when I came up with it.”
Davis switched off the torch and pulled off his goggles. He flipped open a panel, and made a connection. “There. It’s done. Try it out.”
Gantry picked up a wrench with his new claws. He whooped and yelled and waved it around in the air like a madman.
“Look, I didn’t do this so you could knock my brains out. Put it down.”
“Sure, fine, whatever. Got a cigar?”

“You’re kidding, right? You haven’t made anything new since I left?”
Davis sighed and folded his arms. He should have lied. Why hadn’t he lied? He had a problem with being too honest. He picked up his drink and sipped quietly.
“I mean, come on… a guy like you? You’re a fucking genius, man! I mean, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you! Sure, that thing with the girl didn’t really work out, but… the idea was genius, and the execution was 95% there, you know?”
There was a long silence, then, while Davis stared into the distance. He could remember that experiment. He could have done it right… he felt like he knew how, now, but it was too late. So much work lost, so much time gone. If only they had done some more testing…
But that was ancient history now.
“I haven’t had any new ideas.”
“Nothing.” Davis was thinking very hard about not crying. “I’ve been getting a little desperate, to tell you the truth…”
Gantry puffed on his cigar thoughtfully.
“I think I’ve got a solution.”

“Are you sure about this?” The strap holding Davis’ forehead to the bench was slowly tightened. He felt himself sweating underneath it. Gantry skittered into view.
“Yes, of course I’m sure about this. Now, what kind of anesthetic is your favorite? This one will put you out completely…”
Davis tried to nod, and then remembered the strap. “Sure.”
“Okay, just relax. I’ll count down from ten. Ten. Nine. Eiiiiighhhhhhhhhhhhh…….”

Everything was black.
Davis was comfortable in this place.
Very comfortable.

He’d just go for a wander, that’s all…

…a little wander…

Davis woke up in bed.
It felt different somehow. His head was resting on the pillow, but… he couldn’t feel his legs. He looked down. Two metallic claws waved back at him.
He remembered now.
Davis skittered to the side of the bed, crouched, and then leapt to the floor.
Everything looked so… different. So… tall.
He could get used to this.
There was a folded piece of paper on the floor next to the doorjamb. It was labeled “Davis” in a florid cursive script. Inside, it read:
“Hey man, thanks for the trade. I hope this helps you get a new perspective on things. We need as many of your ideas as possible. They make the world a better place, you know? I’ll take good care of the old boy, and I’ll have him back to you in about two weeks, a month tops, once my business is done. Keep it real!”
The letter was signed “Your friend, Mr. E. Gantry.”
Davis folded it back up and set it to one side.
He skittered through the door towards his workbench. His mind was racing. He saw blueprints in the air currents, gears and ball bearings bounced through the hallways of his brain. The world seemed to glow from inside… it was fresh and new, his for the taking.
He coiled his legs and sprang the few feet up to his workbench. He would need paper to make sketches, and pencil to sketch with. He shuffled through the clutter on his desk and pulled out a fresh sheet of paper. He then reached into his pencil-holder and pulled out a good sharp one.
He began to sketch, and had hardly finished one line before the pencil broke. He tossed it aside and grabbed another pencil from the holder.
This one barely finished the rest of the line before it broke.
He was about to reach for another when a phantom chill ran up the memory of his spine. Had he gotten the leverage wrong? Should he have done further testing before installing the claws?
He surveyed his workbench and the broken pencils.
This could be a bit of a problem.