by James C. Duncan
You can’t tell your scientist from anyone else.
photoart by Cy Ludlow
Everyone for miles around knew Rufus Malone was not only crazy, but a congenital liar as well.
His stories were nothing short of fantastic, to put it mildly.
But, as a boy, I didn’t care. I’d sit and listen to them wide-eyed and open-mouthed for hours on end.
Rufus always dressed exactly the same: a pair of blue bib-overalls, long-sleeved blue work-shirt, white socks, and dusty black high-top work shoes. Although many farmers in south Georgia during the 1950s dressed like that, Rufus never failed to stand out.
Everyone always thought of him as being old. A big crinkly white beard joined a similar mass of hair on his head, which always gave me the impression of a real live Santa Claus.
His hair was so white that it made his face appear ruddy. His skin was as smooth as a baby’s, and when he smiled he had the whitest, most perfect teeth I had ever seen. He was larger than most men thereabouts, but he was trim and didn’t have a tummy. It was unusual for a man his age—especially then.
But what absolutely impressed me most about Rufus was his eyes. They were dark, wild, mysterious things that had a way of seeming to see right through you. They were still only a part of what made him seem to drip with mystery.
Looking back now, I realize that he was also an exceptionally handsome man. Come to think of it, he had hardly a wrinkle on his face.
Rufus lived by himself on a farm about five miles due east of Blandville. He usually walked to and fro from town. That was one of the premier reasons everybody knew that his stories couldn’t possibly be true. He was absolutely one of the most un-mechanical persons I have ever known. He couldn’t drive a team of mules, much less a tractor or a car. He simply refused, and always walked wherever he went. He said he “needed the exercise”. Of course, everybody around knew the old story and the reason why. Rufus had been one of the very first in the area to buy a car. He walked into the dealership and asked, “How much does one of those things cost?” Then he reached into his bib-overalls, pulled out a roll of hundreds that would choke a horse, and paid cash on the spot. He told them he couldn’t drive a model T, and asked them to deliver it to his farm the next day “so I can practice”. That said, he immediately started walking the five miles home.
The next day the dealer delivered the car to Rufus at the farm. After the thing was cranked up, the dealer made a couple of practice laps around a large open field, showing Rufus how everything worked.
Rufus wouldn’t allow the dealer to stay around to watch him “practice”. He left Rufus contentedly driving in a large circle, as fast as the thing would run.
Out of curiosity, the dealer decided to drive around awhile and then go back and check on Rufus. When he returned, there was Rufus almost in a state of panic, locked in a contorted death-grip with the steering wheel, still running in that same circle, shouting at the top of his lungs at the unhearing, uncaring vehicle, “Whoa, you son of a bitch, I said whoa!”
Chasing the car around the field, the dealer and his helper tried everything in the book to get Rufus to listen to them. They tried to get him to shut off the motor, to apply the brakes, to shift to neutral, and finally just to jump off the thing. But Rufus was beyond any semblance of human communication by that time. He was simply scared to death, frozen in a screaming, white-knuckled death-grip with that hated steering wheel. Finally, so worn out that he couldn’t move, the dealer was forced to stand idly by, as Rufus rode the thing until it ran out of gas about an hour later.
As he shakily got down from the stalled vehicle, Rufus made the dealer an offer he couldn’t refuse. He sold him the car back, right on the spot, for two hundred less than he had paid for it.
At that time, it must have been the most expensive driving lesson ever. Nevertheless, Rufus never in all of his days tempted fate again by trying to drive anything.
Now, even that old story (along with many others) seemed to point out the glaring inconsistencies of his stories. I was a boy growing up in post-World War Two, with cars, trucks, trains and even airplanes commonplace. Even I knew anyone who claimed to pilot a spaceship certainly shouldn’t have any trouble driving a car. You must realize that no one, even me, ever believed those stories for a minute. As I said, everyone knew he was either crazy or a liar.
I remember one time when Rufus was telling me about the future, as he saw it. He’d inevitably start a new subject by saying “In the future…” –Oh, sometimes he would manage something about the past, but he hardly ever had that same look, that same gleam in his eye, as he did when talking about the future. There was a certain aura, a certain inflection of speech, a certain sequence of events, that never changed, no matter how many times he told you the same story.
Thinking about his speech, Rufus had the largest vocabulary, and spoke the most precise, untainted English I had ever heard. All these things combined would keep me wide-eyed and spellbound for hours at a time. Authentically, that’s the word I’m looking for. Rufus seemed to have it. Most congenital liars and storytellers don’t.
One favorite story of mine, according to Rufus, was that he “was not born, but arrived on Earth.” He had arrived in a starship, through (now get this) not conventional space, but a time-warp. He always told me he was “from another time, another dimension, and from another world”.
One of his real names was Parthon, commander of the starship Pythias. His mission was to enter another dimension and time, stay among us for a period, then report back. The information that he would gain about us would be placed in their library, along with information about at least a thousand other planets, for no other reason than the knowledge itself.
Rufus may have reminded me of Santa, but what he normally talked about was anything but childish fairy tales.
At that time, as I was repeating one of his stories to the family at the supper table, my mother said to me, “Quit hanging around that crazy old coot”. According to her, “No one could know when somebody that crazy could turn mean”. Why, she remembered, her step-grandpaw went off his rocker, and like to have killed poor old grandmaw. “She hardly had any warning at all! Now you keep away from that crazy old man, you hear?” She then dealt him the final (in our family) death-blow. “Who knows? He may even be a communist!” From that time on, I kind of had to sneak around to hear any more stories and quotable quotes from old Rufus.
According to him, “The speed of light is no more important than the speed of a turtle. Each is relative only to itself. Time doesn’t exist. It’s only used as a measurement of change. Distance and dimension are a meaningless measurement of a small segment of infinity. Thinking and acting exactly like other people is not only un-creative but stupid mimicry. Natural laws have no pity, because there are no natural laws”.
And when I was older and thinking about joining the navy to make sure I didn’t miss the war, he said “War is and should always be considered the ultimate failure in politics. To pay for this failure, any politician who would vote for war should immediately place himself on the front line as a common foot soldier, thus showing that the principles they refused to bend came straight from the heart. Somehow, it seems unlikely that death is the ultimate purpose of life.”
And to commune with me after I had been jilted by a sweetheart, he said “A woman seldom lies, she just changes her mind. It is possible that military duty and honor were invented by women, to get rid of the men they didn’t want. I’ve never seen a healthy woman who couldn’t wear out three men, much less one. I believe that the idea of one man and one woman originated with property rights. It was designed to protect the man. The woman never needed the protection in the first place. A known liar is to be valued—at least you know something about him.”
Well, I did value Rufus, even if he was crazy, and certainly the biggest liar in the world.
As I got older, I outgrew much of the power and pull that the old man’s stories had over me. Living in the modern world has the sheer brute force to slap you in the face with reality. The real world is where everybody eventually is forced to reside. Everybody grew up eventually and faced reality—except Rufus, that is.
I left Blandville, to seek the real world and my fame and fortune.
The last time I saw Rufus, he said he’d see me later. But I never went back. College and the real world supplanted the crazy musings and far-fetched stories of the old man. He left Blandville a few short years after I did. He was never found. Everyone knew he had just wandered off in the woods somewhere and died. They did find a will, though. He left everything to his closest neighbor.
It was a while later that I finally heard of his death. I truly felt sorry for the old man—he had no family and certainly no close personal friends—an old man who everyone knew was crazy and the biggest story-teller ever, and who could never function in the real world. He said, “It’s just too stifling.”
That’s been years ago now, by your method of counting, anyway.
The last time I saw Rufus in Blandville, I said “Goodbye” and he just said “See you later.”
Well, as with everything else he’d told me, he wasn’t lying about that either. Right now we’re on our way to research our third planet since he came back for me.
As Rufus is constantly reminding me, “You just can’t let the real world stifle your progress.”