And Then the Town Took Off
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by Richard Wilson
Category: Science Fiction
Description: The Pulp Paperback Laugh Riot by Hugo Nominee Writer--Out of Print for Four Decades! The SF magazines lauded And Then The Town Took Off as a comic masterpiece when it first appeared as half of one of the legendary Ace Double Novel in 1960. Amazing Stories said that "There is something completely disarming in the plight of Superior, Oho, when the residents waken one morning to find their entire town hanging several miles up in the air like a giant satellite. Was it caused by a nuclear explosion in the vicinity? Had the mayor, an eccentric, decided to secede from the U. S. because of discriminatory taxes against the local bubblegum factory? Had the local unaccredited college of magic carried an experiment too far? Or was an alien race behind it all? Wilson upholds his considerable reputation as a master of light entertainment. He has a detached, deadpan style that makes the shenanigans he is describing completely hilarious. The spoof never lets down." And Analog hailed it as "Much fun, a slapstick spoof. The completely screwy town of Superior, Ohio, home of the even screwier Cavalier Institute of Applied Sciences and of a bubblegum factory, simply takes to the air, carrying with it a passing train. Aboard are a Pentagon courier, Sergeant Don Cort, the red-headed secretary to an airminded Senator, and assorted other characters; in town is a character to match every one of 'em. Underground there is also a posse of super-intelligent extraterrestrial kangaroos, and so bad goes to worse with unpredictable turns of the plot."
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: September 2008
15 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [174 KB]
Reading time: 101-142 min.
The town of Superior, Ohio, disappeared on the night of October 31.
A truck driver named Pierce Knaubloch was the first to report it. He had been highballing west along Route 202, making up for the time he'd spent over a second cup of coffee in a diner, when he screeched to a stop. If he'd gone another twenty-five feet he'd have gone into the pit where Superior had been.
Knaubloch couldn't see the extent of the pit because it was too dark, but it looked big. Bigger than if a nitro truck had blown up, which was his first thought. He backed up two hundred feet, set out flares, then sped off to a telephone.
The state police converged on the former site of Superior from several directions. Communicating by radiophone across the vast pit, they confirmed that the town undoubtedly was missing. They put in a call to the National Guard.
The guard surrounded the area with troops--more than a thousand were needed--to keep people from falling into the pit. A pilot who flew over it reported that it looked as if a great ice-cream scoop had bitten into the Ohio countryside.
The Pennsylvania Railroad complained that one of its passenger trains was missing. The train's schedule called for it to pass through but not stop at Superior at 11:58. That seemed to fix the time of the disappearance at midnight. The truck driver had made his discovery shortly after midnight.
Someone pointed out that October 31 was Halloween and that midnight was the witching hour.
Somebody else said nonsense, they'd better check for radiation. A civil defense official brought up a Geiger counter, but no matter how he shook it and rapped on it, it refused to click.
A National Guard officer volunteered to take a jeep down into the pit, having found a spot that seemed navigable. He was gone a long time but when he came out the other side he reported that the pit was concave, relatively smooth, and did not smell of high explosives. He'd found no people, no houses--no sign of anything except the pit itself.
The Governor of Ohio asked Washington whether any unidentified planes had been over the state. Washington said no. The Pentagon and the Atomic Energy Commission denied that they had been conducting secret experiments.
Nor had there been any defense plants in Superior that might have blown up. The town's biggest factory made kitchen sinks and the next biggest made bubble gum.
A United Airlines pilot found Superior early on the morning of November 1. The pilot, Captain Eric Studley, who had never seen a flying saucer and hoped never to see one, was afraid now that he had. The object loomed out of a cloudbank at twelve thousand feet and Studley changed course to avoid it. He noted with only minimum satisfaction that his co-pilot also saw the thing and wondered why it wasn't moving at the terrific speed flying saucers were allegedly capable of.
Then he saw the church steeple on it.
A few minutes later he had relayed a message from Superior, formerly of Ohio, addressed to whom it might concern:
It said that Superior had seceded from Earth.
One other radio message came from Superior, now airborne, on that first day. A ham radio operator reported an unidentified voice as saying plaintively:
"Cold up here!"
Don Cort had been dozing in what passed for the club car on the Buckeye Cannonball when the train braked to a stop. He looked out the window, hoping this was Columbus, where he planned to catch a plane east. But it wasn't Columbus. All he could see were some lanterns jogging as trainmen hurried along the tracks.
The conductor looked into the car. The redhead across the aisle in whom Don had taken a passing interest earlier in the evening asked, "Why did we stop?"
"Somebody flagged us down," the conductor said. "We don't make a station stop at Superior on this run."
The girl's hair was a subtle red, but false. When Don had entered the club car he'd seen her hatless head from above and noticed that the hair along the part was dark. Her eyes had been on a book and Don had the opportunity for a brief study of her face. The cheeks were full and untouched by make-up. There were lines at the corners of her mouth which indicated a tendency to arrange her expression into one of disapproval. The lips were full, like the cheeks, but it was obvious that the scarlet lipstick had contrived a mouth a trifle bigger than the one nature had given her.
Her glance upward at that moment interrupted his examination, which had been about to go on to her figure. Later, though, he was able to observe that it was more than adequate.
If the girl had given Don Cort more than that one glance, or if it had been a trained, all-encompassing glance, she would have seen a man in his mid-twenties--about her age--lean, tall and straight-shouldered, with once-blond hair now verging on dark brown, a face neither handsome nor ugly, and a habit of drawing the inside of his left cheek between his teeth and nibbling at it thoughtfully.
But it was likely that all she noticed then was the brief case he carried, attached by a chain to a handcuff on his left wrist.
"Will we be here long?" Don asked the conductor. He didn't want to miss his plane at Columbus. The sooner he got to Washington, the sooner he'd get rid of the brief case. The handcuff it was attached to was one reason why his interest in the redhead had been only passing.
"Can't say," the conductor told him. He let the door close again and went down to the tracks.