Far beyond where the tumbleweeds forgot how to dance in the wind, where the stagecoach never stopped, miles from the closest post road, the town of Deadbone thrust itself out of the parched soil. It was a tidy town. The wooden sidewalks connected the General Store with Daggett’s Saloon, all the way out to the livery stable, and beyond where Doc Puccini’s laboratory of science and tonsorial parlor regularly broadcast moving images to the homes of all Deadbone’s citizens.
They were Futurists. That’s what they liked to call themselves. Whereas most settlers this far West in 1835 had all they could do to grow a few acres of vegetables, raise some pigs, and praise the Lord, the good people of Deadbone pursued science with an unrivaled zeal. Mostly to the betterment, but the experiments had their questionable moments.
There was the incident of young Peter Paul Fix who built a self-propelled wagon that operated off of boiling water. It was a remarkable invention, but wholly unnecessary in so small a place as Deadbone. These were, after all, practical people as well. And for the accomplishment of going from one end of town to the other, Peter Paul’s wagon spewed hot water everywhere, was too loud, and scared all the horses, cats and dogs. “Damn steam punk!” they cried.
And there was the time when Wilhelmina Rontgen claimed to have invented “x-ray” eyeglasses, but that turned out to be a hoax.
Around these parts, Deadbone Days was a yearly festival where the residents got together to swap ideas, feast on refrigerated produce, get drunk, celebrate by dancing and listening to recorded music. At the last festival, Doc Puccini introduced his “imaging boxes.” Doc Puccini was the smartest man in Deadbone, so it was told. With his imaging boxes, a person could receive moving pictures from another location. Very useful if you were having your horse reshod and you wanted to check on the roast in the cookstove. Or needed to see if grandma had taken her medicine. Doc Puccini was considered a good catch among the unmarried women, but he was always one invention too busy for social engagements.
Doc Puccini had a rival. Maria Cowry, a practical physicist who had contributed automated clothes washers, cold storage boxes, and assorted recipes for chocolates to the town’s well-being. The two were very much alike in that Maria Cowry would rather entertain mathematic equations than suitors.
This year’s festival promised an exciting showdown between these two. Doc Puccini had intimated an all powerful energy source that would change the face of Deadbone for generations to come. Maria Cowry boasted about her “construction apparatus” that could lay the foundation for a new building in an afternoon. Because most of the townspeople were busy inventing things, manual labor was in desperately short supply. The back forty needed plowing and there was another well to dig. The townspeople looked forward to new inventions with enthusiasm.
On opening day of the festival, Doc Puccini whipped the wrappings off his latest creation with a flourish, revealing a shiny metal globe about the size of a curled up armadillo. Three “power connections” pierced the skin of the globe roughly one hundred twenty degrees apart from each other, forming a Y of sorts. Wires ran from the tops of the connections down the street and way out of town to a massive boulder as big as a house that the residents had been wanting to remove for over a year.
“With this,” Doc Puccini explained, “we can harness the power of the elements themselves. According to my calculations, energy equals mass times the speed of one horse, squared. The mass inside this sphere will be converted into cheap, limitless energy.”
“Horses don’t go that fast,” a member of the audience remarked in disbelief. “Seems to me you need a velocity on the order of light speed.” The audience gasped.
“I can assure you the math doesn’t lie,” said Doc Puccini.
“And you propose to… what?… evaporate that mountain out there?”
“It’s not a mountain,” Doc Puccini went on. “It’s a boulder. Yes. Only a small amount of the energy produced with this device will be enough to set up sympathetic vibrations within the boulder and render it into a pile of gravel.”
The spectator wiped his brow. “Well, hell, best get on with it then.” He smiled, still not entirely convinced.
The gathered crowd looked out at the boulder, then at Doc Puccini’s device. He summarily flipped a switch. The sphere rattled. The crowd did too. Nothing happened right away, but there was soon a blast of light like one thousand candles. The boulder shook. It did not shatter. It rolled slowly forward. It gathered momentum. It rolled even faster. It rolled headlong toward the festival tent, the crowd, and the town of Deadbone.
“Good grief, you’re going to crush us all!” a man shouted as the panicked crowd scampered out of harm’s way.
“Not if I can help it!” Maria Cowry stepped up. She yanked the covering off of her latest creation: an armored stagecoach the size of a barn with a mammoth shovel perched on the front. She leapt up on the driver’s seat, fiddled with gears, and positioned the shovel directly facing the oncoming boulder. The boulder collided into the shovel. Maria Cowry’s contraption shook, but it stopped the boulder dead.
There was great applause. Both inventions had worked remarkably well, albeit not as they were intended.
Doc Puccini collapsed into the nearest chair, letting his breath go out all at once. He surveyed the huge boulder now mated to the oversized stagecoach. He said to Maria Cowry, apologetically, “Thanks for that. You really saved my bacon, but I’m afraid I wrecked your machine.”
After a short silence between them, Maria Cowry smiled and replied, “Nothing that can’t be fixed. Your lab or mine?”
The rivalry between Doc Puccini and Maria Cowry ended that day.
Sam Bellotto Jr. has been a writer his entire life. A journalism school graduate, he has spent more than 30 years editing a variety of magazines in New York City. He is now retired and can afford to write for fun without worrying about profit.