For obvious reasons, since time-travel has yet to be invented as far as we know, science fiction authors usually attribute it to the future. Yet there is always the possibility that somewhere, somehow, somewhen, it has already been put to use. A possibility which Sammy Merwin here considers in highly intriguing and human terms. Let's go back with Coulter....
by ... Sam Merwin, Jr.
Most men of middle age would welcome a chance to live their lives a second time. But Coulter did not.
It wasn't much of a bump. The shock absorbers of the liquid-smooth convertible neutralized all but a tiny percent of the jarring impact before it could reach the imported English flannel seat of Coulter's expensively-tailored pants. But it was sufficient to jolt him out of his reverie, trebly induced by a four-course luncheon with cocktails and liqueur, the nostalgia of returning to a hometown unvisited in twenty years and the fact that he was driving westward into an afternoon sun.
Coulter grunted mild resentment at being thus disturbed. Then, as he quickly, incredulously scanned the road ahead and the car whose wheel was gripped by his gloved hands, he narrowed his eyes and muttered to himself, "Wake up! For God's sake snap out of it!"
The road itself had changed. From a twin-laned ten-car highway, carefully graded and landscaped and clover-leafed, it had become a single-laned three-car thoroughfare, paved with tar instead of concrete and high-crowned along its center. He swung the wheel quickly to avoid running onto a dirt shoulder hardened with ice.
Its curves were no longer graded for high-speed cars but were scarcely tilted at all, when they didn't slant the wrong way. Its crossings were blind, level and unprotected by traffic lights. Neat unattractive clusters of mass-built houses interspersed with occasional clumps of woodland had been replaced with long stretches of pine woods, only occasionally relieved by houses and barns of obviously antique manufacture. Some of these looked disturbingly familiar.
And the roadside signs—all at once they were everywhere. Here a weathered but still-legible little Burma-Shave series, a wooden Horlick's contented cow, Socony, That Good Gulf Gasoline, the black cat-face bespeaking Catspaw Rubber Heels. Here were the coal-black Gold Dust twins, Kelly Springfield's Lotta Miles peering through a large rubber tire, a cocked-hatted boniface advertising New York's Prince George Hotel, the sleepy Fisk Tire boy in his pajamas and carrying a candle.
And then a huge opened book with a quill pen stuck in an inkwell alongside. On the right-hand page it said, United States Tires Are Good Tires and on the left, You are 3½ miles from Lincolnville. In 1778 General O'Hara, leading a British raiding party inland, was ambushed on this spot by Colonel Amos Coulter and his militia and forced to retreat with heavy loss.
Slowing down because the high-crowned road was slippery with sun-melted ice, Coulter noted that the steering wheel responded heavily. Then he saw suddenly that it was smaller than he'd remembered and made of black rubber instead of the almond-hued plastic of his new convertible. And his light costly fabric gloves had become black leather, lined with fur!
A gong rang in his memory. He had driven this road many times in years gone by, he had known all these signs as quasi-landmarks, he had worn such gloves one winter. There had been a little triangular tear in the heel of the left one, where he had snagged it on a nail sticking out of the garage wall. But that had been many years ago....
He looked and found the tear and felt cold sweat bathe his body under his clothes. And he was suddenly, mightily, afraid....
He hit another bump and this time the springs did not take up the shock. He felt briefly like a rodeo cowboy riding a bucking mustang. The car in which he rode had changed. It was no longer the sleek convertible of the mid-1950's. It was his old Pontiac sedan, the car he had driven for two years before leaving Lincolnville behind him twenty years ago!
Nor was he wearing the dark-blue vicuna topcoat he had reclaimed an hour before from the checkroom girl in the restaurant back in the city. His sleeves now were of well-worn camel's hair. He didn't dare pull the rear-view mirror around so he could see his face. He said again, fiercely, "Snap out of it! For God's sake wake up before you hit something!"
He didn't hit anything. Road, signs, car, clothing, all stayed the same. Fields abridged by wooded low hills fell away on either side of the road. The snow had been heavier away from the city and covered tillage, trees and stone walls alike with a tracked and sullen late-winter dark-white blanket.
He came to a hill and the obsolete engine knocked and panted. Once over the top of the hill, he thought with a sudden encouraging flash, he could prove that whatever was happening to him was illusion. At its foot on the other side had lain the Brigham Farm, a two-century-old house and barn converted into a restaurant by a pair of energetic spinsters. A restaurant where Coulter and his parents had habitually dined out on Thursday, the servants' night off.
He had heard a long while ago that the Brigham Farm had been struck by lightning and burned during August of 1939. If it were still there ...
He breasted the hill and there it was, ancient timbers painted a neat dark red with white door and window-frames and shutters. He held his eyes carefully away from it after the one look, held them on the road, which was now paved with a hard-packed layer of snow.
He passed an ear-flapped and baa-baa-coated farmer who sat atop a pung drawn by a patient percheron whose nostrils emitted twin plumes of steam. A pung! How many times had he and the other boys of Lincolnville ridden the runners of such utility sleighs on hitch-hiked rides through the by-ways of the lovely surrounding countryside!
Coulter maneuvered in his seat to take a quick look at this relic from the past—and caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror above the windshield. He said just one word—"Jesus!" Nor was he blasphemous in saying it.
He thought of Jurgen, of Faust—for in some miraculous way he had reclaimed his youth or been reclaimed by it. The face that looked back at him was fresh-skinned, unlined, unweathered by life. He saw with surprise, from the detachment of almost two decades, that he had been better looking than he remembered.
He looked down, saw that his body, beneath the camel's hair coat, was thin. The fat and fatigue of too many years of rich eating and drinking, of sedentary work, of immense nervous pressures, had been swept away without diet, without tiresome exercise. He was young again—and he almost ran the Pontiac into a ditch at the side of the road....
If it was a dream, he decided, it was a dream he was going to enjoy. He recalled what Shaw had said about youth being such a wonderful thing it was a pity to waste it on children. And he knew that he, at any rate, was no child, whatever the body that had so miraculously been restored to him.
The unhappy Pontiac cleared another hilltop and Lincolnville lay stretched out before Coulter, naked and exposed, stripped of its summer foliage. He had forgotten how dominated it was by the five church steeples—Unitarian, Episcopal, Trinitarian, Roman Catholic and Swedish Reform. There was no spire atop the concrete-and-stucco pillared building in which the Christian Scientists held their Sunday readings.
Half-consciously he dug for a cigar in his breast pocket, looked with mild surprise on the straight-stemmed pipe he found there. He had forgotten that he once smoked a pipe as completely as he had forgotten the churchly domination of his home town.
Even though Lincolnville