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A Strange Host (9)

As the two men walked through the streets back toward the western part of the city, Henly marveled at the ambitious architecture of its industrial establishments, with their brickwork, patina frames, and glass domes.  With air quality regulations a long way off, he could determine the approximate age of a structure by the dinginess of brick fa├žades and iridescence of window panes.  Surely many of these folks must suffer from one respiratory ailment or another, he thought.

They reached a block which offered some semblance of residential zoning and walked up to a modest house. 

They climbed the creaky wooden steps to a spacious porch, which featured what he could best describe to be a swinging couch.  Dead leaves and a fine layer of dirt dominated its seat cushions.  The door was flanked by two ceramic planters with dead flowers. The foyer windows were dark.  Henly turned to look beyond the house at their surroundings in the growing shadows (Again!  Why was it always turning dark when he was about?) and noted a hotel across the road.  Beside the house was a tree and a larger house with a sign on the front lawn; they probably took boarders.

A light suddenly came on in the foyer which threw bright stripes on the planks of dried wood where Henly and his new acquaintance stood.  He noted its warmth against grey and indigo tones, unusual patterns from a beveling of their glass.  The trees hissed sharply as a gust of wind sifted through their boughs.  It just occurred to him that the trees about these two houses were the first he’d seen since his arrival.  That couldn’t be right, could it?

Mr. Farnsworth,” said the gentleman, “this is Mr. Henly, who helped recover your wife.”

Henly turned to smile, and beheld a somewhat elderly man in plaid shirt and suspenders.  For some reason there was an expectation of someone younger, perhaps enthusiastic.  He took the man’s hand, which gripped his with extraordinary strength.  He let his new friend continue to do the talking.

“It appears Mr. Henly has some experience with internal medicine and has expressed concern that there could be residual effects from Mrs. Farnsworth’s ordeal which may have a potentially adverse impact on her future well-being.”

Henly couldn’t have said it better himself.  In fact, he probably would have used those very words.

Mr.  Farnsworth squinted as he listened but appeared to comprehend.  He nodded and stepped back as he swung the door wide open.

The runner along the foyer was slightly worn but retained its Oriental elegance.  Much of the home was furnished in elaborately sculpted mahogany, with creme cloth doilies of various sizes adorning surfaces from what Henly could see as they passed doorways.  He thought back on period fictions he’d read and how people were ordinarily led to a sitting room or parlor close to the front door. Perhaps, he thought, Mrs. Farnsworth had already begun to experience symptoms and they were being led to her bedside…

Henly stopped.   Not visible to the human eye was a barrier filling the height and width of the foyer seemingly leading to a large kitchen, close to where they were at the other end.  Mr. Farnsworth passed easily through it, oblivious.  However following suit could result in very different consequences for them.

He knew it was probably rude to bring out his device, but it was necessary over an undesired alternative.

“Is this your… examiner?”

“Yes.  I call it a scanner.”

“A ‘scanner’…”

Henly nodded.  “There is a portal mere centimeters in front of us.  It is not clear where it leads.

They looked at one another. 

“Oh Mr. Farnsworth!” the man suddenly called out, for their host had continued his silent walk into the kitchen and turned out of view.

There was no response.  In fact Mr. Farnsworth hadn’t said a word throughout their encounter.

“We are the only life forms registering within a twenty meter radius.”

“Is the portal harmful?”

Henly’s eyes widened behind his thick, analgraphic lenses. Now there was a thought! “There may not be a way back,” he replied, “and where we’d end up may not have a habitable environment.”

“Which, might I assume, you said for my benefit?”

Henly pursed his lips. 

“You’re good, Mr. Henly, but still a tad off with regard to your social skills for this era.  You’re too careful.”

“You’re not from around here either I take it?”

“So very much,” the man bowed, “but you may call me Lord Myron.”

Henly broke into a grin. “‘Lord’ Myron?”

The man looked down his nose at Henly, only this time with a smile touched with mock cynicism. “It suits my station where I come from.”

“I see,” Henly replied. “So, Lord Myron, do you carry an oxygen source?”

“I do indeed Mr. Henly… or should I address you as ‘DOCTOR Henly’?”

“It hadn’t crossed my mind, to be honest. I’m not here for medical reasons.” Or maybe Lord Myron was making a joke…?

“Something tells me that your purpose does involve the well-being of someone, perhaps several someones?”

“At the risk of seeming overly altruistic: yes.”

Lord Myron extracted from the lining of his coat a brass ring-like device, which he placed around the back of his neck.  The two ends pressed slightly into the sides of where his thyroid would be towards the front. “Ready,” he said.

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