As the tale opens, there is a rumble in a room over Barnaby Sheen's garages, at Sheen's residence in Lafferty's native Oklahoma. But before we get to the source of that rumble, Lafferty dishes out a historical feast of artifacts, and even the smells of previously occupying artifacts, with his characteristic erudition. (And he slips in a line about something 'almost-ape', which will become the subject of the story.)
The sense of deep (even though relatively recent) history Lafferty induces is poignantly nostalgic, quirky, and full of wonder. It puts me in touch with my own boyhood moments spent overwhelmed and delighted in time-cluttered garages, rooms, attics, and the like, and of times with boyhood pals reading comic books and pursuing our hobbies. And it reminds all of us what an endless array of overlapping objects and their 'remnants' accompany our human life. Indeed, I suspect Lafferty would say that so-called 'inanimate' objects are a lot more animate than we think. See, for example, his story 'Symposium' (1973). And this would be in some measure of agreement with OOO theory. To Lafferty, we are not alone - in this object-opulent sense as in others. Life is full, even of 'non-living' things.
Let’s hear a little about this room, then.
In the time of Barnaby Sheen’s grandfather, who came out here from Pennsylvania at the first rumor of oil and who bought an anomalous “mansion,” this was not a room over the garages, but over the stable and carriage house.
It was a hayloft, that’s what it was; an oatloft, a fodderloft. And a little corner of it had been a harness room with brads and hammers and knives and needles as big as sailmakers’ needles, and a cobbler’s bench, and spokeshaves (for forming and trimming singletrees), and neat’s-foot oil, and all such. The room, even in its later decades, had not lost any of its old smells. There would always be the perfume of timothy hay, of sweet clover, of little bluestem grass and of prairie grass, of alfalfa, of Sudan grass, of sorghum cane, of hammered oats and of ground oats, of rock salt, of apples. Yes, there was an old barrel there that would remember its apples for a hundred years. Why had it been there? Do not horses love apples for a treat?
There was the smell of shorts and of bran, the smell of old field tobacco (it must have been cured up there in the jungle of rafters), the smell of seventy-five-year-old sparks (and the grindstone that had produced them was there, operable yet), the smell of buffalo robes (they used them for lap robes in wagons and buggies). There was a forge there and other farrier’s tools (but they had been brought up from downstairs no more than sixty years ago, so their smell was not really ancient there).
Then there were a few tokens of the automobile era, heavily built parts, cabinets, tools, old plugs, old oil smell. There were backseats of very old cars to serve as sofas and benches, horns and spotlights and old battery cases, even very old carbide and kerosene headlights. But these were in the minority: there was not so much room for a room over the garages as for a room over the stables.
There was another and later odor that was yet very evocative: it could only be called the smell of almost-ape.
And then there were our own remnants somewhat before this latter thing. This had been a sort of club room for us when we were schoolboys and when we were summer boys. There were trunks full of old funny papers. They were from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Globe, The Kansas City Star, the Chicago Tribune—those were the big-city papers that were hawked in our town, and our own World and Tribune. There were a few New York and Boston and Philadelphia funny papers also. And the funnies of the different papers were not nearly so uniform as they later became.
There were the comparatively more recent comic books. We had been older then, almost too old for such things. Yet there were a few thousand of them, mostly the original property of Cris Benedetti and John Penandrew.
There was the taxidermy of George Drakos: stuffed owls, snakes, barn swallows, water puppies, mountain boomers, flying squirrels, even foxes and wildcats. And there were the dissections (also by Drakos) of frogs, of cat brains, of fish, of cow eyes, and many other specimens. The best of these (those still maintaining themselves in good state) were preserved in formaldehyde in Pluto Water bottles. Pluto Water bottles, with their bevel-fitted glass corks and wire-clamped holders, will contain formaldehyde forever: this is a fact too little known. (Is Pluto Water still in proper history, or has it been relegated out?)
There were the Lepidoptera (the butterfly and night-moth collections) of Harry O’Donovan, and my own aggregations of rocks and rock fossils. And there were all the homemade radios, gamma-ray machines, electrical gadgets generally, coils, magnet wire, resistors, tubes, of Barnaby Sheen.