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Roger Zelazny

Doorsways in the Sand

Chapter 1

Lying, left hand for a pillow, on the shingled slant of the roof, there in the shade of the gable, staring at the cloud-curdles in afternoon's blue pool, I seemed to see, between blinks, above the campus and myself, an instant piece of sky-writing.

DO YOU SMELL ME DED? I read.

A moment's appraisal and it was gone. I shrugged. I also sniffed at the small breeze that had decided but moments before to pass that way.

'Sorry,' I mumbled to the supernatural journalist. 'No special stinks.'

I yawned then and stretched. I had been dozing, had regarded the tag end of a dream, I supposed. Probably just as well that I could not recall it. I glanced at my watch. It indicated that I was late for my appointment. But then, it could be wrong. In fact, it usually was.

I edged forward into a 45° hunker, my heels still resting against the ice-catching eyelets, my right hand now upon the gable. Five stories below me the Quad was a study in green and concrete, shade and sunlight, people in slow motion, a fountain like a phallus that had taken a charge of buckshot at its farther end. Beyond the fountain lay Jefferson Hall, and up on Jeff's third floor was the office of my latest adviser, Dennis Wexroth. I patted my hip pocket. The edge of my schedule card still jutted there. Good.

To go in, go down, go across and go up seemed an awful waste of time when I was already up. Although it was somewhat out of keeping with the grand old tradition as well as my personal practice to do much climbing before sundown, the way across-with all the buildings connected or extremely adjacent-was easy and reasonably inconspicuous.

I worked my way about the gable and over to the far eave. About three feet outward and six down, an easy jump, and I was on the library's flat roof and trotting. Across the roofs and about the chimneys on a row of converted townhouses then over the chapel. Quasimodo-like-a bit tricky there-along a ledge, down a drainpipe, another ledge, through the big oak tree and over to the final ledge. Excellent! I had saved six or seven minutes, I was certain.

And I felt most considerate as I peered in the window, for the clock on the wall showed me that I was three minutes early.

Wide-eyed, openmouthed, Dennis Wexroth's head rose from its reading angle, turned slowly, darkened then, continued upward, dragged the rest of him to his feet, about his desk, toward me.

I was looking back over my shoulder to see what he was glaring at when he heaved the window open and said, 'Mister Cassidy, just what the hell are you doing?'

I turned back. He was gripping the sill as if it were very important to him and I had sought its removal.

'I was waiting to see you,' I said. 'I'm three minutes early for my appointment.'

'Well, you can just go back down and come in the same way any ... ' he began. Then: 'No! Wait!' he said. 'That might make me an accomplice to something. Get in here!'

He stepped aside and I entered the room. I wiped my hand on my trousers, but he declined to take it.

He turned away, walked back to his desk, sat dawn.

'There is a rule against climbing around on the buildings,' he said.

'Yes,' I said, 'but it's just a matter of form. They had to pass something as a disclaimer, that's all. Nobody pays any atten-'

'You,' he said, shaking his head. 'You are the reason for the rule. I may be new here, but I've done my homework so far as you are concerned.'

'It's not really very important,' I said. 'So long as I'm discreet about it, nobody much cares-'

'Acrophilia!' he snorted, slapping the folder that lay on his desk. 'You once bought a screwball medical opinion that saved you from being suspended, that even got you some sympathy, made you a minor celebrity. I just read it. It's a piece of garbage. I don't buy it. I don't even think it's funny.'

I shrugged. 'I like to climb things,' I said. 'I like to be up in high places. I never said it was funny, and Doctor Marko is not a screwball.'

He emitted a labial consonant and began flipping through pages in the folder. I was beginning to feel a dislike for the man. Close-cut, sandy hair, a neat, matching beard and mustache that almost hid his mean little mouth. Somewhere in his mid-twenties, I guessed. Here he was getting nasty and authoritarian and not even offering me a seat, and I was probably several years his senior and had taken pains to get there on time. I had met him only once before, briefly, at a party. He had been stoned at the time and considerably more congenial. Hadn't seen my file yet, of course. Still, that should make no difference. He should deal with me de novo, not on the basis of a lot of hearsay. But advisers come and go-general, departmental, special. I've dealt with the best and I've dealt with the worst. Offhand, I can't say who was my favorite. Maybe Merimee. Maybe Crawford. Merimee helped me head off a suspension action. A very decent fellow. Crawford almost tricked me into graduating, which would probably have gotten him the Adviser of the Year award. A good guy, nevertheless. Just a little too creative. Where are they now?

I drew up a chair and made myself comfortable, lighting a cigarette and using the wastebasket for an ashtray. He did not seem to notice but went on paging through the materials.

Several minutes passed in this fashion, then: 'All right,' he said, 'I'm ready for you.'

He looked up at me then and he smiled.

'This semester. Mister Cassidy, we are going to graduate you,' he said.

I smiled back at him.

'That, Mister Wexroth, will be a cold day in hell,' I said.

'I believe that I have been a little more thorough than my predecessors,' he replied. 'I take it you are up on all the university's regulations?'

'I go over them fairly regularly.'

'I also assume you are aware of all the courses being offered this coming semester?'

'That's a safe assumption.'

He withdrew a pipe and pouch from within his jacket, and he began loading the thing slowly, with great attention to each fleck and strand, seeming to relish the moment. I had had him pegged as a pipe smoker all along.

He bit it, lit it, puffed it, withdrew it and stared at me through the smoke.

'Then we've got you on a mandatory graduation,' he said, 'under the departmental major rule.'

'But you haven't even seen my preregistration card.'

'It doesn't matter. I've had every choice you could make, every possible combination of courses you might select to retain your full-time status worked out by one of the computer people. I had all of these matched up with your rather extensive record, and in each instance I've come up with a way of getting rid of you. No matter what you select, you are going to complete a departmental major in something.'

'Sounds as if you've been pretty thorough.'

'I have.'

'Mind if I ask why you are so eager to get rid of me?'

'Not at all,' he replied. 'The fact of the matter is, you are a drone.'

'A drone?'

'A drone. You don't do anything but hang around.'

'What's wrong with that?'

'You are a liability, a drain on the intellectual and emotional resources of the academic community.'

'Crap,' I observed. 'I've published some pretty good papers.'

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